The mist was like a pea soup. So thick that Detective Donaldson could barely hear the sound of the oars as he dragged them through the calm ocean tinged green. The locals had informed Donaldson that there was an island out there somewhere, barely visible on a clear day. The detective was trying to find it in the middle of winter. It was an impossible task but one that Dan Donaldson was desperate to achieve. He hoped he was going to find land soon. The tiny rowboat continued to slide through the water until after what seemed like hours the hull slid snug upon a beach of wet, grey sand. Standing, patiently waiting upon the shore was a woman dressed in a gown of ruby red.
“First Class Detective Dan Donaldson,” the woman called. “Welcome back, we have been expecting you.”
Dan considered launching back out to sea before he cautiously removed himself from the wooden box. He was sure this was his first time visiting the island and peering past the woman at the facility behind her he was as certain as he could be that nothing seemed familiar.
“I don’t know you lady, sure as hell don’t know this place,” Detective Donaldson growled.
Dan did not like being caught off guard and the appearance of this woman and what she had said in greeting immediately had him feeling like he was on the back foot.
“I know…” replied the woman. “Come, follow me and I will introduce the others.”
Against his better judgement Dan properly beached the boat before following after the red gown. The woman had a spritely walk for someone so seemingly old. Dan called through the mist and suggested that was exactly what he thought. In reply the lady laughed; a strong and healthy chortle. She neither confirmed nor denied the suggestion the detective made.
“Perhaps you would like to investigate your hypothesis?” the lady called over her shoulder instead.
This only frustrated Dan more.
The facility was quite large, fully encased cement with small rounded windows of reinforced Perspex. Donaldson assumed this was in case the sea got nasty, its true nature unlike the simple calmness it demonstrated then. The detective decided against sharing this thought and the red robed lady continued to guide him in silence. Dan was annoyed to discover that the entrance was not close by. In actual fact it was the rear of the facility where Dan had arrived. By the time he doubled his steps and fell in beside the lady’s right shoulder it had been at least ten minutes. Dan wondered if the lady seemed younger because they now walked side by side or had there been some odd affect that had caused his guide to decrease in years.
After another ten minutes of circumnavigating the outside of the facility the pair arrived at a porthole. A weather proof cover shielded a keypad.
“Please gain us access,” the lady requested. Her soft hands and elongated fingers indicated the panel and to emphasis her sentence red robe lifted the plastic cover.
“Lady, I’m just here for my friend,” grunted Dan.
“Of course, Emily…” agreed the lady. “You requested that her birthdate be your entrance pin.”
“Yeah… Emily…” replied the detective.
He tapped the eight digits that made up month, day and year. To Dan’s surprise the circular door popped forward with a whoosh and then swung open with an almost silent hiss of air.
“After you, Detective Dan Donaldson,” purred the lady.
Uncertain, Dan stepped forward. The square room he found himself in was vaguely familiar. He heard the door slide closed behind him. Darkness followed.
“Lady? Um… Lady?” growled Dan.
He was alone. Outside he could hear a whistled tune, one he had known as a boy.
Turning about face and trying to gleam some light and understanding from the portal Dan found only unwielding cement. Carefully turning around Dan murmured the words he recalled as they slowly floated back to him and stepped through the pitch blackness to a door he had seen on the opposite side of the room. The crack around the doorframe betrayed a beaming light source beyond.
“Everyone… Come… Come down to the shore… Build castles of sand for an hour or more… Squeal in delight as the seas squash them flat…”
As Dan arrived on the other side of the sparse room he discovered with some disappointment he had forgotten the rest of the song. He could not figure out why but a severe case of melancholy overwhelmed him. He hoped that there was a drink waiting for him but doubted his luck. Hunting for the doorknob the detective grunted in surprise. There was no knob, the wooden panel smooth. Dan knocked and found it hollow.
“Come!” called the voice of a confident male.
“I can’t!” Dan called back, frustrated but not wanting to show it.
“That would be because you are trying to enter via the exit.”
The door opened with the signatory hiss Dan was already familiar with. The light revealed was dazzling. Shielding his eyes and stepping forward the detective found he almost fell forward as he missed one then the next and finally the third of a trio of ascending steps.
“Detective Dan Donaldson!” cried the confident voice in mild surprise. “We have been expecting you, but not until next week.”
“I’ve come to see Emily, she asked and I have arrived,” grunted Dan, hoping irritation would cover his shock.
This man, like the lady before seemed to know who he was. If only the damned light weren’t so bright he could have made out even the simplest of features. Not even the man’s voice sounded familiar and yet the man seemed to know Dan, expecting his arrival.
Dan heard the man rise and noted he must have been seated. There was evidence of large boots upon wooden steps. Dan felt his hands enveloped by large warm ones.
“Please detective, follow after me, you know the way…” the confident voice stated as the figure stepped by Dan and gently pulled him back the way he had come.
“But that way only leads to darkness,” muttered the detective.
“Only when you follow the wrong path,” laughed the man. “You know that, right Detective Donaldson?”
“Of course I do,” replied Dan.
The door handle turned at Dan’s touch and the portal swung outward.
This time it revealed a corridor of checked floor, walls and ceiling. The pattern immediately gave the detective a faint headache.
“Move along sir, carry on, follow one’s heart…” hustled and bustled the voice of confidence.
“Quit buggin’ me!” bit Dan.
As he span around with a fist raised he discovered there was no one between him and the dazzling light. The door slid shut revealing more black and white squares. It looked as though there had been no door at all. With the passage now illuminated the detective wondered if he’d be able to find the portal again. Only a moment ago the pitch black had been useful. Making his way along the passage Dan wondered why it was he’d arrived here. Then he remembered the call from Emily. She had needed him here for something important. There was an investigation. Had there been a theft, had something been stolen from Emily? No, Dan was certain Emily suspected someone was stealing and she had asked him to come and investigate the thefts. He had come of course without hesitation. Now he wandered the corridor, now he searched for the room where he knew Emily would be waiting.
The corridor seemed to go on for ages. Finally the pattern changed to bare rock, more of that simple cement. Then came doors; one marked KITCHEN in big bold letters. Following that, a few strides further there stated MESS. After there was ROOM ONE with a plaque below that read Emily Robinson – Engine Ear. Dan knocked at this door and softly called.
“Emily… I’ve arrived… Can we speak?”
There was no reply but the door was unlatched and slightly ajar. Dan pushed it open and stepped inside the room. The first thing he noted was the tinge of blood in the air. Hurriedly he made the last few strides to the cot where he found the lady in the red robe lying with her head lolled in an unusual and quite unnatural fashion.
“Why did you do it, detective?” asked the man with the confident voice and the big hands.
Dan looked at his own hands then, they were sticky with blood.
“She was alive when I saw her last, on the beach…” Dan murmured. “She was whistling a song our aunty had taught us about the sea.”
“No Dan, there is no beach here…” replied the man.
Dan saw for the first time the man’s face was smooth, hairless.
“I must see Emily,” Dan announced. “She will make sense of this.”
“No Dan, Emily won’t be explaining anything anymore,” the man explained. “You killed her.”
“Oh Emily,” Dan wailed, his voice echoing off the cement walls.
Sitting in his cell beneath the island Detective Dan Donaldson tried to discover what had gone wrong. He had come to uncover the identity of the thief and murderer only to discover it had been him all along.