The Oracle of the Dog
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: Last Airbender nor Father Brown
"Aang! Welcome!" A white haired man stood in front of him, bowing slightly. Aang bowed back. "Hello, Arnook. Nice to see you too," he said as he put his umbrella down in the umbrella stand by the front door.
"I see you've met my son in law, Sokka."
"Yes, he was outside, fixing his motorcycle." Aang turned to Sokka. "Used cooking oil for fuel is a great idea, young man."
"Yup, and the exhaust smells like french fries. If you want, I can take you for a spin."
"I used to ride a scooter everywhere. I'm afraid my old bones can't handle it now."
Arnook waved a dismissive hand. "Enough about this riding nonsense. You spent too much time and money on your experiments and cactus juice. You have deliveries to do today. The cabbage man said you always came late, he couldn't sell out his produce."
Sokka was offended. "I was late ONCE, because I had a flat tire."
"Wasn't it because you were hungover? Doesn't matter. Just go now."
Sokka huffed and went out.
"I'm sorry about that. Come in, let's go to the library." As they walked, Arnook pointed to various items in his house. "I collected souvenirs from places I visited. As a businessman, I often traveled to other tribes and countries. We export the vegetables from this little farm to four corners of the world. This is a set of pottery from the Earth Kingdom, the era of Raava."
Aang nodded politely as his host explained the items in his collection until he saw the scrolls laid out on a table in the library.
"I know you will be excited."
Aang was in awe. He wanted to touch the ancient papers but he was worried they were fragile. "Are these really from the Air Nomads?"
"I hope so. That's why I asked you, an expert on antique scrolls, to come and authenticate them."
"Where did you get them?"
"A friend of mine sold his house. It had been in his family for decades but he couldn't afford the upkeep. Before the sale he cleaned out the attic and found the scrolls in an antique cupboard."
Aang pulled out his gloves and magnifying glass. "Please continue."
"My friend knew I collect antiques so he sold them to me. If they are real, I bought them very cheap, but if they are fakes, I spent a lot of money for nothing."
"Well, at first glance they look genuine. The style is of Air Nomads. But there are so many, I need a few days."
"You're welcome to stay here. I already have a room set up for you." Arnook looked at his pocket watch. "Well, I'll leave you to it. Lunch will be served at half past one when you hear the gong."
When Aang was busy with the scrolls, a young man entered the library carrying a handful of papers. "Good morning Sir, my name is Han, Chief Arnook's assistant. If there's anything at all I can do to help ..."
Aang nodded. "Thank you very much."
"So, how do you know it's the real deal? Is it the brush strokes? The paper? Surrounded by all these antiques makes me an antique enthusiast."
Aang sat back. "Please don't let me keep you from your other work."
"Will it bother you if I use the phone? I just needed to find a supplier's phone number first."
"Not at all."
The assistant riffled through some papers and called someone. Aang tried to concentrate but the other man's voice was loud. Thankfully the conversation was short.
"Okay, I'm leaving now. Can't let the Dragon Lady wait."
His interest was piqued. "Dragon Lady?"
Han walked back and in mock whisper told Aang. "Katara, she's the farm manager. She also runs the estate. Nothing happens around here without her knowing. By the way, she's Sokka's sister. That's why he still lives here after Yue's passing"
"Who is Yue?"
"His late wife, Chief's daughter."
"Yeah, the Chief doesn't have any other family. The siblings are like his children. Besides, without the farm business taking all his time, he can focus on his hobby, antiques." He started walking to the door then stopped. "I just remembered something. Can I make just one more call?"
Aang sighed. He took off his glasses and cleaned them while waiting for the other man to finish his call.
"Yes, Mr. Xin Fu. Chief Arnook wishes to make some alterations to his will. Thank you, see you Thursday." He walked towards the door. " I won't disturb you anymore."
The next day Aang came into the kitchen looking for tea. A woman was already seated, eating. "Good morning Katara,"
"Good morning. Breakfast? Song will prepare something for you."
"Thank you. After last night's rich dinner, toast and tea is enough for me."
A woman entered carrying a basket of eggs.
"Song, please make some toasts for our guest but first bring the tea tray here."
"Katara, you mentioned this farm's specialty during lunch yesterday, a certain fruit?"
"Arctic plum. When you eat it, it gives you cool sensation as if eating ice. It's very difficult to grow. The temperature must be just right and the soil use special fertilizer."
"It makes us stand out from the other farms. Of course we also have other vegetables like cabbage and iceberg lettuce but I think we are the only producer of cultivated Arctic plum." She turned to Song "Make sure we have Arctic plum for dessert tonight." Song nodded.
There was a knock at the door and a man with a scar near his left eye entered. The newcomer mumbled his greetings to everyone in the kitchen and immediately walked to Katara who was putting her plate in the sink. "The pipe leak in greenhouse 9 is getting worse. I need to go to town to buy new pipes and other things. You said you're going there today. Do you want to ride in the truck with me?"
"Yeah sure Lee. I need to see the workers first. I'll meet you at the gate."
Lee nodded and said to Aang, "I look forward to continue our discussion last night on Air Nomads."
"Me too. I'm impressed with your knowledge of different cultures."
"Yeah, I watch a lot of documentary programs. Gotta go."
After Katara and Lee left, Aang asked Song to sit. "Please have some tea with me. I believe a drink taste better with company." She thanked him and took a seat.
"Did you cook last night's dinner? They were great."
She blushed. "Yes. I'm glad you like them but I saw that you didn't eat the komodo chicken curry. Was it too spicy? Ever since Lee started to dine in the house, Katara added spicy dishes to the menu."
"I'm sure the komodo chicken was delicious but I don't eat meat."
"I didn't know. I'll prepare vegetarian foods next time."
"As long as there is a vegetable dish on the table, I'm fine. You said the spicy food was because of Lee?"
"Yes. He's from Fire Nation where the foods are hot and spicy. He has worked here for five years. The Chief didn't like him at first because he was from Fire Nation. His daughter was killed in an accident by a drunk Fire Nation man. But Lee worked hard and became a foreman last year. Then Katara invited him to join family dinner. She said that way the Chief could get updates on the farm."
"Does he not go down there himself?"
"Sometimes. He has arthritis so he doesn't walk much."
"But I rarely see him around the house. I thought he was inspecting the farm."
"He spends his day in the summer house, next to the hedge. He said it's the only place in the house he can get some peace and quiet, day and night. Han often complained that it was too windy."
On Thursday morning Aang was examining the scrolls when Arnook came to the library.
"Aang, I need your help."
"I'd be glad to, but what kind of help?"
"I'm going to renew my will and I need witnesses to sign. You are an impartial party so you'll be an ideal witness."
"No, later. My lawyer, Xin Fu is not here yet. I wanted to ask you first."
"Just let me know."
At that moment Arnook noticed the dog sleeping under the table.
"I see Appa has taken a liking to you."
Aang patted the dog's head. "He's been keeping me company the last few days."
"You like dogs too?"
"I always like a dog, so long as he isn't spelled backwards."
"Some people treated D-O-G as if a G-O-D."
Arnook chuckled. "I see what you mean."
During lunch Aang met another member of the family, a distant cousin of Arnook, Ryu. The meal was tense. Aang could feel Katara's hostility towards Ryu. He tried to break the tension. "I heard you lived in the Colonies before?"
Katara answered for him, "He was a high ranking officer there, unfortunately he had to take an early retirement."
Ryu was quick to retort, "What do you mean with that?"
Aang tried to bring the conversation to neutral ground. "I'm sure the weather is not agreeable to some people."
Honey was dripping Katara's voice, "I think Ryu found the Colonies was too hot for him."
Ryu was going to say something but he was cut short by Sokka. "Yes, I always wondered what happened to make you leave such a lucrative position. Please enlighten us."
Ryu fiddled with his chopsticks before telling them, "I got intel that rebels were going to attack during the summer solstice festival so I captured one of their leaders. It turned out the information was false and the alleged leader made a big fuss about his arrest. Someone had to take the blame so I was persuaded to resign."
Arnook came to his defence, "It was a gamble. If it was true, you would have been hailed a hero."
After lunch Aang was lounging in the terrace but his peace was disturbed when Han came.
"How inconsiderate of the Chief, locking himself and that lawyer, Xin Fu in the library. You can not work on the scrolls."
Aang shook his head. "I'm too full, I don't think I'll be able to work anyway. The fresh produce, directly from the farm, and Song's cooking skills are dangerous combination."
"I don't understand why the Chief won't let me help writing his will. I'm his assistant."
"He has his lawyer with him. I'm sure he does this all the time."
"I once worked for a lawyer. I know how to write a will. I wonder who is going to inherit the farm. Sokka has fallen out of favor because of his drinking problems. How ironic that Yue was killed by a drunk driver. Katara is out because she's a woman."
Aang sat up straight. "What does it have to do with anything?"
"The Chief is of the old generation that thinks a woman's place is with her husband therefore she doesn't need her own money."
"But she's the farm manager. Don't you think it's contradictory with that conservative opinion?"
"After his daughter's passing, the Chief lost interest in the farm or anything else. Sokka was no better. He started to drink. That was when Katara stepped in."
"I think opinions may change. She has proven herself capable."
"Ah, but there is the Lee factor."
"It seems he and Katara is in a relationship. She made him foreman. She invited him to dine in the house. The Chief might seem okay but he still despises Fire Nation. He thinks they are barbaric people who lust over money. Did you notice the large scar on Lee's face? I bet he got that in a fight."
Han slapped his own forehead. "Why didn't I think of this before? Ryu!"
"What about Ryu?"
"He may inherit. The Chief seems to like him. With no other possible candidate, he is the most likely to get the farm. That is why she doesn't like him. You remember how she acted at lunch? He is a threat to Sokka's position as heir." He snapped his fingers. "You're going to be a witness. Can you tell me who are mentioned in the will?"
"I will only witness his signature, not the content of the actual will. I thought you said you know how to make a will."
"But it has been a while. Maybe the practice has changed."
Suddenly Han saw someone near the door. "What are you doing here?"
Lee walked out to the terrace. "I've been in the library. I was asked to be a witness."
Han huffed then left.
Lee rubbed his scar. "What's the problem with him? I know he dislikes people like me, but he doesn't have to run away whenever I come."
"People like you?"
"Fire Nation people."
"About that, I've been meaning to ask you. You have an uncanny resemblance to a Fire Nation nobleman. I'm sorry to say he was notorious for his questionable business practices."
"I know who you're talking about. That's my father."
"Then, you're Zuko?"
"Yes. I don't share his beliefs. You understand why I have to get away?"
"I understand. I apologize for bringing this up."
Later on, Arnook came with Han on his heels. "Lee! Is it true that's not your real name?"
Lee quickly stood up. "What do you mean?"
"Han told me your real name is Zuko."
"I'm under the impression that in this country I may use whatever name I choose."
Han confronted him. "But normal people don't change their name. Maybe you did it to hide the fact that you're a crook."
Lee held his fists by his sides. "Don't make me hurt you."
Aang tried to calm them. "I can assure you, Arnook. His name change has no ill intent. I know of his family."
Arnook mumbled. "I have to consult Xin Fu."
"He went to the summer house," Han supplied.
After Arnook left, Lee said to Aang. "I'm sorry, I have things to do."
As he went over the threshold, he bumped Han who then cringed and rubbed his shoulder. "Remember what I told you about barbaric people?"
Sokka came. "Do you know where the Chief is? I need to talk to him."
Han smirked, "He's at the summer house with Xin Fu."
Sokka blanched. "The lawyer?"
At that moment Appa walked up to Sokka. "Hi there boy. What is it? You want to walk?" Appa promptly barked.
Suddenly Ryu came. "Sokka, let's walk the dog to the lake. You need the exercise, you're too pale."
Sokka was still reeling from the news. "If you say so. But we have to get back at half past four for tea."
"No problem. I'll get my stick," Ryu said as he walked out.
Aang almost dozed off when he heard a blood curdling scream. He looked out of the terrace to find the source. When he saw Lee running towards a structure almost completely covered by greeneries, he ran down the terrace steps to the same direction. He was joined by Sokka and Ryu.
"That was my sister. Lee, what happened?"
Lee came out of the garden house. "Chief Arnook has been killed."
Suddenly Han appeared behind Aang "What do you mean? Let me see."
Lee lifted a hand. "No one is to enter. Han, call the police. The rest of you, wait in the drawing room."
As they left, Aang managed to see Arnook's body lying on the floor in a prone position. Red colour marred the back of his white shirt.
The police used the library to interview everybody who was at the house one by one, starting with the lawyer. The rest waited in the drawing room. Silence and misery hung in the air. The only sound was the muffled sobs of Katara. Lee was holding her but he said nothing.
Han was restless. "How much longer do we have to wait?"
Ryu said, "We can do our own investigation. We know almost to the minute when the Chief was killed. Xin Fu was the last one to see him alive and he said he left the summer house a few minutes before half past four. The only question is where is everybody at the precise moment?"
Aang said, "I have no objection in saying where I was. In the terrace."
Ryu was quick to question that. "Can you prove it?"
"No, I don't think I can. It was rather unfortunate now I think of it. I mean all of you have an alibi, with the exception of myself. Each one of you has somebody who can vouch for the fact that you were in a particular spot at a particular time. You couldn't have arranged it better if you know the murder was going to be committed."
Sokka chuckled. "He's right, you know. Katara was going out to the garden. Xin Fu can corroborate that."
Han stated "I was showing the gardener how to clip the hedge."
"Ryu and I were down by the lake with Appa. Where were you Lee?" asked Sokka.
"Well, I'm in the same position as Aang. I was in the library but I can't prove it because no one saw me there."
Han's voice was incredulous, "The library? What use is a library to a foreman?"
Lee's voice was tight. "I'm afraid I must leave your vulgar curiosity unsatisfied."
Katara told Lee, "I did see you."
Lee denied it. "You were in the kitchen, making arrangements for tea. There's no need to lie on my behalf."
"I mean when I went out to the garden. I could see you through the library window."
Han was impatient. "Since you're being so frank, tell us why you left your own country and changed your name, Zuko?"
Aang stood up. "Gentlemen, I think we should all stick to the point."
Han was not to be deterred. "But this might be the point. Well, if he doesn't want to tell us, you seem to know all about it."
Aang sat back down. "Yes I do and it has nothing to do with Arnook's death. This man came from a long, very distinguished family. He's also a man of principles. He put his own father in jail, Lord Ozai, a rich nobleman of Fire Nation. That's why he doesn't use his own name."
Lee sat next to Katara. "Now that you know who I was, I can tell you all that I went to the library looking for a book about Fire Nation nobility to prove to the Chief that I'm not after Katara's money."
Ryu said, "But it doesn't change the fact that he's the only one of us without an alibi. Katara might have been mistaken."
Aang said, "Well I should have thought that if the finger of suspicion is going to point at anybody, it would be me."
The door opened and a policeman called out. "The Inspector would like a word with the foreman."
After the door closed behind Lee, Sokka knelt beside his sister. "Did you know about all that?"
"Of course I did."
"So, the Chief was wrong in thinking he was a fortune hunter."
"He was wrong about a lot of things. He was a man of very strong opinions."
"Sadly he had very strong opinions about me."
"You were one of the things he was wrong about. Your experiments are not useless. You invented the harvester machine and you improved the irrigation."
Sokka was moved. "Thank you for those kind words, Sis."
Katara excused herself when Song came looking for her.
Ryu got up from his chair. "We don't seem to be getting on very far. Rather like one of those locked room mysteries. Except so far we don't have the murder weapon."
Han had an idea. "I can think of one. What happened immediately after Katara found
Ryu tried to remember. "She screamed, Lee ran towards her, we all saw him, then he went into the summer house."
"And what did he do then?"
"He examined the Chief's body and declared he was stabbed in the back and already dead."
"How did he know that?"
"He cut away the clothing and saw the wound. Why?"
"And what did he cut it with?"
Sokka interrupted. "The pocket knife he always have with him."
Han smiled triumphantly. "Exactly. When Katara found him, was the Chief dead?"
Ryu tried to follow his reasoning. "You mean Lee could have killed him afterwards, when he was pretending to examine the body? He could have stabbed the Chief straight to his heart!"
After listening to their theories, Aang spoke up. "What was Arnook doing lying on the floor? Enjoying some form of siesta? I don't think so."
Sokka tried to explain. "He might have fainted."
"Katara saw the blood stain on the back of Arnook's white shirt and that was what made her scream.".
When Katara entered the room, Ryu asked whether the police have found the murder weapon. She confirmed they were still looking.
Sokka was absentmindedly stroking Appa when he suddenly said, "I just realized. Appa is the only witness who hasn't been interviewed."
Ryu dismissed him as ridiculous. "He wasn't there. He was down by the lake with us."
"But he knew. You remember I asked you what time it was, and you said 20 past four so we went down to the lake, fooled around for a bit, throwing sticks to the water for Appa to fetch. You went along the bank with him and suddenly he sat down by the edge of the lake and he howled. I'm sure he knew. That must have been the precise moment of the murder."
"How on earth," said Katara with disbelief.
"I don't know, but it happened. He sat down by the edge of the lake and he howled. And a moment later we heard you scream. You remember how well Appa and the Chief got along together. They understood each other. It's like telepathy."
Ryu said, "I've just thought of something else. You remember when we went back into the garden? What was the first thing we saw?"
Sokka tried to remember. "Katara was standing by the side of the door of the summer house, the Chief's body lying there. Xin Fu was in the garden."
Ryu asked him, "What did Appa do?"
"I know!" Sokka exclaimed. "The moment Appa saw Xin Fu, he ran into the garden and barked at him. He wanted us to know how much he detested him. At the next moment Xin Fu ran away into the house."
Aang spoke up. "So the dog denounced him? No finger of lightning came down from the heavens and pointed at Xin Fu?"
Sokka was bewildered. "What's the matter? What did I say?"
Aang said, "Dogs howled and barked. It was never part of any judicial process."
Katara was adamant. "I'm sure Appa knows who killed the Chief. If he could speak, he would tell us."
Aang sighed. "If a dog dislikes somebody, how does it usually behave?"
"Exactly. But on this occasion when he saw Xin Fu, he barked. The lawyer is a very nervous type."
Sokka asked Aang, "What does it have to do with Appa?"
"Dogs don't like nervous people and nervous people don't like dogs. What we do know is the dog barked and the man ran away. But none of you seems simple enough to realize, the dog barked at the man because he dislikes him and the man ran away because he was frightened. It wasn't because the dog was about to recognize his master's murderer. Xin Fu was running away from Appa, not the police."
"All right, Xin Fu didn't kill the Chief. Who did?" asked Sokka.
Aang paused then said, "I can't help thinking this dreadful tragedy was brought about by Arnook's decision to change his will."
Sokka looked down as he said, "We don't know how he changed it. Xin Fu wouldn't say anything. Maybe the police told him not to."
"And we don't know what he changed it from," Aang added.
Sokka poured himself some tea from the tea tray brought by Song. "There's no mystery about that. Originally everything was going to me as Yue's husband. I'm sure you know the Chief and I had not been going along lately. I think he was going to cut me out."
Aang pondered for a moment. "It gives you a motive, isn't it?"
Sokka huffed. "Yes, for killing him before the will was changed, not after. What's the point?"
Katara dismissed the idea. "I refuse to believe that. You don't know Sokka as I do."
Aang shrugged. "It would help us to know who Arnook was going to leave this farm and all his money to."
Sokka pointed to Ryu, "I thought him. He called him here as he changed the will."
"It's something we won't know until the will is read," Aang concluded.
Katara looked up. "No, we don't have to wait until then. The Chief told me what he planned to do. He decided Sokka wasn't the right person to leave this farm to, so he decided to change his will and leave everything to me."
Sokka jumped out of his chair. "What? After all those things he said about women and about Lee being a fortune hunter?"
Katara passionately said, "He changed his opinion. He knows I am capable managing this farm. I'm sorry you don't like Lee, but he certainly isn't a fortune hunter. If he wants to, he can get the family money. He just wanted a fresh start." She took a deep breath. "When I heard from the Chief, I made up my mind, I'm going to share it with you."
Sokka was stunned. "Oh wow, Sis."
Later that afternoon Katara met Aang in the library. "The police still has not found the murder weapon. I suppose I have to make arrangements for the funeral. I ought to wear something black."
Aang glanced up and looked at Katara in her white dress. "Do you mind going to the summer house and sit in the chair that Arnook sat in just for a little while? Appa and I will take a walk. He may be able to tell us something after all."
As they walked towards the front door, Aang pointed to the many sticks in the umbrella stand. "May I borrow one of Arnook's walking sticks?"
Katara nodded, "Of course." She then left by the terrace door.
Aang was met by Sokka. "Are you going for a walk?"
Ryu came in from the next room. "I can do with some exercise as well. Why don't we all go?"
Sokka sighed. "Oh well okay. Do you find one you like?"
Aang held a black stick in his hands. "Ebony, I like this."
"Weighs a ton. It was a gift from the leader of the Foggy Swamp people," said Sokka.
As they walked, Aang asked, "Are you sure you went down this path? Not straight to the lake?"
Sokka confirmed. "We went as far as this."
"It's odd. From the garden side, the hedge looks pretty solid. But as you can see, from this side it's really rather thin. Come and look, you can see through the lattice work that made up the summer house wall. Can you see something white?"
Sokka peered in. "Yes, that must be the chair."
Aang corrected him. "Somebody is sitting in the chair, a lattice chair with holes on it. Wearing a white shirt. This must be what the murderer have seen. A small white patch, a target. He must have made up his mind quite suddenly, to strike." As he said that, he pushed one end of his walking stick into the white patch. They heard a thump from the garden house.
Sokka was puzzled. "You mean the Chief was already dead when Ryu and I passed this hedge? It couldn't be. It was twenty past four when we went down to the lake."
Aang asked the young man, "How did you know that?"
"Because I didn't have a watch, so I asked Ryu. You remember, Ryu? Tea was at half past four so we have another ten minutes."
Ryu was silent during the whole exchange.
Aang said, "I think it was half past four already. I think when you asked for time, your sister was already on her way to the summer house to call Arnook and I think he was already dead."
Sokka asked incredulously, "Are you suggesting one of us killed him? It's impossible. We were together all the time. We came along the side of the hedge and we went straight to the lake. I'll show you." He ran towards the water.
"I stood about here, throwing stick into the water for Appa to fetch. Then Ryu joined me."
"I thought he was with you all the time."
"Yes he was. No, no. Wait a minute. I remember calling out. That was when I asked what time it was. He had a pebble in his shoe so he stopped to get it out."
Aang turned to Ryu. "So you stayed up there for a while. You decided to take a gamble, you always was a bit of a gambler. That's how you lost your job in the Colonies. You were wrong that time and it cost you your job. You were wrong this time too and it cost Arnook his life. You knew he was changing his will and there was a chance he gave it all to you. The only thing that stood between you and a lot of money was that little white patch peeping through the hedge."
The younger man asked, "Are you going to tell us how?"
Aang looked down to Appa. "I'm waiting for him to tell us."
"Appa? You said he can't tell us anything," Sokka reminded him.
"Dogs can tell us a lot, as long we listen to them on their own terms." As he said this, Appa barked.
"I think he wants to play with sticks. I happen to have one with me."
Sokka remembered, "Ryu had his walking stick with him."
"Yes, I thought so. What do you think will happen if I throw this?"
"He will fetch it."
"Let's try, we'll see what happens." Aang threw the stick into the lake and it disappeared under the water. Appa swam around for a while before returning to the shore. He then howled.
Sokka was surprised. "It was just like before. It's weird."
Aang told him, "It was totally logical behaviour. He's howling because he couldn't find the stick. He couldn't find it because it was made of ebony. It was one of the few woods that's heavier than water. It's lying in the bottom of the lake, with the other one."
"What other one?"
"The one that killed Arnook. Not exactly a walking stick, but a long sword stick. A thin blade of steel that pulled out of a casing of wood. They are quite common in the Colonies. Ryu could have put it back in the umbrella stand, nobody would have noticed. But maybe it was safer to destroy the evidence."
Sokka turned around. "Ryu? Where's Ryu?"
They heard the sound of engine starting and tires on gravel.
Sokka started running back to the house. "He's running away! We must stop him!"
Aang and Appa remained behind by the lake, with the dog looking up steadily at Aang.
A.N. This is inspired by a Father Brown episode, The Oracle of the Dog. If you feel the language style is not consistent, it's because I quoted a lot from the TV series and from the book.
When I watched it, I thought the situation of the story fit perfectly with the Avatar: Last Airbender characters. Father Brown is a priest and Aang is a monk. That was easy and at first I wrote Aang as a monk who happened to be an antique expert. But as the story progressed, the monk character didn't fit so I changed it to Aang the antique expert.