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Rupert and the Jade Dragon

by Ron Van Sweringen


“Crap!” Rupert cursed under his breath, hearing a rip as he stepped over an icy puddle in the gutter. “My last pair of fishnets. Oh well, that’s what happens when you’re a six-foot drag queen. Besides, no one’s going to look up there, unless I get lucky at dinner tonight!”

Then he started laughing, as he thought about the old Chinese joke with the “one hung low” punch line. That’s what it felt like right now.

Rupert was standing in front of the Green Dragon Chinese laundry in the heart of Chinatown, which happened to be only four blocks from his apartment. He brought his dry cleaning here because they had the lowest prices and did good work. Rupert also liked Mr. Hong, the old man who owned the place.

He closed his red umbrella and shook his faux leopard raincoat, then opened the door, setting off the tinkling bell overhead. Every time Rupert went in, it was like going back a hundred years. The smell of incense filled the dimly lit shop and Chinese ancestor pictures hung on the walls.

This morning Mr. Hong did his customary little bow in a blue silk robe and a black cap with his grey pigtail hanging down. He took small steps when he walked, his feet not showing beneath the long robe. He almost seemed to glide across the floor.

Rupert put his dry-cleaning ticket on the counter. Mr. Hong picked it up with his small hands and three-inch long fingernails. This morning there was something different about Mr. Hong, Rupert thought. He did not give Rupert his customary smile and the twinkling eyes of the old man were kept downcast as if hiding something. When Rupert turned to leave with his dry cleaning, Mr. Hong had already disappeared, without his usual wave good-bye and sing-song farewell in Chinese.

By the time Rupert got home, he had forgotten about Mr. Hong’s odd behavior. Minerva, with hunched back and tail straight up in the air, was walking along the window sill, looking out into the snowy street below.

“Good kitty,” Rupert said as the scruffy old one-eyed cat rushed to greet him, jumping up on the chair to be stroked, purring so happily he could feel the vibration on his hand.

Rupert kicked his rain shoes off, hung his dry cleaning on the back of the closet door and put the tea kettle on. It was a good day for a cup of hot tea. His feet were cold and thanks to the rip in his fishnet pantyhose, so was everything else!

“Oh well,” he said to himself. “A hot bubble bath will coax life back into Peckerville.”

Rupert sat down on a small sofa in the living room, beside an old iron radiator sending out wonderful waves of steam heat. He curled his legs under him. Minerva found a cozy spot alongside as he began sipping his tea. It wasn’t long until they were both nodding off.

He remembered his first sight of Minerva and her twin sister Devina in a pet shop window. A sign on their cage read ‘FREAKS!’ Siamese twin kittens! A crowd was pointing and laughing at the two little creatures, stuck together at the head. Rupert’s stomach turned over as he watched them struggling against each other, not understanding their dilemma

Rupert tried walking away, but he couldn’t, they seemed just as oddly made and unwelcome in this world as he was. Then and there, he decided that they should join ranks. The pet shop owner drove a hard bargain but finally accepted two hundred and fifty dollars, all of the money in Rupert’s checking account.

He still had a sense of humor though, leaving with his purchase in a box under his arm, Rupert turned to the pet shop owner and said, “If any of my friends find out I paid two hundred and fifty dollars for pussies, my reputation will be shot!”

It took a lot of of searching, but Rupert finally found a vet who would attempt to separate the kittens. The surgery was deemed a success: each kitten would live, although each one had lost an eye.

“Your missing eye is your badge of courage,” Rupert said, as he fed them from a doll bottle and slept with them on his chest at night, until they were strong enough to share an old purple Easter basket beside his bed.

Rupert awoke to a firm knock on the door. The wall clock said six pm. He had been asleep on the sofa for two hours. The knock came again, more insistent this time.

“Coming,” he called out, hobbling toward the door, one leg still asleep and his pink bunny slippers not helping much.

A short, heavyset woman with a spiked haircut and clad in an ill-fitting blue pantsuit filled the doorway.

“Detective Ruth Claghorn,” she said gruffly, her eyes dwelling on his bunny slippers, while holding up a police identification card and a badge. “Homicide,” she growled.

Rupert blinked. She’s no beauty, he thought. That one eyebrow needs desperately to be cut in two. “Homicide? Who died?” he asked.

“May I?” the detective said, pushing past him and giving the room a once-over before taking a seat.

Rupert decided he was not fond of her attitude. That one eyebrow and the mentality behind it were beginning to grate on his nerves.

“I need to ask you some questions about Mr. and Mrs. Hong, owners of the Green Dragon Chinese laundry,” she said, opening a notebook.

Rupert looked up in surprise. “I just picked up my dry cleaning from Mr. Hong a little while ago.”

“Yes, I know. That’s why I’m here. Yours was the last receipt on the spindle, so you were probably the last person to see Mr. Hong alive. He and his wife were murdered this afternoon.”

The shock caused Rupert to sit down on Minerva, who was still lying on the sofa, and she gave out an unladylike screech.

“Did you notice anything unusual when you picked up your dry cleaning today?” One-brow asked, looking daggers at Minerva, who was pooping in the litter box.

Rupert had decided One-brow should be her name.

“No,” he replied, “except that Mr. Hong was very quiet, not full of his usual pee and vinegar. Other than that, everything was normal, to the best of my recollection.”

A few minutes later she left after shoving a card at him with her name and number on it, in case he remembered anything else. Closing the door, Rupert heard her say, “That takes care of queen for a day.”

Rupert took the card and wrote “One-brow numb-nuts” across the back of it. He stuck it in his dresser drawer with his blow-up bras. Then he turned on the hot water in the bathtub, looking forward to a long, rejuvenating soak.

He had his rubber neck rest on and his feet propped up against the green tile wall, one foot on either side of the faucet. His yellow ducky soap dish floated around in circles, momentarily caught on his penis.

He kept thinking about his visit to the Green Dragon Laundry and what had been so strange about it. “Someone else was there,” Rupert said, sitting up suddenly in the tub. “That’s why Mr. Hong was so quiet. We were being watched.”

The thought made him wince. Whoever killed that old man and woman had been there all the time, watching and waiting.

Rupert stood up, slipping on his powder-blue bath robe, drying off as he went. His subconscious told him to check his dry cleaning; something was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

When he brought the clothes hangers out into the kitchen, he saw it right away. A hole was ripped in the clear plastic wrapping, just above the pocket of his white satin evening jacket with the beaded trim.

Suddenly Rupert remembered noticing the tear when Mr. Hong handed him the cleaning earlier that day. At the time, he thought it unusual.

A cold chill ran over him as he put his hand through the torn plastic opening and reached inside.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2013 by Ron Van Sweringen

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