chapter three — the ones who vanished into the darkness
“What on earth is this all about, Kujou?”
The large brick building that housed the headquarters of the Sauvure police boasted a lavish façade and an elegant front entrance, but the interior was as plain and functional as could be. The sounds of busy footsteps echoed up and down the wide hallways.
In a spacious conference room on the fifth floor, Inspector Gréville de Blois was pontificating about something or other while toying with his golden drill and clutching a porcelain doll in a puffy, lacy dress to his side. Kazuya burst into the room, earning himself a glare of undisguised annoyance from the inspector. As he stood in the midst of a group of lantern-jawed men who appeared to be police detectives, Kazuya quietly explained the situation to him.
“So what?” de Blois murmured irritably, and turned the doll upside down and peeked under its dress. Scandalized, Kazuya looked at him askance.
“I wonder if she’s really wearing drawers,” the inspector muttered.
“Inspector! Listen to me!” Kazuya yelled. “There is a frightened girl over there who begged me to call the police. Something suspicious is clearly going on. It’s a case waiting to be solved!”
Inspector de Blois remained unmoved, and began to pull down the doll’s tiny pair of drawers.
At that moment, the door to the conference room opened, and a man walked in.
His shaggy hair and unfashionable suit spoke of one who truly cared nothing for fashion. It was difficult to tell his age—he could have been anywhere from his early twenties to his mid-forties. But behind his oddly-shaped square eyeglasses, Kazuya could see a startling brightness in his narrow eyes.
When the man walked in, Inspector de Blois quickly jumped to his feet, and roughly foisted the upside-down doll he had been holding by the leg onto Kazuya. Despite his surprise, Kazuya took the time to gravely clothe the half-nude doll properly in her drawers.
“Superintendent Signore!” announced one of the detectives. Apparently this man of ambiguous age was the superintendent of the Sauvure police, a Mr. Signore. He regarded the bizarrely-coiffed Inspector de Blois and the Asian boy next to him, who was putting underwear on a porcelain doll with the utmost solemnity.
“Gréville! Haven’t seen you in a while. You never come to visit. Aren’t you getting any of my invitations?”
“Well, I’ve just had a lot to do….”
Kazuya raised his eyebrows. The two of them seemed to be old acquaintances. But while Mr. Signore was speaking in a relaxed manner, for some reason the inspector kept his eyes averted the entire time.
Kazuya recalled that on the train the inspector had spoken of Mr. Signore as powerful, but not necessarily the most astute of men….
“By the way, Gréville, I’ve been hearing of your exploits since you began working for the police. I expect you’ll be a great asset with this art theft case. You know, Sauvrème has been in a fairly lawless state these days….”
“Oh? Rather different from the countryside.”
“Yes. Since the turn of the century, strange foreign customs and pagan cults from the colonies have gotten popular among the common folk all over Europe. It’s been on the wane since the Great War, but in Sauvrème, there are once again reports of evil deeds committed by devil worshipers lurking in the darkness. We have been working around the clock investigating these cases. …But going by the rumors of your feats, lawlessness isn’t something confined to the cities. Perhaps those are the times we live in. And yet you always manage to solve cases quickly and accurately. I hope you’ll let us into your secrets.”
Inspector de Blois gave a gratified nod.
Kazuya looked around the room. The other detectives were sitting on the edge of their seats, hanging onto every word of the two men’s conversation. They evidently idolized the inspector.
Kazuya nudged him, and whispered in his ear, “Inspector, hurry!”
“Hurry? What for?” he whispered back.
“About Jeantan. I insist that you—”
“I’m busy right now.”
“Then perhaps I should tell these gentlemen a little something about Victorique’s wellspring of wisdom….”
The inspector shot out of his chair, dragged Kazuya away to a corner of the hallway, and cursed at him in a low voice. Undaunted, Kazuya whispered retorts back at him. The two of them argued for a short time, but soon enough, the inspector gave in.
“…Fine. We’ll adjourn the meeting and head over to Jeantan.”
Mr. Signore and the detectives watched the inspector forcibly pull Kazuya out of the room, then turned to gaze curiously at the porcelain doll left on the table…
Kazuya, Inspector de Blois, and two policemen arrived by carriage in front of a huge octagonal brick building—the department store Jeantan. They pushed aside the deferential doorman standing at the ready, and went through the glass doors.
Purple-uniformed employees of various nationalities stood all over the floor. In a single unified motion, they turned to look at the uninvited guests, as if a flock of birds sitting on the branches of a tree had been startled by some sound and turned their heads around all at once. Every face was as impassive as a mask.
The sight of them threw the inspector off balance, and he halted. But he soon pulled himself together, and turned to Kazuya. “Kujou…?”
Kazuya nodded, and looked over the faces of the attendants. Spotting a young man with a beautiful Nordic face, he pointed at him. “First, I asked this person where to buy the Blue Rose paperweight.”
The young man gave him a puzzled look, as if he had not quite understood what he had heard. “This is the first time I see you, sir.”
He spoke broken French in a Scandinavian accent that Kazuya remembered distinctly. Kazuya stared back at him, equally confused. “Huh? But it was just earlier today. I asked you where I could buy a Blue Rose.”
“That cannot be. I do not remember your face,” the man repeated.
Kazuya froze uncertainly.
“What seems to be the problem?” a deep voice boomed out.
Kazuya turned around, and saw another face he recognized. It was a man in his mid-thirties, an imposing figure with a tanned, muscular body clad in an expensive suit—the same man who had yelled at him in the room with the glass cases at the very top floor.
“My name is Garnier. I’m the owner of this store. Is there something the matter, sir?”
Kazuya also recognized the name Garnier. He was a young businessman who had made a fortune after the Great War ended, and a few years ago had purchased Jeantan, an established department store.
“Excuse me, we met earlier at the top. Actually, after that—”
“…What are you talking about?” Garnier again looked at him curiously. Kazuya gulped.
Young purple-uniformed employees were beginning to amass behind Garnier, their faces showing identical looks of puzzlement. They were slowly closing in on Kazuya. Every face was expressionless, and yet this was a truly unsettling lack of expression, one that seemed to convey a kind of unspeakable malevolence.
Kazuya began to feel flustered. “There’s a room on the top floor with a door made of oak. It was full of glass cases!”
Mr. Garnier tilted his head, gazing at Kazuya with a genuinely mystified look. Then he turned to Inspector de Blois, and asked with a face full of bafflement, “What on earth is this Oriental boy talking about?”
“Uh, well…” The inspector stuttered for a moment, then gave Kazuya a nudge. “Do something!”
An eerie silence settled over the floor. The purple-uniformed salespeople were surrounding Kazuya, the inspector, and the two police officers, tightening the circle little by little.
Garnier smiled and said to Kazuya, “Customers aren’t supposed to go in that room.”
“I went inside by mistake. I was following the directions from that clerk right over there.”
Garnier looked back at the young man with the Scandinavian accent, but the youth only shook his head.
“But I clearly remember—”
“Then what was in that room?”
“If you went in, then you must be able to describe it!” Mr. Garnier suddenly raised his voice.
Kazuya briefly flinched, but replied without backing down. “Then I’ll describe it for you. Let’s see… The door was made of oak. The room was full of glass cases. The wallpaper was brown, and there was a black and white checkered tile floor. And a chandelier with a floral motif!”
Kazuya turned toward Inspector de Blois. “Inspector, why don’t we go see that room? When we do, you’ll know what I saw was real. And then we can move onto the other reason we’re here!”
The inspector reluctantly nodded, and made a signal toward the two policemen.
A slight trace of unease crossed Garnier’s expression.
The inspector, Kazuya, and the two policemen took the elevator to the top floor. Garnier and three young assistants rode with them.
They exited the elevator and walked down a long white corridor lined with glass doors. At the very back of the corridor, there was one room that had a door made of oak. They entered the room.
“Inspector, I started out by going in this room. And then—” Kazuya halted in his tracks.
What he saw was…
…a completely different room from the one he had entered just a short time ago.
The wallpaper should have been an understated brown, but instead it had changed to a golden color printed with a garish pattern in decidedly poor taste. A luridly bright red carpet lined the floor, and even the chandelier no longer resembled a flower, but had been replaced with an eye-catching golden fixture. Only the glass cases were how he remembered them, but the items inside were also subtly different.
Inspector de Blois turned to him, suspicion written all over his face. “Where’s the brown wallpaper, the checkered floor, and the floral chandelier, Kujou?”
“B-but I saw them!” Kazuya yelled. “I was just in here an hour ago! And I saw you, Mr. Garnier. I dropped the plate, the paperweight, and the comb, and I apologized to you. Don’t you remember?”
Garnier shook his head, a cold expression on his face.
At first, Kazuya was unable to move. Then he grabbed the inspector and ran down the corridor.
Garnier and his entourage followed them, grinning widely. “What is this fuss all about…?”
Kazuya found the service elevator in the same place as he remembered it. That ominous elevator, permeated with reddish stains and a strange smell….
He exited on the first floor, and walked down that eerie hallway with the pale gas lamps he had passed through earlier that day. When he arrived at the pile of mannequins, he looked back at the inspector, and opened the lid of the wooden box.
“There was a girl in here. She had sandy hair, and kept saying that devils were here!”
Inspector de Blois snorted and shook his head, rolling his eyes at Kazuya. “Kujou…”
Kazuya looked down into the box. And then he raised his voice in a cry of despair.
A body curled up into the fetal position.
Its neck twisted at an unnatural angle.
Open dark eyes filled with resentment, staring out into space.
It was a mannequin.
“B-but…” Kazuya slumped down to the floor. The vibration rocked the box, and the mannequin’s head snapped off with an unimaginably loud crack and tumbled into his lap. He shrieked at the uncomfortably heavy, life-like sensation.
Unable to hold back any longer, Garnier burst out laughing. “Bwa, ha, ha, ha! Bwa, ha, ha, ha!”
The three young attendants joined in, their laughter matching his.
“Bwa, ha, ha, ha! Bwa, ha, ha, ha!”
“Bwa, ha, ha, ha, ha!”
“Oh, that’s so funny! Bwa, ha, ha, ha!”
Kazuya, roiled by a mixture of mortification and bewilderment, gazed dazedly up at their faces, the mannequin’s head still in his lap.
Standing next to him, Inspector de Blois again rolled his eyes. “Are you telling me that you confused a mannequin for a living person?”
“N-no…” Kazuya groaned.
The inspector roughly yanked the mannequin’s hair and lifted it up to examine carefully. “There’s no refinement in these mass-produced ones….” He threw it to the side. The head rolled on the floor until it hit the wall with a loud rattle, then stopped. The wide-open eyes stared out emptily.
No one said a word.
Finally, Garnier heaved a sigh of dismay. “Is that all you have for us?”
“Yes, sir, I am truly sorry about this. If you would excuse us…” The inspector unceremoniously grabbed Kazuya, who was motionless in shock, and began to pull him out of the room.
Kazuya snapped out of his trance. “But inspector, I’m telling the truth! That room had brown wallpaper and a checkered tile floor, and there was a real, live girl inside this box! Inspector!”
At this, Garnier turned around, and his tolerant smile turned wrathful in an instant. “That’s enough!” he roared in anger. “If you insist on further insulting my business, then I’ll have you arrested! Get this through your head, boy. You were never here. No one remembers you!”
“That’s not true! I-I swear I came here!” Kazuya glared back at Garnier.
The inspector and the two policemen dragged Kazuya out of the building.
When they came out, a familiar coachman happened to be loading a passenger outside at that very moment. A large jagged scar ran diagonally from right to left across the coachman’s face. He made eye contact with Kazuya, but quickly looked away. Kazuya whistled, but the man acted as if he hadn’t heard him.
Kazuya shook off the inspector, ran down the sidewalk, and jumped in front of the carriage. The horses neighed, and the coachman pulled on the reins to bring the coach to a stop. He scowled in irritation, cursing under his breath.
Kazuya ran up to him. “Excuse me! Didn’t you give me a ride earlier? Inspector, inspector! He doesn’t work at Jeantan; he should be able to talk to us!”
Kazuya looked back at the inspector’s dubious face, then turned to the coachman. “You gave me a ride earlier, didn’t you?”
The coachman hesitated, then gazed deeply into Kazuya’s face and nodded.
Kazuya was filled with relief. “You picked me up at Jeantan, and took me to the police headquarters.”
The coachman eyed him warily. “What are you talking about?”
“This wasn’t where I picked you up.”
“What?!” Kazuya’s face twisted in anguish.
The coachman looked down at him, a peculiar smile on his face. The scar on his face twitched and transformed into a ghoulish grin. Then he said, “I picked you up at Charles de Gilet Station, and dropped you off in front of the palace square. What’s the matter with you?”