Sunday, 17 June 2018

A Chance For Love Episode 9

Episode nine
Suspect

"All we have now is a suspect and a motive, and this just won't do."
***
Raheem apparently saw his question about Tobacco Vanille as instrumental in solving this case. But I couldn't see the connection. I'd tried so hard to figure out the answer on my own, but with every attempt I made, success slithered from my grasp.
"What's it with Tobacco Vanille?" I asked.
Raheem smirked. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"Huh?" I asked, totally lost. "What?"
"I could tell from the start that you had a hard time connecting the dots between TV and the murder attempt."
"TV?" Whoever said anything about a television?
I waited for Raheem's response but it never came. He just stared at me as though expecting me to figure it out on my own. And then it hit me. TV stood for the perfume in question.
"Oh," I said.
Raheem faked a yawn. "Do you still need a dictionary, Miss Brown?"
I scowled at him. "Will you answer my question or not?"
"What was it again?" he asked. A cold silence from me told him I didn't buy his silliness. "Well, we can say I'm a perfume person. I've used varieties of them in my search for the perfect one. Even with the faintest of whiffs, I could recognize a perfume as long as it's within the range of the ones I've tried. And now, look how this skill comes in pretty handy."
I didn't see how this connected to the case. But I listened on as he explained. "When I went in to save Doreen..."
I would ask how he ended up in the ladies' restroom, but he'd already told us yesterday. He mentioned finding the door open, and seeing a pair of legs lying supine. Alerted, he had burst into the room, only to find the unconscious girl.
He continued, "I caught a very strong whiff of a perfume I knew to be TV. I could even recognize it in a dream."
"Nengi said Annabel uses the perfume," I said. "And she was in the restroom before Doreen, so it's only natural that the smell of her perfume lingered."
"Of course, Miss Brown. That explains the first scenario. But what gives out the second?"
Standing outside the cafeteria and engrossed in a conversation that only us could hear, we had become everyone's eye candy. Rumors would rise. Faces of girls would redden with envy. But Raheem didn't seem to mind. And at this point I didn't either.
I snapped back into focus. "What other scenario?"
"Doreen was bathed in the very same perfume, which would be highly improbable..."
I connected the dots. "Unless she was attacked by the very same person who used the perfume and had probably reapplied it during recess."
This made sense. And it scared me. Every angle pointed at Annabel. We would be going to interrogate the culprit. What if she already saw us as a threat? What if she already had plans to get rid of anyone who saw past the Bloody Miri story?
"So...Annabel is our girl?" I asked.
Raheem shrugged. "What can I say? Let's see how our meeting with her turns out."
"Isn't it crystal clear already? Can't we just call the cops at this point? I mean...we have a suspect now, and there's a motive. We should just hand over and let the cops do their thing."
"And where's your evidence to back this up, Miss Brown?" he asked.
I grimaced at the many butterflies doing flip flops in my stomach. Something about the way he pronounced Miss Brown made me feel special, as though I had a place in this world. And I couldn't get past it.
With a mental kick, I cleared my head of this distraction. I had ample time to deal with the unfamiliar craziness inside of me. But now, I had to concentrate, not on the face before me, but on the case.
"We have a suspect and a motive," I repeated, just to make this point clear. "Surely, the cops will look into this when we table it before them."
He clicked his tongue. "It just won't do. There's got to be evidence before we hand this over. If you're backing out now, I understand."
Just this morning he had come ask me to be his sidekick. And now, barely even four hours later, he tried to lay me off? "Who said anything about backing out?"
Raheem opened his mouth to speak, but Mary's voice cut him off. "There you are! I've been looking all around for you. Looks like you're finally having a good time."
Her eyes met mine. "Oh. You're with her?"
"Yes," Raheem said.
"In fifteen minutes or less, break will be over," Mary said. "We should go grab some food."
"Actually, we have other plans." In a desperate attempt to escape Mary, he linked fingers with me.
Everything fell apart. Something just didn't feel right inside of me. If only he knew the chaos his little gesture had thrown my heart into. Amidst the chaos, an electrical force surged through me—not the kind inflicting pain, but one bringing with it a whole new feeling—leaving me part vulnerable, part wistful.
I didn't want this. I didn't want Raheem to be a part of my life, and I didn't want to get used to these colorful bursts of emotions he brought with him. I made a mental note that once we brought Doreen's attacker to justice, I would break off all contacts with him. He no doubt had similar plans, so this should be a piece of cake.
"I guess I'll see you around then," Mary said. Winking at Raheem, she walked away.
"Your girlfriend must have the wrong impression," I said, pulling my hand away from Raheem's.
He didn't look impressed. This didn't come as a surprise. I never impressed people. I depressed them. Pity, he hadn't been warned beforehand.
"She's my cousin," he said.
His cousin? Awed into silence, I gaped at him. Barely giving me a flicker of a moment to assimilate this new information, he disappeared into the cafeteria. I dragged myself behind him.
Standing beside him by the door, my eyes hovered around the room in search of Annabel. But instead, they found the table where Amarachi and Flora were sat. Needing a moment with them, I made my way to their table.
I smiled. "Hey."
They'd already finished eating, but for some reason they chose to remain here.
Amarachi didn't smile back. "You sneak off immediately the bell for recess goes off. And then a few minutes before it's all over, you show up and think it's funny. Where have you been? We even checked the sickbay."
"Sorry,” I said, sitting opposite her. “I had things to take care of."
"I see." Amarachi looked over my shoulder. Although I didn't follow her gaze, I knew she stared at Raheem. "I saw you two walk in together. What's this about? You ditched us for him?"
"I wish I could stay and talk,” I said. “But I'm on an assignment."
"An assignment?" she echoed, regarding me with a fishy look in her eyes. "What subject is that?"
Flora entertained herself with stealing glances at Raheem. "Is he waiting for you?"
"What is going on?" Amarachi asked, her voice tense. "Why is he waiting for you?"
I would have to tell them the whole truth. Only then would they let me go after Annabel Lambert. Sat two tables away, she enjoyed the company of Maxwell and three others I didn't care to identify. She rocked her head back and forth, laughing along with the others, obviously enjoying a joke.
Turning to face the wide, eager eyes of my friends, I said, "Raheem and I believe someone tried to kill Doreen. We've been sleuthing around."
Amarachi gasped. "Oh heavens."
"Is there any success?" Flora asked.
My gaze wandered to Annabel. "We're close. We want to have a word with Annabel.”
Amarachi followed my gaze. "You think she did it?"
"Raheem says not to point fingers yet," I said, more to myself.
"Please be careful," Flora said.
I nodded.
Amarachi placed her hands on mine. "Be careful."
"I will."
"But seriously, I don't get why you're doing this,” Amarachi said, withdrawing her hands. “Are you even thinking of yourself? You're not well. If he wants to be Sherlock Holmes, then let him. But do you have to be his sidekick? You are not well. You don't have to help him with this."
"No, you don't get it," I said. "You make it sound like he's forcing me to do this."
"Well, isn't that what it is?" she asked.
"No! I'm doing this because I want to. Look, if we don't catch the sicko who attacked Doreen, she might attack someone else. And even if she doesn't intend to harm anyone else, it isn't right to leave a criminal unpunished. Justice must be served."
"Since when did you become a police officer?" Amarachi asked. "Vicky, you're taking a risk. Do you know this? Do you know what happens if the culprit finds out you're close to catching her? Do you know the sick things she'll do to keep her sins in the dark? You have no idea, do you?"
I did have an idea. But I didn't want to think of it. Thinking of how things might go wrong would only end up poisoning my mind.
"Nothing will go wrong," I said, suppressing a surge of fear.
"Why won't you just hand it over to the police?" Flora asked. "They'll know what to do."
"Once we have evidence, we'll hand it over to the police,” I said. “All we have now is a suspect and a motive, and this just won't do."
"So, you're spending time with Raheem in the name of solving a case?” Amarachi asked. “What will his girlfriend think?"
"Mary is his cousin," I said.
Amarachi waved off my words. "Whatever. Just be careful. I'm just creeped out. Really creeped out about you nosing around a potential murderer."
"I know."
"Seriously, I don't even know why I'm allowing this. I don't trust you being with that arrogant son of the devil to start with.”
Yesterday I'd been thrilled to hear her call him that. But now, those words made me cringe. How would Raheem feel about being given a title as hellish as this?
"He's changed," I said.
"You have a murderer to catch,” Amarachi said.
There. My cue to leave. I walked over to the table of interest and five pairs of eyes looked up at me. I could feel additional three pairs burn into me from behind. While Flora and Amarachi watched me with care in their eyes, Raheem's eyes burned with impatience.
I stared at Maxwell for a second too long; the chubby boy who'd driven Annabel to madness. He didn't even have an exceptional look. What about him drove Annabel so crazy that she'd tried to kill someone just to have him for herself? Did he even know his crazy, jealous girlfriend had tried to kill someone? Although Raheem said not to point fingers, I couldn't help but tag Annabel as a murderer.
Locking eyes with her turned my stomach to ice, but I dismissed this feeling. "Come with me.”
I turned away from her and stared at the door, but Raheem had shifted position. Sat at a table and indulging in the lunch set before him, he waved me over.
Flora and Amarachi watched me walk over to him. I tried not to look at them. My stomach grumbled at the sight of lunch served on the table. A can of coke towered over my lunch tray which contained a miniature meat pie laying seductively in one compartment, chicken and chips littering two other compartments, and omelet in another.
"This kitchen makes good meat pie." Raheem chewed on his food in a way that made me grab mine.
The contents of his lunch tray could pass for an exact replica of mine, save for some cookies, a very leafy meal, and a cup of milk by the side.
Halfway into my food, I groped for my manners. I must have dropped them somewhere. "Thank you."
Raheem nodded, training his eyes on Annabel as she advanced to us. The swishing of her skirt. The lightness of her footsteps. The graceful swing of her hands. On the outside she seemed ordinary, but the inside of her told an entirely different story. How could a vile creature act so ordinary, fooling everyone into seeing a cute little girl where a monster should be?
My muscles tensed. I knew I would mess things up if I tried to talk, so I trusted Raheem to do the talking.
"Please sit," he said.
The beautiful monster complied without a word. Interlacing her fingers, she let her gaze roam the distance between Raheem and I. Moments passed and she still didn't say a word.
Why hadn't Raheem spoken yet? He had his eyes fixed on her as though he were gazing at a vulnerable lab rat, not a vicious viper that could strike at any moment.
Finally,Annabel spoke. "You're the new senior."
"I am," Raheem said. "My name is Raheem."
"I'm Annabel." She turned to look at me. I caught a rather faint whiff of the perfume Raheem had mentioned. More vanilla, less tobacco.
"Victoria," I introduced.
Annabel smiled. Not a heartless killer kind of smile, but a friendly girl's. "I know who you are."
Flashing her a stern smile, I emptied my can and leaned back in my chair, waiting for the interrogation to begin.
"I understand you were the last person to see Doreen before yesterday's incident," Raheem said.
Annabel gulped, holding her hands together on the table. Her face paled. She hadn't seen this coming. I could tell though, she knew where we were headed.
"Yes,” she said. “But...but why?"
"Doreen was attacked, and the culprit hides behind the Bloody Miri story," Raheem explained.
Annabel fidgeted in her seat. So much for an act. She could fool anyone. "I don't have anything to do with this, I swear. I mean...you're...you've obviously got the wrong person."
"Please calm down," Raheem said, holding out his hands. "We aren't saying you have anything to do with it. You don't have to be scared. Not unless there's something to hide. We just need to ask you a few questions."
Annabel nodded.
"Are you okay now?" Raheem asked. "We're sorry for the inconvenience, but this is all procedure."
"I understand."
"Was there anyone else when you visited the restroom?"
"Just me. Until Doreen walked in."
"We need as much details as you can give," I said. Hopefully, there would be a loophole in Annabel's story. If we needed more facts to show we were on the right track, that would be it. "What were you doing when she walked in?"
Annabel looked down in shame. "I was standing in front of the mirror, chanting Bloody Miri. I filled a sink with water and kept calling her, but I guess she was too busy to answer my call, or I was too impatient to keep trying, so I just got frustrated and left.”
"Was there anything fishy?" Raheem asked. "Anything at all?"
"No."
"Did you see anyone walk into the restroom while you were leaving?" I asked.
"No."
She thought for a moment, and then her eyes went round with shuddering fear. "Someone was probably in one of the stalls."
Raheem and I communicated with our eyes. This piece of information could lead us to solving this mystery.
"I remember hearing something,” she said.
"What did you hear?" I asked.
"I heard something clink. A kind of sound as though something clinked against, you know, ceramic."
"Do you remember anything else?" Raheem asked.
Annabel shook her head. "No. Do you have any more questions?"
I looked back to where Annabel had been before we summoned her. I caught Maxwell staring. "You're Maxwell's girlfriend?"
"Yes."
"How did you react to the texts he sent Doreen?"
Annabel grimaced. "How would you react to your boyfriend texting another girl just as much as he texted you?"
I shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I've never had a boyfriend."
"I was jealous at first," she confessed.
"Only at first?" I asked.
"Yeah. I was jealous because I thought Max was texting Doreen. But he wasn't. Henry is a close friend of his, and when Henry's phone had a software problem and stopped working, he used Doreen's phone to text Max while his phone was being fixed."
"Who is Henry?" Raheem asked.
"Doreen's elder brother. He’s Max’s childhood friend. I think Nengi and Henry are an item."
I remembered him. He graduated last year. Slim, tall, fair guy. He used to hang out with Doreen, Max and Nengi. "I know him."
"Thanks for your time, Annabel," Raheem said, bolting to his feet.
"Anytime," Annabel said.
Raheem nodded at the door. I could tell he had a lot on his mind, but wouldn't speak in the presence of a third party. I rose to my feet and followed him outside.
I'd thought he would speak once we were outside. But he didn't. Instead, he balled his right hand into a fist and glued it to his left palm. Engrossed in thoughts, he paced the passageway.
"Is Annabel still a suspect?" I asked.
Raheem stopped pacing. "Of course. While the things she told us have given rise to another suspect, she hasn't cleared her name yet."
"Something doesn't make sense," I said. "Nengi never mentioned Doreen's brother. And I'm sure she knew he was the one texting Max. So why would she speak of Doreen as the one texting him?"
"That is just one of two points," Raheem said. "According to Annabel's story, someone was probably in one of the stalls, no doubt applying the perfume so its smell would be strong enough to frame Annabel. The clink she heard was most likely when the person placed the perfume on the water closet tank. And if that person was the one who attacked Doreen, then that was someone who knew she would visit the restroom at that particular time."
"And so she hid there," I said. "Patiently waiting."
"And who knows her whereabouts better than her best friend?” Raheem asked. “Nengi herself had even confessed to this."
"And omitting Henry's role in the story she told us only meant she had something to hide," I noted. "She wanted to lead us on the wrong track."
"Why didn't we see this before?" Raheem seemed disappointed in himself. "Come on. We've got to have another word with her before recess is over."
I moved to follow him, but a thought occurred to me. "You go ahead. I need to visit the restroom. Did you see the way Nengi acted when she realized she'd lost an earring? If it fell off during her attempt to kill Doreen, then finding it in the restroom would be a vital piece of evidence."
Raheem did the unexpected. He laughed as though I'd just told a joke. In a split second, his amusement morphed into disappointment. "Twenty four hours after a crime and this is when it occurs to you to check the crime scene? That is enough time for the culprit to visit the place repeatedly. Besides, who says the janitor didn't clean the place?"
He had a point. But I'd hoped the janitor would be spooked by the ghostly news and would thus be too frightened to clean the place.
I sighed. "You're right."
"After we revived her yesterday, I returned to the crime scene,” Raheem said. “It's the ladies' restroom and I shouldn't be there, yeah. But it's all part of procedure."
"Did you find anything?" I asked.
"Our investigation would be one step ahead if I did."
***
Our schoolmates littered the hallway, as typical of this time of the day. Standing in groups, they chattered about whatever they found interesting. Doreen scowled at us as we stepped into her class. Nengi, on the other hand, didn't seem bothered by our presence.
"Here for more questioning?" Doreen asked.
Raheem played deaf to her question. "Nengi, can we have a word with you?"
Nengi grew pensive for a second too long, probably trying to figure out why we returned. "Yeah."
"No way," Doreen said. "You are not. We can't entertain them questioning us as though— I mean, it's encouraging them."
"Please relax," Nengi said. "It'll only take a moment. I'm sure whatever they're doing is for our good."
Doreen looked away.
"Shall we?" Raheem asked, gesturing toward the exit. With Nengi beside us, we walked out of the class.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Something came up," Raheem said. "It's about the story you told us. Why did you hold back from mentioning a certain Henry?"
"Henry?" Nengi's face contorted to a grimace. "That girl told you about him, didn't she? I should have known. She's basket mouthed and says even the unimportant things."
"Unimportant?" Raheem echoed. "Let me be the judge of that. So, this Henry, care to tell us who he is?"
"He's Dory's elder brother," she said.
"And?" Raheem asked.
"And my boyfriend."
"And while you were aware he texted Maxwell the whole time, you kept that from us, and kind of turned the whole thing around to make it look like Maxwell had a spark for your friend. Why?"
"W-what?" Nengi looked genuinely shocked. She made to speak again when the intercom screeched on, cutting her off.
"Raheem Kadir and Victoria Brown," the secretary's voice called over the intercom. "Report to the main office ASAP."
Raheem fumed. "What the hell?"
Everyone in the corridor turned to look at us. They probably assumed we'd gotten into some kind of trouble. Had we?
"This conversation isn't over," Raheem said to Nengi.
***
Sat opposite Sir Amadi, Raheem and I waited for him to speak.
"Thank you," he said. "Both of you. Thank you so much for what you did for Doreen. Really, this can't be overemphasized."
"It's okay, sir," I said. "We only did what we had to."
Raheem rolled his eyes. "I thought we already got past this yesterday.”
Sir Amadi's face hardened, but he let it go. "I fear for the safety of my students. Since the founding of this school, there's never been a case of attempted murder. But with what happened to Doreen, I don't know what this world is turning into."
"Long story short," Raheem said, stifling a yawn. "Where do we come in?"
Sir Amadi shot him a cold stare that extended far beyond the present. Raheem returned his vicious look, glaring at him as though anytime soon he would go around the table to straddle him to death. Although curiosity gnawed at my soul, I couldn't dare inquire about the basis for their murderous hate toward each other. It didn't concern me after all.
"Talk to me like that again and—" Sir Amadi threatened.
Raheem cut him off. "You really should take a chill pill, mister principal. If I remember correctly, it was the director himself who admitted me into this school, so he alone has the right to threaten."
"Raheem, show some respect," I said. I would not sit and watch him get all saucy with the principal, a man old enough to father us.
Raheem fumed. "Whatever. I'm out of here."
He made for the exit, when Sir Amadi said, "I thought about having a detective look into what happened with Doreen. But word reached me that we already have a Sherlock Holmes amongst us. Or is it the Agent Pendergast we have?"
Wow, so Sir Amadi read non-biblical books just as much as he read Biblical ones. Impressive. I could never have guessed that. Although I'd never seen or heard of the Agent Pendergast character, I could only imagine what a great detective he made, considering that Sir Amadi mentioned him along with Sherlock, the legendary sleuth.
"I care for all my students," Sir Amadi said. Holding my gaze, he ignored Raheem the whole time. "And you are no exception. Which is why a capable detective must come in."
"There are a thousand and one cases, Sir Principal," Raheem stated. "What makes you think any cop is interested in digging into this? Girl found unconscious in restroom. End of story. Especially with the Bloody Miri story and all its silliness. C'mon now, have you even thought of that?"
"You best round up your investigation," Sir Amadi said, ignoring Raheem's question. "I don't want you kids nosing around, or you'll get hurt, and another student getting hurt is the last thing I want."
"So you're getting us off this case, is that it?" Raheem asked. Was it just me, or did a hint of amusement linger in his voice? "Don't flatter yourself now. You never assigned us to this case, and you have no right whatsoever to—"
"Raheem!" I warned. "What is wrong with you?"
"I will tell you what's wrong with me," Raheem said. "Now, this man claims to have respect for life. What about three days ago? Have you forgotten so soon what you did, mister Principal?"
So I'd been right all along. Something had triggered the hate between Raheem and Sir Amadi. Initially, I'd thought this didn't concern me. But now, my ears itched to hear the untold story.
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"Are you willing to tell her or should I?" Raheem asked.
When Sir Amadi kept mum, Raheem said, "Okay. I will. Here's what happened three days ago. I was driving, and so was he. Without even honking, he burst out of a side street and crashed into the side of my vehicle."
An image of Raheem's car slid into my mind. Deformed by the crash, it took the shape of a squeezed can of malt.
"I know what you're thinking," Raheem said. "It was an accident and I shouldn't react like this. But this man was clearly at fault. Number one, he was speeding. Number two, he didn't honk before joining the main road from a side street. And number three, he claimed right. It didn't matter to him that I was hurt or something. He just bolted out of his car and started a fight right there in the middle of the road. Not to mention that he’d been drinking.”
Glancing at Sir Amadi, he said, "By the way, how is your fist? And no, I didn't hit him, if that's what you're thinking. Hell, I would never raise a hand against one old enough to be my father. Thing is, he took a swing at me, I ducked and his fist met my car. I know it's just a car and I shouldn't think much of it, after all it only takes a token to fix it. But what pisses me off is that that car was a gift from my uncle. A few months back, I turned seventeen and he presented the keys to me. It's not just a birthday gift, but a parting gift. My uncle died last month in one of the Baghdad bombings.
"And then a madman comes around and does poo. How am I supposed to react? You all assume I'm racist, and to be honest, I am hundred percent racist. You know, people like this man, and others of his kind are the parasites that cause the moral decadence of this world. They all belong to a certain race. And when it comes to them I am racist."
"My CRS teacher starting a fight in the middle of the road," I said. "It's unthinkable. Sir, are you not the one who teaches us to be peaceable at all times?"
Whatever respect I thought I had for Sir Amadi slowly ebbed away. A man of dignity would never claim to be right when wrong. He would never start a fight in public.
"I'm telling you you can't go in there," the secretary's voice sailed to our hearing. "The principal is in a meeting!"
"And we're telling you we need to see him this minute," a girl shouted back.
Barely allowing a flicker of hesitation, the door flew open and three juniors burst into the office. Their eyes screamed 'there is fire on the mountain.' I didn't know what to expect, but my heart lurched.
The secretary raced in after the girls, her heels frantic against the floor. Scowling at them, she explained, "I'm sorry sir. I told them you were in a meeting but they just forced their way in."
"You better have an explanation for this," Sir Amadi said to the girls.
"Another girl's been attacked," one of the girls blurted out.
"Attacked?" I asked.
"Bloody Miri struck again," the second girl said.
My blood ran cold at the news.
"Who's the victim?" Sir Amadi asked, his eyes round as orbs.
"Nengi Oruene."

To be continued

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