THE CASE OF THE FISHY TALE

In this exclusive mystery, writer Nury Vittachi, author of The Feng Shui Detective series of novels, challenges readers to solve a short story puzzle about a deadly fish dish



FENG SHUI MASTER C.F. Wong was shocked by the vehemence of the phone call he received from his client, Ding Yuen. Or perhaps the phrase should be "former client", because Ding opened by telling Wong that he would never be hired again.

"According to your reading of my heavenly stems and earthly branches today should be a day of happy excitement ending with an auspicious event," Ding lamented. "Instead, it is the day that I spend in gloom, and finish in ill health or death."

Wong told his assistant Joyce to phone a taxi immediately. Twelve minutes later, they were on the way to the wealthy quarter of the city, close to Dingís mansion.

Wong briefed Joyce by telling her that Ding had a strange habit. At noon every day, he would eat the egg of a giant fugu fish, the most delicious and deadly of all sea creatures. "It is highly poisonous, and causes death within a few hours," he said.

ĎSo how come Ding isnít dead?"

The old feng shui master twined his fingers together. "It is deadly unless you eat it with an egg from the giant gufu fish, which acts as an anecdote."

"Antidote."

"Yes. He keeps ponds of giant fugu fish and giant gufu. Maybe today Ding ate the fugu but forgot to eat the gufu or something."

They arrived at Dingís mansion and were led by a distressed servant to the dining room, where the mountainously obese Ding sat in a cloud of furious misery.

"What is the problem exactly, please, Ding-saan?" Wong asked, bowing his head.

Ding pointed to his plate. "That is the problem."

Wong nodded. "I see," he said.

Looking at the plate, the difficulty was obvious. There were three glutinous, over-sized fish eggs on his plate, instead of two.

The gourmand whined: "I got my fishing net out and picked up my usual fugu egg, and then I got out a gufu egg. Then I was interrupted by a phone call from some imbecile and accidentally got out another gufu egg."

Joyce had the solution. "Why donít you just put the extra gufu egg back?"

Ding glared at her. "Who is this idiot woman?"

Wong bowed and apologized. "Sorry, sorry, sorry, she is my assistant, thank you for calling her an idiot woman, very accurate and useful term." He glared at the young woman.

"Iíll tell you the problem," Ding said to Joyce. "Fugu eggs and gufu eggs look exactly the same. I donít know which one to put back, and which pond to put it back into. So I canít put one back. If I eat all three eggs, the balance will be wrong and I will die. If I try to guess which two to eat, I might eat the two gufu eggs, the balance will be wrong and I will die. And you dared to tell me that this would be an auspicious day, Wong."

"Sorry, sorry, sorry," Wong apologized again. He routinely over-charged Ding, and did not want to lose one of a small group of customers who paid inflated invoices without reading them.

Joyce was struggling to think up a solution. "I know," she said. "Why donít you just skip the fish eggs today, and have something else, I donít know, a hot dog or something?"

Ding glared at her. "Young idiots can eat what they want. If we old people donít get our medicine in the right quantities at the right times, we wither and die."

The feng shui master stared at the items on the plate. There were three globular, gelatinous shapes, all identical. Without a complex DNA analysis, there was no way of knowing which was which. How could Wong ensure that Ding got one fugu egg and one gufu egg before lunchtime was over?

The answer came to him. He solved the problem, and a few minutes later wrote out a fat invoice for Ding, which the client paid happily on the spot. "An auspicious day for me, anyway," whispered Wong as he and Joyce left the mansion.

How did Wong solve the dilemma? Click here for the answer.