By Larry Sun
“You would have been wasting your time, sir. Mrs. Martins was sleeping in her room when the whole thing started.”
“Remember, I received that call at about 10pm, she might not be sleeping then.”
Daniel carried an amused expression on his face, “So you think a woman can mimic a man’s voice?”
“Anything can happen, besides, someone else might have used her phone.”
“Exactly, someone else might have used Mr. Martins phone to call you, or Mr. Martins was held under duress to call you.”
“The detective thought for a moment and shook his head again in disagreement. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody used his phone or held him under duress—who else would have sent that large sum of money into my bank account if not Cain?”
“Was the account name through which the money came in Mr. Martins’?”
“No, it was through an account by the name Abel Martins.”
“Abel? Why would Mr. Martins send you some money under that name?”
Lot shrugged, “Why else but to disguise his identity? The surname he used, he only changed the first name—like the biblical Cain and Abel.”
“Maybe he was also forced to change his name, too.”
“That even explained that Cain was actually murdered. Why would anybody use his phone or put him under duress if he had nothing up his sleeves? Someone killed Cain and I’m going to catch that bastard.”
Yesterday, the sky was pregnant, it appeared to be swaddled in disposable diapers, but the rain that was supposed to break was not delivered. Today, the sky was blue with a scattering of popcorn clouds, the day was mild, there was no wind and no rain was in the forecast.
Cain Martins had gotten his own share of the rule that every man born of a woman must surely return to dust, and Detective Lot had given the household a week to mourn the departed soul before resuming his investigation, but there was no mourning at all—it appeared as if Cain Martins never existed until the detective came and reminded the household that someone there had died a fortnight earlier. He was only able to convince them that Cain had existed when he spoke about death in sepulchral tones. Everybody was seated, including Doctor Adam Hakeem who was in his best sartorial presentation. On the television, an evangelist was gesticulating furiously, but the sound was muted, so he seemed like a crazed and poorly trained mime. The Dow tape with its hieroglyphic markings ran across the bottom of the screen. The resulting scene was slightly less baffling than the antics of an ant colony.
It was Hakeem who brought to the household notice the obvious, “Why is the photographer not here today? I was expecting my pictures to be taken today.”
Eze Chima answered him immediately, “Will you do us a favour and zip those lips of yours?”
“I only asked a question, sir.”
“I said shut your trap or I throw you out of this compound.” He glared at the boy.
Hakeem seeing the gatekeeper’s angry face immediately tightened his lips; a symbol of his acquiescence to the ex-soldier’s command.
The detective spoke:
“It had been almost a fortnight since the death of Mr. Cain Martins, and we all know that it was not a natural death—he died from gunshot wound.
“From my point of view,” he continued, “Two things were bound to have caused his death; it’s either he committed suicide, which is still highly unlikely, or he was killed in cold blood.” He paused to look around for any reaction from others, it was only the police officer who shuddered in disgust, others were as mute as sheep.
“That is what I am here to investigate and I want everybody to co-operate with me in arriving at the truth,” he turned to the doctor, “Doc. Adam, you performed the autopsy, right?”
The doctor nodded.
“Okay, doctor, I need to ask you a question. With a self inflicted gunshot wound there’s always a powder burn on the victim’s hand. Was one discovered on the deceased?”
“The answer is no.” the doctor replied plainly.
Detective Lot nodded in approval, “I thought as much. This means that we rule out the possibility that the deceased committed suicide. That man was murdered.” He called Abigail, “Madam, can I have a room where I can make my interrogations? Starting from Hakeem.”
The boy stood up abruptly, “Why me? Please do not torture me, I did not do anything wrong.”
Lot tried to calm him down, “Be cool, boy, I learnt that you saw the man first.”
“Yes, but he was already dead.”
“That is why you need to help us on this case.”
“You are not going to use coercive measures in getting the truth out of me, are you?”
“Of course not, why would I do that? I trust you’re not going to withold any information regarding this case, are you?”
The boy grinned widely, “I will be glad to help. You see, it is a wonderful thing to be involved in a murder case, is it not?” he did not wait for an answer, “I have never seen a dead man before and that sight is what I’ll always keep green in my heart. But believe me, I am not looking forward to a kind of death like that, I will not like somebody hiding a bullet in my skull. Besides—”
The detective cut him short, “I’ll appreciate your help, thank you.” Death means very little to a boy of fourteen, he thought sadly. He looked at Abigail, “Madam?”
“Oh, there’s an empty room among the boys’ quarters. You can use that one.”
“Can you provide us with a table and three chairs?”
“Sure,” she turned to the gatekeeper, “Mr. Chima, please make sure they have what they need.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Lot said.
“Ordinarily, my upbringing would require me to say ‘Don’t mention it,’ or ‘A pleasure of mine,’ or ‘You’re welcome’. But they’ll all be lies.”
“Uh—I don’t understand ma’am. Can you please be clearer?”
Abigail smiled, “You’re a detective, aren’t you? Figure it out yourself. By the way, from the little detective stories I’ve read, a detective would have made some startling deductions from the most trivial phenomena by now.”
Lot ignored the insult. In about a quarter of an hour the interrogation room was prepared. The room was as commodious as a coffin, it was also dusty; cobwebs festooned the corners of the ceiling. There was no rug or carpet, and above, the ceiling fan was oscillating loudly without blowing much air. There was an air conditioner, but it did not seem to be working. The light in the room was subdued and the low-wattage bulb was encased in wire mesh and bolted to the ceiling. A fading sign on the wall facing the door read TRUST IN JESUS.
Detective Lot sat in a chair facing the door; he was awaiting his first questionee. The door was opened slowly and Daniel came in, behind him was the boy, who was still grinning from ear to ear like a monkey eating thirty naira sugarcane, and some vitamin deficiency in his teenage body seemed to be screaming for appeasement. The boy sat down and crossed both arms and legs uttering bismillah, he brought his finger to his mouth and bit at the nail, he caught himself on time and stopped the action. Biting his nails was a bad habit he had not been able to stop. Daniel Famous took the third chair, a chair whose right rear leg wasn’t very firm and which had a tendency of collapsing under the police officer’s weight.
“I feel very happy.” The boy said.
The detective was getting irritated to quite a disproportionate extent from the fun the kid was having, the child was simply having no idea about the gravity behind the cause of a man who had lost his life. The boy thought the situation on ground was what he should be joking around about.
“Why? Is today your birthday?” Lot asked.
“No, I am just glad to be involved in this. Will I be shown on the television? Will my name be mentioned on the radio? Is my picture going to be printed in the newspapers?” the boy asked eagerly, “I will really love that, I will become famous and my parents will be proud of me. In short, my friends and classmates will envy me, beautiful girls will woo me.”
“Actually, you would be shown on the TV,” said Lot, “Your name would be pronounced on the radio and you would appear in the papers as you have said—”
The boy became very excited, “Really? I will—”
“That’s if you are the murderer, and after becoming infamous you’ll be hanged like a crazy dog. So, I will advise you to rest that wagging tongue of yours, get off your ebullient mood and answer my questions truthfully.”
The boy’s smile vanished like a rat down a hole, he looked at Daniel’s face for intervention but the policeman merely shrugged.
“I am not a murderer, I did not kill anybody,” he started sobbing, “I will never kill anybody in my life. I am not a killer.”
“Hakeem, nobody is accusing you of murder.” Daniel said.
“But he just called me a murderer, he called me a murderer.” He cried some more. “Now, I am being tortured!”
“No, he didn’t call you a murderer. He’s only interested in asking you some questions, that’s all.”
The detective brought out a portable tape recorder, he inserted an empty cassette and pressed the ‘Record’ button when the boy finally stopped his wail.
“According to Famous, you saw the deceased first. How did you come across the body?”
“It was about half past five in the morning when I saw the body, I initially thought he was asleep.”
Daniel was startled, “He was asleep at the side of the road?”
“That was what I thought at first, I thought he was in a complete state of inebriation—as in drunk till unconscious.” He had read his dictionary, “It was when I noticed the wound on his forehead that I realized what had happened. One needed not to touch it before knowing that he was as dead as Sanni Abacha, his eyes were wide open like those of an uncanned Titus. May he rest with Allah in his gardens.” He continued, “I quickly rushed to Brother Daniel to report what I saw. We both returned to the scene; the body was lying by the gate of this building so we knocked the gate and the gateman opened it almost immediately, the man was already awake after all—his eyes were as clear as the Islamic beads. That’s all I know, I did not kill anybody, I am innocent.”
“What were you doing there so early in the morning?” asked Lot calmly.