Chapter 08 - The Chase
Three pair of eyes all held the same disbelieving expression. The detective girl held up the long chain in her hand, showing them the row of metal rings that was used to keep the chandelier attached to the ceiling. "It is completely bended," she elaborated, her fingers holding up one ring in particular. "But there are no signs that the space is created by anything other than time. There are no scratch marks that indicate that the ends of this ring have parted forcibly. Metal tends to leave a mark if they are forced to yield. This is the result of an old chain, from a chandelier that has caught dust for generations."
"Nonsense," Lady Lucia stated. "I will not believe anything other than foul play. This chandelier fell on the night a murder was predicted. It nearly killed one of the maids and your assistant was standing just a short distance from the incident."
"That kind of deduction is based on emotions instead of facts," Rin had to counter. "What you are looking for is a scapegoat, not a culprit. Narrowing your vision like that is dangerous. I would strongly advise you to use more common sense."
"Common sense?" the lady countered. "How dare you – "
"I might have caused the ring of the chain to bend a little further, causing the accident," the detective claimed. "When I was investigating the chandelier, I stumbled and leaned my weight on it to catch myself from falling… but sooner or later, it would have fallen down. It is a coincidence that it happened on this particular evening." She glanced at hundred sparkling crystals surrounding the impressively large chandelier. "While the evidence alone is enough to announce this an incident, I doubt that anyone in their right mind would use a chandelier as a murder weapon. There is no possibility of knowing when it would fall down. It could have landed on anyone."
"The letter did not state who would be murdered," Gaillard then said. "The killer could have been satisfied with a random victim."
The detective girl shook her head. "Or landed on no one at all. It could have easily fallen down before or after the masquerade. Would the culprit risk that?"
The heel of the older lady clicked sharply on the marble floor. "Alright, fine, have it your way. This is an accident," she accepted. "But that does not change the fact that you disappeared in the midst of it all. You could at least tell us what you were doing at that time."
"While I still need to hear your statements?" the blonde girl responded.
Lucia parted her lips to protest, but her husband placed a hand on her shoulder. "After helping your assistant, my wife has taken care of the maids. They were all shaken; they were standing close by when this happened…"
"They were all still present after the accident?" she was quick to ask.
"Yes," Gaillard verified. "Since Millina nor my brother were anywhere in sight, I made the decision to end the masquerade early. I escorted the guests outside, with not even the family butler to assist me."
"Ask the maids, they can verify," Lucia muttered. "Where are Millina and Keaton anyway? Even when the fight broke out, my husband was forced to take the lead."
The detective girl folded her arms. "You can continue doing that from this point on. While Lady Millina is doing well under the current circumstances, Keaton Callisford has been murdered… Tell me, have you seen anything suspicious?"
Len flinched at the way she shared the news and could only stare at her in response. The facial expressions of Gaillard and his wife, betrayed their own shock at the news. The older male didn't shed a tear, but the way his body stiffened and his jaw clenched, made it clear that he was affected by the news. Lady Lucia's shoulders were tense as she absently reached for her husband's hand. "He's… gone?" she whispered.
"Well, his body is here, but if you meant in spirit, I'm afraid he's all gone," the blonde girl answered. "Meanwhile, the only one still missing would be Lady Gillium…"
"She would leave right after the masquerade though," Lucia told her. "We would stay another night before departing, but she wanted to leave right after. That could explain her absence."
Gaillard's eyes narrowed coldly. "I did not see her pass."
Lucia squeezed the hand of her husband. "Darling, the departure of the guests was chaotic… You have probably just missed her."
"I will look into it," the detective girl ensured them. "As well as into your alibis."
"Naturally," the man with the long, purple hair stoically answered.
"That only leaves your alibi, detective." The lady's eyes gazed down on the young adolescent. "I know where your assistant was… so where were you at the time of the murder? Can you tell us?"
The detective girl's lips stretched into an amused smile. "Of course not," she laughed.
Len frowned at her withdrawal of information. Analyzing the hardened expression of the cherry blossom-haired lady, he knew that Rin was making a mistake. She should have told her where she had been, so that she wouldn't make herself suspicious.
"That is your answer then?" Lucia coldly stated.
The different-colored eyes glistered at that moment and the writer noted how it radiated a wave of mystery around her. "Yes," she replied. "That is my answer."
The lady curtly nodded, but her husband shook his head at this. "Sweetheart, you cannot truly suspect a detective to invent their own murder case."
"Why not?" she protested. "She has allowed herself to run freely while tying the rest of us down. She was the one that inspected that chandelier and it nearly caused her second assistant's death!"
Len glanced at the detective girl and tensed at the change in her expression. At the crime scene, this person had not blinked twice at the horrific sight, but this time there was a clear shift in her composure… The amused smile had faded from her face and her eyes now held a dangerous spark.
The lady did not seem to comprehend the warning as she took a step towards the girl, continuing to provoke her. "Tell us what happened to that former assistant of yours: the truth. You owe that to Len at least, he almost died trying to solve this case for you!" Words spat with venom echoed through the room.
Gaillard tried to send the detective an apologetic glance, but she kept her gaze firmly on the woman in front of her. She hadn't moved from her spot, standing tall. Her expression was tense, heavy emotions residing in her eyes. She looked strangely calm when she parted her lips to give them her answer. "I refuse."
And with long steps echoing against the marble, she made her way out of the ballroom without even awaiting a response.
Widened eyes stared after her, surprised at the clear, simple statement. It took a few seconds after her disappearance, that Len let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. Lady Lucia's dumbfounded expression, that betrayed that she had expected a different answer, finally turned into a heated glare. Gaillard merely sighed. Out of the three of them, he was most likely the least disappointed at the withdrawal of information.
The writer suddenly blinked, his cheeks flushing red. He flinched when he realized he should have gone after her. He felt incredibly embarrassed and stumbled out of the room without saying a word.
"Wait, please!" he called after her. He could see her at the end of the hallway and was relieved to see that she hadn't disappeared. She stopped at the sound of his voice, but didn't turn around. But that was fine by him and caught up with her quickly.
An icy feeling clutched him however, at the sound of her voice.
"What do you want."
Suddenly he was hesitating, taken aback by her sudden coldness. "I'm just…" he started, searching for the right words. "I mean… I think… you should talk to them."
She didn't respond, her back still turned towards him. He couldn't see her expression and it bothered him. He wanted to know how she felt, so he could try to say the right things. "Please understand what I'm trying to say," he said. "If you'll just talk to them and explain the situation… I mean, this is a misunderstanding."
Again, only silence answered him. He started to feel frustrated. Lady Lucia had given him a warning about the detective girl… her unwillingness to talk only fueled the fire. If she'd just say it out loud… if she would just tell them that she's innocent. Why would she refuse to do that?
He took a deep breath, frowning at her back. Slowly, he reached out for her. "Tell me what happened," he asked her, taking a step closer to her. "You know that I would believe you." His fingers softly brushed against the sleeve of her dress. "Tell me that you had nothing to do with it. I will take your word for it… I won't need anything else. I will stand by you." He barely resisted the urge to pull her close and embrace her. "I will protect you. So please," He gave her arm a small squeeze. "Just tell me," he told her. "… that you weren't responsible for her death."
And in a split second, everything was over. Instantly backing away, he stared at her with wide eyes. He took in her expression and it was as if someone poured a bucket of ice cold water over him. He slowly raised his hand, automatically responding to the heat on his left cheek.
Her breathing was shallow, her hand still in the air. Her entire body was shaking uncontrollably. Both her cheeks were a bright red color, eyes blazing in anger, her teeth clenched tightly. But the one thing that had made his heart sank to his stomach, were the tears falling down her cheeks.
"You will never," she breathed, her voice shaking. "…mention this again."
And he found himself nodding slowly, lost for words. His feet were still glued to the ground when she started to take large steps away from him. He removed his hand from his cheek; it hurt of course, but it was nothing compared to the pain he felt in his chest. He couldn't believe that he had made her cry.
It felt as if he'd been standing on the same spot for hours, his hand still glued to his cheek as if frozen in place. He kept staring at the corner of the hallway, the place where she had disappeared from his sight.
His head was spinning as thoughts scrambled together. He analyzed the scene that just took place, trying to piece her reaction with his words. And the words she didn't utter, words he had demanded from her.
Why… He frowned. Why didn't she tell him she is innocent? From the beginning, she had turned this subject into a forbidden topic. That young woman hadn't disappeared; she had been murdered.
He bit the inside of his cheek. It was the detective girl's silence that frustrated him the most. It spoke for her, embracing the possibility for everyone that, perhaps, she was responsible. And that left him confused. He wanted to hear the truth from her lips, but her reaction…
"Forget about it."
The deep, strong voice came from right behind him. He stiffened at the sight of Gaillard Callisford. He had been too preoccupied to even hear him approach. His wide blue eyes stared up, confusion lingering in them.
"My wife simply has a rich fantasy and while it is often a gift, it is only poison in this case…" The grey-blue eyes of the older male were cool as he met Len's gaze. "Before your mind draws a conclusion, pay in mind that the unfortunate death of that girl has nothing to do with this case. My brother is murdered by someone. Suspecting the one person that needs to solve this case, won't do it any good."
The writer averted his gaze. "But why wouldn't she…" he muttered, pausing halfway.
The older male seemed to catch onto his train of thought. "It must be a painful subject for her to react this strongly about it. If you allow yourself to hesitate here, the relationship between you and the detective will become strained. This case needs to be solved. I apologize for sounding selfish, but finding the murderer of my brother is more important than an emotional dilemma between coworkers. I would like you two to settle your differences. I will ensure that my wife will not bring the subject up again."
The writer nodded at that. "…I understand."
He felt a broad, strong hand pat on his shoulder. "Thank you, I appreciate it," the man told him, before turning back in the direction of the dining room.
Len watched him leave, his gaze following him until he was out of sight. Then, he forced his feet to move, knowing exactly where he needed to go.
With each passing minute, the weight of her error seemed to increase. Now that her thoughts were not clouded by her own emotions anymore, she became aware of how far she had crossed a line when she hit him. She gazed at her own hand. While regretting it wouldn't solve the problem, she wondered if apologizing would be enough. A detective needed to be calm and rational under any circumstance.
"…I made a mistake," she quietly realized.
Her footsteps led her back to a familiar hallway and she paused before the guest room that temporarily belonged to the blond-haired youth. Her eyelids dropped, gazing at the door for a moment, practicing the apologizing words inside her head. There was only a small chance that he went back to this room, yet she couldn't help but hesitate as she reached for the silver door handle. Taking a moment to take a breath, she pushed it down and…
A pair of bright blue-colored eyes met hers in the hallway. Startled, she took a step back from the unopened door. She hadn't expected him to burst out her own guest room like that, standing inside her door opening.
He took an immediate step towards her. "Please don't." His blue eyes pierced into hers and she only blinked in response. He seemed to struggle with the desire to take hold of her, fingertips pausing only inches away from her wrist. "Don't walk away from me again," he asked from her.
He had been misinterpretending her movement. She shook her head in an attempt to inform him that she came her for the opposite reason. "I won't," she stated.
He stared down at her with a distant look on his face. "…Won't you?"
There was something different about his posture and the detective girl tensed when he stepped closer. She felt her detective hat being straightened, gently pulled firmer over her head. She gazed up to see two stunning eyes stare back at her, deadly serious as he looked down at her. The both of them stayed in the same position for a lingering moment, his hands remaining around her detective hat while the apology she had rehearsed in her head was dying away in her throat.
This situation wasn't as it should be.
His voice was soft as he continued to keep their gazes locked. "I never intended to make you cry," he told her. "Please believe that at least."
She should be the one apologizing right now, yet he was the one asking for her forgiveness. And she found herself lost for words when she gazed into those blue irises, filled with sincere contempt.
He was regretting this.
She softly nodded her head. He visibly relaxed and silently retreated his hands, breaking into a warm smile. She could only respond to that familiarity with a couple of curt words. "Let's get inside," she announced. "There are a couple of things you might want to write down…"
It was already rather late when the blonde girl lightened the candle, one of the same white candles that was used to seal the fake letter. The small light created shadows on the wall, changing with each movement of the flame. With a soft clink, she placed two glasses of water on the small table, before taking a seat in the soft comfortable chair next to the table. He sat on the sitting opposite to her.
"I went to the bedroom Lady Gillium had been using during her stay," the detective girl told him. "Her belongings are no longer there. I have taken the courtesy of asking the family butler where her carriage is – well, after freeing the three of them out of that cramped room we locked them into, that is."
Len's eyes widened. "I completely forgot about that," he gasped. "Were they alright?"
"As fine as three grown man being locked into a small room with no windows could be," she answered. "They hadn't left. It was still locked and they were pretty angry about it too. I had explained the situation beforehand, but…"
"…You yelled it through the door," the writer frowned.
"I could have left them clueless," she countered. "Either way, with the information he provided, it became clear that the butler had picked her up from the train station when she arrived…"
"Then she had no transportation home," he concluded. "She couldn't have left."
This caused the detective girl to raise her eyebrow at him. "Don't pretend to be dense now. There were quite a few guests at the party that would be more than willing to provide her a ride home. She was a popular dance partner if you haven't noticed…"
"…And you think that she would have left just like that? Without announcing her departure?" Len had to ask. "Is that not the slightest bit suspicious?"
"It is," she cooed with delight. "It certainly is, but who knows… She could have easily told our murder victim that she was going home. We don't know his side of this story."
The gaze of the writer momentarily left her face. "We could ask Lady Millina whether she knows anything. If Lady Gillium decided to leave party, it would make sense for her to tell her friend, right? Rather than her friend's husband."
A soft chuckle left the detective girl's throat. "You would think that, wouldn't you?"
She reached into her detective cape and dropped something between them on the small table. He tensed at the appearance of a dark-red envelope. The seal had long broken and was chipped around the edges. The paper itself was a bit ruffled, making its appearance look older than the last letters he had seen. "…What is this?" he asked her. "This isn't the same as – "
"Don't speculate. Open it and find out," she suggested.
He complied, opening the envelope and taking out a sheet of thick paper. He felt his heart thump heavily in his chest when his eyes grazed over the pitch-black letters. "…Why?" he finally managed to bring out.
"Tell me a story, Len." She folded her fingers together, resting her chin on top of them. "Were you still already a writer when this case made the headlines a couple of years back?"
He seemed to hesitate, his gaze shifting from the letter in his hands to the girl that had it in her possession."Not for the newspaper I am currently employed at," he confessed. "I think that I've written a couple of articles at that time, but none of them were crime-related. I was still working on my writing skills at that point, just starting out… Why do you ask?"
"Well, the case was as popular among the media as it was among the detectives," she informed him. "But I guess a starting writer wouldn't be picked to send."
He shook his head. "Everything I know was through reading the morning papers. What I can recall is that he was… different. He always left messages to the detectives working on the case. He was never caught, because they couldn't find any evidence." Once more his gaze shifted to the ink-written words. "…But this is serious," he declared, his voice wavering just slightly. "You need to – "
"Don't bother stating that I need to stay on my guard," she warned him. "The day that I have received this letter is quite a while back. This letter has been in my possession for a longer period of time and we have well passed the expiration date of this threat."
"That may be," he nodded absently. "…But isn't the letter that you showed us earlier a recent one?" he asked, raising his eyebrow at her skeptically.
She broke into a smile. "What if I told you that this one is just as old?"
He coldly gazed back at her. "Then I would be calling you a liar," he stated.
Different-colored eyes glazed over at that moment and she almost seemed to pout, amusement fading away from her expression. Len continued to keep his eyes locked with her. "The seal wasn't chipped. There was no discoloration in the paper itself or on the envelope. Despite being opened, it was in perfect condition. This one.. this one isn't. There are plenty of signs that it has been read several times."
She tapped her nails against the wood of the table. "What are you implying, detective?" she stoically asked him, a hint of annoyance surfacing in her tone.
He shoved the letter towards her, forcing her to lower her gaze. "This is not just any letter…" he stated. "This is the promise of a serial killer."
"A death threat," she confirmed, leaning back in her chair.
He frowned at her. "You are not taking this seriously."
"I wouldn't say that," she responded. "Receiving such a letter from a serial killer is similar to finding your cat murdered on your doorstep. But you're making it sound as if I was special." She stared right back at him. "I was not."
He seemed to repress a sigh. "You are only in business for five months. If this really is a letter from years ago… why would he have send it to you? Why would he call you the detective girl if you weren't even employed as one?"
"Why are we talking about this again?" she replied.
"Because you were the one that brought it up!" he shouted in his frustration.
A tense silence passed between them. The writer finally tore his gaze away from her, glaring at the letter that had started this conflict.
"There was no pattern in those murders," the detective girl sighed, folding her arms together. "The gender, age and status were never the same. Most of the letters he wrote were delivered at the doorstep of the detective agencies, right under their noses."
The writer stiffly nodded.
"The remarkable thing is that the first letters were send to a couple of the most famous, well-paid detectives," she continued. "Until he told them in a letter on body number three that that they were as capable as a sack of potatoes. It angered a lot of people. From that point on, the case had started to grow famous. There were plenty of smaller detective agencies that wanted to prove their capability, insisting to be part of the murder investigation."
The young man glanced at her. "Where were you involved?" he asked.
"Me?" she said. "I was merely an assistant."
The blonde man blinked at that. "I would have thought you were at least in the learning. He calls you 'the detective girl' in his letters."
"At that time I had been working in a small detective agency in Manchester," she explained. "I've had the fortune to work for a great detective. For a man in his late thirties, he was younger than most of his coworkers, but just as capable. He was a kind-hearted man that was would work day and night on a case without hesitation. His goal was to set the world free from injustice, a goal that even he called naïve. But he was determined to make it a little better, willing to dedicate his life to it. He didn't treat me as an assistant. He treated me as a partner. And I…" she took a breath. "I liked Al a lot." She looked up, meeting his gaze. There was a mournful smile on her face. Len felt his heart beat heavily in his chest at the sight of it.
"…You liked him?" he could not help but repeat and she seemed surprised by his statement, breaking into an awkward smile.
"Not romantically, if that is what you're implying. He was someone I looked up to. When a fourth victim was found, the larger agencies had no choice but allow other agencies to investigate as well. At that point, they'd swallowed their pride in an attempt to catch the culprit. The detective agency I worked in, had an outstanding reputation despite its small size and low funding. We were invited and my employer was determined to find a clue others had overlooked. We spend hours searching, but there was not a clue to be found." She reached for the glass of water, pausing their conversation to take a sip from it. "…But when I took hold of the victim's wrist, I noticed that something was missing instead."
The young man stared at her. "What was it?" he asked.
"It didn't help the case, but in a room without any evidence, it was an accomplishment. There was a charm missing from her golden bracelet. I noticed a larger gap between two charms and the tiniest damage to the bracelet itself. Since she had thirty-six charms around that bracelet, it wasn't an obvious clue. She was a wealthy woman, so I spoke to the maid in charge of her jewels. The charm that was missing, was a lotus flower representing a long life. The murderer had taken it away, as he had taken the long life ahead of her. It was a pun." She placed the glass back on the table with a blunt thud. "Not a week later, a stranger passed by in a busy street, pushing a letter into my hands. I recognized the blood-red envelope and without hesitation, I gave it to my employer. I didn't expect it back…" Her gaze lowered to the thick piece of paper. "It wasn't addressed to him," she muttered.
Len followed her gaze, softly reading the letter that was written a couple of years ago. He noticed how she almost seemed to tense at the words. "'My dearest detective girl. I find you endearing. I am tempted to take you away.'"
"I wasn't a detective," she muttered then. "Yet he acknowledged me as one. But he also acknowledged me as his next victim. My employer feared for my safety. He send me to a train to Liverpool immediately."
Len averted his gaze when he let her story sink in. He softly repeated the town she'd been send to. It was quite a distance away from London.
"One morning newspaper later and my employer was found dead," Rin murmured.
The writer's head snapped up.
"I heard that another letter has been left on top of his body, but they never published it." Her fingertips brushed over the letter. "I kept this one… I read it occasionally, if only to remind me why I took this occupation to begin with…"
"…If it's you." Len stared directly in her eyes when she raised her head, his voice soft, but confident. "If it's you, he will be brought to justice someday. I am sure of it."
Her lips spread into a guanine smile. "That is kind of you," she told him. "To be honest, I hadn't expected the letter in this case to be a fake."
"Of course not," he replied. "The one who wrote it, did have knowledge about that case. Not enough to make the perfect replica, so I doubt that they had their hands on a real letter… but the culprit should have seen photos of it at least."
She rested her head on her hand. "I guess money can buy anything these days…" she muttered. "Well, that was my life story anyway. Do you have anything you'd like to share? Since you have switched carriers, I can conclude that you're not seeking vengeance for your parents' murder."
The writer let out a low breath. "I want to believe that he will get what he deserves one day… but I won't actively be part of it. That is what I have decided for myself."
"A wise decision," she informed him, before raising from her seat and stretching her arms. "Well, it is getting rather late. How about we both say goodnight here and continue this investigation tomorrow?"
"I'm fine with that," he nodded, raising from the seat as well.
She patted him gently on the shoulder. "I will wake you up tomorrow morning," she announced. "It will be early, so be sure to catch some sleep while you can."
"I will," he said, stepping away from her. "Well, goodnight."
She smiled, waving at him when he looked back in the door opening. "Sweet dreams."
With a soft click, he closed the door behind him. Her hand stopped in midair, her fingers folding back in the palm of her wrist. She leaned on the small table, her gaze momentarily resting on the two glasses of water and the letter in-between. Silently, she placed a strand of hair behind her ear.