“You sure it was her?” Kyle asked, voice filled with panic.
Danise nodded. “Certain.”
Kyle stood by the window, glancing at the gate, expecting her appearance. He called her and by judging from her voice, she couldn’t be any happier when it was Kyle of all people, who initiated the dial. His foot was tapping the floor impatiently, water vapour from his breaths stained on the glass, forming the cloudy marks. Brandon was hustling with his phone, connecting whoever he could. The tension growing in the air was thick. There weren’t any news from the police yet. And obviously they couldn’t just sit and do nothing.
Alarm of the kettle broke through their thorough worries. Hot gas shot up to the ceiling. Water was boiling. Danise tipped his toes to reach for the box of Jasmine tea set deep inside the wooden cabinet, craved with swirling patterns, fixed above him. He dipped in two teabags, and waited for the taste to diffuse before pouring it into the fine teacups. Looking at the sullenness on their faces, sighs breathed out one after another. Ever since the missing of Clover, Danise had been putting all the blames on him.
Mainly, for leaving Clover alone in the room.
His thoughts were elsewhere, though his actions were on the china set when the next incident happened. “Ouch!” The water burnt his hand, falling the cup off his grasp, and the shatters drifted to their senses.
Brandon immediately hurried over. “Danise! You okay?” But he ignored his concerns and moved on to the broken pieces scattered all over the place. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it. Go and rest your mind,” Brandon stopped his hand from meddling with the mess any further.
He dragged his steps along the way back to the center of the living room, and dropped his back on the long sofa. Kyle parted his lips, but the words trailed off soon after. 22 years of friendships, together they grew, together they shrunk, perhaps this was the most uncomfortable silence existed between both of them.
Placing her fist and tapping it repeatedly on the door despite the presence of the bell, “Hello~~ It’s Stella~~” she chattered.
Her sudden voice jerked everyone in the house. Brandon froze for a second before throwing the chunks into the bin and joined them at the front.
“Wowww. You’re all here!” she slipped off her heels. “Look what I brought----”
She was pulled into the house. Packets of dim sums were forced out from her grip, vanishing from her sight, replacing with three pairs of eyes staring intensely at her. Sitting upright on the soft seat, she retreated.
“....What...What’s wrong?” she asked, with a slight hint of uneasiness at the edge of her tone.
None said anything, using their gazes to look for answers in her. They moved closer, closing up her vision with only the three of them. She pushed herself back. But it was already the limit. The sofa she was sitting on could no longer compromise with her force.
“What’s the matter?!” she repeated, throwing her body to the other corner seat.
“Where’s Clover?” Kyle began the questioning.
Stella was shocked in the beginning, realizing the disappearance of Clover in their attention. She finally went away? she thought, feeling her lips curling up.
“How would I know?” she rolled her eyes, blinding the pouring joy in her.
“You’re the last person Clover saw,” Danise added. “What did you do to her?!!” he roared, flaring his anger. He would have caught Stella by her collar if it wasn’t Brandon by his side, holding him in position.
“Are you blaming me for her MIA?!” she shouted. “Maybe she got too sick of you that’s why she needed to flee away!”
“Her belongings are still there. She is still in China,” Brandon’s firm voice was heard. “The police said so.”
“...Police...?” it came out soft.
“Clover is really missing, Stella,” Kyle wrapped his hands around hers. “Please, Stella. Help us. Tell us whatever that you know. Small or big, doesn’t matter.”
She sighed. The sincerity reflected in his eyes was something she couldn’t say no to. Resting her head, shutting her lids, she sucked in a deep breath, and refreshed back the encounter with Clover. Okay first, she entered into the room without a proper invitation. They talked and she lashed her for a couple of minutes. Then she bumped into Danise when she was about to take her leave. After that, she got to her car... and ordered Kenny to check on her.
“Kenny? What’s with him?” Danise was back to his normal self. He questioned her, as if the one who wanted to hit her a moment ago wasn’t him.
“... Actually I...” she paused, fixing her guilty stare on the floor, avoiding the direct eye contacts with them,” I did ask her to leave. “But!!” she held up her hand, not giving a chance for Danise to interrupt.
“But I only asked her to leave. I didn’t lay a hand on her..”
“And then what happened?” Brandon’s calm voice took over.
“I told Kenny to check on her.”
The mention of his name made them studied around, looking for him. “And now where’s Kenny?” Three of them asked, almost at the same time.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. He has been missing since yesterday... after I told him...that."
“Did you realize anything wrong with him?” Kyle exchanged a puzzled look with Brandon, perhaps thinking the same thing going on in his head. “Like a sudden change in his behaviour and stuffs?”
“No...he was the same though....other than...”
Stella drew an invisible line on her cheek. “He took the plaster off his face and there was a scar underneath if I’m not mistaken. I only took a glance at that mark cause I didn’t want him to feel bad about it.”
“A scar?” Kyle rose his brows.
“Yeah. A scar.”
“Let’s go,” Kyle tossed the car key on the table to Brandon. “To his house.”
“Do you even know where?” his manager asked, catching his throw in a move.
“Stella knows I’m pretty sure,” he flashed a confirmation look at Stella. And when she nodded though it was hesitant, an old-familiar smile returned to her. “See? I told you.”
Brandon brushed past him and headed straight to the car. He slid into the driver’s seat, turned on the engine and pressed the honk, ringing it until the remaining figures were out. Kyle was the second after Brandon. He rushed and got into the front seat immediately after hearing the car’s noise. Securing himself with the seat belt, he was ready for the drive. Frustrations were written on Stella’s face while putting on her super high heels. Her lips could be seen mumbling about what an annoyance Brandon was for being such an impatient man. She was still not done with her heels, which got on Danise’s nerves who was waiting at the back of her. Danise pushed himself to the front, and snatched away those irritating branded shoes. He shoved them into the car without giving it much a thought. Stella was startled by his act. She hopped on one leg and gifted Danise a slap on his back.
“Done?” Brandon asked, looking at the rear mirror.
Shutting the door with a soft plop, “Done.” Danise responded.
The scent of old furniture with the mixture of beers and smokes circulated in the small rented room. It was only the four of them and the air inside was already stuffing up. Danise let the entrance wide open. As they walked in, their first impression wasn’t startled, but rather disgusted. The thickness of the dust on the wooden floor was enough to mark each of their footsteps (Thank god they didn’t enter barefooted). Spiders were crawling along the corners of the wall, on their way back to their webs. The pans, pots mingled with containers and the existing trashes as one. Inside out t-shirts jumbled on the bed, blanket stained with the leftovers of edible foods. It didn’t seem to be a living place of a normal person.
Stella had her hand waving over her nose as they entered, shooing away the tiny foreign particles floating in the air. Kyle took each step with full precaution because one might ended up in the hill of messiness if a step was missed. They scanned the room precisely. And it turned out to be Kenny wasn’t in.
“Check if can find anything,” Kyle said to the three of them while looking at the almost tumbled cupboard in front of him.
Though he opened the target with pull precaution, it still couldn't stop the mess from kissing him. Next second, the door fell off the nails’ grasp, banging hard on him. And a mass of dust particles dropped straight on his head. “Erm....A... a little help please?”
Danise immediately came to his rescue. He pushed away the broken part off Kyle and a puff of dust flew to their faces as the heavy material was released, choking them with the dirt. Flapping them away, something in the cupboard drew Danise’s attention, pausing his gesture. He took a step closer to have a clearer view. But his legs stopped suddenly as the stench got to his nose.
“Omg.. Kyle...” he nudged, “...look....”
Picture of a very familiar public figure was pasted in the middle. Ruined by the stains of the rotten eggs. Curse words everywhere, directing to him. Bloody-red marks were crossed repeatedly over his head, until the paper had a hole at that spot. Other people might not know who the man in the picture was. But they knew, and of course,
“Kyle... isn’t that....” Brandon’s eyes wide open. “... that...your...--”
“Uncle...” he said. “Exactly, what is the picture of my uncle doing in here?”
“Jack Lee, you’re a shame to the country,” Danise read out aloud, holding a piece of crumpled A4 paper in his hand. “This would be the last dirty job I’m doing for you. Old perverts like you are meant to rot in hell. Hopefully you will keep your promise, that I shall be set free after capturing the girl for you.”
“Maybe because of you, I’m slowly becoming a pervert myself,” Stella’s voice continued. There was another letter she was reading from. “The way you are yearning for her, makes my cock turned on.”
“...What... what in the world is going on?” Kyle stammered. “...My uncle... is... not like that!”
He turned his body fully to face them, hoping he wasn’t the only one on a different side. Nobody had the answers to the pouring questions. Brandon glued his sight to the hanging picture. Millions of thoughts, relevant or not, ran through his head, staring at the famous lawyer. The lawyer Kyle always bragged about. He thought he could find a solid reason to protect Kyle’s stand. But no.
What is the relationship between Jack and Kenny?What did Kenny mean by ‘dirty job’? And the girl? ... Clover?
Many wonders. Zero answers.
Suddenly, a random chuckling interrupted the mood and reached their ears despite the tension growing in the air. They glanced towards the source, seemed to be coming out from Danise’s pocket. He shot an awkward smile and pointed to his phone - message, he mouthed.
“What a tone,” Stella tsked, giving him a sidelong look.
And the smile vanished from him as he swiped open the notification.
“What is it, Danise?” Kyle approached, tipping over his head and glanced at the screen. “Basement? Whose basement?” he asked.
Danise didn’t say a thing for a moment. “Have it,” it was barely a whisper.
Kyle snatched the phone away immediately. And he turned as pale as Danise, scrolling through the images.
Pursing his lips, “.... Is it a prank, little D?” he asked heavily, blinking his eyes, dripping his tears.
Swallowing the thickening saliva, “... I’m afraid not,” he muttered. “I’m afraid that...the ugliest truth is surfacing...”
“But...why?” he sobbed, toppling hard on the ground. The dust was no longer a hindrance.
As if knowing without looking, Brandon patted gently on his shivering shoulders and locked him in his cuddle. Letting his silence be his accompany for a short while, was perhaps the only method for him to break down. Too many truths, too little time to adapt. Shattering now was to build a stronger self to face the unwanted scenes.
He was his uncle, the successful lawyer, the country’s treasure.
But if what he came across today were the ugly sides of him, then he shall let the truths,
be the truths.