Author's notes: Well, actually this is just a short - short ?! - distraction from my other fics. In fact it is not much more than an idea born under the influence of giggly friends, entirely too much plum wine and the sole conviction that everybody hates Hilda. I'm not too sure about the result but I thought that considering how lazy I've been with my other Seimaden story I had better post it. Anyway, read and enjoy and please don't hesitate to post a comment. You know I crave those!

Ayumie

A SEIMADEN DETECTIVE STORY

Scene 1

Somewhere in England.

A manor house is looming against the sky. It is early in the morning, the woods that surround those gray walls still bathed in thick, heavy mist. A car is speeding up the lane and finally skids to a halt beside several others already parked in the yard. A detective emerges. ASUBARU walks towards the door, hands buried in the pockets of his cloak.

Scene 2

The great hall.

The wooden beams are of a startling black, further accentuated by the white walls and light and dark gray marble tiles. To the right of the door Asubaru is entering through a tall clock is standing, hands pointing at 3.30. At its feet the body of a young woman is lying, blonde hair surrounding her face like a halo. At one place that halo is dyed red. HILDA is wearing a pale pink dress, which even in death shows off a well-shaped body that undoubtedly used to be the center of much attention. Her head was beat in with the pendulum of the clock. Out of another door, this one opposite of the first, a girl dressed in the uniform of a housemaid enters. This second girl is slightly plainer than the first, her heart-shaped face further softened by the wavy brown hair that frames it. Startling Asubaru out of his contemplation of the body, SHERRIL leads him into the salon.

Scene 3

The salon.

Several people are assembled already, all of them radiating some measure of discomfort. Asubaru pulls out the list he has been given at the police station. He recognizes:

LAURES - the owner of the manor ZADEI - Laures' cousin MARION - Laures' notary ROD - a guest and the fiancé of the deceased RABI - Rod's young stepbrother TETEI - the butler CHARON - the gardener IRIA - the cook and Charon's sister SHERRIL - the maid

Asubaru looks into the tense faces and sighs.

ASUBARU:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I apologize for the discomforts you are
enduring but given the circumstances I trust that you will
understand the necessity. Now there are several things I need to
ask you do. First of all I insist that nobody leaves this room
unless given leave by me or one of my associates. This is
absolutely crucial. Also, please be ready at any time to answer
our questions. I will want to talk to each of you alone at one
point or the other so try to remember as much about the last
days as possible. Every detail might be vital to the
investigation. Now what I will do first is walk the house and
grounds to get a clearer picture of the surroundings. In the
meanwhile all of you should try to relax despite the
circumstances and be assured - this crime will not go
unpunished."

Scene 4

Asubaru walks the house, taking random notes and once more surveys the body. Finally he asks one of his associates to have one of the suspects meet him in the drawing room.

Scene 5

The drawing room.

Asubaru is sitting behind a dainty desk, the notes he has taken before arranged in front of him in neat piles. The door opens and Zadei enters. With a grunt he sits down in the chair Asubaru has placed into the middle of the room.

ASUBARU:
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Zadei. Please do understand that at
this moment I have no reason to believe that you are in any way
involved in the crime. I am merely going to ask you a few
routine questions that you should answer as honestly as
possible. If you cooperate this shouldn't take more than maybe
half an hour."

Zadei grunts again, which Asubaru interprets as an affirmative.

ASUBARU:
"So Mr. Zadei, where were you at the time of the murder?"

ZADEI:
"I was in the servant's salon with Tetei - the butler. We were
talking about household affairs."

ASUBARU:
"Oh? I wasn't aware that you were in control of the staff."

ZADEI:
"I'm not. It was an exception. Lately my cousin has been too
busy screwing his wench to be bothered with such trivial things
as accounting."

ASUBARU:
"His we- You mean the deceased?"

ZADEI:
"Yes. You've found out already?"

ASUBARU:
"Well, I saw some kind of draft in the library. Apparently Mr.
Laures intended to change his will in favor of Miss Hilda. By
the way, did you know anything about his plans to disinherit
you?"

ZADEI:
"No! Yes. I- Are you saying I did it?!"

ASUBARU:
"No. As I said, at the moment I have no reason to think you
involved."

ZADEI:
"That's good because as I said, I was with Tetei. If you want to
find the real culprit you'd better talk to that notary next.
He's been handling my cousin's financial affairs for the last
five years and not all of the money is where it should be, if
you know what I mean."

ASUBARU:
"And in the process of changing his will Mr. Laures would have
looked over his accounts and noticed something was amiss. But
how do you know about all that?"

ZADEI:
"Gotta keep an eye on my heritage, no? Was that all?"

ASUBARU:
"One more thing: have you seen or heard anything unusual over
the last few days? Anything that might be relevant to the
investigation?

ZADEI:
"No. May I go now?"

ASUBARU:
"Yes, of course. Thank you for your cooperation. And please tell
Mr. Marion that I would like to talk to him now."

Scene 6

The drawing room.

Marion enters the room and moves to sit in the chair Zadei has occupied before.

ASUBARU:
"Thank you for coming so promptly, Mr. Marion."

MARION:
"Well, it's not like I had anything else to. So what do you want
to know?"

ASUBARU:
"First of all you need to understand that at this moment you are
no more a suspect than any of the others. You will merely have
to answer a few routine questions. Well, having studied the law
you should be familiar with the procedure. So where were you at
the time of the murder?"

MARION:
"In the library, working. And before you ask, I was alone. Mr.
Laures made a request that is rather . labor-intensive."

ASUBARU:
"You are talking about his wish to have his will changed?"

MARION:
"You are well-informed. Yes, that was what I was working on."

ASUBARU:
"Hm. To effectively change the will you also need to record Mr.
Laures accounts and other possessions. Is it possible to see
that list?"

MARION:
"No. Fortunately I hadn't started yet. As it seems I have been
spared a lot of work. Besides, I do believe that insight into my
clients' accounts requires a special verdict?"

ASUBARU:
". That's right. So Mr. Marion, how did you feel about Miss
Hilda?"

MARION:
"How I felt about her? She was the . liaison of a client. I
hardly knew her. Her groom wasn't too happy with her, though. Or
at least that's what it looked like."

ASUBARU:
"So he knew about his fiancée's affair?"

MARION:
"How could he not? He found out soon after their arrival and let
me tell you, he took it badly. I heard him talk to Charon once -
that's the gardener - and as it sounded he was close to tears."

ASUBARU:
"Mr. Charon, hmm? Is there anything else you can think of that
might be relevant to the investigation? Anything unusual?"

MARION:
"I have told you everything I know. Was that all?"

ASUBARU:
"Yes, for the moment. Thank you for your cooperation. And could
you call in Mr. Rod?"

Scene 7

Rod enters, eyes reddened. He numbly looks around then spots the chair and quickly sinks into it.

ASUBARU:
"Thank you for being willing to talk to me, Mr.Rod. I know this
is a very hard time for you and all you really want to do is
mourn your young Lady but first we have to bring the culprit to
justice."

ROD:
"Yes, I . I understand. I will help you in any way I can."

ASUBARU:
"I appreciate your offer, Mr. Rod, and I will have to take you
up on it. I am going to ask you a few routine questions now,
which I trust you to answer honestly. Please understand that I
think you in no way associated with the crime - I am simply
eliminating possibilities."

ROD:
"So what do you need to know?"

ASUBARU:
"Where were you at the time of the murder?"

ROD:
"I was here, in the drawing room. I . wasn't feeling well. I
wanted to be alone, for some time."

ASUBARU:
"Mr. Rod, please forgive me for stating this so bluntly but
there is evidence that your fiancée wasn't exactly . true to
you. In fact it is all but certain that she had a relationship
with your host, Mr. Laures. Was that why you felt the need to be
alone?"

ROD:
"Yes. I . I knew about them. Everybody did."

ASUBARU:
"Wasn't this a very . difficult situation?"

ROD:
"Yes. Yes of course! It was horrible! To see them together . it
hurt so much!"

ASUBARU:
"Did it also make you angry?"

ROD:
"Y-you think I did it! You think it was me! But it wasn't me! I
loved her! I could never have hurt her! She was everything to
me!"

ASUBARU:
"Please calm yourself. Nobody thinks that you are the one that
murdered Miss Hilda. As I said, I am eliminating possibilities."

ROD:
"Well, find the murderer then! You are wasting your time with
me! Why aren't you interrogating the real suspects?! Go and talk
to them! Talk to Sherril!"

ASUBARU:
"Sherril? The maid? Why do you want me to talk to her?"

ROD:
"She always acted strangely around Hilda, kept staring at her
when she thought no one would notice. I caught her rummaging
through her things once. Who knows, maybe she stole something
and my fiancée found out!"

ASUBARU:
"Thank you Mr. Rod, that would be all. You do not look well, may
I suggest that you try and rest a little? And have somebody send
in Miss Sherril, please."

Without another word Rod leaves the room.

Scene 8

Sherril slips through the door. She is clearly very nervous and shifts her weight from one foot to the other.

ASUBARU:
"Welcome, Miss Sherril. Please have a seat."

Sherril sits down but keeps fidgeting.

ASUBARU:

"I understand that you are working as a maid in Mr. Laures'
household. You also used to be responsible for the deceased's
wellbeing?"

SHERRIL:
"Y-yes. I . I helped her dress and cleaned her rooms and such."

ASUBARU:
"Where were you at the time of the murder?"

SHERRIL:
"I was in Miss Hilda's dressing room. Some of her clothing had
been washed and I was bringing it back."

ASUBARU:
"Isn't that kind of unusual after she had you help her with her
clothes at dusk? The laundry must have been ready since the
evening before so why didn't you bring them then? What if she
had wanted to wear some of the things?"

SHERRIL:
"Well . I . Yes. She might have."

ASUBARU:
"Do you know that Mr. Rod, Miss Hilda's fiancé, saw you once - I
quote: 'rummaging through her things'. He thinks that you may
have been stealing. Or at least that's what he claims."

SHERRIL:
"No! That's not true! I wasn't - I . I was just looking at the
pretty things. I never took anything away."

ASUBARU:
"How did you feel about Miss Hilda?"

SHERRIL:
"She was kind to me, I guess. She even talked to me, sometimes.
And she was so pretty and everybody was in love with her."

ASUBARU:
"So you admired her?"

SHERRIL:
"I . I don't know. It's just - she had everything."

ASUBARU:
"You were jealous of her."

Sherril stares at her feet, hands clasped in her lap.

ASUBARU:
"So at the time of the murder you were alone in the deceased's
dressing room, looking at her things."

SHERRIL:
".Yes."

ASUBARU:
"Is there anything else you can think of that might be relevant
to the murder? Maybe you saw or heard something over the last
few days?"

SHERRIL:
"Once when we were talking I asked Miss Hilda when she was going
to tell Mr. Rod that she was leaving him. She said that she
would do no such thing, that she intended to marry him. I . I
think Mr. Laures knew. He was acting strangely, like he couldn't
bear being in the same room with the two of them."

ASUBARU:
"Ah, I had forgotten to ask earlier. Do you have any idea what
Miss Hilda was doing in the hall? Where did she want to go this
early in the morning? Maybe she told you when you helped her
dress?"

SHERRIL:
"I . I think she wanted to meet Mr. Laures somewhere in the
gardens. The dress she was wearing was one of her best."

ASUBARU:
"Is that so. Well, Miss Sherril, I think we are through. You may
go back to the others. And I think I'd like to talk to Mr.
Laures now."

SHERRIL:
"Yes Sir. Thank you."

Scene 9

Soon after Sherril has left Laures enters the room. His eyes are stony, face blank. He sits down without a word of greeting.

ASUBARU:
"Thank you for coming, Mr Laures. I already expressed my
condolences to Mr. Rod. I have been given to understand that
your loss was also quite . personal."

LAURES:
"I lost the woman I love. Now go on and ask your questions.
Somebody in this house has murdered Hilda and I'd rather you not
waste your time with me."

ASUBARU:
"Very well, then. Where were you at the time of the murder?"

LAURES:
"In the garden. There is a small pavilion at the pond where I
was waiting for Hilda but she never came."

ASUBARU:
"I take it you were alone?"

LAURES:
"That's the point of a secret rendezvous - being alone."

ASUBARU:
"You said that Miss Hilda was the woman you loved - did you have
any plans for the future? Did you wish to break up her
betrothal, for an instance?"

LAURES:
"Of course I did. I would have married her! I wanted to spend my
life with her."

ASUBARU:
"I understand. There is some evidence, however, that indicates
that she may not have felt the same way. Did she tell you she
did?"

LAURES:
"She was feeling bad about that boyfriend of hers. She would
have come around in time. If she had lived . that is."

ASUBARU:
"I understand. So do you have any suspicion? Any information
that might prove useful?"

LAURES:
"I have been thinking about it every minute since she has been
found and there is something. The gardener I employ, Charon .
she didn't like him. She kept saying that there was something
odd about him and she wanted me to find him another position -
preferably as far away from her as possible.

ASUBARU:
"And he knew about that?"

LAURES:
"Possibly. You know how things are in a household like this one
- nothing remains a secret for very long. Besides, the dislike
was mutual."

ASUBARU:
"If that is the case I would very much like to talk to him."

LAURES:
"Yes, somebody should. Is there anything else?"

ASUBARU:
"If there is nothing more you can tell me."

LAURES:
"There isn't. If you would excuse me now, I am quite tired. And
I would like to sit with Hilda, if it is possible."

ASUBARU:
"Yes. Yes, I think that is no unreasonable request. I'll have
one of my associates escort you to her. And please, have Mr.
Charon sent in, would you?"

Laures is met by a policeman at the door who leads him off in direction of the great hall.

TBC in part 2