Dim Sum Mysteries - 18. Chapter 18 - Swan Song Part 1
The Dim Sum Club's investigation takes them to Spring Park, even with Nicole's unexplained absence. What they discover there is beginning to help them piece together the clues at last ...
Chapter 18 – Swan Song Part 1
Friday, Victoria’s Manor, 15:32
“Ryan, we’re closing the restaurant early today. The walls are getting repainted,” my mom told me, almost yelling through the phone. “Your dad is taking me out to dinner and we won’t be home until around nine. Make sure you get all the dishes clean and tell Anna to study for her exams! Ryan, are you listening to me?”
“Yes, Mom, all right, Mom,” I replied. “See you later, Mom.”
I hung up before I let her say something else. I was lying down on the now carpeted floor of the attic in Victoria’s manor. Jeffry was staring at the computer screen, looking bored, fiddling with a pen. Michael was sitting up against the wall opposite to where I was. He was better now, but it was obvious to see that something in his mind was disturbing him. He smiled a lot less often now. As much as I wanted to talk to him about it, I knew I should keep quiet.
“I didn’t see Nicole all week,” I muttered.
“She hasn’t replied any of my texts,” Jeffry mumbled. “Man, this is boring.”
“But we need to keep watch,” I told him, sounding half-hearted myself.
“I thought I signed up for something more exciting, you know?” Jeffry continued. “Something more than just sitting around all day doing nothing.”
I saw Michael glare at Jeffry. “If you’re just gonna complain, why did you join us in the first place?”
“I don’t know, I thought I’d get some good shots for my portfolio,” Jeffry replied. I could see Michael seething in contempt, which caused me to bolt upright. “This isn’t really … I don’t know. Nothing interesting is really happening.”
“You don’t find people dying everywhere interesting?” Michael retorted. “You don’t find people, our classmates, getting murdered even remotely interesting?”
Jeffry turned around and shrugged. “I’ve wasted a lot of time doing stuff for you guys, and I don’t get anything much in return. This is getting kind of boring.”
Michael scoffed. “Then get the fuck outta here if you think this is boring.” He looked like he was about to explode. I shrunk into a corner, trying to get away from the blast radius.
“Hey, chillax, man,” Jeffry said nonchalantly, shrugging. “I’m gonna go get a drink or something.”
When I was sure Jeffry’s footsteps had disappeared down the hall, I dared to say something to Michael. I tried not to appear too alert, of course. I mean, everyone had some of their bad days, right?
“You okay?” I asked him.
He rested his head against the wall and exhaled loudly. “No, not really. I’ll handle.”
“Don’t worry about it too much, all right?” I said.
Yuki came into the room at that moment, looking deathly serious, skin paler than usual. Well, that goes all my efforts to defuse the situation …
“Artie and I’ve been trying to call Nicole for ages,” she said, throwing her arms up into the air in surrender. “I guess she won’t be joining us today.”
“So, what are our plans?” Michael asked.
Yuki nodded and checked her phone. “Well, Artie just went to scout out Spring Park. We should catch up to him soon, just in case. Jeffry’s gonna stay here with Anna and Victoria to monitor any changes.”
I suddenly remembered the person who we were supposed to protect. “You got Linda away safely?”
“I don’t have her number,” Yuki said, looking visibly scared. “And Victoria tried to call her, but she hasn’t picked up.”
“Then we should get going, like, now,” I said. “Right?”
“Who’s gonna drive?” Michael asked.
Friday, Spring Park, 16:15
For some odd reason, everyone in town was getting home early today and we got stuck in some traffic, which was a pretty rare occurrence. It took a good half an hour just to get to the edge of town and I couldn’t help thinking about Linda and whether or not she was safe. I was getting a little bit edgy and I was gripping the wheel too tightly until the whites of my knuckles were showing.
“Hey, calm down,” Yuki called out to me from the back seat.
“I’m okay.” A half-lie, I guess.
“We’re not sure if we’ll even find anything.”
“I know. Keep calling Linda.”
After passing the big sign that said ‘Spring Park’ in flowery letters, I tentatively slowed down the car. There weren’t a lot of people here today, but that was probably because the sky was getting dark and cloudy. I figured there’d be no swans here either, but then again, we weren’t here for them.
“That’s Artie’s car,” Yuki declared, pointing at somewhere to her left. “He should still be here somewhere.”
I parked the car close to a few other cars in the parking lot, since I didn’t want to look too conspicuous. Yuki was the first to get out, craning her neck and checking her surroundings.
“So where is he?” I asked, closing the door shut simultaneously with Michael.
“He’s on the way here,” Yuki said. Then she sighed, “This is a bit harder without Nicole. Where is she?”
We must have appeared quite odd to some passersby, since we were all cautious and tense. I spotted Artie walking towards us, his face expressionless. I leaned against my car, trying to relax, but I couldn’t keep my mind off the fact that the murderer could be right here in this park with us.
“Anything suspicious?” Yuki asked Artie.
He answered her with a shrug. “I haven’t gone around the whole place.”
“Let’s split up then,” Yuki announced. “Ryan, you go with Artie.”
I turned to Yuki with an obviously confused look on my face. “Huh? Okay, but –”
“We can’t keep you alone with Michael or else you’ll get distracted,” Yuki said. “And there’s no way Michael’s gonna be with Artie or they’ll both return black eyes.”
“Wait, whaddya mean by distracted?” Michael asked indignantly.
Yuki didn’t answer him and dragged him away from Artie and I. Oh well. I spun around and looked up at Artie. There was a second or two of awkward silence. I wanted to break the quiet but at the same time I didn’t know what to say.
“Let’s go, we’ll go the other way,” he said finally.
I followed him obediently. It was pretty clear who was in charge. I admit, I felt kind of intimidated by him, even though I shouldn’t be. Whatever happened was in the past now, right? We got around a quarter of the way around the lake when I had to start up a conversation.
“You’re a bit quiet,” I said. I must have made a fool out of myself by that seemingly out of the blue observation.
“So?” Uh-oh, had I made him angry?
“You’re not usually this quiet,” I added, treading carefully.
“Well, you don’t know me very well, then,” Artie replied. “Listen, just keep it shut, all right? I’m not in the mood for talking right now.”
Okay, I took the hint. But what was I supposed to do now? We were just walking around the park, with about a meter or two in between us, so it looked like I was stalking him or something. What was I supposed to look for, anyway? And then suddenly I had the urge to relieve myself, which made it even more awkward since I had to tell Artie.
“Uh … I need to use the restroom,” I mumbled.
“Hurry up,” Artie sighed.
Fortunately, there was a public restroom about halfway around the lake. It wasn’t used very frequently, so it was impeccably clean. I had an aversion for public restrooms, especially because you couldn’t know for sure the puddles on the floor were puddles of water or some other fluid.
The public restroom was effectively hidden from far away if you didn’t look carefully. It was surrounded by high trees and a ring of trimmed bushes with only a small stone path leading to it. I jogged slightly, eager not to annoy Artie, remembering that time when he hit me on the face. That had been quite a long time ago now.
It’s difficult to pee quickly and make sure you don’t spray everything everywhere at the same time. I got out as fast as I could, only to find that Artie was no where nearby. I looked around, a bit confused, wondering why he’d want to leave me. I didn’t take that long, did I?
Fortunately, I spotted him before he got too far. He was sort of half-jogging off towards the edge of the park, already a good hundred yards away. I wanted to call him to come back, but I couldn’t raise the volume of my voice like that, so I had no choice but to follow him. I hadn’t the faintest idea why he was running in that direction – there was nothing there except for trees. That area was probably beyond the boundaries of the park too.
I was already running out of breath when he finally slowed down enough for me to catch up to him. Man, I need to exercise more.
“Hey, why’d you leave me like that?” I asked him once I was close enough.
“I saw someone running here,” Artie said. “Be quiet and follow me.”
“It’s probably just a little kid running away from his or her parents,” I said. A second later, I realized that that was a stupid guess.
Artie went further into the shade and I had to follow him. I couldn’t just stay there waiting for him like an idiot, after all. I wondered whether anyone saw us – if they did, what would we look like to them? Two guys sneaking away into the forest … either we were looking for some alone time or we were up to no good. Damn, I hate how my mind starts to wander like this.
Artie suddenly stopped. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
I thought he was talking to me, at first, but then I understood that he probably wasn’t. I strode over next to him, curious as to who he was talking to. And then when I saw who it was, my eyebrows shot up beyond the limits of my forehead and probably disappeared into my hair.
It was Ned.
After all this time, I had never thought to see him here. Wait, what was he doing here?
“Please d-don’t hurt me,” Ned whined. His voice was cracked and hoarse, sounding like he hadn’t drunk a drop of water for a whole day. His clothes were the same ones he wore the last time I saw him. They were dirtied and even slightly torn. He had a bruise on his cheek. What had happened to him?
“I won’t hurt you,” Artie said through gritted teeth, “I’ll fucking kill you! You killed Emma!”
Ned shook his head violently, his eyes wide with an almost manic fear. “No! I didn’t k-kill her! I just told the Gunner where she was, or else she’d hurt me –”
Ned didn’t get to finish the sentence because in a flash, Artie had pounced on him. Artie had completely bowled Ned over and through a blur of flailing arms, it was obvious that Artie was going to strangle the boy. It took me a second before I acted.
“Hey! Artie, stop it, you’re gonna kill him!”
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to do!”
It was obvious that Artie could easily maul both Ned and I into the ground alone, since he was a lot bigger than the both of us. I was momentarily at a loss as to what to do. I waited for an opening and, with all the strength I could muster, tackled Artie off of Ned. Surprisingly, it seemed to work, and Artie wobbled and lost his balance. He rolled to the side while Ned crawled miserably away, whimpering.
“What the fuck!” Artie shouted at me.
“Stop!” I cried out. It was all I could do. “Artie, get a hold of yourself.”
“Dude, do you want to get hurt?” There was unbridled anger in his eyes as he picked himself off the ground. “Don’t get in between, Ryan.”
That’s when I got scared. He sounded serious and he looked like he could tear me apart with his bare hands. But I looked back at Ned, who looked even more frightened than I was. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had pissed his own pants by now.
I shook my head at Artie. “Calm down, okay? Ned’s not going anywhere.”
“He’s going to hell!” Artie said. I had said the wrong thing. Like an angered bull, he charged at me, and in that split-second, I knew I’d be in a world of hurt unless I moved away. But I was petrified, glued to the spot by indecisiveness.
Instinctively, I took a step back, but it wasn’t enough. With a single shove, he completely knocked me over and I fell onto the ground. Fortunately for me, the earth was soft so the landing wasn’t so bad. Still, falling like that could never be a pleasant experience.
Someone else’s voice joined in the fray. Somebody leapt over me and pulled Artie away from Ned, the latter having already suffered another punch from the former.
I sat up and backed away from the fight. Michael had pinned Artie onto the ground while Ned lay in a sad heap nearby. Artie was putting up a desperate display, but Michael held him down, probably with all his strength because I could see the veins showing in his arms. It was like seeing two beasts of equal strengths fighting each other. It was a spectacle to behold.
“Can you calm down?” Michael yelled.
“Let me go! He’s getting away!”
I was about to say that Ned was still there, but he wasn’t. He had already gotten up and began half-limping, half-sprinting away into the forest. But he didn’t get very far, because another familiar figure leapt out of nowhere and struck him on his back. Ned crumpled uselessly onto the ground, crying out in pain.
In an instant, Yuki had disabled Ned, tangling his arms together with a strength I never thought she could possess. She pulled him upright while he fought and tugged at her feebly for freedom. Meanwhile, Artie seemed to have calmed down. Michael slowly loosened his grip on him and stood up, breathing fast. Thankfully the both of them appeared to have realized that beating each other to bloody pieces wasn’t going to get them anywhere.
Ned had stopped struggling. Or at least, I think he had, since he wasn’t crying anymore. His scrawny body would be no match for Yuki anyway. Artie stood up in a flash, brushing off soil from his jeans. He gave Michael a quick, intense glare, like he didn’t want to end the fight just yet. But he didn’t do anything and instead looked away.
“How’d you find him?” Yuki asked.
“I saw him,” Artie said. The anger in his voice had faded away, thankfully.
“I was trying to find you guys,” Ned whimpered. “Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t take me back to the police station.”
Michael walked up to Ned and examined him. “What happened to you?”
“The Gunner … I got away somehow,” Ned explained. I wondered whether he was capable of forming coherent sentences right now. “I know … I mean, I thought you guys can help me. The Gunner said my family could get hurt if I don’t agree … I mean, if I didn’t obey my orders. Please help me.”
“We need to call the police,” I jumped in.
“No, don’t!” Ned yelled suddenly. “It’s useless! The Gunner is … she knows. She knows!”
Ned was starting to sound crazed again. Yuki, who was still behind him, took another cautious step forward.
“She knows what? Who is ‘she’?” Michael asked.
Ned shook his head and his face contorted with an ugly combination of fright and frustration. “The Sheriff … the Sheriff. You can’t tell the Sheriff.”
“Call the police,” I urged them. Why didn’t I call them myself? I took out my phone and began dialing the emergency number, but we were all caught off guard when Ned suddenly jumped in front of me and swiped my phone away.
“The hell!” I shouted out angrily.
Ned stared at me with large, fearful eyes, clutching my phone to his chest. I think he was shivering a bit. Yuki was still behind him, but she wasn’t doing anything else since Ned wasn’t running away, at least.
“If you tell the Sheriff, the Gunner will know,” Ned said, his voice lowering and his eyes betraying a sudden panic. “And Linda could get hurt!”
“What do you mean?” Michael asked. “How’ll the Gunner know if we tell the Sheriff?”
“Give me my phone back,” I cut in. And then I added, “I won’t call the Sheriff.”
Man, it was like talking to a little kid. I’d have to resort to storybook tactics to coax him into doing what we asked him. Ned nodded slowly and handed me phone, his hands shaking.
Michael snapped his fingers in front of Ned to get his attention. “You haven’t answered my question.”
“I don’t know anything, I swear!” Ned cried. “I couldn’t do anything about it, or else she’d hurt my family.”
Michael folded his arms and glared at Ned. “Get to the point.”
Ned’s mouth opened but then snapped shut halfway. And then he started bawling, a little too loudly. Anyone nearby who happened to be passing through the park could have heard him easily.
“Hey, shut it,” Yuki scolded him.
I decided that we probably weren’t going to go very far with him at the moment, so I called Anna. She’d probably need to know about this.
“Hey, I got some urgent news,” I told her. “We caught Ned in Spring Park.”
There was a short pause and then I could hear a sharp intake of air. “What? Really? What was he doing there?”
“I don’t know, we’re trying to ask him, but he’s not cooperating very well.”
“Call the police!”
“He said we can’t.”
I looked at Ned, who was staring at the ground with eyes full of dismay. “I don’t know,” I said. “But he mentioned that Linda could get hurt if we did.”
“Okay. I’ll go tell Victoria. Just call the police, don’t listen to what he’s saying. Don’t do anything stupid, Ryan!”
She promptly hung up. I looked back at Ned, who was now staring holes into me.
“You called the police?” he asked, his voice wrecked with hoarseness.
“No, I didn’t,” I replied, shaking my head. “But I will.”
“You’d better have a good reason why we shouldn’t call the police,” Michael warned.
Ned wiped the snot and tears on his face with a dirty sleeve. “Y-yes, I do,” he choked. “The Gunner installed a device in the police station. Every time someone calls the police, the Gunner … she knows. She can listen to them.”
“How is that even possible?” Artie cut in. “Don’t lie, you little fucker.”
Michael held him back with an outstretched arm. “Hey.”
“I’m not lying,” Ned said, his voice turning small. “Please, don’t call the police. You can’t. That’s how the Gunner never gets caught. She can listen when the Sheriff gets a call, so … so she c-can get away quickly.”
“You think that’s a little farfetched?” Yuki asked me.
I replied with a shrug. “I’m not sure what to make of this.”
“Is he telling the truth about Linda, though?” Michael said. “We should call the police, but if Ned’s telling the truth, then we could risk getting Linda hurt … or worse.”
I was beginning to get a headache just thinking about it. I looked at Ned, trying to maybe infer from the tiny twitches of his face whether he was lying or not, but he simply stared at me, his gaze unwavering and covered with tears. This was going to be a problem.
“What are we going to do now, then?” I asked Michael.
Ned shook his head at me. “You can’t … please, you can’t call the Sheriff. Who did you call just now?”
“That wasn’t the police,” I told him. “I just called Anna.”
“Where is Anna?” Ned asked.
The question struck me as odd, but I answered it anyway. “Um … she’s with Victoria and a friend of ours.” I didn’t want to reveal our secret hideout.
“You told her about this?” Ned asked. His eyes were becoming wider by the second. “Does Victoria know?”
I shrugged. “Anna said she’d tell Victoria. Well, she has to. This is pretty big news.”
Ned suddenly dropped to his knees and a fresh wave of tears came pouring out of his eyes. Yuki knelt down next to him and held his shoulder.
“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” Yuki consoled him. “We’re gonna work this out. Linda’s not gonna get hurt.”
“Why are you comforting the little prick?” Artie asked, sounding furious.
Yuki glared at him in response, but she said nothing to him. She turned back to Ned and said, “Speak your mind.”
“N-no, you c-can’t tell Victoria,” he wailed. “No, this can’t be happening! You can’t tell Victoria!”
“Wait, first we can’t tell the Sheriff, and now we’re not even allowed to tell Victoria?” I sighed. “What’s next?”
Ned’s eyes had gone completely red and wet. “It’s Cynthia.”
“Cynthia?” Michael asked.
I had heard that name before. I stood there not really doing anything, instead I was digging up from the mess in my head for signs of that name. And then I found it.
“Isn’t Cynthia Victoria’s doll?” I said.
“Yeah, I think that was its name,” Michael agreed, nodding.
Ned looked like he was going to faint. I wouldn’t be surprised if he just suddenly dropped to the ground frothing at the mouth.
“What’s wrong with him?” Yuki sighed, bewildered.
I thought about the doll, Cynthia. What was so significant about it? It was just a creepy little doll that for some odd reason looked exactly like Victoria. And she always carried it around with her. Maybe a part of her soul was inside that doll and if she ever parted with it, she’d die or something. Knowing the kind of stuff Victoria was into, that was probably a possibility.
Why was Ned so afraid of Victoria knowing? Maybe the Gunner could somehow eavesdrop into our telecommunications and could listen to every word we exchanged. But that sounded a little silly, because I doubt they’d have access to something like that. We all just stood there, looking down at Ned’s pitiful form on the ground.
“He’s gone crazy,” Artie declared. “Might as well put him out of his misery.”
“Could you calm down?” Michael spat back at him hotly. “Dude, what is your problem?”
“Ned,” I said. “Can the Gunner … can they listen to Victoria?”
Ned didn’t look at me or say anything but he nodded. And that made it more confusing. I was clueless, I admit. I wasn’t very good at these kinds of things – it would normally be Anna solving all the problems. I wasn’t about to give up, though.
Cynthia … eavesdropping? I knew that doll was freaky, like it could listen to every word we said. Maybe it could? That wouldn’t be possible, because it was an inanimate object. It could be a robot, perhaps. A machine that can actually hear everything we say, transmitting it to someone far away …
My mouth went dry in an instant. I could feel my stomach churn. No way.
“Michael,” I said, barely stopping myself from stuttering. “I think I know how the Gunner keeps on getting away from us.”
Michael frowned at me. “How?”
“Remember that time when we caught Ned in the Voodoo Club room?” I said. It was all I could do to stop my voice from breaking in panic and sheer realization. “We could hear Victoria talking to Emma in the bathroom through that little, um, machine or something …”
Michael nodded slowly. “Yeah. I think I remember. Yeah, I do.”
“What if that device is connected to Cynthia?”
Michael’s jaw dropped the instant I said that. “No way.”
“Wait, why didn’t you guys tell us that?” Yuki asked, sounding a bit angry herself.
“That was a long time ago,” I explained. “It was way before we formed the Dim Sum Club.”
“So all this time,” Michael muttered, breathless with disbelief, “so all this time, the Gunner knew exactly what we’d do. That’s why she got away from us way too quickly, every single time. And I told Victoria everything we knew, like even before we got the Dim Sum Club running.”
“You did what?” Artie yelled.
“Shut up! She knew more than any of us,” Michael countered. “I just can’t believe it … everything we’ve told her, the Gunner could hear us.”
Yuki nodded at me. “Ryan, call the police. This is getting out of hand.”
I was about to obey Yuki’s orders, but a window popped up in the screen indicating a new text message. I wanted to ignore it, but something compelled me to open it quickly and take a look. My sight glided over the text and I could feel my knees growing weaker with each passing word I read.
“Well?” Yuki said.
The text read: Don’t bother calling the police. I will kill the three hostages the moment you do. Bring me the Sheriff alone to the designated place. If you are not here by 8, they will have a bullet through their heads.
The Dim Sum Club's investigation takes them to Spring Park, even with Nicole's unexplained absence. What they discover there is beginning to help them piece together the pieces at last ...
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