“Thank you for your help, B-kun.” Violet gently wrapped her arms around his shoulders and gave them a squeeze. “I’m really glad you were here.”
B-kun shrugged. “Think nothing of it.”
Violet’s magenta lips smiled, but there was a note of sadness in her soft blue eyes. She looked away for a moment before asking “It’s late...do you have a place to stay? I know with...everything you have going on, you’re trying to avoid public places, like motels. My father has an apartment not too far from here, you can stay there for the night...or longer, if you would like to stick around...”
“Thank you, that would work well for the night,” B-kun responded, seeming to miss Violet’s hopeful gaze. “I plan to be out of the city early tomorrow morning.”
After Violet handed over the keys, and they said their goodbyes, B-kun headed out the door with Ben Near in tow. As he passed her, Ben heard Violet sigh and mutter to herself “I can’t even stand a chance against that woman’s ghost.”
As the under-spoken detective and his companion made their way towards the address Violet had given them, they were greeted by the blaring of sirens. B-kun pulled his hood over his head as they approached the police car barrier in front of the costly looking apartment complex.
“What happened?” Ben inquired of a bystander, a woman somewhat past her middle years.
“A murder!” the woman answered excitedly. “Well, the police haven’t officially called it yet, but I know it had to be...I mean, with her lifestyle and all...”
“Who was the victim?” B-kun interrupted in a low voice, keeping his face hidden.
“The girl who lived in the apartment above the Panda Express, Caroline something or other, I think her name was. Pretty thing, but, you know,” the woman glanced around, leaned in, and lowered her voice, “I live by the elevator, and let me tell you, I’d see her coming in at all hours of the night...with men...and women...”
Catching sight of a young man with a gray, woolen, police-issued blanket wrapped around his shoulders, the terse detective left the woman to her ramblings.
“Did you know the victim?” B-kun asked.
With a dazed expression on his face, the young man nodded. “She was my sister...I...I still can’t believe this happened.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“I...I’m not sure...I was over in her apartment for dinner. She ordered some take-out from the Panda Express, we laid out the food, you know, like ‘family-style’, started digging in and then, she just...she keeled over, and...oh my god, I can’t believe she’s really dead.”
“Do you know of anyone who’d want to hurt her?”
“I don’t know...I mean, she wasn’t perfect, but...wait...she did mention that she was seeing someone that she was really into, but then...well she said the person went all stalker-y on her and she had to end it. Huh...I don’t even know if it was a guy or a girl...Carol was bi, you know...”
Ben pursed his lips. “I’m sorry for your loss, kid.” He lowered his head in a gesture of sympathy before scuttling after B-kun, who was artfully making his way towards the front of the Panda Express.
“Yeah, it was us three here tonight. I took the order, it was egg rolls, mu-shu pork, and general tsao’s chicken, with a diet Coke and a Dr. Pepper. I asked if they wanted silverware, and the girl said no, they had their own.” A straw-haired youth whose nametag read “Jacob” was saying as Ben caught up.
“The police said it looked like poison, and they suspected us, but they searched thoroughly and couldn’t find a container for the poison, and all three of us have been here all night,” said the brown-haired young man with the nametag “Chris”.
“They even body searched us, if you can believe it. I mean, seriously?” the red-haired girl with the nametag “Fiona” huffed indignantly. “Wait...who did you say you were, again?”
But B-kun was already heading towards the back door of the shop, which had a sign that said “STAIRS” next to it.
Ben made it to the landing of the first floor just in time to see the policeman in front of an apartment talking on his com. “...Potent poison...” a staticky voice was saying, “...lab only found trace amounts on one side of a clean flat napkin in the dumpster, with traces of ethanol, used as a solvent for the poison...want you to come down and question the restaurant employees again...”
After the uniform’s shadow disappeared around the corner, B-kun slipped soundlessly into the apartment. Ben sighed, glanced around, and followed.
Inside the studio apartment they found the chalk outline of the body next to a low table with two plates, two sets of silverware, two take-out drink containers, and several take-out cartons. Closer inspection of the plates showed that they had nearly identical half-eaten remains from all the cartons.
B-kun gave a rudimentary inspection of the rest of the apartment, which contained all the normal paraphernalia of a college student with well-to-do parents. His gaze paused briefly on a group of framed photos next to the bed, one of which was of a pretty young brunette next to the young man they talked to downstairs, dressed in a graduation gown and cap. On it was signed: “Next it’s your turn sis, love Harold”.
Nothing else seemed to catch the detective’s interest until he began to carefully flip through the pages of a notebook on a desk next to several textbooks (using a pen he had with him, so as not to disturb any fingerprints).
Inside were notes scrawled in a passably neat hand (of some sort of math subject, it appeared to Ben), but the girl’s boredom was made clear by the doodles drawn around the edges of the pages.
All around the pages dated within the last two weeks appeared five particular symbols, repeated many times, in differing sizes and orientations:
“Well,” Ben mused, “the bro coulda done it, I s’pose, but he looked genuinely upset...”
“No, I believe it was someone else,” B-kun declared after studying the symbols for a minutes.
“One of the kids from Panda? How?”
B-kun glanced towards the table. “If I’m right, the police will find the poison on that...”
The next day, in part due to acting on an anonymous tip that was phoned in, the police were able to make an arrest in the murder of Caroline Somners.