GosickS I – 2.4

[4]

“…For God’s sake, why does she always have to take on that arrogant tone. This is why I hate grey wolves,” grumbled Inspector de Blois as he walked toward the village.

“…’Grey wolves’?” asked Kazuya.

The inspector said nothing. The expression on his face was not only full of anger, but was also tense, as if he were fearful of something. He continued muttering to himself, “How can she do this to me when I’m busy enough with other cases…”

It appeared that the police department had received some cryptic information regarding a famous thief who was about to strike the village, and was scrambling to put together a response.

But that had to be set aside for now. The inspector and his two deputies—and Kazuya, who for some reason was forced to tag along with them—went to the outskirts of town to interview the undertakers. After questioning them according to Victorique’s orders, they rushed back to examine the crypt.

“There’s definitely one body missing.” The younger undertaker pointed inside. “They were interred in chronological order, but there’s one empty slab in the inner chamber.”

The older undertaker reacted in surprise. “That can’t be. They should all be in their proper places. I made sure of it when I last came in here eight years ago.”

Pushing aside the younger man, he barged into the crypt. Then he raised his voice in a startled shout. “You’re right! There’s one missing!? That’s odd…. How did this happen?”

The undertakers and the inspector gave each other a look.

*****

On their way back to the school, Kazuya heard the inspector mumbling to himself, “A missing body… a primrose corsage…” On occasion, he groaned aloud, “That damned grey wolf!”

With each exclamation he heard, Kazuya would cock his head to the side in perplexity, wondering what was on the inspector’s mind this time.

After returning to campus, they walked along the white pebbled road that led to the library. Then Kazuya saw the library’s leather-covered swing door open, and the familiar figure of a girl jump outside—it was Avril Bradley.

Kazuya let slip a sound of surprise, which caught the attention of the inspector. “What is it, Kujou?”

“Well…” Kazuya remembered the trouble he had gone through several days ago after the inspector had mistaken him for being the perpetrator of a murder case. He felt reluctant to mention Avril to him when all he had to go on was his gut feeling. “No, it’s nothing….”

The clouded, menacing expression on Avril’s face as she walked away gave Kazuya the same funny feeling in the pit of his stomach as before. Her face looked nothing like that of an innocent young girl. But if her cheerful side was nothing more than an act, then who was the real Avril?

He entered the library, his thoughts in turmoil. I wonder what Avril was doing in here? he thought, surveying his surroundings. He saw nothing amiss. The library looked the same way it always did.

Am I just over-thinking all of this…?

Inspector de Blois walked into the elevator and departed for the top floor.

Several minutes later…

By the time Kazuya, gasping for breath, had finished climbing the labyrinthine staircase to the garden where Victorique would be, he found her waiting silently together with the inspector.

A breeze from the skylights rustled the leaves of the trees.

“…So, Kujou.” The inspector was the first one to break the stillness. “It seems that one body was missing.”

“…I already know that. I was there with you at the time.”

“Then who is the killer?”

“Like I said, inspector…. Ask Victorique, not me….”

“You promised that if we gathered the last fragment, you would tell me the name of the killer.”

“Inspector!”

Without bothering to raise her head from her book, Victorique asked, “What is the name of the student who died eight years ago?”

The inspector’s shoulders twitched. “Millie Marle. What does that have to do with it?”

Now she lifted her head swiftly. “That is the name of your killer,” she said, her pipe still in her mouth.

*****

An abrupt silence pervaded the garden. Kazuya and the inspector stared at Victorique, their mouths opened in shock.

“…Huh?”

“Millie Marle is the killer.”

“How can that be, Kujou? Millie was already dead at the time of her funeral!”

“As I keep telling you, inspector, I’m not the one who…” Kazuya turned to Victorique. “Can you explain? Surely you don’t mean she faked her death?”

“No, she probably was dead. In other words, this would be a killing committed by the dead.”

A thin strand of white smoke rose up in a straight line from Victorique’s pipe. She removed the book from her lap, and gave the two men a hard look. Her eyes were curiously bright. For once, she didn’t seem cold or blasé.

A thought suddenly occurred to Kazuya: She’s not a bad girl at all. It’s just that she’s a very unusual sort of person….

Victorique began to speak. “I can only imagine the chain of events that led to it, but while she was on her deathbed, Millie Marle chose Maxim to be her companion in death’s journey. After all, the knight is duty-bound to protect his lady.”

“So is that the meaning behind that costume?”

“That’s not all. Now, here we have three fragments of chaos. One is the costume of a medieval knight. The second is the stolen key. And the last one is the missing corpse from the previous burials. It’s possible to reconstruct these fragments as follows. Millie Marle used a sedative to put Maxim to sleep, and dressed him in the coat of armor. Then she used the stolen key to enter the crypt, and substituted the body of the unconscious Maxim, disguised as a knight, into the place of a very old corpse wearing a suit of armor. After this, she died. When Millie Marle’s body was placed inside the crypt, Maxim was still sleeping inside. It’s a pity he didn’t realize that he was meant to accompany her in eternal rest. The undertakers were no better. Inside the dark crypt, they didn’t notice that one of the corpses they had long been used to seeing had been exchanged with a fresh body. Thus the deceased Millie Marle was laid to rest, and the door was tightly shut. Once Maxim awoke, it was pitch dark, and he was surrounded by dead bodies. Perhaps he discovered the dead girl and realized what had happened. Or perhaps, in that darkness, he was unable to discern the truth…. Regardless of his reaction, the door had already been sealed.”

Victorique fell silent.

Kazuya had gone pale in horror. He glanced at Inspector de Blois next to him, and saw him looking at his feet, his face also drained of color. “How ghastly!” he whispered.

Meanwhile, Victorique gazed into empty space with eyes like moist glass beads, as if she saw all human concerns, be they good or evil, terrifying or delightsome, as objects on a distant shore.

This girl is definitely an unusual sort of person, thought Kazuya again.

Victorique parted her lips. “Of course, I have no proof. Moreover, this is something that happened eight years ago. But it makes sense this way.”

A heavy silence enshrouded the conservatory.

Then Kazuya heard a rustling sound.

He looked up, and saw Inspector de Blois scramble to his feet. Turning away from them, he rushed inside the iron cage of the elevator.

Neither Victorique nor Kazuya bothered to bid him goodbye. Instead, Kazuya shouted after him angrily, “Inspector, please show your gratitude to Victorique. She did solve the case for you.”

The inspector looked over his shoulder, and shrugged. “What are you talking about, Kujou? I merely came to ask for your account as an eyewitness. Farewell!”

The iron grill clanged shut.

“How dare you…!”

Victorique took no notice of Kazuya’s rage. She looked up and called out, “Gréville,” her voice weary.

The inspector turned around, his face strained with irritation. The expression in his eyes betrayed the slightest hint of anxiety. “What?” he asked, a quaver in his voice.

A shift in atmosphere enveloped them once again. The inspector, looking much like a frightened child, watched the small girl warily. She returned his gaze calmly.

And then there was that almost palpable ringing sound, when adult and child switched places in that strange instant….

“Investigate the relationship between those two—between Millie Marle and Maxim. It seems that Maxim was quite the lady killer. However, the motive for her crime is hidden in that bouquet of primroses.”

Kazuya recalled the primroses that adorned the corpse’s chest. When the body fell to pieces on the floor, the flowers disintegrated and were swept away by the wind.

“In the language of flowers, primroses mean ‘together forever.’ So long, Gréville.”

Inspector de Blois’ dumbfounded face was slowly engulfed by the floor as the elevator descended. The second before he disappeared from view, Kazuya thought he saw his face crumple in unmistakable chagrin….

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