Eden Plateau looked different during the day, and I suddenly felt conflicted about that. Part of me was relieved that it didn’t look that scary anymore, but at the same time, I was embarrassed after making a fool out of myself last night. Akala ko nga ay doon kami sa mismong horror house pupunta, but fortunately, the challenge would take place in the nearby building where we stayed last night.
“Oh, babalik din pala tayo rito,” remarked Arin. “Pero in fairness, ang bilis nila mag-build ng set ha? Ilang oras pa lang ang nakakalipas.”
Like Arin, I was also impressed. The then-empty studio was now partitioned into three chambers—each with a distinct layout to match the scenario we needed to enact—and a narrow hallway where the whole group would be staying.
Dahil kami ang unang naka-figure out ng challenge ay pinapili kami kung anong chamber ang gusto namin. But aside from the labels attached on the entrances, wala naman silang ibang details na ibinigay kaya hindi na rin kami masyadong nag-isip sa pagpili.
“So, the first room is an office setting, while the second is in a university club room,” sabi ni Sayuri.
“Ano ‘yung third?”
“Mansion!” sigaw ni Arin na naglakad sa dulo ng hallway para makita ang label sa huling room.
“Anong pipiliin natin?” Asked Michael.
“Let’s go with majority rule,” Zion suggested.
Most of us chose the first room dahil iyon ang pinakasimple at familiar kaya iyon ang sinabi namin sa staff at pagkatapos no’n ay isa-isa kaming pinapili sa envelopes na nakalatag sa table.
“Please choose one,” the staff said.
Eight roles were written on the envelopes in front of us: two investigators, three female employees, a male employee, general manager, and security guard.
Agad kong kinuha ang investigator role at si Sayuri naman ang kumuha ng isa pa.
“I want to try this,” she said while waving the envelope at Michael.
“Galingan mo, ha?” balik ni Michael habang nakangisi sa akin. “Talunin mo ‘yang si Elix.”
I was sure he said that to cheer his teammate and at the same time, get on my nerves, but someone else got provoked. Zion stood right beside me and flashed a practiced smile. “You won’t lose, right?”
“Well…I’ll try my best,” I murmured.
“Now that all of you have chosen the roles you preferred, we will give you five minutes to read the contents of the envelope in private. Also, please look at the numbers written on the left side of the envelope and enter the chamber in sequence.”
Agad naman kaming pinaghiwa-hiwalay para makita namin ang contents ng envelope. I would be the last to enter since mine was numbered eight, and the paper inside just summarized what I had to do.
You are the investigator.
Your goal is to identify three suspects and find the murderer among them. Please write an investigative report once you have obtained evidence and clues about the case. Good luck!
Isa-isa naman silang pumasok habang naiwan kaming dalawa ni Sayuri sa labas. I tried reading their expressions while entering the chamber, but everyone was already wearing their poker face.
After about thirty minutes, Sayuri and I were finally called. Now, it’s time to fulfill my role.
A gasp escaped my lips as soon as I stepped inside the chamber.
The room was further divided into four quadrants: the main office, general manager’s office, office pantry, and security office. Desk, chairs, and monitors lined the main office area, and each cubicle was assigned to an employee. Meanwhile, the general manager’s office boasted more space and decorations. Adjacent to the oak desk was a leather couch, and in front of it was a large corkboard containing meeting details and news cutouts. Contrary to the first two, the office pantry looked quite empty as it only had a long table and storage cabinet. And lastly, the security office had a single futon, and a small desk where most of the guard’s items were placed.
For a set that was only built a few hours ago, it was surprisingly impressive and detailed. Of course, the computer monitors, and other valuable items were obviously props, but they managed to create the exact ambiance you’d feel inside an office.
As investigators, Sayuri and I were immediately escorted to the crime scene.
Halos pareho kaming napaatras ni Sayuri nang makarating kami sa table ng victim sa main office. The mannequin doll was slumped on the table, with a visible wound on the left side of his neck. He was wearing the usual office attire, but the white shirt had already turned crimson as it was soaked in his own blood.
It was a late-night murder inside the office building.
Sayuri grimaced at the scene. “Okay, this is way too realistic.”
We started looking through his table and stuff to gather information. Isinulat din namin lahat ng details na nakuha namin sa notepad na ibinigay nang pumasok kami sa chamber.
Habang busy si Sayuri sa paghahanap sa table ng victim, ay tiningnan ko naman ang laman ng bag niya. From his wallet, I managed to get his name and age. He was Mr. Gary Santos, a 29-year-old employee.
Tiningnan ko rin ang bulsa ng pantalon niya at nakuha ko ang phone niya mula roon. I was starting to get competitive, so I hid the phone away, and checked it when Sayuri was not looking. However, the phone was locked.
I tried inputting his birthdate in different orders, but all were incorrect. Groaning in frustration, I shoved the phone in my pocket. Kailangan ko munang maghanap ng clues about the password kung gusto kong mabuksan ito.
Matapos ang limang minuto ay lumabas na rin ang teammates namin pero natigilan kami ni Sayuri nang makita sila. They were dressed in their respective roles’ attires. Sunny, Arin, Ria, and Zion were wearing the usual office dress code: white polo shirt, trousers, and black shoes. Michael, on the other hand, was in his tuxedo as the general manager, while Roi was dressed in a security guard uniform.
“Grabe, kaya pala ang daming pulis kanina sa harap ng building ay dahil may bangkay na sa loob,” said Sunny while moving to her desk. Her face was as white as sheet.
“Yet no one looks too devastated except for one,” Ria remarked. “Masama rin kasi ang ugali niya.” Arin sniffed. “Bakit? Bakit siya namatay? Excited pa man din siya kahapon dahil map-promote na siya as general manager next month,” she mumbled.
“When will this end?” Zion muttered as he settled in his cubicle. “Sagabal sa trabaho.” Wow. Akala ko ay magc-cringe o magiging awkward sila dahil kailangang umarte pero mukhang hindi na kailangang mag-alala pa. They were so into their characters.
“Hi,” bati ni Sayuri habang palapit kami sa kanila. “We’re the designated investigators for this case.”
I stood next to her and nodded. “So, we would like to request for your cooperation.”
Confusion crossed Sunny’s face. “Kasali kami sa investigation?”
“Oo nga ‘no? Pag-alis namin sa office ay buhay pa naman siya. Bakit kami iimbestigahan?” tanong ni Ria.
“May probability na suspects tayo,” sagot naman ni Zion at agad akong tumango.
“He’s right. So, you better answer our questions honestly to avoid any suspicions on you.”
The group acted their heart out earlier, and honestly, that gave me the confidence to play my part, too.
Nagsimulang magtanong si Sayuri sa teammates ko kaya ganoon din ang ginawa ko. After exchanging polite smiles with Ria, I invited her to the pantry and started bombarding her with questions.
“Where were you last night at kailan mo huling nakita si Mr. Gary?”
With her arms crossed in front of her chest, she sneered at me before answering. “Nag-out ako before 7 p.m. at nasa office pa no’n si Gary. If I remember correctly, nandoon pa silang apat noong umalis ako.”
“Anong relationship mo sa biktima?”
“Wala,” mariin niyang sagot. “We rarely talk since we dislike each other.”
“Oh? Is there a reason why you dislike each other?”
She raised her eyebrow. “That’s personal. Kailangan ko bang sagutin ‘yan?”
I shrugged in return. “It’s up to you, but your silence about some questions could be used against you.”
“Fine,” she muttered as she heaved a sigh. “I hate his guts, okay? Siya ‘yung tipo ng tao na gagawin ang lahat para makuha ang gusto niya kahit may maapakan pang iba. Of course, his death was shocking, but I don’t feel that sorry for him. Hindi na rin ako magtataka kung ganoon ang pakiramdam ng ibang officemates namin…well, maliban kay Arin. I don’t know what’s wrong with that person.”
Si Arin? Hmm, I’d like to know her relationship with him, too, but I would go into that later.
“Alright. Then nasaan ka after 7 p.m.?”
“Dumiretso ako sa bahay.”
“May maipapakita ka bang proof? Kahit picture lang na may time stamp.”
“Sorry, hindi ako mahilig mag-picture. Well, siguro ‘yung kahitbahay ko, narinig ako noong nagbukas ako ng pinto?”
“Okay, that is noted. Thank you for your time, Miss Ria.”
She left the pantry after that while I summarized the statements she gave earlier. Ria could be a potential suspect as she dislikes his ways and personality, but would that be enough of a motive? They rarely talk to avoid provoking each other for so long, so I don’t think she’d kill him unless it was a spur-of-the moment kind of incident.
Sumunod ko namang in-interview si Sunny. Unlike Ria, she was on the timid side. Sunny was fumbling with the hem of her shirt when I sat in front of her, unable to look at me in the eyes.
Inulit ko lang ang mga tanong ko kay Ria kanina pero natagalan ako bago makakuha ng sagot. She left the office around 9:00 p.m. dahil nag-overtime siya para matapos ang paperworks for the week. According to her, wala na si Gary sa office dahil umalis ito bandang 7:30 p.m.
“Hindi mo na siya nakitang bumalik sa office?” tanong ko.
Sunny shook her head. “Hindi. Baka beyond 9 p.m. na siya bumalik kaya hindi ko na naabutan.”
“What’s your relationship with him?”
“Uhm, we’re civil with each other. Minsan, nag-a-ask siya ng favor at tinatanggap ko naman.”
“Paperworks,” she replied.
“I see. So, alam mong hindi magkasundo si Gary at Ria?”
Saglit siyang natigilan pero agad ding tumango. “Kahit five months pa lang ako sa company ay obvious na agad sa simula na hindi sila magkasundo.”
“Nakita mo na ba silang nagsagutan o nag-away?”
“May times na nagpaparinigan sila pero madalang lang. Oh, but yesterday was the first time I saw them having a verbal argument.”
I shifted in my seat after hearing that. “Alam mo ba kung ano ang pinag-awayan nila?”
“I think dahil nagparinig si Gary na map-promote na siya as general manager next month at sinabi niyang hindi ‘yun kayang gawin ni Ria dahil wala siyang talent at kulang siya sa gawa. Ria retaliated and said he only got the position because he was leeching off the works of others.”
“You said you did him favors, right? Isa rin ba ‘yon sa dahilan kung bakit siya na-promote?”
Muling yumuko si Sunny. “Dahil bago pa lang ako ay hindi rin ako maka-hindi sa mga utos niya.”
So, Gary was a manipulative co-worker, huh? Someone who would use others for his personal gain. No wonder a lot of his colleagues harbored hatred toward him.
Dahil kausap pa ni Sayuri sina Arin at Zion ay dumiretso ako sa office ng general manager. Michael was sitting behind his oak desk, signing a pile of papers in front of him. He had bags under his eyes, and it looked like he hadn’t slept yet since last night.
Umupo ako sa leather couch sa gitna ng office niya at naghintay matapos sa ginagawa niya. A minute later, he stood from his chair and walked toward the couch across mine as he loosened his necktie.
“Wala pa rin bang lead sa pagkamatay ni Gary?” tanong ni Michael. “This is doing harm to the company’s name.”
“Don’t worry. We’re doing our best to figure this case out. Now, I just want you to answer my questions to help with our investigation.”
He was hesitant at giving information at first, but I managed to persuade him after some time.
Apparently, Gary would be his replacement for the general manager position, and he’d be transferred to a different department. He was supposed to meet him at a pub last night to celebrate his promotion, but Gary didn’t show up.
“Kailan kayo huling nag-usap?”
Michael fished out his phone from his pocket. “Tinawagan ko siya bandang 8:00 p.m. dahil magkikita kami nang 8:30 p.m. Sabi niya ay may gagawin lang siya saglit.”
Oh. So the victim was still alive at 8:30 p.m.
“Wala ka ba sa building kaya hindi kayo nagsabay?”
He nodded. “May business meeting ako around the area kaya dumiretso na ako sa pub. Quarter to nine noong tumawag ulit ako dahil wala pa siya pero hindi niya sinasagot. I got angry since I waited for a long time. Noong 9:30 p.m. na ay umalis na ako dahil mukhang hindi na siya sisipot.”
The guy was surely hiding something since he was restless while giving his statements. There were also print cutouts pinned on the corkboard and one of them was a tattered report of Gary’s monthly performance.
Sumunod ko namang pinuntahan ang security office at nakaupo sa futon si Roi. He gave me a light nod as I pulled the chair from his desk. Used to his playful personality, I was quite taken aback at his serious expression but quickly regained my composure as it was part of his character profile.
Muli kong inulit ang mga tanong ko sa mga nauna at agad naman niya iyong sinagot.
“Night shift ako kaya 6 p.m. ay nandito na ako sa kuwarto. Nakita ko rin si Sir Gary na nag-out bandang 7:30 p.m. pero hindi ko siya napansin na bumalik.”
“May time ba na wala ka sa station mo?”
Roi sighed and nodded. “Sumakit kasi ang sikmura ko noong mga 8:30 p.m. kaya natagalan ako sa banyo. Tapos bumalik ulit noong mga 9:30 p.m. kaya nandoon ulit ako.”
“According to the reports, ikaw ang nakakita ng bangkay?”
“Oo. Nag-ronda kasi ako noong madaling-araw, mga 2 a.m. yata ‘yun, at pagsilip ko sa office ay parang may tao pa. Akala ko ay may nakatulog lang kaya balak ko sanang gisingin pero nagulat ako nang buksan ko ‘yung ilaw. May lawa na ng dugo sa paanan niya at nang lapitan ko ay doon ko nakitang patay na siya.”
Roi was the first to saw the body and the one who reported it, but he was missing from his station during the probable time of death. I couldn’t discount the possibility of him being a suspect.
“May napansin ka bang kakaiba bago mo makita ang bangkay?”
He paused for a second. “Hindi ko sigurado kung may kinalaman pero si Sir Zion ang huling lumabas sa building kagabi. Medyo nakakapagtaka dahil madalas ay on-time siya umuwi. Nakita ko ring nag-aaway sina Ma’am Ria at Sir Gary sa pantry bandang 6 p.m. dahil balak ko sanang kumuha ng tubig pero hindi ako nakapasok dahil nagsasagutan sila.”
“Alright. Thank you, Roi.”
“Walang anuman, Ma’am,” sabay ngiti niya.
Isang malalim na buntonghininga ang pinakawalan ko nang makalabas sa security office. The case was getting complicated, and everyone seemed to have a motive. Wala rin silang matibay na alibi during the time of the crime.
Mabilis akong naglakad pabalik sa main office at naghihintay sa akin doon sina Arin at Zion. Sabay ko na silang in-interview dahil may time limit kami ni Sayuri. There were only five minutes left.
“Where were you between 8:30 p.m. and 2 a.m.?”
Zion crossed his arms and sighed disapprovingly. “In the office. I left around 9:10 p.m.”
“Nasa malapit na park,” she sniffled. “Nag-out ako ng 7:30 p.m. at kasabay kong umalis si Gary.”
Napakunot naman ang noo ko nang marinig ko ‘yon. “Sabay kayong umalis?”
She solemnly nodded. “Magd-dinner sana kami bago siya uminom kasama ni Sir Michael pero hindi ‘yon natuloy dahil sabi niya ay may pupuntahan siya. I didn’t know that he’d return to the office.”
My gaze shifted back to Zion. “Did you see him return?”
He shrugged nonchalantly. “Don’t know. I don’t keep track of people’s activities.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. It was a yes-or-no question, but he was casting suspicion onto himself by answering like that. Hindi ko tuloy alam kung gano’n ba talaga ang character niya o pinagt-tripan na naman niya ako.
“Anyway, what’s your relationship with the victim?”
“Hmm, we’re mere co-workers,” he replied. “But this one,” sabay turo niya kay Arin, “she likes him.”
Agad namang tumingin nang masama si Arin sa kanya. She scoffed at him in return. “Yeah? And you hate him because he’s interested with the girl you like.”
The two coldly glared at each other and the gears started turning in my head.
“Gary liked Sunny?” tanong ko at mabilis na nag-iwas ng tingin ang dalawa.
“Yes,” muttered Arin. “I confessed to him, but he said he likes someone else. I don’t even know what he saw in her.”
“She’s pretty and kind,” sagot naman ni Zion. “But yeah, that guy was obsessed with her. Lagi niyang binibigyan ng dagdag na trabaho si Sunny para lang magtagal siya sa office at makasama niya tuwing overtime. She said he’d always make a move at her when nobody else was looking. That guy was a disgusting douchebag.”
“He’s already dead! Stop disrespecting him!” Arin retorted. “Puro masasama lang kasi ang nakikita n’yo sa kanya.”
“There’s nothing good in him. You’re the weird one for liking someone like him.”
Nagsimula silang mag-away at hindi ko sure kung umaarte pa ba sila o totoo na. Nang tumunog ang buzzer ay pinalabas silang anim at kaming dalawa ni Sayuri ang naiwan sa chamber.
“Investigators.” The staff’s voice blared on the nearby speaker. “You have fifteen minutes to write an investigation report about the crime and determine the murderer. Good luck!”
Huminga ako nang malalim at muling tiningnan ang nakalap kong information. Alright, time to show off.