Sordid Family Secrets and the Morpho Menelaus Butterfly – Dark Witch, Part 3


This time we conclude the novel Dark Witch by Erica Li Min and Atushuoli (《黑夜女巫》李敏,阿圖說力合著). We pick up the story at chapter 9 in the morning at the Yang Estate. Mia is relaxed and enchanted by the estate’s atmosphere at breakfast and the wide variety of animals that they see out in the garden, including foxes, squirrels and peacocks. Detective Aofuman arrives to notify Mia that the British Ministry of Interior said they’d have the Factor VIII test results in a few days’ time, and Qian Fu and Tiandong Ji (sorry, I keep screwing up his name in the previous posts for some reason) wants to know the details. The family is in conflict over the suggestion that Guorong was murdered, and Mia wonders if she should go to a hotel or offer money to reimburse them for her stay at the estate. After breakfast, she packs her bags to leave, but Qian Fu convinces her to stay.

That afternoon, Mia goes to the hospital morgue again, this time to examine Andi’s body. Chapter 11 gives a rather graphic description of her examination and dissection of the body, and Mia consults with Aofuman and the female attendant again. Aofuman suggests that the murderer must be a woman since both of the men in the immediate family were killed, and he brings up a potential rival coffee’s curse as the cause. There was apparently a point where the employees of Guorong’s coffee company seized millions in assets. Mia decides she wants the British Ministry’s laboratory to test Andi for poison and have an analysis of his stomach contents. She also takes photos. Later, she and Aofuman go out to eat at a local restaurant in a cave on Kaaiman’s River, and they ride a train to the remote location and try some local cuisine, saddle of lamb and curry prawn. Mia asks Aofuman if the police took Andi’s diary from his room, but he doesn’t know anything about it. Aofuman discusses a rape case he worked on 20 years earlier, and this is the first time I think the text noted that Aofuman is black.

Aofuman takes Mia back to the estate fairly late at night, and Mia finds herself in the rec room with Tiandong Ji. He is wearing a kimono, and they talk about chess. He quotes her a little poetry and talks about the character of each person in the household based on how they play chess. Qian Fu walks in on them. He had gone to the police because Mia hadn’t come home, and once he starts a game of chess with Tiandong Ji, the two men get in a fight, bringing Ankei and Anli on to the scene.

Qian Fu calls Mia on her cell phone early the next morning, waking her up, and she tries to get him to meet her in the parlor. He insists he needs to talk by phone but is interrupted by Yigan’s crying. Mia is then summoned by the housekeeper to see Mrs. Yang. The housekeeper briefs her on Mrs. Yang’s situation. She felt Guorong was rather callous toward his wife, especially since her accident falling down the stairs 4 months earlier that left her paralyzed with a broken back. They were married 40 years, but he was never home after the coffee business got big. Suddenly, he brought home the pregnant twenty-four year old model Jiabi from Brazil, and Mrs. Yang fainted at their meeting. His children tried to persuade him to get rid of the woman, but Jiabi was confirmed to be carrying a Yang child.

They arrive at the room where Mrs. Yang is waiting to talk with Mia, a strange room full of butterfly decorations, including an oil painting of a blue butterfly and many butterfly books. Mia complements her on the decorations, and Mrs. Yang launches into a discussion of the Morpho butterfly and its relation to the Greek God of dreams Morpheus, and the butterfly’s connection with the Amazon River. Here is a link with details on that type of butterfly:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morpho_menelaus

Morpho Menelaus

Morpho Menelaus, photo by Didier Descouens

Mrs. Yang makes it clear to Mia that knowing the cause of both men’s deaths won’t bring them back, so she asks Mia to leave. The housekeeper announces the driver is bringing around the car to take Mia to the airport. Mia asks if she can take one of the butterfly books with her, and Mrs. Yang gives her permission. As Mia takes her things out to the car, she is intercepted by Detective Aofuman. He has the results of the Factor VIII test, which prove Guorong’s death was not due to hemophilia! Aofuman herds them all into the reading room so he can give them the test results and question them one by one. Mrs. Yang is clearly unhappy to see Mia still there and hear that the results are in. Anli is among the first of the family to arrive in the room, and she asks if she is a suspect. They tell her she isn’t. They ask for name, nationality, occupation, any alibis and evidence of their whereabouts at the times of death, and they even allow them to implicate each other in the deaths.

A few interesting details come out in this very long interrogation chapter, which is chapter 18. It is established that both men died after eating dinner with the family. It comes out that Guorong loaned Tiandong Ji money and that there was some consternation about his impending marriage to Ankei. Mrs. Yang wasn’t taken to the hospital after she fell, but they only called Dr. Oumu. Tiangdong Ji notes that his primary income was chess match prizes and that he has held some title for 3 years. He taught Andi chess and met and fell in love with Ankei that way. I think Guorong loaned him $80,000 American dollars but he had 3 days to decide if he would allow them to pressure him to cancel his wedding to Ankei and leave her. Guorong had died before the cut off date. Aofuman considers this a strong motive for murdering both men. Tiandong Ji mentions that Qian Fu wanted his son Yigan to carry on the family business eventually.

Jiabi answers their questions through Lawyer Pang in Portuguese. Guorong signed a contract with her to bear him a child. After spending a month to get her pregnant, they confirmed the pregnancy and had her take a DNA test to prove the child was his. At that time, he brought her to South Africa. She implicates the housekeeper and Mrs. Yang as the murderers because Guorong doted on Jiabi since their return. I think, however, that their contract allows Jiabi to return to Brazil after the baby is born.

Ankei comes next and notes her primary source of income is fortune telling. She talks about trying to discover the murderer using coffee grinds, and it came up “s” again, which she says indicates Sonia, the housekeeper’s English name. She also suggests the motive was Andi and Guorong brought around Tiandong Ji and Jiabi, so she killed the men. Qian Fu turns out to be of Chinese-Russian mixed heritage, born in England. He had some minor disagreements with both men over Andi running the business in Guorong’s absence and their hemophilia symptoms. Qian Fu strongly implicates Tiandong Ji, saying he had the strongest motive to kill them. Qian Fu thinks Tiandong Ji is running a scam in trying to marry Ankei.

The housekeeper comes in next to announce Mrs. Yang is refusing to cooperate with questioning, asserting some legal right. They finish questioning her and bring in Lawyer Pang to explain how he got drunk the night Andi died, the arrangement with Jiabi, and the wills. Jiabi’s unborn baby was already named Zhengzong Yang, and in the event Guorong was murdered, the will stated the estate was to be evenly divided between Andi and Zhengzong with Zhengzong’s portion to be managed by Andi until he turned 18. Possibly Mrs. Yang would get Andi’s half now that Andi was dead.

There are a lot of scenes of the family and the ongoing friction over Ankei’s wedding and the murders, while Aofuman and Mia continue to kick around a few theories of what happened to Guorong and Andi. Mia and Qian Fu still have some painful moments agonizing over their breakup seven years earlier. Jiabi worries that she is having a miscarriage and complains to Mia about harassment by the staff and family. Mia suggests having Lawyer Pang set her up at a hotel and seeing about getting protection from Aofuman.

The Yang Estate has a pool party once a year, and Mia attends this year’s bash. She ends up dancing with Qian Fu, and he wants her to leave South Africa with him. They talk again about when they were together at school and how Anli interrupted that. Someone gives Mia a letter in English asking her to meet them in the greenhouse, so she goes there, discovering that it isn’t for plants but has thousands of Brazilian Blue Morpho butterflies and Andi’s diary! She is injured on a vine and loses consciousness. Waking up in the hospital, she tells Aofuman that she had the diary, but that it disappeared. He goes to look for it while Mia talks with Dr. Oumu about poisonous Brazilian vines.

Aofuman returns with the diary, which he got from Qian Fu, and they go into the morgue to examine Tiandong Ji’s body. Andi’s diary implicates Tiandong Ji as the murderer, but he is now dead due to cyanide poisoning from his coffee. They are unsure if the handwriting in Andi’s diary is authentic. Later Aofuman comes back with information, perhaps from the British government report, on Brazilian plants and bugs, and he has discovered the Lonomia caterpillar, which he pulls up on the computer. Here is the run down on that moth:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonomia

Lonomia Catepillar

Lonomia Catepillar, Photo By Rodrigo Morante

Mia and Aofuman return to the Yang Estate and ask the family to gather in the lounge. Before they join them, Mia talks with Mrs. Yang about the butterflies in the greenhouse. She only raises Morphos, not any other kind of butterfly. It is revealed, too, that none of the Yang children are really Guorong’s, that Mrs. Yang had all of them by her former boyfriend whom she was not permitted to marry! Her father married her off to Guorong, who was a relative. They go into the lounge and begin to unravel the case. One of the first things they bring up is that the murder weapon was likely to be either a poisonous vine or bug, and Anli volunteers that if she were the murderer, she would never use such a method. Ankei insists butterflies Mia mentions, a yellow and black variety, were Guorong and Andi’s souls.

Then they discuss the Lonomia moth’s poison. Mia speculates that Mrs. Yang was poisoned by a Lonomia and fell because of that somehow. Suddenly, Mia remembers that Anli studied rainforest insects when they were at school. They realize that Anli used Lomonia caterpillars to kill Guorong and Andi and attempt to kill Mrs. Yang, and that she could have gotten cyanide from the hospital. They ask Anli to respond to the accusation. Anli asks what her motive would have been. I’m a bit confused on this point since they talk about her parentage and something about butterflies in dreams. Anli makes an excuse and eats cyanide before they can take her to the police station. Now she is in a coma and may never come to again. Yigan tearfully asks Qian Fu what’s going on as Qian Fu apologizes to Mia for not realizing Anli might try to commit suicide.

The story then wraps up with Jiabi discovering her contract with Guorong was broken after his death, so she can take her baby back to Brazil with her once it’s born. Ankei realizes the “s” in her coffee grinds meant “sister” not “Sonia.” Mia thanks them and leaves for the airport, dreaming of Qinghuai Wu on the plane ride back home. The case of the Dark Witch is solved.

Part three of a three part series.

Next time: We return to Japan to take a look at Fuyumi Ono’s The Bloody Labyrinth!

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About Lady Xiansa

Lady Xiansa is a writer, linguist, artist, and dancer. She has been a core volunteer for the Silk Screen Asian Arts Organization since 2007 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction E-book in the 2016 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards.
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