The chandelier cast its radiant glow on the people gathered in the dining room. Gathered around the oval table, all faces were stern and pale. Two dead bodies in one night was too much to handle for a group of guests who only came over to have some fun.
All the people who had attended dinner and were still alive were there. Ashley, Jade and myself were standing by one of the narrower ends of the table, with Francis, Louis and De Silva standing at the other. Ms. Whitacre was standing next to Louis, her face in a scowl – probably disappointed that she couldn’t be standing closer to Francis. The three Dugalls stood to De Silva’s left, with the opposite end of the table being occupied by three people I did not recognize at first glance. One of them was a middle-aged man in a tuxedo who was very well-groomed that I recognized as the butler. The girl next to him was a maid and though she was looking at the ground, I soon recognized her face – she was the woman we had earlier encountered with Mr. Dugall. I glanced at De Silva who gave me a small nod right before he started talking.
“No point in dragging this on any further,” he said as he pulled out several pieces of paper from his coat.
“What’s that?” Mr. Dugall asked as he fidgeted in place. His wife had her face turned away from him, while their son seemed to have spaced out.
De Silva gave a wry smile and waved the paper a bit, holding it between his thick fingers. “Well, Mr. Dugall, in here I have everything I need to reveal the killer.” A collective gasp resounded around the dining hall. De Silva continued. “Now, of course, I doubt the culprit and their accomplices will just come clean when I ask nicely, so let me just go over the details one by one. Ram, I’ll be needing your help with this, since I wasn’t there to see some of the things you saw while investigating the organ room, and this is all very important.”
“Yes,” I said, my face stiff as a rock, cleverly disguising the ball of shaking jello that I was underneath it.
“Around ten PM,” De Silva began, “the lights go out. The only people absent from the room is our dearly departed friend Wei, who can safely be ruled out of the equation, and Jade.” He pointed a hairy hand at the girl next to me who was still trying to feign innocence in front of the others. Deep down I really wanted to strangle her, and I was also kind of afraid of her, but I knew that if I wanted this to work, we had to cooperate.
The truth was, contrary to De Silva’s assertion, we had no hard evidence against the culprit. To draw them out, we needed a solid bluff. While I had my doubts about the idea, I decided to follow through with De Silva’s plan, trusting that the detective actually knows what he’s doing.
“I knew it!” Ms. Whitacre exclaimed. “I told you all from the beginning – this girl was the killer all along! How deplorable! Pretending to be the victim while she-“
“Meredith!” Francis Bauer said as he slammed the table. “How dare you behave like this at my house? Let Miles tell us everything he knows before you go around throwing baseless accusations!”
“Thank you Francis,” De Silva said with a smile. Ms. Whitacre’s face looked as if someone had just told her Santa didn’t exist. “Now, here’s where I wanted to ask Jade about the circumstances of the event. Howe did you find the body?”
“Well, I was coming back from the bathroom,” she said in a feeble voice. Her acting was so good it was scary. If I hadn’t discovered the truth about her, I would have been totally convinced with her innocent act. And truth be told, I had been convinced. “The lights went off as I was washing my hands.” From what she told me, Ashley, and De Silva, all this was true, but I still wasn’t convinced that was the case. “Then I heard music and came out. When I was back in the main hall, I heard a strange rattling noise. When the lights came back on, I… I…”
“You found the body,” De Silva said. “What did it look like?”
“She was… all covered in the glass and metal pieces from the chandelier, blood was starting to come out of her body, and there was something weird coming out of her mouth too, and-“
“Wait a minute,” John Dugall interrupted, pointing a fat finger at Jade, as if he was trying to threaten her. “I thought you were in shock. How can you remember it in such vivid detail?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised with what people can remember in stressful situations, Mr. Dugall,” De Silva said with a wave of his own finger. “In fact, funny you should stop her at just that fact. Because I, too, happened to have noticed a strange liquid seeping from Van’s lips as she lay there dead. Now, if she had died by chandelier, nothing like this would happen… Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. Ashley!” Ashley almost jumped as De Silva called his name. “You and Van were together right before she died, correct?”
I could see the panic rise in Ashley’s eyes as he looked at Bauer. He did not seem to pay that any mind, however. “Y-yes. Van asked me to follow her to her room. We, uh… had some private time and then she told me to go back here and meet her in the organ room once everyone was done with desserts. I, uh… I never found out what she wanted to tell me.”
“Thank you, Ashley,” De Silva said in a warm tone. “Now,” he raised his voice, “I would like to show you all something. Francis?” He turned to Bauer, who only nodded and guided us all into the main hall. He touched one of the columns in a distinct manner and revealed a small switch. Once he flicked it, a soft hum came from the ceiling. Then, the floor beneath where the chandelier used to be on the ceiling, gave way, revealing a trap door, while a similarly shaped segment of the ceiling above came down suspended on a set of ropes. It lodged itself securely in the space left by the trap door, while the ceiling was filled with an identical looking block. The floor blended in perfectly with the hall, with the only real difference being subtle smears of blood.
“Holy shit,” said the boy, Eugene Dugall.
“So, John,” De Silva turned to Mr. Dugall and faced him with a wide smile. “Not only has the cause of death been put into question, but so has the place. To support that, we have several eyewitness accounts claiming that they saw undeniable evidence that the murder actually took place in the organ room.”
“Well, yes, but how could any of us have known about it?” Dugall demanded as his face reddened. De Silva chuckled.
“Glad you think one of us is the killer. I never expressly told all of you that, did I?”
Mrs. Dugall stared at her husband in disbelief as he struggled to grasp for air and his face resembled a tomato more and more every second. “That’s preposterous! You can’t insinuate that it was I on the grounds of-“
“I’m not insinuating anything. Let me continue. So, Ram, what did you find in the organ room?”
“Trails of blood leading into the middle of the room and stopping without explanation. There was the organ that was set to play music when the right button was pushed. There was also Mr. Bauer’s will.”
“Ah, yes, that. We’ll get to that eventually, but for now,” De Silva said, “it’s enough proof that the murder actually took place in the organ room.”
“And what might that change?” Mrs. Whitacre demanded.
“The fact that, if Jade indeed encountered Van’s body after leaving the bathroom, she can’t have committed the murder, because it took place one floor above and the body descended while she was coming out. As for how she died… Maggie?”
The maid came forward and pulled something out of the pocket of her apron. It was a small bottle with a strange shape.
“Hey, it’s that bottle!” Eugene said, after which he was decked on the head by his father.
“What bottle?” Mrs. Dugall demanded.
“It’s nothing,” Eugene whispered.
“No, it’s not nothing,” I said. “You told us earlier that you saw a weird bottle in your dad’s coat but it was gone later, correct?”
“I didn’t say anything!” Eugene screamed in defense.
“That’s okay, Eugene, there’s no need for you to say anything,” De Silva said. “We have someone else to do the talking. Maggie, would you please?”
The maid took a deep breath and started talking in an emotionless monotone. “This vial contained poison. But now it’s empty. I was the one who poisoned Van, leading to her death.”
Everyone gasped. The butler’s face turned crimson. “Maggie! How could you!”
“It’s nothing personal,” she said in that emotionless tone, though I did see a hint of a tear in her eye. “I only did as I was instructed. I later did all the arrangements of the body, and I helped them get rid of it before De Silva could completely investigate the body.”
“So, who told you to do it?” De Silva asked.
Maggie raised her petite face, her eyes dead as stone, her eyes cold as steel. “It was Mr. Dugall,” she said.
John Dugall's face went from a vivid red to alabaster. His eyes widened, his shoulders dropped. The cocky joker was gone, replaced with a shadow of himself. “Maggie!” Mr. Dugall shouted, his face twisted in a painful grimace, his eyes welling up with tears. “How could you? You said you loved me! That you’d do anything for me!”
“I may be young, John,” she turned to face him, her eyes cold and distant, “but I’m not stupid. I know people like you just use others, but I still wanted to get that money you promised.” Her lip quivered slightly as she continued. “I could have been set for life. But then De Silva told me that he already knew who did this, so I confessed. That way, I can still at least save my skin.”
“NOOOO!” Dugall cried. It was strange. For someone who allegedly cared only about money and only used Maggie as a means to an end, he seemed almost… hurt? I didn’t have time to think on that too much, however, as Mrs. Dugall had just fainted and had to be taken away by the staff, with Eugene following her.
“Finally,” Louis said, “we have our culprit.”
“Not entirely true, I’m afraid,” De Silva said. He approached Mr. Dugall who at this point had his arms on the ground with tears streaming down. “Why did you poison Van? Who put you up to it?”
Dugall only shook his head and uttered a strange, hiccough-like laugh. “No. You’ll hear nothing from me.”
“We’re running a lab test as soon as we get off the island, and I’m sure the results will tell us all we need to know. So you're going to face the consequences either way.”
Dugall cackled. “No. No you won't. As long as I don't spill the beans. I am safe.” He stood up, a broad, ugly grin on his fat face. “My benefactor can buy me out, whatever happens. And I'd like to see you guess who it is. Half the people in here are stinking rich.”
I wanted to say something. I wanted to simply reveal the culprit, but I knew I would jeopardize everything if I did. I needed to follow De Silva's instructions exactly if I wanted this all to work. So I stayed silent, waiting for my cue.
De Silva gave Dugall another wry smile. “Luckily, I know exactly who did it.” He selected one of the sheets of paper that he was holding. “Over here I have Mr. Bauer's will. Ram, you remember this, don't you? Can you tell me what you saw on it?”
And that was my cue. “Well, from our discussion earlier, it's easy to deduce the motive for the murder. Apparently, somebody important was snubbed from the list of inheritors,” I continued, as a cold drop of sweat descended down my neck like a snail, leaving behind a sticky tail, “and they wanted to off Van in order to get in on that inheritance. Which is why they used a proxy. And then they promised Dugall a part of it.” Dugall only snickered in the corner, his eyes twitching uncontrollably. I'd never seen so broken a man.
Ms. Whitacre gasped and turned to face Louis with her mouth agape. He only raised an eyebrow, his bearded face stuck in an expression of complete bafflement. “How could you,” she whispered. “Your own niece...?”
“Hey, what's the big idea?” Louis raised his arms. Francis looked at him, though his face expressed nothing. “Why the hell would I kill Van?”
“It's like that boy just said,” she pointed to me. “An important person who was not included in the will?”
“If you knew anything about my brother and I,” Louis said with his eyebrows furrowed, threatening Whitacre with his finger. “You would know that I personally asked him not to include me in the will, as I have enough money to take care of myself and I told him to transfer everything to Van!”
“And what about little Maurice, huh? Who's he, the girl's bastard?”
Got her. Louis played his part perfectly. Everyone fell silent for a minute, exchanging knowing looks. Whitacre seemed to not notice yet. I made eye contact with De Silva. He shrugged and gave me an expression that I could see was meant to say she's all yours. And so I took a few steps towads her, put my hands behind my back and started speaking.
“Meredith, my dear,” I said. Startled, she turned around to face me, her eyes wide with bafflement, the pearl necklase on her neck rustling, her permed red hair swaying uncontrollably. “Tell me, what's this whole... Maurice business?”
“W-whatever do you mean?” she said, her eyebrows furrowed in disapproval. “You just told us about that yourself, that the entirety of Francis' will was dedicated to Van and Maurice.”
I shook my head. “I only told you that an important person was ommitted from it.”
“W-well then, I guess I must have mixed some things up,” she ran a hand down her neck. “I must have snuck a peek at Mr. De Silva's copy.”
“Oh, you mean this?” De Silva raised the piece of paper and turned it around in his fingers to present to everyone present that it was, in fact, completely blank.”
Whitacre's lips quivered quivered. She was cornered. No way out for her. Time to deliver the final blow. “I don't know you're aware of this, Ms. Whitacre, but you've just put yourself in a very uncomfortable situation.” I said as I approached her closer, while she took a step backwards. “By knowing details about the will without laying your eyes on it, you've confessed to murder. That, combined with Mrs. Dugall's statement about your frequent phonecalls with Mr. Dugall...”
“Don't be ridiculous,” she shouted. “Francis, please, are you just going to allow this man to say such things about me?” Mr. Bauer only stared at her in silence. Whatever life had been in that eyes that night was gone.
“You have nowhere to run, Ms. Whitacre,” I said. “Admit it. Just go ahead and admit-”
“You have no proof!”
“That you've murdered Van Bauer with the intention-”
“That's a lie!”
“Of receiving her part of Mr. Bauer's inheritance-”
“Is this true or not!” I shouted.
“NO!” she bellowed, the pearl necklace on he neck falling apart as she cluched it too tight, pulled on it, and severed the chain. Tears rolled down her cheeks, dying her face black from the mascara. “I, I would never...” she sobbed, “do such a thing for money. You ignorant fools... Do you really think I need that? Have you seen this dress? These pearls?” she violently shook her hand at the ground. “If you think I can't buy everything, you are wrong. Money means nothing.” She went quiet. For a second I thought she'd composed herself, but I saw in her eyes that she was gone. She ignored me, turning her face to Francis. Tears came rolling down her face yet again. “I only did it because I love you... She was your entire world, you couldn't see past her, couldn't see how much love I could give you. I only wanted you to be mine, but you chose that whore...”
Mr. Bauer suddenly changed. He seemed to grow five inches high and another three inches wide as he approached her, the tears escaped his eyes momentarily, and he bellowed, exposing huge teeth: “SHE WAS MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”
I don't know what would have happened had Ashley and De Silva not stepped in and helped Louis restrain Francis. He could have just torn her to shreds right then and there. It was so bizarre. I never thought I'd see something raw and feral coming from the composer I idolized, a person who composed subtle, beautiful, delicate pieces that just overtook my world. I felt sad for him. But I didn't lose any respect. In fact, seeing that part of him, how human he really was under that exterior, was really enlightening.
“Jade, you got all that?” De Silva called.
“Everything's recorded,” she said with a crooked smile. “We've got our killer.”
As Louis helped Francis come back to his sense, by which I mean he went from uncontrollable rage to uncontrollable sobbing, the rest of us tied up the co-consiprators. None of them even resisted at this point. Dugall didn't even say a word since Whitacre confessed, and she just seemed... dead. Nothing reached her. She had lost the love she was fighting for, even though she sacrificed her humanity to achieve it. Pathetic.
“I still don't get one thing,” Ashley said as a pale line appeared on the horizon. The sun was starting to rise, and it looked like it was going to be a lovely, cloudless day. Perfect weather for the police to arrive without incident. I turned my head to face Ashley whose jaw now protruded forward as he pondered. “Why the hell did she kill Wei?”
“Actually... That's a good point.” I said. I started pacing.
“You mean the motive?” De Silva said with his back to me as he watched the light on the horizon rize higher and higher.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You said the last time you saw him before he died he was quite jittery,” he said. “I suppose he might have seen Whitacre dispose of the body and then lost his mind and jumped out of the window.”
“Well yeah, but still... 'She knows about the jasper'... If Wei was talking about some treasure, and Whitacre's motivation had nothing to do with material gain, I don't think there's any chance that he could have meant her.”
A reddish light came from the center of the horizon, nearly bliding me. The sun gently illuminated the dining hall, making it look quite peaceful for a place that had just seen such violence. I glanced to the left and noticed Jade cover her eyes from the rays. She noticed me looking at her and sighed.
“Don't look at me,” she said. “I told you, I don't kill people.”
“But he meant you, didn't he?” I said. “He saw you, you wanted to get info on the jasper from him, and he got scared and fell to his death.”
“Well well well,” she giggled. “One more stroke of genius and you'll have me at your heels for all eternity. Yes, that's exactly how it went. At least, me meeting him and asking for info on the jasper part. Not that sure about the rest.”
“But what the hell did Wei really have to do with anything?”
“I believe I can answer that.” The feeble voice came from the entrance to the dining hall. Supporting himself on his brothers shoulder, Francis Bauer came into the room, his eyes sunken and red, his cheeks hollow. I hardly recognized him in the light. It was terrifying, what one night can do with a man. Then I noticed that he was also holding someone's hand – the little boy with the unruly auburn mess of hair and Van's eyes. He sat on a chair and took the little drowzy boy on his lap. “I invited you all as my guests to dine with me. But there was one more reason for all this to happen.” He stroked the boy's hair as the little one fell asleep with his head on his grandfather's shoulder. “Van was my adopted daughter. She was born in a small,far-away country to a family that was the head of a substantial organized crime faction. I adopted her to fulfil a request... A request made by a friend. By the name of Wei.” He covered his eyes as the Sun came up higher and higher, dyeing the sky blue and pink, casting light on his old, tired face. “Wei wanted nothing more than peace. He wanted to end the conflict between the rivalling criminal factions that were tearing his country apart. He did that by kidnapping the heir. Van's father is old and can't have any more children, so he tasked Wei with finding Van's offspring, unaware of the fact that Wei was actually working against him.”
“So does that mean...” Ashley began, but I interrupted him. Bauer looked too tired to be answering questions.
“I did my best to hide Maurice from him, so he wouldn't have to lie about this to his boss. So the point of this whole meeting was the transfer of this child.” His hands shook and a tear fell from his eye on to the boy's cheek. “But I don't want to say goodbye to him... He's all I have left.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Composed, he resumed: “Van knew who the father was and wanted me to arrange the meeting with... him...” he slowed down his speech as he lifted his face to look at Ashley. He gave him a meek smile. “That's what Van was going to tell you.”
“I don't mean to be blunt, Mister Bauer,” Jade said as she tapped a manicured hand on the table. “But what exactly does all this have to do with the jasper?”
“Well... The rumors about the criminal lord's heir spread all around the country, and then left it. A child is a parent's greatest treasure, after all, so one, two, three inconsistent translations later, it became a gemstone that never existed. Soon, someone must have gotten wind that 'it' was in my possession.”
“Are you serious,” Jade slammed her hand on the table. She stood up and paced around the room. She faced the sun, casting a large shadow on everyone else in the room. She turned around, biting her nail. I could see the fury build up in her eyes. “Well, this was fun,” she said with sarcasm. “I wasted my fucking time after all.”
Things seemed to happen all at once again. Suddenly, I felt a draft, smoke filled the room, and people started coughing. Then, before I knew if, someone's lips were touching mine, and a tongue slid down into my mouth. With a sloppy sound, it ended as soon as it as it began, with a giggle in my ear and a “at least I got this much” whispered in my ear.
I felt my blood boil. I was so furious, for a moment I could not comprehend that the smoke had already dissipated and the large window was ajar. I wanted to go after her and punch her in the face for violating my space like that, but something restrained me.
“Let me go!” I shouted. “That bi-”
“Hey there, feisty-pants,” Ashley called from behind me. He turned me around and greeted me with a wide smile. I was still furious and was just about to start screaming at him, but then I felt a small, sharp pain in my forhead as Ashley gave me a flick.
“What the fuck did you just do?”
“Well, you deserved it,” he said with a slight chuckle. “See? You're already calmer than you were.”
It was difficult to admit, but he was right. For a minute there, I lost myself in anger, and for what, really? That was really nothing. Everyone else was safe, which was all that mattered. I went up closer to Mr. Bauer with Ashley. Asleep, with his eyes closed, the boy did look markedly similar to my friend. He stroked his head.
“Do you mind if I at least visit him once in a while?” he asked Bauer. “I mean, I know you are in a much better position to raise him, so I don't really want to take him away from the only family he knows, but...”
Bauer smiled, but his eyes welled up with tears yet again. “Absolutely. You are welcome to come here anytime. It's what Van would have wanted.”
“So I guess inviting me over was just a pretext to have Ashley come?” I asked with a subtle smile.
“Now, Ram,” Bauer said. “This may be a bad time, but I'll still gladly let you interview me whenever you want to come over. That is... If you want to. I don't think I'll be as interesting a conversation partner after all this...”
“Don't worry,” I said as I placed a hand on his shoulder. “I love your work. Talking to you has been a dream of mine forever. And nothing can ruin that.”
“Hey, Ram?” De Silva called. He was standing at the edge of the window, leaning out dangerously over the large evergreens protruding from the jagged island below.
“What is it?” I approached him, barely able to cover my eyes from the sun.
“Is that the tree where you saw Wei's body?”
I looked, though I felt my stomach turn upside down at the very mention of the word body. The thing was still there, though there was something strange about it when seen in sunlight. “Yeah, that's it.”
“Well then,” De Silva slid on his coat and made his way to the main hall. “If you'll excuse me, I need to go find Wei.”
My jaw dropped. “What?”
De Silva smiled, exposing a big, gaping hole in one of his teeth that I hadn't noticed before. “You disappoint me, Ram. And here I thought you were more perceptive. That's a dummy.”