Sunday, December 6, 2015

Bauer Island (V/VII)

The path had seemed pretty straightforward – we took the stairs up to reach the organ room, so we needed to take them down to get back to the main hall. We must have missed something, however, as we got lost in the network of hallways.
“How can you not know where we are?” Ashley raised his voice at Louis. He seemed quite on edge ever since we left the organ room.
“I don't exactly live here,” Louis said with a frown. “I visit my brother quite often, but I don't really have a habit of taking strolls down these hallways.”
“Let it go, Ashley,” I said as I adjusted my pace to walk side by side with him. I lowered my voice so that only he could hear me. “You okay, man? You don't look so good.”
“I'm fine,” he grunted. “I just need to cool down a bit.”
“I understand,” I said as I left him alone. He slowed down as well and was now walking behind us all. With Louis leading the way, that left me and Wei in the middle. The small man seemed lost in thought. “What do you make of all this?” I asked.
“What would you define as this?” the man said with a smile. “There are many things that are happening now and I am doing my best to make sense of it. Though my mind is, as you say, if I'm not mistaken, drawing a blank.”
I somehow doubted that statement. The clues we found in the organ room were indicative of something, at the very least. Wei seemed to be a perceptive man, considering he was the one who noticed the chandelier, so how could he not deduce anything from the things we found? An organ on auto-play, a trail of blood that ended abruptly, Francis' will, and that kid. So many possibilities arose – could Louis had done it since he wasn't included in the will? Or maybe one of the other guests was counting on receiving some of that fabulous fortune, now that the most important person to Francis was gone? Wei could have at least said that, and those were just the most obvious solutions, and yet he chose to say that he can't think of anything. Just what are you hiding, Wei?
Before I could call him out on this, however, we all fell quiet as we heard the sound of two people speaking. A male and a female voice, half-whispering, but agitated. I could not make out what they were saying, but it did not make a difference, since they fell silent soon enough. They were just around the corner and Louis had already turned, which must have startled them. I hurried over to check out who it was. It was Mr. Dugall, his arm pressed against the wall over the shoulder of a petite maid. His face was pale and sweaty, his tie undone, his shirt unbuttoned halfway, while the maid's hair was ruffled and her apron was falling off her shoulder. Apparently, we had interrupted an intimated situation.
“Louis,” Mr. Dugall said with an awkward laugh.
“John,” said Louis. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, uh, y-you know,” he stuttered and sent a glance at the maid. He cleared his throat and proceeded to button up his shirt as the maid went down the hallway. “Amanda doesn't need to know about this.”
I couldn't see Louis' face, but judgin by Dugall's expression, he wasn't too happy with what he was seeing.
“My lips are sealed,” Louis heaved.
“I'll be on my way then,” Dugall said with a smile, the color returning to his face, as he turned down the hallway in a different direction than the made.
“At least we know why he disappeared,” I said. Silence. No one said anything else, we just kept going. Soon enough we found ourselves in the main hall. De Silva was gone and Francis was handing Jade a cup of coffee. They both seemed to be feeling a bit better, though their hands were still shaking as they sat on the stairs.
“Louis,” Francis said with a faint smile as he noticed us. “Did you find anything?”
“Something, yeah,” his brother replied. “Where's De Silva?”
“In the dining room. He's questioning the staff.”
“Okay. I think we should go in there and tell him about what we found.”
“Um...” a feeble voice came from Francis' side. “I would like to take a look at the organ room, if that's okay.”
“Well, we can't let you go alone,” Louis said.
“I can show her the way,” I said. For some reason, I didn't think I could trust anyone else to do it. “Ashley, you coming with me?”
“Sorry, man,” he said, his expression still grim. “I think I wanna hear what De Silva has to say.”
“Well, if the rest of us remains here, I think it is safe to let Ram show Jade the way,” said Wei. “Might I be excused for a moment, however? Nature calls, as you say it.”
“Yes, of course. The bathroom is right over there,” Francis said as he pointed towards one of the hallways. “We'll wait for you.”
“Okay, let's go then,” I said as I extended my hand to Jade, helping her up. She ran a hand through her brown curls and readjusted her cat-eye glasses. Traces of washed mascara were still visible behind the spectacles. As I led her to the organ room, she walked just behind me, much too close for my liking.
“This is so bizarre,” she said. “I really can't believe this is all happening.”
“At least you'll have something to write about,” I said with a chuckle, but then I stopped as I was reminded of something. A chill went down my spine. “Say, you're a reporter too, right?”
“Yeah, just like you, I told you already.”
I turned on my heel with a loud creak that echoed down the stone hallway. I looked her dead in the eyes. “Where?”
“Who do you write for? You have to be writing for somebody, don't you?”
She blinked, and took a step backwards. Her lips trembled. Perhaps I was too aggressive? After all, she was still in shock. “Well, I-”
She stopped as we both heard the clicking of high heels on the marble floor. Soon enough, Amanda Dugall emerged from the darkness. Mrs. Dugall looked none too pleased, her face twisted in a vicious frown, her hair in disarray as she walked by in a hurry.
“Seen my no good husband anywhere?” she bellowed at us. “Bet he's off fucking that Whitacre woman somewhere.”
“I, uh...” I hesitated. I did not know what to say. Should I pretend I didn't see him? Or should I tell her he was with someone other than Ms. Whitacre? Or maybe... “I think he went to the dining hall with the others.”
She stormed off without another word. Jade sent me a wide-eyed look. “Wow,” Jade whispered.
“I sure hope he's there,” I said. “Or at least that we're not here anymore once she's done there.”
“Did you really see him?”
“Yes. He was having his way with someone other than Ms. Whitacre, though.”
“What if it's all a setup?” she said as she put her hand on her chin. “I mean, why would she assume he's having an affair with Ms. Whitacre?”
“I don't think I follow...”
“Well, Mrs. Dugall discovers her husband has been in contact with Ms. Whitacre. He's always been a womanizer, so she just assumes it's an affair, but he's actually conspiring with her to kill Van.”
“That's pretty far-fetched,” I said.
“You're right,” she said. “I guess I am getting ahead of myself. But if that's the case, I called it.”
We went into the organ room and I showed her all the important spots. There was something I was not prepared for, however. As I went to examine the organ itself again, I lost sight of Jade in the darkness. She didn't make a sound when I called her – it was as if she'd just disappeared into thin air.
I was making my way to the door when suddenly someone grabbed me from behind. I turned around and saw that it was Wei, though I barely recognized him. His face was deathly pale with sweat trickling down his bald head. His lips were moving but he wasn't saying anything.
“I can't hear you, Wei,” I said to him.
He pulled me down closer. For someone so tiny he was incredibly strong. “I've seen her,” he mumbled. “And she knows. I don't have much time left. The crimson jasper – you can't let her have it.”

With that, he disappeared into the darkness. I called out after him but he didn't listen. I tried running after him, but tripped in the darkness, falling flat on my face. As I rubbed my poor nose, I heard him open some door and then close it. A clock went off somewhere, striking God-knows-what hour, painfully reminding me of the fragility of my own life.

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