This story is by Eve Garnier and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“C‘est une belle mort, celle de mourir en mer.” I said in a sigh, leaning against the ship’s baluster next to Amit.
“I beg you pardon?” He asked, a frown distorting his expression, patting the pockets of his wet jacket.
“It is a beautiful death, to die at sea.” I corrected myself.
“No death is beautiful, believe me, I know a thing or two about it.” He said.
“You do?” I asked, even if I already knew everything about him.
“I’m a detective,” Amit said. “A bored and tired one that is, stuck on this airship.” He added as he kept fiddling with his pockets.
“I’m sorry, what are you looking for?”
“My pipe. I’m certain I had it when I left my cabin… But nevermind that, I’m Amit Patnaik.” He introduced himself.
“Ambroise D’Aeth,” I replied with a little bow, “A detective who lost his pipe, there must be a joke somewhere.”
“I’m sure there is. And what is it you do, Mr D’Aeth, comedian perhaps ?” Amit sneered.
“Actually, I’m a collector of some sorts,” I replied not willing to give too much away.
“Like rocks or dead butterflies ?”
“Something like that,” I replied. “How did you end up stuck on this ship detective?”
“I’m going to visit my sister. She thought a trip would shake my world. Some nonsense about widening my horizon and be open to limitless possibilities.”
“How open are you in solving a murder mystery ?” I asked, Amit raising an eyebrow. “Someone died aboard, there is no corpse, no crime scene and I won’t tell you his name.” The man considered my offer for a few minutes before pulling out a wet notebook and pencil.
“I’ll bite and accept your challenge Mr D’Aeth. Of course, I count on you to serve as my translator since most of the crew and guests speak French.” I nodded as we shook hands to seal our agreement. “Should we start with the captain?”
“Veuillez me suivre.“
When we arrived at the command centre, the captain greeted us. I introduced myself, offering to help with the man’s death. Starting to translate Amit’s questions, who was standing next to me.
“Vous êtes certain que ce n’est pas un suicide ?” The captain asked a little wary.
“Suicide ?” Echoed Amit, who had been trying to follow the conversation despite not knowing a word of French. The man adding that a murder meant someone aboard the ship was the murderer. “I thought you said it was murder.” Whispered Amit in a breath.
“Précisément,” I said in a solemn tone. “And we will solve it. Merci Capitaine, je vous tiendrais au courant.” I thanked the man, telling him I will keep him informed before gesturing the detective to follow me.
“What did he say?” Insisted Amit once we were out of the room.
“The victim was reported missing earlier this evening by Miss Whitetaker. He left the lights and radio on in his cabin which was unusual of him, for that reason she went out to look for him. After searching everywhere on the airship, she warned the crew about his disappearance.” Amit frowned again.
“I wonder if I turned off the lights when I head out for a smoke… They think it’s suicide?”
“I told you: no crime scene. No body.”
“I see… I know Miss Whitetaker, let’s see what else she can tell us.”
In a short amount of time, we ended up talking with all the guests and crew members. Most were already in the dining room for supper, except for Mrs Fabre. Mr and Mrs Leblanc were with the captain in the command centre when the murder took place. They were also the first mate and navigator with them. Mrs Whitetaker was helping her mistress, Mrs Shiraishi, to get dressed in their cabin. Mr Aksoy was discussing polo with the cook while the rest of the crew were setting up the table. The detective kept reading his note, counting crew members and guests. His expression became gloomy, grabbing me by the arm to the opposite side of the room.
“Something doesn’t add up.” He said troubled. “I thought they said we were only eight guests aboard this airship. If I include you and the dead man, that is already eight.” I started to get a little excited, watching him unfold the mystery.
“But with you that makes nine.”
“Précisément…” He mumbled. “Mrs Leblanc said they only talked to him once with her husband when he came to grab his plate one evening. Neither Mrs Shiraishi and Mr Aksoy spoke to him because they can’t speak English. Mrs Whitetaker was the only one who had a long conversation with him about English poetry. And they say Mrs Fabre tried to limit her interaction with the man. I can’t remember that man myself, but he had the same behaviour and conversation that I had. I also can’t recall if I left the lights and radio on. I lost my pipe, my notebook was wet, and I can’t feel how wet my jacket is despite been drench with water. That would make me…”
“The dead man.” He concluded in disbelief, letting himself fall in one of the chairs. “And you knew… What are you?”
“I’m a grim-reaper.”
“Did you killed me?” He asked, giving me a death stare.
“Of course not, that would be unethical,” I said, offended by his accusation.
“Then why this little game and who killed me?”
“I don’t know, that is why-” Someone pushed the door in front of which I was standing. I lost my balance, falling on the detective who caught me before we both end up on the ground.
“Oh! I’m sorry, gentlemen, I did not see you both there.” Apologised Mrs Fabre before making her way to the dining table.
“Did she say both of us? How can she see me if I’m dead?” Amit asked as I straighten up. I caught a quick glimpse of her before looking back at the detective.
“As I was trying to say before we got interrupted, only a grim reaper and people who killed in the past can see dead people.”
“That’s why you wanted me to interview everyone…” He said. “Clever, but what if she is a doctor or a soldier?”
“Even the rules of the underworld aren’t perfect, we have to trust our guts. Don’t you know this woman? Any reason why she would kill you?”
“I can’t remember no. But even if Mrs Fabre did it, it’s doesn’t change a thing, we can’t prove it.”
“We can, but that is against my workplace’s rules, guidelines really…”
After a brief discussion, I walked up to the dining table to grab a glass. I tapped a knife against it to get everyone’s attention. I asked Mrs Whitetaker to translate for the French speakers.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, we learned that we are all living in our bubbles. Bound by our habits and beliefs that we only matter. And because of this, someone almost got away with detective Amit Patnaik’s murder.”
“How long are we going to play this game, detective ?” Mrs Fabre asked as everyone fell silent, looking at her with confusion. “You are standing right in front of us!” Ordell said, pointing at Amit, but for all the other guests and crew, it was an empty spot.
“Next to me?” I said, looking at Amit. “There’s no one next to me.” She turned red, looking at everyone.
“Have you all gone blind?! The man is standing right there!” She insisted. Miss Whitetaker tried to grab her hand.
“You should sit down, my dear. You seem to feel some guilt for the death of that man.”
“Do not touch me! This man sent my brother to jail, where he was left to die! I missed on my first attempt, but I won’t this time!” She declared, pulling out a knife from her belt and rushing toward Amit. I was quick to intervene as the crowd stared in shock and disbelief.
“I’m sorry, you already killed him once, let’s not overdoing it.” I murmured for only her to hear, taking the knife out of her hands. “Capitain, vous pouvez faire escorter Mrs Fabre dans sa cabine…” I suggested. The captain nodded in agreement. The first mate walked up to Mrs Fabre and me, taking her away to be locked in her cabin until we reach our next stop. The other guests were quick to resume to their evening, despite being a little shaken. I followed after Amit, who was heading to the exterior.
“So, I’m really dead.” He looked at me. “I’m sure it’s against your rules, but tell my sister I’ll be alright,” Amit asked with a faint smile.
“I will.” We stayed silent for a moment, watching the darkness of the night stretching in front of us.
“What are you going to do now?” I asked him as I handed over his pipe I collected for him.
“Open myself to limitless possibilities….”