Chapter 12: The Letter
“Whoa! Mr. Murdoch?!”
When Larry chased the mysterious man into the hallway, he spotted the teacher collapsed near the middle of the building.
Mr. Murdoch was wearing brown pants and a blue polo shirt. Larry had seen him many times in Roxchean class, and once that very morning at the faculty office.
Mr. Murdoch scrambled to his feet and turned. When he spotted Larry at the end of the hall, cold sweat began running down his face.
“S-stay away from me!”
“Afraid I can’t do that, sir. We’d like to have a nice, long talk with you.” Larry said, slowly making his way down the hall.
“V-violence against a teacher is grounds for expulsion! Do you understand?” Mr. Murdoch threatened.
“Probably not. Unlike me, Larry here’s an idiot.” Jenny said, striding into the hallway.
Larry stopped in his tracks, his eyes narrowing.
“We need to talk, Jenny.”
“Before that, I’ll be helping you nab a bad guy. I think I deserve a word of thanks, Larry.”
“Right. Never thought you actually remembered my name.”
“I was just guessing. So you really were Larry, huh.”
“Nice name, huh? Don’t you forget it. Now—”
Larry resumed his walk.
Mr. Murdoch quickly turned and fled out the wide-open door.
Larry sprinted after him. Jenny followed.
Larry ran all the way through the hall, out the door, and down the stairs. When he looked around, he spotted Mr. Murdoch disappear to the right.
“There!” He cried, charging ahead.
“When’d you start suspecting him, Seron?”
“Indeed. We only really had two suspects to begin with, but I don’t believe there was any concrete evidence that pointed to him.”
Natalia and Nick asked in turn.
“It was when we spoke to him at the faculty office. I guess it’s similar to what Megmica said she felt. I glossed over it when Larry asked because I didn’t think it was time to mention it.” Seron said. “I think… if I were in Mr. Murdoch’s shoes, I would have gotten angry at the students.”
Natalia and Nick, and Meg—who was still sitting on the floor—gave him quizzical looks. Seron continued.
“Suppose you were napping away in the faculty office when a group of students barged in with a ridiculous photograph and seriously told you that there was a mysterious man in the storehouse basement. How would you react?”
“Aha… I get it.” Natalia nodded.
Nick put a hand to his lips.
“I see now. Normally, a teacher would simply get angry at the students. Not only that, if we suppose that a teacher is behind this man’s imprisonment, it all fits together. A teacher would naturally know about the basement, and could easily bring in a regular supply of food. He must have stolen the film when we came to the storehouse to take a look. In fact, Mr. Murdoch was the one who suggested that we look at the storehouse to begin with.”
“Yeah. But that’s only circumstantial evidence. That’s exactly why Mr. Murdoch went out of his way to steal the film. I thought the man here might be our only source of information, but Mr. Murdoch ended up revealing himself through his own actions.”
“But why? Why would he do this thing?” Asked Meg.
“I’m not sure yet.” Seron said plainly to the girl he had barely been able to speak to the previous day. “We won’t know until we figure out who this man here is. All we can to is question Mr Murdoch until we get the answers. Will you come with us?”
“Yes, I will come with you. Please, you must let me question too.”
Natalia narrowed her eyes, smiling. When she turned, she saw Nick smiling as well. He noticed her gaze.
“You jealous?” Natalia asked.
“Not at all.” Nick replied.
Larry was a fast runner; he easily caught up to Mr. Murdoch, who was desperately trying to cross the grounds.
“Sorry, sir!” Larry said, giving him a light shove in the back.
That was enough to throw Mr. Murdoch off-balance. He narrowly managed to dampen the impact and rolled across the ground, finally landing on his backside.
“Mr. Murdoch… we’ve got a lot of questions for you.” Larry said, punching his open palm with his fist.
“O-of course. Let’s not resort to violence, now.” Mr. Murdoch replied, breathing heavily with sweat running down his dirt-covered face.
Jenny caught up to them and stopped next to Larry.
“Mr. Murdoch, please give back the film.”
“Wh-what are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb, sir. You know, it’s all starting to add up. The thief only stole that one piece of film. The rest of the room was untouched. The thief knew exactly where to look, which means they have some knowledge about cameras and photography.”
Mr. Murdoch could not argue. Larry glanced at him, then at Jenny.
“You’re pretty good.”
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about. And the fact that I’m knowledgeable about cameras doesn’t prove that I’m your thief. Why are you chasing me, anyway? I went into the storehouse because I saw the door was open. I only ran because Larry came charging at me.” Mr. Murdoch said, forcing a smile onto his face.
“Seriously… man up, Mr. Murdoch.” Larry frowned.
“You can’t arrest me without evidence. You know that, right? I don’t know anything about any film.”
“Is that any way an adult should be acting, sir?”
“Who do you think people will believe? An adult, or a teenager?”
Mr. Murdoch smiled as he slowly rose. He dusted himself off and held his head high.
“Unfounded accusations and violence against a teacher is grounds for punishment. Secondary school is a strict place, Larry Hepburn. You’re as good as expelled. Just imagine how heartbroken your honorable family will be.”
“But…” Larry trailed off. He had nothing to say.
“Never mind, Larry. Look, it’s a waste of time trying to talk to Mr. Murdoch. Just grab him or whatever, even if you have to get rough.” Jenny said, taking out her camera and focusing on his face.
“Right… but then what?” Larry asked. Jenny pressed the shutter and took a picture. Then she looked up, shrugging.
“Who knows? Either way—”
“In the worst-case scenario, you’re the only one getting expelled.”
“…We’re gonna have to have a nice, long talk one of these days, Jenny.”
“Are you trying to hit on me?”
“In your dreams.”
Larry returned his gaze to Mr. Murdoch.
“Look, sir. I don’t know anything about evidence and stuff. I just want you to come with us and speak with Seron. You know he’s at least a hundred times smarter than I am. Just try and talk your way out in front of him.” He said, stepping forward.
“Wh-what are you saying? I should be patrolling the campus. I don’t have time for your games.”
“Do you have no shame, Mr. Murdoch?”
“Sh-shut up! Don’t you look your nose down at a teacher!”
“Look, sir. I may be stupid, but I really enjoyed your classes.” Larry said, reaching out to grab Mr. Murdoch’s arm.
“G-get away from me!” Mr. Murdoch cried, flailing. But Larry easily avoided the attack.
“You’re only tiring yourself out, sir.”
“Sh-shut up! Get back! Argh!”
Half-delirious, Mr. Murdoch swung his left arm at Larry.
He was much slower than the man in the basement.
With a sigh, Larry made to lean back and avoid the blow—
—but he reacted reflexively at a sudden command.
And was decked hard in the face.
Mr. Murdoch’s fist made contact with Larry’s right cheek and the tip of his nose. Larry staggered back several steps before losing his balance and falling on his backside. Jenny snapped up photographs.
“Damn it!” Larry swore. His nose was bleeding. Jenny pressed the shutter again.
Mr. Murdoch froze mid-punch, as though he could not believe that his attack had connected. But he quickly recovered and grinned.
“S-serves you right! That’s what happens when you try to assault a teacher!”
Larry shot Mr. Murdoch a glare, ignoring the blood streaming down his chin. Then—
“What’s going on?” Asked a male voice.
Mr. Murdoch flinched and turned. Larry slowly stood.
Jenny also turned. And the moment she spotted the owner of the voice, she cried out.
Outside the door to the nearest building stood a man in blue work wear.
It was Hartnett. He strode over to the three people on the grounds.
“What happened here, Mr. Murdoch?”
“…Just a minor issue with student discipline. Nothing to see here.”
“Is that so?”
The adults could not sound any more businesslike.
“Hey! This is not a minor issue!” Jenny cut in loudly. “The man in the basement does exist, Mr. Hartnett. We saw him in person. And Mr. Murdoch tried to get the man to kill us. I’d also like to accuse Mr. Murdoch of stealing my film.”
Hartnett turned to Murdoch.
“Is this true, sir?”
“I-I have no idea what she’s going on about! You know how teenagers are; they’re just spouting nonsense. And this student is also infamous for her fabricated newspapers!”
Hartnett’s gaze returned to Jenny.
Then he looked at Larry, who stood 3 meters away with his nose bleeding.
“If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do!” Mr. Murdoch declared, turning on his heels—
“Why is that student bleeding?” Asked Hartnett.
Mr. Murdoch trailed off. Larry spoke up in his stead, blood dribbling down his face.
“Because Mr. Murdoch just punched me.”
Larry slowly approached Mr. Murdoch, ready to grab him if he tried to run.
“Is this true, Mr. Murdoch?”
“I suppose it must be. Someone had to have hit the boy, and the only people here are you and the camera girl here. And I’m not sure arms this skinny could deck someone hard enough for an injury like this.”
“You never know until you try.” Jenny chimed in.
“Let’s not do that.” Larry replied from behind Mr. Murdoch.
Jenny held up her camera.
“I have evidence right here, Mr. Hartnett. I’ll submit the photos once I finish developing them.”
Mr. Murdoch paled visibly. Hartnett shot him a glare.
“This is unacceptable, sir. What kind of teacher hits one of his precious students?”
“He’s not really a precious kind of guy, actually.”
“Could you be quiet for a bit, Jenny?” Larry complained.
“I’m going to have to ask you a few questions about this use of force against a student, Mr. Murdoch. Come with me. You’ll have to postpone your business for later.”
“What has gotten into you, Hartnett? You’re an outsider! This is school business!”
“Mr. Murdoch, you hit this student hard enough to bleed. This is a clear case of assault.”
Hartnett reached into his shirt and pulled out an ID card he had been hiding on a lanyard under his top.
He pulled open the folded case and flashed it to Mr. Murdoch with a practiced hand.
“Considering my job, I’m afraid I can’t let this slide. You’ll have to come with me, Mr. Murdoch. We’ll listen to your side of the story in detail somewhere else.”
Mr. Murdoch was frozen; several seconds passed before he finally managed something like a groan.
“Ah… argh… it can’t be…”
He fell to his knees, cradling his head in his hands.
And Larry (nursing his bloody nose with a handkerchief) was finally given a clear view of the object in Hartnett’s hand.
In the ID was a photo of Hartnett in a black uniform. Over the photo were the words ‘Confederation Police’.
Larry stood in a daze.
And as Hartnett put away his ID—
Larry tightened his grip on his bloody handkerchief, a thin stream of blood flowing down his face.
“You let me get hit on purpose, didn’t you!”
* * *
“Are you all still in there?” Asked a male voice.
“Yes, we are.” Seron replied.
Seron, Natalia, and Nick were leaning against the wall in the basement room.
In the center of the room, on the cold floor, was the man. He was sleeping like an exhausted child.
And next to him sat Meg, hugging her knees. She seemed to be watching over the man.
“I’m coming in.” The voice said, emerging into the room. It was Hartnett.
“Huh?” Natalia gasped. Nick and Meg seemed surprised as well.
“Where are Larry and Jenny?” Asked Nick.
Larry and Jenny replied from further down the passage. They soon appeared next to Hartnett.
Larry’s T-shirt was stained with drops of blood. His nosebleed had stopped.
“You all right, Larry?” Asked Seron.
“Got socked in the face by a fat guy, but I’m fine. Call this a mark of honor. Sorry to keep you guys waiting down here.”
“So it really was Mr. Murdoch.”
“Sure was! That was a great guess, Seron. Did you suspect him from the start?”
“Yeah. Sorry I couldn’t tell you earlier.”
“It’s fine. All’s well that ends well.”
“What happened up there?” Asked Natalia.
“So much. …I can’t really explain, so ask Mr. Hartnett.” Larry said, avoiding responsibility.
Hartnett looked around the basement, his eyes fully adjusted to the darkness. He spotted the man lying on the floor with his wrists and legs bound by jackets. The girl sitting next to him glared at Hartnett.
“Where do I begin…?” Hartnett sighed, when Seron went up to him.
“Where did you take Mr. Murdoch?”
“He’s with my team. Don’t worry; they’re keeping a close eye on him.”
“Wait, your team nabbed him? Who are you supposed to be?” Asked Natalia.
“People who’re used to this kind of work.” Seron said plainly. “You’re going to take him to the police station, right?”
Natalia, Nick, and Meg reacted.
Hartnett blinked, then spoke. “You’re a bright one. That’s exactly what we’re doing.”
“What’s going on here?” Asked Natalia. Larry replied brusquely.
“Mr. Hartnett and his team are all from the police force. The Confederation Police, in fact.”
Natalia and Nick were shocked.
“What are the Confederation Police?” Asked Meg. Seron replied,
“The Roxcheanuk Confederation has a very complex law enforcement system. Each member state has its own police force, and the Capital District does too. And the Confederation military has its own military police. The Confederation Police specializes in cases that span multiple member states. They’re extremely powerful and usually deal with things like terrorism, organized crime, and kidnapping.”
“Oh… I understand. That is very incredible.” Meg nodded, although it wasn’t clear how much of the explanation she had understood.
“How long have you suspected me, Seron?” Asked Hartnett.
“Well, at first I was completely fooled. But after I saw Jenny’s photo and noticed Mr. Murdoch’s strange behaviour, I thought that you might have something to do with the man in the basement. It was strange, for one, that the ministry of education would suddenly decide to cover up a window that had been open for three centuries.”
“I admit it was a bit of a far-fetched excuse.”
“I realized that you might be here to investigate the basement when you carefully rolled up Jenny’s photograph instead of tearing or crumpling it, and when you easily overpowered Larry, who learned hand-to-hand combat in the Confederation Army. Although I wasn’t completely convinced until I saw how Larry was behaving himself in your presence just now.”
“But I never expected to see the Confederation Police here.” Seron said, then pointed at the man on the floor. “Are you here to arrest this man and Mr. Murdoch?”
Meg’s shoulders trembled when she heard the word ‘arrest’.
“Will you now arrest this man here? Is it true? Is it not allowed for us to help this man?”
Hartnett shook his head.
“No, Seron. We’re here to protect him.”
“Really?” Seron looked up, his eyes widening.
“Yes. He’s done nothing wrong. Does that make you feel better, Missy?”
“Oh? Y-yes. It makes me feel better.” Meg replied, her eyes narrowing peacefully.
Several seconds of silence passed before Seron spoke again.
“You knew what Mr. Murdoch had been doing from the beginning.”
Hartnett nodded firmly.
“That’s right. We’ve been keeping tabs on Mark Murdoch and had his home under surveillance since before summer break. We waited for the holidays to enter the school premises and gather concrete evidence. Although I never imagined I’d end up in a situation like this.” Hartnett said.
“Why weren’t you working today?”
“We received complaints from the school, so we had to pull out. Mark Murdoch must have been the one sending the complaints. He was like this yesterday, too—made excuses and wouldn’t hand over the key. So I was keeping tabs on him alone, and when I saw him enter the storehouse I called my team back. We were going to storm the place together. But who knew you kids would be here first? By the time I came back, Larry was chasing down Mark Murdoch on the grounds.”
“Then he waited for me to get punched in the face and arrested him on the spot.” Larry added, astonished.
“Anyway…” Hartnett trailed off, turning his gaze to the man on the floor. “That’s him, isn’t it?”
“Then who is this man here?” Meg asked desperately. “Who is this poor man? If you know who he is, please tell me. Please do!”
“What if I told you it was classified? …Well, I suppose I shouldn’t put it that way. I’ll tell you.”
Six sets of eyes were on Hartnett. He began to explain.
“This man here is Burt Murdoch. The younger brother of Mark Murdoch, who’s two years his senior.”
“I-is it true?” Meg asked.
“Yes. Do you kids know about the Lestki Island Conflict? Cross-river, they call it the Green Island Conflict. It took place about 30 years ago, from 3277 to 3278. It was the last armed conflict between East and West.”
“Yes, but I’m afraid none of us were there in person to know, Mr. Hartnett.” Seron said sarcastically. “But we learned about it in history class.”
“What did you learn?” Hartnett asked.
“It was the worst war in recent memory, as trench warfare and developments in weapons technology led to an unprecedented number of casualties on both sides.” Nick said casually.
“That’s right.” Hartnett nodded. “Both Murdoch brothers fought in that war. Mark Murdoch returned and became a teacher, but Burt Murdoch never came home. If that was the end, it would have been just another tragedy.”
“But this man is even now alive. Aha, I see! He lived all the time in Sou Be-Il after, yes? Yes?”
“Yes. Burt Murdoch had been injured and taken as a POW. And he refused to return to Roxche.”
“Why?” Asked Larry. “I mean, the Great War was such a chaotic mess that it was hard to do a prisoner exchange, but there was definitely at least one after the Lestki Island Conflict.”
“Officially, all POWs were sent back to their homelands. But Burt Murdoch never returned. Probably—no, definitely—because he wanted to yield to his brother.”
The students looked at Hartnett quizzically. He continued to explain.
“The Murdoch brothers grew up without parents. Now, they happened to have a childhood friend in their home village—a girl. The three of them grew up together, and the brothers both fell in love with her. Neither of them managed to confess to her, and she couldn’t choose one of them. So when war broke out, the three of them made a promise. If both brothers came back alive, she would make her choice. And if one of them didn’t make it—”
“Then she’d marry whichever one survived…” Jenny finished, sounding unusually downcast.
“That’s right. Mark Murdoch came home alive. But his brother was declared MIA in the war, and he didn’t come back during any of the prisoner exchanges. So everyone assumed that he must have died. And the two surviving childhood friends got married.”
“So that’s why he chose to stay behind, huh.” Larry mumbled.
“Maybe he thought he’d just get in the way if he came back, since his brother and the childhood friend must have been married already.” Natalia speculated. Jenny frowned.
“That’s stupid. If I were him, I’d have rushed straight back and given my brother a piece of my mind!”
“No one knows exactly why. Maybe Burt Murdoch really liked Sou Be-Il.” Hartnett said.
Meg looked at the man on the floor.
“But, but why is this man… why is this man now here? He was crying tears. He said he wanted to go back, so why is he in this place? Please tell me!”
Hartnett followed Meg’s gaze to the sleeping man.
“Let me warn you: this isn’t going to be a happy story.”
“It does not matter to me!”
Seron looked at Meg’s profiled face. She was brimming with determination.
He said nothing.
“All right, then.” Hartnett said. “Three years ago, Mark Murdoch heard unbelievable news from a friend who’d traveled to Sou Be-Il. Apparently this friend had seen Burt Murdoch living cross-river. The friend was absolutely convinced that it was him, and insisted that they report to the authorities for a full investigation. But Mark Murdoch refused and personally headed to Sou Be-Il to get answers.”
“And he found him?” Seron asked.
“Yes. Burt Murdoch really was alive. I don’t know what happened between them then, but Mark Murdoch made his brother—who by then was a citizen of Sou Be-Il—cross the Lutoni back to Roxche. Immigration isn’t much of an issue now, so that alone wasn’t a problem.”
Meg looked up.
“He took his younger brother here… and trapped him in a place like this so he would not be seen by other people? An older brother to his younger brother?”
“I’m afraid so. For some reason, Mark Murdoch didn’t take his brother back home. The moment they returned to Roxche, he smuggled his brother onto this campus on a holiday and brought him here. But just to make things clear, this wasn’t a prison. Doesn’t this room look surprisingly cozy? Mark Murdoch had been teaching for years—over time, he’d furnished this place to suit his needs. It was a personal room for him right on campus. As you can see, Burt Murdoch is in good physical condition and he doesn’t seem to be ill at all.”
“But… even so…”
Meg closed her eyes and shook her head, unable to say any more.
“Occupancy of public property isn’t a heavy offense, but it’s still illegal. This is the end for Mark Murdoch’s secret hideout.” Hartnett said.
“Yeah. We need to set everything straight.” Jenny agreed.
“You’re in no position to be saying that, you know.” Larry said snidely.
“I’m surprised the police discovered this plot at all.” Said Nick. “No one at the school noticed until Jenny captured Burt Murdoch on camera yesterday.”
“Yeah. It wasn’t even on the school tabloids.” Natalia said.
“I did consider writing something like that. ‘Mysterious Man in School Basement?’. You have no idea how much I regret not writing it while I had the chance.” Jenny grumbled.
“It’s because your parents’ tax money is going to a good place. Put in a good word with them about the Confederation Police—we’re always open to donations from the public.” Hartnett joked.
“That’s not it.” Seron said tersely. Everyone but Hartnett tilted their heads.
Hartnett seemed troubled.
“Too smart for your own good, eh.”
“So something else tipped you off?” Asked Natalia.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Hartnett admitted. Natalia looked at Seron.
“Then what? How’d the police find out?”
Seron replied mechanically.
“Someone told the police and spurred them into action. I realized this because of Mr. Hartnett’s clothes.”
Hartnett shrugged in his work wear.
“The police waited for summer break and only recently managed to get on campus while masquerading as construction workers. It doesn’t make sense for them to have so much background information already.”
“I get it.” Natalia nodded.
“That’s correct.” Said Hartnett. “Someone sent our headquarters a letter detailing the story I just told you. The informant said they felt terrible about reporting Mark Murdoch, but pleaded with us to stop him and rescue Burt Murdoch from the basement. They don’t live in the Capital District, so the case was brought to us to avoid a jurisdictional conflict. But we had to investigate the claim before we could make a move.”
“Who was the informant?” Asked Nick.
“It could only have been one person.” Seron replied immediately.
Meg immediately caught on. She raised her hands to her face in horror.
“No… how could such a terrible thing…?”
She shook her head, her pigtails swishing.
“Ah! I get it. I see now.” Jenny understood as well.
“Right. She wasn’t some bystander in the story.”
“I understand now. Such a tragedy.” Nick added, finally realizing the truth.
“Hmm… I give, Seron. Who the heck was it?” Asked Larry.
“The third Murdoch.”
“Huh? Oh! …Man…”
Larry hung his head.
“Yeah. Mrs. Murdoch.”
“Is that about everything?” Asked Hartnett.
“Wait.” Jenny stopped him. “We still don’t have a motive for Mr. Murdoch’s actions.”
“There wasn’t a word about the motive in Mrs. Murdoch’s letter. We were just wondering about that ourselves.” Hartnett replied.
“It doesn’t make sense. I simply don’t understand. Mrs. Murdoch wouldn’t leave him for his brother at this point—it should by all rights have been a happy reunion.” Nick said. Natalia continued.
“And if he wasn’t planning on bringing his brother home, why’d he even bring him to Roxche? He could have just let his brother live cross-river. There’s no reason to lock him up here and risk getting caught. Any ideas, Seron?”
Seron shook his head.
“No. I’ve been thinking all this time, but I just can’t think of an explanation.” Seron said, surrendering.
“We’ll know once we get a confession out of him.” Hartnett said, his expression easing.
“He wanted him to die.”
The heavy, dejected voice came from none other than Larry.
All eyes turned to him.
“What’s that mean?” Natalia asked immediately.
Larry narrowed his eyes sadly.
“Mr. Murdoch wanted his brother to die. Because if the government found out Burt Murdoch was alive, it would put Mr. Murdoch in a tough position. Damn it! This is too cruel.”
“Finish explaining before you start crying, kiddo. I’ll lend you my handkerchief.”
“I’m not a crybaby anymore, Lia. Now, Mr. Murdoch is Burt Murdoch’s only living relative, right Mr. Hartnett?”
“Yes, he is.”
“Then that means Mr. Murdoch received his military pension.”
Hartnett was the first to realize what Larry was trying to say. Meg, on the other hand, looked confused. Seron stepped up to explain.
“A military pension is money that the government pays to retired soldiers or the family of soldiers killed in action.”
“I see it now. Thank you for explaining this, Seron.”
“The Lestki Island Conflict was geographically limited to the island itself, so one year after the war ended, all MIA personnel were classified as KIA. So Mr. Murdoch must have received his brother’s pension alongside his own for the past 30 years. Not many people know this, but even siblings can collect on Roxche’s military pension. But if the ministry of defense finds out that Burt Murdoch was alive—that he deserted, like many other soldiers who defected to the West—”
“Mr. Murdoch has to give back the pension?” Seron finished. Larry nodded.
“Yeah. Every last Rox. Thirty years’ worth is a lot of money.”
“You sure know a lot about pensions, blondie.” Jenny said.
“That’s ‘cause of this story my grandfather always used to tell me. He had a good friend who was a captain during the Lestki Island Conflict, doing desk work in the Capital District. The friend happened to go to Lestki Island for an inspection, when he was caught up in a sudden offensive and went missing. The major who went with him from the Capital District was killed with shots to the head from a Roxchean gun. The military concluded that the captain killed his CO and deserted to save himself.”
Larry paused, then. He continued a moment later.
“The captain had a wife. They were married in secret. But the wife never received the pension because her husband deserted. Grandfather knew her in person, and insisted that his friend would never have deserted when his wife was still alive and well in Roxche. But the military wasn’t convinced.”
Larry exhaled at length. He looked at the man lying before Meg and took a deep breath.
“Mr. Murdoch must have been flabbergasted when he heard about his brother. And when he went to Sou Be-Il in person, he realized that Burt Murdoch really was alive. Mr. Murdoch must have been scared that the ministry of defense might find out—that’s why he forced his brother back across the border and hid him in here. Burt Murdoch must have known that he put his brother in a difficult position, so he agreed to the plan.”
“I see. It all makes sense.” Seron nodded.
“Great! That clears up everything. You’ve made our investigation a lot easier, kids.” Hartnett said with a smile.
“Seriously? That’s all you care about?” Natalia shot him a sidelong glare. Hartnett seemed undisturbed.
“I’m happy as long as this case is solved.”
“Tch.” Natalia shrugged.
“Mr. Murdoch’s probably gonna be arrested for embezzlement. Burt Murdoch will be able to leave the basement, but he’ll be known as a deserter for the rest of his life. That’s probably why he said earlier that there was nowhere for him in Roxche. And Mrs. Murdoch won’t end up happy either. This is…”
Larry trailed off, but Nick picked up from there.
“This is a tragic end for all parties involved. There’s nothing we can do at this point.”
Natalia narrowed her eyes.
“Maybe we should have just not figured out the truth… Then again, I guess the police would have found everything out within the week anyway.”
“Yeah.” Jenny added sadly. “It was just a matter of who did the deducing. This isn’t our fault. And there’s no use feeling guilty over it.”
Larry gave Jenny a look like he wanted to object, but in the end he said nothing.
Meg looked up at Hartnett.
“Oh… but this is just too sad. Is there now nothing we can do more?”
Hartnett met Meg’s eyes.
“I’m afraid not. Leave the rest to the police.”
Meg closed her eyes.
“Is there now nothing we can do more?” She repeated to herself.
“There is!” Seron cried.
Seron’s voice echoed through the basement. All eyes were on him.
“There’s still a way!”
It was a rare sight indeed—emotion was showing on Seron’s face. His eyes were narrowed and there was a smile on his lips.
“We can still do something, Megmica!”
“Y-yes! That’s me! I am Megmica!” Meg raised her hand, her eyes wide.
“You said before that your father has a contact at the embassy, right?”
“Yes! He is a very high-up man. I heard that he is a Royal Army colonel. I met him some times at parties where people from Sou Be-Il gather.”
“I read in a book that there’s a deep sense of camaraderie between people from Sou Be-Il who are living in Roxche. Especially in the Capital District.”
“Y-yes, there is. We people from Sou Be-Il are all very friendly together. Most in the Capital District.”
“Then ask your father to contact the colonel immediately. Tell him to say, ‘we found someone from Sou Be-Il here who needs our help. A foolish Roxchean man mistook him for his long-lost brother and dragged him all the way to Roxche’. Tell him to send your driver to pick up the man and take him to the embassy straightaway. We’ll come along too, if necessary—we’re the ones who found him, after all.”
“…Yes! I understand! I now know it very well, Seron!”
Seron’s grey eyes narrowed as Meg beamed radiantly.
“Good thinking, Seron! Haha! This is great!” Larry said between fits of laughter. Seron nodded.
“If this man had committed a crime and was hiding in here to escape, I would have handed him over to the police. But… he hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“S’right. We gotta take this poor, innocent Westerner straight to the embassy for protection. The building’s legally Sou Be-Il territory, right? Once he steps inside, it’s finished.” Natalia added.
“Aw, I wanted to cover all the juicy details… but I guess I’ll let this story go.” Jenny said with a smile.
“I knew from the very beginning that this man and Mr. Murdoch were total strangers. See? There’s no resemblance to be seen. How cruel of you, everyone, to play along with this joke for so long.” Nick finished in half-monotone.
“Yeah… you’re right, Nick. They really don’t look a thing alike. If you’ll excuse us, Mr. Hartnett.”
Hartnett finally snapped out of his daze.
“H-hold it! You think anyone’s going to buy that?”
“We’ll make sure everyone does.”
“You want me to act like none of this ever happened? I told you, I’m here to help protect Burt Murdoch.”
“I’ve been wondering for a while now, Mr. Hartnett. Who are you?” Seron asked, deadpan. Natalia snorted, holding back her laughter. Meg smiled.
Hartnett put his hand on his side and responded gravely.
“Enough playing games, Seron. I’m from the Confederation Police, and I can’t just let this slide—as a police officer and as a responsible adult.”
“I don’t see any police officers around here.”
“I’m right here.” Hartnett said, putting a hand on his own chest. But Seron shook his head.
“Please, Mr. Hartnett. You’re from a construction company, here to make repairs to the storehouse. The school chairman and the ministry of education would never allow the Confederation Police to conduct an undercover operation on campus without permission. It’s just not possible.”
“Grk! You’re going to tell them…?” Hartnett said through gritted teeth.
“I can’t tell anyone about something that never happened, Mr. Hartnett.”