Case 01by J.J. Chow / Mystery & Detective
a Winston Wong mini mystery
Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer J. Chow
All rights reserved. Thank you for purchasing an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Cover design by Heena Thombre
Winston Wong wiggled in his black mesh computer chair. He hated these cheap things. They didn’t provide much circulation, and he had to shift every few minutes to get comfortable. He glanced around the cramped room to see if his colleagues had the same issue.
Trent seemed focused on the video game they were all assigned to test, but it was really hard to tell with the man’s thick Coke-bottle glasses. Winston wondered how Trent could even see out of them. Plus, they were held together by a crooked soldering job, although Trent didn’t seem to mind. The guy always wore stained or yellowed T-shirts with frayed shorts; he didn’t seem to care about himself, only his extended family, particularly his young nephew.
Winston’s other co-worker, Manchester, drummed his fingers against the particleboard table. The guy didn’t twist in his chair at all, but Winston noticed Manchester’s eyes glued to the clock. Manchester wanted to get out of there—probably for his usual smoke break. The guy would probably have serious nicotine withdrawal if he ever quit. And he’d no longer be keeping that growing beer belly in check.
Manchester’s drumming increased in rhythm—until he finally pushed back his chair. “Break time.”
Winston stretched his neck. Despite all his years of consulting work, he never got used to getting knots in his body. Plus, he hadn’t gotten called in to test for months now, so his body wasn’t used to computer strain— although thank goodness someone had dropped out at the last moment. “Yeah, I’ll take a quick one, too.”
Trent stared at the monitor and sighed. “I want to stay and finish up. Nephew’s turning twelve today, and my sister’s throwing him a huge party.” He pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his watering eyes. “But my optometrist said I should take frequent breaks.”
“Aw, take all the time you want,” Winston said. “Everyone’s at E3 anyway.”
“Except us,” Trent said.
“But we’re getting paid for this,” Winston said.
“Not enough.” Manchester pulled out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. “See you later.”
Winston didn’t smoke, so he stayed indoors. Let Manchester pollute the outside air by himself. Winston wandered over to the central open area, where the microwave and vending machines took up space. He spied a few day-old muffins in a straw basket. He pulled out a chocolate chip one—cocoa never went bad, right? He wondered if he should splurge on a Coke from the nearby machine when a voice interrupted his thoughts.
“ How’s the testing of Space Domination going?”
What was his boss doing here? Winston looked at the manager, all dressed up in company logo. He sported a polo that read, COLOSSAL GAMES: We’re massive.
“Hi, Rick. What are you doing here?” Winston tried to make a joke. “Protecting your precious beer?”
“Ha, Winston.” Rick stroked at his goatee, no doubt a deliberate choice to show off his creative genius. Rick always presented himself as a bit edgier than he really was. “I don’t keep them under lock and key. Anyone’s welcome to pay homage to The Wall.”
Rick collected beer from around the world and placed them on metal shelves in his office. (Yes, he got his own room. While peon testers barely got desks. And crappy computer chairs.) “I put my 99th bottle up yesterday. Direct from Germany.”
“Huh. Kind of like 99 Bottles of Beer.”
“That’s right, son.” Rick hummed a few notes from the song.
“So why aren’t you at the E3 conference again?”
“I wanted to make sure you boys were all right.”
“Well, we’re fine.”
“Testing coming along okay? We do have a major deadline at the end of the week.”
“Everyone’s working hard.” Winston stuffed the muffin into his mouth and choked it down. “Guess I better get back then.”
Rick laughed, a loud booming sound straight from his belly. “Take your time, Winston. Remember: Quality is our motto.”
“No, it’s We’re massive. And you need to crank out those epic games fast. I understand the bottom line.”
“I didn’t say a thing about money,” Rick said.
“You wouldn’t.” Winston paused. “But we do get paid for overtime, right?”
Rick rocked back and forth on his feet. Winston noticed the shiny pennies glistening on the loafers his boss wore. “Of course, the company would be willing to pay extra . . . but only if utterly necessary.”
“So it’s off to work,” Winston said. He waved goodbye to Rick as the manager strode down the corridor with long steps.
A few minutes later, Winston heard cursing. From Rick’s office. A thunderous shout echoed in the hallway soon after: “Who took my beer?”
Rick’s tall figure stomped around the corner, his features contorted in rage. Then a sharp pop reverberated throughout the building—and all the lights went out.
“What happened?” Winston asked. He fumbled with his cell phone. “Where’s that flashlight mode again?”
A light shone in his face. Rick brandished a small pen light. “I’m always prepared,” he said. “All those years in the Boy Scouts.”
Winston frowned. “Do you think it was a power outage? We don’t get too many of those. Besides, the sky was all clear and the sun shining this morning.”
Rick wrinkled his nose and sniffed the air. “Smell anything odd?”
There was definitely something suffocating floating around. A burnt odor. Worse than the time Winston blackened his microwave by overheating popcorn.
“Let’s find the trail,” Winston said. They followed the horrid scent to the server room. Instead of the usual machines blinking in a dance of lights, they were all dark.
“A short?” Winston asked. “But how?” He wanted to solve this puzzle. In fact, he’d always loved the Encyclopedia Brown series as a kid.
“Is . . . is that a foot?” Rick asked. Sure enough, behind the rows of machines there was a sandaled foot. Not moving.
“Maybe someone’s sleeping,” Winston suggested. But he really didn’t think so.
“I need to go outside. For some fresh air,” Rick said. “And to call the police.”
Winston stayed behind and finally figured out how to turn on the flashlight through his cell phone. He swung the light around, past the shelves filled with various goods. The server room doubled as a storage area, full of extra supplies, like dried goods and video games.
He took a deep breath and focused the beam. The light traced up, starting from the unmoving foot. The body was splayed out, and the person’s clothes were damp with sweat. A yeasty odor wound its way into Winston’s nose. He kept his eyes moving until he saw the odd splash of color and the sheen of plastic.
The dead person’s hands clutched a new video game. The latest T-rated one that all the adolescents raved about. Winston kept looking until he saw the face of the dead person. Even distorted in pain, Winston recognized him, especially with the familiar thick Coke-bottle glasses.
Poor Trent. He’d been so looking forward to his nephew’s birthday. To have dropped dead like that . . . Winston shook his head, backing away from the sight of a stone-still Trent.
Winston made it out into the brilliant sunshine somehow. The bright light was incongruous with the dim interior and the dark secret inside the building. He saw Rick standing outside near Manchester. The two were separated by a clean, gleaming silver ashcan.
Winston walked over to them and caught them in mid-conversation:
“A shame, that’s what it is.” Rick’s face looked pale, even for his usual indoor-loving self. “He was what, only twenty-two?”
“Twenty,” Manchester said. “Imagine dropping dead at that age.”
Rick shuddered, putting one palm against his chest. “Maybe it was a heart attack.”
“Genetics?” Manchester asked. “Or the environment? Stress of the job and all.” He waved his unlit cigarette around.
Winston decided to chime in. “Or guilt. I saw him clutching an advanced copy of a video game.”
“He stole from the company?” Rick asked.
Maybe not for himself, but for Trent’s nephew? Possibly. Winston heard the sound of sirens approaching. He envied the uniformed police officer stepping up to take in the scene. What a job. Better than Winston’s own hot-and-cold career testing video games. Must be exhilarating to zoom around in panda cars.
The policeman introduced himself as Officer Land. “What happened?” he asked.
“Heart attack, we think,” Rick said.
“Died of guilt,” Manchester added. “Death by theft.” He chuckled at his own wit.
Winston stepped forward to admonish Manchester. How could he crack a joke at a time like this? Winston was an inch away from the jokester when he realized the truth.
Winston motioned for the policeman to step a few feet away off to the side. When they couldn’t be overheard, Winston told Officer Land what he suspected.
“I’ll check the scene,” the policeman said.
When Officer Land returned ten minutes later, he gave Winston a thumb’s up. “You were right.”
They both marched over to Rick and Manchester.
“All done?” Rick asked. He checked his Rolex, probably looking forward to schmoozing and grabbing free swag from the conference.
“Not quite,” Officer Land said. “It doesn’t seem like a case of heart failure.”
“It wasn’t?” Rick said, looking wide-eyed at the policeman.
“No, not a natural death.”
“Then what caused it?” Manchester asked.
Winston couldn’t resist. He stepped up to Manchester. “You did,” he said.
“You stole Rick’s beer and drank it in the server room.”
Rick glared at Manchester. “Is that true?”
“Er, uh. I don’t know what you mean,” Manchester said.
“C’mon,” Winston said. “You’ve got beer breath. Besides”—he pointed to the sparkling ashtray and unused cigarette—“you didn’t even go for your usual smoke.”
“I found the beer bottle,” Officer Land said. “In the storage room.”
Manchester held his hands up. “Okay, so I snagged a bottle. I was thirsty.” He jerked his thumb at the manager. “And he was supposed to be out of the office.”
“But when Rick showed up, you couldn’t drink it anymore,” Winston said.
“Yeah.” Manchester shrugged. “But that has nothing to do with Trent.”
“You left the half-empty bottle in the server room,” Winston said.
“I had to,” Manchester said. “Rick went crazy, shouting up a storm. I needed to get rid of that bottle.”
“And when you left, that’s when Trent snuck in . . . to get the game. But he must have knocked over your bottle—”
Rick gasped. “The blackout!”
Officer Land’s face turned grim. “The victim died of electrocution.”
Winston looked at Manchester. “Sadly, what you said was true. Death by theft. Your beer theft.“
“I . . .” Manchester said. “It was an accident.”
Officer Land flipped open his notebook. “I’ll take down all your statements.” He turned to Winston. “Nice work. You know, you’d make a fine detective.”
In my dreams, Winston thought. But video game testing had never really taken off for him. Maybe it was time to start anew. To make his dreams a reality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
*The first book in the Winston Wong series is Seniors Sleuth.*
J.J. Chow writes Asian-American fiction with a geriatric twist. She has a gerontology specialization from Cornell University and a Master’s in Social Work with geriatric field experience. She lives in Los Angeles and is a member of Sisters in Crime.
You can follow her blog and find more about her other writing at www.jenniferjchow.com