Dim Sum Mysteries - 8. Chapter 8 - Requiem
Chapter 8 – Requiem
Friday, Mac Worthington High School, 16:28
My voice came out in a strangled cry. “N-no! You’re lying!”
“Fuck you!” Artie said, turning on me with an accusing look on his face. “I wouldn’t be lying about this!”
Suddenly I felt like I wanted to fall over, crack my head on the concrete and die too. This wasn’t possible. Had I been too late? I should have stayed at school! I broke into a cold sweat and my eyes welled up with tears.
In the corner of my eye, I saw Artie walk up to me, his face contorted in anger. Why was he so angry? What had I done? Then he caught me by surprise when his arm reached out in a blur. His fist caught me on my right jaw. Before I could even register the pain, the force of the blow sent me spinning around. My feet lost their hold on the ground and crumpled over on the road.
“This is all your fault!” I could hear him scream in unadulterated madness. “You killed her, you fucking bastard!”
I could feel him grabbing the back of my shirt and I felt one of his hands grab at my throat. Then I could feel the pressure. I struggled, but Artie was both bigger and stronger than I was. I was about to pass out when he suddenly released me. I fell back onto the concrete on my back, leaving me breathless and in pain.
“Hey, stop it!” I could hear the Sheriff say.
I rolled to my side and began clutching the side of my head where Artie had hit me. The pain was incredible – it pulsed through every half-second, causing waves of pure suffering to reverberate throughout my body. I tried so desperately not to cry, but I couldn’t help the tears of pain from rolling down my cheeks.
“Let me go!” Artie screamed out.
“If you’re not going to behave, I’m going to have to handcuff you right here and now, boy,” Sheriff Elise yelled.
Eventually, the sounds of struggling stopped and I could hear footsteps beside me. Strong hands rolled me over onto my back and I opened my eyes to see the Sheriff looking down at me carefully.
“No,” I mumbled into my hands.
The Sheriff pushed my hands aside and looked at the wound. “Doesn’t look too bad. It’s probably going to end up as a bruise for a few days.”
She helped me sit up properly on the ground. When the pain receded somewhat, I blinked and turned towards her. “Sheriff … what happened?”
“A girl was found murdered in the school auditorium,” she told me. “I think you may know her. Her name’s Emma Jackson.”
I shut my eyes, trying to close the rest of the world off. My heart must have sunk all the way into my stomach. I nodded very slowly. I could feel my body shaking.
“I know this isn’t the right time to question you, but … Ryan, what were you doing here?”
Sheriff Elise had her doubts, I could tell. I was always at the right place at the right time; I understood why she’d be suspicious.
“I forgot some books in my locker, so I turned around,” I lied. I actually sounded pretty damn convincing.
The Sheriff nodded in understanding. “Okay,” she said. I couldn’t tell whether she believed me or not, but right now, all I was thinking about was Emma.
How could anyone kill, or even hurt such a nice girl? She had been alive earlier today – how could this have happened? I should have been there and made sure she was fine. I should have stayed a little while to help Anita with her English homework, or help Ben to clean up that slushie he spilled on the floor. Anything to have stayed a little while longer.
Sheriff Elise patted my shoulder. “Does that still hurt? We should get it checked if it’s still hurting …”
“No, no I’m fine,” I balked, trying hard to stop my voice from trembling. “It doesn’t hurt that much anymore.”
To tell the truth, it was still stinging like hell, but I had to keep up the strong act of course. The Sheriff smiled at me and stood up.
“If you need anything, I’ll be waiting inside in the lobby. Just … don’t go into the auditorium. It’s a mess. I’ll handle Artie later.”
She helped me up and sat me down at the closest bench before leaving. I was glad to be alone for a while – I let out a gasp of pain that I had been holding in for some time now. Reaching up to face, I tenderly touched the spot while making sure my jaw hadn’t been fractured or anything.
I sat there for about five or ten minutes. When I saw a familiar black BMW coming up the road, I quickly turned away. Of course, it was a pointless action.
Michael ran up to me, looking very worried. He wasted no time in asking questions. “Ryan, what happened? Victoria called and I came as quickly as I could –”
I looked up at him and shook my head. “No, Michael … we’re too late. I was too late.”
Michael’s expression softened. He sat down beside me and gave me a concerned look. “Ryan?”
“Emma’s dead, Mike. I should have stayed a little longer at school, made sure she was okay before I left, it’s all my fault –”
Before I knew it, I could feel my eyes welling up again and I couldn’t stop the dam from bursting. In no time, Michael and had wrapped his arms around me and that made it even worse.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Michael said softly, shushing me.
“It was, Michael. If only I had stayed for a little while longer …”
“Mac Worthington’s a pretty big school. You think you could have found her in time to stop the murder?”
I shook my head and laid my head against his shoulder. I felt like such a baby. I guess in my mind, I knew that it really wasn’t my fault, not entirely anyway. What could I have done to stop the bullet from hitting Emma, anyway? But I could have been there, could have warned her and made sure she wasn’t alone.
Michael pulled away from me slightly and gave me an odd look. “Ryan, what happened to your face?”
Instinctively, I put a hand to my face, trying to cover the wound. “Uh, this is …”
“Did someone hit you?” His voice was quiet.
I shook my head. “Y-yeah … it was Artie, he got kind of upset and –”
His expression turned furious. “What the hell! Why the fuck did he do that?”
“I don’t know, but he said something about Emma and how it was my fault.”
“Where is he?” Michael asked, glancing about like a mad beast. “I’ll give him a piece of my mind –”
It took all the strength I had in me to pull him back down. “Wait! Mike, don’t do that, the Sheriff’s looking out for us.”
“Oh. I knew she’d be here,” Michael said glumly. “I mean, of course she’d be here.”
“Something wrong?” I asked. Why did I even ask that? There was definitely something wrong.
We just sat there for a few more minutes, not speaking a word to each other. When the doors to the school opened and two people, dressed in what looked like paramedic uniform, were carrying a stretcher with someone covered in a plastic sheet, I looked away. I sensed that Michael did the same.
I still couldn’t believe Emma was gone.
Sunday, Pierre Road, 10:12
Emma’s mother had called my mother on Saturday morning. Would you believe that? She personally asked us to come to the memorial service for Emma. To do that, just a day after your own daughter had been murdered … that takes a lot of courage, patience and strength. Of course, I agreed to go. Dad told Anna and I to go ahead first, since he and mom had to sort things out back at the Jaded Phoenix for a while.
I knew Anna had been quite close to Emma, despite the large age difference. Emma was popular, not because of her looks or the number of people she dated, but because she was so nice to everyone. Her death had been a blow to us all, I think. I remember Emma teaching Anna, and a couple of her friends, math once at the library, but back then, I wasn’t really close to her.
Throughout the entire journey to Emma’s house, where the memorial service was being held, Anna was quiet. I was too. No doubt we were both reflecting on our relationship with Emma.
The Jacksons’ place was a quaint, manor-like home. It wasn’t particularly large, but it was designed in a way that made it seem grand. It looked old, but the lawn was trimmed and flowers and other colorful plants lined the perimeters. Somehow, I knew that Emma had decorated the house herself.
Many cars lined the sides of the road. A lot of people had apparently arrived for the memorial. Across the road, I saw a girl who I recognized as Anna’s friend wave at my direction.
“I’m gonna go on ahead, okay?” Anna said.
I nodded back at her and she left the car. I turned off the engine and just sat there for a while, my eyes closed. I wasn’t really ready to face the fact that Emma was truly gone and that today was our last chance to celebrate her life together.
Someone knocked on my window, which startled me. I turned to see Michael peering into the car. I quickly unfastened my seat belt and got out of the car.
“You okay, buddy?” was the first thing he asked me.
“’m fine,” I muttered, closing the door shut and making sure the car was locked.
Michael was clad in a smart, dark gray suit. His brown hair had been tidied and he looked very smart. I was dressed in the most formal clothing I had found in my wardrobe, which wasn’t very formal, and I had borrowed my dad’s old black blazer, which was a bit too big for me.
“At least you don’t have a black eye,” Michael told me as we crossed the road.
Before we could get up the stairs leading to the entrance of the house, someone behind us said, “Look who’s here …”
We spun around and spotted Artie walking up to us. He was wearing dark blue dress pants and a matching shirt with the top button undone. He was carrying a violin case. Beside me, Michael’s body stiffened immediately.
“What do you want?” Michael asked in a hostile tone.
“Nothing with you two,” Artie replied contemptuously. “Why don’t you go back home or to that stupid Asian restaurant of yours? You’re not invited here.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” I said. “Emma’s mother personally invited us.”
Artie shrugged. “Then I guess she got the wrong person.”
Michael stepped in front of me, looking angry. He looked like he wanted to explode. “What is wrong with you? First you hit Ryan for absolutely no reason and now you’re telling us to leave? Who gave you that right?”
Artie frowned and pointed an accusing finger. “It’s your fault that she’s dead! Emma wouldn’t want either of you here …”
Before I could stop him, Michael had readied a punch aimed at Artie. The latter dodged the blow and then the two of them were struggling against each other, trying to aim punches at each other only to fail.
I tried prying the two of them away, but what could I have done? The two of them were bigger than I was and instead I found myself almost tumbling to the floor as I got knocked away in the battle.
Out of the blue, a familiar figure jumped into the fray and practically peeled Artie and Michael away from each other with incredible force. In a flurry of pink, Yuki grappled Artie’s arm and kicked Michael away in the chest simultaneously. How was she able to do that in a long dress?
“What are the two of you doing?!” she yelled.
She released Artie’s arm from her grip and pushed away Michael, who was getting ready for another fight.
“Don’t mess with me,” Yuki warned. “I have a black belt in karate and I know jujitsu and naginatajutsu.”
I wanted to point out that I there wasn’t a naginata in sight, but then again, I decided it wasn’t the appropriate time to say that. I didn’t even know how I knew what a naginata was.
“This is a memorial service we’re going to!” Yuki said, sounding exasperated. “How dare you fight at a memorial service! Do you have any respect for Emma at all?”
Artie ignored Yuki, tidied his shirt and quickly went up and entered the house. Yuki spun around and glared at Michael.
“Michael, how could you?”
“Drop it, Yuki. I’m sorry.”
Yuki put her hands on her hips and sighed. “You could have waited until after the memorial, and someplace else, you know.”
“I know, I know,” Michael said, waving a hand dismissively at her. “Just drop it, okay?”
“Fine, but you’d better behave,” Yuki said. She turned to me and said, “Make sure he doesn’t do anything silly, all right?”
I told her I’d do my best and she went inside the house. I wondered nearer to Michael and grasped his hand in mine.
“Um … you shouldn’t have done that,” I said. I was angry too and I wanted to give Artie a piece of my mind, but I understood that this wasn’t the time and place.
“It’s just not fair,” Michael whined, staring at the ground. “It wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t really anyone’s fault, but then he just goes and blames it on us. After we’ve tried so hard to keep Emma away from danger, and then when he hit you I –”
“I know, I know,” I cut in when I heard his voice beginning to break. “Come on, let’s go inside. Emma would kill us if she knew we weren’t eating any of her food, or her mom’s.”
Sunday, the Jackson household, 10:22
There was a quiet, solemn air prevailing throughout the house. I didn’t expect any other kind of atmosphere, actually. A lot of people were drifting to and fro the rooms, which were all decorated in many photographs of Emma or her own, handwritten cookbooks and notes on recipes.
We met Emma’s mother in the dining room, talking to Bill and Sharon. She noticed us walking up to her and she gave us a smile. There wasn’t a trace of sadness in her face – that was what I called pure strength. It was admirable, how she stayed strong even though she had just faced her daughter’s untimely death.
“Ryan and Michael,” she greeted us. “Emma told me lots about the two of you.”
Well, I hoped she hadn’t told her mother about Michael and I. Even if she had, Mrs. Jackson didn’t reveal anything.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Mrs. Jackson,” I said, putting on a smile.
“My deepest condolences,” Michael said beside me.
Mrs. Jackson smiled and brushed her golden bangs away from her face. She looked so calm, so normal – yet now that most of her hair was out of the way, I could see some sadness, some grief, lingering there in the lines of her face.
I retrieved a small envelope from my pocket and handed it to her. “This is … these are instructions on how to prepare shaomai, especially on how to steam them,” I explained. “Emma always wanted to know how to cook dim sum.”
Yuki appeared out of nowhere and handed a small card to Mrs. Jackson. “Mrs. Jackson, I almost forgot – this is my grandmother’s secret soup recipe. She told me it would be all right if you have it – it’s for Emma.”
Mrs. Jackson smiled at us and the lines of sadness became clearer on her face, despite the upward curve of her mouth. I just wanted to hug her.
“Thank you, all of you. It really means a lot to me. Did you know Emma well?”
“Not really, Mrs. Jackson,” Michael piped in. “But she was a good friend to us all – she still is.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Jackson replied. She nodded at us, “I’m sure you were all very good friends to Emma as well. Please; there are some refreshments for you to try – come and look around the house too, if you’d like.”
Michael, Yuki and I eventually split up, going around and talking to people. I met Ben and Anita in the study room, discussing a few poems they had found written directly on the wall. I found out Mr. Jackson was a writer too, to my pleasant surprise. On my exploration of the house, I passed by him, but I couldn’t find the courage to introduce myself.
The dining table was covered in all sorts of snacks and drinks. They all looked like something Emma would have prepared. Cupcakes, mini scones, chocolate éclairs, brownies, assorted cookies – a variety of food practically hid the table from view. I was nibbling on a heavenly brownie when I noticed someone inconspicuously taking photos of me.
I’ve never seen the guy before, but then again, I didn’t know that many people in school. He was busy taking lots of photos of the walls and other people before walking up next to me.
“I’ve seen you around,” he said quietly to me. He was dressed quite casually, although his clothes were still polite. He had dark gray eyes and short, curly blonde hair. I estimated him to be younger than me by a year.
“How did you know Emma?” he continued.
“Oh, sometimes we just hung out together at school,” I told him. “What about you?”
“I often take photos of her cakes. She decorates them like crazy and they’re great for my portfolio,” he explained. He turned to me and smiled. “My name’s Jeffry. I’m the president of the Photography Club at school.”
“I’m Ryan,” I introduced myself.
“Oh, I know who you are,” Jeffry said with a sly smile. “Your face has turned up too many times on my secret paparazzi team’s reports on the strange murders happening around town.”
“W-well, I guess I was probably at the wrong place and time, you know,” I explained, trying not to sound nervous.
Jeffry narrowed his eyes at me in suspicion, but then he smiled again and nodded. “I see. Well, don’t worry about it. I’ll see you later.”
On my way back to the living room, I bumped into Victoria. She was dressed in a green frock, which was a nice change from her usual, darker clothes. Even Cynthia, who she was carrying in her arms, had a change of wardrobe – the doll was now dressed in a long, white smock. It looked less freaky now.
I was about to say something when Victoria put a finger to her mouth. “I’m not going to blame you or anything,” she said immediately. “No one could have foreseen these events in such short notice.”
“But I could have been there for her,” I whispered back. I guess I was still feeling guilty.
“What’s done is done, Ryan,” Victoria said, shaking her head. “We just need to work harder now to prevent the Gunner from attacking again.”
Victoria looked down and sighed. “Emma was very nice to me. I lost a good friend.”
Back in the living room, I found Michael sitting alone on the couch. I sat beside him and, making sure no one was looking, squeezed his hand fondly. He looked at me and smiled and it took all the strength in me to suppress the urge to kiss him.
A group of students walked in, along with Artie and a group of his friends from the orchestra in tow. A pretty, red-haired girl I recognized as Linda, the lead singer of the school’s choir, stepped forward. Everyone gathered in the living room and waited in patient silence as Artie and his friends set up their instruments.
“The Angel’s Choir will like to perform Celine Dion’s To Love You More,” Linda spoke out in a clear voice. “A few members from the school’s orchestra will be joining us in this short performance. Emma was a big fan of the Canadian singer, and I remembered she showed me her entire collection of Celine’s albums.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw Emma’s parents walk into the room. Mr. Jackson was your typical father – strong and resilient, but I could see the pain in his eyes. Mrs. Jackson looked like she was doing much better than before, though.
Artie began with an impressive solo and the other instruments joined in. Despite our animosity, I admitted that he was a very talented musician. Linda and the Angel’s Choir began the song solemnly. I didn’t listen to much music, but I could appreciate the tune. My eyes flickered over to Artie’s direction. Now don’t get me wrong, I knew practically nothing about playing a musical instrument, but there was something about the way he played, like he had this weight on him. I guess Emma’s death had been a shock even to him as well.
I looked at Michael, who had his eyes closed. I too closed my eyes, and then reached for his hand again. We all listened as the melody and harmony joined together in one final chorus, completing a final song for our dear friend, Emma.
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