I was concerned about the intersection of Master Que and police, so I bowed hastily to Li Bao and his colleagues and started making my way over to the steps of the hotel where there was now a knot of musicians, lion dancers, police, hotel staff and patrons, and Master Que. I got about three steps before Master Tseng grabbed me by the arm and said, “Not on your own.”
“Sir?” I looked from his hand to his face and probably looked as puzzled as I felt.
“You do not go into this on your own,” he elaborated. “I’m not suggesting that you may be in danger from your teacher, but overzealous law enforcement could consider you an accomplice to a crime.”
“I can’t abandon him,” I started.
“I’m not suggesting that you do,” Tseng Tung clarified, “but let us come with you. Yu Fong and I have a professional interest in such things quite beyond the bounds of our current enquiry and what Li Bao doesn’t know about the laws and other rules concerning gi and sorcery in a public place probably isn’t worth knowing.”
“It would,” Li Bao added gravely, “be quite inappropriate for you to get into trouble in connection with this matter. We should attempt to exert a calming influence on any volatility that might come to pass.”
“If you think so,” I agreed. One policeman was talking to Master Que, one was talking to the hotel’s front desk manager and one was speaking to the lion dancers. I very much wanted to at least be within earshot of those conversations.
“I’m glad you agreed to be sensible,” Tseng Tung tucked my arm into his. “If you’d been able to show your face last night when you received your prize purse or your boon, then you would have been the perfect person to extricate your teacher from any extreme difficulties he may now find himself in. Under the circumstances, it might be best if you allow us to act as expert witnesses. Li Bao is very good at inserting himself appropriately into this sort of thing.” I found myself strolling through the crowd in company right up to Master Que and the policeman who was talking to him.
The blue-grey uniformed man had his notebook out and was saying, “As you say sir, your activity may not strictly have fallen under the intent of the statutes covering destructive sorcery but I may still have to charge you for wanton and unauthorized municipal maintenance and street beautification.”
“Does anyone actually care about that holdover from the occupation anymore?” Master Que’s voice sounded to me like the vocal equivalent of drunkenly swaying on his feet although he looked perfectly steady to the naked eye.
“The municipal administration committee find it useful on occasion, sir.” The policeman made a note and asked, “Your name please, sir?”
“Que Tzu.” Master Que bowed neatly. “Currently a resident of this fine hostelry on whose steps we stand.”
The policeman wrote down the name but replied, his mouth twitching slightly, “An excellent imitation of Leung Ma in Twelve Horsemen at Chanshuzhen, sir, but it would be more helpful if you could be yourself for the length of our interview. Now, sir, why were you performing an act of sorcery on the streets of the capital in broad daylight?”
“Well,” Master Que’s voice dropped to a confidential note, “I was out last night celebrating my student’s success in the national championships when I ran into some old cronies and we started a game of mah-jong. You know how it is when you’ve not enough money or matchsticks in your pockets to bet with, you wager things. We were wagering dares and I lost in the first round. Dee Ho, that sly old dog, had my wager and he dared me to perform an old time ritual somewhere in the city by sunset. I chose one that wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
“Indeed, sir.” The policeman had a very good line in disinterested scathing and I resolved to remember his tone and inflection. “I’m sure that the municipal magistrate will be very interested.”
“The municipal magistrate?” Master Que perked up, which was a bit frightening because he hadn’t been down before. “I’ve never gone straight to the municipal magistrate before. Is Magistrate Dee still on the bench?”
“So, you’ve faced previous charges, have you, sir?” The pen was poised over the notebook.
“Not for years,” answered Master Que happily. “I have a student these days and I’m afraid that she’s a good influence on me.”
Tseng Tung snickered beside me.
“In fact here she is, with company.” Master Que drew himself up to his full height and regarded the three investigative committee members with an assessing eye.
Li Bao bowed, “Officer,” and he bowed again, “Master Que Tzu. Please forgive our intrusion. We, like Miss Sung, arrived to find matters already underway and chose to analyse rather than intervene. After we’d completed the portion of our investigation that brought us here, naturally."
“Which was?” Master Que’s voice was suddenly quite sharp.
“To check a potential contamination vector for the second of yesterday’s incidents,” replied Li Bao calmly. “Your student’s behaviour in all the circumstances of the first incident and subsequent events has, so far, been a credit to you.”
“I can’t take credit for most of her manners,” replied Master Que. “Her family has the greater responsibility there.” He turned to the policeman and asked, “Am I under arrest, Officer Ming?”
“You are, sir.” Officer Ming spoke carefully. “Do you intend to resist?”
Master Que gave him a slow, warm smile. “I wouldn’t dream of putting you to the ensuing trouble or of embarrassing my student by resisting.”
It was only later that I realised that if Master Que hadn’t co-operated there was probably no way that Officer Ming could have taken him into custody. Particularly as Officer Ming and his colleagues insisted that the two teams of lion dancers and drummers were both witnesses and evidence, with a side serving of accomplicing. Fortunately Officer Ming was a wise man and neither summoned a police van to transport his prisoner, witnesses and evidence nor deployed handcuffs. Instead he wound up semiconducting an impromptu lion dance parade from the hotel to the local police station. It stayed on the footpath, stopped for traffic lights, blessed every single doorway on the route and flirted outrageously with small girls, elderly ladies and an itinerant cabbage seller - although I wasn’t sure if that was the lions, the lion dancers, Master Que or Officer Ming. I was beginning to suspect Officer Ming of a sense of humour. The gentlemen of the investigation committee and I followed along like ragtag addendums to a much more magnificent spectacle and, after we enjoyed the spectacle of the lions relieving the cabbage seller of six of his cabbages, I paid the put-upon man for the cabbages. It was the first, and may prove to be the only time, that I have tipped a cabbage seller for his services. There was then cabbage juggling all the rest of the way to the police station. I believe that the lion dancers came up with that all on their own.
The local police station we were taken to was built in the fusion style, which meant that it was a relic of the occupation. One of the response squad ready rooms flanking the front entrance had been converted to a public reception area and it was there that Officer Ming led the motley procession. The desk sergeant in charge behind the counter was an older man with greying hair who took in Officer Ming’s catch with a single glance and a resigned look. “So, Officer Ming, is this another drunk and disorderly charge? Can I assume that the lion dance troops are aggrieved parties?” He’d pulled a pad of forms over to him as he spoke and picked up a pen.
“Nothing that simple, Sergeant Mao.” I thought Officer Ming sounded faintly apologetic. “Performing a sorcerous ritual within the defined boundaries of the capital, wanton and unauthorized municipal maintenance and street beautification, and repeated disorderly conduct while drunk.”
“Indeed?” Sergeant Mao put down his pen spoke directly to Master Que. “Sir, are you the accused?”
“I am.” Master Que bowed politely.
“Are you drunk?” The police sergeant waited for Master Que’s reply.
“I am,” Master Que bowed again, “but not as drunk as I was an hour and a half ago.”
“Indeed,” the sergeant nodded in return. “Do you understand that you will be held in remand to wait upon the pleasure and convenience of the municipal magistrate?”
“Yes.” It was Master Que’s turn to nod. “I believe I am permitted to contact a registered court representative to organise my defence and pleas?”
“You are,” the police sergeant confirmed. “If you cannot afford a registered court representative or your chosen representative is unable to assist you, then one may be provided for you. Do you wish to call your chosen representative yourself? If so, there is a station phone you may use.”
“Thank you, I will avail myself of the phone.” Master Que bowed to Sergeant Mao and was led to a side room. We had to wait in the public reception room, not being under arrest and having no official standing in the matter. That meant that I got to watch Sergeant Mao sort out everyone else who’d been in the procession that Officer Ming had shepherded from the hotel to the police station, a task he began by ascertaining whether anyone thought that they’d been sorcerously coerced into participating in Master Que’s ritual. That question having been answered in the negative to his satisfaction by something that, to me, resembled round singing, he began to sift out the culpable. Fortunately, the worst behaviour he could discern that anyone still in the room was guilty of was playing mah jong while drunk and honouring apparently innocuous drunken wagers. Neither of those things was actually illegal until Master Que’s use of those wagers was considered.
The hotel’s representative was being told to prepare a list of specific damages to lay before the municipal magistrate when Master Que’s registered court representative arrived. My first sight of Tong Kwai was of a serious young man in a tailored set of blacks and carrying a leather brief case politely but firmly pushing his way to the front of the throng in front of the desk sergeant. The sergeant acknowledged him almost immediately, gravely received his business card, and summoned another officer to escort him in the direction Master Que had been taken. I got to meet Tong Kwai about twenty minutes later when he returned from the non-public section of the building and threaded his way through the now much less disorganised reception room to where I sat.
“Miss Sung?” At first hearing I thought he sounded tired.
“I am.” I stood and bowed.
“I am Tong Kwai, of Tong, Associates and Son, Legal Practitioners and Registered Court Representatives. I understand that you are the student of my client, Master Que Tsu?” I decided that instead of being tired, he resigned to whatever it was that fate had done to him.
“Yes.” I nodded. “How much trouble is Master Que in?”
Tong Kwai sighed and the four of us looked at him expectantly. “He’s technically in trouble because what he’s done is technically illegal. He hasn’t damaged any property or injured anyone so it seems that the only damages that could be claimed are interruption of trade. What criminal penalties he might face could depend on whether the authorities want to send a message about the type of crime he committed, not that I believe we’ve had an increase in ritual magic offences recently.” He paused and went on, “My client is concerned that you, Miss Sung, do not become needlessly involved in this matter.”
“What does he mean by ‘needlessly involved’?” I thought the point worth clarifying.
“Specifically, he said that if he is still in custody when your train is due to leave, you are to pay the hotel bill, deliver his things to me, and get yourself on the train to your tertiary school.” Tong Kwai smiled. “He was quite vehement on the last point. He also asked me to reassure you that he has more than sufficient of his own funds to pay his legal expenses and any financial penalties he may have incurred. I was told that if I tried to cadge as much as a copper yuen from you, then he would take it out of my hide, before he complained to my father.”
We considered that threat for a moment, then Tseng Tung said cheerfully, “Oh, I doubt they’ll keep him waiting for the magistrate for too long. If they did, he might get bored and decide to leave.” He added quickly, “I’m not saying that he would, but I have known people who could.”
Tong Kwai’s mouth was gaping before he asked quietly, “But, how? It’s a fully manned police station!”
Tseng Tung turned to me while Li Bao looked grave and Yu Fong suppressed a smile. “Miss Sung, you’re also a Hoshun. Would you care to take a few moments and then give us a list of this building’s weak points?”
I considered that for a moment and said tentatively, “Should I mention that I’ve seen Master Que move two people through a metal safety railing without hurting them or damaging the railing?”
Tong Kwai twitched, I swear it. Master Yu patted him consolingly on the shoulder, then Tong Kwai stood resolutely and said, “I should go and try to facilitate matters.”
I have no idea whether it was because the authorities were trying to deal with Master Que as quickly as possible or due to Tong Kwai’s efforts but Master Que was summoned to appear before the municipal magistrate less than four hours after he was taken into custody. I was also summonsed to attend because I “may be required to provide factual testimony to the court.” It was, in equal parts, exciting and worrying – a state of affairs not aided by arriving at the court and finding that the gentlemen of the investigative committee had also been summoned in the same terms.
My thoughts on the subject were interrupted by a court official who demanded, “Be upstanding for His Honour, Magistrate Lam!”
Magistrate Lam was younger and more athletic than I had been expecting a magistrate to look, and he practically bounded onto the presiding dais. After the initial introductions and identifications from the representatives of both the prosecution and defence, Magistrate Lam said, “In the way of preliminaries, I note that this matter ultimately arises out of a mah jong game in Shandong in the early hours of this morning. Might I enquire, Que Tzu, if one Hse Jong was a player in the same group as yourself?”
Master Que stood, bowed and said, “He was, Your Honour.”
Magistrate Lam sighed and added, “If you and he received dares from the same person, I will very likely want to talk to that gentleman too. Mr Hse was caught trying to jog the circumference of the Forbidden Palace and the Celestial Temple at midday,” he paused while we all wondered why that had brought Mr Hse before a municipal magistrate, “while wearing no clothes. He was saved from a conviction for public indecency by what I can only describe as the inventive deployment of a handheld flat cap. And the testimony of an elderly lady of good character who swore that it was the funniest thing she’d seen in decades.” His lips twitched. “I also note that two further parties wish to be recognised in this matter. Madam Chiew and Mr Hong, for the records, whom do you represent?”
A woman with two hair sticks through her bun stood and bowed. “My client is the Municipal Authority, Your Honour.”
The other person who stood was a short, spare man with grey hair, patched with white. “I represent the Department of Agriculture and the Natural Environment, Your Honour.”
Magistrate Lam raised an eyebrow and said, “I’ll take a shot in the dark and assume that both of you are involved in this matter for reasons arising out of the charge of wanton and unauthorized municipal maintenance and street beautification?” He moved his head slightly so that his gaze switched to Madam Chiew, then to Mr Hong, and then back to Madam Chiew again.
“Indeed, Your Honour.” Madam Chiew’s answer was prompt.
“It is likely, Your Honour,” agreed Mr Hong, “although I would suspect that the major charge is more probable to be the cause of my involvement, if we get down to root causes.”
"Well then, let’s get down to business.” Magistrate Lam settled himself comfortably. “Que Tzu, you are charged with performing a sorcerous ritual within the defined boundaries of the capital, wanton and unauthorized municipal maintenance and street beautification, and repeated disorderly conduct while drunk. How do you plead?”
Master Que exchanged looks with Tong Kwai, then stood and bowed before saying, “Guilty with mitigating factors that I request Your Honour takes into account when passing sentence.
“So,” Magistrate Lam laced his fingers together across his midriff, over the embroidered panel at the front of his black judicial robe, “you admit the charge. Why?”
“I did it,” said Master Que, “and I believe in the rule of law.”
Magistrate Lam blinked. “I see. As to the mitigating factors you wish considered, is one of them that you were drunk at the time of the offences?”
“No, Your Honour.” I saw Tong Kwai pulling vigorously on Master Que’s sleeve at that moment. “Being drunk is an explanation, not an excuse. I hope that Your Honour might look favourably on the fact that no-one was harmed by my actions. Indeed, my recollection of the matter is that the street environment in the location of my offence was greatly improved by my actions.”
Madam Chiew stood up.
Magistrate Lam made a gesture in her direction and asked, “Yes, Madam Chiew?”
“Your Honour, the Municipal Authority has advanced plans to widen the street on which the offence took place as part of the new traffic management plan. The accused’s actions have made the planned widening activity much more expensive by inserting mature street trees and much higher quality curbing stones into the site. My client requests that the accused be made to defray the extra costs they now face in completing their plans due to his actions.”
Mr Hong also stood at this point.
“Ah, Mr Hong?” Magistrate Lam made another gracious gesture.
“Your Honour, and esteemed colleagues,” Mr Hong bowed individually to Magistrate Lam, Madam Chiew, the prosecution's representative, and Tong Kwai, “my client is adamantly opposed to the removal of the street trees in question and is in the throes of making an urgent application to the Imperial Magistrate to gain a permanent order for their protection.”
This is now followed by Sentencing and Ripples.