People all around were screaming, sobbing, sometimes both, while others were completely quiet. Her knees and hands submerged in the expanding pool of blood, Jade seemed to be choking on shocked sobs, her brown curls disheveled, her cat-eye glasses askew. Opposite her, similarly drenched in blood, was Francis Bauer. He leaned over the body, lifted the head of his daughter from behind, illuminating her face white as porcelain, and wailed. A long, deep wail of sorrow permeated the building, the host’s stone face twisted in a pained grimace.
“Call the police!” a voice called, but I’ll be damned if I know who it was. There was way too many people for my tastes, and the smell of blood started to make me feel a bit woozy.
“The phone line’s dead!” came another voice. This one was female.
“Check your cell, you dolt!” shouted the first voice.
“Well, I never-“
“I got no reception,” Ashley said in a shaky tone. I glanced at him – his face was paler than usual.
“Me neither,” another voice called.
“We can call them via the Internet!” came a strongly accented male voice.
“The wifi’s dead too.” This time I saw the speaker: it was Louis Bauer, his face pale as the moon.
“NOOOOOOO!” the black-haired boy screamed and ran off somewhere.
“Eugene! Come back here this instant!” a shrill voice called after him. It was the “I never!” woman.
“That wouldn’t do us any good anyway.” This was the first time that I’d heard this voice. The others noticed as well and turned their heads – it was the middle-aged man from the table. Broad-shouldered and tired-faced, wearing a tattered old suit, he was leaning on the door. He took a step forward and swung the door open, revealing a raging inferno of wind and rain, the waves on the ocean gigantic and wild. I felt faint. “No one’s going in or out anytime soon. Luckily, you have me.”
“And who are you supposed to be?” The voice that had requested someone call the police said. Now that the commotion had subsided, I saw that it was Mr. Dugall. Barely disguising his chubbiness and his receding hairline, he had a face redder than most in the hall. He was giving the man a dirty look.
“Miles De Silva,” he said in his gruff tone. “I’m an old friend of Mr. Bauer’s-”
“Aren’t we all,” Mr. Dugall interrupted in a quiet tone, sending me and Ashley a wry smile.
“-and a private detective.”
The smile was gone from Mr. Dugall’s face, and the hue of his face now matched everyone else’s. The silence was deafening, interrupted only by the quiet sobs of Bauer. Then they also stopped and the man stood up, his elegant suit dark and wet.
“That’s right,” he said, straightening his tie. “You’re a professional, and a damn good one at that. I’ll pay any price, you know I can. Just get to the bottom of this.”
De Silva smiled a crooked smile and walked slowly toward the middle of the room, his hands behind his back. “Come now, Francis.” He placed his hand on Bauer’s shoulder. “You really think I’d charge you for this?”
“Thank you, Miles, I-“ Bauer started, but De Silva shushed him.
“It would appear the victim was impaled by the chandelier, but I would still need to take a closer look at the body to see if that was really the case. I’d like to do that first, actually. Considering the circumstances, I don’t think any of the suspects will be escaping before-“
“Suspects?” The elegant woman who was sitting by Francis Bauer’s side during the whole dinner said. She had the looks of a woman in her sixties who had access to all the enhancements she would need to fool the world of her age. Yet her hands betrayed her. I think it would be wise that she consider a pair of gloves to match her crimson boa. “But the perpetrator is clear. The girl!” she pointed a manicured hand at Jade who was now only rocking back and forth.
“But the girl is in shock, clearly,” the accented voice spoke again. It was the small Asian man. “Surely, you would be too if you stumbled across this… event while coming back from the bathroom, hmm?”
“It is too early to draw conclusions, true, but the truth is that those who have recently left the table are the first suspects that come to mind.” The detective was touched the blood with a gloved hand, instantly dyeing the immaculate fabric.
I felt Ashley grab my shoulder. His hand was evidently shaking. “Ram, you can’t ignore me like this,” he whispered. “This is really bad.”
“Well, I can’t imagine why,” I said as I turned to face him, but when I saw his expression, the terror in his eyes, I understood. “No,” I whispered. “You went out right before- but, does that mean-“
“A little louder please, I don’t think the detective guy heard you just yet.” His whisper sounded as if he could break into tears at any moment.
“Right,” I said and looked around for a place where we could talk in peace. Near the stair, behind a column, it seemed that we could speak without drawing too much attention. “Alright, listen, I know I can be a bit blunt at times, but you’re my friend, and I’ll cover for you.”
“What? No! I didn’t kill Van!” Ashley said a bit too loudly.
“What are you shhing me for? I said I didn’t do it!”
“Every word can be turned against you. So, you really didn’t kill her?”
“I really didn’t kill her.”
“That doesn’t sound very credible. What were doing, then? You did leave the dining hall right after her, you could have set up the whole thing in the meantime. You gotta admit, that’s really suspi-“
“We were fucking, okay?” Ashley’s face was red, as he exhaled way more air than necessary when saying that. I was sure I heard him shout, despite it all being a whispered.
“Van and I got down and dirty right before her death, yes.”
“You IDIOT!” I whispered sharply as I flicked him in the forehead.
“Ouch! What the hell, Ram!”
“What the hell me? What the hell you!” I flicked him again.
“Okay, enough with the flicking already!” Ashley rubbed his forehead.
“Dude, you got us both into this mess because you couldn’t help but jump on the first eager girl that comes at you, you disgusting pig! My God, what is wrong with people!”
“It’s a human instinct.” Ashley was red in the face. I was sure he could just punch me any second now. “Not that you’d have any of those, would you!”
“Hey now, that’s harsh.” I whispered back at him.
“You’re right. Sorry.” He seemed to calm down. “It’s hard to deal with you when you’re like that sometimes.”
“That’s great, but we don’t really have time for that now. I believe you now, though. I could have expected such an action from someone like you, while murder seemed pretty drastic, even for you.”
“No problem. Anyway, we need to find a way to prove your innocence. What exactly did you do after you, uh… did the deed?”
“Nothing, really. I went back to the table and saw you talking to Jade. Van said she’d come back later. We didn’t really want to draw attention.”
“And Jade later went to the bathroom,” I pondered, “but she didn’t scream until a good while later. So it’s safe to say that Van wasn’t dead yet.”
“Yeah. And I think a chandelier that big falling would make enough noise to draw attention.”
He did raise a good point. I hadn’t really thought about that before, but it seemed that there wasn’t really a time where the chandelier could have fallen, as everything was quiet before Jade screamed. Besides that one time.
“Unless it fell when the organ started playing,” I said, “but then again, Evanescence is a pretty quiet piece.”
“But it was played on an organ. That’s quite a bit of volume from the get go.”
Something still didn’t seem right. “But who could have been playing that organ? I’m pretty sure everyone besides Van and Jade was in the room at the time, and if Van is the killer…”
“You really think so?”
I have no reason to think otherwise, I thought. “Nothing really makes sense here, to be honest.”
And then, just to add fuel to the fire, the lights went off again. This time things weren’t quite so peaceful, as people started screaming and running around as soon as the lights went off. Ashley and I waited behind the column, hoping everything would die down soon. And it did. As the lights went back on, we returned to the main hall and to our surprise, the pool of blood in the middle was missing a body. Instead, the detective lay there, clearly dazed, but alive. But the missing body wasn’t what worried me the most.