Somehow, Abel’s been pulled into the charade. Hey, don’t look at me like that! And it’s not like Ace’s not any more suspicious than him…hmm…
Deus Ex Machina
9 – Ex nihilo nihil fit
There would be time before four of the Naitt children – Ace, Annette, Dea and Abel – were to graduate Sixth Form, start university and move out of the mansion. That day the four of them had just taken their respective university entrance exams and went home with the mixture of weariness and nervousness. It won’t be soon that they’ll get the results but waiting can be a torture, sometimes.
In the other Naitt children’s perspective, they would advance into higher and more difficult school year. Erin would start her first year of Sixth Form and Hiero would finally experience the second year of high school. Vivianne called and announced that she will take the entrance exam for Ace’s university because of the top-class facilities they had there.
What about the others?
“I won’t be here long so I guess I could forge a fake absence note when I come back to school. Besides, who would be stupid enough to skip the end of year exam? Anyway, Brian’s always on the safe side because he’d always know how to dispel hangovers like a boss, and his grades are among the best in his school,” Michael said between chews of beef jerky.
“What about yours, then?” Erin pressed.
“I’m cool; ‘B’s had always been my friend,” he grinned.
“You should try getting higher grades –”
“Why? Because I’ll be a disgrace to the family?” Michael sneered, “Tell you what? I don’t use your family name because, technically, Zach had never married Mama nor did he adopt me or Brian. At least Vivianne was raised by our paternal great-uncle; Annette’s mum’s not well enough to take care of her so Zach agreed to sign the adoption papers, and Hiero’s mum’s somewhere in this country but we can guarantee that she’s still alive and well.”
“But it’s not like you hate Zach, is it?”
Michael pondered on the question before he answered, “No, I don’t hate him. I like it when he sends me on errands, because it makes me feel important and needed. Now that he’s not around…I feel like trash.”
Erin stayed silent. We’ll find him somehow, she thought. We’ll find out what Cornelius had been doing all this time and we’ll help Zach.
“By the way,” Michael said, “someone’s coming.”
It was Abel. He was strolling towards the tree house leisurely, whistling a tune from a TV show that aired every Saturday. He was just staring at the ground with his hands in his pockets, eyes sagged and mournful. However, there was an air of knowledge and uncertainty around him which made Erin and Michael know that he was thinking about something crucial. Abel looked up to see the sky but his eyes locked with Michael’s. All he could do was gape while Michael gave an awkward wave of his hand.
“He saw you,” Erin said.
“He saw me,” Michael echoed.
Abel rushed over to the tree house, climbed up the ladder as fast as a chameleon and clambered over to Michael to inspect him carefully. “Okay. It’s either I’m too tired that I’m seeing things or that it’s really Michael sitting in this tree house and sharing a lunch box of beef jerky with Erin,” Abel said slowly to himself, brows knitted together.
“Dude, everyone’s like as if it’s taboo for me to be here!” Michael exclaimed.
“Jenny’s going to rip your head off,” Abel said.
“Your sister said the same thing to me when I met her,” Michael rolled his eyes.
“But – I mean – is this why she didn’t let me here? What are you doing here? You know that this place is more dangerous for you than the supermarket next to La Baguette.”
“I’m here to visit and for the food. And that supermarket doesn’t scare me; I still love their slushies.”
“You should be dead by now.”
“Johnny the Security Guard has retired.”
“Oh. Good for you, then,” Abel sighed, relieved, “Well…Hey! How’s it going? Long time no see! I haven’t heard from you in, like, forever!”
“I’m just visiting,” Michael said.
Abel glanced at the large messenger bag pouring out clothes and other necessities. Michael caught his accusing gaze guiltily, pursing his lip awkwardly and wiping his palm on his thigh.
“I ran away…” Michael reluctantly confessed. Beside him Erin face-palmed herself.
“It’s the supermarket, isn’t it,” That wasn’t a question.
“No! No – well, they were having a search for me a while back…No, it’s not the supermarket! Things happen and I’ve decided to stay here for a while.”
Unsure, Abel asked “What about school?”
“I’m gonna go back when I’ve finished my business here.”
Michael hesitated. He had been getting in touch with her ever since he left but with that man out there…Michael was worried to death. “…Alright, I guess,” Michael shrugged uncertainly. “I would go back if I could but…things have been difficult, Abel.”
Abel looked at Michael sympathetically. “You can talk to any of us anytime, Michael.”
Michael smiled a genuine smile, “Thanks, Abe.”
“And before I forget,” Erin said, “Jenny said that Zach sent a letter – which is really old fashioned of him – last night about not being able to come to the graduation ceremony. I heard he has been very busy, with the funding problems and sudden appearance of a rival…”
“Hmm…Mama told me that Zach’s been busy, too,” Michael nodded in agreement, “Said something about crisis and stuff. Wonder what’s happening there.”
Abel shifted uncomfortably in his seating position. Those documents… Abel remembered the details of what was typed upon the yellowing pages, the photographs taken along with them, every event that was mentioned in each documents. Those weren’t Zach’s – The documents were mostly about Zach and his family, but most of them outlined Zach’s business, habits and properties – Who would…who had been… – The pictures were all taken when neither of the subjects were looking, of them doing various activities – This is bad…I need to tell someone – And at the last folder, there were documents about–
Abel held himself back. He shouldn’t worry the others so much about an old document; maybe Zach was pulling a prank in case someone trespasses his study. Yeah! That must be it! But why did Abel felt eerily uneasy…?
“Y-yeah…I guess he met a brick wall,” Abel laughed shakily, though he hopes neither Erin nor Michael noticed it. They noticed.
Michael’s eyes stared hard at Abel’s averted gaze and Erin narrowed her eyes in suspicion. Seeing how jittery Abel looked, they decided not to press the matter further, however. “It is such a shame, though. Ace had been looking forward towards the graduation day,” Erin said.
“Speaking of which,” Michael said, “I saw Ace leave not long ago, and he looked really pale for some reason.”
Erin pondered on that for a moment, “Was he sprinting?”
“As soon as he went pass the gate, yeah,” Michael said.
“Then it must be urgent,” Erin concluded.
* * *
“Don’t call me by that name,” Ace sighed, frustrated, “It’s too…proper and high-class-ish.”
“I didn’t know the graffiti I left was still there,” the man continued on as if Ace hadn’t said a thing, “Oh, and I heard about that little incident, Arthur.”
Arthur huffed – there was no use in talking to this person. “Yeah, yeah, it’s all my fault and yada-yada-yada…Now out with it or I’ll leave.”
The man quirked an eyebrow in amusement while the woman on the sofa got up and sat up straight. “I think he meant it, dear,” she mused, “It’s been a while, Arthur. You look healthy. How are your studies? How’s Erin?”
“I’m doing fine, ma’am,” Ace replied politely, “And Erin’s alright, if her usual bouts of sickness don’t count, but she had been improving since last October.”
The woman hummed, satisfied with her answer. “Well, since you’re here why don’t you make yourself at home? Sit anywhere you like while I go get the refreshments ready. Oh, and honey,” the woman said to the man, “Don’t be too harsh.”
The man merely snorted and turned back to Ace. “Well? Go on, take a seat.” Ace went to the nearest armchair while the man went back to his previous seat, leaning forward so his elbows rest upon his knees. Ace heard the clicking of the stove before it was properly burning and the silent clinks and clanks of pots and kettles from the kitchen. A song was hummed drowsily from where the woman went off to and soon after the man joined in to the hum whilst stretching forward to grab the remote control. The box-like TV flickered on with images of firemen putting out a raging house fire somewhere near the capital city. The volume was set no more than a whisper but it felt deafening in the silence of the room.
Finally, Ace broke the silence, “Aren’t you going to talk now?”
The man smiled. “I was hoping to talk over a cup of tea but since you’re as impatient as ever, let’s start now.” The man leaned back towards his armchair and rests his cheek on his fist, staring blankly at the TV. “I just got a word about Cornelius last week, and it’s not pretty.”
Ace’s eyes widen. Cornelius? As in, Grandpa Cornelius? “B-but, he’s dead!”
The man laughed bitterly, “Yeah, and I hope he would stay that way.”
“What’s this all about?” Ace demanded. The man took his time, his eyes fixed on the TV but not quite watching, his free hand drumming its digits on the armrest.
“It’s not every day Zach would talk to me,” the man began, “He’s always so full of himself, all high and mighty despite him being the youngest of us all. It annoys me.” The man paused again as if trying to piece sentences in his head. “But I don’t hate him.” Ace cocked his head in confusion, and the man just chuckled. “Weird, right? But I guess that’s because we’re brothers.
“When Cornelius…perished, his siblings hunted us down in order to inherit his fortune and after a long battle between us siblings and the elder Naitts, us younger Naitts had reclaimed our right to the inheritance. From this, we split the fortune equally between all of us; as per tradition, the sons would inherit the houses owned by the Naitts – Zach claimed Olympia Mansion, Nathaniel claimed Altanta Mansion which stood by the sea and I got Tartarus, a gloomy castle secluded from the world where you can only reach if you manage to convince Charles the guard. To add to that there’s the trio of guard dogs that would keep watch twenty-four-to-seven.
“I didn’t mind the solace there because I was used to it. That was until I saw Phillipa.” A disbelieving snort carried over from the kitchen and the man just rolled his eyes fondly. “Phillipa was Dimitri’s sister-in-law whom she saw as her own and when I kidnapped her to make her my bride – oh, you should’ve seen how chaotic the town was under her wrath! But…we made an agreement of letting Phillipa see her every spring and summer while I get to keep her when the weather turns chilly.”
“The why is she here?” Ace asked.
“Phillipa herself told Dimitri that she had business to attend to,” the man waved his hand dismissively. “Anyway, as I was saying –”
“Are you going to spend the rest of our time talking about the past or are we going to start discussing the real subject?” Ace snapped, irritated.
“…I’m sorry, what were we talking about again?” the man asked, sincerely confused.
Ace rubbed his face raw and buried it in his hands, “Oh…my…gosh…Uncle Pietro…!”
“I’m just joking! Geez, you don’t need to get so irritated!” Pietro laughed. At the same time, Phillipa waltzed in with a tray of pot of tea and cups as well as biscuits. “Thank you, dear. Alright, Arthur – let’s skip the pleasantries.” Phillipa went over to her sofa and sat up straight; Pietro had lost his pleasantly annoying mask and fixed on a much more serious one. “As I said before, Cornelius is out and about, and he seemed to have attacked Zach – in terms of business, I mean. That aside – I know you’re aware that Zach had been busy since two years ago – I hear he’s somewhere here in this town, lurking about Olympia Mansion.”
Ace’s memory kicked him hard and he exclaimed, “Dea said something about Cornelius sneaking into our house every night! Then she was right…”
Pietro’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh? It seemed that we were too late, then.” Ace was puzzled but before he could ask any questions, Pietro continued. “Arthur, I want you to make sure nothing gets in or out of the mansion. Even a single photograph could be critical. All in all, keep guard and make sure Cornelius hasn’t got hold of any information about anything – anything – concerning his family or himself.”
Seemed like Pietro was right – they were too late.