Part 15: The Curtain Rises on Tragedy
October 5th, 1986, 8:45 AM
BGM: At Death's Door
In other words, what greeted them as they returned dumbfounded from that horrible, bizarre scene was the voice of Maria as she rolled around laughing at the television... Without knowing how explain to Maria that her mother, Rosa, was dead, those who returned to the room couldn't manage any more than a suffocating silence.
At first, Maria returned their stares with a dubious look, but when she realized that they weren't trying to blame her for anything, she ignored them and again immersed herself in the television program. The children wordlessly sat down on the sofa... Their minds were probably blank from their state of shock.
Everyone had already cried and mourned so much... but now they just vaguely sat there, their faces expressionless. Only Kanon had returned to his usual calm expression. However, that probably didn't mean he had been able to wipe out the shock. Nothing was reflected in his eyes as he stared into the emptiness...
Hideyoshi, fidgeting as he remembered that horrible scene, kept muttering, 'Unbelievable. That can't be somethin' of this world, it's the work of the devil.' Every once in a while, he tried to ask a question and bumped into Nanjo, but Nanjo, in a calm doctor-like manner, kept repeating that nothing could be understood by only glancing at the scene, and that until the police arrived, he wouldn't know anything. However, Nanjo only appeared calm next to Hideyoshi, who was agitated and fearful to the utmost. Maybe it was because of their attitudes that Natsuhi tried to rise to the challenge and take control.
Natsuhi was apparently unchanged from her normal attitude. She briskly gave directions.
"I wonder if you would allow me to tag along, Natsuhi nee-san? Since Krauss nii-san is now gone, the task of aiding Father has been left to me. It would be improper of me to relax here while relying entirely on Natsuhi nee-san."
Natsuhi was struck speechless by Eva's aggressive actions in a situation like this. It seemed that she was claiming that, with Krauss dead, the one to take responsibility should not be his wife, but herself, the next highly ranked in the family. Possibly, she had not been happy at all when Natsuhi had ignored her in this extreme situation. Naturally, Eva's mind had been blank from the shock until just now. She only returned to herself after Natsuhi started giving orders.
"...Just do as you like."
Natsuhi, without saying anything more, walked out. Eva followed behind her.
As they did, Kumasawa ran into the parlor. Since she normally wasn't the kind of person to run around, anyone would guess that something had happened, ...but since everyone had been stricken by that earlier shock, this level of a disturbance didn't overly trouble them.
"If you're lookin' for Natsuhi nee-san, she went to see Father. She'll probably be back soon. What happened, Kumasawa-san?"
"Th, that is... in the dining hall, blood... blood...!"
Everyone in the parlor turned to listen. Everyone thought the same thing. 'I hope I misheard that.' Just like how any container has a limit to how much you can put in it, no one felt like they could accept any more tragedies beyond what had already happened. So they all thought it. I hope I misheard that...
"Wh, what happened... in the dining hall...?"
"When I went to the dining hall... to set up for breakfast... Awawawawawa... wawa..."
George ran straight for it. His harsh footsteps jogged Hideyoshi and Nanjo to their senses, and they chased after him. Battler and the others followed.
However, Kumasawa, who had followed them, pointed it out. There really were some traces of blood remaining on the floor. Compared to that terrible scene, it was not very impressive. However, if you calmly thought about it, this definitely indicated the loss of a lot of blood.
"...Blood has also gathered here. What in the world..."
"...It appears that a great deal of time has passed... Probably, last night... it might be appropriate to view this as the place they were killed..."
"I, it would seem to mean that... We'd been talkin' together in the dinin' hall until late into the night... After that, someone must've broken in..."
"Dad, when did all of you finish their meeting and go to sleep...?"
"...Hmm... It was a little past midnight... Therefore, sometime after that... is probably when it happened..."
"...Seriously... gimme a break..."
"Milady, get a hold of yourself..."
"...Hehehehe... After seeing that hell on earth in the storehouse, I think I can handle this much..."
"...Really? Great for you... I feel like my head's gonna explode... This is the dining hall, right? This is where every day I would eat, complain about school, complain about homework, talk to my parents about my grades... that's what this place is to me..."
"...Milady. It wouldn't be good to remain here any longer. Let's return to the parlor."
"...Everything is just as Battler-san has said. There is nothing more to be gained from remaining in this room."
Nanjo spoke while looking at everyone's pale faces. Even though that horrible scene in the storehouse had felt like something not of this world, at least then we had been able to leave, to cut ourselves off from that place and run away. Everyone had shared in that feeling. However, this dining hall was different. It was in the main wing of the mansion, and as Jessica had said, the inside of the mansion was supposed to be the one place where we could feel secure. It was the same place that all of the relatives had eaten lunch and dinner yesterday. The shock of seeing this place smeared with blood reminded us of that horrible spectacle in the storehouse, and forced us to accept that we really hadn't been able to run away from the scene of that tragedy...
"...Hmm. I also agree... The culprit might have left traces in this room! Amateurs like us shouldn't stir the place up. Let's leave quickly. Quickly, quickly!"
Hideyoshi also understood the meaning of what Battler had said, and pushed everyone to hurry out of the dining hall. The way we were then, looking at that blood any longer would have been too harsh. Nobody went against his words. Everyone raced each other out of the dining hall. It was almost as though the last person in the room would be trapped in there, all alone.
Once in the hallway, we helped Kumasawa, who was still trembling and leaning against the wall, and we all headed back to the parlor together. Then, Genji returned.
"What... you didn't contact the police...!! You tried the phone and the radio and both failed!?"
"...My apologies. A boat will be arriving on Monday morning, and I believe we will be able to borrow their communications equipment."
"Isn't there a boat on this island?! Can't we just take a little trip out to the Niijima Police Department?!"
"...Hideyoshi-san, that would be impossible with this weather... At the very least, we can't do anything until the typhoon passes by us."
"Krauss-sama's boat is being repaired and is not on the island... Therefore, we must wait for the boat coming on Monday..."
"H, how could this happen...?! Six people are dead!! The phones and radio aren't working, and there's no boat! Until the typhoon passes and the boat comes... in other words until tomorrow morning, will we just have to stay here on this island without being able to contact the police?!"
"...That certainly follows. The culprit who killed everyone is still here on the island."
"S, ...so the bastard who killed Dad and the others, without being able to escape the island, must still be hiding somewhere... Damn it, damnitdamnitdamnit!!! I'll find that bastard, no way I'll hand him over to the police!! I'll slice him into bits myself...!!! Whaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!"
Maria had finally realized that something was odd in the parlor. Rather than noticing something odd, it was probably better to say that she felt unhappy and neglected since everyone was getting so excited about something only she didn't know about.
...Jessica probably didn't like that. As though trying to say 'Can't you tell just by looking at me, overwhelmed with grief!', she flared up against Maria.
"They all died, everyone, everyone!! My dad and Battler's parents!! Gohda-san and Shannon!! And even your mother, too!!"
"Stop it, Jessica-chan...!! You aren't the only one who's sad...!"
"...Maria-san... I know this will come as a shock, but please listen. Your mother has... died."
"...Mama is dead? Uu-...?"
"...Yes, someone killed her. I know it's sad, but stay strong..."
"...How many people, died?"
"Six people!! Six people! Dammitdammitdammit! How could you do something so cruel!! There's a limit to how cruel you can be, if you're a human...! I don't know who it is, but the culprit isn't human!! There's no way their blood is red!!"
"Huh? ...Hey, Maria, did you say something just now?"
Maria had just said something, but since the words were so remotely separated from the flow and context of the conversation, for a second, I couldn't understand them. When I tried to ask her to repeat it again, I was shocked by the sudden sound of aunt Natsuhi's loud voice coming from the entrance to the parlor. It looked like aunt Natsuhi and aunt Eva had returned from their trip to see Grandfather.
"Wait, don't you have one of those boat signaling devices that makes a flashing light? Couldn't you use that to contact the next island?"
"...We do not have such equipment... My apologies..."
Just then, Kumasawa came pushing a serving cart loaded with breakfast. Since there was no way we would be able to eat in the dining hall, Hideyoshi ordered her to take it to the parlor.
"Why are we eating breakfast here?"
"...Aaaahhh, Natsuhi-san... I'll tell you later. More importantly, Eva, how was Father?"
"Judging by the fact that he is not with you, he won't even leave his room for a situation like this..."
BGM: Witch of the Painting
"...Did you say that the Master has left his study...?"
"...That's right. I am also surprised... I wonder when he left his room... Do any of you have an idea?"
Natsuhi looked at Genji and Kanon as she said this. Maybe she was trying to ask whether the servants who served directly under the One-winged Eagle would know of a place he might go. However, it was probably the other way around. Their faces made it clear that those who knew Kinzo best realized even more than the rest how impossible it was for him to leave his room.
"...Even we have no idea."
"...As you all know, within that study, the Master had everything set up from a place to sleep to a bathroom. I couldn't imagine him leaving that room except for a significant reason."
"...In that case, what? Isn't it natural to think that one of those 'significant reasons' came up...!?"
"We still don't know whether that is the case! Anyways, he is a fickle person, so it's possible that he went for a walk by himself without knowing the current situation. If that is the case, we have to tell him what has happened and ask for instructions as fast as we can."
"...That's right. Although I don't want to think about it, it's possible that something has happened to him, isn't it...?"
"I don't even want to think about something that ominous...!"
Everyone had lost their composure at the extremely sudden tragedy. Everyone felt a heavy silence. Everyone was impatient. Even though they needed to do something, they couldn't think of anything, so some of them held their heads in their arms while others got irritated. Right now, no one could explain what was occurring on this island, Rokkenjima...
After that, we ate the breakfast that Kumasawa-san had made. It felt dry and tasteless. Of course, this was right after something like that had happened. No one felt particularly hungry. However, we realized that not eating would weaken our bodies. It would also be rude to Kumasawa-san, who had made the breakfast.
Kumasawa-san had taken the tasteful western vegetables, ones that Gohda-san had probably ordered to make the meals feel more elaborate, and cooked them in a Japanese style, making them turn an unpleasant color. As to what Gohda-san had been planning to cook with those ingredients...right then I couldn't even imagine it. If I did think about it, I would be reminded of the way Gohda-san had died, and the inside of my mouth would be filled with a sour taste... For the time being, everyone pretended to eat, but no one was actually going to move their chopsticks.
And despite that, without being able to use phones or radio, we still couldn't contact the police. So until the typhoon passed, there was nothing we could do. Furthermore, Grandfather, who we had hoped might be able to show a little leadership in this kind of a situation, had disappeared some time ago.
Gohda-san hadn't made breakfast, so Grandfather's stomach must have been empty, and if he had just been taking a casual walk, we should have been able to hear him whining about how hungry he was about now. And despite that, he hadn't appeared. There was more than a small chance that he had become caught up in the earlier crime. Aunt Natsuhi and aunt Eva had said that, on their return trip from going to see Kinzo, they had called out to him on every floor, looking for him, but were not able to find him.
...If you think about the timing of it all, it was probably best to think that he had been caught up in the crime. If the culprit had taken the trouble to move the corpses of Dad and the rest, who we figured had been killed in the dining hall, all the way to the storehouse, maybe they had already killed Grandfather, moved his corpse to some strange location, and we had simply not found it yet. No one actually said it, but this theory seemed extremely convincing...
Aunt Natsuhi followed the servants, Genji-san, Kumasawa-san, and Kanon-kun, out of the parlor. All that was left was aunt Eva, uncle Hideyoshi, Doctor Nanjo, and the four of us children for a total of seven people.
"Let's all stick together, maybe watch some television while we wait. Unfortunately, I don't think that there'll be any good shows on during the middle of the day on Sunday."
Uncle Hideyoshi tried to stir up this gloomy atmosphere, acting cheerfully.
"Uu-. Good show, watch it, watch it. Uu-uu-!"
"Oh, really? Will Maria-chan watch television? Then, come and watch it with me."
Maria was the only one who played along. Even though Maria had been told of her mother's death, she didn't show the slightest flicker in her emotions. Maybe it was because Maria was only nine years old, and was still too young... Everyone else's mood failed to improve, and they each sank absentmindedly into their sofas...
"...Just now in the storehouse. You said something about Shannon-chan and a ring. Did you give that to her?"
George-aniki didn't answer, but he hung his head and closed both of his eyes. There could be no clearer response.
"Quit it, Battler. Figure it out yourself."
"...You're right. I shouldn't have asked that."
BGM: Worldend (solo)
"...Well, I... several years ago, I had a talk with Shannon. About you, George nii-san."
"...I wonder what she could have said."
"...So I handed her the engagement ring, and then... it was all over."
"...A sense of value varies with the person. But being proposed to by a man... can, in a way, be the high point of a girl's life. So I'm sure. Last night, I think Shannon was, from the bottom of her heart... no, more than she ever had been since she was born, truly happy..."
...George-aniki, without raising his head, sighed deeply... Or maybe tears had risen to his eyes.
"...It seems that Shannon was on duty in the guesthouse last night. But, because she was too embarrassed to go back to the guesthouse with me... she went over to the mansion."
"...Think about Shannon's feelings. She had received an engagement ring, and no matter how much she had been prepared for it beforehand, it was perfectly normal that she got so excited that her mind went blank. Her being embarrassed was only natural."
"Aniki. That's wrong. That's definitely wrong. So don't cry any more."
Misplaced words of comfort might actually hurt him. Jessica sat down next to Aniki, and put an arm around him. Maybe only Jessica, who had known about Aniki and Shannon's love since the beginning, and who had discussed that relationship with Shannon, could comfort Aniki now. I went over to aunt Eva and sat down in the opposite sofa...
"Battler-kun, you really are strong... It looks like you have kept a good hold on yourself."
"...Umm, well, look, the depth of the love becomes the depth of the wound, right? After all, it's not like how that old bastard died has anything to do with me. I feel bad about Kyrie-san, but... well, she wasn't actually my parent."
"My, my. But on the other hand, you were crying a lot back then, right?"
"Well, I did think that at least that much crying was due as gratitude to the parent who raised me... Hehehe..."
"...The speed of that changeover and that dry tone must have come from Rudolf. That kid would always get violently happy, sad, and angry, but he would always regain his cool immediately afterwards."
"...It's nothing like that. I haven't really been able to get over the shock yet. I think it's just that the emotions that rose up in me were different from everybody else's."
"What do you mean?"
"...Rather than sadness, it's more like I'm irritated. What bastard did this and where? It's kinda been eating at me that I didn't get a chance to smack him upside the face."
That was what I really wanted to do. It was like I couldn't allow myself to just sit here, overwhelmed with sadness and hugging my knees.
"...Since the time Dad and everyone else were killed, this island has remained covered by the typhoon. In short, that means that the bastard responsible for all of this is still somewhere on this island."
"It sure does mean that. I wonder if they're hiding themselves somewhere in that dark forest even now?"
...I felt like I'd had a very similar conversation with Kyrie-san the night before. That's right. After the letter from the person who claimed to be Beatrice appeared at the dinner table last night, ...we had talked about whether or not a 19th person actually exists.
"Aunt Eva. This murder... do you think it has anything to do with the letter from Beatrice last night?"
"...Aah, that one? Well, I wonder. All of the siblings were in agreement that the mysterious letter had been sent to further complicate the problem of Father's inheritance. As to whether that and the case this morning are related, it's impossible to tell at this stage..."
"Was that letter really given to Maria by some witch called Beatrice?"
"How could it be? All of it was a farce devised by Father, wasn't it? He made someone like Shannon-chan wear the dress from the portrait and deceive Maria-chan, right? Isn't that just like the kind of intricate prank Father would pull?"
"There's no one else but us on this island, you think...?"
"Obviously, right? Are you saying there could be someone else here other than us? No one is on this island except us. There are only 18 people. So the one pretending to be Beatrice has to be one of those 18."
Kyrie-san had denied that there was a 19th person by 'turning over the chessboard'. Even though aunt Eva hadn't constructed an argument that complicated, her opinion at least was the same. Except, if that were the case, our situation would start to look very ugly...
At the time of Beatrice's letter, the matter could be easily settled since it hadn't seemed to be anything more than a prank. However, now the matter couldn't be settled by simply denying the existence of a 19th person. In other words...
Aunt Eva smiled meaningfully. It looked like she thought that this conclusion should have been obvious from the very beginning.
"The culprit carried the bodies of those six into the storehouse. But they sure did a good job getting into that storehouse, didn't they? That shutter is always closed and locked, right? In other words, in order to carry them into the storehouse, the culprit would need to unlock the shutter. Understand?"
"...Is there any possibility that the shutter was left open by mistake that day?"
"The servants said that it is always shut. In other words, unless they brought the keys out of the servants' room, they definitely couldn't have opened the storehouse."
"Is the only key the one in the servants' room...?"
"Genji-san said that was the case. Which means that the culprit knew where that single key was stored and took it out. Just now, I saw Kanon-kun return the key to the servants' room. The wall was packed with keys, and I don't think that a novice would know where and to what those keys went to. The culprit was magnificently able to select the key to the storehouse from all of those."
"Furthermore, even though the key didn't have a tag or anything sticking to it, they knew it was the key to the storehouse behind the rose garden... And that means that they also knew where the storehouse was. I'll say it even clearer. The culprit knew the inside of the servants' room well."
However, if there was only one key to the storehouse in the servants' room, and it was stored with such a large group of keys, a novice would not be able to tell them apart. This meant that the culprit was someone who could normally enter the servants' room, and knew where the key was well.
The family didn't normally go into the servants' room. Which meant that...
"The culprit... no, culprits in the plural, would have more than enough weapons in their arsenal if that were the case. You see it, don't you? They had to assault the four in the dining hall and kill them, drag a total of six bodies all the way to the storehouse beyond the rose garden, and scribble that disgusting makeup on their faces. There's no way that a single culprit could carry all of this out on their own, right?"
It was impossible. It might not have been if a single person had enough time, but that would have taken ages.
It was probably best to think that a significant number of people had been part of it.
"...Erk. So what you mean is, maybe all of the servants were in cahoots."
"Please keep it quiet, okay? It's still just a guess, so it would be bad to say it. And if it really is true, what would you do? They might not let us return alive. This is an opponent who had no trouble killing Nii-san and the three others. Right now, the only people I can count on to fight with me are the three people in my family and maybe Battler-kun, as well, which comes to a total of four people, right? The situation is no different than it was last night. In short, it would be easy for the culprit to massacre the rest of us."
I had been playing detective with aunt Eva, trying to expose the person who had killed Dad and the rest before the police did. If only I could skillfully penetrate the culprit's identity, I wanted to stick proof that it was them in their face. I had been so sure that, just like in one of those detective movies, the culprit would then give up and surrender.
However, the culprit would only surrender if there was no way for them to fight back. The culprits behind these cases on the island were far from helpless, and might even be able to massacre all of the remaining people on the island. And on top of that, this island was like a giant locked room, cut off from the outside world by the typhoon, so they had a full day, until tomorrow, to kill, scheme and camouflage themselves. In short, it wasn't a safe atmosphere where we could get very far by playing detective...
To the contrary, we were at a stage where we had to be scared stiff, since playing detective might displease the culprits, and cause them to repeat another mass murder...
"Someone behind all of this? Hmm... why do you say that?"
"It's just a feeling. Think about what the word servant literally means. It means someone who serves as someone else's arms and legs, right? Everyone who was killed had some relation to the Ushiromiya family. So naturally, it was someone who had some interest in that result."
This was also plain and clear... It all went straight to the discussion that had been taking place in the Ushiromiya family about how to distribute the inheritance when Grandfather died. If this case followed the standard form of any classic mystery novel, it was definitely a crime by someone with ties to the Ushiromiya family and who was entangled in the inheritance problem... aunt Eva had probably also read a few books in that genre.
Aunt Eva's argument had a few one-sided conclusions to it, and it was probably a shortcut that anyone could have reached. I think anyone would have doubted the servants, even if their logic was different. Especially the story about the key to the shutter. That was enough to make it easy to suspect that one of the servants was involved in the case...
Because it was an easy guess to reach. A guess that anyone could reach. And I just couldn't accept that.
If I tried 'turning the chessboard over' like I had learned from Kyrie-san, that was exactly why it was impossible for a servant to be the culprit. If the servants really had been the culprits, they wouldn't hide the bodies in a place that was tied to themselves. There were other places besides the rose garden storehouse, whose key they themselves controlled. The police would probably immediately pursue whoever had been in control of the key. That would create a danger for exposure. If we were to assume that they were the culprits, they had no reason to carry the bodies into the storehouse.
If you twist that around, why did they purposefully put them in the storehouse? No, that definitely didn't make sense. When the police come and inspect the site, several things will probably become clear. No matter how deeply careful the culprits were in carrying out murder, some kind of traces will definitely be found. So, in summary, they had everything to lose and nothing to gain. If you think about it this way, and look at the game from the culprit's side, it would seem pointless for them to let the corpses be found.
If the bodies were found, a report would be sent to the police, the remaining people would become even more cautious, and they could start looking for the culprit... anyways, none of these things would make the culprit feel any more comfortable.
...Right now, no one knew where Grandfather was. We didn't know whether he had already become a victim, or if he was one of the culprits, but this state of confusion had to be beneficial to the culprit. By showing us the bodies that obviously, and making us all realize there is a murder case going on, the culprit had absolutely nothing to gain. Right, that was where we could 'turn the chessboard over'.
So the culprit's goal was to clearly show us the bodies. So, at the very least, to the culprit, the appearance of the corpses there meant more than the deaths themselves.
In other words, the culprit wanted to display this murder. To who?
At the current time, none of us could grasp anything from this vulgar mass murder except malice. Malice towards everyone, perhaps. Each one of the survivors had some kind of connection to one of the six who had been killed. Uncle Krauss's death brought Jessica the grief of losing one of her family. The deaths of Dad and Kyrie-san brought me sorrow, while aunt Rosa's death brought Maria sorrow. Gohda-san's death probably influenced his fellow servants, and Shannon-chan's death brought grief to George-aniki, who had proposed to her, and Kanon-kun, who had loved her like an older sister. Everyone now on this island had received an equal amount of sadness.
Aunt Eva had claimed that the servants were definitely in cahoots... but then how could you explain the deaths of Gohda-san and Shannon-chan?
BGM: Scar Sound
It was very possible to doubt aunt Eva herself, who was acting like she was outside the net of suspicion, and who might have been trying to point that suspicion at the servants. In the first place, she had managed to avoid suspicion and place it on the servants with that argument about the key to the shutter... but if you looked at it from a perspective of motive, about who would gain something from the murders, aunt Eva's name floated to the top of the list.
"I'm the one who would gain the most from these murders. Since I'm going to be suspected anyways, I might as well get it out in the open myself."
I had tried to trick her by joking around, but it looked like it hadn't worked.
"The inheritance will be divided between the siblings. But right now, the four siblings are just me. All of the assets of the Ushiromiya family will become mine. Eheheheheh."
"If uncle Hideyoshi heard you, he'd say 'Could you give it a rest, it's not a joke'..."
"I'm sorry? No matter how I try to smooth it over, I'll just be suspected anyways, so I was just fooling around. So I've been thinking, from my point of view, this murder might have been planned to cast suspicion on me. Unfortunately, my alibi for last night is weak."
"Could you tell me about it? About last night?"
"...Can anyone other than uncle Hideyoshi prove that? No, wait aunt Eva, it's not like I'm suspecting you or anything, ri~ght? Hihihi!"
"My, what do you mean? *giggle*. I don't know if it counts as proof, but when we returned to the guesthouse, we were greeted by Genji-san and asked if we needed a towel. I think that should be enough to prove that we had returned to the guesthouse a little after midnight. Of course, if my theory was correct, the servants would all be in cahoots, and that wouldn't actually make for an alibi, would it?"
"Is that really true? That'd mean that, right now, I'm playing detective with the real culprit, right? Ihihi!"
"However, let me say this for my honor's sake: if my goal was the inheritance, I wouldn't have needed to commit this weird kind of murder, right? After all, if I just wanted to make them forfeit their rights to the inheritance, the method of their deaths wouldn't have mattered. On the contrary, you'd expect that I would try to make their deaths look like an accident, wouldn't I? If I had roped in the servants, and carefully planned everything out, I would be even more capable of doing that."
"You're right about that If you were killing someone to make a profit, you definitely shouldn't make it look like a murder."
"That's it, right? So from here on, I'm in a very blue mood. I'll probably be treated as the person behind this by the police, and harshly investigated. Oh no, oh no..."
Aunt Eva shrugged with a bitter smile. Just like it was easy to think of the servants as suspicious, it was also very easy to think of aunt Eva as suspicious. So if we 'turn the chessboard over', did that mean it was impossible for the culprit to be the easily doubtable aunt Eva...? However, if we used that method with impunity, then motive wouldn't count for anything.
...I don't know, I don't know... Every time I turn the chessboard over, it keeps flipping from front to back and back to front... Were my thoughts closing in on the truth? Or were they...