By Larry Sun,
“That is highly possible, but opening the gate without my awareness is highly impossible. My room is by the gate and that gate makes more noise than rolling back the door of a tomb of a pharaoh dead two thousand years.”
“Maybe you were drugged into unconsciousness and the gate was opened with the duplicates.” Daniel chipped in.
“And the single horn of a car was able to rouse me into consciousness?” asked Chima, “I’m not a deep sleeper, not at my age, and if I was drugged I would have known, don’t you think so?”
Daniel could not say any more word. Chima continued, “Even if Cain had to die, his corpse should have been inside and not outside. When that man,” he pointed to Daniel, “and the boy
called me that there was a dead body by the gate I thought it was the driver they were referring, but I was shocked when I saw that it was Cain, I’m still very confused.”
The detective sighed. “Is that all?” he asked Chima.
“No,” the old man dipped his hand in his breast pocket and extracted a folded paper which he handed to the detective. “Maybe this will help.”
Lot hesitated a bit before collecting the note, and unfortunately for him, Chima noticed.
“What are you scared of, detective? You think it’s a letter bomb?”
“Who would want to blow me to smithereens?”
“You’ve got the reputation of stepping on a lot of toes in this country, and no bad deed goes unpunished, as you quite know yourself. Everybody knows that Giwa wasn’t toasted for minding his own business.”
“And from wherever comes that bit of gibberish, old man?” he snatched the paper in anger.
The detective opened the paper, and on it was a writing scrawled carelessly in pencil:
In the morning, call my lawyer.
The writing was quavery, as if it had been written with the left hand of a right-handed person, or vice versa. Daniel Famous collected the paper and read it. The detective looked up at the gatekeeper and asked, “How did you find this?”
“The next morning, not long after I was called to see the body.”
“Where did you find it?”
“The same place I kept the keys.”
“Then you should have seen it when you were called by Daniel and the boy.”
“No, I saw it after, when this officer called me, I only put my hand under the pillow without looking, and I withdrew the keys. But it was when I
wanted to pick my cap, which I also put under the pillow, that I saw the note lying there.”
“Did you read it?” asked Lot.
“Shouldn’t I have? Or do you think I can’t read? Well, if I read something that is written down in English, I can understand what it means—I am not talking of abstruse stuff, formulae or philosophy—just plain business-like English—most people can’t! If I want to write down something, I can write down what I mean, I’ve discovered that quite a lot of people in this country can’t do that either! Though you can’t illiterate from my memory the fact that English is a mad man’s language, I’m even surprised that I’m so affluent in speaking that language. And, I can do plain arithmetic—if Aki has eight bananas and Pawpaw takes ten from him, how many will Aki have left? That’s the kind of sum some people likes to pretend has a simple answer. They won’t admit, first, that Pawpaw can’t do it—and second, that there won’t be an answer in plus bananas! Evidently, arithmetic is a blessing in the sky, but nobody knows that.”
“That’s the lunacy of Mathematics,” said Daniel, smiling, “We call it Mathematics these days, not Arithmetic.”
“Did you hear any strange sound that night?” Lot asked Chima, after silently listening to the gatekeeper’s annoying spiel, and noticing how wanting the older man’s grammar was.
“A sound like what?”
“Within or without?”
“Which one did you hear?”
The gatekeeper hesitated for precisely ten seconds before replying, “Nothing, I heard no sound.”
Lot caught the hesitation and he, therefore, looked askance at the gatekeeper, as the older man’s reply was not very convincing, “Are you sure?” he asked him calmly.
“Mr. Chima, do you know that withholding vital information is an offence.”
“I heard no sound, detective. If I did, I’d have screamed it into your hearing.”
“You needn’t be so nasty about it.”
Eze smiled, “You have no idea how nasty I can be if I put my mind to it.”
Lot tried to find a befitting reply for the gatekeeper but thought better of it.
“Now, Mr. Chima, I want you to answer this question truthfully.”
“Do you think I’ve been lying before?”
“That is left for me to judge.”
“Then you’ll still have to judge if my next answer would be the truth or not.” The old man smiled, “I’m a bit of a nuisance to you, right?”
“Listen, you senile anachronism, that’s an understatement. You’re probably the most irritating, vexatious man I’ve ever met.”
“Sorry, I’m not a very pineapple of politeness.”
The detective could take it no more, “The word is ‘pinnacle’.”
“That’s what I called it.” Replied Eze.
“No, you said ‘pineapple’.”
“It’s you who just called it that, not me.”
Lot realized that arguing with the gatekeeper about English usage was insane, he therefore allowed it to slide, “Before you were called by Famous, what were you doing?”
“I was doing nothing. I was in my coffin—sorry, cabin.”
“Were you asleep or awake?”
“I was already awake. Actually, I’m always awake every five in the morning.”
‘That’s just my nature, I don’t set the alarm and when it is five, my eyes snap open automatically. It’s like a kind of mechanism in me. Whenever my eyes snap open like that, they don’t shut again. And on that day, the same thing happened, just like this morning or any other day.”
“That’s all for now, Mr. Chima. I’ll call you again when I need you.” Lot stopped the recorder.
The old man stood up, absently picked the seat of his cloth out from the crack of his bottoms, and started taking his leave, when he got to the door he turned to face the detective.
“There’s no point investigating this case,” he said, “Stop wasting your time here. How do you think you will dissolve this mystery if you can’t find any culprit? You may never know the man who did it, just take my advice and leave. You and me know that Cain’s death is not a loss to anybody. So, why investigate it and unlease a hornet’s nest?”
“Because I have to. That is what I’m always paid for, trying to find out who murdered people. And ‘You and I’ is the correct grammatical construction of the sentence.” answered Lot, “By the way, what gives you the impression that I can’t find the killer?”
“Because he was not killed by anyone among us. I think he was killed by a complete outsider, probably someone he had wronged earlier.”
“Really?” Lot feigned surprise.
“My instinct told me so; nobody could have possibly killed him between the widow and the driver.”
“What about you?” the detective shot out.
“What are you trying to incinerate, detective?” The old man’s face changed, “I could have possibly killed him but I didn’t. Cain is too small a kill for me. Besides, I’m not one who hides his deeds, I’ve taken over seventy lives and I don’t feel any remorse for any of them. Bob is my witless, if I had killed Cain I would have told you frankly that I did it. The worst you can do is to persecute me for it, I’m not afraid of anything.” He paused and added, “You are not illegible to be called a detective. When I was in the war, you were nothing but a kid still suckling its mother’s breasts.”
Lot stood up abruptly, “Don’t insult me, old man!”
“And don’t annoy me, young man!” the gatekeeper retorted.
Both men stood glaring at each other before Daniel came between them. The old man gave a weary smile and walked out of the room.
Lot sighed again and sat down, “That man is a very dangerous one, I wonder what he might have done.”
“You looked at that man and saw a dangerous human being,” said Daniel, “but I saw a man whose life had been filled with tragedy and sadness. I pity him, though he’s not the essence of courtesy. The deaths of his wife and children and what he had endured in battle changed him; all made him a different man. I think he’s a man who needs to be understood. He may actually be a sweet old man.”
“Yet, he can be terribly dangerous when he is annoyed. That was actually what I wanted to do, I wanted to annoy him and see his reaction but he didn’t give me the chance.”
“What are you talking about, sir? I don’t understand what you are saying.”
“Do you remember what he said when I stood up to him?”
“He told you not to annoy him, and he was already very much angry.”
“No, you’re really getting it wrong. He was not a bit angry, even when I challenged him with that last question. He was not in the least annoyed, he only wanted us to think he was. Before he went out he gave a strange smile, do you know what that smile meant?”
“Please tell me.”
“ ‘They think I’m angry, fools.’ ”
“Was that last word really in that smile?”
“I don’t care, but he thought us fools.”
“I hate people reminding me of who I am. What do you think about the letter he brought, sir?”
“I think of two things for now; one: the deceased knew what was coming to him so he wrote a note stating the summons of his lawyer. Two: the deceased never wrote the note, it was written by the murderer to add more salt to the injury. We are left to find out who really wrote the note.”
“In your first idea, why couldn’t the deceased call the lawyer on phone by himself instead of writing a boring note? And why did he hide the note under the gatekeeper’s pillow instead of giving it directly to him or instructing him verbally? He called you, I don’t see the reason he couldn’t have called his lawyer too. Please, tell me what is going on in this compound.”
“That’s what we’re here to find out. And by tracing the subtle twitchings of the web, we might find the spider.”
The police officer thought for a moment before asking, “Sir, is it possible for someone to confess to a crime, especially one that has to do with killing?”
“Confession is advisable because sooner or later, the criminal would be caught.”
“But some do get away with it.”
“Some lucky ones, but in my own case—Never! As the person tries to cover his trails, he leaves more trails behind him. Take for example, you are walking at the sandy side of a beach, you looked behind you and sees your footprints plainly visible on the sands. You decide to clean them by rubbing the marks off. But you are ignorant of the fact that, the prints won’t go; instead of them to be decreasing, they in actual fact increase. As you try to wipe out the visibility of the prints with your hands, you create another print with your palms and toes. That logic is applicable to crime too. You know, criminals are sometimes drawn to the scene of their crimes, and in doing so, they thwart their chances of escape.”
“Can that happen in this case?”
“I don’t think so, this is another ball game entirely, the crime was committed outside, and that makes it complicated.”
“How is that?”