Chapter 04 - The Whisper
"Wait, when did you get your hands on the keys?"
Just a few minutes ago, the butler had requested them to lock all the first-floor rooms in preparation for the masquerade. While he understood the reason behind it – guests do have the tendency to wander off – he could not comprehend why he had asked this from the detective girl. At least, not until it became evident that she had the entire set of keys in her possession.
"I demanded them," she simply replied, closing and locking another door.
He raised his eyebrow at that. "…When? I was with you the whole time."
She smiled at him. "No, you weren't. You were sleeping."
For a moment, he could only blink. "Wait, this morning? You already went inside?"
She nodded. "Well, you were drooling rather soundly, besides…"
"Detective, there you are."
The low voice turned Len's head, stopping when the detective girl paused their conversation. She met the tall man with a produced smile on her face, greeting the person that hired her with convincing respect. "Mr. Callisford, what can I do for you?" she asked sweetly.
He did not mimic her fabricated exchange of pleasantries, sea-colored eyes glancing at him before resting at the young girl. There was a stressed frown on his face and for a moment, his lips parted as if he wanted to reply… but was distracted by something on her face. At least, that is what it looked like from Len's perspective. Otherwise, he wouldn't be able to tell why he was staring that intensely at her from this close a distance.
"Mr. Callisford, however skilled I am, I cannot read thoughts. Is something a matter?" the detective girl asked.
For a moment, the man seemed to be taken aback. "Now I see…It is your hair…"
The writer had seen the change in the detective girl's expression. Her eyes had widened and her shoulders had tensed for just the fabric of a second. But she gave the man in front of her a large smile, as if he had just given her a compliment. "Do excuse my appearance," she told him. "I did not have the time to wash it after receiving your phone call."
"…I believe," he then slowly responded. "…Perhaps we could speak more privately?"
This caused Rin to momentarily shift her gaze to the writer. "More privately, you ask?"
Len did not bother hiding his dislike for that plan. It was too much of a risk to share a private conversation with one of the possible suspects. And he could not exactly explain why, but this man had a certain coldness around him he just didn't like. "…Is my presence bothering you?" he voiced.
Keaton's sea-colored eyes now shifted to him, light irritation visible in them. "I believe it is in the detective's best interest," he stated. Ah, so the feeling was mutual.
"Her best interest?" Len repeated, already feeling restrained anger flare up inside him. "What would you know about– "
"Enough." The detective girl looked at him sternly, ordering his mouth shut with just one word. "I won't leave the hallway. Stay here."
He clenched his notebook a little too tight. She was treating him like a nuisance. "…Fine."
Keaton Callisford placed his hand on the back of her frame and led the young detective to the other side of the hallway. Leaving him alone to sulk against the nearest wall. Watching the two of them from a distance, he could not make out the words that were being transferred in a hushed tone, but the sudden look of anger stricken across the detective girl's expression did pique his curiosity.
Then, a flash of orange in the corner of his eye distracted him.
There, behind the large of Mr. Callisford senior, stood the hesitating figure of Lady Millina's close friend. Her eyebrows were knitted together and her lips were pressed into a thin line. Her light-colored green eyes took frequent glances towards the pair that were whispering at the end of the hallway, but it was clear that when their eyes met, it was him she was trying to approach. She beckoned him silently.
"…What are you doing over there," he asked, not even sure why he was keeping his own voice down. She pulled his arm once he was close enough, raising her finger to her lips. They were both hiding in a cramped spot now. "I do not want to be seen…" she whispered.
"By the detective girl?" he had to ask, raising his eyebrow at her.
She quickly shook her head. "No, no…" she protested. "By Keaton. You see, I…"
He almost sighed at the loud call from across the hallway. Nothing escapes that detective, not even a split second of disappearance. She could already hear her approaching steps onto the carpet. For a moment, Gillium Noverin looked incredibly insecure, nervously glancing around. "I can't let him…" she whispered softly.
"Right here!" he didn't hesitate to call back, causing the lady to flinch. He needed to let the detective know where he was, no matter if this lady wanted something different.
"Ah." Her frowned expression gave way for a hint of amusement. The detective girl shamelessly leaned against the statue, watching the both of them in renewed interest. "How cozy this seems. Any reason for it?" she asked.
"I – eh – well," the girl stuttered immediately. "You see, I was kind of… I was…"
"…Where did he go?" the writer asked instead, noticing Mr. Callisford's absence.
"We talked. He left," Rin replied indifferently.
The lady's shoulders loosened most of its tension. Taking a step away from her, he looked the detective girl straight in the eye. "Is there anything I need to pen down?"
"No," she met him with a mysterious smile. "That will not be necessary."
The young lady with hair that synchronized the color of spring leaves, wrapped her own arms around her. "It is not… we did not purposely appear intimate… I just…"
The detective girl glanced at him before stepping closer, forcing the lady to meet her eyes with a firm grip on her chin. "I could not care less," she declared. "What I want to know is what you were willing to tell my assistant just now."
Len's eyes widened and the girl's cheeks flushed a deep red.
"I…" Gillium blinked numerous times. "I… was… I need… I…"
"You obviously came here to tell him something, so spit it out," she demanded.
His hand firmly clasped around her wrist, forcing her to release the lady's face. Annoyance flared across the detective's expression. "Not only are you acting unnecessarily rude, how do you expect any information out of her with an attitude like that?" Len glared at her, before releasing her. "Can't you see she's troubled? She came to me, because you were already part of another conversation."
An icy laughter, void from any amusement, rang through the hallway. "Ah, is that so?" she expressed. "I do apologize for misunderstanding! Since I am most incapable of sharing normal conversations, I have no choice but to step back and let you take the lead."
He frowned disapprovingly at her. "Don't act this – "
Her round eyes stared back at him. "Childish?" she filled in. "No, I am merely promoting you. Please perform this interrogation by yourself." There was a strange gleam in her eyes. "Go ahead and play the part of the detective… I am sure that you'll do well."
"Wait…" Gillium's voice wavered. "I am here because I searched for you both. I want, no, what I need to tell you is..." She stared at her hands, fumbling them together. "I…"
"Don't keep us waiting," the detective girl warned her.
Len ignored her for a moment and focused on the nervous young woman who he needed to reassure. "We might be able to prevent a crime from happening," he said to her. "If there is anything you know… Anything at all."
Gillium nodded. "I- I know that, that is why… I... I do not know who send that letter… or if the information I have is relevant… but I really want you to catch the criminal before it is too late… I want to know that I did everything to prevent it."
He nodded sternly. The green-haired lady avoided the gaze of the detective girl and spoke directly to him instead. "This castle has belonged to the Callisford family for decades," she began. "It has been used as a wedding gift that is handed down from son to son…" She bit her lip, taking a breath before continuing. "…If a Lady has given birth to more than one son, these grounds are given to the firstborn…"
"That didn't happen, did it?" the detective girl quickly concluded.
Her green eyes flashed over her anxiously, before locking eyes with Len once more. "The previous Lady… had trouble keeping her unborn children…" she stated sadly. "She and her husband were older when she managed to give birth to her sons. Gaillard had a fiancée, but she died just a month before the wedding because of pneumonia. He refused to marry another lady for years and by the time he had fallen in love with his wife Lucia, his parents were no longer alive to watch the ceremony. Since the castle had always been transferred as a wedding gift… and Keaton had already married before they passed away… Well…"
"I see…" Len muttered, folding his arms together. "He used it as a way to obtain these grounds, despite his position as the second son."
The lady nodded, her eyes fixated on the ground. "Even though they set aside their differences, I have heard that their relationship had become strained… Now when I watch them together, they both remain distant…" she spoke. "I need you… to stop this murder. I cannot bear the thought of… my friend left as a widow."
Len gently held her hand and smiled. "Thank you very much for being brave. We will try to prevent any murder from happening, I promise." The young woman was flustered and spluttered a small: "You're welcome…" before turning away. This was obviously something she had shared in secret. Staying longer would heighten the risk of getting caught and now that they had the information out of her, her presence was no longer required. The detective girl followed his gaze, watching the young woman disappear around the corner.
"My, what a performance," her voice rang quietly behind him. "The act of 'knight in shining armor' was flawless."
"…Do you even want to prevent this murder?" he sighed deeply, running his hand through his bangs.
"Do you?" Her tone was what made him stiffen. Turning his head, blue eyes glanced behind his shoulder, meeting the contrasting colors of her vibrant irises. "Mr. Writer," her low feminine voice rang. "What you need is a front page article. What I need is the conviction of a murderer. We both have selfish motivations, so let us not pretend that we are good people now."
He averted his gaze, breathing out a low sigh. "…That's horrible."
"If someone has to die in order for us to do our jobs, does that make us horrible, or just the work given to us?" she mused. "Sense of morality is rare nowadays."
"…I still…" he muttered then. "Dislike the thought of it."
She let out a long breath herself. "I would like to say that it makes you a hypocrite… but I can sort-of relate to that feeling." He looked up and she met him with such a desolate smile on her face, that he felt his heartbeat quicken at the sincerity of that expression. "Ah, if only reality would have endings similar to those of children's story books…" she told him.
"Saving everyone and capture the fair maiden's heart…" he trailed.
She laughed. "…How wonderfully dull that would be."
"…You didn't unpack."
That was the first thing he mentioned when they entered her guest bedroom. And looking at her messy, open suitcase in the middle of the room, she could only applaud him for his observation skills. "Keep that up and you can start doing my job," she replied, a hint of amusement visible in her sharp smile.
"So why did you want to come back here?" he asked her.
"Take a seat and we can discuss tonight's program," the detective girl said, directing him to one of the armchairs. He obliged but could not help but feel like there was more to it. Why else would she lead him back to the privacy of her guest bedroom?
He sank into the decorative flower-patterned armchair, looking up expectably. She didn't move to take a seat herself, opting to keep standing.
"My dearest assistant, tonight will be the night that the culprit will show himself," she stated. "We need to be fully prepared for that moment."
"Will he though," Len begged to different. "He will try to keep a low profile and commit the murder discretely. He will hope to blend in with the crowd and strike when we let down our guards."
"Exactly," the detective girl nodded. "That is why we won't let down out guard."
The writer folded his arms together, repressing the urge to sigh. "Too naïve," he declared. "Even you cannot keep your eyes and ears on everyone in the room. There are too many people and it only needs a minor distraction to avert attention."
"It all depends on the proper position," Rin countered.
"Even so, how are you planning to keep your eye on approximately seventy guests walking and dancing around?"
She looked down on him, parting her lips and taking a breath.
"No, you will lose this case if you do that," he interrupted immediately, causing the detective girl to stiffen. "You need to keep your eyes open for any possibility."
"Thank you for your concern, but I am well aware of that," she answered, placing a strand of hair behind her ear. "Besides, I already know exactly how we'll be able to keep an eye on our guests for tonight."
The writer had to be a little skeptic about that. "Is that so?" he asked. "And how might that be?"
Her different colored eyes almost seemed to contain a sparkle. "By blending in," she simply smiled.