Chapter 4: Suspects
Chapter 4: Suspects
First things first, I went back to the office next to the construction site and knocked on the door. Charles let me in, surprised to see me with my luggage in tow. "Do you happen to have an extra room?"
He considered my request for a moment before complying. "Yes, I wouldn't want them to try to kill you too."
I couldn't reply to that. I didn't think Doug, or Ann, or anyone from Mineral Town would hurt me, but I didn't know who else was out there. Who could have frightened those people into silence? What if Skye had only been a clever actor? I would be dead. Well, at least I can rule him out. If he wanted to kill me to keep me from finding out the truth, he had his chance. I realized that I was doing it again, hoping that the villagers were innocent. One of them has to be the killer, or rather the almost killer; there is simply no one else.
After depositing my luggage into a room, I followed Charles downstairs, back to the little conference room. "That used to be Renton's room," he stated, to break the silence. "I sent him back to HQ. Since the construction is halted, there's not much that he can do here." I guess my timing was lucky then. Lucky... that word feels as if it shouldn't fit the situation at all, or my life. "About the investigation," Charles' handsome face turned critical.
I realized that he expected me to have made progress in the investigation and what little I had found was mediocre at best. I hastily threw a list together in my head. Then, resting my hands on the table and lacing my fingers with a forced look of confidence, I began. "My main suspects are Zack and Doug." I threw in Doug because I expected him to be more mature than Ann about locking out paying customers and also, because I didn't want to leave Zack alone in that list. He showed me, and I thus assume showed Charles, the most anger because of how the stress of all this was affecting Lillia, but I know he's harmless, or at least I think I know.
"What about proof?" Charles glared at me, but I knew the glare wasn't for me, it was for the culprit.
"Insufficient as if right now," I tried to sound professional. "But I'm making progress," that was such a lie.
Charles nodded and for a moment his expression became thoughtful. "Thank you, detective, I knew I was right to have chosen you."
His statement filled me with curiosity. "Why exactly did you choose me?" I didn't want to sound as if I was doubting my own abilities, but in all truth, I'm a rookie.
"You were the one who sold Fun Land the farm, thus I concluded you understand progress. You wouldn't sympathize with the villagers; you would be on my side." I wanted to be on his side, but in a different way, by his side. "The detective who took the case before you had an impressive resume, but not enough sense. I knew he took pity on the villagers, I couldn't trust him. When his investigation went cold, I fired him."
Even if that other detective took pity on the villagers, I don't think he was incompetent, the case is just hard. There's no proof and if it existed, it must be gone by now. Even if I somehow manage an arrest, everyone will have an alibi, or more like a town full of them. Then I remembered what he said before about the goddess. "What about the Harvest Goddess?"
Charles looked frustrated. "The would-be star witness is gone without a trace. They say the conflict drove her out, frankly I'm suspicious, though it wouldn't make sense for her to half drown Alice then let her live. Maybe she wasn't involved at all; maybe the whole river story is a lie. I doubt everything now. It's so frustrating; I've never had problems figuring things out before. I've never thought to rely on another, except Alice's business skills that is."
"It's okay, you can count on me." There I go, making promises I can't keep.
"Sorry," he straightens and looks serious again. "I didn't mean to lose myself like that."
Shocking myself more than him, I reached across the table and took his hand. "Leave it to me." He doesn't resist, as if he's simply too tired to do so. This time, he feels that he really has no choice but to count on me and I don't want to let him down.
xoxox xox xoxox
After my talk with Charles, my heart was left pounding. I bitterly reminded myself that I was hunting for my rival's near killer. The only reason Charles was so uncharacteristically open was because he was so stressed and worried for her, for Alice. It would be bad for me to think about moving in when the one who managed to open his heart is laying unconscious waiting for me to avenge her, right? Probably...
Charles gave me an odd look when I emerged from my new room in overalls. I had put on another detective suit for our little meeting, but now it was time to strategize. "I'm trying to blend in." The look of horror upon the lack of brands recognizable to him in my attire finally left his face. Then I left, off to do some serious investigating.
xoxox xox xoxox
A short while later I found myself at Mineral Beach. Before I had the chance to say anything, Zack approached me with an apologetic face. He rambled his apology, stumbling on his words. He's a softy, just as I thought. Which means I should be planning to arrest Doug now, but bitter as he and Ann may be, I don't think he's a killer.
Before leaving the beach, I inquire, "did you have a passenger named Skye recently?"
Zack looks both curious and foreboding; it reminds me of when I arrived on the ferry. It was the calm before the storm, the cold shoulder before the rage. Except there was no more anger left, just frustration and a detached, "no."
"I see..." This doesn't mean that Skye was lying. He could have come from the path beyond the mountains that leads to Forget Me Not. A person from the city wouldn't go across a bunch of small towns just to get here. The ferry is faster, but a tourist on a pleasure trip wouldn't be in a rush. Perhaps he came from Forget Me Not after all.
A Chinese man walks across the beach towards Zack's house. I don't think I've seen him before. "Hey Won," Zack greets. How were your ventures in Forget Me Not?"
"Alright," the man replied as he eyed me with the predatory look of a merchant, which I simply knew he was. "From what I've heard, a lot has happened while I was gone. It's too bad the construction was halted, but it looks like that hasn't stopped some tourists from showing up. May I interest you in a souvenir apple, young lady?"
"Won!" Zack growled exasperated. "You know that construction is a bad thing! How could you think of getting more customers out of this?" He pouted.
"Well there is no point in arguing about it, since the matter is out of our hands anyway, right?" Won tried to calm Zack. He turned his greedy gaze back at me. "I have quite a variety of apples here-"
"She's a detective," Zack interrupted. "She's not a tourist, she's here to find the culprit and..." he paused in deep thought. "Even if she was the one that sold the farm, maybe we'll have to count on her. Fun Land brought the threat of noisy tourists if their hotel is completed, but that person," his whole body shook with frustration, every muscle tense. "That person brought something worse, an attempted murder and the death of the fields. Everyone is stressed, the produce is waning and maybe justice is the only thing that will bring her back."
"Her?" I question, my curiosity has been sparked by his serious tone.
"The Harvest Goddess," Zack replied gravely. "No doubt, it was the negativity in all this that made her leave. The land must be cleansed of the culprit and then maybe she'll return."
Yet the goddess herself could be the star witness, but I don't think she wants to be this closely involved in the affairs of humans. That also explains why the town was so rude. It's not just a matter of me selling the farm; it's the stress in their minds. They want all of this gone to get their goddess back, but right now, they need to know, like Zack realized, that I'm the one who will bring justice and possibly bring back the goddess... maybe. It's a lot to carry on my shoulders and the burden will only be heavier if more people actually start counting on me.
I begin to walk away and Won stops me, "what about the apples?"
"No thanks," he frowns in disappointment, but doesn't follow me.
Then, as I'm prepared to leave Mineral Beach, Skye comes down the stairs and gives me a brilliant smile. "There you are; I had wondered where you ran off to."
Suddenly I feel self conscious of what I'm wearing; overalls are not exactly the most flattering of outfits. Yet the look seemed to work on Zack's subconscious well enough as I didn't look too much like an outsider. "Skye... You came form Forget Me Not, didn't you?"
"Yes," he admitted, not losing his smile over the question that came out of the blue. I nodded and prepared to walk past him, but he offered, "would you like something to eat?"
I blinked and stared. Was he asking me out? "Excuse me?" No, that had to be my wishful thinking. Oh wait, no, no, no, he's a flirt, a player; I don't want anything to do with him.
"I'm managing the little shop over there for a friend. How about some delicious food, beautiful? It's on the house." I followed his gaze to the small white structure, the Snack Shack. I had no idea that his story about managing it for a friend was a lie. But he knew that Kai wouldn't be back until summer and he could make himself at home there pretending to be his friend, linking himself to Mineral town until his continued presence there was no longer suspicious. He couldn't leave yet, not until his job was done and his alibi was in place.
Truthfully I was hungry; I haven't had any food since yesterday. "I guess..." I follow him to the Snack Shack and as naturally as can be, he produced a key from his pocket and opened the front door. I had no idea at the time that it was the very key he stole from Kai at Forget Me Not, just to a have a convenient hideaway in Mineral Town.
"What would you like, fair maiden?" Skye asked with a smile, taking his position behind the counter while I sat down in front of it.
I shrugged, it's not like I was familiar with the menu. "What do you have to offer?" His Cheshire cat grin made me add, "to eat."
"Let's go see," he invited me to follow him to the kitchen where he rummaged around. "Pardon me, fair maiden, but I haven't quite gotten settled in yet and have not passed inventory."
"It's okay," then something stood out to me. "Wait a minute..." My detective side activated. "You said you were visiting as a tourist, but now you're managing a business for a friend?"
"Yes," he remained relaxed at my question. "I didn't know how long I would stay, but I guess I became curious about this town and called up Kai about it. It was a last minute thing, but he won't be here until summer anyway, so he's lending me this place." It was fall and by summer, Skye expected to have worked his magic on me. I didn't realize at the time how tricky he was and he didn't realize how hard to crack I was. He found some pancake batter and held it out triumphantly, "how about some pancakes?"
I nodded as my suspicious subsided for the time being. "Sounds good to me."
To be Continued
Now the chase really begins...