Sorry for the delay, people. Life is annoying chore to deal with.


Ch 10

Screw this! I'm out of here!


After Corvo had been released from captivity, Vera had bid him goodnight and returned to her suite. But unbeknownst to anyone, she had invited The Outsider herself for some midnight tea. Vera had hoped for a leisurely chat before going to sleep, but when she pried him to tell her exactly what was happening on the first floor, he was all too happy to explain his revelations. Her peaceful mood quickly turned to horror.

"Murder," she whispered, shaking her head. "Murder!?"

"Yes, Granny Rags," he replied coolly. "Murder."

"You knew this would happen!?"

The Outsider nodded. "Unfortunately."

"And you did nothing to prevent it!?" she snapped.

He raised his hands in defense. "What was I supposed to do? Call the police and tell them that there was murder in someone's heart? No, no, my darling. Things aren't always that simple—even if you do have all of the money in the world. And besides, I wouldn't have been able to tell them who did it."

Vera slumped in her chair; her eyes going into a blank daze. The Outsider calmly sipped on chamomile and smiled.

"Who… has been murdered?" she asked.

The Outsider frowned slightly. "That's the funny thing. I was expecting the victim to be Hiram Burrows. But according to what my people have told me, it was Thaddeus Campbell! I wonder if there's a bit of information I've actually missed… or perhaps…"

He hummed in thought as Vera slowly started to recover.

"Or perhaps…" he mused. "Yes, someone else has made a miscalculation. A miscalculation that even I couldn't predict. Yes, that's probably what happened…"

"What do you mean?" Vera replied.

The Outsider looked at her and smiled deviously.

"That, my darling… is for you to figure out…"

00000

With the proper evidence, Hiram Burrows was relieved to find that he was not a suspect. Detective Beechworth was fair. It was decided that Mr. Burrows would've had no time to dispose of a gun before Martin came upon the murder, nor was any gun found near the crime scene. However, to his dismay, his office had been thoroughly searched… and haphazardly put back together.

The police were further disappointed when they discovered that Callista was at a party and her uncle was allegedly receiving a late room service at the time of the murder (though the police wrinkled their noses as the latter's alibi). In the end, they had to accept that there was no reason for either of them to shoot a man they had just consigned to prison.

So, no one would be arrested that night.

All they could do was deliver Campbell's body to the morgue and contact his distant relatives in Whitecliff. The hapless detective wasn't very happy about it either. He didn't favor the prospect of having to be around The Pandyssia any longer.

Once Burrows was released from questioning, he trudged silently to his suite, twitchy and completely red in the cheeks. After hanging up his jacket, unbuttoning his starched collar, and dousing his face in cold water, he made two calls with a very shaky hand. One of them for a very strong cocktail and the other was for… helpful company.

He didn't need to wait long. Five minutes later, his doorbell rang, and he peered cautiously through the peephole. He opened the door halfway, fixing a smile on his face, and Esma Boyle greeted him with a coy smirk. She was a wearing a silk, pink negligee, a matching robe, and her blond ringlets hung loose.

"You walked… all the way here in that?" he asked with a gape.

"Yes… but no one knows the difference at night…" she crooned, "if you're wearing a pair of heels!"

Esma gave him a sultry hum and wrapped her arms around him, caressing his nape. He slowly dragged her into the safety of his suite. She only followed with a predatory grin. He could smell the champagne all over her breath.

"And lucky you that I came to you in one piece. I'm absolutely drained…"

"So…you had a… good time, darling?"

"It was a smashing party! Though Ms. Kaldwin and that little monster were there. I'm sorry that you weren't invited!"

Burrows coughed inwardly, his jaw tightening. Esma raised her eyebrows and examined his face. He had circles under his eyes.

"What's the matter with you?" she asked. "You're as white as a sheet!"

He replied with a tired sigh but continued to smile.

"You said to come by when you called," she recalled. "What? Aren't you up for—mmmph!?"

Burrows crushed her lips with his. She allowed herself with a muffled, pleasured whine before breaking away. He held her fast around the waist, his hands inching lower and lower.

"H-Hiram!" she cried. "Go easy on me! I already told you; I don't have much in me right now."

Burrows simpered, wanting to indulge in his helpful little distraction. After all, as far as he knew, a vengeful shooter had freed him.

"Oh, you have enough," he declared. "I'm sure you have more than enough. Ah, it's good to be alive!"

"You're friskier than usual!" she squeaked. "What on the isles has gotten into you?"

Esma giggled as he buried his nose in her neck, and she struggled to close the door behind her.

00000

For many, the morning came all too quickly. For some, even more so.

As she predicted, Jessamine found herself staring at her clock at four in the morning. She dreaded taking some sort of drug to help her sleep, but she knew that she wouldn't have any choice. At the very least, she had no appointments for the day… ignoring that the police would come to call on her.

Callista had been forced to take a pill and was given a few days off, provided that she did not leave the hotel until the matter died. That meant that Jessamine would either have to hire temporary care for Emily (a definite no) or take care of Emily herself.

She was getting a headache. She cursed the fact that aspirins and sleeping drugs weren't safe to take at the same time.

Jessamine sat at the edge of her bed, holding her head in her sweaty hands. She had been confident enough to believe she could uphold the standards of her hotel, and she was fully prepared to cut her losses. But she wasn't prepared for this—not for this. She wondered what The Outsider thought of this mess; no doubt that the news would've reached his ears by now—she knew his reputation all too well.

It was bad enough that a member of her chief staff was murdered in cold blood, but the fact that he was a proven blackmailer made it all the more unbearable. And threatening her daughter's caretaker in order to gain what she could only imagine what?

How would this look in the public eye?

Jessamine only hoped that Callista wouldn't feel inhibited in continuing her employment. Emily adored her… and it wasn't as if she couldn't figure out what Campbell had dug up on the unlucky woman. It made her grit her teeth.

Why did my father even hire that warthog!? she seethed.

Then again, she had to admit that her judge of character wasn't any better.

"Time for that very large sleeping pill," Jessamine droned quietly. She rose from the bed, hand on forehead, and went to the kitchen to get a bottle of water. She never bothered to put on her slippers.

When she started to go back, she heard rustling coming from the front hall. Curious, she set her water aside and walked to the front door. There was an envelope laying on the ground, and her name written on it with familiar letters. She picked it up and opened it. The contents startled her.

I highly recommend taking off the rest of the month, Ms. Kaldwin. It's about to get uglier.

- The Outsider

P.S.

By the way, you looked lovely last night.

Jessamine gulped and folded the letter back into the envelope. She wondered if sleeping pills were a good idea anymore.

00000

By half past five, Mr. Burrows' coffee arrived, along with a freshly baked muffin. He took his pre-breakfast delight in the living room. He sat on the couch in his long, fuzzy robe and sipped on his coffee with a renewed confidence. At last, his unseemly tracks—unearthed by the late Mr. Campbell—were neatly swept under the rug. And there would be no more; he would make sure of that.

Esma Boyle sauntered into the room, wearing only her pink robe. Her eyes were half closed, and she absentmindedly scratched her scalp. Her light groans were the only thing that alerted him of her presence.

"Esma…" he gently chided. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"

"I'll sleep later," she mumbled.

She slumped next to him and rested her head on his shoulder. "Or I could sleep right here."

"I still have work to do."

"The pushy little 'Empress' won't let you have a day off after seeing a dead body?"

"Not much… I suppose. I don't imagine she would go out today. Her sensibilities probably kept her up all night!"

Esma snickered and stroked his chest. "But you kept me up…"

"Sorry," he replied.

She sighed, biting her lip, and looked up at him.

"What?" he asked.

"Was he actually shot when he stepped out of your office?" she asked.

"Yes… but…"

"Was it after he stepped out... or was right when he opened the door?"

Burrows frowned at her but smiled wryly. "You're being very inquisitive for a sleepy woman."

"Which was it?" Esma prodded.

"It was right when he opened the door," he replied. "Why?"

Esma curled up closer, pulling her legs up onto the couch.

"It's nothing," she replied drowsily.

As he continued drinking his coffee, she mumbled something that he could barely hear:

"…just my imagination…"

00000

At eight o'clock, Corvo was still lying naked in bed, recovering from the night before. He was content with his face full of pillow, the sheets were bunched up at his waist, and Harry the cat was snoozing next to his head. The alarm clock was off. Sleep came and went, and he felt like he was in heaven. Perhaps, that was because he now believed he could handle whatever The Outsider dished out.

Hopefully…

His cell phone received a text message, to his slight annoyance, but he went to look at it anyway.

Meet as a group at The Golden Cat in one hour.

- The Outsider

Corvo dropped the phone beside him, grabbed his other pillow, and covered his head completely. Harry dodged and climbed onto his back.

00000

After freshening up, getting dressed, and feeding Harry, Corvo left his suite and went down to The Golden Cat.

At least I can have the quiches, he consoled himself.

When he arrived, an old, redheaded woman was waiting near the door. "Mr. Attano?" she called out. Corvo looked at the old woman's heavily made-up face, and he couldn't help but think that her expression was very dour. Or perhaps, that was only because her face was wrinkled up like a monkey's. Her perfume made him want to sneeze. Her nametag read "Prudence".

"Yes, ma'am?" he replied.

Madame Prudence stared briefly, giving him a once over with her eyes that made him feel uncomfortable.

"Right this way, please."

She walked deeper into the teahouse, marching through the aisles with the manner of a general. He followed behind her without a word, and her hips swayed with an exaggerated manner, making him grimace and purse his lips. She led him to the back of the teahouse, where there was a small, private room. Piero and Vera were waiting inside with a fresh pot of tea.

He turned to the elderly woman and thanked her.

Madame Prudence examined him even harder this time, and a half-smile suddenly appeared on her face.

"Anytime, dearie," she drawled.

After she shut the door, Corvo allowed himself a shudder.

"Come sit down," Vera commanded. "We have much to talk about."

Corvo shrugged and seated himself next to Piero. "Since when do we not?"

Vera removed the tea cozy, poured him a cup, and dropped in two sugar cubes.

"Have you heard the news yet?" she asked, her tone serious. "About Mr. Campbell, the hotel manager?"

"No," he replied. "What's the matter?"

"He's dead," Piero said.

Corvo stopped in shock. "Dead!?"

"Dead. Murdered. Shot. In. Cold. Blood."

Corvo took a deep breath and poured his cream. "In this hotel!?"

Vera nodded. "It happened while we were all still at the party!"

"Damned unpleasant, isn't it?" Piero said. "And they think the shooter might still be in the hotel!"

"That's not all," she added. "Apparently, the police were about to arrest him. He was a blackmailer!"

Corvo silently stirred his tea without a word.

"He really was an arm-twisting pig!" Piero mused. "He was hustling poor Callista Curnow… and her uncle!"

He lowered his eyes worriedly. "Poor Miss Curnow."

"Callista?" Corvo asked. "Why… Callista?"

"Who knows?" Vera replied. "But it obviously wasn't something that could get her arrested. I feel for the woman. I wonder what the scoundrel wanted from her."

"She's pretty," Piero answered. "What do you think he wanted?"

"Don't be so crass!"

Corvo finally decided that he would cherish all of the peaceful moments and small doses of happiness he could get. So, he quietly drank his tea and was thankful for it.

00000

The group barely enjoyed a light breakfast of muffins and miniature quiches. Piero left his food half-finished and piddled with his tea. Conversation always led back to Callista's plight. Corvo silently wondered how Emily was dealing with it…if she needed to at all. No one was feeling particularly hungry.

And when the infamous letter arrived in the hands of a bubbly Cecelia, Corvo completely lost his appetite.

Here we go again, he thought.

"Good morning, lady and gents," Cecelia greeted. "Nice day for a murder, eh?"

"You're terribly cheerful about it!" Vera gasped.

Cecelia pushed out her lip and rolled her eyes. "Why not? I know a lot about Mr. Campbell. He's a wrong' un who's forced several of the maids into 'overtime work', so as far as I'm concerned, that bullet was an improvement!"

Piero stifled a much-needed chortle. Vera scowled at him, and he slowly turned away.

"Just read the letter, dear," she said with a sighed. "We know the drill."

Cecelia opened the letter, cleared her throat, and obeyed.

Good morning, participants,

By now, I'm sure you've heard of the murder of Thaddeus Campbell, the "esteemed" manager of The Pandyssia. Though, judging by his history of blackmail, this was probably the expected outcome.

But before we discuss that any further, I have a few trivial commands for you:

For Vera, please change your rooms color scheme to a blend of pinks and greens and ask concierge to buy the ingredients for oatmeal cookies.

For Piero, change your color scheme to a blend of brown and yellow and ask concierge for a dozen children books (the more feminine the better).

And for you, dear Corvo, change your color scheme to a blend of red and black and ask concierge to buy you a recipe for mocktails. Also, I've been informed that you've caught the attention of Anton Sokolov. Please pose for his next painting.

Corvo went grey and sucked in his cheeks. Piero eyed him with sympathy.

Vera gave him a concerned look. "Corvo?"

He sighed without a word and his head drooped. I guess that's not so bad.

Now with that aside, the murder!

I suppose, in a romantic sense, it's all very exciting. However, in reality, it's nothing short of a catastrophe –that's a given. And I don't find it pleasing to live in the same building with a murderer.

"Wait a second!" Piero stopped. "He lives here!?"

Cecelia continued without a reply.

Therefore, it is time to give my next official order to you:

I want all of you to assist me in solving the murder of Thaddeus Campbell…

Corvo dropped his jaw. Piero almost fell out of his chair. Vera sucked loudly against her teacup.

With that in mind, I will set out a few more rules:

1. Again, do not disclose your association with me if questioned on your actions.2. If you need special information, call on my assistance.3. Avoid Detective Samuel Beechworth and the police.4. Avoid room service and cook your own food.5. Do not drink any alcohol. You need to keep your wits about you. 6. If in the event you come across the murderer, please refrain from confrontation unless necessary. You're useless to me as a corpse.

Please keep in mind that you must all work as a team. If either of you decides to back out of this, none of you will receive your reward. I'm not saying that out of malice; there is safety in numbers.

Tonight, meet up again on the rooftop at eight o'clock. More information will await you.

Good luck, and please stay safe.

Farewell, Gypsies,

The Outsider

The table remained speechless. Cecelia cheerfully folded up the letter and put it on the table. She bowed her with a wide smile.

"Well, have a nice day, everyone!" she chirped, and she turned around and left the room.

For a moment, the trio sat silent, without even giving each other a glance. Piero started having spasms, and he stared at the door for a long time…

"Oh my word!" Vera said, breaking the silence.

Piero stood up from the table. Corvo and Vera looked up in surprise. Without a word, he began to walk away, towards the door.

"Mr. Joplin, where ARE you going!?" Vera called after him.

"Screw this!" Piero yelled. "I'm out of here!"

Vera huffed in outrage and jumped up after him. She grabbed his arm and gave him a tight squeeze.

"Augh!" he winced. "Are you crazy!? I'm not going after some homicidal maniac!"

"Oh, come off it, you yellow-striped mouse!" she snarled. "I have an orphanage on the line for this. And that's nothing compared to what Corvo will get! If you walk out on us, we'll all sink with you!"

Corvo covered his face and wondered why he hadn't tried to follow Piero's lead.

"I need saner friends," he muttered.

Then again, based on what he had done to bring himself into this disaster, Corvo was only sane by comparison. And he was mournfully aware of that.