Highly Commended Story - Junior Category
“To Be or Not to Be?” by Ainesh Sen, Unity Primary School, Singapore, is the Highly Commended story in the junior category of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2018.
Ainesh Sen is currently studying in Primary 5 in Unity Primary School, Singapore. Despite having busy school days and tons of stressful homework, he remains a bookworm of various genres of interesting storybooks such as mythology, adventure, mystery and classics.
To Be or Not to Be?
Justin Cahill paced the furnished amber room, coming to stop only to pat his pet Doberman, Ranger. His other Rottweiler, Rex, was outside the room with Alton Shade, his partner and colleague who had just arrived. Being a bachelor, no one stayed in the house except Alton and himself. Justin was trying to solve a crime which had no apparent pattern to it. Apparently, someone wanted revenge as they were framing him!
Same chartreuse eye colour, same windswept blonde hair dyed lilac, not a single mistake in the disguise! Justin could easily figure out that the mastermind behind the crimes was someone he had sent behind bars. But there was a lot to choose from, and the list was in the Police Headquarters. Being a wanted man, he couldn’t exactly burst into the office. Could he?
Ten minutes earlier, he had explained his predicament. Looking at Alton thinking the problem over, Justin could not believe that approximately a decade ago, Alton had been a pachydermatous denarian bullying innocent students into submitting their wallets. This very detective who was fighting crime now used to commit them himself and used to laugh with Mephistophelian delight as he tormented students or vandalised neighbourhood with his gang, nicknamed “The Feared Ones”. This just goes to show that Alton had turned over a new leaf and every human deserved a second chance. Lost in thought, Justin lost track of what Alton was suggesting, and he shook his head so as to concentrate. Alton helped Justin note down all the criminals who they had sent to prison. Then, they searched the internet and crossed out the names that were still under the watchful eye of the police. Only three names were left: Ian Nightshade, Bruce Chainsaw and Brandon Stone. They were now: Chief of Nightshade Constructors, Counsellor of School of Values, and Night Guard of Museum of Technology and Sports respectively. While pacing, Justin decided to do his favourite thing: Investigation.
A dozen hours later, they met Brandon Stone. Immediately recognising Justin and Alton, he let out a string of profanities and expletives. Justin felt uncomfortable. Why had he wanted to do this? Alton came forward and slowly calmed Brandon. Justin asked questions, trying to prod out any secrets about the recent crimes. Unfortunately, it was to no avail. All of Brandon’s answers dashed Justin’s hopes, and without Alton’s company, Justin would have given up.
As they drove home in Alton’s Audi A3 Cabriolet, Justin switched his cell phone on. News flashes of another robbery done in the morning. The imposter had stolen a violet diamond from a jewellery store. The owner, Mr Barclay, had broken down when interrogated by the police. The police had now put a $200-dollar prize over his head. Disgusted, Justin thrust his phone into his backpack. He had to get to the bottom of the case. As. Soon. As. Possible.
Alton frowned when he heard the news but did not react as violently as Justin expected. Perhaps he was preoccupied, Justin thought. Looking out of his window, he stared into the full moon when he heard someone knocking on his front door. Then he heard shouting. “This is the Police! Come out with your hands raised, traitor!”
Justin almost submitted to panic. Fortunately, Alton was there. Alton resided in the house beside Justin’s, but he was over at Justin’s house to do some brainstorming. Alton quickly put his finger to his lips to signal to be quiet at Justin. They sneaked over to the kitchen. Not wanting to hurt the Police, Justin held a fry pan in one hand and a spatula in the other. Alton had a wok and a rolling pin. Just as Justin gestured Alton to try to escape the house, the police broke in.
Justin quickly smashed his fry pan over Officer White, a person who he never actually liked. He could see Alton fighting with Chief Patton, finally managing to smack the Chief on the head with the rolling pin hard. Distracted, Superintendent Washington almost shot him. The bullet made a hole in the aquarium, and water started gushing out. Turning around, he battled Washington and lost his spatula. Throwing his fry pan at Washington, he brought a bowl and got his fish in it. Deputy Chief Fox was trying to use his Taser to incapacitate Alton. Sergeant Sutton and Inspector Park were trying to rally two lieutenants and three sheriffs, who were running haywire in the dark. Justin had lost his weapons, and Alton was only fighting with his wok. His rolling pin lay near the sofa, over an unconscious Constable Walker. Alton swung his wok and the Taser flew across the room, coming to a rest at Justin’s feet. He picked it up, took careful aim, and shot Fox in the hamstring. He fell over. Taking the dark to his advantage, Justin knocked everybody out. The Taser ran out of ammunition, so he threw it with all his might at Sergeant Sutton, who was the last one standing. He crumpled. Justin and Alton escaped, locking the door behind them.
They jumped into Justin’s Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet with Alton driving. They drove to an abandoned hut with canned food and bottled water enough to last Justin a week. Alton drove back in a rented motorbike by the highway. Justin sat on a rotting rocking chair, feeling miserable. He made it his aim to meet Ian and Bruce by sundown tomorrow.
Twenty minutes after a refreshing sleep, Justin wore rimmed glasses, contact lenses to obtain hazel eyes and a bomber coat. He went to the School of Values, which was a dozen miles away from the hut via his scarlet Volkswagen. He spoke to the Principal, Mr Scott, with a disguised deep masculine voice, and called himself Mr Maxwell. He obtained permission to see Bruce Chainsaw and went into the Counselling Room. A man with a kind face but a hardened expression of an ex-convict stared back at him. He spoke to Bruce, carefully changing his voice, and asked hidden questions about the crime, like he had done with Brandon. Once again, disappointing answers was what Justin received, and he left the school dejected, with one less name in his suspect list.
Meeting Ian would take some time as Nightshade Constructors was quite successful. Alton could not join him in Budapest, Hungary to meet Ian Nightshade as he had to go to his sister’s wedding for two days. At twilight, Justin boarded Fleet Air to meet his last suspect.
Exactly a day later, Justin, with eye bags and suffering from jet lag, met Ian via appointment. Ian was wearing a denim jacket over a mauve shirt and ripped jeans. Justin was disguised as a businessman from New Zealand, and Ian fell for it. Justin asked concealed questions, but Ian had valid alibis. Feeling down, Justin left the magenta room. He had no leads left.
Five days later, Alton visited Justin with more food and water. Four more crimes had happened while Justin was in Hungary. The Police had placed $1000 dollars’ reward of Justin’s capture, and security had tightened around the city’s pride, the Diamond of Light. Justin just hoped that the thief would not steal the Diamond. If they did, a million dollars would be given to anybody who could bring Justin to justice. After voicing his thoughts to Alton, his best friend volunteered to be a security guard for the Diamond. The worst thing was that an auction was going to be held for the King of Birmingham for the Diamond. Justin wanted to be there, but he knew he could be caught.
Two days later, the King arrived. At the Auction Hall, the bearded king and his men sat down on the Guest of Honour seat with the soldiers surrounding him. Alton was taking a video and sending it live to Justin. The host was showing necklaces studded with rubies, rings embedded with sapphires, scarves embroidered with emeralds and many more priceless valuables. Justin’s city was known of its jewellery. Suddenly, the video screen went black.
“Alton, pick the phone up. I want to see the auction go safely!” Justin yelled; panic was slowly creeping into his voice. Where was Alton? A small rational part from his mind piped up that Alton might have gone to the restroom. Even after waiting for a dozen minutes, Alton did not pick up the camera. What had happened? Was Alton caught for harbouring a criminal?
Justin decided to go to the Auction Hall and see for himself. He quickly dyed his hair brownish-white, added lines to his face and bought a diamond-tipped cane on the way to the Auction Hall. He had to rent a motorcycle as guards would find it suspicious that someone would have a similar car as Justin. Driving via the highway, he reached the Auction Hall in five minutes.
“Thief, Thief! He’s running away! Catch him!” Chief Patton bellowed. Hordes of men in blue ran after a turquoise Toyota, which was going up Death Hill, whose peak was the highest point in the city. Justin got onto his motorcycle and was hot on the robber’s heels, tearing his disguise on the way. He was determined to reveal the deceiver.
“What! That’s Justin! That means he’s innocent!” Chief Patton muttered. Nevertheless, he geared up his Police Car and rode after the imposter, just to have a nasty surprise when the car stopped with a punctured tyre thanks to sharp needles thrown by the thief. The Chief was flung forward, and his head smashed against the steering wheel. Blood flowed from a cut in his forehead. Two officers riding alongside the Chief stopped to assist him. Only Justin could bring the impersonator to justice.
Justin concentrated on the wind blowing on his face instead of the fact that he could drop from Death Hill to certain death. The fraud was a good driver, and it took all of Justin’s experience and skill to keep up with him or her. After a lot of risky turns, Justin reached the top of the Hill, just to see the crook take out a colourful parachute and jump off. Justin immediately searched the Toyota and fortunately found a spare beige parachute and took off after the hoaxer.
Justin immediately lost his lunch. Chunks of vomit rained on Justin’s city, and he felt pity for the citizens who found unpleasant surprises on their clothes. The criminal landed neatly on a helipad, but Justin fell clumsily after him. The burglar climbed down the stairs, but Justin ran to catch an elevator. He waited at the bottom of the stairs and ambushed the villain.
Justin kicked and punched wildly, and just managed to tear off the mask the attacker was wearing. The face which stared back at him nearly stopped Justin’s heart. He would never have thought that the imposter would be Alton.
Alton. Someone he had known all his life. Why would he betray him? Lost in his thoughts, Justin loosened his grip on Alton. He ran away, but Justin followed him. Suddenly, Alton turned around and pointed a sharp knife at Justin. Justin stopped in his tracks. Anguish racked him, and his inner turmoil almost made him break into tears. There was no feeling in Alton’s eyes except pure, undivided rage. Shocked, Justin stopped circling Alton, waiting for an explanation. Alton complied.
“It’s all because of your family that mine was ruined. Your father caught mine for shoplifting. Shoplifting! One would think that a person would spare his best friend for such petty crimes. But your father was not like that. After prison, my dad’s career was ruined. My mother worked as a saleswoman cum housewife, while my dad drunk and gambled. He raised me up with only one principle. Kill the Cahill bloodline. And I am going to finish my father’s dream by finishing you. Once and for all.”
Justin did a double take. His friend was a traitor. The news seemed to squeeze his heart. Trembling, he tried to talk sense into Alton. His efforts just infuriated Alton. Justin saw a pedestrian calling the Police. All Justin had to do was to kill time. He saw a sharp rock near the side of the road. He circled over and picked it up. Alton smirked and moved forward. Knife clanged against stone. The stone was sliced into half. Justin sucked in his stomach so as to not get cut. He performed a roundhouse kick and Alton staggered. Justin used his head and smashed it against Alton’s chest. Alton miraculously kept his balance. Justin’s neck was not guarded, and Alton pointed the knife at it.
Justin took out a small framed picture of Alton’s late father from Alton’s pocket as a last resort. He threatened to smash it on the ground just as the Police siren rang. Chief Patton stepped out with a bandage on his head. “Hands up!” he bellowed with an AK 47 in his hands.
Alton ignored the Chief and almost sank the knife into Justin’s neck when the shot rang out. Chief Patton missed and the bullet headed for Justin’s back. Alton moved his back as a reflex to block the bullet from Justin. It sank into Alton’s back, and he moved no more.
“Alton!” Justin’s anguished scream reverberated across the neighbourhood. A surge of good had raised his head from the sea of evil, with Alton’s life as a price. “You can’t b-be....” Justin refused to complete his sentence. He shook Alton’s lifeless body, and stared into his azure eyes, which showed no signs of moving ever again. His best friend was dead.
“No! I hate you!” Justin screamed to no one in particular and sank to his knees. Maybe Alton was right. The Cahill family could do nothing but harm to the world. He felt a firm hand on his shoulder. He whirled around and saw Chief Patton, with tears in his eyes. Rivulets of tears made its way across Justin’s porcelain face as he stared at Alton’s murderer. The Chief turned around and looked at his men. “I resign.”
It was two weeks later. Alton’s body was shrouded in orange, a colour for heroes, instead of black, a colour for villains. “Alton was a hero to all of us. He was brought up with wrong influence, but he did the right thing in the end. I live now thanks to Alton. His sacrifice was a great one that we will all remember. I hope we will all wish him a happy afterlife.” Justin ended the funeral speech. Everyone observed a moment of silence. Then, one by one, all the mourners left.