Alexandra, sharing the view of a fair number of the guests, marvelled at the very way that his disappearance had been achieved. She had a vantage point, by not being involved at the table amongst the fretting and the fear and the rushing pulse of action; she should have been able to see it all whilst the others were occupied by cleaning up the spillage and by Mrs. Winters’ little diversion.
Firstly, she had noticed Rhaïd going up to the end-table and begin to pour himself a drop of the amber-coloured drink. It was not an uncommon event, so she had turned her attention away.
The next steps of his disappearance must have been operated with great stealth and speed; looking around, the man must have had to identify that nobody was glancing in his direction, whilst still being inconspicuous beside the drinks. Christophe had previously told Alexandra of his part played in the great disappearance: the black veil curtain opened up an inch and Rhaïd was helped into the back of the bed by a strong hand extended by the butler.
Alexandra would have expected a loud bang to sound from behind the screen as the two men would have landed in a bundle together, on account of the speed of Rhaïd’s transportation. It seemed, though, that the bed was well positioned, and the two knew enough not to give themselves away. The light that was cast and lost among it achieved the maximum unsettling-ness and effect.
She was even half sure that she saw Christophe give her a quick wave as the curtain floated back into position.
Meanwhile, the remaining living dinner company were trying to come to a final conclusion and deduce their murderer.
The head of the house was still acting chief, his words gaining gravity now that there was no other to suppose the same as him.
“So- as there undoubtedly will be no way to get our Mr. Stuart back- have we any ideas as to the identity of the murderer?” he proclaimed.
“It is certain that all clues point to the actress,” Mrs. Winters growled informally.
Azura sighed, and, tired, she let her youngest play with the silver bracelets hanging off her trailing arm.
“Oh, not this again. I have told you once, and I have told you once again… In fact, I have told everyone here on a repeated basis that I am not responsible for these young people’s deaths. I may be an actress, but I am, in no way, a constant liar.”
“You are the only one here who has a plain motive, and opportunity, although everybody is in this very same situation, for the deaths…mother.” Joshua tried desperately, and failed as he had done the entire afternoon, to stay in character. His wine-filled head was his downfall at this point.
“Mr. Newton!” Cynthia exclaimed. “Two of the three deaths were caused by the deceased knowing far too much. They could have been the key ingredients to the investigation…containing vital information pertaining to any of us. As for Rhaïd, he could have just gone out for his smoke.” Though her voice was tainted with anger, the girl sounded like she didn’t believe her own words.
“As if your ideas on the matter are plausible!”
“Very well,” Cynthia cried. “But I don’t believe that Rhaïd is dead yet. For all we know, you yourself could be responsible for all the pain around here!”
“Oh, steady on, miss. What do you suggest my motive would be, oh wondrous lady detective?”
“Indeed,” Mrs. Winters interrupted the couple’s argument. “We must think of what this young man’s motive might be. Remember, the murderer could still be any one of us…yes, even the both of you. I daresay you might be in cahoots.
“Even so, I’m placing my money on Lady Azura.”
“Do you challenge me?” Azura asked, a little wearily. “Because you will find yourself beaten, do please understand that fact.”
The point of each person was both valid and certain to his or her own selves, so each retort was brought down with more and more fury.
Mr. Winters withdrew himself, as he became the sole neutral participant, acting only as questioner and not judge. He placed his gaze firmly in the direction of his wife, and she, convinced of Azura’s guilt, bristled. Looking over to Azura, he saw a proud woman intent to be firm in her denial. And Joshua was, insistently, set to lay the blame on her. Cynthia was ferociously against the decisions of her fiancé.
Alexandra watched their movements; their habits were as known to her as her own breath, and all the old trials of interpreting the reasons behind odd body language were just ash disappearing into the smoke.
She hated it. For a single second, she too fell into the trap of thinking that all happening there was indeed part of the ‘real’ world, and that the real world was here. She hated the way that this company of rich fellows could have used their minds, and at least their money, to work together to search for the enemy, but instead, they were squabbling amongst themselves like ill-mannered children.
Finally, she was at the end of her own calm temperament.
“Look,” Alexandra advanced, putting on her cockney accent as if she had chosen an ill-fitted mask, “I know it en’t my place to say-”
“Then go away, maid,” Joshua snapped.
“Please, do cease your torrent, Mr. Newton,” Mrs. Winters gestured for Alexandra to continue, encouragement and excitement glowing in her eyes.
“Yeah, I know it ain’t my place to say, but it don’t matter who’s wrong and who’s right in the end. You see, the only wrong’un round ‘ere is that marderer guy, an’ ‘e needs to be flushed ou’ soon. Look, all I’m sayin’ is that you should work together, otherwise…”
“We’ll all be lying on the floor,” Cynthia finished. “She’s right; we’re going about it the wrong way, using motive and alibi tricks, as they do in those detective stories in the daily papers. This killer has an eye for the advantage, and is using their charm to play the game well, but every killer makes mistakes, so I’ve read. They are just like every person in that they make mistakes throughout life. I know that I’ve stepped the wrong way once or twice, for certain.
“But you don’t see, do you? Our killer has been obvious to me for over five minutes now, as it was for the more crucial, intelligent, or possibly those attentive few; those persons who now lie in their pits of doom…
“We are all human; we all die. All of us here will move on to the next life someday. Maybe now, maybe soon, maybe not for years to come. But for now we exist, or at least, are living beings.” Here, Cynthia looked up and smiled at Alexandra. “To kill is to break up the goodness in one’s soul, and this can be seen shot through their eyes. The killer felt the guilt of killing and she forgot to cover her heart up.”
There were gasps across the table.
“She?” several voices echoed. “You mean…?”
“Quite.” Cynthia paused for affect, and observed the puzzlement on their faces with glee.
“The destroyer of life sits in no other place than that of the mistress of the house: Mrs. Winters.”