‘Is she?’ said Karen in astonishment, ‘I know I shouldn’t say this...but whoever did it...’ she didn’t finish the sentence, probably she realised that what shouldn’t be said should remain unsaid.
‘Weren’t you aware of it?’ asked Nofaught.
‘No, not yet, we have our own tragedy.’
‘I can understand that,’ the detective said, trying to look sympathetic. ‘How would you describe your neighbours?’
‘Weeeeel,’ stalled the woman, though I thought, maybe she was considering how could she retract her words, ‘it wasn’t a perfect relationship,’ she continued while she kept slowly shaking her head left and right. ‘The woman, Mrs Murray was... a bit peculiar, she wasn’t really friendly with anyone, so we don’t know much about her.’
‘And the husband?’ the officer asked, with the same fake kindness.
‘We don’t know much about him either,’ Karen said, but it was clear that she was playing it safe, ‘he was away most of the time, you know, with his work and all.’
‘What is his job again?’ Another fake question.
‘He’s a cartographer, is he not? Or something like that, I’m not sure.’
Then another door opened and an old man came out. It was Mr Harris. He walked past us, like he didn’t know me, but he did wink at me behind the detective’s back. Then he mouthed, ‘I like your cover.’ And he slipped out through another door. I couldn’t help thinking, that if poor old Mr Gers had mouthed yesterday I wouldn’t have had to be here. You can read lips even without teeth behind them, if it’s done slowly.
In the meantime the officer finished his inquire and was on his way out; so I tried to display a consoling smile which wasn’t too convincing I guess and followed him.
‘So what do you think?’ I asked him once outside.
‘So far everything fits just nicely. I don’t think that we need to see the other neighbours. The husband, the widower if you will, mentioned that they have a tenant, a woman, but he doesn’t really know her. But I think...’ and he paused for a short, dramatic effect, ‘I think they are lovers. Will see.’ he added, but it sounded more "you’ll see that I’m right".
We went to talk to this tenant; she had a room with a separate entrance on the left side of the house. We knocked on the door: no answer. We tried to turn the knob: locked. Key: we had to get it. The officer sent the constable standing in the front of the building to Mr Murray. As we were waiting for the keys his phone started ringing. He looked at the screen: ‘Damn it, it’s my boss,’ then he took the call: ‘Yes?’ he said in a soft, soothing voice, ‘when?....tomorrow?.....what was the name of that place again captain?.....Hastings?..... All right, I’ll do it...and you. Bye!’ He hung up and was disapprovingly shaking his head. The policeman came back with the keys, we opened the door but the officer got another call. He looked at his phone and waved us in as he stayed behind to take the call.
We walked in, it was a small, clean room, the windows were open so the air was fresh as well. It only had a few items, bed, cupboard, table, two chairs. On the table there must have been a miniature tower made out of small grey blocks, but now the little grey cells lay scattered all across the table. No reason for it, apparently. On the edge there was a hand written note, ‘Welcome to the aftermath of the incidents that made the tower fall".
An interesting person must live here, to say the least, maybe a little too over the edge. If I didn’t know, that Mrs Murray committed suicide I’d put my money on this woman who lives here. Come to think of it, she could be aware of the story the same way as me and others are. She might have read the story or seen the movie. Actually, she might count on this, that due to its circumstances it will instantly be labelled a suicide. The more I thought of it the more certain I was that this must be true. The officer came in and I didn’t even let him look up as I jumped on him: ‘You were right, it is a murder!’ I blabbered enthusiastically. ‘But it wasn’t the husband; it was this deranged woman. And she made it look like the Sherlock Holmes story; she might have even thrown the gun in the water under the bridge. And this way...
‘Stop! Stop!’ Nofaught cut my ranting short, and when he saw that he was successful at it he displayed the expression of a professional preparing to deliver a lecture. ‘There was no murder, the coroner just called me; they’ve found gunpowder traces on her hand. It was a suicide, just as you said and just as my gut told me in the beginning. And the first impression is never wrong. I was only forcing it for you and your article.’ He said, almost reproachfully.
I listened to it carefully and now I wasn’t sure what should surprise me more: the suicide or his lie? I decided on the former.
‘And these traces of gunpowder can only be present if she’d fired a gun? I asked him, acting like I already knew the answer, which I didn’t.
‘There are other ways as well, but it’s tricky.’ he said, waving me off.
‘But it is possible nevertheless.’ I tried hanging on to my theory. ‘I think you should talk to the tenant, something might turn up.’
‘Obviously we’ll talk with her, but it’s just pure formality, however, we won’t wait for her to get home, I’ll come back later or send someone else. I’m sure though,’ he added, ‘that it won’t yield anything and I think that we can close this case tomorrow. I let you know what to write in your article. As for now, can I take you somewhere?’
And he was already on the doorway, I hesitated for a bit but then I followed him. I was planning to do some digging on my own as well tomorrow, so all I asked him was, ‘is there a train station somewhere near?’
‘Yes, there are quite a few around here, I’ll drop you at the one that’s on my way.’
I jumped in the car, he exchanged a few words with the constable that was still standing guard in front of the door, then he joined me as well, but we barely started when he stopped again at the station. I could have easily walked.
‘Cheers!’ I said as I got out.
‘Don’t mention it,’ he winked at me, ‘you’ll hear from me soon, maybe tomorrow.’
‘To-morrow?’ I asked him.
‘Yeah, that’s what I said,’ and he looked at me baffled. I guess this joke would have been better understood in a comic book, but not everything is a comic book.
I was about to leave when I remembered something so I turned back.
‘Just one more thing...’ I started, but he stopped me.
‘Not now, tomorrow. See you.’ and he drove away, which was a good thing because I forgot what I wanted to ask him anyway.
That day I had to go to a couple of places in order to write reviews, which would never be published anyway, and since it was only early afternoon I thought I would head to the gallery. At least I was interested in that. It took me a good half an hour to get there, but I couldn’t shake off this murder. I tried looking at it from every possible angle but I couldn’t solve the puzzle. In the end I decided to leave it and if the inspector doesn’t call me back tomorrow I’ll go there on my own and talk to the husband and the tenant. I hoped, rather naively, that I might surprise them in bed, celebrating the clever way in which they had fooled the police. And I just realised that the gun was still missing, if she had committed suicide, where was the gun? There were still a few loose ends there.
Once at the gallery I was determined to leave the murder outside and concentrate on the exhibition and check out everything thoroughly. Forgetting the murder and almost everything else was easier than I was hoping, because as I walked in I noticed her. I had no doubt that it was her, though I hadn’t seen her in ages. Our last meeting was so long ago that sometimes I doubted knowing her at all. I was so dumbfounded that I couldn’t move, I didn’t know what to do, obviously I would have loved to go there but I wasn’t sure how she would react. If I am really honest, then I must admit that I acted foolishly the last time we meet, so she had every right to be mad at me, though I reserved the same right for myself as well. But all this resentment was a distant memory, now all I wanted to do is talk to her. While I was reasoning she noticed me as well, but she didn’t hesitate a second and started walking towards me, smiling like it was only yesterday that she had cried on my shoulder after two bottles of absinthe. When she was only a couple of steps away her scent reached me, it was the same heavenly perfume and I felt the same trembling inside as back then. I just realised how much I missed it. The trembling. All this felt like the shortest moment and there she was, standing in front of me, smiling.
‘Hello! I know what you are thinking. You are thinking how we can continue after what happened last time. I don’t know it either, so I think it’s best we start over.’ And in her regular composed way she held her hand out: ‘Hello! I am Esther.’
‘And I’m Azeu,’ I mumbled, though it was nice holding her hand.
‘You came for the exhibition as well?’ she asked me, and I saw that she is genuinely interested. It seemed she was serious about starting over and I began to like the idea more and more.
‘Yes!’ I replied, this time way more clearly.
‘Shall we take a tour together?’
‘Certainly.’ Off we went, from time to time we did look at the pictures as well but mostly all we did was talk. We were talking about our time apart, she recounted that she moved to Rotham: a few months ago and all the things she did, though we couldn’t finish as she had an appointment but we arranged that we would meet the next day on La Plaza de las Tres Culturas.
After we parted I wasn’t interested in anything else, I just kept thinking of her and our next meeting, so I left for home. As soon as I walked in, my phone rang, suddenly I had a crazy hope that she somehow got hold of my number and called me, but it was only Mr Harris. ‘I’m glad to see that you are getting seriously involved,’ he said, I started thinking how the hell the old boy knew about Esther but then I realised that he must be talking about our earlier meeting at Gers’s.
‘I see you are hot on the trail,’ he resumed, ‘I knew I could trust you.’
‘Yeah, I’m trying, but I still don’t know much about this Karen Schuman. I only managed to find a different Karen,’ I replied, rejecting his flattery.
‘Don’t worry about it son. I thought about it, and in the lights of the recent developments at Gers’s neighbours, I think that I might have misunderstood Gary’s last words.’
As much as I hated having this conversation I couldn’t help seizing this opportunity and ask him as ironically as I could.
‘Oh really? Pray tell.’
Mr Harris wasn’t deterred by this.
‘Well, I think that he said: „a haven for the eccentric bitch, more is less, I fear more black, wither an innocent man. Terror, terror”’
‘This is what he said? You mean to tell me that you misunderstood every single word in your previous interpretation? That was 99.5% sure, how much is it now?
‘This is even higher than that,’ said the old man, not realising that I was pulling his leg. ‘You know, the first time, rather selfishly, I heard what I wanted to hear, but I should have known better not to be like that.’
‘This might be more accurate, but it’s still doesn’t make any kind of sense.’
‘It does make some sense though, I think that Gary had realised that Mrs Murray wanted to kill her husband or something on that line. Let’s not forget that when Gary passed away she was still alive.’
‘So you mean to tell me, that she wanted to kill her husband and mistakenly shot herself instead? She mixed up the Mrs with the Mr?’
‘I don’t know Azeu, but I’m sure if you keep snooping around you’ll find something.’
‘Alright,’ I agreed just to get rid of him, ‘if I were to learn something I’ll let you know.’
‘Thank you, thank you indeed. This way Gary’s soul may rest in peace as well.’
And so can I, I thought, if you decide to hang up, which he did, leaving me in high spirits. I decided that I would stick with my original plan and go back the next morning, I’ll go to the Murrays, to snoop around as the old man said and even if I don’t find anything time will pass easier. I was sure, that we will never find out what he had said, and frankly I didn’t think that it mattered. But still, I couldn’t shake off the suspicion, what if the tenant was the eccentric bitch? And she’ll wither the man as well, now that she uprooted the wife. It’s worth a try. This will keep my mind away from Esther, though I still spent most of the night awake, thinking of her. And me.
The next day I went out to the park and knocked on Gers’s door. I meet Mrs Gers, she was a nice old lady though she didn’t use a single kind word about her neighbour, indeed, she used the word eccentric as well. She called her husband names as well, a drunkard, a pig who had always spent the money for the bills on booze, though I had a feeling that the only reason for this tirade was to ease her pain. As I stood there listening to her I evoked Gary’s last words and I came up with an interpretation of my own which I shared with her. Though she was crying when I left her I was sure that she felt better now than she had before my visit.
Mr Murray was sitting on his porch and I started walking towards him, I was almost next to him – inside the greeting zone – when I realised that we hadn’t met before. But there was no turning back now.
‘Good afternoon. I am Azeu, I was here yesterday with officer Nofaught and I was wandering if I can ask a few questions?’
‘Nice to meet you. Sure you can, I’ll try to help if I can.’
‘Thank you. If you just give me a second, I made some notes on my phone. Where is the bloody thing anyway?’
I checked in the left pocket of my jacket, then in the right, then in the inside pocket, I checked in the left trousers pocket then the right jacket pocket, followed by the right trousers pocket, then the back pocket on my trousers, in the end it turned up in my inside jacket pocket after all, but I already put most of my belongings on the table to facilitate my search.
‘Oh, there it is,’ I said while I sat down. I could have asked him how he is feeling and whatnot, just to open him a little, but I have never been a fan of this, so all I asked was: ‘I was just wondering what do you know about your tenant?’ and I was watching his reaction closely.
‘I really don’t know her that much,’ he replied without a hint of dishonesty, ‘she has been living here for a few months now, but I don’t think I’ve seen her more than two times.’
‘Who gave her the room?’
‘My wife did, I was mostly away so she dealt with everything. God bless her,’ he added sadly.
‘Is she at home currently? Your tenant I mean,’ I corrected myself rather dumbly.
‘I’m not sure, but I believe she is, as I heard some noises from the room not long ago.’
‘That’s good as I want to talk to her later.’
‘The police have already talked to her. Is she ... in some kind of a trouble?’
I paused and looked at him, though I don’t know what I was waiting for.
‘Well, I think I might as well tell you, we suspect her...with the killing of your wife.’
‘Really?’ said he while he stood up raising his brows, I must be getting closer, I thought, as he was slowly pacing up and down the porch. ‘But the officer said that this is a straightforward...you know... It’s strange, that’s all. Is there a motive?’
‘No, not at the moment, but that doesn’t mean she’s innocent.’
‘That’s true,’ said the man while he sat down again. It’s too late now to retain your composure, I thought. The noose is closing in. ‘Come to think of it,’ he continued, ‘I don’t know her at all and... anything is possible... I guess.’
Suddenly I heard a noise from behind and I saw the husband jump up.
‘Shoo! Shoo!!’ he screamed. I looked back and I saw a black and white bird flying away.
‘It grabbed it!! It grabbed it!!’ he continued shouting.
‘That bird! It flew away with your pen drive!
‘It took my stick?’ I asked as I got excited as well.
‘There it goes!’ he pointed towards it.
I spotted it myself, and set off after it without thinking, attempting the impossible or at least a really foolish thing: catching a flying bird. On foot. Unarmed. But I didn’t think about it too much, though if I had I would have realised that it would make more sense to buy a new pen drive. Luckily it landed quite often, so I managed to keep up with it, more or less, for a time at least, but soon enough I lost sight of it. I was looking around disappointedly, trying to catch my breath, when I heard a bird call, I didn’t know if it was my bird or not, but since this bird uses its beak not its fingers to send its tweets I saw a good chance to find my pen drive somewhere under it. If I manage to locate it by following its calls.
Which is exactly what I tried, but I only bumped into Mr Murray, who was as exhausted as me, so I reasoned that he was after the bird as well.
‘Did you see which way it went?’ I asked him, still barely breathing.
‘No,’ he said panting, ‘but I saw a nest not far from here, we could try there.’
‘A nest? Let’s go check it out.’
It wasn’t too high, seemed quite easy to reach, so I didn’t falter and started climbing. On my way up I couldn’t help smiling to myself, instead of investigating I am about to rob a bird’s nest.
Luckily the branches were quite thick and easily accessible so I was up there in no time. As soon as I peeked inside I froze. My stick was there all right, but I couldn’t care less. Next to my stick there was a shiny, golden pistol. I had no doubt that this was the murder weapon. I knew that I needed to take it out carefully, trying to preserve any fingerprints that might be there. I also wanted to avoid Mr Murray noticing it.
‘Is it up there?’ he shouted.
‘Yes, yes, it is. It’s just hard to reach.’ I shouted back, which wasn’t a lie, as in lack of a handkerchief I tried to grab it with my sleeve pulled over my hand and then I tried to slowly ease it in my pocket. The gun felt wet, must have been this morning’s rain. I hoped at least that it was water and not some other bodily fluid of a bird. I almost forgot my drive, but that was a lot harder to get, as it was smaller, so I struggled more with it until I realised that I don’t need to protect any fingerprints on it. So I just grabbed it with my fingers and I started climbing down. From up there I noticed the Rong Bridge, it wasn’t far at all, this bird might have just picked it up, just as it did with my memory stick. It was an appealing shiny object. Coming down was faster than climbing up, not because it was easier but rather because it suddenly became urgent to get to the station. First the train station, then the police.
By the time I got down Mr Murray had lost all his excitement and went back to his usual apathetic self.
‘So it was up there?’
‘Yes, I’ve found it luckily; I don’t have to buy a new one.’
‘Yes, it’s rare to find something that we’ve lost.’ And he sighed.
I was never a fan for these kinds of boring conversations, that go round and round and now that I felt the fingerprints slowly melting away in my pocket I made my excuses and ran off towards the train station.
The train seemed slow, I wanted to get this murder out of the way and submerge to my date for the rest of the day. At least. Luckily inspector Nofaught was there and he didn’t have time to blink once before I threw my newly purchased blue scarf on the table. ‘I’ve got the weapon!’ I said, hell, I almost shouted.
‘Yesterday’s blood stained murderous gun!’ I said, exaggerating a bit.
‘You mean yesterday’s suicidal gun?’
‘It’s a killer nevertheless,’ and I sat down on an empty chair to show him that I’m there to stay.
‘Is it loaded?’ he asked as he carefully removed with a pencil from the scarf. This made me uneasy for a second as I completely forgot about that, but then I realised that it was too late now to be worried.
‘I don’t know,’ and to hide my carelessness I told him how I’ve found it.
‘A black and white bird, ehh?’ said he mockingly. ‘And did this birdie say anything?’
‘No, as a matter of fact it did not. But if I were you I would have that gun checked for fingerprints.’ I said, thus trying to fend off his irony.
‘Certainly, I was about to do that.’
He took the gun and left the room without saying anything else, I think he found it hard to swallow that I was the one to find the gun. I imagined him making a resolution to check every nest and foxhole at every crime scene from now on. As I sat there waiting for him – and he did take his time – my thoughts were wobbling between Esther and the murder. It felt better thinking of her, but the murder kept on creeping back to my mind as well. Finally Nofaught came back and sat down.
‘This is the gun that was used yesterday, that we know for certain and they are checking it for fingerprints right now. We need you to draw another police sketch the day after tomorrow, are you available?’ he asked me; though I had a feeling he just wanted to avoid the murder topic, especially my part in it.
‘Yes,’ I said without blinking only to realise that we might be planning something with Esther for that day as well. Too late now, the damage was done.
‘Ok, that’s settled then, but sometimes I don’t know why we are doing it, the man you draw yesterday was identified in the morgue.’
‘Was he? Still, he was identified and I always felt that it’s beneficial to the victims to talk to me while I’m drawing. You know, get it out of their system.’
‘Ah, so you are a shrink now? And a detective as well?
I had no answer for this and he tried to look busy on his computer so we stopped talking. Soon a man came in wearing a white coat.
‘There are a few partial fingerprints there,’ and he gave a paper to Nofaught.
‘Only partial?’ he said, curling his lip pejoratively.
‘That’s acceptable, right?’ I asked him eagerly.
‘Ehh,’ that’s all he said and I felt that he is trying to minimise my achievement.
‘In this tough financial environment acceptable is the new perfect,’ I repeated to him something that I heard at the financial department the other day. I thought it sounded so official it must ring true. I’m not sure that it was due to what I said or not but the inspector nodded and the man in the white coat left; that must mean that Nofaught gave the green light to run a search in their database. He came back in no time and said:
‘Out of the two fingerprints present on the gun one belongs to the victim but the other isn’t in our database.’
‘Really?’ Nofaught asked, then he reached to a file on his desk: ‘Check this!’
The guy left as we were sitting there, not even looking at each other till he came back.
‘It’s a match,’ he said, ‘as far as we can talk about a match with a partial fingerprint.’
The detective sprang to his feet, ‘yes!’ he shouted and now he looked at me. ‘You see,’ he continued, taking credit for my perseverance. ‘I always knew that something’s not right, that’s why we took samples from the tenant’s room. When we talked to her she seemed innocent, still I took the liberty of taking her prints from the glass she was using. Obviously we can’t use these prints as I obtained them illegally, but we’ll get her prints when we bring her in.’ And he slammed her file on the table and winked at me: ‘You should come as well, I think you’ll love writing about this.’ Then he went into the adjacent room and I heard him tell someone, rather arrogantly: ‘I was right again, I am going to bring this Esther girl in.’
Hearing the name made me think of my date, I was really looking forward to it. But then a crazy thought grow on me...wouldn’t it be mad if she were...No, it can’t be. No way. But still I couldn’t take it off my mind, so to reassure myself I peeked inside the file. I thought that I would always be happy to see this face, but now all I could do was shake my head in disbelief at the sight of Esther’s smiling face.
The end of part II