Rupert and the Jade Dragon
by Ron Van Sweringen
Rupert stood very still, concentrating on one thing: not peeing. The creep with the switchblade rummaged through his pocketbook with one free hand. “Only forty bucks! I should slit you just for the hell of it. What’s in the locker? Anything worth money?” the attacker grunted, pushing the metal door back, to reveal a medium-sized cardboard box.
“Open it,” he demanded, lowering the knife enough for Rupert to move toward the locker. The box was heavy. Rupert had a hard time peeling the tape back in the semi-darkness, but finally the flap came up. What appeared to be a dark green carving of a vase with a Dragon lid came into view.
“What the fok is that?” the creep asked.
“A Funerary Urn,” Rupert replied. “It has my boyfriend’s ashes in it. They are still warm. He died of leprosy and nobody wants it around. Shall I open it for you, so you can take a closer look?”
“Hell no, get that dam thing away from me, you crazy bitch! I ain’t catching no leprosy!”
At that point, Rupert heard a muffled groan as a body hit the floor behind him.
“You OK?” a voice whispered. “I got worried, so I followed you.” It was the cabbie with a monkey-wrench in his hand. The creep with the switch-blade was out cold on the floor.
Rupert gave a sigh of relief, realizing he was safe. The cabbie was short, with a crooked grin.
“Thank you,” Rupert said, blowing him a kiss. “Let’s get out of here.”
* * *
The next morning Rupert was up late and felt wonderful as he stood at the window, watching the yellow cab pull away from the curb. “Isn’t it amazing what a bottle of wine and a little extra virgin olive oil can do?” he said to himself with a smile.
Rupert sat drinking his coffee and staring at the strangely beautiful object on the kitchen table. A vase the color of a four-leaf clover, carved in the shape of a dragon. What looked like ruby eyes stared back at him. Minerva was fascinated by it also, rubbing up against it and trying to scratch her back on the carving.
Rupert certainly was no expert on Chinese art, but it looked very old and he assumed it must be quite valuable.
Rupert’s thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. He threw a towel over the carving and opened the door to a UPS Special Delivery Courier.
“Rupert Rathbottom, please sign here,” he said, producing an animal carrier with a large envelope attached to the handle. Rupert almost dropped the crate when he looked inside. It was Devina, Minerva’s twin sister! She pushed up against the wire door and winked at him with her one eye.
“My God,” Rupert exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
A letter inside the envelope was from his aunt Florinda, explaining it all:
Rupert, dear,” it read, “I hope you don’t mind, but I am sending Devina back to stay with you for a while. She has been such a comfort through these lonely years, but I have been without affection for so long, since your uncle died, that I have decided to join the order of the Getting Nuns.
Love, Aunt Florinda.
Rupert sat down in shock, watching Minerva and Devina roll and tumble across the floor. “Just what I needed,” he said to himself, “another one-eyed pussy running around the house.”
* * *
Rupert went to bed early that night. He was exhausted from the day. He had bailed Carmelita out of jail, feeling partly responsible for her arrest the night before. The charge was sexual assault on a potted palm. Rupert was sure the coconuts did it.
His alarm clock went off at seven-thirty the next morning and Rupert sat up shivering in bed. “That damn witch has turned the heat down again,” he ranted on his way to check the thermostat in the hall.
“Forty-two degrees!” he screamed, just as he noticed the kitchen window was wide open.
“How the hell did that—” Then it dawned on him. The vase was gone from the kitchen table. Someone had jimmied the window in the night and stolen it.
“One-Brow is behind this,” he said, closing the window and turning the tea kettle on. “I’ll bet my frozen ass on it.”
An hour later, after Rupert had gotten out of a hot tub and turned pink again, there was a knock at the door. He slipped on his silk Chinese robe, flipped the cucumber slices off of his eyelids and twisted a Turkish towel around his head. Luckily his lips were still good.
A woman stood in the doorway. She looked slightly familiar, but Rupert couldn’t place her, until she said “May I?” as she walked by him.
It was One-Brow, only now she had two brows! And her hair wasn’t spiked. It was all very confusing to Rupert and he considered taking his PMS pill early.
“We’ve met before, I’m Detective Ruth Claghorn, Mr. Rathbottom,” she said. “I’m here because I think we owe you an explanation.”
Rupert sank down on the sofa, his bare toes glowing under their tangerine nail polish.
Detective Claghorn began, “This whole affair was a training exercise for the World Art Theft and Forgery Division, or WATFD as we are known by Interpol. Mr. and Mrs. Hong are alive and well. Mr. Hong agreed to help us by placing the key in one of five pieces of dry cleaning. It was our mission to find out who received the key and then to track down the stolen article and return it within forty-eight hours.
“You mean this was all a hoax?” Rupert gasped. “The Asian gangsters in the restaurant, the creep in the bus station and the cabbie?”
“Not quite,” Detective Claghorn replied. “The attacker in the bus station and the cabbie were not part of our team.”
“You mean I could have been killed?’ Rupert replied.
“No,” Detective Claghorn said, “you were always under surveillance. We were about to move in on the attacker when your cabbie beat us to it. He is your real hero.”
“Which reminds me,” Rupert said, looking at his watch, “if you will excuse me, I’m cooking an Italian dinner tonight for my cab driver, and I don’t have any olive oil left.”
“I’m not surprised,” Detective Claghorn smiled. “We had your bedroom bugged!”
Copyright © 2013 by Ron Van Sweringen