Chapter 11 - The Writer
As she stood tall surrounded by the
green rosebushes, the wind carried words that caused a pounding in her chest.
Similar to the spiraling situation she noticed that the wind had started to
grow stronger. The petals that were blown into the sky brushed against her skin
as they were lifted high. Only the sound of leaves rustling together was
audible as she kept her lips together.
She could not find the words to reply to his statement and kept her gaze fixated at the young man that just expressed his love for her. The wind played freely with her short blonde locks of hair; she hadn’t yet noticed that her detective hat was blown several feet away. The stretching silence between them was starting to make the both of them uncomfortable. But, when he searched her face for an answer, she intentionally kept her expression blank. “…Rin…?”
The soft word that came from his lips made her tense. He looked at her with such a gentle expression, yet his brows were slightly curved in hesitation. The small question was merely an extension to his previous statement; a long moment had passed without her uttering a word in response. He wanted an answer and she wasn’t sure which one to give him. “This is the first time,” she stated, her words containing nothing but the truth. “Someone has ever confessed a romantic interest towards me.”
His blue eyes seemed to light up at her words. “The time I’ve spend with you has been strange to say the least,” he laughed warmly. He was trying to calm her down, wasn’t he? “There were plenty of times where I was frustrated and angry with you, but there were plenty of times where I was genuinely glad to work at your side as well. You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever met… and I’ve never felt this way for anyone else before.” He took a small breath, his words softly spoken. “The last thing I want is us to be apart.”
The detective girl shook her head. “I hadn’t anticipated a confession,” she mumbled.
This caused the writer to take a step closer and she hesitated to stay in the same position. “I’ll say it again if you don’t believe me,” he firmly declared. “I’ll say it as many times as you need me to.”
She closed her eyes, resisting the urge to heave a sigh. “Do us both a favor and stop embarrassing yourself like this.”
His eyebrows frowned at that statement. “For someone who has great self-confidence in their skills as a detective, you frequently insult yourself as a person,” the writer stoically replied. She felt her heart leap in her chest. And when she gazed back at him, she noticed that his stance had straightened and he was looking at her with sharp eyes. “Even if you don’t believe anything else I’ve told you, this is the truth,” he repeated, the strong determination in his voice wavering her certainty. “I love you.”
In the confusing mix of emotions flowing through her, she felt her cheeks heat up. “Isn’t love a very strong word?” she decided to question. “Many people claim to love another person, while it is often confused with fixation, admiration and obsession. There aren’t many people who can truly accept another’s faults and mistakes. How are you sure your feelings are genuine?”
His lips slowly parted. “Why are you so afraid of them?” he countered instead.
She froze. Releasing a low breath, her fingers tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
“I’m not…” she quietly protested. It sounded pathetic. Her composure was cracking.
He sighed and took a step forward, wanting to approach her. Startled, she stepped away. He blinked at her once and gave her a questioning look which she answered by eyeing him skeptically. She would always calculate the situation beforehand; surely he knows this well.
“I need you to do me a favor,” he told her, indirectly respecting her wish to stay apart by keeping his distance. “…Let the walls that you have built around yourself down.”
Her blank expression made him hold his hands up in defense. “Please… just,” he continued. “I need you to be completely honest with me with this.”
She raised her eyebrow, hesitating before questioning: “Why?”
“Because I want to know how you feel!” the writer raised his voice at her chilled response. There was desperation in the lightly breaking voice and when clear blue eyes pierced into hers, her heart started to pound faster. “The truth!” he desired from her. “I don’t care if it hurts me. For just this once, share what you really feel inside!”
She was taken away by the resolution in his words. She was stunned by the complete honesty he portrayed and this caused her to realize… that he really was prepared for any type of response.
In the beautiful rose garden, the surrounded greens were almost like a fortress. They had entered this isolated area as ‘the detective’ and ‘the writer’, but this carefully-constructed relationship had just wholeheartedly been tossed away. Despite the quick thumps in her chest, she felt strangely calm. Once she closed her eyes and released a deep breath… it was as if a heavy weight was finally lifted from her shoulders. To be able to be completely herself…. “A single emotion couldn’t possibly describe what I feel for you,” she begun to respond, answering his request to remain sincere. “There are so many of them going through me at the same time… just by looking at you.” Recalling their first meeting as a detective and a writer, she remembered her first opinion about the young man she frightened in the doorway. Before she knew it, there was a small smile tugging at her lips. “I won’t deny that I sometimes enjoyed our cooperation a little more than I had anticipated. Our conversations were never dull and I think we worked together well despite our usual quarrels. I have been trying to hide any feelings towards you away since the beginning of this case, but similar to you, I’ve come to realize that they’ve only grown stronger in time. There are too many of them to name them all individually… but they all lead to one simple conclusion. Because when I am completely honest with myself, there is no question about it…” She gave him a gentle smile, her fingers pressed together as she parted her lips and met his eyes.
“You disgust me.”
The flickering disappointment in his eyes was only visible for a split second. The stance of the writer slacked. Silently, he turned his face away from her, allowing blonde locks of hair to hide his expression from her. She almost huffed in annoyance. Surely he must have realized that this could only turn out as a rejection. He has a habit of asking questions he already knows the answer of, after all.
“…Ah,” he then muttered, his voice barely audible. She had to strain her ears to hear him over the sound of the wind. “You’re ending it like this.”
“No.” Her immediate answer was
resolute. “I didn’t end it like this.” Her eyes narrowed at his statement. “You
did. Don’t you dare forget that.”
His parted lips slowly closed. The sound of the wind was the only thing that interrupted the stretching silence between them. His stance shifted and she watched him slowly raise his head.
She must have stopped breathing at the sight of his expression. Through blonde locks of hair, dark, cold eyes bore deeply into hers. The warmth from before had completely disappeared and turned into something she didn’t even recognize.
“What were you planning to do next?” he asked her, his voice suddenly an octave lower. The air around them seemed to thicken, the wind started to feel colder.
She paused for a moment to tug a strand of hair behind her ear; a habit she had once picked up to settle her nerves. “Well, I never did have breakfast, so perhaps I will start with that…” she announced. “After that, I plan to wait for the arrival of the police and provide them with the information I have gained about this case. I should pay my respect to the remaining members of the Callisford family before leaving; that is only proper. Then I will start making the long trip towards home. Of course, this is only possible if I am able to make it back to the castle… That will remain a surprise.”
He broke into a smile, the edges of his lips too sharp to be friendly. “The distance is too great and you have picked a quiet place,” he told her. “You have shown me that you’re quite the runner, but let me assure you… I won’t let you make it out of this garden.”
She happily returned that empty smile of his. Their constructed relationship was breaking apart with each word added into their conversation. “And here I was, hoping we could simply go our own ways…” she proclaimed.
His eyebrow rose lightly upwards. “After everything I did to get us here?” he asked her, the tone of his voice surprisingly affectionate. “My dear, that is a little naïve coming from you…”
She felt her throat tighten at the choice of his words and the playfulness in her tone faded into something more serious. “My role as a detective in this case is officially over,” she stated. “It ended the way you wanted it to. The evidence could not be traced back to you, especially not with your flawless acting. I won’t humiliate myself by attempting to convince anyone otherwise.”
A cold chuckle send a chill down her spine… it was entirely different than the warm laughter she had grown more used to. “While watching you admit your own defeat is a sight to behold, that isn’t the reason we’ve come here.” His sharp blue eyes continued to pierce into hers, a dark glister visible in them. “I fully realize that even if you would leave this place, you won’t convince anyone with the truth. Regardless of that, I will not let you walk away from me.”
“…I see,” she absently replied. She really hadn’t expected a quiet departure… That would be asking for too much in the current situation.
There was a hint of amusement in his tone, cleverly covered up with a friendly smile. “Regarding the case itself, you came admiringly close. I believe you know even more than I got to witness. You did not disappoint me, my dearest detective girl.”
Although she had strived to keep her emotions in check, even the ability to feign an empty smile disappeared the instant she heard that appellation. She couldn’t keep her distaste from surfacing as silent anger flared inside her chest. Only her cold stare responded to him, all pretenses lost at the sound of that one name.
“Although I have to say… you did play a bit unfairly,” the young man continued, observing her reaction. “Ever since we have arrived, you’ve been cheating your way through, trying to steer this case in a direction that would put me at more risk…”
She raised her head high, watching him through narrowed eyes. “I wanted to grab every possible opportunity to place you behind bars with both hands,” she admitted. “I tried my best to keep you from sabotaging this case by doing everything by myself. But, what I lacked was incriminating evidence against you. Everything I had managed to collect was substantial, which ended up being worthless. You had managed to create a personage that was simply not to blame.”
At this, the expression on his face started to change. “Yet, you were suspicious of me from the beginning...” he quietly trailed. “I did not expect you to contact me again. In fact, I already made preparations if you would try to disappear once more. Tell me. Why did you decide to bring me along?” There was a chill in those words that the detective girl detected. The young man then seemed to realize something, resting his thumb on his bottom lip. “No, I guess that is the wrong question, isn’t it?” he spoke, completely revising the question. When he glanced up at her, his next words surprised her. “Did you know why I chose to become a writer?”
Her entire expression went blank when she noticed the sharper edge in his voice.
“To be able to read every single, small and insignificant article of every existing newspaper every day,” he declared. There was certain spite in his voice that had completely lost its warmth. “I realized that it was the best opportunity I had of ever finding you, after I wasted an entire year trying to track you down. And one day, there just happened to be a large article of the opening of a new detective agency in London… It filled the entire second page. Since it’s usually not worth such a large article in the morning newspaper, I can’t help but wonder… why did you allow me to find you?”
Her gaze did not leave him when she parted her lips, taking in a small breath. “I took you with me for the same reason I paid good money to place that article in the newspaper…” she responded to him. “I spend my last three years hiding from a person I hadn’t even met. The murders had stopped since I’d left; it seemed likely that they had stopped altogether. But even if this serial killer was still searching for me, I wanted it to end. It seemed ridiculous to waste my life away in the shadows. If he wasn’t willing to give up, he would have found me eventually. I figured that I might as well be prepared for that.” She paused for a moment, her gaze on the young man’s frame. “I created a cheap detective agency and waited. I spend my time solving simple mysteries and sooner than I expected, you were walking into my detective agency. Dressed nicely, acting friendly and looking completely average. You were the perfect candidate to fill the spot of my assistant who was conveniently murdered just a month before.” Even while trying to remain calm to the best of her ability, the last words were spoken louder than intended. Recalling her former assistant caused hatred and anger to grab hold of her. She had not necessarily gotten along with the rude, blond-haired girl, but she did not expect to find her in the darkness of that alley with a dark-red envelope on her chest – not like that.
He seemed oblivious to the disgust that threatened to submerge, giving her the opportunity to compose herself and silence the heavy emotions flaring inside of her. She could not afford to lose her composure now. She would lose.
Len nodded. “I did realize that you would be wary of me at first. Before I entered your detective agency, I had hoped that you would warm up to me in time. In that way, I might have been a little too optimistic myself…” His eyelids dropped for a moment and she could tell that the smile he gave her was forced. “But I only needed to gaze into those accusing eyes of yours to know that you weren’t looking at me as a potential partner. Your mind was already set at our first official meeting. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to change that, no matter what.”
She placed her hands together. “Yes, well, any lingering doubts I might have had about you disappeared quickly. I only needed to see that weapon of yours to know that you were very skilled at handling it.”
A frown instantly formed on his face. “…That really was a miscalculation on my part,” he admitted. “There were a few break-ins in the hotel I was staying in and I honestly did not expect you to climb through the window; at least not that night. If I had known it was you, I would have never even considered reaching for it.”
She watched him through long eyelashes. “Naturally,” she replied smoothly. “You wanted to keep your act together and-”
“That isn’t why,” he strictly interrupted her. He stared back at her with such a serious expression, that he made her swallow her words. When she was still processing his statement, he averted his gaze. He wasn’t going to elaborate it and she wisely decided not to ask upon it. “Either way,” she chose to continue. “It was a slip up that made you change your tactics. You stabbed Keaton Callisford with your personal knife, but you couldn’t leave it inside the body since I had already seen it. Instead, you placed a plain kitchen knife back.”
He sharply turned his attention back at her.
She placed her hands in her sides. “The kitchen knife was a size smaller than the wound. The amount of blood on the body indicated that the knife was pulled back and carefully placed back inside,” she told him. “There really wouldn’t be a reason for the killer to stab a man, pull the knife back and decide to place it back inside the body.”
He did not interrupt her as she continued talking. “At first, that simply doesn’t make sense. Why didn’t you just kill Keaton Callisford with the kitchen knife? It would injure him just as easily and it all seems like a lot of unnecessary work. But then I realized that this whole case is a little different. Rather… it wasn’t your case.”
A tense silence now filled the air. And as his gaze hardened, she was sure that he realized it by now; how much she figured out when she did her own private investigation.
“This isn’t the case you had prepared for me,” she stated. “This isn’t the case you were talking about in that first letter you send me. The letter that arrived at this castle really was a fake and wasn’t sent by you. It was created to place the blame on you though; a well-known serial killer. That is why killing Keaton Callisford with a simple kitchen knife wouldn’t do… He insulted you.”
The eyes of the young man darkened that instant. She saw the anger stir in those blue orbs, now harsh and merciless. “How did you know that?” he asked.
The complete calmness of his words caught her off-guard. She instantly marked it as dangerous. This was a tone she had not heard him use before. “I found traces of cyanine in one of the wine glasses at the murder scene. Keaton Callisford, the poor victim of a gruesome murder, was minutes away from murdering his wife or affair… He created the fake letter and you knew about it. This makes him the original culprit.”
The young man’s eyes narrowed dangerously and any trace of amusement had long left his face. She found herself strangely fascinated when she studied his expression close. Ah, she thought to herself. So these are the eyes of a murderer.
His voice remained calm, despite the clear reflection of hatred in his eyes. “I had everything arranged for you. It took me two months to prepare everything and I was about to send you another letter. Then suddenly, he came along and took everything from me. With that letter he created, he stole my identity and completely destroyed my plans and preparations.”
Rin tensed. Those eyes were a bit intimidating, blazing with pure rage. She could see that his nails were deeply pressed into the palms of his hands, unable to contain the hatred and anger he felt. And her eyes widened in surprise at the sight of it.
“He ruined it,” was what he hissed. “And he humiliated me further by hiring you. I had to improvise this entire case. Of course, it wasn’t hard to figure everything out; in a matter of hours I already knew it was him. He was a moron, using the masquerade as a smoke screen and using my name to conceal his own suspicion. He should have known that I would not take this lightly.”
Hearing the confirmation of her theory, did not please her in the slightest. Although she had realized halfway through the case that Len had simply been thrown in to it, he had quickly shaped it into a murder case of his own. Without any of his preparations, he still managed to block any paths she took in order to bring out the truth. He hadn’t left any evidence against himself...
From the beginning she hadn’t stood a chance against him, had she?
“I am hardly a detective with a reputation,” she announced. “I hadn’t gotten a murder case of my own before. Millina was the one that hired me out of nostalgic reasons. Her husband probably agreed to it, knowing I had little experience. He needed me to overlook the truth. Ironically, he couldn’t have hired a better expert.”
The words she mouthed were not necessarily voiced to calm him down. Regardless, he stared back at her with an unreadable expression. His eyes pierced her with an emotion she couldn’t place and for a moment, she felt confused when he continued to search her face for some kind of answer. His shoulders slowly relaxed and his fists unclenched. He seemed to find it. The anger in those orbs now slowly ebbed away.
“You’re right,” he stated quietly. “I guess it doesn’t matter now.”
She didn’t voice her incomprehension.
“Is there anything you would like to ask me?”
The question surprised her. She studied him for any sign of sarcasm, but didn’t find it in his expression or the tone of his voice. Still, she was reluctant. She hadn’t expected information out of him this easily. Why would he want to share it with her?
He must have noticed her hesitation. He answered the question she had left unspoken. “I’d like to finish this as quickly as possible,” he told her. “I hate the idea of getting interrupted…”
Her heart thumped loudly against her chest. Her lips pressed themselves into a thin line. His words were as clear as glass to her: this will be over soon.
“Of course if you don’t have any, we could easily end this conversation here.”
She glared at him. The police would arrive within the hour, but surely the road wouldn’t be clear of branches after the storm of last night. Not more than half an hour could have passed since the beginning of this conversation. Although she anticipated the arrival of the police, it simply wasn’t worth holding her breath for.
“I do, actually,” she replied, keeping her tone flat as she tried to act indifferent. “It’s about the letter Millina left behind… the one I would call a fake, if it wasn’t for the perfect handwriting on it. Julie Callisford may have been Millina’s victim in this small family drama, but we both know that she did not murder her husband. She was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Her tone slipped, speaking words lower than she originally intended. “Surely she must have known that you would not spare her. What did you do to her, to force her into writing it?”
“Oh don’t pretend to be oblivious now, my dear,” he almost seemed to mock her. Blue eyes glistered with something sinister. There was something about his expression that made her tense. His eyes were harsh and cold despite the clearly countering tone of his voice. “Wasn’t it you that informed me….” She did not know why she was suddenly holding her breath. His words were trailed through the air seductively, slowly speaking them as if he wanted them to sink in. “That the lady was…”
They did, to the pitch of her stomach. She felt a shiver run down her spine, her throat tightening at the tone of his voice alone. She couldn’t place why it bothered her to this agree, or perhaps she could… if she didn’t vigorously tried to keep her mind off the possibility. The memory of that witnessed scene was already misting into her vision.
The edges of his cruel smile widened. “Such a beautiful woman?” he asked.
Her heart dropped. Her round eyes could only silently gaze back at him as she could vividly envision the colors of that alleyway… the red of blood and the purple discoloration of skin that intercepted the disgusting brown-colored stains on the walls… Her stomach turned at the distinct smell of decay she recalled.
“The type any man would fall for…”
When and how the golden strands of hair turned teal, she could not tell. But grief tightly grabbed hold of her chest when she became dreadfully aware that she was no longer staring at the lifeless, defiled form of her former assistant.
“Tell me…” She was only half aware that she had squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to erase the image that frequently plagued her in her dreams. But it did not disappear… and his taunting words only seemed to echo louder within the borders of that memory. “How could I resist the temptation?” They enwrapped her, suffocated her. She felt nauseous, her trembling fingers absently folding over her lips. Millina… She tried to breathe as all heat rose to her cheeks. How dare…. how dare–!?
“Of course not,” she heard his voice, alarmingly close to her face. Her eyes popped open when she felt herself being pulled forward, too stunned to react. She hadn’t noticed how close he was until he had grabbed her wrist. She felt a light touch on her hip and her breath stocked. In a flash, he spun her around, letting go of her hand as she stumbled to catch her footing.
The dance was over within a second, but her heart sunk when she turned her head. There was an excited gleam in his eyes when he held up a sharp table knife. Her lips parted, her widened eyes resting on the silver object he had stolen from her.
His voice broke her line of thought. “My dearest, if I thought that you’d come here without a weapon… I would be severely underestimating you.” Her hand still dived into her left pocket; one she already knew would be empty. Her eyes were glued on the silver table knife; the one she’d taken along the cup of coffee this morning. “Aside from taking her life, no, I didn’t touch her,” he informed her. “Truth be told; she was hardly worth a second glance. I still can't comprehend that her death upsets you this much.” In his stance, nor expression, was the tiniest hint of remorse. Did she expect there to be? She was looking in the eyes of a ruthless serial killer, after all. “But I should be grateful for that as well. …Dread is such a fascinating emotion. It’s almost like a drug; how it paralyzes the body and makes one less aware of their surroundings…”
Damn it. She could not believe she had fallen for that.
He pressed his lips against the sharp knife. “Don’t you worry…” Len quietly told her. “You are the only person I am truly interested in. I am even willing to forgive you for breaking our little unspoken rule… Yes, you had made it a little difficult for me to convince that woman to sit down and write the letter – she was suddenly very cautious of me when I entered her room… but I managed, despite you warning her.”
The detective girl narrowed her eyes. She tried not think about the fact that it had been her last shared conversation with her childhood friend; their last embrace when she folded the blankets around her frame and whispered the true culprit’s name. “I asked her to escape. I specifically told her not to pack any belongings.”
“You risked personal involvement by assisting the main suspect in her escape – I heard you open the window. At that point, I realized that you were trying to save her life,” he strictly claimed. “If anyone else would have been witness to that scene, your credibility as a detective would have shattered. Proclaiming an accusation towards me without evidence would be absolutely unbelievable as well. You took such a risk in your attempt to save her life…. Even if she really was all you had left, you were giving her way too much credit.”
The detective girl’s glare sharpened.
“I could have used it against you,” he proclaimed. “But I didn’t.”
“Should I be grateful? You didn’t do it for me. If you had made your presence known, you wouldn’t have been able to move freely. I would not have let you leave my sight.”
There was a satisfied smirk on his face. “Very true.” His fingers twirled her knife around, playing with the object. If he came at her now, she would have no possible defense. “Now… do you have any more questions?” he asked her.
“You didn’t even answer my first question,” she responded bitterly. “Why should I trust you to give me an honest answer now?”
“You shouldn’t,” was the reply.
He was just playing with her. She should have really seen that coming. Before he became a serial killer, he had been a detective specialized in undercover work. Lying was a specialty of his. He had already handed her a couple of fairytales; some of them she was still trying to decipher. His fear for blood and murder were evidently false. If his parents were truly murdered – they were filed as missing – she would quickly question his involvement in it. To see how far a former respectable detective could sink repulsed her.
“I don’t have any more questions,” she told him, articulating the words as if she had to force them out of her throat. There was no use in asking anything else, but she was fully aware of what that sentence would trigger. And as his stance shifted, she felt her heart pound heavily in her chest. This was going to be the end. One way or another…
His blue eyes glistered in excitement, while hers only contained silent anxiety. She was waiting for him to make the first move; he was the one with the weapon. Her body was stiff; her muscles tense and ready to move in any direction if necessary. It didn’t take long before he made his move… just not in the way she expected him to.
“I believe it is time for us to leave then. We don’t want to be late.”
She couldn’t help but stare at the outstretched hand for hers to take. She frowned, the confusion clearly visible on her face. Parting her lips, she couldn’t even form the words to question this unpredictable action. Was this another trick to make her lower her guard?
“You look confused, my dear. Didn’t I promise to take you away?” he sweetly asked.
Her pulse quickened, recalling the words he’d written to her years ago. A lingering promise from a serial killer… written with the blackest ink. Taking her away meant taking away her life… That is why her employee sent her away. That is why he was murdered instead of her.
“I will fight,” Rin announced, feeling the determination in her rise. It subdued the fear that had slowly wrapped around her. “Perhaps it was easy for you to take away the lives of your other victims… but I’m not like them. I’ll injure you, somehow. We’re the only ones in the garden; you won’t be able to blame anyone else. With the way I’ll fight, no one will even dare to suggest suicide.” She believed every word she said, clinging to them with unwavering strength of will. Even if she would die at this place, she would make sure that he would get caught for his crimes. It would be her last task as a detective.
For a moment, he seemed to be taken aback by her words. But when her determination didn’t falter, he softly chuckled. “That is adorable,” he commented affectionately. “I believe you have misinterpreted my message from the beginning… I will take you away, my dearest, but not to the world beyond.”
Everything around her seemed to pause at those words. Her round eyes stared into his as they sank in. “…That doesn’t make sense.” From the moment she received his letter, she had known that she was going to be the next target. She had carried the weight of that written promise with her for years; the guilt of her employer’s death and the knowledge that her life could abruptly end. “But you…” she could hear herself mutter. For months she had feared it and her desire to live finally strengthened her decision to take a stand. She couldn’t understand what he was telling her now. Because everything that happened… everything, from the moment his second letter reached her through the lifeless body of her assistant, to this final confrontation in the rose garden… should build up to his desire to end her life. That made sense. This… didn’t make any sense. “You can’t be –”
“Don’t you dare move another inch.” Her heart skipped a beat at the stern command. “Don’t you think I haven’t noticed that you have taken four steps away from me since the beginning of this conversation,” he lowly warned her, his blue eyes piercing into hers.
She hadn’t even taken the full step back. She had barely lifted her foot; her heel was off the ground as her toes touched the ground behind her. She swallowed the lump in her throat, as she forced herself to keep their gaze locked. A large step in her direction made her tense. It was clear that he didn’t allow her to create any more distance between them.
“You are going to kill me here!” she shouted at him in her agitated state, forcing the words out. “Because I was…” she hesitated. “Because I am… your next victim.”
His eyebrows knitted together, looking at her with such a displeased expression. “Once again it unsettles me how low you think of yourself at times,” he exhaled to the open air. “Do you honestly think I would have gone through so much trouble, if I wanted to turn you into another nameless corpse?”
She froze at that, her hand clutched tightly. At that moment, she could only blink. The annoyance clearly visible in his eyes caused her to inch back. “I spend years searching for you. If I wanted a victim, I could have just pulled another random blonde from the streets.”
She released a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. Her mind was surprisingly blank as everything she had been so sure of, fell apart around her. She’d lost control of the situation in a matter of seconds. In all honesty, that scared her more than the thought of dying recently could. She’d been so sure just moments before… He didn’t do this for his own amusement. He didn’t want to take away her life. “Then what do you want from me?” she called out. She dreaded the answer, but didn’t dare to fill in the blanks herself.
“You,” he told her. His expressive eyes were stunning as it reflected the light of the sun that now made its appearance through the heavy clouds. And her widened eyes stared at him, her voice lost, her body frozen as she stared at his illuminated figure. “All of you.”
At that point, she realized that she didn’t want to understand the meaning to those words.
He stretched out his arm once more, his open hand inviting. “Come here.”
She felt a shiver, her composure lost as fear gained the upper hand. She took a glance in the direction of the castle, her body tensing as she seriously considered making a run for it. In the back of her mind, she realized that she shouldn’t make rash decisions based on panic. She couldn’t afford to make that mistake.
“You won’t find it there anymore.” When she looked at his face, his eyes were set on the castle. He read her mind like a book, completely understanding her train of thought. “Safety, that is. They won’t protect you any longer,” he told her.
There was something strange at the way he mouthed those words. There was no malice, nothing that indicated an underlying threat. In fact, the certain flatness in his tone… made it sound like a proclamation. Already feeling tense, she was skeptical of it. “What… did you do?” she heard herself ask.
Those clear eyes held interest as they met hers once more. “Limiting your options,” he replied, taking another step towards her. “My dear, I simply made sure that there is no place for you to hide.”
She wasn’t simply imagining things; there was something she had missed. Something he had prepared for her. And she didn’t like where this was going.
“You wouldn’t come with me if I asked you to. We both know this very well. I was hoping that, with the right persuasion, you would reconsider. And what better way is there, than to isolate you completely?” he smiled at her. “At approximately eleven o’clock, I will be the least of your problems.”
Her lips parted and closed again, realization dawning her. She realized that the police would arrive around that time. But that wasn’t all… when did the maids start their morning cleaning round? In the back of her mind, she knew exactly what it could mean. All of the pieces were lying in front of her, but she did not want to piece them together. She was reluctant of the full picture that would stare back at her with the undeniable truth.
“It is the evidence that tells the story… those are your words, aren’t they?” Blue eyes penetrated hers, dark amusement in the tone of his voice. “I am flattered that you kept a close eye on me, but if you hadn’t been so hard on yourself, you wouldn’t be in this position. If you had simply allowed yourself to rest… or even unpack…”
All color was drained from her face when she realized the mistake she made. She hadn’t paid close attention to her own guest room; not after inspecting it the first time she entered. He had been sleeping in it yesterday night. It was obvious, wasn’t it? It was such an obvious, simple and stupid mistake. “You… framed me.”
“I simply helped you chose the right decision,” he chuckled. “By nightfall, all of England will be out for your arrest. The evidence in this case will be very convincing. It is impossible to mistake the body of a young lady inside that closet.”
Her heart sank to her stomach. “…Millina?” was the word that left her throat. The mere thought of her childhood friend’s lifeless body squeezed inside the closet of a room she was in hours ago, made her sick to the stomach. Wouldn’t anyone guess that someone planted it in there to frame her?
And he shook his head as a smug smile crept its way on his features. And when he finally responded, it wasn’t the answer she had expected. “Dead don’t talk, my love.”
Confusion and understanding hit her at the same time, the experience of it left her shaken as a million questions entered her mind.
“In your closet resides the only witness to the murder of Keaton Callisford,” he answered for her, tilting his head upward to stare at her through thick eyelashes. “I accidently saved her from the fate of being poisoned. She should have been grateful, but all that annoying woman did was cry after I stabbed him.”
And her lips formed a conclusion. There were two wineglasses, with one containing cyanine. Keaton, as the original culprit, intended to poison… “Gillium Noverin.”
“She should wake up from her drugged state any moment,” he told her. “And she will be delighted to tell everyone who had murdered her secret lover.”
Her cheeks heated up in anger, her frown deepening as the realization sunk in. She understood it well. Gillium did see Len commit murder, but that wasn’t what she was going to tell the police. She glared at the person in front of her for outsmarting her.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he raised his eyebrow at her. “You were the one that wanted to play dress-up, my dear…”
She did. It had been her plan and she could only blame herself for the situation she was in. Looking back at it, switching at the masquerade had been a mistake. At that time it had seem like a golden opportunity to keep him in her line of sight. The detective in a colorful dress would be closely monitored by the other suspects as well. Having Len dance in the middle of the room allowed her to keep a close eye on him as she pretended to be a servant. She’d hoped that the heels would have at least slowed him down, but not only did she miss information from Gaillard that night… he’d used his costume to the best of his ability, completely turning around the tables.
“The statement of Lady Noverin is enough to convict you. They will probably convict you for the murder of Julie Callisford as well. And that of Millina, if they manage to find the body…”
She bit the inside of her cheek. He did not need to remind her of the fact that she looked at three murder charges. If they’d convict her, she would be hanged.
“I am unwilling to share you though,” he told her. A gentle tone framed his voice as he looked at her with a painfully familiar warm smile. She could not help but be wary of it, the concept of her own trial still vibrant in her thoughts. “I will keep you from them,” he promised to her. “I will keep you safe and protected.”
“You will keep me imprisoned,” she corrected him, the tone of her own voice hostile.
“They won’t,” he seemed to agree with her. His eyes pierced into hers. “Not for long. But freedom in the form of death isn’t something you’d want to consider…”
Her lips closed together, responding with silence. She truly understood the reality of the situation. He had cornered her and forced her into this unimaginable position. Isn’t grasping that outstretched hand the only option she had left? Trade her freedom for her life… either way; it would make her lose something irreplaceably important.
Her body felt stiff as all the stress and tension build up inside her. “You played this well,” she had to admit. “You left me completely defenseless.”
“There is only one option left for you to take,” his simple words stung.
“There is no need to remind me of that,” she breathed, averting her gaze. He was right… there was no way around it. There was only one possible outcome she could see and the odds were not in her favor. She didn’t like it. But the stakes were high.
Taking a breath, she initiated that wavering step in his direction.
“You are making the right decision,” he reassured her. If he was trying to settle her nerves, he was doing a terrible job of it. “I won’t make you regret it, I promise.” She did not find any comfort in his sweetened lies and hollow promises, but forced herself to close the distance between them nonetheless. She had to… She had no allies, no one to fall back or rely on. His offer was the only one she was able to receive; no one else would reach a hand out to her anymore. Yet, she couldn’t bring it in her to meet his gaze when she paused in front of him, hesitating only to take breathe in and out.
“It’s alright,” he whispered, his voice far too close to her.
She could feel the warmth of his palm as her fingers folded over his. When they gently curled around her, she responded by snapping the joint of his fifth digit.
He cried out in pain and she ducked under his arm, ready to take the sprint. It had been a setback when he switched their positions earlier, but if she could just reach her start position, she knew she could make it…
A smothered cry left her throat. He had been faster than she had anticipated.
She winced when her cheek scraped against the grass. She had only been able to take four steps in the right direction, before his weight had forced her against the soil. His grip on her arms hadn’t allowed her to catch herself and she had landed face-first into the green path.
“I won’t… come with you,” she groaned, struggling to loosen his hold on her. She could hear him take a couple of uneven breaths as he pulled himself up. His knee in the small of her back prevented her from rising from the grass along with him and she gritted her teeth when he was able to take hold of one of her arms. Once she deliberately pressed the side of her face into the ground, she was able to look at him. Len’s features were twisted into a deep scowl, intense narrowed eyes seething. “Do you have any idea –” he growled. “Any idea what you are doing to yourself!?”
She coldly stared back at him in response. His grip on her hand tightened.
“What were you planning to do from this point on!? Run and be a fugitive?” he demanded from her. “Without money, without a place to stay? You have hardly slept – hardly eaten anything these last two days; do you really think that you can keep this up?”
She merely gazed back to that most intimidating shade of blue. “I’ll take my chances,” she stoically replied. She had given him her final answer. She had declined his invitation, fully aware of the consequences it could bring. The truth of the matter is… that she would rather die for a crime she did not commit than take his hand.
Comprehension momentarily flickered in his eyes. That dark gaze penetrated hers, burning as they reflected his aggravated state. The understanding of her decision seemed to sink in and his parted lips slowly mended together. “This has been a waste of my time.” She glanced at the hand that reached into his left pocket; noticing that his fifth digit bended a little further than could be considered normal.
“Can you smell it?” she spoke softly. She caught the sight of his shoulders tensing up. “A hint of something almost intoxicately sweet?” she asked, looking up to him with a guiltless expression. In the second of silence that followed, his hand retreated from the pocket she knew to be empty. “I did,” she continued. “I could smell the chloroform all over you.”
Len narrowed his gaze. “I should have known when you allowed me to…” he released a tired sigh. “You are not making this any easier for me either.”
“We are both stubborn in that sense,” the detective girl mumbled. His hand reached in her pocket and she instantly stiffened. But after emptying both pockets, the object he was searching for was still far from his grasp. She watched him grit his teeth when he lifted the kitchen knife.
“If you’re not going to murder me, that thing won’t intimidate me,” she calmly stated.
“I know!”he growled at her, sharply cutting through the air in his frustrated state.
“I know…” He closed his eyes and took a breath. “Give me a moment to think this through.”
“We both desire for a different ending, Len. One of us isn’t going to get what he wants.”
“Where did you hide it?” he suddenly demanded from her.
She raised her eyebrow. “I don’t have it on me. Of course I got rid of it. The odds that it would be used against me were too high to even consider bringing it along.”
At that moment, he seemed to have lost his patience. His hand pulled the fabric that covered her shoulders. The coat fell on the grass like a blanket and an immediate coldness filled her body that had nothing to do with the autumn wind. In the embrace she initiated and the walk towards the garden, there hadn’t been any opportunity to dump the rag with chloroform and that was what Len seemed to conclude. When his fingertips roamed around her waist and sides, feeling around in search of the rag, the detective girl lost her composure. “I don’t have it on me!” she repeated, struggling to get one of her arms loose. “I tucked it underneath the blankets of Millina’s room after I got it out of your pocket!”
He stopped. A silence formed between the two of them as the realization of her words sank in. And her heart started to pound when, at that moment, his facial expression started to change. All emotion left his face, staring down at her with a distant coldness reflected in his gaze, she had only managed to see twice before. There was no mercy or compassion. No warmth, no kindness. She was staring into the uncaring cold eyes of a serial killer.
He pocketed the knife and released her arm. She was startled when he forcibly took her by the shoulders and roughly turned her around. Her back touched the soil and before she could react, his left hand cut down her air supply. For a moment, her widened eyes could only stare back at him.
“I never wanted this,” he told her as he continued to watch her. If the situation was any different, she would have laughed at the uninspired words every murderer seemed to use. But the panic at not being able to breathe was a primal one. She fought to get away, her nails clawing away at his wrist as her oxygen levels dropped.
“I am not allowing you to commit suicide,” he informed her. It was then that his grip loosened a little. She could almost breathe into the grip, but it wasn’t enough. She was allowed one shallow breath, before the pressure returned.
With a racing heartbeat, she understood that he wasn’t trying to strangle her to death. He was trying to make her pass out.
She squeezed her eyes shut, the need to take a breath overwhelming. Raw instinct took over at that moment, kicking and fighting her attacker.
She clenched her teeth together and with only the strength of will and a limited amount of time, struggled for an opening. She managed to hit him once or twice, but she wasn’t able to keep her grip on him. With each passing second, panic seemed to grow along her carbon dioxide levels. She felt her head clouding over; the urge to take a breath slowly becoming unbearable. When her fingers grabbed hold of something, she held on it tight, pushing her nails into the skin.
A low groan made her open her eyes and for a moment, she was astounded when she was allowed a brief intake of oxygen. She had managed to take hold of his shoulder and the realization of this, made a ray of hope flutter in her chest.
The painful shoulder he had landed on when they fell down the ladder; she dug her fingers deeply into the muscle, her sharp nails clawing through fiber.
His expression twisted into one of agony, hissing lowly at the pain. He reached for her wrist, but her will was stronger. She clutched to that skin as tightly as she could, refusing to let go of her one chance out. When his hold on her neck slacked, she was able to pull away from him. He winced as he took hold of his shoulder. She took that moment to move away from him.
Her trembling fingertips lightly touched the skin of her neck, managing to take a single, shaky breath. God, that hurts. She squeezed her damp eyes shut, trying to bear with the burning pain. She felt drained of energy and had a tingling sensation in her legs when she struggled to lift herself up. She tried to keep herself from falling when she placed weight on her right foot and stumbled forward. It felt as if she had no control over her own two feet anymore.
Unannounced, came the sharp overwhelming need to cough. Her lungs felt as if they were on fire when she started wheezing, desperately gasping for air she could only find in the short moments between coughing.
It hurt. It hurt. She could feel the warm tears stream down her cheeks. She was suffocating. Fear flared in her chest. Was she dying? It certainly felt that way.
She couldn’t have taken more than a few steps before she fell to the ground, almost vomiting into the bushes. Her fingers reached into the soil beneath her, taking a sharp breath as a coughing fit overwhelmed her once more. Her throat was raw and her head was spinning. For minutes she panted heavily, before coughing and panting again. Only then did the urge seem to lessen.
The battle with her own body exhausted her. When she was able to breathe in and out shakily again, she was completely drained of energy. She leaned her head against the cold grass, her hands clutched tightly together, willing herself to stay conscious.
An arm wrapped around her waist and a sinking feeling of dread overwhelmed her. A deep intake of breath that didn’t belong to her made her close her eyes as she felt him lean his head against her back. She felt herself tremble, a low breath escaping her lips as she fought to keep her tears in.
They stayed like this for at least a minute. He was unsteady, she was worn-out, the both of them simply listening to each other’s uneven breaths. If it weren’t for the hopelessness of the situation, this might have actually been peaceful.
“Do you know… what I was going to say yesterday evening?” he softly murmured. “When I saw you here in this garden… and when I was finally able to hold you into my arms, I had realized… how much you had changed my life.”
She recalled how she had asked him for the rest of his unspoken sentence, before he made up an excuse and blamed it on feeling nervous. “‘You are…’” she quietly repeated his words, the words coming out of her throat in a low pant.
His embrace on her waist tightened. “…Everything to me.”
She closed her eyes and breathed out. She would never forget this moment.
His fingertips twitched against her stomach. She bit the inside of her cheek when she felt him stiffen, felt the warm liquid seep over her fingers. This was a decision she would never be able to take back. The ending she never wanted.
She let go of the knife that had sank deeply into the stomach of her victim, who then doubled over in pain. The contact disappeared and she heard him hit the ground, groaning quietly at a pain that would have made others scream out.
She let herself fall to the side, only half supporting herself. Her throat felt dry and her heart was pounding loudly against her chest, but she still forced herself to turn around to face the consequences of her decision.
The clear red spot that soaked through his blouse was growing larger with each passing moment. Sweat started forming on his forehead, his chest rapidly moving up and down as his fingers twitched around the knife, only half inside his body. He didn’t attempt to pull it out, probably knowing that it would do more harm than good.
His features were twisted in an expression of agony and he looked at her with such pain reflected in his eyes, that she wondered if it was from the mental or physical anguish. She nearly averted her gaze.
For a single moment, he stared at the spot beneath the bushes. It travelled from the dug up loose earth, to the dirty cloth of a white napkin… and rested on her tainted hands. The knife she had hidden beneath the rose bushes. The only reason she had come there yesterday; the only reason she had wanted to come here today… To dig it from the earth should she have nothing else to fall back on. Her last resort.
She watched the rise and fall of his chest, blood exiting the wound as red as the roses around them. She wiped the wetness away, but that didn’t stop it from flowing from her eyes. For a moment, her fingers ghosted over the hem of the knife. It would only take one push for everything to end.
“You deserve it…” she whispered. She knew that he did. The amount of lives he had taken was unforgivable. “You deserve it... and yet…”
He looked at her with fearless eyes. It made her shook her head as she took her hand back. “I won’t end you. Neither am I going to help you.” This would be their final goodbye. Even if he would to live through this, she intended to make sure that they will never meet again. “Whether you bleed out before help arrives… is something I will have no control over anymore.” She planted her hand into the grass and raised her knee to rise up.
A sharp pull on the collar of her dress caught her by surprise and she could only stumble forward when he roughly pulled her down again. She was astounded by the strength he still possessed and felt her breath stock when he closed the distance between them. The sensation was surprisingly soft, warm and passionate; his lips pressed lovingly against hers. It was over within a second, yet it left her stunned.
Hazy eyes pierced her, with a darker gleam in his eyes that made her heart pound.
“You…” he vowed. “I will… never – give up.”
She pulled away. At that moment, her lips pressed together in condemnation and she stumbled back on her feet. She noticed the growing stain due to the movement he made, but there wasn’t a hint of regret at the pain it must have caused him. Her heart felt heavy, knowing that his words were not to be taken lightly. They formed another promise to her. That he would find her… no matter how long it takes.
She only felt pity as she continued to stare at the life leaving the person that had been the cause of her disrupted life. And when he met her eyes, his lips spread in the smallest stretch. It almost made her choke on bitter laughter. Despite of everything, he was still carrying such a loving expression.
“Goodbye, Len,” she smiled at him.
Turning her heel, she left it all behind her.
Her grief. Her sins. Her freedom. And her assistant.
She never once glanced back.
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