“And the walls kept tumbling in the city that we love” -Bastille, Pompeii
She walked fast. Books clutched in her hands, pens dangling from her bag and her gaze at the ground. Finals were right round the corner, but in her mind everything was taking a passive backseat. She could no longer remember what she was even thinking about it. That’s when she felt it – bumping into someone and dropping all her books to the ground. She said about a million sorrys without even looking at the person and drooped down to pick up her books in haste.
She then saw another hand helping her to pick up her books. When she looked at his face, Zeke gazed at her in an awkward silence.
“Hi! Are you Amelia Stine?” Amelia turned around to address the voice. In front of her was a nice-looking couple. “I’m detective Beckett and this is Mr. Castle.” Amelia’s mouth dropped to the ground, looking at the famous author – the person who had inspired her on so many accounts. She plainly nodded before blabbering, “I’d-ask-to-hug-you-if-I-wasn’t-already-late-for-class.”
Castle gave her a jolly smile and helped her off the ground. Amelia seemed to forget that her books were still there, and Zeke had disappeared too. “Just a few questions. Promise it won’t take long,” Detective Beckett said. She was beautiful, Amelia observed and nodded again.
“Uhm,” Castle started, “We’re investigating the death of Neal Ray Gellar.” “And we know we don’t have any jurisdiction here – and you don’t have to answer our questions, but you’re bit of a piece in this puzzle,” Beckett continued. “I’m sure you know that too.”
Amelia said nothing.
The muscles in her face slacked and she prayed her rusty mind to think of something. But as primary instincts went all she could think was RUN. And she did. She only found her feet comforting, as they hit the ground and took off in the opposite direction of the couple. What was happening? She thought. Then someone grabbed her from front and held her tightly.
“Why the fuck are you running?” he asked.
Amelia breathed rapidly, “I’m late for class. Let me go-” As she struggled against Ashfaq’s hold. “Let me go!”
“Amelia, shush.” She looked up to him with pleading eyes but his face was resolute.
“It’s okay Ashfaq,” said Castle from behind. “Don’t hold her so roughly.” He let go of her, but blocked her from running anywhere else.
“I don’t want to answer your questions,” Amelia stomped. “I’m sorry, you’re my idol and everything. But this is personal matters and you cannot barge in.”
Ashfaq with his hands on his hips said, “What the fuck are you talking about?” Beckett tutted softly, saying, Language.
Castle took Amelia’s hand in his and said, sincerely, “We know that you and Neal… weren’t on the best terms, like half the college.” Amelia had considerably cooled down.
“How do you know? No one in this college knew about Neal and me. NO ONE. I was a nobody, and no was concerned with what I did or said. So how come you say you know about what happened two years ago.”
“We saw your files,” Beckett put in. Then Castle said, “And we want to help.”
Amelia bore an expression that looked like she had given up.
“I didn’t know Neal… except that he was Zeke’s best friend. I was never visible to that kind of crowd. In our first year here, I used to spend most of my time in the library to escape the overwhelming feeling at the foyer. It was one of those afternoons,” Amelia paused, to wipe the tears in her eyes. “And I was just plucking some book from the inner isles in the library… when Neal staggered over. I continued with my work because I knew he wouldn’t even notice me there. He looked a little weird… I later realized he was high. And then… he started touching me.” Amelia bit her lip. “I was petrified! He was so huge and was clouding over me, trapping me in a corner… so I punched him in the nose and ran off-”
Ashfaq looked at her shocked, not knowing how to comfort her. “I was going to forget all about it – when afterwards I received a text from him. I didn’t even know how he got my number. But he said, he was suing me for breaking his nose. I panicked – somehow this all became my fault and I was really scared. So I apologized to him, over and over and over again. And by the end of the day… he calmed down about it. And I thought it was okay to breathe again.”
Beckett embraced Amelia, holding her in her warmth. “There’s more,” Amelia murmured. “The next day I was called to the Principal’s office and was told that I was getting suspended on the grounds of violence and indiscipline. My whole world was shattered! I had worked so hard for this college! And now it was all being taken away because of one fucking twat.” Ashfaq smiled slightly at her choice of words. “So I thought… knowing what Neal’s behavior was – if he had done this to me, there must be at least one more person who was violated by Neal too. And I found her! I won’t name her… but she helped me prove that it wasn’t my fault – and tables turned, and Neal was suspended. I thought I won.”
“Only, I forget I couldn’t ever win against them,” Amelia’s face grew grave. “The next day, the girl who helped me stopped coming to college. And Neal was back even though he was suspended. He smiled at my horror, and said that the girl had been punished for crossing him. And that should serve as an example to me. He said that I was a chess piece in his hands and I should be careful about what I do. I almost thought I wasn’t going to see daylight after that… I was constantly waiting for the next blow. So… of course, this year when I saw him lying dead… I couldn’t believe it was real.”
“You were the first person to find him dead,” Beckett commented.
Amelia said nothing.
Ashfaq noticing Amelia’s state said, “Can she go now?”
“Of course. I’m so sorry,” Castle said, engulfing Amelia in a big bear hug.
Amelia said nothing.
It would have been so much better if she’d been another person. A more fortunate person.
In her desperation and frustration, she moaned a word that sounded like a ‘Why?’
“Why, what?” Ashfaq asked, stirring two spoons of sugar in her mug.
“Why couldn’t Neal just stay dead and leave us all alone.”
“It’s more like Nadia’s fault,” Ashfaq replied. Amelia gave him a questioning glance. “Well, she’s friends with Mr. Castle’s daughter. And Nadia told them all about it and fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Amelia smiled, not very much. “Don’t you mean blah, blah, blah.”
“Yeah, same thing.”
“He had a girlfriend, you know – Neal,” Ashfaq said after a while. They were sitting at a café, knowing best not to attend any lectures. “A senior, that too. And she graduated last year.” Amelia commented something like, “I-don’t-care.”
“We’re on the list of suspects. I hope you know that,” Ashfaq said.
“I didn’t expect any less of me. But why are you in it?”
Ashfaq sighed, “In the summer, Neal bullied me to hack into his father’s company accounts. And steal from it.” Amelia gasped. “Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a fucking badass. But I didn’t get a penny. All the fucking money went into his and that sodding Kat’s account.”
“Kat Graham?” Amelia exclaimed.
Ashfaq nodded. After a moment of thought, Amelia continued, “Do you know who all are on the suspects list?”
“About half the college.” Then seeing Amelia’s stern expression he listed out, “Nadia. Kat. Zeke. Jai. Pari and her gang. You and me. Oh, and yeah Luke.”
“Why Luke?” Amelia asked.
“Because he had plain psychopathic feelings?”
“Hey! Watch it!”
Amelia jumped out of her skin as she saw Luke materialize next to them.
“WHAT ARE YOU FUCKING DOING HERE?” Ashfaq shouted loudly, just as scared as Amelia. “Gave me a fucking heart attack.”
“Shut up,” Luke said lazily.
“Are you spying on us?” Amelia asked, looking around frantically.
“I make it a point to keep my eyes and ears open everywhere, at all times,” Luke replied. He was dressed fully in black. “That would explain why you don’t have time to have a bath,” Ashfaq muttered softly.
Luke rolled his eyes, then looking at Amelia he said, “If I were you, I’d pay more attention to my surroundings. And anyways, what are you even doing drinking coffee. Shouldn’t you, Ashfaq the genius be clearing your name? That’s if the two of you haven’t actually murdered Neal.”
“Forget Neal, I think I can do a clean job on you right now,” Amelia replied, irritated.
“Now, now, Stine… I have been so kind to you so many times, even though you don’t know of it,” Luke replied, resting his back on the chair, like he had no worries in the world. “You guys should create a timeline of Neal’s death… as a starter.” Then he placed something on their table, a CD. “This should help you – and as for my input, I can tell you that at 10:25 the morning of his death, I was having a neat row with Neal, after Zeke so sweetly punched him in the ribs.”
“Why would Zeke punch him?” Amelia asked.
“Because of you.”
Amelia’s cheeks turned red, “I don’t understand.”
“As you recall,” Luke explained tiredly. “You had bumped into Zeke that day. Soon after that Neal was getting on Zeke’s nerves, teasing him with you. Obviously Zeke didn’t know you much before then. But clearly you weren’t pretty enough to be paired with Zeke – So in his anger Zeke punched Luke.” Amelia’s face turned downcast. Luke got up to go.
“What? That’s it? That’s all the help you’re providing? Don’t you want to clear your name too?” Ashfaq called after him.
Luke smiled. It was deadly. “I did give you that CD. It’ll help you. And besides, as you pointed out I like being known as a particularly psychotic killer on the loose.” With a chuckle, Luke Walker disappeared.
Amelia propped a chair next to Ashfaq’s and held her phone in between them which was on loudspeaker. They had placed a called to Kat Graham.
“Just because we spent a few hours in a police cell together doesn’t make us besties,” Amelia whispered.
“Its fucking close to becoming one,” Ashfaq grinned back. Then he looked at the clock in his room. “Where’s Mira? She should be here with the take outs.” Amelia shrugged. After strenuous hours of brain storming, they had built a perfect scenario:
Neal was clean the day he died. He’d been clean for the past 4 months. His drug dealer had confessed that he had not sold Neal any drugs in that time period. On Luke’s CD they found a Luke’s journal, and a note on Jai. Jai used to occasionally use steroids. Jai would never give his brother the details, so Luke devised a plan of blackmailing Jai into telling him about it. On the day of Jai’s match, he was supposed to deliver the name and address of his drug dealer to a place Luke designated. However, things took a turn for the worse when Jai was suspiciously injured during the match. Luke believed that it was the killer who was behind this. Just like Ashfaq, Luke also believed that the killer had hurt many other people throughout the year. From the autopsy, it was stated that the drug had to be given to Luke, not more than an hour before his death. And everyone knew that he died after the first lecture, which comprised of 40 minutes. Which meant the drug was given to him between his arrival into college and the commencement of the lecture.
Now Ashfaq and Amelia just had to trace Neal’s footsteps.
In front of them was a paper with names, and names that were crossed off: Zeke. He was constantly surrounded by friends when he and Neal walked together. There was little levy that he could have given Neal the drug, but their encounter was small, making it even harder. People who were around Zeke and Neal only saw them fighting, and then saw Zeke leaving towards the foyer.
Obviously, Ashfaq and Amelia had crossed their own names, trusting the other to be telling the truth.
And lastly, for Pari and the gang, they didn’t even bother – they were too silly headed to plan anything this intricate and perfect.
When Ashfaq had tried calling up Nadia, she didn’t answer. So their next call went to Kat.
“Hello?” Kat’s voice sounded on the speak phone. “Hi, uhm, Kat, this is, uhm, Amelia,” she replied. There was a soft ‘Oh,’ before Kat could say, “Yeah… How can I help you?”
“Uhm, we were – we have some serious stuff to talk about,” Amelia stuttered. She then explained: On the Luke’s CD there was also a surveillance clip of the security camera at the entrance of the college. In the clip, Neal was seen entering college with Kat at 10:16. “We’re trying to build a timeline,” Amelia ended.
“Why would you do that?” You could hear the fury in Kat’s voice.
“Because,” Ashfaq replied. “The authorities are starting to think it wasn’t suicide. And we’re all suspects in this case.”
“I did walk in with him,” Kat explained reluctantly. “If you want to know why, it’s pretty simple. Even you must have guessed it Ashfaq. That morning he was blackmailing me about what we did in the summer. The stealing from his father’s company. He told me his father had found out, and most likely I was going to get arrested. I was scared, but I thought he was just having fun. You know how he liked to have control over people, watch them sweat. Seems like after dying too, he can do just that. His father would still never believe that I didn’t actually steal from him.”
“And how long were you with him?” Amelia asked.
“Less than five minutes, maybe,” Kat answered. “As we entered college, Zeke spotted us. Neal went off with him, then.”
“Thanks,” Amelia said, sadly. Kat cut the phone without a reply.
“HEY GUYS,” Mira walked in. She was puffing quite a lot. “So, so, so, sorry for being late. Had to sneak out – you know how my mother is. Anyway what’s the story?”
“We have a timeline – well, kind of,” Amelia said brightly. How happy she was to see Mira. Mira asked them to tell her.
“So we have Neal entering in with Kat at 10:16. If you consider Kat’s duration with him, give or take a minute, we have Neal with Zeke at about 10:21. We know that Luke bumped into Neal at 10:25. And Neal was attended lecture with us at 10:30. So, from 10:16 to 10:30, someone had to drug him. Probably after the lecture, when he was getting out the drug hit his system hard, and that’s how he collapsed outside the Multimedia room.”
They kept silence for a moment.
“Do you remember who was with him when he entered the lecture?” Amelia asked. She of course wouldn’t know, since she wasn’t in their class.
“I… I entered with him,” Mira answered, remembering. “I saw him walking in the corridor and asked him what’s up. He seemed fine then.”
Amelia and Ashfaq both sighed. “That’s another dead end,” Amelia said. “Hey, where’s our takeout?” Ashfaq questioned, his tummy noticeably growling.
“OH SHIT!” Mira exclaimed. She took off her sling bag and pulled out some cash from there. “I’ll get us some. Chinese?” Both of them groaned. “No? Okay fine, I’ll get us some Italian. Way to make me broke.” And with that Mira was out of the room too.
“This is not as easy as it feels,” Ashfaq said looking at the surveillance clip.
“Hmm,” Amelia said. “Where’s the pen? Oh, the ink’s run out. Do you have another one?” She wanted to cross off Kat’s name from the list. But Ashfaq didn’t answer her. Amelia thought of searching Mira’s bag for a pen. She opened the bag humming to herself, digging into it.
Her eyes widened with horror as she extracted a chit from the bag. It was a tiny one, with her handwriting on it. And Zeke’s name. It was the Valentine’s game chit! Why did Mira not tell her about it? That she was the one who had to prank Zeke?… Amelia’s head rolled in confusion. It was such a tiny thing, but it highlighted the fact about how much Mira could keep from her.
She turned around, and whispered to Ashfaq, “Vatican Cameos.”
He looked at her, confused and scared, “Why?” Then he looked beyond her, at the door.
Mira was standing there, sleet as a shadow. Amelia turned to look at Mira. “No one told you to do this, Amelia,” Mira said. “Even you Ashfaq. You should have just let it be. The police would never find out on their own.”
Amelia didn’t seem to hear this. “Did you hurt Zeke? For me… for that Valentine game?”
“The rules of the game stated I do exactly that.”
“What did you do?”
Mira looked at her, impatiently. “Remember at the bar, when Beaula and Zeke fought. Zeke found out that Beaula was two-timing him? Well, you can say that if you wanted to send someone a bouquet of flowers for that, it’d be me.”
“You didn’t tell me about it!” Amelia cried out. “You broke his heart!”
“Zeke?” Mira laughed cruelly. “Him? Who didn’t care a damn about you? It was all his own doing.”
“You seem to be enjoying it…” Ashfaq said softly, sadly.
“It gives me the rush, yes,” Mira answered, indifferently. “I was wondering how long it would take you to figure it out.”
“So… that day when Pari got into trouble… it was you?” Ashfaq asked. But instead of Mira, Amelia replied, “Obviously. It was. How could I be so blind and not see it? They were harassing Mira the entire of last year. Obviously she had to have the last word.”
“So… if you were behind Zeke’s incident and Pari’s scandal…. Does that mean, you had something to do with Jai injuring himself during the match… and, and Kat getting arrested, not to the forget Nadia breaking her nose in the beginning of the year.”
Mira stood quietly for a moment. Amelia almost felt sad for her… for the Mira she knew. “Yes,” Mira finally answered. “It was me. They all had it coming. And yes, I relished it. And to make things easier for you two, I killed Neal as well. Congratulations on solving your case.”
But this wasn’t the Mira that Amelia had become friends with. Best friends. She couldn’t believe the words coming out of Mira’s mouth – this wasn’t true! It couldn’t be. “Who are you?” Amelia breathed out.
“I’m the one who saw you in the crowd. I was the one who made you visible.”
“NO… NO!” Amelia advanced upon Mira. “The Mira I know wouldn’t do any of this. She wasn’t this creature. And she took no pleasure in such things. Why are you saying all of this?! I DON’T EVEN KNOW-” Amelia broke in a sob, her head twirling in agony. “…I don’t even know who I was with – who I loved this entire you. Stop saying rubbish! BECAUSE SURE AS HELL IT CAN’T BE YOU.”
“It is me…” Mira said softly. In the space between them, anger and love flowed like oil and water. “What to do next is up to you, Amelia Stine.”
End of Season One