"Well, I can't see anything wrong about it, princess." -Red
I WAS CALLED PRINCESS BY THE SCHOOL IDOL
“Hey, princess. You have found out something, haven’t you?”
“Except that your brain can make a nut smarter, nothing more, Red—Ouch!”
“Oh look,” remarked Red in mock sympathy. “At least a nut knows better than to hit his head on the iron grid.” It was followed by a hearty chuckle.
Well, that was Red, the school idol. The campus silent heartthrob. The cool ace player of every sport he cared to join. The genius fiddler. The man who can win any trophy or snatch any defending title if he wills. The man who has all the talent to become a top model student.
But for me, he is only some despicable annoying brat who stepped in this mess on his own and pulled me in to get both of us out.
Another good thing about him: he is a regular dropout. He had just moved in to our school for months ago—and I believe that was too long for him to build his dashing fame and fan clubs—now, he is on the verge of being expelled…again. If I shall have my say, that was the answer to my prayers.
And I can’t believe I am helping him avoid it.
On the bright side, despite his talents and genius—ah, I swear I will tell this only once—he was not really arrogant or proud in himself. Although the haughty air around him, his carefree gait, the unruly spikes of hair and the ever calm and cold countenance convinced you to believe otherwise. Of course, I would not debate about that. After all, you see what you want to see. He was not the type who would come barging in a conversation. As if he does not need anyone to ask about anything. If you want a word, be sure it is reasonable and tap a whole year supply of courage to speak with him.
In this particular case, all that changed. The more I am convinced he is innocent. In all due respects, for goodness, I have no heart to become like Sherlock Holmes. But this detective brain of mine as my Father calls it (which is so ridiculous) started thinking at once, sending electrical impulses to my neurons before I can even remember stopping them. And by that time usually, I already have the culprit’s name at the back of my head. Conscience then forced me to find conclusive evidence to pin the crime to the real suspect and rescue the one falsely accused. For a few seconds, I will feel relieved and the rest of my life, unsettled. I do not want to become a detective.
Last thing I need is to find myself examining pulses from already cold corpses with a big murder case in my hands. And it seems Red stumbled upon this unwanted talent during last month’s Annual Cultural Festival. When he also started calling me…a princess.
Stupid. This guy is utterly an idiot. I felt my blood boiling inside me.
“You sure enjoy doing that, princess,” Red snickered. “Should I try once too?”
I halted, turned a glowering look over my shoulder and said, “Stop calling me that, will you? I feel like cursed.” Then I went on.
“It’s fine. I’m no evil wizard. Are we near yet?”
Now, it’s my turn to snicker.
“We’re not even halfway, Red. All I have here is my intuition and inner subconscious. No solid clues. No evidence—”
“yet,” he snapped. He was eager to put pieces of the jigsaw in their places and see the picture. Eager to prove himself. Eager to prove his innocence. Something in his voice gave a push to my slacking determination like fuel to an old engine.
“No reliable deduction. Of course if we have—”
“We won’t be scuttling here like stinky rats in the attic,” he intruded.
“But taking in consideration the lateral comparisons of all their alibis during the estimated time of incident, if all their accounts had been held in good faith and if my ears had been true and accurate—”
“Honestly, try to be sharp, princess.”
“Shut up! You’re distracting me, so please? All evidence and motive line up and point you as the suspect. But as for their function as evidence, they are circums—ouch—tantial. Well, as for the motive, that brought us here. I have the hunch but I cannot be sure until those letters—apparently, a ton of letters from your admirers slipped from the mailbox and I saw that ‘one.’ Sent last year. Clean up a little. They are accumulating.”
“What does that ‘one’ have to do with this?” Red inquired.
“I don’t know. I’m working on instinct here. So don’t—ouch—ask,” I answered, the rear of my head bulging a little. “You know, Red. You’re a deal taller than me. How can you manage here with that cat-like stealth?”
“Experience. I robbed houses before,” he answered and perhaps grinned behind my back.
“Tell me you’re joking.”
“I’m a habitual dropout. You ever wondered why?”
Here we were crouching and crawling in the dark narrow compartment winding around the attic above the ceiling of a rich manor fully-equipped with surveillance cameras, heat sensors, security camera bugs and MT(movement-triggered) alarm webs. A real show off. As expected from no less than Ferdinand Bluelace, the President of Bluelace Electronics Corporation, one of the wealthiest, most influential and rapidly progressive international companies. I shuddered as I scanned the quick fact from my cellphone. Of course, I accessed the information from the server of my own workstation back in the house. Having a hub of computers at my disposal allows easy management and access to the broad database I stored. I have a bad habit of hacking several sites before and downloading interesting data. Passwords, you see, are words, numbers or any characters that you have to pass like an initiation before you became part of the group (site). I just answered to their challenge and passed. Where is the crime involved? None.
No detective would ever make such a silly deduction.
And then in all honesty, we were not here for the secrets of Mr. Bluelace’s merchandise which were being guarded by his paranoid security. All we want is Angelica Bluelace, another gifted fiddler like Red: she and our evidence.
Why are we here. How are we here. And what we are here for is a long talk.
But to give you the gist of everything: Red is being suspected to have stolen the last Stradivarius conceived in 1736 by no other than Antonio Stradivari himself before he died. Now, the violin in question is owned by Angelica Bluelace and worth roughly two million dollars, fair market value. Well, it was found at the pit of Red’s trash can beside his dorm, wrapped in magazine pages today, Monday around 2:10 in the afternoon. The worst part: we are on the run.
Finally we sensed four thin slits running across vertically and horizontally with each other, forming a perfect square barely the size for an average person to fit in. Pale yellowish light squeezed itself balefully from the unseemly edges of the quadrilateral in question. A breakthrough. We stumbled upon the long-searched entrance. We could now break inside the manor. My stomach lurched forward. A wrenching tug in my insides. I do not know what this was. But I am certain it was not excitement.
Believe me. I would try my luck in staying awake for ten minutes straight in my values education class than ventured inside. But multiply the ten minutes by six and I would not know which is more deadly.
I lifted a finger to trace the narrow line opening. But watching the flickering yellow lights, something felt strange. Something seemed out of place. My index finger was hovering within an inch, barely touching it when I noticed what it was. It was crackling. The lights were crackling?
It was then that Red slapped my hand away.
“Don’t touch it. This many volts can make you a good toast and burn your clothes to a crackling crisp roast,” he seemed serious enough to be incredulous.
“Should I compliment the rhyme?”
“No, thanks. And here I thought you were doing some real thinking for once just to find you playing with the currents,” he grinned. “The future looks so bright.”
“I have never seen a multi-talented human breed who lacks the ability to zip his mouth locked,” I retorted. “Learn that one. Not all has the ability.”
“Alright. So how do you reckon to open this one? Give me an answer in five seconds and I’ll learn the ability. Five…”
“If we can have this shorted one way or another without triggering the alarm…”
“Then, princess. I shall have my turn.”
Red opened his dark leather backpack and drew out in quick calculated speed the equipment he needed. He was now pulling a pair of tattered gardener’s gloves in both hands.
He smiled at me. The kind that anyone in the receiving end shall turn a back and leave him to smile on his own. Unfortunately for me, turning back is not my option for the moment.
“This show, princess, is not for children without parental guidance,” he tittered. “So please be a good child and avert your eyes.”
A vein pulsed in my temples. This fool. I stared back at him not with the ‘oh-please-be-careful’ look but with the ‘oh-please-get-a-wrong-move-and-be-electrified-at-once’ look. I gave him that face with all that I’ve got so he will not misinterpret.
“Don’t worry, princess, I’ll be careful,” he replied confidently.
“This young kid, old man,” I stressed the courteous address. “Is going to save your white hairs from this ditch.”
“Oh yes. Pesky detective brats don’t forget their milk, you know.”
Red had tossed the lightning rod to the side adjacent the entrance. Effect was immediate. Volts of energy had been attracted by the shaft of metal and leapt on it like vultures to a carcass. He then picked up the pair of magnetic bar handles and attached them on the iron lid. They connected themselves and slowly, Red was gently lifting the entrance door to catch a glimpse of what lies beneath. And for a moment, hot colorless steam wafted on our faces and moistened our cheeks. Curious, I peeked in below.
“This is going to take more of my wits,” he whispered seriously. His face blank with answers for a while.
“Never thought you’re one of the three princes of Serendip. Got the gift of serendipity. Part of your talent too?”
He smirked slyly and stripped off his darker than black knitted vest. Our school emblem proudly crocheted on its left chest. He folded the sleeves of his starched-collared white buttondown in cuffs up to his elbows. He did the same to his pants and rolled them up to his knees. He unlocked the first two buttons of his polo and tucked it off. Quite disconcerted, he swept a troubled hand to his auburn locks of hair and pulled a gardener’s hat over his head.
“Why exactly do you have a gardener’s hat? Just what are you playing at?” I asked out of genuine curiosity.
“This is just one of my improvised makeshift guises. Now, how do I look?”
I curled my brows in mock sincerity.
“As a rogue rascal? It perfectly suits you.” I scoffed. “Even before the guise.”
“I’m honored,” he smiled then flexed his arms to open the iron lid widely. His legs tensed and immediately I knew what was coming.
“Hey, we are on a fifteen feet height,” my voice trembled feebly. “You could not possibly—”
He simply winked and gave me a small salute. Then off he went plummeting earthward to the fruit of his serendipity: the baths. The maids’ baths, that is. I quickly pulled my corkscrew-knife from my pocket, flicked it off and made a narrow gash on the set of wirings at my side. I did not know if Red expected me to do that because he did not say anything. Or perhaps, and more likely, the idiot was testing me. I was insulated against the flowing currents of electricity from the copper wires I have just cut because my customized corkscrew-knife was covered with leather at the handle. Apparently, the contraption was of my own invention and you would not see something like this being traded elsewhere unless I applied it for patent, of course. This was guised as your simple nonlethal corkscrew for the obvious reason that you could not simply go about advertising acts of delict by carrying a dangerous weapon around. If you extended the leather handle and flicked it off, you will have a sharp silver knife. If you traced the tip of your nail at the thin slit at the rear of the handle, it will pop off from its mini-metal frame laid underneath, all you will have to do is to slide the leather-covered metal lid and you will find a hidden two matchbox-sized compartment. This was where I secretly keep the three different spare keys I borrowed— forged, I mean: my Father’s humble vios and my Mother’s old adventurer plus our neighbor’s Rolls-Royce—how did I get the last one, I do not need to go on here—all for emergency cases of quick getaway. Well, I said it was a corkscrew but the coiling strand of metal was actually a very malleable alloy-based polymer, implanted with thin wires and a micro transistor encased in a silicon capsule. It was so small that I toiled for three nights just to download one program in it: the Keycopy program. Once inserted in any lock, the program will save the pattern in the micro transistor and knead the material according to it. Three seconds and you will have the key in any lock you wish to open. No wonder I have these spare keys. Now you know.
Two of the incandescent lights flickered for about a few seconds and finally went off, leaving the bathhouse dim. I watched Red from above. He seemed to have slipped on the wet tiles. But if Red wanted to fool me, he must struggle for one hundred years training in Himalayas. It was as act. A clumsy gardener who fell from the sky—the ceiling, I mean. Trying to build sympathy by innocence, huh?
“Please forgive my rude and abrupt appearance but the Master is in such a hurry to have the lights fixed. I cannot get through the door for reasons we all know,” Red started his script. As expected from the leading artist of the Artiste Virtuoso. Sad thing he quitted later saying the name sounds hilarious if not mediocre.
His eyes averted to the other direction, trying not to look. Then I noticed something more. My hand immediately fumbled for my phone. I flipped the cover and punched the video recording options. I recorded his face. A blushing Red out of pure embarrassment. Now, call me princess as long as he wants. He will have his day.
Now, indulge me for a while: the maids are submerged in an indoor hot spring. A jacuzzi. Alright, dears. Submerged. With a thick whirl of hot steam. I initially thought they would cause a commotion at once. But they only silently picked their robes and towels and made their way out. Perhaps, they were enraged but more stunned above anything else. Also, another factor to add in this successful diplomatic mission as I observed was because Red did not really look like some shady fugitive.
Although he actually is. Me included.
When all of them were out of sight, he beckoned me to go down. This smells trouble. Jumping, climbing, running and anything which involves physical ingenuity was not really my strong suit. I prepared myself for body aches. I made a quick mental check of the gravitational pull for a matter in freefall, how to reduce the uninviting repercussions of the 9.8 m/s2 acceleration, possibly by air resistance, how to lessen momentum, mass x linear velocity, good to keep the head elevated at all cost, then there’s the matter of friction, if I landed at such angle then the force I needed to keep myself in place, well, the tiled floor is slippery, putting the force of inertia in the equation—wait, what is my weight again in grams? That’s—
“Hey, princess. No time to calculate how would you fall,” he waved. “Time to test some cataclysm-resistance. I can feel you have it.”
Well, he was right. My body was not degraded to a bag of broken bones. I just threw myself in disgrace by landing pathetically. Don’t expect me to describe ‘that’ here.
We proceeded. Cautiously peeked through the narrowly-opened door. Glanced left and right for people. None. We broke out and scurried to the wide ornately-carved hallway. Here and then avoiding to be caught by the rotating cameras.
As we were busy hiding ourselves, I again made a mental rerun of the case in my head.
This Monday morning was a scheduled violin rehearsal for all the participants for tomorrow’s Grand Show which will be hosted by our school to entertain other guest schools. An extraordinarily important event for them. Another dull sleep-inducing event for me. It started at about nine o’clock. The stars of the show, videlicet: Red and Angelica, appearing at the later part of the musical. I remembered Angelica arriving at the school at about nine thirty aboard her navy blue sleek car. Red, an even more habitual late comer arrived at around ten thirty, making himself alone in the rehearsal room where the Stradivarius had been allegedly left. The rest of the participants were in the soundproof theater two floors up, depriving Red of all opportunity for an alibi. Was it incidental that he arrived during those hours? Or the real culprit had long known about his habitual tardiness and set a scheme to frame him up?
I am betting on the second one. God knows what will happen if I am wrong.
Fifteen minutes later, Red emerged from the rehearsal room and arrived at the theater. Enough—as the other participants (who are also in my list as ‘might-be-suspects’) pointed out accusingly—for Red to carry out his crime. I cannot blame them. You would not want the Bluelace against you. Unless you are some bold, daring and audacious ‘stubble-headed pipsqueaks’ like us who came loitering in someone’s attic and went about disturbing some ‘maids-in-bath’. If you want to join, registration is free.
The range of the crime was about thirty five minutes. The estimated time was between 10:25 to 11:00 when Angelica found out that her Stradivarius was gone. Unfortunately, the time of Red’s arrival coincided with that. I asked about the 9:30 to 10:30 interval before Red arrived. Angelica stated that she took the Stradivarius for practice in the panel opposite the rehearsal room to play on her own. The instructor and her assistant supported this claim and further declared that they heard the song. By 10:15 she said, she returned to the rehearsal room to further review the notes. At 10:25, she went back to theater and left Stradivarius inside its leather case. I asked her motive for leaving the violin all in its lonesome but she only answered that she has been doing that ever since and no one took interest. Besides, she said, her turn will still be at eleven thirty. I put up a carefree act and said, “What’s the fuss about some piece of wood stringed to sing? Even if it was lost, I’m sure Ms. Angelica can simply swipe a card and have a new one.” She only kept quiet. Her fair delicate features seemed troubled. I felt the hot gazes of her guards drilling holes on my forehead. The other participants told something like, “Larceny is still a crime, petty or grand.” Or, “But shouldn’t be the culprit be taken on a disciplinary action? For justifiable reasons.” Another, “And for the common good of the whole student body. Red is an idol. A top model student. What would—”
“He is a dropout.” I remembered I countered it with that and waved a dismissal hand. Apparently, only a few knew the issue about Red. Most were from the staff and administration. My act told me who among them knew the real value of the Stradivarius in question. So robbery for cash was out of the theory. The motive should be more personal and emotional in nature. Was it revenge? Jealousy? Fame? Insecurity? Or a good mix of these accounts as one?
Furthermore, there was the matter of this mysterious, half-obscured pair of footprints left near the back door of Red’s dorm a few steps away from the trash can where the violin was found. I took a photo of it in my cellphone and saved the magnified detailed sole pattern. Our best clue so far: the real culprit’s footprints. It intrigued me as at first to find only a ‘single’ pair. It would look as though the culprit flew from whenever he might have come, landed at Red’s back door and flew again to his trash can where he dropped the two million dollar item, unless…
I looked up and…smiled. There was it. The reason why only this one survived. The shade. A seemingly trifling fringe attached to the main building was a tin curved shade extending over the doorsteps. There was only one way to connect this piece to the elusive puzzle. Also the only one way to set Red free from the close-case-no-alibi scheme plotted against him. And the only way to break the solid alibi of the rest of the other participants.
There was only one way to do that: change the time of the crime.
Yes, this did not happen today. The whole act was orchestrated to divert us from the real time the violin had been there in the trash can by the front porch.
Last night it was raining. So that was how the rest of the footprints had been washed away. Only the one by the shade survived. Last night—Sunday. I doubt Red was the type who will not feel a thing when someone was already dumping dome two million dollars in his trash can.
“Red, had you felt anything strange last night? You know the kind as if you’re being watched?” I whispered. We were now leaning by the wall outside the kitchen. The door was unfortunately opened. We were waiting for the big, wide-bellied chef to turn his back so we may be able to cross without being seen.
“At the dorm, you mean? No. That’s impossible.”
“Because I was not even there last night,” he murmured. “I did not notice that trash can too. I never left by the front door. Always at the back.”
Alright, so my suspicion was correct. Someone who did this must have known Red long enough to be even familiar with his habits. But who? Red had been in our school for roughly four months. Finally, the chef turned his back and we dashed right across.
But if it was really committed Sunday night, then it would mean that she no longer had the Stradivarius today which would seem ridiculous because she used it—
‘No one’ actually saw the girl playing. Only ‘heard.’ Besides no one had actually seen the violin for today except for its leather case. I still needed proof.
Hold on. This morning. When I saw Angelica. By the time she arrived. Wait, yes. In the garden! She stopped first in the garden! She called someone through her phone. And there was this boy. A frolicking little boy who accidentally nudged her leather case propped on the stone bench. Seeing this, Angelica squealed. When I heard her squeal, I already felt something was off. Now it made sense. That was not the squeal of someone afraid to mark even the slightest dent to her dear violin. It was from fear. Fear to have her secret discovered. The frightened boy offered to raise it up but she sharply shouted not to touch it. The sorry boy scampered away in a blink. She reached down herself and propped it back. And why would she do that? Because she was afraid. Afraid anyone would know the violin was no longer there.
It was an easy trick, indeed. So simple. So illusionary.
Problem is: how could the perpetrator of the trick and the evidence point out to two different persons? The footprints could not be Angelica’s. She could not have marched right from this manor to Red’s dorm and dropped the Stradivarius in the bin. No way. Ridiculous. Impossible.
The girl is crippled.
Instead of footprints, it should have been wheel tracks. That rich kid was sitting on a wheelchair. Alright, now that I had uncovered the trick, I was supposed to come up with some half-baked conjecture. But today was an exception. Not that my suspect and the evidence were in conflict. No other choice but to resort to this one. I have never used this before - reverse deduction. It is rarely used field of logical reasoning—whoa!
“Don’t sleep, princess!”
Red has just given me a good fist on the head.
“You have something to share, I suppose?” he asked as he eyed both directions warily.
I gave him a hard look. We were now crouching low behind one of the six foot carved redwood tables with a vase of fresh chrysanthemum on top. Each aligning the walls at equal intervals. Thanks to them, we managed to hide from the rotating cameras ahead.
“Go figure.” I answered.
“Now, princess. Should I teach you courtly manners?” he smirked.
“Oh sure. If you have some,” I scowled.
It was then that we heard muffled footsteps growing louder and louder. You did not need a detective brain to tell you that it was coming to your direction. They were talking in steely tones and laughing in coarse chuckles. Ill luck. Not girls. We could not use Red’ charm here. To make matters worse, that kind of gait: the sentry.
If they found us, we’re done for.
“A guard look-alike might be good now, Red.”
He moistened his lips and seemed to think for a while.
“We go ahead. Quick.”
“No. Wait.” I said, my face dim.
“Wait for them?” he raised an eyebrow.
I motioned my head to the direction of the rotating camera. Alright, the goddess of luck frowned at us. Due to the kind timing of the surveillance, it was just about to complete its 360 degrees rotation facing us. Just in time of the sentry’s arrival.
“All we need is for someone to say Check,” Red finally said.
“Not yet Checkmate. We have a chance.”
In one thought, we ran ahead.
And then: all hell broke out loose.
“Freeze!” one of the pursuing entry screamed. “Or we will be legally entitled to shoot!”
“Tch,” I grunted. “They are already legally entitled to shoot. We are the ones breaking in here. Caught in the act. Too obvious to believe otherwise. Generally conclusive. It will hold up in court, mind you.”
“If you’re too obsessed to be shot, princess,” Red grinned. He was running effortless. Well, as for me, I felt I was running all the laps in my physical education subject for the next two years. “Let me have the honor.”
I feigned a cheerful laugh then drew out a serious face.
“Nobody would want these furnishings be deducted in their payroll, you know,” he said.
The alarms were blaring loudly in the hallway.
“Listen, Red. I had uncovered the trick. But something feels wrong. A second ago, an idea struck me. I think I am distorting facts to fit my deduction. I still have to find out more. You sure you cannot remember the sender of ‘that’ letter?”
“Except that I knew her before,” he chewed his lip. “Well, nothing.”
“Wow, that helps a ‘lot’.”
If he were examining my words for sarcasm, I knew he found many. Every stroke of each letter was dripping with it.
“No need to mention that, princess. I’m glad to be of service,” he answered with a perfectly fabricated gratified face.
You will have you day, Red. You will definitely have it.
We saw a corner and rounded on it. An opened music room seemed beckoning us to enter. We did not refuse the offer. The room was dimly lit by the silver plate of light gleaming across the night sky. We locked the door and pressed our ears at the wooden oak door. Leaning against the wall was a huge, ancient-looking wardrobe. Locked.
It was then when my nature-born talent kicked in: clumsiness. I felt my heel a bit itchy so it unconsciously twitched itself. As you might have noticed, I did not take the blame to myself.
A high-pitched ‘cling’ followed.
No prize guessing it toppled something. And no prize guessing we were not the only ones who heard it. A rush of footsteps. Then frantic banging of the door.
“Nice one, princess,” Red winked.
I turned my gaze to the wall. Adrenaline pumped in my bloodstream. A thought hit me.
The door burst open. The sentry poured in like grains from a sack. All heads rotated in every degree there is to a protractor. In all directions a compass can possibly point out. Rifles mounted forebodingly under their armpits. Their muzzles threatened every object inside the room. But nothing stirred. Aside from their irritated bickerings and arguments, all we can hear were the rapid beating of our hearts in our ribcage and the shallow breathing of our lungs. We kept ourselves still with all that remained in our container of effort. Last thing we need was for them to grow silent and sprout some brains from their cranium.
Sadly, they did.
I can feel the wardrobe melting from their gaze and holes seared from heat. I knew what was coming. I groped for my phone in my pocket and flipped it open. I punched an empty message and sent it to a particular number.
Then of course, it was not 111.
Suddenly, from somewhere within the manor, an alarm was triggered. It bellowed furiously and fiercely that in half a second, the team of security scurried outside, headed for the alarm triggered by intruders no other than the ones in front of them.
We waited until the barest sound cleared then we got out from the wardrobe. It was a simple matter for my corkscrew-knife to produce an instant spare key and bypass the lock.
“I would appreciate some compliment,” I smiled despite my panting.
“How did you do that?” asked Red. He was cool as usual. Not a sweat on his brows.
“Oh, that’s really great! Exceptionally brilliant!” he uttered in mock adoration. “Happy?”
“I left a spare phone in the attic near the MT alarm webs. I sent a message to it so it vibrated and whirled, triggering the alarm. Not so refine, I know.”
“Yes. And this kindergarden saved both our skins,” I replied in a masked gleeful repartee.
“Well then, shall we go, princess?” he then grinned his most irritating grin.
And if I have to admit, nothing irritates me more than that stupid address. Looks like Red knows that too. I never thought annoying people was included in his treasury of talents.
We were about to go outside when something caught in my eye.
“Wait, Red,” I called out, deadly serious. “Shut the door. Open the switch.”
He did as he was told. Well, it made me feel better.
“Now, why is that?”
I trotted to the cupboard opposite the wardrobe. Gold-framed pictures lined up in a queue atop. Several trophies made up the centerpiece. The pictures were mostly family pictures: the head, Mr. Bluelace, his wife, Angelica’s brother, Edward and then, an unknown girl I have never seen or heard before. And in terms of face value, if I might be allowed to judge, Angelica was prettier than this one.
Angelica. I thought so. Something was going on here.
She was not in the picture.
“Red, you knew this girl?”
He came near and peered over my shoulder.
“Looks familiar. But I cannot remember,” he shrugged.
I gnashed my teeth. He was really getting in my nerves.
“Honestly, Red! You remember nothing. No one. You have some sharp brains, oh heavens! Why don’t you rack in on and set your head remembering?”
“Alright. Fine,” he raised both palms. “Relax.”
He arched a finger on his chin and stared at it. Then I thought of the missing Angelica. The perpetrator of the trick and the owner of the footprints. No, it is impossible. Right from the beginning. I glanced back to the unknown girl grinning at the picture.
A spark of thought flashed in the cluster of nerves at the base of my skull.
I am not pushing it. I am not distorting facts.
Yes, it is ‘definitely’ possible.
The perpetrator and the owner is one.
Alright, the last thing I need. The last proof to support my deduction. I picked the tallest trophy at the center and looked at the bottom part of its back. Please let it be that name. Please. I looked in.
Perfect. It was: Maria Antoinette Bluelace.
A wolfish grin curved in my features. Finally. I fitted the pieces of the jigsaw together. Now it was time to unveil the picture.
I turned to Red who seemed to be really doing his best remembering. If the girl in the picture was alive, she should have melted from his gaze.
“Alright, Red. Stop pretending you are actually reminiscing,” I said. Vigor renewed in my voice.
He gave a weary sigh. His shoulders sagged.
“Oh thanks. Finally,” he answered.
“So you were really pretending, huh?”
“You know. I think she was an acquaintance years ago.”
I snatched the picture from his hand and settled it back.
“You know. I think I can open a bit of your past for you,” I said.
“So even that can be opened by your corkscrew-knife, huh? I don’t remember placing a lock on it.”
“Oh heavens! Red is joking! Was that supposed to make me laugh?”
“No. Go on.”
“You dumped that girl before. Coldly and cruelly, if I might add.”
Well, he said something really intelligent in reply like, “Ah?”
I flipped open my cellphone again and proceeded to My Files. I checked out for the location of Angelica’s personal chamber from the blueprint. It was an easy task to hack the site of the firm where the team of architects who designed the Bluelace Manor belonged. I simply downloaded the raw blueprint, tentatively placed the likely positions of the cameras and alarm webs and guessed what room was the room of which.
And we were now headed to that particular block labeled as Angelica’s chamber. We also had several close encounters with the team of security that were still chasing those intruders. After a series of turns and corners, shiny hallways and grand corridors, slipping through winding staircases and narrowly avoiding surveillance cameras, we finally made it in front of Angelica’s door.
This is it. This case is closed. Time for confrontation.
Red squeezed back his gardener’s gloves and hat in his backpack. He unfolded his sleeves down to his wrists and unrolled his pants down to his heels. He wore again the dark knitted vest with the school crest and flicked a hand to his bedraggled hair. In seconds, he was back to his normal look as a decent student. Who would have thought that he once became a shady fugitive who broke in all of a sudden in the middle of some ladies’ sacred repose? After this, I swear, I would laugh hard about it. I could already feel myself grinning on my own.
“Stop that, princess. That’s creepy,” he whispered.
“Oh excuse me,” I answered with a meaningful titter. “You do have a handkerchief, do you?”
“Yes. Edward, is that you? Wait for a while.” A courteous voice called from inside. Feminine. We heard the screeching of wheels.
She opened it. Red grinned at her. She paled and gasped.
Though I was not sure if the reason behind her paled face and gasp was her inward guilt or because Red was smiling at her. It was confusing even for me.
She was about to scream for help but it was too late. Red had already seized her and gagged her by the mouth of the handkerchief. She thrashed and struggled but she was no match for Red. He slipped inside, dragging her with him. I followed and closed the door behind us.
Well, our method had been harsh. Poor little us. Our troubles were underpaid.
Inside, Red did not hurry to release her as per my order. I observed the cold hearth inside her chamber. Good. She was still struggling, forcing Red’s hand off her face. I gave a loud show of an exhausted sigh. I glanced at my watch.
“Oh please, Ms. Bluelace. Stop that. You hurt yourself thrice more than you do to Red. He will not hurt you, believe me. As for myself, “I flicked the knife from my contraption. “I’ll rein in myself, promise.” I grinned.
She paled so much I thought she will faint. Good thing she did not, but only took an anxious gulp.
“We mean business here. Not homicide. And surely, not kidnap-for-ransom stuff. We are not interested in your Father’s treasures. We are just here for some friendly chat. And so please don’t bother calling for help, no one will come,” I delivered my scripted prologue in what I think can be called efficient. “Ah, as for how we had entered, we just walked in right under your dogs’ noses unscathed,” I lied. Hope she took the bait.
Red finally released her and she calmed down at her wheelchair. She raised an indignant eyebrow at me.
“So this phony detective is the one you chose to handle your case, Red?”
I admit I was not hurt. This detective stuff gives me pleasure no more than a piece of strawberry candy. And I hate strawberries.
“And what this detective had come up with under the magnifying glass?” she continued.
I can feel she was desperately putting a show of bravado.
“Nothing much, true,” my right hand wriggled itself gingerly inside my waistcoat pocket. I drew out a letter in blue-gray envelope. “Except that President Bluelace has a single daughter.”
“What’s with you?” she scowled. “Stating the obvious—”
“Am I right?” I stared at her with a vampire-like grin. “Young Mistress Maria Antoinette Bluelace?”
I put up my best cheerful face of mock sincerity. If she was looking properly, there was no way she would miss that.
She was completely petrified. Someone had bleached the color from her face and charged her with a thousand volts of electricity. That someone must have been really proud. She was out for words so I took the roll. I brandished the letter wedged between my fingers. She flinched from it as if it was a flaming torch. Girls, really. Sometimes, they act stupid. Red was keeping his cold silence. Well, I was betting my deduction took its right place inside his head.
“Remember this letter?” I fostered a nasty chortle.
“W-What do you—?”
“Now, it’s a pity you can’t. Should I read it to get all those memories back?”
Judging from her face, I imagined myself with bloody pair of fangs, forked pointed tail, gleaming scarlet eyes and a horn or two in my head. The all of a sudden, her expression turned hard.
“So what of it? What if I changed my name?” she bellowed furiously.
“And your face too. Plastic surgery if I might add.”
She ground her teeth. Her fists were clenched, trembling.
“Alright. Back to business. I had unraveled your scheme against Red. We decided to stay silent about this so as not to drag your family name down the gutter provided that you move to clear Red out of any doubts or suspicions arising from the incident in consideration. We will be lenient and recommend you not a confession on this conspiracy. Not even indemnification for the damaged party in question.”
Just a play in words. Supposed to be indemnification for damages. I saw Red lifted an eyebrow.
She laughed in hysterics. Well, I expected this much. Have you ever seen a criminal who confesses right from the beginning?
I did. A 25 year-old Antarctican native.
“Me? A confession for conspiracy? Look, I know you have a fancy for words which will make you sound intelligent, but please not to me. I don’t have the time.”
Ah, how stubborn.
“Your scheme was straightforward. To set a crime against Red. Your trick was simple too. You marched right from here to Red’s dorm and dropped Stradivarius in the bin last night. You have an awfully accurate knowledge of Red’s habits, haven’t you? Must be observing starting two years ago,” I studied my fingernails casually.
Beads of sweat were forming on her forehead. Her fingers twitched restlessly, fiddling on the cushioned armrests. She continued shifting on her wheelchair. I smiled. Signs of guilt, evidently.
“Last night? I still have it this—”
“No. You haven’t.”
“But they heard me play it!”
“Yes. Only ‘heard’. There are a lot of spare instruments in the practice panel.” I flicked an imaginary dust off my sleeve. “You want me to speak your motive too? Umm. Two exist that are possible. First, vengeance and popularity. For reasons I think the two of us knew. A word, young Mistress,” here, I withdrew my nonchalant tone. “If you want vengeance, stripping him of his popularity is grossly ineffectual. You should have consulted me earlier. Consultation services are given at a discount. Free, if you answered my riddle correctly.” I winked at Red. “Second, perhaps you intended to waive your rights over Red as the supposed-to-be injured party and have him in your debt.” I yawned. “Believe me If you succeed, you deserve to be in Guinness. So it’s either or. But I am betting on the first one.” I started tossing the letter with a hard blue-gray envelope in the air. “Legally speaking, you cannot waive a penal offense since it is against the public weal. The Constitution speaks that by doing so, it threatens the general welfare and common good of the citizens.” I could already feel my eyelids drooping down like the shutter of a camera. All I want after this is to recline on my own cushioned chair back in my room. “But you have bucks of cash; you might do what you want.”
“Nonsense! Where is your evidence?” the girl protested.
“Well, about that…” I grinned wolfishly.
I was still savoring my moments under the limelight when Red snatched it away from me.
“Drop the farce, Maria,” his voice as hard and cold as flint.
If there was one thing I could ‘willingly appreciate’ from Red is that he can take what I mean without explaining myself in complete sentences. Good to know my deduction sank in him as it was.
And believe me: it only cost me five words to tell that.
He seized the girl by the shoulder. She seemed so petrified I could only deduce that her copper wires crackling with electrical signals in her skull were short-circuited. Too dazed to think, the little girl. Red pulled her out of her sitting box and sent it skittering away with a sharp quick kick. They were right in front of the cold hearth.
And Angelica has just stepped a foot on it.
“…is what we came here for...” I blinked at her. I rode toward the footprint captured in the fine ash. The sole of her school shoe. I brought my phone over the imprint and keyed in for the Optical Scanner application software. I punched a few commands. Seconds later, it beeped.
“Positive,” I declared. “About 99.37 percent resemblance with the one found outside your backdoor. 0.67 percent accounts, perhaps, to the silts and pebbles that are no longer in the soles.”
It was then that Angelica dropped down on her knees and cried.
In the end, she promised to clear Red’s name beyond any reasonable doubts and suspicions. She seemed so dejected when we were about to take our leave. I was so tired to speak I could no longer throw some farewell riposte.
That’s why I talked.
“Don’t push it though. We just need you to clean his name. Don’t mind the owner of the name. He’s messed up beyond repair.”
“Now, princess, how do you plan to get home? Should I call the carriage?” I felt my stomach made a steep dive of 180 degrees.
Before we stepped out of the manor, we heard remote chuckles.
I solved the case. And I am seriously regretting it.
Just how much longer should I endure being called a princess?
Perhaps, now is my turn to devise a foolproof scheme of my own and get a Red-free school life.
If you’re intrigued about the princess-business, well, it started last Annual Cultural Festival. There was this notorious Drama Club who owned a very ridiculous gossip. All members were addressed as princess. No need guessing how many were males. All of them believed to be practitioners of witchcraft. They dwelled in the shadows so nobody bothered to be involved with.
When a ghost tale flickered the sudden spark of interest to the group. A tale which made them an instant celebrity.
Every night during Cinderella’s curfew, a floating gown was always seen treading the dark empty corridors of the fourth floor. What added to its mystery which brought eyewitnesses to shudder were the luminous glowing aura of the ghostly gown and the suspicious curve as though some invisible body was wearing it.
That’s where I entered. When things became too impossible to answer.
Ah, I’m tired. I’ll be continuing this next time…
That is how I ended the account of my misadventure. If someone asks my most embarrassing moments, all I have to do is to hand this file over.
6:18 am. I am alone. My parents were both gone for work. I did not go to school.
Honestly, who would want to go to school? I have my own work to do.
And I guess I’m not the only one who did…
Suddenly, the latch of my window opened. The glass pane was slid up of its frame. Click. Click. My eyes were on my computer.
“Do you habitually break in the house too when no one answers your call?” I finally said.
He grinned. And I have a bad feeling about this.
MY NAME IS HARTLOCK. Marvyle Hartlock. The boy who was called princess by the school idol. And I’m no detective.