Gosick I – 1.3

[3]

And then, the next morning…

In his room in the boys’ dormitory at St. Marguerite’s School, Kazuya rose at his usual seven-thirty sharp. He walked through the hallway to the washroom, giving a brief glance at the other boys drowsily stumbling by, and washed his face and neatly combed his hair, then went to the dining room to sit in his usual seat.

The remarkably voluptuous red-headed housemother placed his breakfast on his table. Just as he was about to take a bite from his meal of bread, milk, and fruit, Kazuya suddenly shouted in surprise.

The housemother, who had been sitting on a chair in the corner with her legs crossed, smoking tobacco and reading the morning newspaper, looked up in alarm.

“What’s wrong?! Find something in your food that’s not supposed to be there?”

“No, the food is delicious. It’s just that headline…!?”

Kazuya asked to see the housemother’s newspaper, then skimmed it frenziedly.

A rage-provoking headline leapt from the page:

{Another triumph from Inspector de Blois!
Fortune-teller Roxane murder case cracked!}

The inspector had once again taken the credit for solving the case, just as he always did. The article went on to state that the Arab maid had been arrested, and that she also happened to be very beautiful, and perhaps for that reason, the inspector had enthusiastically interrogated her, and then….

“What!?”

The granddaughter who had inherited the estate of the fortune-teller—that intimidating woman who had gone to blows with the maid—had given the inspector a hot kiss as an expression of her thanks. Kazuya didn’t particularly care about that part—but then he read that she had also gifted the inspector a luxury yacht.

And the inspector had laughingly declared that he would immediately take the yacht out on a cruise that very weekend…

“A yacht!?” Kazuya gave the newspaper back to the housemother, and sat back down in his chair. He thought to himself for a few seconds: That congratulatory kiss and that luxury yacht, by all rights, ought to belong to Victorique. I can’t abide such unjust conduct! Damn that drill-headed inspector!, then stood up.

*****

“Victori-ique!”

After running up the narrow labyrinth of stairs to the top floor of St. Marguerite’s Library, what awaited Kazuya that morning was only an unexpectedly empty conservatory. He checked the clock; it was still just eight in the morning, around the time when Victorique would be heading to the conservatory.

Kazuya once again made the several-minute trip down the maze-like stairs. On his way down, he heard the clang of the hydraulic elevator in motion, and assumed that a staff member had boarded it.

When he ran out of the library, he bumped hard into another student who happened to be walking to class.

“Eek!”

“I-I’m sorry—oh, it’s you, Avril.”

A young English girl with short blond hair and long supple legs was standing there. The photograph that she had been holding fluttered down to the ground. Kazuya bent down and retrieved it for her.

It was a picture of a young man. He wore an unassuming smile, but his face was alluringly handsome, brimming with a refreshing charm that beguiled anyone who looked at him.

Kazuya’s shoulders slumped a little. “Good morning, Avril…. Who is this, your boyfriend…?”

“Ha, ha, ha! Oh, no, Kujou, of course not!” Avril laughed gaily, and boisterously slapped Kazuya’s back. He groaned in pain. Perhaps girls possessed a surprising amount of physical strength.

“Oh, this is Ned,” said Avril.

“Huh?”

“Never heard of him? It’s Ned Baxter. He’s a stage actor in England, and he’s really popular right now. He’s not just very handsome, but also a good actor.”

“Hmm. Are you his fan?”

“Not really.” Avril shook her head. “But a friend of mine back home sent it to me, so I want to cherish it.”

“Oh…”

Avril carefully put the photograph back in her pocket. “See you in class!”

“S-sure.”

“Should I tell you another scary story later?”

“No! …This time I’ll tell you one.”

“Even though you’re a scaredy-cat?”

Kazuya reeled in shock at her words. But Avril showed no signs of noticing, and only merrily waved at him and ran away.

A “scaredy-cat”… Kazuya took a deep breath, and took off running himself, leaving the school grounds and heading toward the village. He crossed the main street, busy with people, carriages, and lately, automobiles, and entered the local police station.

The small brick building, its walls overgrown with ivy, was old enough that it looked as if it could collapse at any moment. The glass door of the front entrance was riven with cracks, and the turquoise-colored tiles laid out upon the floor were chipped and worn.

The largest room on the third floor was even more luxurious than that of the police chief, a clear indication that it had been commandeered by a son of the aristocracy. Kazuya strode directly into the room, with the two hand-holding deputies, chatting noisily with each other, unable to stop him. Inspector Gréville de Blois looked up, startled.

Despite the fact that this room was part of a police station, the walls were lined with numerous high-priced dolls. It was a deeply disquieting room that made no bones about the occupant’s tastes.

“…Hi there, Kujou.”

“In-inspector, you … blockhead!”

“What?!”

A group of other men working at the station gathered around to see what the fuss was about. The two deputies stationed themselves in front of the door with their linked hands blocking the way, while a crowd of people jostled to get a good view of the famous nobleman inspector and a young Asian boy glaring daggers at each other.

“I read this morning’s paper. Do you mind explaining yourself?”

“Well…” Inspector de Blois hastily began racking his brain for excuses. “I didn’t ask for that kiss, she just planted it on me, and she’s awfully old by my standards, so I wasn’t particularly pleased about it in the first place….”

“I’m not talking about the kiss!”

“Huh?”

“The luxury yacht! And the family’s gratitude. Those don’t belong to you, but to someone else, to Victori—mmph!?”

The second Kazuya started to utter Victorique’s name, Inspector de Blois leapt across the room in a running jump and swooped down on him. He pressed a hand to Kazuya’s mouth and glowered at him, the menacing gaze of his bloodshot eyes commanding him to shut up.

The onlookers whispered among themselves, straining to hear what was going on. As the inspector held down Kazuya’s throat and mouth with both arms, he slowly inched closer to the door, then extended his leg and violently kicked the door closed.

At last he released his hand from Kazuya’s mouth. Kazuya wheezed for air.

“Watch what you say. Don’t let the cat out of the bag now,” hissed the inspector.

“No, you listen to me!”

“Oh, fine, very well! You’ve got me, you hopeless man, you. I cannot win out against such passion.”

“Excuse me…?”

“I had planned to take the yacht out this weekend by myself and frolic in nature to my heart’s content, with a sort of ‘man and the sea’ theme. But I have no choice now. I’ll have to invite the two of you as well.” The inspector exhaled an overly dramatic sigh. And then he sat lightly on the edge of the desk, reached out to take a doll from the shelves to hug it to his chest, and began to lovingly caress its long hair.

He paid no mind to Kazuya, who was shrinking away from him as if he were some sort of pervert. “As for her…” he murmured to himself.

“Her?”

“I mean … Victorique. If I make a request, I may be able to get special permission for her to go out. After all, I am Inspector Gréville de Blois. That’s the least I can do. Hmm…”

Kazuya tilted his head dubiously. “Permission for her to go out?”

“Oh, nothing…. Until we meet again this weekend, then. I’ll contact you later with the details.”

Inspector de Blois took one of the doll’s hands and waved bye-bye at Kazuya. This was much too bizarre for Kazuya, and he couldn’t flee the room fast enough.

*****

“…So, you ended up making plans for this weekend?” asked Victorique.

Kazuya had once again run up the labyrinthine staircase at St. Marguerite’s Library, and found that since his last visit, Victorique, the beautiful pipe-smoking girl, had come back to set up camp in the conservatory. Many heavy-looking books were spread out on the floor in front of her, radiating in all directions. Victorique didn’t bother to look up as she spoke to him, instead burying her head in her books, her long blond hair strewn onto the ground like a turban come undone. While inclining an ear toward Kazuya, she continued to flip through pages one after the other, apparently capable of reading difficult books and holding a conversation at the same time.

“Yeah, that’s what happened.”

“…With Gréville?”

Kazuya puffed out his chest triumphantly. “I wasn’t able to talk him into letting you have the yacht altogether, but at least I can claim this small victory for now.”

Victorique languidly turned her head, and looked up, aghast, at Kazuya’s energized expression, burning with righteous indignation and flushed with success. Her eyes were a mournful shade of green, the eyes of an aged person who had lived for far too long. She spoke in a husky voice like that of an old woman, and yet it was deeply resonant. “I just want to ask one thing.”

“Yes, yes, and what might that be?”

“Kujou, do you like Gréville?”

“Are you kidding me?! I hate that guy. He makes me want to throw up!”

“Let me ask another thing. Is it fun for you, Kujou, to spend your precious weekend with that Gréville whom you hate so much?”

“Not in the least! …Huh?” For a moment, Kazuya was stupefied. Then he sank to the ground in a confused heap. “…Wait, how did that happen?”

“That’s what I was about to ask. But still…” Victorique raised her head from her books, and broodingly smoked her pipe, while completely oblivious to Kazuya’s dejection. Mellow sunlight filtered in through the skylights, shining upon the girl’s white skin as she looked up to the sky. “I see…. That means I can leave this prison. Gréville did say that he would get special permission for me…!”

Kazuya was too depressed to pay attention to her enigmatic whispers. “A weekend with the inspector…. How did it come to this? Well, he didn’t seem happy about it either, so maybe I can consider it a draw. Even so… could he at least do something about his hairstyle? It’s rather embarrassing to walk around with him looking like that….”

By the time he returned to awareness, he noticed that Victorique had stood up.

She stood at around one hundred and forty centimeters tall. The sight of her with her long blond hair draped down to the ground, her pallid skin, and shining emerald-green eyes, gave the curious impression, not of a human, but of an exquisite doll that had come to life.

Kazuya rose with her. He seldom saw Victorique standing up, but whenever she did, he always found himself amazed at the smallness of her body. Her diminutive blond head only came up to chest or waist-high on Kazuya, and he was already of small build for a boy. She craned her neck up to look at him, as if he were speaking to a child.

“I’ll begin preparations for the trip,” she said.

“…Huh? But there’s still several more days until the weekend.”

A peculiar look of chagrin crossed Victorique’s face, and she silently began walking away … to the hydraulic staff elevator, where she pressed the button to open the wrought-iron doors, and stepped through.

Kazuya made a strangled sound.

“…What’s wrong, Kujou?”

“Victorique, why are you getting in the elevator?”

Victorique turned around and removed the pipe from her lips. “Because I have permission to use it. This elevator is for the use of staff members and me. …What happened? Why do you look like you’re going to burst into tears?”

“No, it’s just that I was under the impression that you climbed that maze of stairs, too…. I thought we both shared the same misery….”

“What a ridiculous idea. The only one here stupid enough to climb this staircase day after day is you, Kujou. Come to think of it….” Victorique’s eyes took on a faraway look. “When I was riding the elevator up this morning, you were on the staircase at the same time, weren’t you. But you seemed to be in a great hurry, so I didn’t call out to you.”

“…Please do bother to call out! I come here to meet you, after all!”

The iron latticed doors closed, blind to Kazuya’s despair. He rushed after her and pleaded, “Let me ride, too.”

“I can’t. This may only be used by the staff and by me. In the meantime, you can sluggishly drag your thighs down the staircase, and reflect oh so bitterly on your suffering. For someone like you who spends all his time studying, this is fine exercise. Go on, build up that strength of yours for nothing.”

Kazuya staggered in shock. In the island country in the Far East where he was born and raised, his two older brothers were not only top-ranked in their grades, but also cultivated their physical prowess to an equal extent, and they would order Kazuya to run laps around the neighborhood or do push-ups at every opportunity. Now he realized that since he came to Sauvure, he hadn’t done anything that could be considered exercise. Incidentally, his brothers left behind in his home country were both large and brawny, and when they were younger, the two of them would often dole out beatings to the naughty children in the neighborhood. When they grew up, his rowdy eldest brother became a scholar, and his second eldest brother, who was quick at making escapes, entered the government. Kazuya was still not quite sure whether their success was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time….

As Kazuya stood there, taken unawares by a flood of memories, Victorique put on a feigned smile and energetically waved her small hand at him. “So long, my friend. Let us meet at the bottom.”

“W-wait… Victori-ique!?”

The iron cage jerked downward with an unsympathetic clang, allowing only Victorique to descend with it.

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