Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bauer Island FINALE (2/2)

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-”
Stop it!”
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.”

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bauer Island FINALE (1/2)

“Oh good,” I said. I stood up and approached Jade. She sat on the floor, her hands still tied to the marble statue. She was oddly still. We had her completely immobilized, helpless, but she didn't even try to struggle. I felt a drop of sweat trickle down my forhead. I crouched down to be on the same eye level, and I heard Ashley do the same and crouch next to me. Her freckled face, previously in a twisted grimace, was now turning into a smirk.

“Wow, you guys really do make a cute couple,” she snickered. I saw Ashley raise a finger and take his breath in. I stopped him mid-protest, blocking his hand with my own, and just stared down Jade, as Ashley's face turned red from the pent-up emotion.

“Nice to see you in high spirits,” I said. “So, why'd you kill Van and Wei?”

“Excuse me?” Her eyes widened in what looked like genuine surprise. After that little stunt, I knew better than to trust her.

“Jade, sweetie,” I said. My tone just suddenly shifted to something weird, smooth, confident. Which was a bit surprising, considering I'd never felt so afraid in my entire life. “You just tried to slit my throat. At the very least, I know you're no reporter.”

“How perceptive, Rammy,” she said with that smirk on her face. She hesitated for a second, rolled her head, and gave a heavy sigh. “Fine. I'll tell you all about me. But know that I didn't kill them. I didn't even know Wei was dead until you started screaming like a maniac with your junk out in the open.”

“Okay. Let's hear it then,” Ashley said in a barely audible tone. I was alomost as scared of him as I was of Jade.”

“I'm not a reporter, you're right. But I came here to gather information. And maybe even more.” She stopped for a second and flipped her brown curls off her face. “I work for an organization that lives off... acquiring valuables from opulent individuals.”

“So you're a thief,” I said.

“If you want to be blunt, yes. That's exactly what I am. I steal really expensive stuff as part of a trained group. I used to be a spy, actually, but this kind of thing is far more exciting.”

“And you're telling us all this just like that?” Ashley raised his eyebrow. Soon his face turned red again as Jade went into a fit of ugly laughter.

“And why the fuck would I care? No one's gonna believe you anyway, and I'll be far away from here by sunrise.”

“Don't think we'll let you get away,” Ashley growled. Jade cackled once again.

“You're adorable, Ashley. I like that. But sorry. While I appreciate the occasional ginger, I'm not that into pale guys. I prefer them brown and scrumptious like dear Rammy here.”

I was this close to doing something drastic. For some reason, she knew exactly how to push my buttons. “Okay,” I said in as neutral a tone I could possibly muster. “So why are you here? Anything special about Bauer Island?”

“Well,” she balanced her head from side to side. I wasn't sure if she was just trying to relieve neck pain or preparing to do something unpredictable. “I was sent to find the crimson jasper.”

“There's that word again,” I said. “What the hell is a crimson jasper?”

“Honestly?” She cocked her haid to the side. “I have no idea. Apparently it's some treasure from far away that's worth a fortune. And Francis Bauer has it. Really, if I'd known things would get this ugly, I'd just look for some other treasure.”

“Yeah, well,” Ashley stood up, his fists shaking. “This really doesn't matter because I don't think there's any proof you may have that will clear you of suspicion. For all I know, you're the killer.” He stormed off.

“Ashley, wait!” I bolted after him and managed to stop him as I grabbed him by the arm. I put my face closer to his and made sure Jade couldn't hear me. “Hey, I know this is all hard for you-”

“Thanks, Sherlock!” he snapped.

“Hey,” I said as I flicked him on the forehead.

“What the fuck, AGAIN?” he growled, but as soon as I put my finger to my lips he went quiet.

“Good. Now, listen. We need to be level-headed about this. She's far from the only suspect. Let's just take her to De Silva so he can question her.”

“Oh, sorry guys, I kinda overheard your conversation,” Jade said in a jovial tone. “But there's something you should know. I know who the killer is.”

We both turned our faces to her. For a moment, time stopped, and we just stared into her smug face. We then looked at each other and sprinted toward her.

“Why should I believe you?” Ashley asked, pointing his finger at her, as if he were somehow trying to threaten her with it.

“Simple, really. I saw the murder happen, didn't I? Or at least, I saw the body arrive. Anyway, you'd be surprised how loose people's tongues turn when they think you're in shock and have no idea what's going on.”

“Tell us, then,” I demanded.

“Oh, I will, Rammy dear,” she said with a wink. “I'll do even more than that – I will help you apprehend the killer. I've got some nice techniques learned from my spying years, though I really don't think our perp is quite as sophisticated to require that. And I'll do even more for you, Rammy.”

“That's fine,” I said. “Where's the catch?”

“Oh, there's no catch, really,” she sighed theatrically. “You just have to untie me.”

Helpless, I glanced to my side, to take a look at Ashley, hoping he could help me decide. His stern face, illuminated in the dim light, gave me a very clear idea of what his decision was.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bauer Island (VI/VII)

I got up from the floor as quick as I could. Worried about Jade and Wei, I left the organ room, only to hear a familiar voice call out to me.

“Ram!” Ashley shouted. I could also hear another voice muttering something in protest.

“Over here!” I called to him. When he finally came into view, I noticed he was dragging a skinny teenager with him. “Well now, looks like we've found all the Dugalls.”

“Now tell him what you told me, Eugene,” Ashley said as he shoved the boy forward and crossed his arms.

“What for? It's not that importa- ouch!” Ashley kicked him in the shin. “Fine! Jesus...” the boy said as he stood up. I could barely see his eyes behind those bangs. “So before we came over, I saw my dad put some small, weird-lookiong bottle in his pocket. His coat is hanging in the hallway now, but when I checked, the pockets were empty. I really don't think it's that important, though.”

And yet it was important enough that you mentioned it to me. Unasked, even,” Ashley said in a firm tone. I could hardly recognize him, he was completely different than usual. “Feeling guilty for your dad?”


C'mon Ashley. It's not like you'll get anything else out of the kid anyway,” I said. “I really don't think he knows much more.” And even if he does, he sure as hell isn't telling.”Go and tell De Silva what you told us. This might be more important than you think.”

Eugene wasted no time in running for the stairs, nearly stumbling as Ashley stomped his foot just as he ran past him. With Eugene out of sight, Ashley turned to me. “You're not coming?”

Actually-” I began, but Ashley interrupted.

Wait, where's Jade? I thought you were going to show her the organ room.”

About that... I lost her. Somehow. In the organ room. One minute she was there, and the next, she was gone.”

What the hell?” Ashley growled. “How the hell do you lose a woman?”

Alright, you know what? First of all, don't take that tone with me, okay? What's the matter with you? You've been acting weird for some time now!”

I'm fine!” he said without lowering his voice.

Whatever!” I yelled, throwing my arms in the air. “Be like that and see if I care!” I took a deep breath and continued with my explanation. “Secondly, the room was really dark and filled with trap doors, remember? The chandelier from there had squished a person just a couple of hours a-”

Just get to the fucking point, okay?” Ashley's face went rend at the mention of squishing. Something didn't seem right.

Okay,” I said quietly. I think this whole situation might be getting to both of us. It's really better that I keep my calm in this situation. ”I wanted to look for her, but that's when you came with Eugene. Oh, and I saw Wei.”

Oh yeah, he disappeared in the commotion some time ago. Besides you, I was also supposed to look for him. Where did he go?”

I have no idea. He was acting all funny, too... Like he'd seen a ghost. And he was saying something about a jasper or something.”

Well then, what are we waiting for?” Ashley said as he started walking down the hallway. “We need to find them. De Silva asked me to round everyone up.”

Really?” I raised an eyebrow, the air around my face moving as I broke into a brisk walk, following Ashley. “What for?”

Hell if I know,” Ashley grunted. “It's not like anybody tells me fucking anything around here.”

I tried to ignore his foul mood, so the most of our search was spent in complete silence. There were a couple instances where I was certain that I heard footsteps from behind the corner, only to encounter nothing. After a long while of searching aimlessly, I realized that I had not gone to the bathroom since I'd come to Bauer Island, and I was starting to be painfully aware of my bladder. As our search continued, I made sure to check the doors for a bathroom. Luckily, there was one quite near, so I didn't have to wait long.

Ashley!” I called somewhere into the hallway. “I'm gonna use the bathroom, you keep looking!”

Okay,” his voice came to me as I closed the door.

I tried to turn on the light, but it was busted. Just like in the organ room. The window behind the toilet was wide open, with the fierce wind from outside blowing in. I used my phone as a flashlight and felt my way to the toilet. I unzipped my fly, ready to relieve myself. As the feeling of tension left me, I stared out the window. With a flash, a bolt of lightning appeared on the sky, illuminating a large tree right outside the window. I really, really wish it hadn't.

I tried to scream, but no voice came out. The pale light of the lightning bolt made his face look even paler than he was the last time I saw him, but there could be no mistake – Wei was on the tree, his limbs twisted in an unnatural position, his torso pierced with a thick branch, a thick, dark substance smearing his clothes.

Wei was dead.

I didn't even flush the toilet or wash my hands – I simply bolted out of the bathroom, wanting to get away from the terrifying view. As I burst through the door, I didn't even see where I was going. All tha was there was the deafening beating of my heart, and the sensation of every molecule in my body shaking, while at the same time being somewhere else than I was. I was pretty certain my legs would give way any minute, or that I'd vomit, and for all I know it might just have happened – I was in such a daze that telling what was real and what wasn't was impossible.

Ashley!” I tried to shout at the top of my lungs, but I didn't hear anything. I wasn't sure if it was my throat that wasn't making a sound, or my ears that didn't register it. Nonetheless, I soon stopped shouting as I was quite brutally brought to my senses as I felt a cold piece of metal touch my neck. My mind became sharp once again and I knew that someone was holding a knife to my throat. “What the hell,” I whispered as a soft hand caressed my cheek, sending shivers down my spine.

Shhh,” a voice said into my ear. I knew that voice.

Jade,” I whispered. “What the fuck?”

Now now, Rammy,” I heard a hint of a giggle in her voice. “You just tell me all I want to know and I won't hurt you. In fact, I can reward you wi-” she suddenly fell silent, as if she ran out of breath. I knew it wasn't that, however, as her silence came at the same moment that a resounding bang came from somewhere around where she was standing, and the knife was no longer pressing against my throat. I turned around – Jade was lying on the ground, unconscious, her thick brown hair sprawled on the floor, her glasses shattered. Ashley was standing behind her, heaving, holding a heavy-looking frying pan in his hands. He looked at me with concern.

You okay?” he asked.

I tried to say something. Thanks for saving my life. How did you find me? Where did you get that thing? What the hell is even going on? But no words came. I just stood there for a moment, staring at Ashley with my mouth agape. I could only shrug. For some reason, that made Ashley laugh.

Oh thank God,” he said. “I heard you call me. You sounded really terrified so I just ran all around the place. Found this thing.” He pointed at the frying pan. “Thought it might come in handy.”

Yeah,” I said.

So,” Ashley started as he put away the pan and cracked his knuckles. “Guess we found Jade.”

And Wei,” I said. Ashley gave me a puzzled look. “I found him dead just outside the bathroom. It looked like he fell on a tree and got, uh... penetrated.”

Oh man, no,” Ashley sighed. “I had so much I still wanted to tell him.”

Never realized you two were close,” I said with a raised eyebrow.

Oh no, it's... Nevermind now. So what do we do about her?” He pointed at Jade. “She might wake up any minute.”

We could tie her up and interrogate her, and then we'd bring De Silva to see her,” I said.

How do we do that, though?” Ashley asked. I did not have an answer ready. My eyes darted back and forth, up and down, until they landed on my belt, which was still undone from my journey to the bathroom. “Aha!”

We found a marble statue that looked sturdy enough and tied her hands up using our belts. I almost felt pity for her, being all tied up like some sort of war prisoner, but then I remembered the same woman was trying to kill me just minutes ago.

Hey, Ram,” Ashley said as we sat with our backs against the wall. “Sorry for acting like a total dick before.”

You, acting like a dick? So what else is new?” I snickered. A tiny smiled appeared on his lips but disappeared almost instantaneously. “So, do you intend to tell me what your deal is?”

Ashley took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He opened them as he started talking. “Remember how I told you what I was doing with Van before, uh... before she died?”

Yeah.” How could I forget?

Well, I wasn't really lying but...” He brushed his hair from his face. “Well, let's just say this wasn't the first time we've done it.”

Good for you, I guess?”

Let me finish,” he said, his face now burried in his hands. I heard him take in another deep breath and lift his head again. This time he faced me, looking at me with his brown eyes. “I've known Van for a couple of years. We had... a thing. I don't know if I was in love with her, but we would meet from time to time and I... I really liked spending time with her, you know?” I noticed a tear form in the corner of his eye, but he quickly wiped it away. He gave a sad laugh. “You know, I never thought I'd react like this. I thought I still had the time to talk to her about so many things and... Well, that doesn't matter anymore, really. To the point.” He took another deep breath and gave his cheeks a gentle slap. “So right before she died she told me that she had to tell me something really important. Of course, I never got to know what it was. But you know, there was one thing that made me wonder...”

And then it hit me. “That kid! That kid we saw in the organ room!” Ashley nodded. “I knew there was something familiar about him... But still, you really can't be sure it's your kid. Or Van's, for that matter.”

I know, but...”

Hey, stop right there,” I said. “There really is no reason to worry about that now. We've got a murderer on the loose here. Lighten up!”

I was going to give him a reassuring pat on the shoulder, but before I could, we both turned to face our captive. Jade was beginning to stir, a grimace on her face.

Oh will you two just shut up? I think I'm gonna throw up...”

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.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bauer Island (IV/VII)

I heard a click somewhere behind me, but nothing happened. Everything was still dark. Two more presses of the switch changed nothing.

“The light’s busted,” Louis said, his voice echoing around the organ room.

“You think it’s because of the storm?” Ashley said.

“Could be.” A sudden flash of light blinded me. After a few seconds my eyes got used to the change and I saw Louis use his phone as a flashlight. I fiddled in my phone and did the same, Ashley and Wei following suit. Four streams of light were now illuminating the large brass construct in the back of the room. Pipes glistened as if covered in a thin layer of ice, forming a twisted jungle of metallic icicles.

“Impressive,” I said.

“A bit too rococo for my tastes, but Francis wanted it that way.” Louis approached the organ. Though I didn’t suspect him of being the culprit, what De Silva said made me question many things. I decided I needed to keep an eye on my co-investigators, just in case. And so I followed him and took a look at the instrument. Oddly enough, the keyboard was covered and locked.

“How do you open and then lock this up in the time that it takes for one person to leave the dining room, kill a person, and come back? Oh, not to mention play a whole sonata in the meantime?” I said.

“The solution is quite simple, really,” Louis said as he pushed a switch on the side of the organ. The pipes blared the opening notes of Bauer’s masterpiece, only to be shut down once Louis pressed the switch again. “Hardly anyone plays this nowadays. Francis mostly just uses his little piano in the basement. But he did devote a lot of cash to deck this organ out with some snazzy programming. He was never really able to distribute his money, properly, that sweet brother of mine.” Louis furrowed his eyebrows. All the love and support he had for his brother – the only trait he seemed to exhibit from the time of the murder – seemed to have temporarily disappeared as he lost himself in though. He then went back to his usual expression, brutally brought back to Earth by an obnoxious voice.

“That almost gave me a heart attack,” Ashley called from the other end of the room. “Jesus. You guys could’ve warned me.”

“Personally, I found that performance quite moving,” Wei called from the middle of the room. “That solves one of our mysteries, then. But I think there is one thing you might want to see.” He beckoned us and soon all four of us were standing in the center. Wei pointed up and flashed his light at the ceiling.

“I don’t see anything,” Ashley said.

“Exactly,” Wei smiled. “If you look closely, there’s a small link of a chain hanging from the ceiling. The only remnant of what was once-“

“The Chandelier,” Louis said in a whisper. His breath became fast and unsteady, and I could feel mine become the same.

“But wait,” I said, realization hitting me like a truck. “You don’t mean-“

Wei only smiled at me. As if on command, we all shone out lights on the floor. There could be no mistake – the floor was covered in blood. Blood that formed a trail leading halfway to the doorway, but then suddenly disappeared.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Ashley said. “So this is the actual scene of the murder?”

“I’m not our detective, but I’m pretty sure that’s a safe bet,” I said. “But what happened to the body? How did it get transported like that? I didn’t see any blood on the way?”

“Admittedly, none of us were looking at the floor when we were coming here,” Louis said.

“No, Mr. Ram has a point.” Wei scratched his chin and pointed at the place the trail of blood ended. 

“Someone either lifted the body there or cleanly wiped the floor, which I doubt there was enough time for. Furthermore, I did take quite a good look at the place where the body is presently located and no trails leading into the pool of blood Ms. Van was lying in.”

“I guess that pretty much confirms this was the work of more than one person,” I said. “I don’t think one person would be enough to just carry a crushed body and a huge chandelier downstairs on their own. But the blood trail still bothers me…”

“I can see why,” Wei said. “None of the guests seemed to be covered in blood when they appeared downstairs.”

“Wait,” Louis said suddenly, in an urgent tone. “I think I know something… As I mentioned earlier, Francis likes to spend excess money on stuff he doesn’t really need. Some time ago he mentioned with great pride that his castle even has trap doors and hidden passages.” He hesitated. “But then again, just because he knows, doesn’t mean the killer does.” His face suddenly went pale. “Unless…”

“Hey, now, let’s not jump to conclusions,” Ashley clasped his hands together and put his chin on them. “Maybe they’re easier to figure out than you’d think. Let’s take another look around.” As he finished that sentence, I noticed that he was looking at me and motioning in the direction of the corner. Hardly subtle, as I’m pretty sure Wei noticed it too, but even if he did, he didn’t follow us. “Look what I found in trash,” Ashley whispered as he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket.

“A paper ball. That’s quite a find.” I rolled my eyes, but Ashley was having none of it. He shook me by the shoulder and forced me to look at the unrolled piece of paper. It was Francis’ will. “Okay. Weird, but still, I don’t think it’s anything special. He isn’t exactly young, I mean, so maybe he was making a draft?"

“I don’t know, it looks pretty clean to me,” Ashley said. “But that’s really not the point. There’s something kinda weird about this. Read it.”

I pulled the paper closer to my eyes and flashed the light from my phone on it. Ashley was right. For a person with such a huge fortune, this will was incredibly short. According to it, Francis was planning to give all his money to his daughter Van and “little Maurice”.

“Gotta agree with Louis. Mr. Bauer really doesn’t know how to manage his money right.”

“Yeah, that’s the whole point. I mean, someone with as big a fortune and a family so close would be expected to devote some more money to other members that just his adopted daughter. If you know what I mean.”

My heart sank. “No,” I whispered, my mouth agape. “You really think Louis could?”

“Not so loud! He’s right here in this room!” Ashley covered my lisp with his hand. I shoved it away in one swift, angry motion.

“First of all, I’m fucking whispering, so I can’t really get much more quiet than that. Second, don’t touch me.”


“Third,” I took another look at the paper. “Who the heck is this Maurice person?”

“Beats me,” Ashley said. At that moment we both heard a sound. It reminded me of that one time my mom put some hideous shoes on her little Pomeranian, Hubert. The poor thing awkwardly lifted every paw high up as it walked, failing to comprehend why it can’t feel the ground normally. I turned around to see a little face staring at me from the double door leading into the hallway. I was utterly confused. The resemblance to Van was uncanny – round, freckly, decidedly Asian face, but the hair was a curly auburn mess. As it spotted me, it disappeared, its feet awkwardly tap tapping as the little person made their way down the hallway.

“Did you see-?” Ashley began but I was already dashing to the door. As I threw it open, I ran down the hallway, trying to catch a glimpse of the little peeping tom. I heard steps behind me, but didn’t have the time to look back and determine who was following me. I looked left and right, up and down, until I reached the stairs. No one was there, and there was no sign of anyone ever being there. It was as if I was chasing a ghost.

“Did you get him?” Ashley heaved.

“He got away,” I said.

“Who were you two chasing?” a voice came from behind Ashley. It was Wei, smiling at us, as usual.

“We saw someone,” Ashley said. “I think it was a little kid.”

“A child?” Wei’s smile disappeared. He fell silent for a few seconds and soon asked with a somber expression, his eyebrows furrowed: “Are you certain?”

“Yes, there can be no mistake,” I said. “I think he was around two or three. Must have had some help, since he disappeared so suddenly.” I stopped to think for a second, wondering if it was appropriate to share such wild speculation with them, but in the end, I saw no reason to withhold that. “I think that might have been Van’s child.”