I never wanted to witness a murder.
We had been driving back from my grandparents house on the Fourth of July. It was about eleven o’clock or so, dark enough that you couldn’t see a thing beyond the stretch of the streetlights.
There was an accident on the interstate, so Dad had had to cut through a really sketchy town, with rundown houses and the creepy shells of old abandoned buildings. It was interesting at first, because to me, it felt like something out of a crime novel.
The car was paused in the intersection, a few others lined up in front and behind. Some other people trying to avoid the accident. I was staring out the window into the blackness, my eyes sleepily drifting between asleep and awake. A lamp flickered on the side of the road, temporarily casting nearby objects in an eerie glow.
The light faltered and went dead, but it was what the lamp hadn’t illuminated that had caught my attention. It was the moonlight. The moonlight glinting off of the slick gun and muffler held in a shadowy figure’s hand. A second dark figure is turning to leave.
I didn’t scream when I saw the figure pull the trigger. One. Two. Three. Ten times. Or when the dark person fell. I thought it was a dream. A sick, horrid, dream.
But when I got online the next day to find the town, Ashbourne, my blood turned ice cold.
I stand in front of a small house, not as run down as the others in the neighborhood, but still a bit shabby. I clutch a newspaper clipping in my hand.
“Tom Foster, 45, found dead in alley. Death ruled a suicide.”
A black-and-white picture of his mangled body was shown below. His eyes were drained of all emotion, nothing left in this bitter, broken corpse. His soul was long gone, leaving behind an abandoned shell, like the buildings that surrounded his final moments.
When I found that, I didn’t know what to do. By all means, his death was no suicide, and his family had the right to know. That’s why I spent the next two weeks trying to find his family. He had a wife, Elisa Foster, and twins, Rickey and Cynthia. It was their house that I stood in front of, working up the nerve to ring the doorbell.
Just do it. I tell myself. I squeeze my eyes shut and hit it with my fist. A ring echoes through an open window. A girl I could only assume was Cynthia, opens the door.
“Yes?” She asks, sticking her head out.
“Are you Cynthia Foster?” I stutter.
“Are you a reporter?” She accuses, squinting her eyes and staring at me dead on.
“No,” I reply. “I’m not. I was driving by the night your dad, Tom Foster, died.”
“I saw him. He-he...he didn’t commit suicide.”
A smile the opposite of the situation spreads across her face.
“I knew it!” She screams. “Rickey!”
Cynthia turns to me and grabs my arm.
She pulls me into the house, leading me towards a closed door. The inside is neat and cozy, creating a soft atmosphere. Cynthia throws the door open. Her bedroom is all pink and white and green and butterflies. Her bed is tucked away in the corner, and she plops me down on it before rooting through the closet.
Rickey, who looks almost identical to Cynthia, leans against the doorframe.
“Who’s this?” he asks, gesturing towards me.
“Oh yeah, I never got your name.” Cynthia realizes.
“I’m Emma Chapman.” I introduce myself. Rickey nods and Cynthia stands on her tiptoes, trying to reach for something on the top shelf.
“Why is she here?” Rickey whispers to his sister.
“You don’t have to whisper,” Cynthia rolls her eyes. “She was driving through town when Dad died. She saw him! He didn’t commit suicide!”
“Why didn’t you tell the police?” Rickey turns on me.
“Two weeks ago I thought it was a dream. I didn’t know where it was, let alone who it was.” I defend myself.
Cynthia grunts and lugs a large corkboard out of the closet. She hangs it on the wall and takes a step back. The corkboard is covered in pictures and notes, connected by a continuous strand of red yarn.
“We’ve been trying to find out what really happened,” Cynthia tells me, amused by my awe. “We know that the police ruled it a suicide, and that the weapon was an MP-446 Viking.”
“I don’t know what that looks like,” I confess shyly.
“That’s okay,” Cynthia says, and pulls up a picture on her phone. “Here,”
I take her phone and peer down at the picture. The memory comes flooding back. The moonlight glinting off of the slick gun and muffler.
“Yeah, that’s it.” I mumble, searching the memory for any degree of details.
“The thing is, Dad didn’t own a gun.” Cynthia explains to me. “So that means he would have had to borrow or steal one.”
“First of all, I don’t understand how nobody heard the shot,” Rickey says, side-eyeing me. He still didn’t trust me.
“There was a muffler on the gun,” I tell him, handing the phone back to Cynthia. She presses a few buttons and runs out of the room. She returns a minute later with a piece of paper in her hand.
“Okay,” she thumbtacks the paper, a picture of a muffler, onto the corkboard. She winds the yarn around the tack, connecting a picture of the gun with the muffler.
“Now, Dad said he had to go meet up with an old friend,” Cynthia recites. “That could be who killed him!”
“Emma, Do you remember anything else about the person with the gun?” Rickey asks me.
“No,” I reply, and their faces fall.
It’s like someone had struck a match and held it up to the memory.
They look up at me, a speck of hope still glittering in their eyes.
Something snaps and I watch the memory in my head like a movie. Someone zooms in on the scene, and I notice something else shimmering in the moonlight.
“Rings,” I say. “Big ones. They’re silver. The person is wearing one on each finger.”
The twins just stare at me with a surprised look.
“Are you sure?” Cynthia asks me.
I nod my head.
The twins turn to each other.
“If the person was wearing silver rings, then that must mean it was…” Rickey recounts.
Cynthia and Rickey gasp in sync as only twins can.
“Your uncle?” I reply, confused.
“Ian Lee. He’s not really our uncle.” Cynthia informs me. “He and Dad were best friends since they were six, and we’ve always been really close.”
“Do you realize what this means?” I exclaim. “We have a name to turn in to the police!”
Uncle Ian is sitting in the interrogation room, with me, Cynthia, Rickey, and their mother, Elisa, watching from the other side of a two-way mirror. An investigator walks in, and sits at the other end of the table with him. He opens a file and presses a button on the tape recorder.
“Mr. Lee, we would like to ask you a couple of questions.”
Elisa bites down on her nails and Cynthia takes her hand. Rickey’s face is stone, staring straight ahead at his uncle.
“What were you doing in the alley with Mr. Foster?”
“We was having a conversation. Settling a business deal.”
“What kind of business deal?”
“Tom was interested in buying some shares of a business down in Mexico. He came to me what with my degree and all.”
“Why did you shoot him?”
“I didn’t shoot nobody. I told him the sellers might not like it if he backed out. Must’ve gotten cold feet.”
“Why do you think he backed out?”
“I dunno. He was always a little chicken. All talk and no balls.”
“That’s a damn lie!” Rickey bangs his fists on the glass. “That’s a damn lie and you know it!”
Elisa gapes at her son in horror. Tears were brimming in her eyes, and Cynthia glares at him. Ian glances up at the mirror. He would be a dummy if he didn’t know it was a two-way.
“Ah, so the family is here.” He grins. “Hello Elisa, Cynthia, Rickey.”
Rickey's face is showing the most contempt I’ve ever seen a person show.
“Mr. Lee,” the investigator says sternly. Ian looks down from the mirror to the officer.
“What happened after you told him the sellers wouldn’t like it if he backed out?”
“He asked if I could protect him if he did.”
“What did you say?”
“I said I would.”
“What happened next?”
“He said he had to get back, and he left.”
I walk to the police officer standing next to the door.
“That’s when he shot him.” I whisper in his ear. “When he was turning to leave.”
He gives a stout nod and knocks on the door. The investigator gets up and steps out of the room. I don’t hear what the officer tells him, but he nods and steals a quick peek over at me. I strut back to the window and cross my arms. Rickey leans over and mummers,
“What did you tell him?”
“That’s when Ian shot him, as he was turning to leave.” I mutter back under my breath. Rickey tilts to the other side and relays this information to Cynthia, who yanks gently on Elisa’s arm and repeats it to her. Elisa looks at me for confirmation, and I bob my head.
The investigator re-enters the room and closes the file.
“Mr. Lee, do you know where Mr. Foster was shot?”
“Back, chest, I think.”
“Do you know what kind of gun was used to kill Mr. Foster?”
“An MP-446 Viking. A real beauty.”
“What kind of bullets were in the gun?”
“0.46 callibre, am I right?”
“How many bullets were in the gun?”
The investigator smiled.
“We never released the number of bullets left in the gun.”
He pushes a button that activates the intercom.
“Please escort Mr. Lee back to his cell, where he will await trial for the murder of Mr. Thomas Foster.”
Elisa cries and hugs Cynthia. Rickey’s face softens and he embraces them both. I stand there awkwardly, not knowing if I should go or stay. Elisa straightens up and comes over to me. She squeezes me tightly and says,
“Thank you, Emma! They never would have gotten him if it wasn’t for you!”
“It was just a matter of luck,” I reply.
“Yeah, stupid crazy luck!” Cynthia adds goofily, enclosing me in her jumpy arms. Tears are running down her cheeks too. Rickey puts his hand on my arm.
“Thank you,” he says earnestly, and I see something diminish inside of him. “This really means a lot to us.”
“Really, it’s not just luck. You and Cynthia had it mostly solved. I just gave you a bit of a push.”
“But that’s just it,” Rickey responds. “You can’t finish a puzzle without the missing piece.”