Ashley ran up to detective De Silva, his feet splashing against the pool of blood, leaving large, dark spots on his brightly colored pants. He tilted him up and gently shook his head, which I was sure was the wrong way to do it, but still, De Silva was miraculously awake again in a manner of seconds.
“The body…” he heaved.
“Gone. Without a trace.” The small Asian man stood up. I hadn’t noticed before, but he had been lying sprawled on the floor until just a few moments ago. Rubbing his bald head, he supported himself with the stair railing and slowly went closer to the pool of blood. “Hidden by the person who knocked me over in the dark, most likely.”
“Guess it’s safe to assume one of them’s the killer,” Ashley said. He did have a point – the only reason why anyone would want to hide the body would be the fact that there was something that would give away their identity. So that would mean either one of the Dugalls or that woman that had been flirting with Bauer all evening were the culprit. Either that, or an accomplice. I looked to my right and saw Jade sitting in a corner, her head wrapped in her arms. Just looking at her, it didn’t seem likely she could be the one behind all this. But I’ve already learned the hard way that looks can be very deceiving.
“If things were always that easy, I’d be out of a job, kid,” De Silva said in a near-whisper before wincing and letting out a hiss of pain.
“Don’t strain yourself, Miles,” Francis said, helping Ashley lift De Silva up to his feet. Once up, he shrugged both of their arms off.
“I’m fine,” he said. “A bit light-headed, but otherwise unharmed. I think I need to work faster now. Looks like the culprit is trying to hide something, and the absence of several guests is upsetting. Let’s see.” He pulled out a notebook with a pencil attached to it from a pocket inside his jacket. It didn’t look much better than the rest of his shabby attire. “Present here are Francis and Louis Bauer,” he said as he made a “check” motion with his pencil, “then we have Van Bauer, our victim. Next up is Miles De Silva, who is also present,” he said with a faint smile. I felt my eyes roll into oblivion. It was impossible to tell if that lame joke was a habit or if it was just a one-off thing. “Jade Bird is the nervous wreck in the corner, I presume. You must be…” He slowly shifted his gaze to Ashley.
“Oh, I’m uh… Ashley. Ashley Woods.”
The detective stared into his notebook, his eyes furrowing, as if he was trying to dig something out of the depths hidden beyond the paper. “I don’t see your name on the guest list, I’m afraid.”
“He’s with me,” I said. “Darzi.”
“Ah, yes. I see. Ramacha-“
“Just Ram is fine.”
De Silva didn’t even lift up his gaze from above the notebook, which was fine by me. I was told I had terrible eye contact. “Ram Darzi and friend. Here you are.” He checked us off his list and glanced at the small man who was now gazing at the puddle of blood.
“My name is Wei.” He didn’t look at De Silva, though he did lift his head. Glancing in turn at the ceiling and the crimson reflection on the ground, he seemed to have noticed something. And yet, if he did, he wouldn’t say what it was.
“So it is.” He checked off his name as well.
“Why would you need a copy of the guest list if you didn’t know a murder was going to happen?” Ashley asked. Very smooth, Ashley. Bravo.
“Habit.” He closed the notebook with a loud clap. “Ms. Meredith Whitacre and the three Dugalls are missing.” De Silva scratched his scruffy cheek. “This is getting out of hand.”
“You think?” Ashley blurted out. I sent him a death glare which I was sure he noticed as he seemed uncomfortably quiet from then on.
De Silva ignored him. “Francis, I have an idea, but I do not want to do anything without your permission. I know this is a sensitive issue for you, so…”
“It’s quite alright, really,” Bauer said, though his eyes were still vivid red from the trauma. “What do you have in mind?”
“I would like to interrogate your staff.”
“I have no reason to object to-“
“But I want your brother to take these two young gentlemen and Mr. Wei to the room where the organ is.”
“Oh.” For a moment Bauer fell silent and his eyes darted around the floor. The moment was brief, however, and he soon continued: “That’s quite alright, I think. That is, if you are fine with that, Louis?”
“It’s fine.” Louis, who up until that point had been standing in the shadows, right behind Francis, emerged with a gentle smile and placed a large hand on his brother’s shoulder. “But may I ask why?”
“It’s pretty simple, actually.” De Silva pointed at Jade. “That girl won’t be moving anywhere anytime soon, Francis is also still quite shaken up, and I would still rather avoid quick movements for the time being. Whoever knocked me out hit pretty hard. So, I’d like Francis to call his staff over here and I will question them, while you investigate the mystery room.”
“Why me?” The smile disappeared from Louis’s face, leaving nothing but confusion.
“Why, you’re the host’s brother. You practically live here, so, in theory, you know every nook and cranny. And you’re a smart man, so I have faith that whatever investigation you conduct will be thorough.”
What he said made sense, but there was still one thing I could not wrap my head around. “Why are we going with him, then? It sounds like Louis could handle this on his own.”
De Silva grinned. It was a very unpleasant grin. A couple of his teeth were missing, and those that weren’t looked oversized, misshapen, and yellow. “I thought it would be obvious. The most probable suspects have vanished, true, but it’s still highly probable that any one of us is the killer.” Us. I found it slightly unsettling that a detective would also consider himself a suspect in a case that he was investigating. “Mr. Bauer is the least likely suspect, Ms. Bird is harmless at present, and I can keep an eye on both while keeping a keen eye on the staff as well. You two are outsiders, Mr. Wei is someone even more unrelated to this place than any one of us, and Louis is the host’s brother. For all intents in purposes, you all have different agendas, and you’re all suspicious of one another. I don’t think I could come up with a better way to keep the killer at bay. It’s also doubtful that there is a culprit available for the killer in this group, considering the differing backgrounds. So if the killer and the accomplice are both in this group, it’s safe to deduce that it’s you two,” he pointed at Ashley and me. ”Judging by your statures, I don’t think it would be reasonable to pull anything with Louis, aided by Mr. Wei, in the same room. The only way I can see there being a murder duo in this group, besides the scenario I just presented, is if you are secretly family.” He chuckled. Judging by that, I had a general idea of whom he considered a likely suspect.
That said, one thing about his little speech bothered me. “You keep talking about this accomplice. So you’re certain this is the work of more than one person?”
De Silva turned away from me and faced the window. The black sky seemed endless, the howling winds pierced the silence that fell. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning dyed the entire hall white, giving De Silva’s eyes an unearthly glow as he turned towards me.
“There is no other possibility.”