I looked at him, confused. He gave me a crooked smile.
“Drowning from excessive drinking. I’ve actually seen this a few times. If the drugs are involved, it’s just someone’s MO, no?”
Modus Operandi. I hadn’t heard that word in so long. He sounded just like who he used to be, detective Jang Seong-hoon.
I spoke indifferently. “It’s not like I could force a man to drink to his death in such a short time.”
“There are many ways to make a man drink,” he said, “Besides, you have become quite beautiful.”
It could have been a compliment, but it didn’t sound like it. I glared at him and frowned. Then I decided to let it go. I knew both of us well anyway.
“It doesn’t matter if they find out. It doesn’t seem like they would believe something like that of me even if they knew.” As I said it, I realized it to be true. Mom would just be sorry that she didn’t get to kill whoever had hurt her children. Father would just scold my brothers for not being able to handle it before I did Aaron would, of course, yell at me for doing something like that and Alex would just lament that he should have been the one to do it to spare me the pain.
No…. Please don’t let them find out. I took a deep breath. “Men can be so stupid,” I said, “It’s like they have nothing but their egos. So fragile. You hurt their ego and they are rolling on the ground, defeated.”
The Grand Duke laughed. I looked at him in surprise. I had never heard him laugh like that, neither in this life nor the previous.
I heard someone approaching from the other side of the garden. He held out one arm. “Let’s walk. We seem to have a lot to talk about.”
I didn’t, though. I didn’t want to talk about anything. But positions mattered in a world like this. He is the Grand Duke, the king’s younger brother. The Princess’ uncle. To refuse him outright would be to invite hostility from the royals.
I placed my hand on his forearm and walked slowly along the path of the garden. We didn’t seem to be heading to any destination specifically. The garden was wide, and the palace loomed from all sides. We walked a little further and saw a soldier standing guard.
“Could you kindly let my family know that I am here in the garden?” I said to the soldier, “Otherwise they will start searching the whole palace.”
The Grand Duke, who was very tall, glanced down at me. The orange torches burning at the periphery of the garden illuminated his face in a muted orange light. The contours of his face shone in the light. The rest was in a shadow. The past and the present mixed together.
Present. Newly debuted daughter of the Marquess of Wishburn and Grand Duke of Glouster of the royal family. Together in the royal garden. Unchaperoned.
Past. The serial killer who murdered countless people and the detective who had investigated her case. Alone. Together. Talking to one another like old friends.
Both situations seemed unlikely, and unallowed. The present, in contrast, was a little better. But the social convention held them apart. It was also dangerous. Rumors of Count Thoreau seemed to be circulating already.
When I stepped back, he seemed to come to his senses. A young servant approached us silently and bowed.
“Let the Marquess of Wishburn know that his daughter is taking a stroll around the garden with me. Tell him I will safely escort her back myself,” said the Grand Duke.
The servant bowed and left. I watched him leave. Not even his footsteps made a sound. I turned to the Grand Duke. “Is that your servant? Did you train him in some manner?” I said, “If I hadn’t seen him, I wouldn’t have known he was there at all.”
His somber expression was replaced by an easy smile. “Isn’t something like that a little too forward for a young lady from a noble family who has just made her debut in the social circle?”
“Do you know how hard it is to find a decent servant? Of course, you don’t. You are the Grand Duke. I, for one, have to grab my chance where I find it.”
He laughed quietly. I found it quite refreshing. He seemed so different from the tired and jaded 44-year-old detective of the past. He looked a lot younger and happier.
“Excuse me, how old are you now?” I was suddenly curious. I clearly studied history about the year the royals were born but I couldn’t remember. History wasn’t really one of my strong traits. He was clearly older than me but is the age gap as vast as in the past?
“You are a baby!”
He laughed. “That is rich, coming from a fifteen-year-old.”
“I am clearly not fifteen! I am twenty-eight going fifteen again.”
He was silent for a while. “Were you really twenty-eight?”
“I don’t know if it was accurate because I didn’t have anywhere to check my birth year. My birth wasn’t really recorded but… I was around that age, and I made my ID that way.”
“Hm… no birth report. So, there was no way to find out more about you.”
“What can I say? I am elusive…since birth.” I laughed. He chuckled.