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James Nexis - Deception: Part Four

by punctuation_ninja


“It was empty.”


     James and Deirdre stood outside the mortuary, Deirdre looking rather sick, and James looking very pleased with himself. Behind them they could hear the Pteri nervously replacing the lid on the disturbed casket. “The coffin was empty. No body, no nothing.”

     Deirdre stared at him. “What does that mean?”

     “That means, Deirdre, that we’re no longer investigating a murder case. I think it’s time to head back to the Treywhite estate.”

     As the small Xweetok jogged behind James, she stared at him. “If he’s not there...”

     “He could be alive, he could be kidnapped, he could be anything,” James said. “I doubt the police will take the time to consider those possibilities, though, so it’s up to us.”

     Deirdre frowned. “We’re not going to tell the police?”

     “I don’t think we have a choice. Officer Wilson is already kinda twitchy about that ‘miscalculated assumption’ and everything, and I don’t want to think about how he’ll react if he finds out we’ve been crawling around the morgue.”

     The rest of the walk was carried out in silence. When they came to the Treywhite estate, they found the entire area was sealed off with red tape. James simply glanced at it for a second before stepping under it. Deirdre sighed and followed.

     Policemen were swarming over the property. Deirdre shot James a look, and he shrugged.

     “Oi, you! Civilians aren’t allowed in here!” A Gnorbu policeman had come out of one of the bushes to the side and was staring at them accusingly. He was a young, pimply specimen who looked slightly unsure of himself. Probably a new recruit.

     James winked at Deirdre then stepped forward with a winning smile on his face. “Oh, I absolutely understand, officer. It’s always best for civilians to do as they’re told, isn’t it?”

     The policeman looked wary but nodded.

     “And civilians have absolutely no reason to be here, isn’t that right?”

     “That’s right, yeah.”

     “And civilians aren’t allowed to cross that red tape back there, of course.”


     “Good thing I’m not a civilian, then.” James’s grin widened, but the Gnorbu looked furious.

     “Give me a name right now, or it’ll be the last thing you don’t do.”

     James held his hands up to pacify. “Whoa, steady on.” When the Gnorbu didn’t relax, James decided it was time to take a more aggressive approach. “Back off right this instant, or I’ll have to inform Officer Wilson of your extremely impertinent behaviour.”

     The Gnorbu paused, clearly confused. “Who are you?”

     “You don’t need to know that,” James said haughtily, glancing at his pocketwatch absent-mindedly. “Just let us through and there’ll be no need to review your position.”

     The Gnorbu was looking thoroughly scared now. “I... I... well, I...”

     “That’s settled, then,” James said merrily. “If you’ll excuse me, Officer Wilson is expecting me, and you know how annoyed he gets when people are late.”

     The Gnorbu stepped to one side, looking as though he’d just had a bucket of icy water thrown over him, and James and Deirdre marched past.

     Instead of going to where Officer Wilson stood with a group of colleagues, however, James led Deirdre to one of the windows of the property, which he smashed squeamishly. The Hissi and the Xweetok then crawled through the gap, and found themselves in what appeared to be a dining room.

     “Shouldn’t be anyone left in here now,” James said quietly as he stepped over the broken glass. “They’ll have all been taken off for questioning.”

     “You do realize we’ve just committed a criminal offence, don’t you? That was breaking and entering, that was.”

     “I’m sure Mr Treywhite wouldn’t mind. Now, which way to the library, I wonder?”

     James ended up relying on Deirdre’s memory to guide them to the library, which was thankfully unguarded. James pushed open the door and they snuck in, glancing around. There was still a red patch on the ground, but the knife had been picked up and put in an airtight bag as evidence. Deirdre turned slightly green.

     “You don’t think that’s...”

     “Real blood?” James pointed to the stain. “Probably not. If someone wanted to fake Mr Treywhite’s death, they could have done it quite as easily with red dye.”

     Deirdre, still looking queasy, nodded. “What now?”

     James looked around helplessly. “No idea.” He ground his teeth for a minute as he thought. “I suppose we’d better look at the possibilities. Firstly, he could have been kidnapped...”

     “In that case he would have been taken out of the house, and could be anywhere.”

     “Exactly. However, we still have the problem of there being no outside fingerprints. Also, if someone were kidnapping him and then faking his death, wouldn’t it have made more sense to put the blood and knife in his room? They would have had to have gone up there anyway to get him, and it seems pretty stupid to think that they would have come back down here to set the scene up, and so close to the servant’s quarters, too.”

     James walked slowly around the stain to look out the window. Police were searching for footprints or evidence outside the house; they’d probably already scoured inside. That meant that they couldn’t have found anything significant in the house. Or, if they had, they wouldn’t have recognised it.

     “There’s another option,” James muttered. “What if Mr Treywhite wasn’t kidnapped? What if he faked his own death?”

     Deirdre raised an eyebrow. “Why would he do that?”

     “No idea, but it’s a lot more likely. The knife was his own, and he would have been able to bring in red dye very easily without arousing suspicion. And where would it have made more sense to leave the crime scene upstairs if it was a kidnapping, it would probably be easier to set it up near his escape rout. Which means...” James stared around the room silently, thinking out loud, “he would have needed somewhere to hide, probably, until he was sure the police had accepted it as a murder, and until the empty coffin was buried. Somewhere safe, somewhere near the fuss.”

     Silence for another minute and then, “Okay, Deirdre, start searching.”

     Deirdre dropped the book she’d been looking at guiltily. “Searching? For what?”

     “For a trapdoor, a secret lever, anything.” James slowly walked away from the window and to the bookcases, running his hands over the leather-bound volumes. Deirdre stifled a yawn before joining him.

     “How will we know it when we find it?”

     “No idea. Just look for something that stands out... or...” James paused as he read a title and grinned. “...or something that’s trying too hard to blend in. ‘Three Hundred and Eighty Six Uses for a Paperclip.’ This has got to be it.”

     “Or maybe he just liked paperclips...?”

     James pulled the book out, and, with a loud rumble, the wall began to move. The bookcase slid back and then to one side, exposing a dark staircase. James stared at it blankly. “Mr Treywhite really needs to cut back on novels. Okay, c’mon, Deirdre.”

     The Xweetok stared at the black passageway in shock. “Can’t we just hand it over to the police now...?”

     “Nope. Grab that candle while you’re there, would you?” James asked, already part way down the stairs. With a strangled moan, Deirdre picked up a candlestick and jogged after him.

     “I really think this is a bad idea.”

     “And I really think making noise is a bad idea, so shush.”

     “But what if there are traps or snakes or spiky pits, or something?”

     “Really, Deirdre, I doubt that-” James was suddenly cut off as the stair underneath him gave way, plunging away silently, and leaving him teetering on the edge. With the reflexes of someone well trained in the ways of the office, Deirdre grasped James’s coat and yanked him back. They both collapsed onto the stairs behind and stared at the gap in the floor. Slowly, ponderously, the stair groaned back into place.

     “Okay,” James muttered shakily. “That could have been nasty.”

     “Sixth stair down,” Deirdre noted. “And only the centre dropped away, so it would be possible to walk around it if you knew it was there.”

     James’s grin was slowly sliding back into place. “That was awesome.”

     “That was dangerous.”

     “It was still awesome, though. Thanks, Deirdre. Let’s go on.”

     Deirdre just sighed. They picked themselves up and very cautiously stepped around the edge of the trap.

     Everything was silent except for the sound of their feet and a faint dripping noise. The staircase led them deeper and deeper, and the farther they went, the damper and colder it became. The light of their candle flickered eerily over the rough stonework and their breath rose in a foggy cloud in front of their faces.

     The staircase suddenly took a sharp turn to the right, and James snuffed out their candle. From around the corner they could see a faint glow of light, and the hum of voices. Signalling for Deirdre to keep quiet, James stealthily edged around the corner and looked into the giant underground cavern beyond. “I thought so.”

     The two pets in the room started at the sound of James’s voice, and the taller one jumped to his feet, knocking over the lamp and dousing them in darkness.

     Deirdre, shocked, grabbed at James’s arm, and he led her into the room, relighting their candle as he did so.

     The light was weak, but sufficient to cast a sickly glow over the faces of the two pets. “Nexis,” Lucas muttered, eyes wide. “I... I...”

     “Too late now, boy,” the other pet said glumly. “So, you’re the reporter who’s been poking around, are you?”

     “That’s me, Mr Treywhite,” James grinned, obviously pleased with himself. “I’ve sacrificed a night’s sleep to get here, so I think you owe us a bit of an explanation.”

     The Gnorbu nodded slowly. “Alright. Take a seat.”

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» James Nexis - Deception: Part One
» James Nexis - Deception: Part Two
» James Nexis - Deception: Part Three
» James Nexis - Deception: Part Five

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