For months I had waited for this opportunity, and yet I had this nagging feeling at the back of my head that I would come to regret it. Francis L. Bauer – the world-renowned composer and my idol since childhood – invited me to attend a small party at his mansion. When he approached me at work, I was taken aback. I immediately said yes, without even thinking, without even letting him finish his sentence, which I later told myself was a good thing. I could interview him, which would really help me get ahead at work, and it was Francis fucking Bauer. But then I got scared. I’d be on an island for at least two days, in the middle of the ocean, with only rich strangers surrounding me. Which is precisely why I brought Ashley along. Not only was he excited to go to a mansion for a weekend, it’s pretty fair to say the guy makes me look good in comparison.
We arrived at the island on Friday evening. Even with the sky stormy above it, the mansion looked beautiful, with strategically placed lights illuminating the most awe-inspiring accents. It couldn't have been old, but it was stylized to look as if it had been made around the 19th century, though some liberties were obviously taken. Nevertheless, the stormy sea made it hard to focus on the magnificence of the building.
We were both welcomed rather warmly by the butler and led to the candlelit dining hall. There were much fewer people than I was expecting. Together with me, twelve of us were sitting at an oval table. Bauer sat at the thinner side to my right, his silver mane of hair glimmering in the candlelight. To his right was a man that I assumed was his brother Louis – his face was very much alike his brother’s though his shorter forehead and darker hair and beard suggested he was a tad younger. Opposite me, to Louis’s right, sat three people that kept glancing in my direction with what I could only assume was scorn. The man, who was sitting the nearest to the Bauers, was most definitely John Dugall. For a CEO of one of the country’s most influential pharmaceutical companies, he really didn’t make a big impression. A balding man in his forties, constantly grinning as he told the Bauers his inappropriate jokes, while his wife rolled her eyes out of exasperation. Next to her sat what I could only assume was their son. With black bangs covering his eyes and a pierced lip, he really didn’t seem to be in a position to be judging my attire, and yet it still felt that way.
Ashley was sitting to my left, though if I hadn’t known it was him, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell, as his back was turned to me throughout the evening. He was too busy talking with the woman next to him, sitting at the end of the table opposite Francis. Judging by her appearance – a well-groomed, young, East Asian woman – she was Bauer’s adopted daughter, Van, a controversial figure in the media, to say the least. Between her and the emo kid sat a tiny, bald, older Asian man with large glasses who I had never seen or heard of before. His focus was directed entirely at his large plate of tagliatelle al ragu. There were three more people sitting to Bauer’s left, but I could not see them as my view was blocked by a freckled girl about my age sitting to my right. She had wild, curly, chestnut hair and cat-eye glasses that reflected the flashes of light from her phone as she photographed her food. Pathetic.
The wind outside was howling ever louder, and I could have sword I saw a lightning bolt flash outside the tall windows. Just imagining those gargantuan waves crashing against the cliffs of this tiny little island sent a shiver down my spine. I took a sip of water and set the glass back on the table with a shaking hand, barely avoiding dropping it on the floor. When I looked back up, the tiny Asian man was gone. Perfect timing, I thought, as the kitchen staff was just bringing in dessert. Soon after that, the host’s daughter was gone, saying she needed to rest in her room. After wolfing down his tiramisu, Ashley patted me on the back with an unconcerned “Be alright, man?” and went to the bathroom, or so he claimed. I was mad that he left me all alone among these strangers. I suspected it was only a matter of minutes until one of them attempts to talk to me. The kid opposite me was staring daggers at me, I assumed, though that hair prevented me from being certain.
“So, cool party, eh?” a voice came from my right. The freckled girl was looking at me while she sipped water through a brightly colored straw. “I’m Jade.”
“Ram.” I went back to my own glass of water and took a sip.
“Cool name. What brings you here, Rammy?”
“Ram.” I put the glass back down and wiped my mouth in a napkin. “I’m a reporter. Mr. Bauer invited me to interview him."
“What a coincidence. So am I.” She was now using her straw to stir the water. Please don’t flirt with me, oh my God…
After a solid minute of awkward silence, I saw Ashley come back into the room. His red mess of a hair was even more ruffled than usual and a big stupid grin was stuck on his face. He was tucking his shirt into his pants, causing Mrs. Dugall to roll her eyes yet again.
“Miss me?” he asked nonchalantly as he sat next to me, the girl quickly catching his attention. “Friend of yours?”
“I’m Jade.” She smiled at Ashley.
“Name’s Ashley,” he said as he shook her hand.
“I was just having a lovely chat with Ram here. Quite the life of the party, I have to say. You guys look like you make a nice couple.”
I stared her in those big, blue eyes, not even comprehending the logic behind those words and the smirk on that face. “What?” I said in a dry tone.
“Oh no, no, we’re nothing like that, no. Ram’s a good old friend, that’s all.”
I’ll give you the “old”, but “good”? “Jade was just telling me she’s a reporter too. Where do you work?”
“Oh, I’ll gladly tell you later, but I have to go… uh, powder my nose, as they used to say,” she giggled. “It was nice talking to you, boys.”
As she left the room, Ashley’s gaze followed. “She looks like quite the conversation partner, if you know what I mean.”
“Like most people, she thinks that she has the right to invade my personal space just like that. And societal convention prevents me from simply saying ‘no thanks, I find talking to strangers to be pretty draining and would much rather spend this time alone, without talking to anyone’.”
“And yet your job requires you to talk to people,” Ashley said as he rolled his eyes.
“Well, that’s different.” I put my glass down. “That was quite a long trip to the bathroom, though. It didn’t really feel nice being all alone here with vampire boy over there watching me with murderous intent, you know.”
Ashley looked at the boy. “How do you know he’s even staring at you?”
“I can sense it.”
“No you can’t.”
“You know what, Ashley? Why don’t you-“
“Alright, alright, sheesh. Sorry I said anything.” He placed his arms on the back of his neck and leaned back on his chair. I turned my gaze to Bauer and saw him converse with an elegant looking woman on his left, who soon got up and left the room. I didn’t recognize her either, but she certainly looked well-off. Bauer was left to himself, sipping wine, as his brother was now talking to Mr. Dugall and laughing loudly at his jokes.
“Do you think now’s the time to talk to him?” I said.
“Sure, man, go for it. I mean, that’s the reason we’re here, right?”
“I don’t know. This feels weird.”
“Dude, you’ve been waiting your whole life for this, right?” He was leaning in now, his brown eyes more serious than I had ever seen them. “Go get him!” He pushed me out of my chair, almost causing me to trip.
“Thanks for that,” I said in a sarcastic tone. But I guess I was genuinely thankful. If it hadn’t been for that shove, I might have refused to get up from my chair at all. I passed a middle-aged man sitting by the table – the final guest who I had not seen yet – and quietly sat down next to Francis Bauer.
“Mr. Bauer, sir?” I asked in a quiet tone.
“Ah, Darzi. Good to see you,” the man said as he smiled, a strange warmth in his voice. “I take it you would interview me now?”
“If that’s okay with you, then yes, of course.”
“I would love that, but you see,” he said as he pointed to his wine glass, “I’m a tad bit tipsy at this moment. I do think I’d make a better conversation partner in the mo-“
The wind forced the windows open, blowing out all the candles. A loud crack came from somewhere downstairs and the light coming from the hallway went out. For a second we sat in complete silence, then people started talking and shuffling about, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, somewhere in the distance, an organ was playing Bauer’s “Evanescence”, one of his earlier pieces, and one of my personal favorites. It stopped half way, leaving everyone in a petrified silence. After two quick flickers, the light came back on. No one except me and Francis seemed to be sitting where they had been before the power outage. Louis went up to the windows and closed them. That’s when we heard a woman’s scream from the hallway. Everyone sprang up and ran there, myself included. I could hardly believe what I saw when I arrived at the spot.
Van, the host’s daughter, was laying sprawled out on the floor. Her black silky hair was in disarray, her obsidian eyes opened and lifeless, a trickle of blood running from her mouth, reaching the large pool of blood she around her. Her body was pierced with parts from the chandelier which had apparently fallen on her, sticking into her abdomen, killing her. Jade was kneeling in the puddle of blood, both her knees and hands covered in the liquid, crying uncontrollably. I looked at Ashley who covered his mouth with both of his hands.
“No, no, no…” a muffled whisper came from him. He slowly turned his face towards me and approached me. “Ram,” he whispered, “we need to talk.”