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Three Who I Did Not Murder
Groggily, Nick regained consciousness – how long had he been out of it? Well, long enough. Looking around he could see that he was again in the dining room and, after a failed attempt at standing up, realized he was tightly tied to a pillar.
But why was he tied to a pillar? Every other victim had been sprouted so why was he still in this world?
This in itself brought forward another question: who was the murderer?
It wasn’t Olivia. He had watched her become a shrubbery… she was in no fit state to render anyone unconscious. He had been wr… incorrect about thinking it was her.
He didn’t care about what he had done to her. Not really. So he would have to find some other way to spend his evenings from now on; it was not like he ever cared for her and he knew Olivia never cared about him either – or anyone for that matter.
But now was not the time for making character judgements: he had to get free from the pillar.
Nick tried to stand up again but the rope held him painfully tight in a sitting position on the hard, cold floor. It was times like these that one appreciated chairs.
He couldn’t even get his hands free from the rope it was so tight. After a couple of minutes of exertion, which was really quite unlike him, Nick gave up and went back to theory making.
It couldn’t have been Charlie or Rodrigo – he knew that for a fact. Maximino - it couldn’t have been him, it wouldn’t make any sense. What about Hector? The first to be sprouted this evening… No, he watched him die with his own eye sockets, that was definitely real. How about Domino? No, he saw the body. Besides, Domino had no motive to kill all the guests, Hector maybe, but not the rest. Who else was there?
Nick started ticking the guests’ names off in his mind but was distracted by a long stretch of some kind of string that he hadn’t noticed before. It lay along the floor, zig zagging its way to the other side of the room; the other end going behind the pillar to where Nick couldn’t see.
“Strange,” he muttered to himself just as the sounds of nervous footsteps came flittering into his ear holes. Nick tried to desperately slide out from underneath the ropes but it was hopeless. The murderer was coming back for him, he was done for…
Two seconds later and Celso Flores walked into the hall – carrying a sproutella gun. Nick stared, unbelieving, at Flores who stood in front of him with a triumphant look on his skull.
The room was taken by a deathly quiet, Flores still wearing his triumphant smirk, until finally Nick let out a laugh.
“You’re not about to tell me that you… you…are the murderer?” Nick snorted not caring to hide how amusing he thought this notion was. When Flores didn’t reply Nick repeated a little more nervously: “Are you?”
“Surprised?” Flores spoke with a crazed edge to his voice that Nick did not like one bit.
“No,” Nick lied – his true calling in both this world and the last.
“Of course you’re surprised,” Flores answered himself not seeming to hear Nicks reply, “you didn’t think that someone like me could do it? Did you? Didn’t think someone like me could outsmart a bunch of crooks, well I did… I bet you want to know why…
To be honest Nick couldn’t care less; the only thing that mattered to him was not getting sprouted. But, since he feared that not letting Flores have his moment would simply lead to his sprouting faster, he nodded.
“I did it because… because my wife…” Flores faltered, the words seeming to bring about pain, the crazed edge to his voice lifted, “She… she ran off with a casino owner from Puerto Zapato”
Nicks compassionate response to this was: “Uh huh.” If he could just twist his left arm a bit further he could get it free…
Flores continued: “I found her…I asked her why and she… she said it was because he owned a casino… that he had prospects…”
“How exactly is this relevant?” Nick said with icy politeness after finding that his left arm was never going to twist that far.
Flores either didn’t hear him or ignored him and instead ploughed on: “I needed a casino, then she would come back to me… she didn’t love him… she loved me… she just… just…”
Flores paused for a moment and then spoke again, the grin returning to his skull; the crazed edge returning to his voice with full force: “When I came back to Rubacava I heard about the Calavera Café, I thought I was in luck, but no. No, no, no – almost everyone wanted the casino… all of them able to put in a higher offer than me. So I decided to arrange this little… get together to get rid of the competition.”
There was silence as Flores paused, broken finally by Nick: “You could have saved yourself the trouble if you’d just sprouted the Puerto Zapato guy,”
“I suppose so, yes.”
Flores raised his gun and so Nick quickly blurted out: “But that doesn’t explain why you invited me and Chowchilla Charlie?”
Anything to keep Flores talking.
“Why I invited you and Chowchilla Charlie? Because I was not the only one who was out to get the casino by… illegitimate ways, was I? No, Rodrigo Solerio couldn’t compete with Maximino and Hector either, so he formed a plot with you and Charlie, didn’t he… Didn’t he?”
Nick didn’t reply and so Flores carried on: “You were supposed to draw up the documents needed to let the casino be signed over to Solerio… Charlie was meant to forge Manny Calavera’s signature. Solerio would get the casino and you would both get a tidy lump sum for your trouble. But, it would only take Rodrigo’s name to be changed on the papers for the casino to be handed over to anyone… and I… I figured that if I got rid of Solerio, at least one of you would try and use the documents to get the casino yourself. And… after all my hard work, I couldn’t have that, so I simply added your names to the guest list.”
“How… did you know about that?”
“I saw a letter from Rodrigo to Chowchilla Charlie lying on Bogen’s desk. Bogen found the documents and that letter on Charlie, when he was arrested for creating counterfeit union cards…”
“I know that,” Nick said a touch of annoyance in his voice. How hard could it have been to quietly sign a few forms? But no, Charlie couldn’t accomplish even that and had managed to get himself arrested and searched. Bogen had to be bribed to be kept quiet and so he let Charlie off the hook. Then Charlie, the ungrateful rat, demanded double the payment from Solerio for compensation. Solerio didn’t want to spare more money and so instead Nick’s payment got dramatically cut.
But that still wasn’t enough for Charlie and, while he had the documents, he was able to demand still more until Nick was no longer going to be paid for his work. His work! Without him the whole plan would have fallen flat on his face! Didn’t they realize what he risked to do those documents for Solerio! It wouldn’t make any difference if Charlie was found out – he was just doing another job. But if Maximino ever found out about those papers Nick would have been fired for sure… actually if Maximino found out what his “trusted council” had been up to over the years the best he could have hoped for was to be fired.
Flores’ voice brought Nick back to the current situation: “So I invited you all to this tower using the name Gratianio Bechini and I thought a…. nice… quick poisoning was the best way to go. So, prior to the day I sent the champagne to the staff, in the name Bechini, saying this was what I wanted served to the guests, but, unfortunately, things didn’t go quite to plan… and… and you managed to figure out that it contained sproutella.”
“Best lawyer in all the land of the dead, you know,” Nick commented, though that wasn’t the reason why he realised the champagne contained sproutella… He carried on trying to surreptitiously get his right arm free but the ropes were biting back.
Flores carried on, his voice getting higher: “Luckily I had brought with me my… my first sproutella gun and so I set about getting rid of the guests one by one. I had underestimated the danger of doing this though… and when I was told that all the guests had guns too… I… well… lost my nerve. I had only done this once before when I was alive, when my first wife left me for…” Flores trailed off, again seeming to become his old pathetic self.
Well, that explains why he had to walk thought Nick, finally giving up on the right arm – he was stuck, there was nothing he could do, his second death was going to be upon him… might as well delay the inevitable by asking something else...
“What about the blackouts? Did you cause them?”
Flores took a moment to get a grip on himself and when he spoke once more the insane undertone to his voice was present, but stronger this time: “No, no, no, no, just a… a… a very helpful coincidence.”
Flores didn’t expand further so Nick asked another question: “We found your body sprouted…”
“Oh, I can’t believe you were fooled by that! Yet you were weren’t you? I can’t believe you fell for it! It is so easy to fake a second death; I just took a few vines and flowers from Hector’s body and waited for some souls to come through the door; completely throwing you off track!” Flores paused triumphantly for a second before remembrance flitted across his skull and he gave Nick a vicious kick to the ribs.
A satisfied smirk crept its way onto his face as Nick let out a groan of pain. Looking up he saw Flores raising the gun and Nick quickly asked another question.
“H… How… How did you… manage to navigate your way around the tower so well? I had a guide but…” Where was Lupe? She had ran off after he had shot Olivia… He hoped she hadn’t been… she couldn’t have been…
“I have an extremely good sense of direction,” the demented tone to his voice was coming out more and more “people always underestimate me… always underestimating me… I managed to get through the Petrified Forest in record timing, I…”
“How many people have you sprouted tonight?” Nick interrupted loudly, he had to know…
“Lemans, Hurley and Maximino – the other three guests were not killed by me; all the waiters were sprouted by helping themselves to that champagne- do they count?”
“Legally yes, but to me no.”
“Oh yes and there was that girl…”
“That… girl?” Nick said; the words seeming to grate against his non existent throat.
“She wasn’t a guest, probably just a member of the staff,” Flores said putting his sproutella gun back into his jacket and pulling out a lighter.
Nick wanted to swear, but his jaw seemed to be welded shut. This news was painful, way beyond the physical pain of being kicked. And now he thought about, now that it was too late, he knew the thing that had being creeping around at the back of his mind for so long. The thing that hadn’t reared its head until she was gone.
He didn’t like to admit it, for so long not even to himself, but he liked the infuriating, annoying, satisfying to strangle coat check girl. Liked her a lot. If only he’d…
Get a grip on yourself Virago! Like you would ever look out for anyone besides number one.
But he had been looking out for Lupe… well not much, but more than he had ever looked out for anyone else in his life or death. He had defended her from Olivia’s snipes, rescued her from being sprouted by Flores, that was not just morbid curiosity however much he said it was; heck he shot Olivia because he thought she could be a hazard to them.
She’s a coat check girl, a coat check girl! How can I be seriously contemplating this?
Lupe was a lot different from him, completely opposite in fact. Bubbly, cheerful, talkative, caring and not ambitious in any way. How could he want to be with someone who was so unlike him? But then again maybe that’s what attracted him… Ugh.
Was he really so pathetic that he loved a coat check girl?
“So I bet you’re wondering why your still here, eh?” Flores called out from the back of the hall, bringing Nick back out of his thoughts to the present situation. Flores bent down and seemed to be lighting the string…
“You may have noticed that behind you is a stack of… dynamite,” Flores said walking back to stand directly in front of Nick, “the fuse to which… ha ha… I have just lit.”
“Why the creativity?” Nick stated dryly trying to hide the nervousness in his voice.
“Because I am going to give you a chance to live. You see I need a lawyer, Mister Virago, there has been a bit of a… a hiccup in proceedings. Meaning that I’m not going to be able to get away with this as easily as I had hoped… photographic evidence is against me.”
“And so you want me to represent you?”
“Excellent, if you’d just untie me we have a deal.”
“No, no, no, it’s not going to be as simple as that… I mean how can I be sure that you’d do it properly, I’d let you go and you… you probably wouldn’t even turn up! I’m giving you five… well, about four and a half minutes to convince me that you would represent me successfully or else… kablammo!”
That word seemed to hit home and Nick started spouting very fast every bit of legislation and every loophole that he could think of that could keep Flores out of the slammer.
After a minute Nick paused for, if he had been alive, breath, when a soul appeared behind Flores- Lupe!
Nick stopped dead in his tracks, was it real? Of course it was real, he told himself, it couldn’t be anything else. Flores hadn’t sprouted her!
“Are you going to continue or are you finished?” Flores asked impatiently.
Nick quickly spewed out more legalese, watching Lupe out of the corner of his eye sockets – in her right hand she carried what seemed to be his sproutella gun. He paused, waiting for her to shoot, but all she did was tremble silently.
“I know you could win the case, but what I’m looking for is if you would actually… do it,” Flores said, unconvinced and completely unaware of the trembling girl behind him.
“Well, I’m being put off by the DYNAMITE that will go off in THREE MINUTES!” Nick stated loudly and pointedly, just in case the urgency of his situation had been overlooked by Lupe. In response she put her hand over her eye sockets so she now wasn’t even looking were she was shooting.
“Right, I’ve had enough chit chat,” Flores said suddenly and pulled out his gun, “Goodbye Mister Virago.”
“Now would be a very good time, please,” Nick directed at Lupe between gritted teeth, as she mouthed “I can’t” back at him.
Nick glanced up at Flores who had his gun pointed directly at him, but for some reason was also unable to pull the trigger.
“Just think of this as self defence,” Nick said loudly, “It’s in your best interests to do this.”
“I know… it’s just … it’s a lot harder when you can see their skull and… and you’ve just been talking to them…” Flores replied the demented tone in his voice receding, completely oblivious of Lupe, who had lowered her gun – she couldn’t do it, she couldn’t take another skeletons life!
“I’m three feet in front of you, how can you miss!” Nick said exasperated, as Flores again aimed the gun for another shot.
“Stop talking you’re putting me off!” Flores yelled in a shrill voice. Lupe was still standing behind him, finally bringing her arm up for a shot.
“That’s it, just aim and shoot, aim and shoot,” Nick stated in an attempt at a calming voice, but he only managed to achieve sounding annoyed.
“Okay, okay,” Flores whispered feverously, but still not pulling the trigger.
“Don’t think about what you’re doing, just do it,” Nick said loudly, looking Lupe straight in the eye sockets, but no result.
This wasn’t Nick’s idea of death with dignity.
“Must be out of ammo,” Flores laughed nervously, taking some fresh darts out of his jacket pocket and placing them with shaking hands into the gun.
She wasn’t going to do it. Nick could see it in her eye sockets, she couldn’t do it. His chance at surviving the evening had been blown out the window by moral values. This was the exact reason he didn’t have any.
Celso finished loading his sproutella gun, took a deep breath and pointed it at Nick. This time his grip was steady.
“Goodbye Mister Virago.”
Celso Flores collapsed to the floor; a dart puncturing his back, flowers spreading up his body, enveloping him, covering his face, muffling his screams until, finally, his body froze… dead once again.
“What have I done? I can’t believe what I’ve just done!” Lupe whimpered, dropping the gun in fright, looking horrified at the sprouted soul lying silently on the floor.
“The fuse! Stamp out the fuse!” Nick shouted, the flickering light catching his attention again, it was approaching him alarmingly fast.
“Don’t I get a thank you?” Lupe said slightly indignantly. It was quite disconcerting how fast she could switch between emotions.
“Thank you, now stamp out the damn fuse!”
Lupe ran over to the fuse and tried to stamp it out, but it continued to burn away.
“Nick, it’s not working!” Lupe cried out, frantically stamping up and down to no avail.
“I can see that!” Nick stated impatiently, “Try snapping it further along.”
Lupe tried pulling at it, tried taking it apart fibre by fibre, even tried biting it but the fuse refused to snap.
“O.K… how about pulling the fuse out of the dynamite?” Nick suggested as he tried to calculate how much time they had before the fuse met the explosives.
“Out of curiosity, how long is the fuse after it goes past me?” Nick asked nervously.
“A few meters, why?”
“Just… hurry up with detaching it!”
A few seconds later and Lupe called back: “It’s not going to come off! It’s… it’s…”
“Fine, untie me, the buildings just going to have to suffer.”
Lupe started working at the knots, trying to loosen them but they were just so tight… meanwhile the flame was steadily eating up the fuse – they had little more than two minutes left.
“Er… Any… any progress?” Nick asked tentatively, knowing time was running out.
“No, the knots are just so tight, I can’t get a decent grip, they’re impossible, I…”
“A “not well” will suffice thank you,” Nick interrupted impatiently, “Just give me a few seconds to think of another plan…”
He had a few seconds and a few more after that but still nothing came to him. No ideas to escape, nothing. For the first time in years his cunning had failed him.
“I guess…” Nick began awkwardly, “this is the point were… most other people would be telling you to… you know… save yourself…”
“Don’t try and be noble, it really doesn’t suit you.”
“Don’t worry the moments gone,” Nick responded grumpily, “Any ideas?” he asked not expecting this to bring forth any results.
“Yes!” exclaimed Lupe suddenly, “your lighter! We could use it to burn through the ropes!” It was amazing how, on the edge of been blown to smithereens, she could still be so excitable.
“In my jacket pocket, quick!”
Lupe plunged her hands down Nick’s pockets, there was no time to be timid about it, and dragged out the contents onto the floor – papers, pens, a cigarette case, paperclips, a letter from Bogen, pencils, wrappers – you name it, it was there… except the lighter.
“Damn it!” Nick cursed suddenly, as Lupe run out of pockets to go through, “I lost the lighter back when we were shot at, I used it as a distraction…”
They had less then a minute left, time was almost up…
“Flores! He had a lighter, search his pockets!” Nick exclaimed, pointing with his head towards Flores’ sprouted body.
“You’re just going to have to forage a bit,” Nick stated impatiently.
Lupe moved quickly over to the compost heap, looked down at it and shuddered: “I can’t touch it Nick, I really can’t…”
“You said that about shooting him,” Nick reminded her insensitively, watching the fuse disappear out of the corner of his eye. Lupe let out a soft whimper and Nick tried a new tack: “You can do it, just think of it as… gardening.”
Lupe slowly put her hand on a vine covering Flores’ jacket and sharply pulled away, “I really can’t…”
“Yes, you can.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Look, do it other wise I am going to be blown to bits!” Nick yelled losing his temper.
Lupe looked down at Flores, gritted her teeth, and pulled back the first vine... and another…and another. She brushed away the last few flowers and finally was able to get at his pockets.
She froze, her hand refusing to touch the unmoving soul.
“Come on! You can do it,” Nick called, out hating the way he was imitating a cheerleader.
Lupe took a deep breath and stuck her hand into the pocket and drew out the lighter triumphantly. Running back over to Nick she flicked the lighter on and applied it to the ropes.
Less then 30 seconds left…
The first rope frayed and snapped, the flame burning through: “Come on, come on.” The second rope followed, then the third… just one more to go.
The flame burned and burned but the last rope wouldn’t snap, Nick was pushing hard against it but the rope still held him tight.
The fuse was a metre away, only seconds to go when…
The rope gave and Nick collapsed forwards onto the floor, Lupe grabbed his arm and started to drag him towards the door. Nick finally got to his feet shouting: “No! Not without the…” the last word he never said, instead diving back into the hall to gather a sheaf of papers, sprinting out of the hall, he rejoined Lupe; both of them ran down a corridor, ran down the stairs when…
The blast sent them both tumbling down the stairs, covered in derby, to land smack on the cold, hard floor.
Lupe, spluttering from the dust, was the first to speak: “You knuckle head! What were you trying to pull? I just saved you… and… and you run back towards the dynamite…”
Nick, not listening to Lupe’s nagging, sat up and brushed the dust off the documents entitled: “deeds to the Calavera Café”.
Flores said that he had not killed three guests, their names being: Olivia, Charlie and Rodrigo. Their deaths had been the handiwork of Nick Virago. Nick was no longer being paid for his work on creating those papers and he had decided to claim what was, in his opinion, rightfully his.
Bogen, who had been bribed to keep quiet, had gone back on his word and had sent a letter to Maximino explaining the plot a few days before. Lucky for him, Nick was able to snake away the letter and had managed to arrange Bogen’s sprouting by poisoning - that’s how he recognized the sproutella champagne, he had used the same technique to get rid of Bogen.
Then, while in the vents, he had passed the other guests standing in a hall, the lights went out and he took the opportunity to bump off Charlie who was currently in possession of the documents.
Unfortunately, this allowed Rodrigo to pick up the papers, but he didn’t have them for long. Using the excuse of checking the coast was clear up ahead, Nick was able to hunt and kill Rodrigo – reclaiming the documents.
After the evening’s trail of events Nick was under no circumstances going to leave the papers behind – greedy to the core… well almost.
“You almost killed yourself to pick up some work for a boss, who is dead! AGAIN! What was the…”
Finally Nick reckoned he could answer that question:
I am pathetic enough.
“I had just touched a sprouted murderer so you wouldn’t get blown up! But do you care: no! I don’t even get a word of thanks and you…”
“Oh, shut up.”
With that Nick lent forward, put his arms around Lupe, and kissed her.
Lupe was taken off guard for a second; kissing, in her opinion, was not the normal follow up to “shut up”. But, after the initial surprise; she tilted her head, put her arms on his shoulders and rode the wave.
“Thank you for coming back… Happy now?”
“Yes… happy… very…”
“What would you say if I said that you could have your old job back at the Calavera Café?”
“I would say… wait, how can you get me my old job? There is no owner at the moment.”
“Er… I’m going to bid for the casino… and I… er… highly doubt anyone would be able to outbid me, not anymore,” Nick decided it was best if Lupe didn’t find out about the true importance of the papers and what he had done to get them. To say she wouldn’t approve would be an enormous understatement.
Yes, things were definitely going to change in the land of the dead after this night. With many of the top casinos now without owners and, more importantly, Hector and Domino sprouted. But one thing Nick was sure of: he would always be on top.
“So which way is out?” Lupe asked, finally tearing herself away.
“Which way is the way out? You see I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going, I was just going from room to room looking for you. I don’t have a clue wear I am…”
“You don’t have a clue where you are?” Nick repeated not believing what he was hearing.
“I thought you would know, since…
“I was unconscious!”
“Oh, well, I do sort of know the general direction to go in…”
“And what direction would that be exactly?”
AN: Well, it’s finished… finally! Awwww… who knew I could write such sentimental crap… well I thought I’d end it happily, break the mould of almost all GF fics ending tragically, you know.
And yes I realize that Flores was totally out of character. I was under the delusion that writing Celso the psycho would be a doddle – ah, how wrong I was. But in my defence he did have a few screws lose, so he wasn’t going to be acting quite himself…
Anyway, thanks to all my reviewers especially Vampire Naomi and Glastea, who I think reviewed every chapter. Thanks guys!
Congrats to Lilly Pink and James – who each guessed half right. And special congrats to Glastea – you were so darn close it was unbelievable!
If you’re thinking WTF? How could Flores be the murderer? And what was that whole sub plot with Rodrigo, Charlie and Nick all about? I thought you said you included hints! Well my friend, if you read it again I’m sure you’d spot the many subtle hints (and red herrings) I laid down in every chapter. But cos you probably don’t have the time, just read the scene between Nick and Max in chapter 1: it was full of them!
I have my next fan fic boiling over in my brain. It's just a matter of time untill it bubbles over onto paper...
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