Part 22: Boiler Room II
Normally, they probably would've started discussing the origin of that violent stench filling the boiler room. But after they saw Kanon, who was lying on the ground as if he were drowning in an ocean of his own blood, the stench wasn't important any more.
"Kanon! Answer me!! Genji, bring Doctor Nanjo here!!"
Natsuhi realized that even though Kanon was on the verge of death, he was still conscious, so she sent Genji to get the doctor. Natsuhi, holding the rifle aloft, faced the darkness in the center of the boiler room and shouted!
Battler, thinking quickly, took a large flashlight from the tool shelf alongside the door and used its light to cut through the darkness Natsuhi was glaring into. But the light only shone on mechanical-looking piping and a door. The door had been left open a small crack, and it was obvious that someone had left through there in a hurry.
"...Aunt Natsuhi, where does that door go?!"
"G, Genji...! Where does that door lead to?!"
"...The, the courtyard...!"
"L, like hell I'd let you get away, you damn bastaaaaaaaard!!!"
There were some thin, rough stairs leading up. Battler ran up them, shouting!
"Wait, Battler-kun!! It's dangerous to be alone!!"
Natsuhi was also rushing up the stairs, chasing after Battler.
Because it was surrounded on all sides, the air was calm and completely undisturbed, even though they could hear the sound of strong winds. There was only the gentle, sorrowful rain. As he ran through the cold and scattered raindrops, dashing up the stairs into the courtyard, Battler looked in every direction. Of course, the odds of him finding a suspicious silhouette just standing around nonchalantly were pretty much zero...
Battler turned around, looking in all directions. He turned again and again. He kept spinning until he almost lost his sense of direction. He prayed that he would see the culprit somewhere in this scenery...!
But there was no chance. All he saw as he spun was more and more of the mansion's heartless walls and windows...!
"...Battler-kun!! You mustn't run ahead by yourself!! Battler-kun...?"
Battler put his head against the wall, and scratched at it with his fingernails as he cried...
"...Why did you kill them?! Why, why...?!!! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh...!!"
...Battler was a boy who could understand the feelings of pain and regret in a person's heart. So he cried. With all his strength. Natsuhi, who had always thought of Battler as a frank person, was a little surprised to find that he had this delicate side, and at the same time, understood how easily hurt the heart of a young person could be, so she held him.
Battler, after sobbing into Natsuhi's chest for a while, wiped his tears with a bitter smile, as though he had been like that the whole time, and tried to appear as though he had cried more than enough already...
"Anyways, let's go back down for now. Protecting ourselves is a higher priority than finding the culprit. Tomorrow, the boat will arrive. After that happens, the police will come, and everything should be brought to light. There's no way the culprit can escape this island, no matter how much they struggle...!!"
"...That's right. When the police come..."
But, for some reason, Battler felt a slight sense of uneasiness...as if the seagulls would never cry again. That couldn't be true. When the typhoon passes, the lively seagulls should return to the harbor again...
Stains from Kanon-kun's blood remained on the floor. Judging by the large amount of blood lost and the ruthless shape of the weapon that had fallen carelessly to the ground, I figured that Doctor Nanjo's treatment would probably end in vain... That weapon was doubtlessly the same type that had been stuck in aunt Eva and uncle Hideyoshi's foreheads.
...But wait, isn't the demononic design on the handle a little different...? There seemed to be some small differences in that part. Still, as far as their overall shape was concerned, the weapons were all of the same type. In aunt Eva and uncle Hideyoshi's case, it had been a little brutal, but since we had wanted to preserve the crime scene, we had left the weapons sticking into them. Though it had seemed brutal, we'd left the weapons that had been stuck into aunt Eva and uncle Hideyoshi to preserve the crime scene. So this was the first time we were able to have a perfect view of the entire weapon.
Including the handle, it was 25 centimeters long. Half of that was the stake shaped part, which was stained with deep red blood. The length of the blood-stained part made it clear just how deeply it must have penetrated into Kanon-kun's chest...
But aunt Natsuhi and the rest didn't even look at the weapon, and instead stood in front of the incinerator, where the horrible stench was emanating from.
I'd thought that after everything that had happened, nothing could surprise me anymore, but... this was... gghh...!
I stood there for a while, moaning, with a rising urge to vomit...
The clothes, the surface of the body, and the hair were all hideously burned. That grotesque corpse was in a state where not the face, nor the age, nor even the gender could be even guessed at... But when I thought about it calmly, I realized that a corpse appearing at this time could only be one person. It was Grandfather, who had disappeared that morning, and whose whereabouts had been unknown.
"...But, is there any proof that this corpse really is Grandfather...? It's burnt so black, you can't even tell what sex it is..."
"Battler-kun, look at the feet."
Aunt Natsuhi, with her handkerchief over her mouth and her eyes averted, pointed and told me to look at the burnt corpse's feet.
Just as Genji-san had said, there were six toes on each foot. Each of the toes had been arranged so normally that I hadn't noticed...
"...Since the Master was born, both of his feet have had six toes. Consequently, the Master was entrusted with the revival of the Ushiromiya family."
"I have heard that since long ago, cases of polydactyly were common in the Ushiromiya family. It's probably hereditary."
Polydactyly literally means 'many fingers'. Because of a little mistake by god when the person is born, one of their toes or fingers splits into two, and the total number increases. But a big deal isn't usually made of polydactyly in the world at large. That's because it isn't a disease, just something people are born with. So while they are still babies, at about the time they turn one year old, they can be taken to the hospital and given surgery to make them normal. Even a child with polydactyly can be treated before they become aware, so they might not even remember it themselves.
By the way, it seems that there is a possibility for this to occur in one out of every two thousand babies, so even though it's not usually seen, it isn't that rare at all. Speaking of which, I think uncle Hideyoshi mention something to me long ago. Something about how even Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man who unified Japan at the end of the Sengoku period, had possessed six fingers on one hand...
According to aunt Natsuhi, among the many Ushiromiya family heads, the ones praised most for their wisdom had all possessed polydactyly. Because of that, when Grandfather was born, his relatives were all excited at the thought that he might become another wise leader. And, when the leading relatives all died in the Great Kanto Earthquake, it was apparently argued Grandfather should be the one to restore the family because of the auspicious sign of his birth. If Grandfather hadn't disliked his position as the head overly much, this sixth toe must have been pretty lucky for him. Come to think of it, I think I've heard about some country where it's believed that people with polydactyly should be treated as gods and revered...
And... Grandfather's body was not simply burnt. Just like aunt Eva and uncle Hideyoshi, one of those things that had been stuck in Kanon's chest, one of those 'demon's icepicks', ...was stuck into his forehead...!
"...The 'ring of the head' is not on his finger."
"...So everything is as the letter last night said. Father... would probably be horribly disappointed..."
Natsuhi-san let her head droop and closed her eyes tightly...
It isn't clear when Grandfather's corpse started burning in the incinerator. Since, according to Genji, the strength of the flames hadn't been that strong, the body must have started burning a long time ago, so that stench could slowly creep out of the furnace and fill the room bit by bit, eventually pouring out and climbing up the staircase. Putting aside whether he was rare or well-done, Grandfather had been brought out, killed, and burned... even though he had started out locked away in the closed room created by his auto-lock. There's probably no doubting this...
However, according to Genji-san, the boiler room is usually locked. The possibility that someone outside our group had snuck in and committed the crime was overwhelmingly high, and there was also a good chance that this person was walking around with something like a master key. After all, the doors and windows throughout the mansion had been checked. But despite that, the culprit was able to strut around the mansion freely.
...By flipping the chessboard over once more, the very fact that this crime makes it perfectly obvious that a 19th person exists... means that the existence of the 19th person is even less possible. As long as that 19th person doesn't show themselves in front of us...!
If the culprit could get Grandfather out through the door sealed by the receipt, if they could kill aunt Eva and uncle Hideyoshi from the other side of a door sealed by a chain, then is it possible for them to even create a fictional 19th person through strange tricks and devices...?!?!
If we still want to believe that the culprit is among us, ...then the list of suspects is very short.
Wait, we can't be sure of that. Just a second ago, we started doubting whether the corpse here was actually Grandfather's, right? Maybe we can think of the other bodies in the same way. For example, the first six all had their faces horribly smashed. Some of the bodies had kept enough of their faces for us to confirm who they were, but that old bastard, for example...had lost his entire face, as though it had been peeled off. We had only figured out which body was which by their clothes and surroundings...
Had the culprit prepared a fake body beforehand and disguised it to make it look like they'd died... when they'd actually hid somewhere after committing the crime...? It sounds ridiculous, but that doesn't mean it's an impossible trick.
...It's too early to give in to this 19th person... no, this witch...!
Maria hadn't gone out with everyone else, but had remained in the boiler room. The thing she was staring fixedly at was probably not Grandfather's body, but the 'demon's icepick' that was sticking out of his forehead. She was probably barely able to contain her enthusiasm.
I tapped her on the head.
BGM: Witch in Gold
"How can you laugh at something like that? Do you think you're the only one who's safe? Why don't you feel like you're in danger? Why aren't you scared?!"
Beatrice promised me. She said that she's going to take me to the Golden Land. It's a wonderful place where you have no obligations, everyone's always together, and everyone is always nice to everyone else."
"...I'm looking forward to it. That time will come, very soon now. Kihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihihi..."
To Maria, who obstinately believes in the witch, this series of unsolvable crimes is proof that the witch actually exists. Every time something occurs that would be difficult for a human, it becomes a little harder for the rest of us to not believe in Beatrice. It must be an intense pleasure for Maria to see her relatives, who once firmly denied the witch's existence, start acknowledging that witch's existence one by one...
...Is that why she's in high spirits...?
"...Maria, let me ask this one more time. You'll probably answer the same anyway, but I'll ask just once more."
"...Yesterday, you were given a letter in the rose garden. Who gave it to you...?!"
"Uu-. Like I said, Beatrice. You still don't believe. Uu-."
Maria only repeated what she had already said.
All that's certain is that Maria has been with the rest of us constantly, has always had an alibi, and hasn't done anything that would put her under suspicion. She's simply overjoyed at being made Beatrice's messenger, and there certainly isn't a 19th person... Supposedly.
That's right, I wonder what's written in the letter we picked up in aunt Eva and uncle Hideyoshi's room... aunt Natsuhi should still have it with her...