Author's Note: Sorry for the long wait! Long bout of writer's block. But hopefully I'll get back in the game enough to have the next chapter up sooner than this one took to compose. Enjoy. ^ ^


Chapter Three: Ring Around The Rosies


The chances of escape were at an all-time low. The storm, since its conception in the brewing clouds of the sky, raged with thunder and lightening and felt maddeningly perpetual. The tumultuous rainfall battered, clashed, and panned against the window panes and blew at the obstinate walls of the hotel like angry demons demanding entry. The sturdy door held fast with the help of a lounge chair pressed up against the knob, but a puddle of murky water gathered at the carpet. At some hellish instances it seemed the wrath of the bright, crackling lightning would bring the very roof down on their heads. The tempest shook everything from the foundation of the building, their bones and what little resolve they had to fight an even more wrathful entity inside.

"There's no form of civilization for miles." Light had been pacing back and forth for a while now, but no useful thoughts had come to mind yet. He'd always prided himself, as did others, of his intelligence in high school, but here, he was in an intuitive slump.

"Thanks for the news flash, pal," Halle crossed her arms, irate, on the bench of the lobby near the dead, potted plant.

Naomi announced: "I can't believe that there's no way out."

"Well, believe it," Halle returned, always a pessimist.

"No, I mean I can't believe there's no way out. There has to be. This psychopath, whoever he is, can't have us by the balls just like that."

Light laughed, then reprimanded himself for his immaturity.

Halle chimed in again: "Yeah, that's okay—laugh while you can, Light. These are your last."

"Stop that. There's too much tension in here as it is." Lawrence snatched out a bag of jelly beans and began sorting them in order of the rainbow. "Now, Miss Misora, did you have something in mind that might help us accomplish this feat?"

"They couldn't have dissolved into thin air," she murmured and pressed her thumb to her mouth.

"What couldn't?"

Naomi tipped the trashcan over behind Roger's desk. "Our cell phones. They have to be somewhere."

"They're probably smashed," Matt groaned.

"I want to make sure."

Naomi's search only intensified. She thoroughly inspected the desk of the reception area, under the rug, in Roger's room, and even in the trashcan, where she found nothing of interest: just a few empty plastic bags of candy that had previously belonged to Lawrence, old newspapers, gum, cigarette butts and an apple core or two among various other articles of garbage.

In time, the other tenants began to take her example, their hope having been renewed. Before long a hotel-wide search was initiated in pursuit of the elusive cell phones, the only remaining objects of salvation now that Mrs. Takada had failed them for reasons too grisly to be pondered on.

"Someone has to check outside—I bet you that they're somewhere out there," Light said.

"Yeah, in a puddle of mud," Halle smiled meanly.

It became increasingly apparent that no one else was as keen on the idea of investigating outside as he was, so Light took the duty upon himself. He looked around for a rain coat or something to sheathe him from the storm, but there were no articles of clothing that anyone were willing to give up—not that he wanted to wear someone else's jacket or coat. Nate suggested either Tierry or Roger's clothing on the basis that they wouldn't have any use for them now.

Miss Kenwood was appropriately outraged at the comment and vociferated that he better keep his mouth shut if he knew what was good for him.

Light sighed and removed the chair from its position and opened the door. The wind blew so hard he was almost thrown to the ground. An onslaught of water, with the unpleasant force of a garden hose on full power, sprayed him utterly soaked. He glimpsed back at everyone else and aside from Naomi, who was too enthralled in her quest to find her phone, all bid him the farewell of a foolish soldier blinded by misplaced bravery with their equally expressive 'you're doomed' looks.

He would walk normally had the weather permitted, but the winds pushed him against the wall. He squinted his eyes and peered up at the dangling wires of the telephone poles. The wires appeared as if they'd been sliced by something really sharp. Perhaps a bolt of lightning had done it, but he remembered the phone lines being unresponsive way earlier, when Tierry was still alive and he'd just arrived. The storm wasn't roaring with all its fury then. In fact, it was just a little windy and the sky was gradually getting darker, with intervals of drizzling interrupted by a slightly stronger downpour.

"Did the killer actually climb the telephone poles and sever them himself?" Light chuckled bitterly.

Light went around to the back, where he found an array of barrels aligned against the wall, an old and rusty toolbox, wooden boards, the headlight of a car, and other junk that preferably belonged in a shed. He wiped away his bangs to see better and lifted the lid off the first barrel. A gasp escaped his throat.

He practically bashed through the hotel door like a madman and overthrew Lawrence, who'd been on guard and checking it every so often for Light's presence.

"Ow! What the hell?"

Halle rose up and beamed at Light, "Oh, don't tell me! You found a severed head!"

"Miss Bullock, act your age!" Lawrence cried as he dusted off his jeans.

"But what did you find?" Matt said with some effort. His face was pale and almost blue from vomiting into the potted plant just moments before.

Light shook his head.

"Nothing?" Naomi dejectedly asked.

"Our cell phones—in a barrel in the back."

Everyone gasped.

"—Completely submerged in water," he finished grimly, and ruffled his hair to alleviate it of excess moisture.

Halle sat back silently in her chair.

Merrie pinched the bridge of her nose, "Shit, shit.."

"Let's just go in your room, Naomi," said B. "It's better when we're in groups, remember?"

Naomi was too distressed by the news to acknowledge his request. She balanced her elbows on Roger's desk and rubbed her temples.

"That was to be expected, I guess," Lawrence's frown was deep. "Would the killer be that forgetful as to just throw them in an empty barrel and suppose that we'd never think to look there?"

Nate rolled his eyes. There was no point in looking in the first place, but of course these people wouldn't give up hope until they'd exhausted every single way to rekindle it and left themselves completely disillusioned. The whole search was a huge waste of time.

The tenants refastened the door as tightly as they could and put the chair up against the door knob again. Light secured the windows while Lawrence and Merrie went inside the rooms of the deceased to shroud them with blankets. They both came out together and locked both of the rooms.

"No one should go in Roger or Tierry's rooms from now on," Merrie said. "They're marked with death."

"There's no point in locking everything! The killer obviously isn't outside—he's among us!" Halle complained.

Light reasoned, "I know, but locking everything up would limit his movements and keep him from sneaking in through the windows to make his rounds about the hotel."

Said Halle, "I'm sure the killer is thankful for letting 'him' know. And don't assume the killer is a man, because you don't know that."

"You're not contributing to anyone's safety, much less your own, so shut your mouth! I've had it with your bitchy attitude. Go somewhere and die alone," Merrie spat.

Needless to say, Naomi was shocked that someone could say something so uncivilized. Lawrence only groaned.

"You must have forgotten the time when I helped you cart your husband's corpse to the bed so you could cry like a little girl in peace," Halle returned, "Why don't you take a glass of scotch for your nerves? Maybe I should've put a cover over his face while you got your drink—that way he could rot out of your sight, and you could die in front of me!"

Merrie lunged for Halle but was intercepted by the quick insertion of Lawrence's body. He grasped her wrists and pushed her against the wall, keeping her kicking legs at bay by pressing his own against hers. "Stop this nonsense! This is despicable! You're all acting like children!"

Halle hastened to her room and pulled out drawer on her bedside bureau. She sifted through it, but her desired object was not there. A moment later she slammed the door behind her with a force that had the bolts clattering.

"Where is it?!"

Merrie was released by Lawrence, but only in the understanding that any advancing movements were to be guarded.

"What thin—" Naomi began to inquire, but Halle's scream tossed her voice to the wind.

"My revolver! My gun!"

Nate's eyes were piercing. "You have a gun...?"

"Are you deaf?"

Naomi stood up straight. "A gun? It's better that no one has a gun."

Halle eyed her, incredulous. "It's better that no one has the gun? Well where the hell do you think it went, then? You think it dissolved itself so no one can use it? If I don't have it, then guess who took it!"

"How should we know?" Light asked.

"The killer, you retard! Unless it was one of you," Halle took a few steps forward and bared her gritted teeth. A few of them backed away.

"Let's go in your room, Naomi," B pleaded for the second time.

"Drop it," Nate pressed, aggravated with the insipid woman's behavior, "It's obvious that no one even knew you had one until now. Throwing these stupid temper tantrums over every inconvenience isn't going to help us get through this, nor is threatening Miss Kenwood into submission with a revolver. What we really need is a plan."

"Threatening...?" Halle squeezed her eyes shut and palmed her temples in hopeless, angry despair, channeling her energy away from another outburst. Pitiful that they ever thought that simply threatening Miss Kenwood was her intention.

"That Tierry guy seemed so calm and collected about things. He probably could've helped us out," Matt commented.

Light admitted, "Yeah, you're right. I bet if he was still alive, he could help us formulate a good plan."

"But I guess Tierry and Roger are in a better place now," Naomi said in an attempt to lessen the power of the stressful situation, but these thoughts were better left unexpressed.

"A better place? Wouldn't they be in.." Matt glimpsed at Merrie and then whispered, "Hell?"

"I don't think so." Naomi said. This only worsened the overall mood, because the remaining tenants did not agree.

"Well, I mean, I don't think there's anything beyond the grave. The dead just have to wait."

For Halle, this was the cherry on top of a ridiculous conversation. They could care less that the killer had a gun now. Instead, their attention was being diverted by meaningless subjects. These people weren't getting with the program.

"Wait for what?" sneered Halle, "To wake up and realize that it was all just a bad dream?"

Naomi realized her views were unwelcome from the get go and decided to mend the damaged caused by her input. "Never mind. I don't want to impose my opinions on anyone."

"Good," said Halle before she closed her bedroom door in everyone's faces, "Because everything that comes out of your mouth is ridiculous."

The slam resounded throughout the lobby with echoing discontent.

Now that the ghastly affair with the disagreeable Miss Bullock was over, the remaining lodgers were in favor of disbanding for the night. Nate and Naomi fervently suggested groups, but Light and Merrie retired to their rooms individually, owing to the lack of confidence in their peers. Lawrence decided with Naomi's coterie, as he believed that groups would inhibit the killer's schedule, if not stop it completely. Matt and B were with Naomi, of course, for they had grown fond of her. It was decided (to Naomi's secret disagreement) that since Nate expressed no interest in companionship, he would be the loner, and Lawrence, Matt and B would take refuge in Naomi's room.

Lawrence was neutral in the matter, but Matt and B didn't trust Nate at all, and pressured Naomi to leave him. She felt a knot in her stomach that had occurred the last time she left him alone. A part of her was relieved that Roger had died in Nate's stead, because she'd begun to rely on him for guidance. If he were to be 'judged' this early on, she wouldn't know what to do.

When they were all situated in her living quarters, Lawrence asked, "Why couldn't we all be a group?"

"Because Tweedledee and Tweedledum don't trust Nate," Naomi said.

"Who does? He's an annoying know-it-all," Matt scoffed and adjusted his goggles.

Naomi sighed. "Okay, here's the deal: I agreed to discuss the situation with him, and I'm going to continue checking up on him periodically until this clears up and someone comes to help us. We have to look out for each other, and this goes for the rest of you. Lawrence—you, B, and Matt stay here and wait for me while I have a little talk with Nate."

"But why?" B frowned.

"Because he's already proved himself a sound source of advice and I think he's more equipped to deal with this than most of us are."

Lawrence assented, but Matt and B were still against Naomi's socializing with Nate as they ever were.

"Why don't you get married while you're at it?" Matt growled, holding his stomach in as if it were about to fall out, intestines and all. Naomi ignored him and fetched him some more water and placed a bucket next to the bedside.

"Here's the dishcloth. Put it on your head—you'll feel a little cooler. Lawrence, he's not feeling so good, so if he looks really bad, come and get me."

"Anxiety?"

"He's detoxing," she replied.

"How long have you been in withdrawal?" Lawrence asked Matt.

Matt gulped and painfully squeezed his eyes shut. His breathing had become labored and he had, as of late, broken into a sweat. The migraine was chewing his brain to pieces. "I dunno—about like three days now.." he muttered. It might only have been one. Matt had not disclosed to anyone that he practically lived and breathed heroine, and because of this his sense of time was significantly warped. Up to 20 minutes without an injection felt like days.

"You don't have any with you, do you?" Naomi pressed, and searched in his backpack without permission.

"No.."

Matt proved to be telling the truth. There were only articles of clothing in his bag and a CD player. His wallet was completely empty ('Spent', he'd told them), and the pockets of his shirts and jeans were empty as well.

"That's just as well," Lawrence encouraged, "Endure, Mr. Jeeves. The catharsis will be over sooner than you think."

Matt rolled his eyes. "Whatever. If I get out of this alive, I'll be in jail for a long time—and sobriety isn't exactly a perk in that situation."

"Don't talk like that. You'll get out eventually, and then you can lead a new life." Naomi smiled as she dabbed his perspiring forehead with the dishcloth, but Matt frowned at her poorly placed optimism.

B sullenly averted his stare from her as she closed the door behind them.

***

Nate opened the door before Naomi could knock. "Wait," he said, peeking out from the crevice he'd created and sweeping the area for any possible intruders. Having been satisfied with her solitary presence, he allowed her inside.

She was astonished to see that not only was he walking as good any anybody else with full use of their legs would be, but he'd just came out of the shower and was half naked. A towel was wrapped around him from the hips downward. When he retrieved his shirt on the bed, she could see beads of water quivering and trying to hold their dewy shapes on the ghostly white skin of his neck, shoulders and back. His delicate white tresses curled at the ends in a v-shape around his nape and sent little streams of water racing down his back.

"N-Nate! What in the world—!" Her heart thumped. Had he no shame?

His room was another matter of wonder entirely: pyramids of dice, cards, matches, Legos and whatever else you could make a tower or miniature monument out of stood anywhere where there was space to be filled. Megatron and Bumblebee stood in triumph over a fallen Optimus Prime and another Transformer whom she could not identify—a pity that Bumblebee had betrayed the Autobots.

Here and there you'd even see sights so silly as a Power Ranger riding a rubber duck away from a bigger robot poised to attack them. If you looked at it from a distance, it would appear as a city, and the action figures were the citizens going about their daily, and sometimes epic, business.

"You're walking."

"You've a keen eye about you, Miss Misora."

She folded her arms.

"I imagine your little friend up there is quite upset at you being in my society," Nate said.

"Who? Oh, you mean B?"

"Yes, the neurotic Mr. Bridgewood. I saw him biting his knuckles as Miss Bullock was scolding everyone, especially you. And now, being apart from his lovely, melancholy lady, his knuckles are probably bleeding with regret as he broods in some lonely corner of your room."

"I guess he has a little crush on me," Naomi admitted. She stepped cautiously over a race car track currently in action and stood in the middle of the circle it made.

"That's good. You can keep him within surveillance, then."

Naomi arched a brow. "What happened to your wheelchair?"

"I'm not sure if it could be called a 'near-death experience', but while I was taking a shower, my wheelchair was confiscated by our elusive, murdering ghost. I suppose the revolver was, as well."

"What was the point of the wheelchair in the first place? Why didn't you just walk?"

"My dear, dear mother—the insufferable cheapskate that she is—believed that disabled persons are dealt with lenience in everything—and she perceived we'd get a discount on this room if I pretended to be lame."

Naomi stared. "In English."

"She thought the room would be less if I acted the part of a cripple."

"Then explain this to me: why did you lie to Matt and tell him that you were in a wheelchair for what happened with your brother? You made everyone believe that you were healing—"

"Because Roger was alive at the time. If I just went and told everyone 'I'm not a cripple', my mother would have to pay more for the room."

At the expense of shaking her head, Naomi blinked. Was he serious? "But that puts a gaping hole in your testimony. You said that you fell down the stairs and—"

Nate did not hesitate to interrupt her again: "And I did. I fell down the stairs with my brother. He broke his neck; I broke a hip bone and a leg. I never said that it happened recently."

"But you lied about it! You said 'yes' when Matt asked you if the fall was the reason you were in the wheelchair!"

"I lied, then. Indict me."

Her belief in his innocence began to wane. His fib increased the probability of the death of his brother being by his hand.

"So why didn't you participate in the search? Didn't you want to know where your cell phone went?"

"I didn't have one to begin with," he answered, "It was my mother's, and besides, I could hardly think that the perpetrator would go to such lengths to make sure we're trapped here, and then leave our cell phones unscathed in a barrel."

"So you expected them to be broken."

"I didn't expect it; I knew they'd already been properly disposed of, so I didn't bother—in fact, it never even crossed my mind to look for them at all."

Naomi's demeanor darkened.

Just then, Light walked in and shut the door behind him. "Hey, Naomi, I thought about..."

His eyes fell on Nate.

"You can walk!"

"I congratulate your astute observation," Nate deadpanned.

"Naomi—you knew this? Why didn't you tell anyone he was lying?" Light glared at him.

"I just found out a few moments ago, and would it kill you to knock? You just don't waltz into someone's room like that. You could've walked in on something you didn't want to see."

Murmured Nate, "My sentiments exactly."

Light made a scoff that turned into laughter. "Oh, what? You mean I might've walked in on you two making out?"

Naomi's eyes slimmed. "You know what I mean. You stumbled in Roger's room unannounced, and look what you found."

"I wanted to see what you guys were doing in here. You seem to be getting along really well, so I wanted to see what was up."

"That's great." Nate replied, peeved. "Now—"

Light interrupted him: "Why are you walking now? Why did you fake it? And what the hell's with you in a shirt and towel? Trying to impress your new crush? I think you've got competition upstairs, and let me tell you, he don't look very friendly." This speech followed a bout of cruel laughter.

"If you'll allow me to speak, I just might tell you," Nate said, and his voice raised a little higher.

Light wiped a tear from his eye, but granted him his silence.

"There's a decree in this hotel that states that disabled persons get discounts on their rooms. Now—as pertains to Roger's demise, the second line of the poem says, 'Nine little wolves went to bed late; one overslept himself and then there were eight'."

This was addressed to Naomi, but Light butted in. "Wait—are you talking about that poem on the wall? Does everyone have one?" Naomi nodded for him. "So are they dying by the poem? I read some of it, and Tierry didn't choke on a bone—he didn't choke on anything. It looked like he suffocated from lack of air—not from something lodged in his throat."

"Notwithstanding, he did choke. I'm sure future deaths will not correlate with the stanza in question exactly." Nate eyed the match tower, intending to rebuild it.

"Future deaths?" Light cried. "You want more people to die?"

Nate derailed this comment before Naomi could indulge it and worsen the impact—"Mr. Yagami. I know you're thinking that we should inform the suspected condemned that any one of them could be next—and even take measures to protect them—but I implore you, do not. That is not a wise course of action."

"Why not?"

"If we just inform everyone right off the bat that Tierry Morello and Roger Ruvie died according to the poem's first two lines, then a panic will erupt: consequently, the hostility will rise to a level that those who want to impose order may not be handle. They have already proved themselves incapable of handling such information."

"But people are dying! What would you have us do?"

"Let it play out until all the pieces fall into place and we know exactly what we're dealing with."

"You just want to save yourself! You don't care about Naomi or me or anyone else! You're disgusting!"

"If you recall, all the actions you've taken so far were taken so as to benefit yourself."

"Hey, stop it!" Naomi intervened. "We should be discussing Roger."

"Thank you, Naomi. It's good to see that some of us are still in Logic's good graces." Nate began twirling his hair.

Light shook his head. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"The second line of the poem holds up for the most part," said Naomi, "We kinda 'stayed up late', didn't we? Roger was found around 11:30 and we were all wide awake. But about Roger 'oversleeping'.."

"The crime scene wants investigation before—"

"No, you can't! It's marked with death." Light interrupted nervously. "I can't stand being around a dead body, anyway. It's like you're being infected and cursed by their—deadness."

Nate narrowed his eyes. "Superstitious, much?"

Naomi tried to change his view on the matter by saying that investigating Roger's death could help prevent others, but Light obstinately proclaimed he wouldn't go.

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yeah, I'm sure," he said.

"Alright, then. Miss Misora and I will go." In truth, Nate had no intention of getting Light involved in the investigation at all. Light was overbearing, whereas Naomi was a thoughtful, justice-oriented individual, even if she did question his integrity.

A slight wariness seemed to be staring back at him. He began to doubt his faith in Miss Misora. "—Unless, of course, you have a weak stomach like Mr. Yagami."

She looked down. "No...I'll go."

It was hard not to lose patience with his presumptuousness sometimes.

***

The darkness of Roger's room exacerbated the eerie gloom pervading over her mind. She could almost smell the blood on the wall, though the body was a considerable distance from her. She hadn't even stepped in before Nate reminded her that Roger was dead, and the dead needn't be feared.

He caressed the walls until he felt the switch. The light was dim, but sufficient. He walked to Roger's body and studied him until Naomi approached.

She pulled out the first bedside drawer. "Look: sleeping pills."

"For insomnia. Prescribed recently," Nate commented. "If he hasn't skipped a day since he received them, then it's possible that the pills lessened the labors of the murderer. If that is the case, and he did take them before his death, it's no wonder he was killed so soundlessly. The pills would make him sluggish and inhibit his speed."

"Insomnia? Then maybe he had something weighing heavily on his mind." Naomi frowned. "His brother?"

"What else are we to assume?" Nate ventured to the other side of the bed and lifted the only part of the blanket that was not drenched in blood.

"But he might not have taken them." She reached for the covers, but recoiled backward. "Oh, that's right. Merrie said it wasn't a good idea to touch him...but you remember that he looked like he was roughed up when we first found him? That's a sign of a struggle. He had to have been wide awake when the killer came in."

"Yes, I think that is correct. But as for him being 'wide' awake, that is where my thoughts differ. I still uphold the pills had a role in his death. Who knows but he might have overpowered the culprit and escaped had he not taken them? Roger may have been on the elderly side, but he certainly didn't strike me as some senile, soft-boned weakling."

"But how does his death apply to oversleeping?"

"As I've said before—the killer's deeds may require a little stretch of fancy in correlation with the poem. In the event of the next death, he probably won't follow it precisely. We've had two deaths so far, and for the most part, Tierry did choke as the wolf did in the first stanza, and Roger died with the idea of going to bed, whereas everyone else was awake and sleep hardly on their minds."

Naomi closed the drawer and walked out with her contemplating companion. "I guess your assumption is more likely than mine in that respect. But our observations aren't exactly set in stone—it's dangerous to assume things in situations like these. Even if something looks blatantly obvious, the alternatives have to be considered. We should be more open-minded and employ our imaginations to recognize vital clues. The killer is childish, and he likes playing games.."

Nate smiled. "So do I."

***

Naomi formally ended their meeting and bid Nate farewell. Nate wished Naomi safety until morning and locked his door. After she entered her bedroom and disposed of her jacket on the coat hanger, she noticed that B didn't look very well.

"B? Are you alright? What's wrong?"

The man in question was greatly aggrieved. He crushed his fingertips into his forehead in anguish, as if he were trying to burrow into his skull and take out some insect that was wreaking mayhem in his mind. His eyes were closed, warring with a migraine. Naomi grew worried at B's inability to explain himself.

"Matt, what's wrong with him?"

His padded winter boots bobbed carelessly back and forth over the edge of the bed. "I dunno...I guess he's just scared 'cos everybody's dying and crap..."

"I feel like my stomach is twisting around...it hurts...it hurts so much...and I'm so scared..." B sobbed, "It's not fair... It's not fair..."

She kneeled next to him and felt his forehead. Though she'd only known B for a few hours, she couldn't help but indulge him with her sympathy. Trying to fill the void, she guessed. Ever since her son passed, she was caught up in a longing to nurture something else to compensate for her negligence. Who'd have known she'd lavish someone like him with motherly affection?

"Are you nauseated? Do you feel like throwing up?"

B could barely nod. He was caught up in a web of vertigo. Her words drawled out in slow motion; as such, he was slow to reply.

"Dude! Get off her shoulder! You're treating him like a baby! That guy looks like he's at least in his early twenties!"

"Shh." Naomi silenced him as she patted B's back.

"Ugh...I feel nauseous...my throat is dry."

"Yeah? You want some water?"

"It's just after seeing Roger...I feel so sick now.."

"You can't throw up on the carpet," she said resolutely, and lifted him to his feet. His aches and pains continued, as did his infantile whining, uninhibited. She slung his long, bony arm over her shoulder and helped him to the bathroom door, and he lamented all the way.

After the door closed behind him, she added, "If you don't feel like throwing up anymore, just lay down and try to rest for a little bit, okay?"

He emitted an assenting groan in response.

"Why do you baby him like that?" Matt pouted. "He's a full grown man."

She whispered to him: "Matt, Mr. Bridgewood is ill."

That was news. "Shyeah, mentally."

"Lower your voice." Naomi approached the bedside. "I think when he was younger his parents didn't raise him right. One look at him and you know he's had a troubled life. He needs some kind words for a change, especially after what he said about the way people were treating him in the institution."

"People like him imagine things—crazy things—he could've distorted things in his head that made the people who tried to help him look like they wanted to hurt him. You ever see those movies where a person is looking down the hall and it grows longer and more endless? That's how B sees things. He needs professional help," Matt dissented.

Naomi said nothing. She only gazed at the bed covers blankly. The mental imagery of the hall stringed others in a procession in her mind: two little girls riding their bicycles and meeting a little boy at the end of the hall; a lucid man breaking through the bathroom door and peeking his face through; a wife and son running through a desolate hotel; and a man frozen to death in a pile of snow, his murderous demeanor having died stagnant on his face...

Taking Naomi's silence as a disagreement, Matt muttered, "..But what do I know? I'm a stupid teenage junkie who killed 12 people.."

"No! No, I don't think that at all! My imagination was just running wild there for a moment.."

Matt dropped the subject and whispered to her: "I bet someone's out there, looking for him—his mom, a sister or brother, maybe. He probably got confused somehow and ran out here. And didn't he say he was looking for someone?"

Naomi sighed dejectedly. "Yeah, he said that more than once. But he also mentioned that person would find his way here. Does he mean someone from the hospital...?"

Just then, B exited the bathroom, his countenance as grim and solemn as ever. "Naomi," he walked warily up to her and averted his stare from her view, "Do you feel safe?"

"Of course not. That's a silly question."

"No, I mean, do you feel that the killer won't get you—at least not right now?"

"...Well, I think that we are sort of safe for the time being—I mean, I don't think he'd attack three people in a room at once. It's not his style. He needs to get us alone."

Matt sighed and propped his head against the headboard for sweet, delicious relief. "Thanks.."

She turned around. "For what? What did I do?"

B mirrored Matt's thoughts before he had the chance to utter them: "I was thinking that if we don't separate, we can get out of this alive."

A ghostly and nostalgic 'perhaps' echoed in Naomi's mind.

"Do you remember any of the crimes the others were accused of?" she asked Matt.

"Some of them. I remember that Tierry Morello guy had stuff like robbery and embezzlement. I think he was a bank robber or something. But I think he was killed mostly for what he did to Light's dad."

She nodded. "So do I. Anything else you'd like to add?"

"Umm...before I do, why do you want to know?"

"I'm trying to figure out who's next. Maybe the crimes will give us some sort of clue. I need to do something about it.."

"For all you know..." Matt trailed off.

"I know. I could be trying to figure out who's next and then find out, too late, that I'm next. But still. Help me out."

"Okay," he put up his fingers to count his thoughts off, "There was the woman who lied and said she was married to Tierry but wasn't."

"That's Merrie Kenwood."

"Yeah. The intercom said she did everything Tierry did, so she might have helped him rob banks and stuff. Like Bonnie and Clyde, you know?"

"Good. You're starting to jog my memory," Naomi stood up and paced back and forth. She glimpsed at the poem every now and then.

"Does that have anything to do with it?" He pointed to the plaque, which by then had taken on a grisly, ominous meaning. She paused. She didn't want to lie, and yet... "No."

"Hey, you know who'd really help us out? That lawyer guy. He's smart. What's his name? Lenny?"

"Lawrence. And you're right. He could."

Matt was going to suggest that they invite Lawrence over here, but Naomi had plans of her own. B voiced his disagreement: "I don't like this, Naomi. We shouldn't separate. You can't just go out in the hallway like you've been doing and having these little secret meetings.."

"Isn't that a little suspicious?" Matt returned.

"Don't be silly. If you guys suspect me, I'm not going to go to the trouble of clearing my name. I know I'm not the killer, so that's enough for me."

"That's not the point," Matt snapped, "You're not supposed to be going anywhere alone—don't you watch horror movies?"

"I think you've watched too many." Naomi snatched her jacket (it often acted as a placebo in stressful situations), told Matt to 'watch B' and left the room. She disregarded Matt's displeased frown and B's recitation of childish canticles to quell his anxiety. Her two associates were thus abandoned as she traveled rightward across the hall to where Lawrence's abode was situated.

Lawrence answered not a second after she knocked. He peeked through, afraid of what he might find.

"Well, can I come in?"

"Heh." He laughed. "Forgive my paranoia, Miss Misora. This situation has my nerves quite shot," and opened the door accordingly.

Merrie sat on the edge of the bed in total silence, meditating over a shortening cigarette. A small silver basin brimmed in ash inches before her feet. "I'm just keeping her company. She doesn't want to talk," Lawrence explained.

"We need to exchange ideas, pronto," proclaimed Naomi. She sat upon the bed and began, "What I really want to discuss is the accusations and what the others said to defend their innocence. But before we talk, you should know that Tierry and Roger died according to the first two lines in the poem."

Nate advised against revealing that, but Lawrence had her full confidence, and Merrie didn't seem to have much motive for the killings. This assured her that this information was still secure.

"You noticed that? Whatever gave you the idea that the poem is involved in their deaths?" he probed.

"The disappearing wolf figurines. And I read the poem almost as soon as I arrived. But listen: please keep this to yourselves. I don't want anyone else to know about this—they could go into a panic and start screaming that this guy's gonna die or that person's next and it's in everyone's best interests to avoid that."

"Sugar, everyone's in a panic, and there ain't nothin' to do about that." Merrie didn't face her as she said that.

"I know, but let's keep the panic at a level we can manage. If the police aren't coming, then we have no choice but to beat the killer at his own game."

"Miss Misora, I simply have to know: how did you come about your stunning deductive abilities? You're a true detective."

The memories were disturbing, even after three years of suppressing them. Voices, orders, instructions, agents, past cases, crime scenes. The gunshots.

"A few years ago—before I settled down and got married—I was in the F.B.I."

At this confession, Merrie's interest was piqued. "F.B.I? You serious?"

Lawrence did not share Merrie's uneasiness. In fact, the confession only strengthened his confidence in Naomi. In the beginning of this ordeal she came off as a woman of no distinction, but now she had revealed uncommon talent and skill. She knew it was better to work in a group rather than alone. And she took the weaker ones under her wing to avoid further casualties.

"The F.B.I. Interesting. It explains a few things. Very well then. What shall be the topic of discussion? I suggest Roger's death. Perhaps we may be able to find some clues that could point to the next crime."

"That's exactly what I want to find out before it's too late. But Nate and I already investigated Roger's room and found only extra details concerning his murder. It only proved that he died according to the poem's second stanza. It didn't point to a future victim."

"I see. What did you find out?"

"He suffered from insomnia, so there's a possibility he took sleeping pills prior to his death. And it probably helped the murderer to kill him quicker and more quietly. Other than that, there wasn't much else to deduce."

Merrie peered at the poem above the mantlepiece. "Now, who qualifies for the third stanza? It could be any one of us."

They conferred on the deaths so far and what courses of action to take. Though, the more absorbing and provocative subject was the matter of the accusations, the accounts of the accused and how much of these stories were based in fact.

"I don't believe that some of the accusations are true, especially my own," said Naomi. "Then again, I'm sure everyone else is feeling the same way."

"Excuse me for bringing this up, but your 'crime' was purposely drowning your child, am I correct?" Lawrence questioned.

Naomi hesitated. "Needless to say, I hope you don't believe that."

"And your defense?"

"I was suffering from depression. As of right now, I'm still taking medication. Whether or not it was post-natal depression or my marital disputes doesn't matter. People who are depressed have trouble concentrating—and I'm not saying I should avoid the blame entirely; if I'd been watching him, it wouldn't have happened—but it was hard at that time to think about anything else but my problems.." Then she added, "You don't believe I...I...killed my own child on purpose, do you..?"

"I'm in no position to declare your guilt or innocence at this point, Miss Misora, I'm sorry."

Naomi took the pang of pain quietly.

"Tierry Morello—obviously he's committed too many crimes worth mentioning, but the one that stands out is the homicide of Mr. Yagami's father. What did he say in his defense?"

Merrie spoke up almost instantly: "That he never knew him—and it was true. We neither of us ever heard a name like Yagami. We didn't have any Asian friends or acquaintances in London."

Lawrence inquired: "Did he die in London?"

"I don't know—I didn't know him, remember? Tierry and I lived in London—this Yagami guy could've died in Winchester, for all we know."

Lawrence was refuted in his attempt to incriminate Miss Kenwood. He was thoroughly surprised it hadn't worked, since he inserted the question so smoothly and innocently. But if she was innocent, she wouldn't slip up her testimony, now would she?

"Light Yagami, then."

"He said that...well, let's see...what did he say?" Naomi returned.

Merrie inserted: "He was accused of killing his girlfriend, I think."

Lawrence corrected her. "No, I think he was penalized for not showing up in court. And then he got in trouble with the cops because they were convinced he was withholding information. I believe this was due to his ex-girlfriend's infidelity."

"Was that it?" Naomi pondered. "And in his defense, he said...well, he didn't really say he did or didn't do anything. He just explained that they believed he wasn't telling everything he knew. That account is flimsy. He really didn't go into further detail, so we have little to go on."

Lawrence felt his turn pending, so accepting the natural course of the conversation, he announced: "The serial rapist, Hirokazu Ukita—I didn't kill him. I kinda caused the uproar that ultimately led to his death, but I didn't murder anyone for money or anything like that. Even the announcement vouches for me in a way: 'your conduct (not my direct actions) caused the death of Hirokazu Ukita', I remember it saying."

The discussion had become a stand-still. The three persons involved in the conversation confided in their corresponding associate that they weren't guilty—when in reality, there was no way of knowing without the confirmation of solid evidence. Trusting their fellow neighbor was a matter of pure faith, as one would generally not like to believe that persons whom they trusted had less than holy intentions toward them.

The expense of turning everyone against each other was too great, so Naomi took her own advice and considered an alternative. "What if we're all telling the truth—and the intercom is lying?"

"It was how the people reacted to these indictments that ultimately convinced me that something was up," Lawrence said. "I believe that some, if not all of these people, have some skeletons in their closets—some perhaps more serious, some more minor. Either way, it can be safely assumed that we all did not approach this hotel with clean slates to speak for our benefit."

"You're right," agreed Naomi. "Nate?"

"Something about his brother..." Lawrence rubbed his temples. "I can't remember. He got into a fight, I believe...and then..."

"His brother fell down the steps. He was accused of pushing him."

"And what did Nate say to the contrary?" Merrie returned.

"That they were fighting—and his brother tried to push him, so he grabbed him at the last minute and they tumbled down together. His brother broke his neck along the way," she said, "I just talked to him again not so long ago. He told me."

"Matt," began Lawrence, "Is guilty. We know that. He even admitted it himself. I don't think he would lie—scratch that—I don't think anyone would lie about being guilty unless it was to cover up for someone else, so...what about him?"

Naomi commented, "Any one of us is eligible for death, that much is true. These killings don't really seem to have much of a pattern in terms of severity—Roger's crime was less serious than Tierry's."

"Quite right."

"Then that only leaves that weird-ass Mr. Bridgewood." said Merrie. "I think he might be the next to go. He's kind of slow and messed up in the head. He acts like a little kid, and when we argue he gets scared. He's one of the weaker ones, so I wouldn't be surprised if he kicked the bucket tonight."

Naomi was distressed at the thought. "But—"

"No, wait. I know he's your baby, so pretend I didn't say that. I vouch for the cripple instead. That kid was showing gross disrespect for the dead. He obviously doesn't believe in heaven, because he can look on a dead body without so much as blinking an eye. He even suggested that Light wear Tierry's clothes because 'he didn't need them anymore'. But that makes him more likely to be the killer than a potential victim, I suppose."

"That doesn't prove that he's next. With everything the announcement said, it's painfully apparent that everyone here hasn't been a good Samaritan." Lawrence imposed.

Naomi, quite predictably, recommended Nate's input in the matter. Lawrence agreed; Merrie shrugged.

Since Light hadn't popped up to annoy anyone in a while, Lawrence and Naomi knocked on his door first. "We're aware that you don't trust us, but it's better to be in a group than..."

Naomi pressed her ear to the door. The ventilator caused most of the noise, but other than that, it was quiet. No footsteps. No creaking bed. No sign of life.

With her stomach turning to rot, Naomi turned the doorknob to find it wasn't locked. Lawrence's eyes were wide. "Just open it slowly...slowly now..."

Naomi released her grip on the door knob and the door slowly creaked open to reveal what they had been anticipating, or more accurately, dreading.

Light's limp body was sprawled on the floor.

"Oh!" Naomi collapsed.

"God," Lawrence trembled. Not a second later he sprinted into Halle's room and shrieked, "It's Light! Light's dead!"

Merrie didn't register the information at first; she turned slowly to face him as she placed her umpteenth cigarette between her beautiful lips. She tipped the cigarette, flicked her head toward the left, and said, "That's weird. 'Cuz uh...Halle isn't breathing, either."

The taciturn blond tipped off the accumulating ashes toward the rigid Halle, also sprawled on the floor, pale of pallor and articles of clothing and accessories strewn all about her. "There goes another 'prisoner at the bar'."

"But how can that be? That's not going by the poem!"

Rushed footsteps accompanied Matt and B down the stairs.

"What happened?" Matt cried out. "Who died?"

Nate made his appearance at the door and knocked twice. "Knock, knock. I see Halle is our lucky number three."

Naomi violently nudged Nate aside. "What the hell is wrong with you people? Two! Two! Light and Halle! He's upping his game! This is nothing like what we could have possibly suspected!"

Merrie hardened herself to these comments. Halle had done her a very personal, severe injustice, and this was just equivalent exchange. She kneeled down beside the body and lifted the pearl necklace she was wearing and almost smiled to the red ring around her neck. "I like this."

"Have you truly lost your marbles, or have you always had this little respect for human life?" Lawrence admonished harshly.

"Not hers," she replied. "You should've came to this conclusion earlier. Halle was denouncing a higher power more than anyone here. She even said that Naomi's beliefs were ridiculous." She arched her brows as a finishing touch to her point, and left.

Lawrence and Naomi had no choice but to examine the scene and get what they could from it.

Naomi went up to him. "What do we do?"

Lawrence slumped onto the floor and his shoulders sagged. His eyes closed hopelessly. "I don't know..."

"Maybe we should do this individually—I'll take a look at Light and you take—"

"You're both here; two heads are better than one. Three, if you'll permit me." Nate crossed his arms.

"You're...walking." Lawrence said.

"She was accused of killing her husband, am I correct?" He walked around to the other side of the bed and lifted her covers.

"No, her lover was. But it said she 'staged evidence', so I'm thinking that she either told him to kill her husband or tricked him into doing it." replied Naomi.

"Hmm. Well, would you like to further your investigation?" He pointed to Halle's suitcases.

Naomi unzipped the first suitcase and gasped. Almost $9,000, in cash, was stashed in a corner. Her suitcase also included a tour-guide to Mexico, an atlas, several brochures, empty cartridges (thus confirming Halle's ownership of a gun), and a note from a woman named Deborah. One half was torn, but the remaining half read:

After your hubby passed on this might be good for you. Come live with me and you'll be straightened out. England is a cool place, you'd like it. I heard you wanted to go to Mexico when you get the money.

"Didn't Halle's husband die in the United States?" Lawrence asked. "If her husband died there, she could go to Mexico and not be held accountable for her crime there. They wouldn't be able to arrest her."

"She never came out and said she lived in the U. S before she came here. I assumed she was American because of her accent," Naomi said, folding the letter and placing it back in the suitcase.

Nate added, "It was an insurance policy."

Lawrence and Naomi both turned their attention toward him.

"If, let's say, an astute detective such as Miss Misora or a competent lawyer such as Mr. Lawliet were to review her case and find the circumstances surrounding her husband's demise too fishy, she could flee to Mexico and escape responsibility forever. And as an added part on her 'innocence', she'd wait it out for a while and then—inconspicuously—disappear."

Everything appeared to add up. The evidence they had accumulated, from the brochures, the letter, the existence of the gun verified by the cartridges, and the sum of money she had stored away, it seemed that Miss Bullock had murdered her husband after all.

As Naomi and Nate had suspected, nothing but the next line of the poem pointed to a future victim, but it was rightly assumed that there would be another victim if they couldn't stop the perpetrator in time. The only thing that remained to be considered, after not one, but two deaths, was who would be next.