The five survivors re-entered the original lounge, where a man lay dead on the floor. Compared to the other room, the chandeliers here shone with an unnatural brightness that made them feel even more on edge. They each found a seat for themselves and sat down, keeping an eye on each other.
Victorique stared up at the wall emblazoned with the message in blood. Her eyes were sharp, almost glaring in intensity. Finally, she pointed at the bar counter beside the wall. “Kujou, go look in there.”
“I have reconstructed the chaos and arrived at an answer. This time you should find something there that you didn’t see before.”
This puzzled Kazuya, but he still rose from his seat and went behind the counter to look inside as she had asked. There on the floor he caught sight of something crumpled up into a ball, as if someone was trying to hide it. It looked like a large blanket…. No, more like…
“Wallpaper!” Kazuya shouted in surprise.
Hearing his shout, Julie and Ned both got up and headed to the bar counter to look inside.
A crumpled sheet of wallpaper, printed with the same design that was on the wall, had been wadded up and crammed underneath the counter.
Maurice arrived a moment later. “Is, is this … wallpaper?!”
“Yes,” said Victorique, nodding calmly. “Think, Maurice. It certainly is impossible to write such a long message on the wall in only ten seconds. But ten seconds is enough time to tear off wallpaper that’s hiding a message already written in advance, isn’t it?”
Ned exhaled in understanding. “I get it now.”
Standing next to him, Julie nodded, fingering her heart-shaped pendant, her long black hair swaying from side to side. “Well, what do you know. It’s simple once you think about it.”
Ned once again began to play with his tennis ball, while Julie restarted her five-step turns, both clearly unable to calm themselves.
But Maurice only glowered at them, his shoulders shaking. He stood in the middle of the floor and looked over each of the other four people one by one, until he finally yelled out, “Listen here, you fools!”
Victorique frowned. “What was that for?”
Maurice retreated against the wall while fearfully examining the faces of Kazuya, Ned, Julie, and finally, Victorique. And then he asked in a trembling voice directed at no one in particular, “Then who is the hare?”
The other four people stared back at him in confusion. “What do you mean, ‘the hare’?”
“Another name for those children. We called them hares!” Shuddering uncontrollably, he turned his back to the bloody message scrawled on the wall, and shouted, “Isn’t that what’s going on? If this isn’t a ghost ship, and it isn’t cursed, then what else could it be!?”
Everyone looked at each other. Suddenly, Julie cried out in shock, and put her hand to her mouth. “What if … this is all part of someone’s revenge?” she whispered softly, sounding incredulous.
“Oh, that’s it!” exclaimed Ned.
Maurice’s entire body shook. “Don’t play innocent! Then who sent that invitation?! You sent it to all of the men who were involved in that incident, including me. Now they’re all dead, and I’m the only one left. But then there’s you four young people…. Where did you come from? You weren’t with us ten years ago. So why did you receive an invitation?”
With his shoulders heaving with ragged breaths, he continued, “Not all of the hares died. Some of them survived and were released. We were told to fatten them up, and so we ensured that they would live in luxury afterwards. …So there’s a surviving hare among you, isn’t there? And now, ten years later…”
Julie vigorously fidgeted with her pendant, while Ned squeezed his tennis ball.
“You constructed a replica of that ship, and invited us here to take your revenge!”
“I have nothing to do with this!”
The two young adults shared a baffled look.
“Then how did you get an invitation?!” shouted Maurice.
Kazuya was the first to respond, and timidly explained his and Victorique’s circumstances: that they were classmates at school, and had actually intended to spend the weekend on a yacht, but something suddenly came up and they had to change their plans. While they were bored and had nothing else to do, they discovered the invitation on board the yacht….
When he mentioned that the owner of the yacht was a famous fortune-teller named Roxane, and that she had been murdered, Maurice’s face went stark white.
“Lady Roxane … was murdered?!”
“Did you know her?”
But Maurice didn’t answer Kazuya’s question.
Ned spoke up next. “I was originally an orphan, with no living relatives. I grew up in an orphanage until I was eighteen. After that, I went to work, and on the side, I trained to become an actor. I was lucky enough to find some roles on stage, and before I knew it, I had gained a bit of fame. And then, last weekend…”
He cut himself off. Then his pace of speaking slowed, as if he were unsure of how to choose his words. “After my performance, I went to my dressing room, and found that someone had delivered a bouquet and an invitation. Well, this happens sometimes, thanks to some of my more ardent fans…. I had just wrapped up a production, and I was feeling like a break, so I decided to come along.” Ned finished speaking, and cast his eyes down to the floor.
Then Julie explained her own situation. “I mentioned this earlier, but my father is wealthy and owns a coal mine. So I grew up doing whatever I wanted. I was raised in the lap of luxury in a huge mansion, and my family indulged my every whim….”
Unlike Ned, Julie spoke hurriedly. Just when it seemed like she was running out of things to say, she added more to her story. “It happened just recently. For some reason, I found this invitation inside my private car, even though it was locked. I did think it strange at the time…. But my birthday was coming up, and I assumed it was just another one of my friends’ pranks. So I came here, laughing to myself in anticipation. Huh… I couldn’t have been more wrong….”
With that, everyone was finished with their stories.
Maurice sat, slumped over in thought. His face was stern, wrinkles gathering between his brows. Then he looked up, and pointed at Ned and Julie. “It’s one of you. …Isn’t it?”
“Wh-what are you talking about! No!” shouted Julie.
Maurice glanced at Victorique. “I know this girl’s background very well. She comes from a noble family. She wouldn’t do something like this. The same goes for her friend. And they’re too young. Ten years ago, they both would’ve been just five years old. There weren’t any hares that small. They were all in their early to mid-teens.”
“How can you be so sure? All you know about her background is what she said herself! She could be some brat from the streets as far as you know!”
“Nonsense. I can immediately recognize those born into the aristocracy. They have a different presence from that of the commoners. An upstart like you wouldn’t understand, but I myself hold the title of a viscount, and I have years of experience mingling with the most elite members of society. I know enough to say for certain that this child is of noble birth.”
“What?! Did you just call me an upstart?!”
Julie lunged at him, but Ned held her back, yelling, “Stop it!”
Maurice gave them both a scornful look. “The hares were orphans. It’s obvious enough when someone comes from the lower classes. So here we have an actor, and a rich man’s daughter. Either one of you could be what’s left of those children who escaped death…. Ha!” He faced the ceiling and burst out laughing.
Julie struggled violently, like a wild animal, trying to propel herself at Maurice. Ned shouted for Kazuya to lend him a hand. Kazuya rushed over to help pin her down.
Julie raised her voice in a guttural, bestial growl. “Maurice, you’re the suspicious one here!”
Julie finally stopped struggling, and Ned and Kazuya released her. She glared at Maurice with dangerous eyes, like a wounded animal driven to desperation. He backed against the wall, returning her gaze skittishly.
“Those hares may have had parents, or maybe adults who considered themselves parents. Adults who cared for them. Not unlikely, is it?”
“Ten years ago, Maurice, you would have been in your mid-thirties. If you had your children in your twenties, then they would have been almost teenagers at the time. Around the age of the hares, as you said.”
“My daughter attends an exclusive school for children of noble families.”
“Oh, you may claim that you’re a nobleman, that you’re from the ministry of foreign affairs, but all we have is your word. As long as we’re on board this ship, there’s no way to prove anything you say. You could be some deranged parent who constructed this ridiculous ship to take revenge for your dead child. Yes, you must be a father who went insane after the death of his child!”
“That’s absurd!” Maurice laughed contemptuously, then scowled at Julie. “I won’t allow you to insult me in such a manner!”
As soon as Kazuya saw the expression on his face, he was dead certain: Maurice was unquestionably an aristocrat. It was an expression deeply ingrained with a certain prideful, detached attitude that was peculiar to the aristocracy, something which Kazuya had become thoroughly sick of since he came to this country. There was no way this man could be misrepresenting himself.
“That’s right,” Julie continued. “It’s just like this little detective girl said at the beginning. I was standing nearby and happened to hear her say that there was one more person than there should’ve been. There were eleven of us when we were in the dining room, and when we woke up in the lounge, there was one more. Twelve people. The one who wasn’t in the dining room is the person behind all this. He slipped in among us, and now he’s laughing inside while he watches us get frightened and die.”
“Now, I know that this actor fellow was definitely in the dining room. It was dark and I couldn’t see his face clearly, but I could hear him going on and on with his boring anecdotes about his acting career.”
Ned’s cheeks turned red with embarrassment.
Julie bit her lip, and glared at Maurice.
“…And yet, my dear little rich girl. You weren’t there, were you?”
“Yes, I was!”
“There’s no proof of it.”
“The same goes for you. No one saw your face. That means the culprit is either you or me.”
The two of them glared at each other.
Then Julie said, in a voice trembling with anger, “Another thing, Maurice. Why didn’t you get in the lifeboat?”
“Your colleagues couldn’t wait to get in that boat. I remember now; weren’t you the one who first suggested escaping in a lifeboat? But by the time they lowered it into the water, you were the only one not on board.”
“Th-that’s because… the rest of you were saying it was dangerous.”
“Are you saying you seriously listened to the words of a mere upstart like me? A nobleman like you?” snapped Julie sarcastically.
This time Maurice tightened his hand into a fist and charged at Julie. Ned hurried to step in the way.
Julie resentfully locked eyes with Maurice, her breathing rough. Then, suddenly, her shoulders twitched. “Shh!” she hissed, holding her index finger up to her lips as she silently strained to hear something.
“What’s wrong?” Ned whispered.
“I hear something….” Julie’s face stiffened in fear. “I hear water!” She flung open the door and ran into the hallway. Then she stopped, and listened again.
The faint sound of splashing water echoed from below. Everyone froze in confusion.
Maurice moaned, “We’re sinking!” and fell to his knees in despair.
Ned shook him by the shoulders. “What are you saying, old man?!”
He didn’t respond. Ned grasped his shoulders and shook him forcefully.
Maurice opened his tightly-shut eyes. His face was taut with horror. In a low voice, he said, “If you open … a small hole in the bottom of the ship, the hull will fill with water, bit by bit…. This is how … you can set a time limit.”
“That was… that was… my idea.”
Maurice was silent for a moment, his shoulders quivering. Then he looked up, and gave a bloodcurdling scream. “To the radio room, hurry! The ship is sinking!”