“It’s Ru, Mrs. Jones,” she said as she raised her hand, not having more people butcher her name anymore on the first day at school as a sixth grader. Mrs. Jones, the Math teacher, took notice of her and nodded with a rather nervous, “Okay,” and a slightly scarlet face. Ru thought she might also feel overwhelmed with all the sixth graders she needed to roll-call on her first day as well. But she really doesn’t want her classmates to get free ideas in case they eventually decide to pick on her. It got pretty bad for Barney Jones (everyone erupted to the I Love You song in the hallway) in fourth grade, and Sunny Le (they just laughed every time she was on roll-call until a teacher noticed this halfway through the semester) last year. Their names were not even exactly taken from another language as hers.
From her peripheral vision, she can see one of her classmates mindlessly looking at the clock, another playing with his pen, and another one, whom she never saw around before, has been dunking his head on the table since second period. It is understandable though, Ru reckoned. It has been a whole day of nothing but roll calls and pep talk.
Just as her stomach is about to grumble, the school bell rings. Ru hoped she would make it in time for the lone seat near the window at the cafeteria, also that the remaining two periods wouldn’t be too long.
Ru hopped on her bicycle and dashed out of the school gates. Like any other day, she went past the stores in Gran’s Avenue, all the way through the one bookstore in town, Wan’s, took a right and cycled away from the residential areas of Linford. She headed to the shortcut through the urban forest and crossed the shallow creek, which her mother is never really pleased about because she still reckons it too slippery and dangerous. But it got her down the hill by at least 10 minutes faster, so her Mom relented to her stubbornness on the condition that Ru does not use that path when it’s the rainy season.
She can already see the tiny security cabin with its signature blue roof she always frequented after school. She was excited to visit again after the last two weeks of summer she spent with her Dad who lived in another town following her parents’ divorce. But as she turned towards it, she heard sirens screaming, and saw that they came from two police cars and an ambulance, parked in front of the security cabin. She quietly stopped and placed her bike nearby a tree, and saw a familiar face, handcuffed and escorted by two huge policemen out of the cabin. A brown-and-white Akita, which was primarily the reason why Ru visited the place, barks and follows the officers along as if trying to ask the officers to let his owner go. In a blind panic, she hastily makes her way through the crowd.
“Terry!” she called out, which alerted the officers and Terry himself, “what happened?” The dog, named Milo, barked and went down the stairs and made to Ru’s side. It let out a sad whining sound.
“Ru,” Terry began, “please go home. The guy on the next shift will watch over Milo.”
“Is this kid related to you, Sir?” the officer asked.
“No, no,” Terry quickly replied. “she just usually comes here after school to play with the dog. I’ve told you my sister’s contact.”
“In that case, you should go home, kid. This is a crime scene. Your Mom won’t like you playing around here. Not to mention it’s too close to a dumpster,” the officer warned Ru, who was perplexed and still trying to put the pieces together.
“Wait, what do you mean a crime scene?” she asked, fidgeting, “and Terry has something to do with it? No way!” Another office was trying to coax her to leave saying that the police will handle it and she’d best stay out of the place when they heard something dropped on the floor and a tentative, “Uncle Terry?”
The boy with the sleeveless yellow down jacket over a red hoodie looked even more in shock, and this is the most alert Ru has seen him while he was basically sleeping through the whole first day. He dropped what looked like to be a lunchbox, which was probably Terry’s had he not been arrested. The other policeman, who looks slightly younger but meaner than the other one, was just about to open the door and shove Terry inside the car as he got frustrated with the interruptions.
“Please, officer, that’s my nephew,” Terry called out, “Max, go home and tell your Mom I’m at the police station. It’s just for some questioning, I’ll be fine, okay?”
“Alright, you two, stay out of the landfill. Someone was found dead,” the older officer said as he nodded to the crew who just lifted a bag inside the ambulance. He pointed to Max, “And you, kid, tell your Mom we’ll call from the station about your uncle.”
“He didn’t do anything wrong, did he? Why was he in handcuffs?” Max frightfully asked.
“We’re going to find out since your uncle may notice something when he started his shift early this morning.” And with that, he left with the police car and the ambulance.
“I-I’ll bring Milo with me,” Ru broke the silence as she also tried to get a grip on herself, “I don’t think anyone is going to come soon to feed him. W-will you…”
As Ru was just about to ask if he’s going to be okay and offered him some help, Max grabbed the lunchbox he dropped earlier, rushed to his bike and went off the other side of the road. Ru was startled but then hurried herself to get Milo in the pet basket Terry had, detached it from his bike into hers. She cycled home as she hoped nothing bad will happen to Terry.
Milo gobbled up almost half the food Ru gave him only a couple of minutes ago. Ru remembered how she found him as a pup wandering in the urban forest four years ago when she just arrived in Linford with her mother. She kept coming to the creek to feed him, but could not bring him home because Ru and her mother lived in this flat where the landlord has a strict policy against having pets. Her mother knew Terry from her previous job as an office manager at the landfill. He was glad to have Milo around to keep him company at the security cabin, especially for the night shift.
Ru and her mother moved to a small house nearby the Wan’s the next year as she got a new job closer downtown. They agreed to let Terry keep Milo in his care still, as he would be alone most of the time if Ru brought him home anyway. Terry is always glad to have Ru visit him and Milo as often as she wanted; most noons he only needs to open the gates for the garbage trucks.
Breaking her reverie was the sound of the gate opening and her mother’s footsteps. Ru jolted up from the porch and called out to her.
“Oh, Ruiyi, how was your first day at school?” she hugged Ru and called her by her first name, which nobody else can probably pronounce correctly as she does. Before she can answer the question, her Mom let go of her and asked, “and why is Milo here?”
“Yeah, I was about to tell you. Terry was taken to the police station. The officers said someone’s found dead in the landfill so they took Terry to for a questioning,” Ru explained, “I can’t leave Milo alone so I brought him here. But Mom, is there anything we can do to help Terry? They took him in handcuffs!”
Ru’s Mom, Mrs. Chen, was flabbergasted when she heard the news. She also doubted that Terry would have anything to do with a murder. Previously, she has heard rumors that Terry was rather keen on gambling and a couple of relationships with his co-workers was rather strained because he had a problem returning the money he owed them. But that was the only extent of it. Mrs. Chen was not sure if there is anything she can do about this. Obviously, she does not want Ru to get too involved in this, but they also have nothing substantial to supply the officers which may get Terry out of the place.
“I’m not sure if there is much we can do about this,” she looked at Ru, “but maybe we can help take care of Milo for a while. What do you think?”
“That’s great, of course, Mom, thanks,” Ru responded, “but do you think we can visit Terry? Earlier his nephew saw him being taken away. He was also in my Math class today, but I think he just moved in here. His mom is Terry’s sister, she might need some help.”
This was news to Mrs. Chen. She was never as close to Terry as to know if he has family members living with him in town, but as far as she knew, he lived alone a few miles from the creek, just outside the urban forest on the other side of the town. Linford is quite a small town, so it is easy to notice newcomers, especially at a school with less than 40 students per batch. Considering Terry has been helpful with Milo for the past few years, Mrs. Chen finally came to a decision.
“Okay, let’s go.”
“Ma’am, if you please follow me.”
Mrs. Robinson asked Max to wait in the reception area and went with the officer to inform her what happened at the landfill. He would like to go with her but she wouldn’t allow him to come with, fearing they will talk about gory details inappropriate for children.
He didn’t know much about his Uncle Terry. In fact, he only met him a few times on Christmas holidays, and then he met him a week ago when he and his Mom arrived in Linford. Times when Uncle Terry skipped coming home to his Grandma’s at Ebbswater, where Max used to live with his Mom, for Christmas were because of a debt he has with some of the relatives. He has been coming back the past two years since he tried repaying them back, with a bit of Grandma’s help.
Max didn’t find Linford too shabby a place. He did not have that many friends in Ebbswater, except for one or two people who ended up leaving the town before he did. But being the new kid in school where every kid has known each other since they’re in kindergarten could be tough.
The reason why they moved to Linford was that his Mom’s boss got transferred from to Linford out of all places, but also partly because his Grandma wanted to keep an eye on Uncle Terry so he would not owe people money anymore. Mrs. Robinson had Max bring his uncle lunch or dinner depending on his shift for the day during the whole week. They did not expect the week would run as smoothly as it has been so far; they certainly did not expect Uncle Terry will be involved in a homicide.
In the corner of his eyes, Max saw another kid coming to the police station. He realized it was the girl who brought his uncle’s dog with her when he just snapped to his senses and rushed back to call his mom. Embarrassed, he was just about to lower his head when she spotted him and made her way to him.
“H-hey, Max, right?” she said, offering to shake his hands, “I’m Ru. We met earlier, remember? This is my mother. We’re here in case you and your Mom needs some help with Terry.”
Max gulped and shook Ru’s hand, “Thanks. I’m, uh, sorry that I dashed out on you earlier. I didn’t know what to do and only have my Mom in mind. And thank you, um, Mrs…?”
“Chen,” Mrs. Chen said, “it’s okay. Ru told me. You needed to get to your mother as soon as you could. Speaking of which, is she here?”
“Yeah, she went with the officer to talk about the incident,” Max replied, “she should be here in a few. It has been a while.”
A door opened at the end of the hall, and out came Mrs. Robinson. Max got up his seat when he saw his mother looking distressed. He then introduced Mrs. Chen and Ru, telling her how they met.
“Thank you. I barely got here a full week and know no one here except for my brother,” she let out a sigh, “but I’m not sure if there is anything we can do. There was a footage of him and John, one of the truck drivers, chucking a few bags of trash into the landfill at around 6:00 am. Around 10:00 am, a driver was getting the place ready using a compactor before the trucks came in at around 11:00 am. As he moved towards the area of the landfill Terry and John were, he spotted one of the bags. They found the body of one of the truck drivers there. His name was Bob Colster. They say Terry got into trouble with him once.”
Mrs. Chen remembered him. He was one of the people to whom Terry was indebted. They were apprehended by the company once when they physically fought with each other at work. “But it’s too soon to assume Terry was the suspect, isn’t it? Have they brought John in too?” she inquired.
“Yes, they brought him in as soon as they took Terry in but he was too paralyzed to say anything,” Mrs. Robinson responded, “the landfill owner, Mr. Langley, was furious. Oh, there he is.”
From a distance, Ru can already hear him yelling out demands to a spectacled man–his secretary, mouthed Mrs. Chen–to “get rid of this humiliating scandal out of his business”. When he saw Mrs. Chen with Mrs. Robinson, he cleared his throat and hasten his steps out of the police station. Outside, Ru can see he was heading to an expensive car–despite the ugly orange paint–where a blonde girl around her age was looking out of the window in the passenger seat. He didn’t step on the gas before leaving his secretary with another few loud sprouts of demands.
The news about the body in the landfill stroke a terror throughout the town. Officers patrol around town every night starting at 9:00 pm. Everyone was advised not to wander around the streets past the patrol time. Children are not even allowed to stay out later than 6:00 pm; including Ru and Max.
Ru and Max spent time more often with each other and Milo as their mothers met every weekend trying to get the investigation going and meeting up with Terry’s appointed attorney, Mr. Poe. It was rather awkward at first until the second week when Max brought a book which Ru had an entire collection of; that effectively broke the ice off. They ended up switching books every Saturday, giving each other recommendations. Ru introduced Max to Wan’s, which was rather small according to Max, but also better than nothing.
On those Saturdays they stayed in with their mothers, they got to hear updates about the case. For one, they knew that Terry was just giving a hand to John who insisted that he found the bags in his truck just before he was about to leave to collect trash for the day. Because he was in charge of the trash within the town, he uses the smaller truck where he needs to manually open the back door, which is why he needs Terry’s help. His loader came in late that day so he decided to just pick him up on the way before he did his rounds. What makes things worse was Terry wasn’t the only one who has got in trouble with Bob; John even got locked in with Bob together for wreaking havoc in the local tavern once before. John’s ex-wife was remarried to Bob which was a touchy subject for John, especially with his brash personality. An argument led to another, which led to a fist fight and temporary incarceration. They had since tried to avoid each other at work.
If this does not sound complicated enough, Mrs. Colster–yes, Bob’s current wife who was John’s previous spouse–did not take the news well. She caused quite an uproar in the police station as she threw accusations that both John and Terry must have conspired together to murder her husband. She mentioned that Bob did not come home that night before his body was found in the landfill. Since she thought that he was still on his way from Ebbswater, which was his shift that afternoon before, she paid no mind that he missed dinner and assumed he will be home late. She got worried when she couldn’t reach his phone in the morning, so she decided to go to the landfill to check up on him, knowing he would usually rest in the night drivers’ quarters if he was too sleepy to make it home. She received a call from the police when she was on her way to her mother’s to drop off her three young children.
Bob’s truck was found inside the parking area in the slot it was always parked at. The security camera shows he checked in around 10:27 pm, almost seven hours before Terry timed in for his shift, and eight before John did. He was seen getting in the drivers’ quarters at 10:41 pm, but left at 11:03 pm through the back door with a new set of clothes. The security guard who was in charge that night opened the door for him when he left the compound. Nobody else was seen coming in or out of the gates afterwards.
Since their mothers got increasingly busy after Terry’s hearing was scheduled, Ru and Max mostly spent their time in the school’s library after classes are dismissed. They would rather go to Wan’s, but their mothers thought it was farther away from the attorney’s office, and they would rather them closer if they are going to finish the consultation late. One afternoon, Ru and Max was just with each other’s company in the reading area of the library. Much to their dismay, they were trying to work on their math homework due tomorrow after procrastinating it to finish The Silver Chair, when Ru suddenly whispered.
“But it doesn’t make any sense…”
“You tell me,” Max replied, “believe me, I tried so hard keeping my eyes open for at least the first half of the class when Mrs. Jones explained this bar model thing. I only got even more confused, and before I knew it, I dozed off!” He grumpily crumple the piece of paper he worked on for the answers. “I mean, why did she insist on having us answer with it anyway? Fractions are already as confusing as it is.”
“Actually, I wasn’t talking about the homework,” Ru dropped her pencil on the blank answer sheet, “I was thinking about what happened with Terry. Something’s off.”
Max sighed, “Well, I know my uncle as much as I know that guy, John, you know? I also want him to quickly be released what with our Moms looking exhausted every day. But with the history between them? Like what my Mom said, it’s hard since there is no proof against the footage as well.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to prove Terry and John are guilty either,” Ru wondered, “first of all, why would Terry and John stupidly get caught in the camera if they really were the ones who killed Bob and tried to dispose of his body? Second of all, from what we heard from our Moms’ discussion the other day, the police said Bob was estimated to be dead between 12:00 to 2:00 am when he was nowhere near the landfill. Which brings us to the most important question: how did Bob’s body get inside the garbage truck when no one entered or exited the landfill until dawn?”
“Shush!” the librarian reprimanded. Ru muttered an almost inaudible, “Sorry.” There were no other kids nearby studying, but then again, it’s a library, she supposed. Max waited until the librarian looked away, and tried to speak in the smallest voice possible he can muster.
“It is kinda dumb if anyone deliberately stayed in the place they just committed a crime in,” he agreed, “I guess you’re also right about Bob’s whereabouts that night. Do you think someone wiped off the footage? Or sneaked the body in from another entrance?”
Ru also tried her best to tone down her voice. She murmured, “Both are possible if they are someone familiar with the landfill area. Do you get what I mean?”
“An inside job?” Max tried to muffle his gasp. Ru nodded. It was still for a couple of minutes until Max felt someone poke him on his right shoulder. It startled him, which also startled Ru that both emitted a brief, but loud enough shriek. Again, they were rewarded by a more annoyed, “Shhh!” from the librarian. They turned to the person who caused the commotion and saw the blonde girl who was waiting inside the ugly orange car a few weeks back in front of the police station.
“Hi,” she initiated, “I’m Jean.”
“God, you really scared us,” Max exhales in relief, “I’m Max, and this is Ru. We’ll leave in a few if this is your spot or whatever. Just give us a few minutes to…”
“Oh, no. No, that’s not why I’m here,” Jean interrupted him, ” I see you at the police station a couple of times with your moms. I just want to let you guys know something, but I can’t when my Dad’s around.”
Max’s eyes are widened when he realized the girl was Mr. Langley’s daughter. The few times of the first week when they made the trip to the police station with their Moms, Ru saw that she would peer her head out of the car window when her Dad’s not around. Max and Ru exchanged confused looks, but then Ru nodded to her encouragingly, “Okay. Go on.”
“I-it’s the victim, Bob,” she hesitantly looked at both Max and Ru, but then resolutely continued, “I saw him and my Dad in front of our house that night before he was found dead.”
a/n: Yes, it’s not Friday, and holy guacamole, this story is long as hell. But I’m doing this relay story thing with my friends. Will repost theirs in this blog under the tag #TrashTrio