Dim Sum Mysteries - 13. Chapter 13 - Puzzles and Cookies
Chapter 13 – Puzzles and Cookies
Saturday, the Liu household, 09:20
I was having trouble trying to convince my mother to let me take Anna over to a friend’s place. As far as I knew, she was convinced that I was the most irresponsible son on the entire planet ever since that entire incident with Ned. I was sitting at the dining table, watching her clean up the kitchen, which was a bit of a mess. And then I had an interesting idea.
“Mom,” I began.
“What?” she said, her nose practically buried in a stack of dishes she was rinsing.
“If you let me go, I can help out with the dishes so you can go to work,” I said, trying to be as blunt as possible.
My mom paused and looked up at me. “You can wash dishes?”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Mom, I’m not that useless,” I said. Then I added in an elongated kiddy tone, “Pwetty pwease?”
Her eyes flickered to and fro, from me to the dishes and dirty Tupperware containers and glasses and spoons and forks. She seemed to be thinking, like her final decision was a matter of life or death. Then she sighed and smiled at me.
“Okay,” she said and I screamed a ‘yes!’ inside of my head. “But don’t break anything! And Anna has to be home before dinner and the kitchen should be spotless by the time I get home from the restaurant.”
Saturday, Reginald Road, 10:07
“Wow, is this the place?” Anna asked, staring at the house in front of us.
“I guess so,” I said, striding over to the mailbox. “Yeah, it says the number 13 here.”
I took a moment to observe Victoria’s manor. It was mostly white, which gave it a sort of outlandish look, especially because all the other houses on Reginald Road were deeper, darker colors. I estimated it to have been built in the early twentieth century and it looked really antique. The small front lawn was trimmed, though, and the windows looked clean and new. It was a two-storey building, but I guessed that there was an attic as well. I thought that was pretty cool – I love attics. Great place to write, I heard.
The front door opened and Yuki came out of the house, dragging a black rubbish bag behind her. She waved at us with a free hand.
“Yuki!” I said, surprised. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Of course,” she replied as she made her way towards us. “If you’re worried about my dad; don’t be. Doctors said he’ll be back home by next week.”
I felt relieved when she finished the sentence. “That’s good.”
“We’re still trying to clean up the entire place,” Yuki explained. I lifted the lid of the rubbish bin for her. “Apparently, some hooligans often broke into the manor and had all kinds of parties in there, if you know what I mean.”
With all three of us lending our strength, we finally heaved the bag into the bin. When we were done, Yuki dusted off her hands and shook her head in confusion. “I have never seen so many used condoms in one building before.”
We walked up the short flight of stairs leading to the front door and headed inside. It was bright but cool, a reminder that summer, and the end of my sophomore year in high school, was only a month away. The inside of the manor was just as antique as the outside, but it was actually quite cozy. The corners of the walls were still covered in cobwebs and the floorboards were creaking like hell, but it actually felt homely.
Then we heard a piercing scream.
“JEFFRY! STOP IT!”
Nicole came running out of the end of hallway, followed by Jeffry who was holding something up. Nicole hid behind me, even though she was a bit taller than I was. As Jeffry’s wide grin got nearer, I could see that he was holding a large, grayish brown rat by its worm-like tail. It was feebly pawing the air.
In unison, Yuki and Anna screamed and jumped about when Jeffry passed them. I didn’t do the same, of course, since I was, you know, a guy, and I had to be the only brave one in the group–
“Holy shit, Jeffry, GET THAT THING AWAY FROM ME!” I yelled, backing away from him as he swung the rat my way.
“You’re all a bunch of pussies,” Jeffry commented. Then he winked at me and said, “Both figuratively and literally.”
Once he exited the building with the rat to hopefully dispose of it, we all breathed out a sigh of relief. Nicole got out from her miserable hiding place behind me and put her hands on her hips.
“Ugh, that asshole! I can’t believe I had sex with him last year for nothing in return,” she commented.
“Are there are more of them?” Anna whispered. Her face had gone even paler than I thought was possible.
“Er, Jeffry said that he caught three of them, so that makes four,” Yuki said.
Nicole pointed at Anna and me. “You two are just in time to help clear out the attic. We’re setting up our meeting room there. Oh, and … we’re gonna have to share the bedrooms and there are only two of them. Victoria just claimed one for herself.”
“Bedrooms?” I repeated. “What for?”
“We’re gonna have shifts,” Yuki told me. “We need somebody here at all times to check on the GPS tracking system. Jeffry can’t be here every night, so …”
“So we have to, like, have sleepovers here or something?”
“Yup,” Nicole replied, nodding at me. “But since today’s our official colonization of this new territory, we’re all going to have a sleepover tonight.”
“Well, not Anna, though,” I said as my sister shot me a pouty look. “My parents would kill me if they found out I was taking her to some abandoned old house at night.”
On our way up the stairs, we met Artie and Michael going the opposite way, carrying a desk. We backed off towards the wall to make room for them.
“It’s like we’re moving into the place,” I commented.
“Victoria’s got us moving things around all the time,” Michael said, walking precariously backwards down the stairs. “We had to carry this desk up and down like four times now.”
Anna and I followed Nicole into the attic as Yuki went to go fetch Victoria. The second floor was a little bit dustier than the first floor, but it was actually quite bearable. The wallpaper was in tatters and the door frames were a mess. On one blank wall, there were mindless scribbles made in permanent marker and some graffiti as well. I think one corner of the corridor smelled like stale vomit.
The attic was surprisingly quite clean, but it was empty and lifeless. There was nothing there at all except for modern desk at the edge. Was this where we were going to meet up from now on?
“I guess we should get cleaning,” Nicole said. She went over to the desk and took the broom and feather duster on top of it.
“What are you gonna do?” I asked, taking the broom and handing the feather duster to Anna.
Nicole shrugged. “I gotta clean up the kitchen and the basement, I guess. I just hope I don’t come across any more rats.”
She shivered and headed towards the door. Before she left, she turned around and called back, “By the way, we’re gonna have lunch at the Jade Phoenix. It’s been a while since I had some Asian food.”
Saturday, Victoria’s Manor, 12:04
The afternoon was getting pretty hot and, combined with the dusty air it was like we were working in hell or something. Anna and I had dusted off the attic pretty well and with the window open, the atmosphere was pretty bearable. We moved to the second floor, where it was cooler, and helped Michael clean up the bedrooms while Artie, Nicole and Yuki made the backyard somewhat presentable. Jeffry had taken over cleaning up the basement and had found two more rats there.
It was kind of exciting, knowing that we had the whole house to ourselves. It was like a little kid’s dream come true and that little kid was me – I remember playing forts and stuff when I was in elementary school on the playground with the other boys. This time, we had a real fort, a whole manor, for ourselves. I guess Victoria wasn’t so bad after all for lending us the place. It was hers, after all.
By now, the manor looked pretty decent, though there wasn’t much we could do about the graffiti and the weird stains on the walls. Victoria mentioned that she was going to get some people paint and give the house a bit of a facelift later on. Well, I had heard that from Nicole – I hadn’t seen Victoria herself at all today.
I was watching Jeffry and Michael set up the computers in the attic when I heard footsteps.
“So, the manor is getting back into shape,” Victoria commented. “Unfortunately, it will never be restored to its original glory, even with our best efforts.”
I blinked at her. “Whoa, since when did you turn blonde?”
Victoria’s originally black hair had been dyed completely platinum blonde. The streaks of dark blue were still there, which I thought was kind of odd.
She gave me a nod, but ignored my question. “Jeffry, Michael, once you’re done, we shall depart for the restaurant. I’m sure you’re all a bit hungry by now.”
Saturday, the Jade Phoenix, 12:44
The restaurant was packed, but since I was the son of the owner of the place, we easily got seats. Yeah, I was spoiled. It was heavenly inside – air-conditioned and with cold drinks as well. Michael was ecstatic to have another free meal. It was almost funny and kinda cute, because he was like a little kid, seriously.
When we finished the main courses, our conversation eventually turned to the topic of the message from Ned as we waited for our desserts.
“What do you think of the message?” Yuki asked me.
“I don’t know,” I told her truthfully. “The texts keep on getting weirder every time.”
Nicole nodded at me. “Yeah, you’re right. You know, you gotta wonder … why bother sending the texts at all? If they wanted to kill people, why would they give us a warning at all? They’ve been stopped a couple of times before.”
“And why isn’t the school in an uproar ever since Ned got caught?” Artie wondered aloud. “He’s a troublemaker and pretty infamous. “
“I can explain that,” Victoria said. “I cast a spell to slow down the spread of the news in the school. It won’t last long though.”
Jeffry narrowed his eyes at her. “Um … right. Anyway, let’s get back to figuring out the message, shall we?”
“What do you think, Anna?” Yuki asked. “Any comments?”
“M-me?” Anna said, pointing at herself. “Um, let me see. I guess we shouldn’t focus on the roses and violets. I think the important bit is the part about ‘winning’s not everything’.”
“Winning, huh,” Nicole repeated absently.
“Maybe they mean like a competition or something,” Anna suggested. “Are there any contests or games coming up?”
“Not lately, at least not in the sports department,” Michael spoke up. “What with all the murders, it’s been hard to invite other schools in the state to participate in a few matches.”
Anna nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, then maybe the Gunner’s targeting people in the sports clubs. I mean, winning is usually the goal for the competitive clubs, right?”
I smiled at her, swelling with pride. I appreciated her insight and I sensed that the others did too.
“That means we can narrow down the possible victims,” Victoria pointed out. “Bill’s in the football team, so we watch out for him. Andrew McKnight’s the track team’s leader too. And …”
She turned to Michael. “You’re in the water polo team, Michael.”
“I know,” Michael replied quietly, not facing her.
I couldn’t even bear the thought of losing Michael. I made a mental note to myself to keep both eyes on him.
“What about trying to find who the Gunner is, then?” Artie asked. “We need to find out who the he or she is.”
“We’ll work out a plan back at the manor,” Victoria said. “But next Friday, I’m pretty sure we’ll get our answers.”
Saturday, Victoria’s Manor, 13:34
The heat was relentless – it was just as hot, maybe even hotter than it had been before. I wanted to suggest getting the place air-conditioned, but you know, it wasn’t really my house. I don’t know how girls manage to stay so calm in the heat. Yuki, Nicole, Anna and Victoria seemed quite fine even though they looked pretty tired from cleaning up the manor. Us boys, on the other hand, we’re sweating like we had just run in a marathon in the middle of the Sahara desert at midday.
But we bit the bullet and helped set up the meeting room in the attic. Victoria had an electronic fan all this time and it was nice to get some air circulating up there. We opened the windows too and fortunately for us, there was a slight breeze blowing in.
We all sat on the large mat we brought up there, fanning ourselves. At least it was bearable now. Michael was trying to play-wrestle with me, but as much as I loved the warmth of him, I needed some space because it was just too freaking hot.
Nicole, sitting up against the wall, looked at us all lazily. “Okay, let’s get this meeting underway, people,” she said, her words stretching out longer than usual. “Ooh, it must be like over a hundred degrees in here … in Celsius!”
“Do you need me to summon an air spirit to cool us?” Victoria offered.
“Come on, let’s just get this started,” Jeffry whined. “I need to get home and take a shower.”
Yeah, a shower would be nice right about now. I just wanted to peel off my shirt right then and there, but that would be inappropriate.
“So we’ve narrowed down our potential victims,” Nicole said. “Ryan and Michael, your jobs will be the same and it’ll be easier for you to stay with Michael. Jeffry and Victoria will probably be here almost every day after school. The other girls will be helping with the bake sale on Wednesday and Artie’s taking over for investigating the Janitor and the Sheriff.”
“What bake sale?” Anna asked, confused.
“It’s really just a ploy to install these tracking devices without detection,” Jeffry explained, opening his bag and procuring three small, flat, circular objects. “If we can attach these to their cars or something, we can track wherever they’re going using the GPS system.”
“What are you planning to bake, exactly?” I asked.
“I don’t know, maybe cookies or something,” Nicole muttered. “Okay. I can’t stand this! It’s too hot. I’m heading home to get my stuff. I’ll see you guys tonight.”
Saturday, the Liu household, 16:44
It took a lot longer to clean up the kitchen and for good measure, I tidied up the dining room as well. I had been cleaning, dusting and mopping things all day, so I was on a roll. And it was a good thing I did too because my mom returned from work pretty early. Suffice to say, she was quite impressed with what I had done and I didn’t tell her I had help from Anna.
Which is probably why, in a rare moment of generosity, she let me stay over at the manor. I felt like I was neglecting my novel, which was still sitting in my laptop waiting to be completed, but I had priorities, I guess.
“I still want to go,” Anna said defiantly at me.
“Mom will never let you go,” I told her. “Don’t do anything silly like sneak out of the house, okay?”
Anna frowned at me. “Of course I won’t. I’m not a little kid. I’m just upset that you won’t bring me along.”
“No way,” I said, kissing the top of her head. “Besides, we’re gonna have some grown-up time there so no kids allowed.”
Anna laughed and slapped me playfully on the arm. “Grown-up? You?”
Saturday, Victoria’s Manor, 19:01
Since it was getting dark already, the heat began drifting off into the horizon, but you could still feel some lingering heat. Anyway, we mostly talked and joked about silly little things and watched a reality TV show about a set of celebrity siblings on the flat screen Victoria brought in. Then the pizza came.
Ah, how I loved some normal, simple pizza. It was definitely a nice change from all the Asian food I always ate at home, which is why I tried making breakfast for myself whenever I could. We ate like ravenous wolves, slurping down our meals ferociously, or at least we guys did. Don’t judge me!
Jeffry had brought a Monopoly set, so we played that instead. I was certain that Michael was trying to get me bankrupt, but somehow Nicole managed to buy out all his streets, leaving him in debt. Of course, the game was all laughs and there were no hard feelings, so it was all good. Eventually, Yuki came out of nowhere and practically swept the whole game, leaving us all penniless. She emerged as the eventual victor, but only after Nicole had finished her complaints about how Yuki cheated on the chance cards.
When the game was over, we just sort of lounged about, talking and joking around like only teenagers could do when left alone with their friends for a while. It was an awesome night, but all good things come to an end. Eventually, inevitably, we ended up talking about our plans on tackling the murders.
“Let’s go over the plans,” Nicole said, though she sounded a little less than enthusiastic.
“I wanna check out the new GPS system we’ve got,” Jeffry complained.
“Later,” Nicole replied, waving a hand dismissively at him.
“Oh, come on.”
Michael coughed loudly to get their attention. “Um, you guys … do we really need to talk about this right now? I mean, all we have to do is attach the tracking devices somewhere on them, right?”
“Sure, let’s just put it in their underwear or something,” Yuki mumbled, rolling her eyes.
Jeffry chuckled. “Realistically, I guess we should somehow attach it to their cars. That way, they’ll probably never find or suspect anything.”
“I don’t know about putting something like that on a police car,” I said aloud. “We could get into some serious trouble.”
“I’m gonna have to agree with Ryan on this one,” Nicole said, nodding at me. “We don’t even know for sure if the Sheriff’s got anything to do with this.”
Jeffry grinned at us, looking all full with confidence. “Have a little faith in me, you guys. These devices are tiny and I know where to put them on a car so it’ll stay hidden.”
“Our other suspect – don’t forget about him,” Artie reminded us. “On Thursday, I saw him snooping about the Voodoo Club’s room. I think he’s connected with Ned Ross.”
“That’s just conjecture,” Yuki cut in. “But hey, I’m all for making sure of things so go ahead and track the janitor down. But he looks like trouble. Am I the only one who’s scared of the guy?”
No, she wasn’t. “He is kinda freaky,” I admitted. “Sometimes he gives you this weird, evil look. I can’t really describe it with words alone.”
Yuki widened her eyes at me in agreement. “I know! You just know that he’s up to something.”
“Well, once we get these tracking devices set, we’ll get our answers I’m sure,” Jeffry said. “Could I check out the GPS system now? Please?”
Nicole rolled her eyes, but she nodded at him. “Fine. All right, guys, meeting adjourned.”
Oh, how I missed saying that. I needed to get back to the Writers of the Round Table – I miss them and I’ve been sort of neglecting them. Anita and Ben would run things for me if I was absent, but I was the leader, you know? I was supposed to be the one there the most often.
Saturday, Victoria’s Manor, 22:41
I don’t know how I ended up talking with Artie in the boys’ makeshift bedroom, but that’s how it was. We were mostly talking about Emma, about the things we remembered the most about her. It should have made us sad and gloomy, but Emma had brought a lot of positive things to the school that even thinking of our memories with her lifted our spirits. But I couldn’t shake off knowing the fact that she wasn’t coming back and I knew Artie felt the same way too.
Maybe I had been sort of biased and prejudiced against him. He was known to be a bit of a bully, but Artie was actually a really nice guy if you got to know him. From what I understand, he has a rough exterior, but on the inside, he’s just pretty much like everyone else. And … he’s probably crazy like the rest of us Dim Summers. Oh no, the name stuck.
Eventually, there was a lull in the conversation and the topics became boring. Artie excused himself so he could go check out the new computer with Jeffry. I went over to the bathroom, which was in great shape compared to the rest of the manor, and brushed my teeth and washed myself up.
We had set out sleeping bags and blankets around the room and stuff and since we had cleaned up the place pretty reasonably, it wasn’t so bad. Too bad we couldn’t do anything about that crack in the wall where I’m pretty sure a family of lizards lived in. I lie down in my sleeping bag and quickly found out that it was pretty hot. So I ditched hiding under the covers and just slept on top of it. It was still kind of warm even then. I had a feeling that this coming summer would be a hot one. In maybe more ways than one, I hoped and then I got to thinking about Michael again.
The person himself walked into the bedroom not long after. He practically collapsed onto his own sleeping bag beside me. Then he mumbled something inaudible into the ground.
“What?” I asked.
Michael lifted himself off the ground and sat cross-legged next to me. “Nothing.”
I blinked at him. “Okay then. Good night,” I said to him, rolling over and pretending to fall asleep.
“What do you think of Sheriff Elise?” he asked me suddenly.
The question caught me off-guard. “Huh? Why do you ask?”
He shrugged. “I just wanted to know your opinion.”
I bit my lip and thought for a while. “Um … I guess she’s a nice person. Nice but pretty strict, I guess, but then again, she is the sheriff. She’s kind of considerate and … and hard-working too.”
While I was talking, Michael had stretched himself out on his sleeping bag. “Anything else?”
“Not really,” I replied. “What’s with the question about the sheriff, anyway?”
“I guess I was curious about what other people thought of her,” Michael said. “She really helped me my dad and I when my mom left us years ago …”
This was something new. Michael had kept the story behind his mother pretty secret, even from me, so this was new. I didn’t want to press the issue, yet at the same time, I wanted to know more.
“You wanna talk about it?” I asked him.
“Just a little,” he responded and then he gave out a small laugh. “My mom kind of left us … but more like she just disappeared. The Sheriff tried to find her and teams went out to search for her but they couldn’t find her at all. Like she just disappeared from the face of the planet.”
“What was she like?”
“I don’t remember much, but she didn’t get along very well with my dad,” Michael sighed. “But my dad said he had no idea why she’d leave just like that.”
Now I was glad I had my mom, even with her threats to cause me considerable pain with durians. I knew there were parents out there who didn’t do their jobs properly. But hey, I shouldn’t be quick to judge.
“Sorry for getting all like this,” Michael said.
“I don’t mind.”
“Why don’t you mind?”
I felt like it was a trick question, but I dismissed the feeling. “Because you’re my buddy.”
Michael laughed. “You’re my buddy too, Ryan. Well, maybe more than just buddies, but …”
His voice had dropped into a soft murmur. It sounded kind of sexy. So I scooted over next to him and he got the idea. Soon we were making out in a frenzy of passion. He brought himself on top of me and was touching me and caressing me everywhere possible and I did the same to him. And damn it! If only we were alone!
“L-let’s not get carried away,” I stuttered.
“Okay,” Michael laughed and lifted himself off of me.
I tried to stifle a yawn, but I failed. I hadn’t realized that I was actually pretty tired and no, it wasn’t because of that quick make out session.
“I hope we can get all this business with the murders done,” I said.
Michael chuckled and settled onto his own sleeping. “Same here, same here.”
“Good night, Mike,” I said.
“Good night, Ryan,” he said.
Sunday, Victoria’s Manor, 08:56
The morning wasn’t very hot, surprisingly and a nice breeze was drifting into the room. Somebody had opened the window. Somehow, in the middle of the night probably, Michael had crawled over closer to me and when I opened up my eyes, all I saw was his dark brown hair. I was still half-asleep so I brought his head closer to my chest and clung onto him sort of. It was nice – a great start to the morning.
I jumped when I heard Nicole’s familiar voice screaming in the corridor.
“JEFFRY! THESE COOKIES ARE NOT FOR A RAT’S CONSUMPTION!”
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