Saturday, 16 December 2017

The Brand Of Cain Episode 21

It was a moment when all imaginable rules were flying out the windows. Almost everybody’s jaw dropped at the same time, even the doctor became much more interested in the affair, he took out his pair of eyeglasses that looked like they were fitted with the bottoms of Coke bottles, he wiped the dust on it with the hem of his suit, and put it back over his face. Richard Philip became the cynosure of all eyes; all ears waiting to hear his own side of the story.
Part of a detective’s training was never to show surprise, and Lot did not, only his hairy eyebrows were hoisted aloft. He brought out a box of cigarettes, took out a stick, put it between his teeth and lit the other end of it. He inhaled deeply and exhaled the smoke through his nostrils in relief.
“I’m listening,” Lot said.
Richard pointed at the cigarette between the detective’s lips, “That thing is dangerous, it kills.”
“What business of yours is it?” demanded Lot sarcastically, “I take what I want and anything I take is not anybody’s cup of coffee. Besides, I’ve come across someone who smoked ganja for about ten years without running mad.”
Kish cast a reproachful look at Lot, he knew the detective was indirectly referring to him, but he did not say anything.
“Sorry,” said Richard, “I was only pretending to care.”
Abigail wiped her tears, a feeling of excitement had begun to build inside of her.
“Sir Lot,” Richard said, “I’m not trying to be rude but what you don’t know is far more than what you know.”
“I’m listening,” Lot said unfazed.
“I know that what I’m about to tell you here may seem like a bitter pill to swallow but it’s the truth––the whole truth.” He paused and looked directly at Eze Chima for a long time before he continued, as if it were the old gatekeeper who needed to confess, “My first time of meeting the deceased was when I came here to apply as a driver, but I noticed that I wasn’t one of his favourite people the moment he set his eyes on me. I didn’t know why at that time but I can guess now; it had been his nature, he virtually hated almost everybody. Although I wasn’t a saint either, I had successfully picked people’s pocket before, but it was not a skill I should be horning with pride. Well, he hated me, he hardly knew me from Adam, but he employed me and paid me handsomely. The hatred he had for me grew by the day; the more loyal I was to him, the more vicious he became in return. The tiny pilot light of suspicion that had been burning in my head was very much aglow when I learnt that he was once a psychiatric patient.
“The worst moment for me came when he realized that his wife spent some time in my room. I didn’t know he knew until when I was driving him to the airport the next day; on the way to the airport, Mr. Martins started by telling me about the Shakespeare’s book––Othello. If you have read the play, you would know that the Moor was made to believe that his own wife, Desdemona, was having a love affair with Cassio and he learnt that the handkerchief which he had given to her was found in Cassio’s abode. I will say that that was what really happened in the case of Abigail and me.
“Abigail was weeping when she came to my room that night, she said her husband had slapped her so I gave her my handkerchief to wipe her tears, but she took the hanky with her when she was leaving that night. It was my fault all the way, I should have remembered to collect the handkerchief from her. Her husband saw the handkerchief with her and became mad again.
“You see, Mr. Martins believed that I paddled Abigail’s canoe that night so he began to tell me things like playing games and challenging me to a game of survival. I was confused, I didn’t know how to explain to him that nothing happened between us. Even if I got the right word to convince him, I know he wouldn’t believe me; at least, he wouldn’t want to. I came to realize later that the game he was talking about was to murder Abigail and pin the crime on me. He was a rich man and I’m a nobody––if he accused me of killing his wife, how would I wring off his hook?”
“What gave you that impression that he wanted to kill his wife?”
“Permit me to come back to Shakespeare––in Othello, the Moor stabbed his wife because of the thought Iago had put in him that Cassio had been bedding his wife, and Mr. Martins was as jealous as Othello himself. If you dug well, you might find out that Mr. Martins first wife didn’t die from a natural cause. He could also plan Abigail’s death and nail me on the cross.
“I knew that the moment for him to plot his uxoricide was at hand but I had no idea about how he was going to plan it. Then, about a week after his return from Maitama, Mr. Martins called me to drive him out, he refused telling me where we were going. The time, I assume, must have been about eleven that night. I knew that the moment for his plan had come, but I also had my own plans too––if I disallowed him from killing her, I would be free. We drove out of the compound into the street and as we cut into another road Mr. Martins suddenly ordered me to stop the car with a yell––as though I was about to hit a wall and crash us. I was horrified when I looked at his face, he was almost unrecognizable––his face was like the colour of a fish’s underbelly, the eyes were particularly deadly looking. He looked at me and smiled with those eyes which resembled a cat’s. The smile was ghastly and horrible, I hope I never see another smile like it. It was like watching a corpse smile, a skeleton could smile with more warmth than that. It was also that of a madman; his eyes suddenly sprang to a vivid, cruel violent exuberance that made my legs shook with terror. ‘I left something in the house,’ he bleated, ‘wait here for me, I’ll be back in a jiffy…this is the night that either makes me, or fordoes me quite.’ And before I could say anything he had opened the door of the jeep and headed the way towards the house.
“It was during those times I was left alone in the car that the motive struck me. Something inside me, my intuition I presume, led me out of the car to open the booth. In the booth was the suitcase he was carrying when he was returning from Abuja, I opened the case and I saw the money which filled it to the brim. Immediately, Mr. Martins’ plot was staring at me in the face. I already knew that his return back to the house was to go and murder his wife, but there was more to it; after killing his wife, he would accuse me of doing the deed––and robbery. He intentionally put the money in the booth to implicate me. His wicked intention was to call the police that he had been robbed by his driver who had killed his wife and gone away with the money. The police would come searching the car and find the money, they might even find the gun in my room where Mr. Martins had put it after wiping his print off it. With a kind of plan like that, how would I escape the hangman? Having seen the money, I wanted to run after him and stop him but I returned into the car; it would be faster using a car than running. I knocked a hard U-turn and began speeding back here. As I drove, more revelations occurred to me, Cain had made a statement before leaving the car, something in that statement worried me. I tried to remember; he said he left something in the house, he told me to wait saying he would be back in a jiffy. Then he said something thereafter, he said, this is the night that either makes me, or fordoes me. Yes, that was it! It wasn’t just a statement, I’ve heard the statement somewhere before. I tried to get a hold at how I came about this phrase. I racked my brain to remember, then it came! I didn’t hear it anywhere, I read it from a book––it was a quote. It was a quote from Shakespeare’s––Othello! It was the aside Iago made in Othello, after he had wounded Cassio. He had wounded Cassio in the leg and exited the room, the victim knew not who attacked him. And Iago, however, had pretended to know nought about the cause of Cassio’s injury. Turning into the adjacent road, I heard a shot, and before a minute after, another shot sounded––this was quite louder than the former. This second shot was almost so twice as loud as the first shot that made me wonder if both shots had actually come from one gun. Then as I drove nearer, I beheld a spectacle which froze the current of my blood. Mr. Martins was lying dead at the side of the road with a bullet hole on his forehead. I slowly got out of the car, hardly believing my eyes; I saw a pistol lying some metres away from the body. In my puzzlement, I bent by the body and touched it. His skin was cold to the touch, the hand that I raised fell back lifeless. I was not thinking straight at that moment so I made a very stupid mistake––I touched the pistol, I held it in my hand and realized that it had recently been fired. It was then that I discovered Evil with an uppercase E, Mr. Martins’ real motive slashed at me like a razor blade across the eyes, it was what I did not think about at all. I had been wrong, the plan was not to kill Abigail––Mr. Martins’ plan was to kill himself and make it look like I did it, automatically pinning two crimes on me still; larceny and murder.”
The last sentence was received with a sudden roar of surprise by all listening to Richard, except of course, Lot.
“Do you have any idea how insane you sound?” asked Lot.
“What do you expect from someone who was once a psychiatric patient, sir? If you had been acquainted with Mr. Martins you’d have known that he was not a man who thinks straight. What he was only perfect at doing was making more money for himself in his business. With the vow of destroying me, he felt no qualm about putting a stop to his own life. It was the neatest plan, how would it appear to the police? We both drove out of the compound and I murdered my boss after seeing the large sum of money he had in his car. The gatekeeper saw us drive out, my prints were already on the gun, and there was the money in the booth of the car. What was I to do? Wouldn’t it be foolish of me if I returned the body, the gun (which already had my prints) and the money? Who would believe my story that Mr. Martins committed suicide with those damning evidence? The least they would do was wheel me to the nearest asylum to spend some years there. You know the policemen we have in this country; they would only conclude that I felt a pang of guilt after killing him and I decided to return the body with the lie that he committed suicide––does that sound crazy to you as it does to me? Not even the best juror could save me. It is really the truth but even to me it sounds like flimflam. The likelihood was small to nonexistence that anybody would leap unreasonably to the consideration that I might really be innocent.
“It was about half past twelve that night and I still stood there horror-stricken as the thought of what the police would do continued torturing me. As seconds ticked by, I felt danger looming over my head. Think, think, think, think, think––I kept slapping my head painfully for any inspiration to exonerate myself. At the moment, I got only two choices; either I bury myself by telling the world what really happened or I flee and become a fugitive, I decided the latter choice would be preferable––I was not ready to die for what I did not do. I opened the booth of the jeep to get the money, with that, I knew I’d get lost in this country where nobody would find me, what I only needed was to grow beards and use specs. I could even travel out of the country and still live comfortably with that kind of money. I shut the booth and was about to pal up with my heels when the thought of my mother struck me. How would she bear it if I left? I couldn’t even dare think of what she might do to herself after learning that her only child had become a murderer and was wanted by the police––that’d be too much on her. I stood there rooted again, not able to take a step. For another thirty minutes, I continued hitting my head and looking with fear at the second hand of my wrist-watch ticked continuously. That exact moment, time was my worst enemy; an encounter where each split second was the difference between life and death. Time was running out as fast as water through a sieve. I was still trying to puzzle out my escape when suddenly a light bulb flashed on in the air above my head––just as in the comic strips––and I sighed aloud. A brilliant idea, shinning and new, had travelled like a comet through my tired brain––the solution to my dilemma had occurred to me at the minute when I was about to give up. If the truth would kill, could the lie save?
“It was between me and me; and if I couldn’t be frank with myself, I couldn’t be frank with anyone. There was nobody around, the only things moving that night were fireflies. They were everywhere, pulsing off and on in the bushes around like defective Christmas lights. In less than five minutes, I’d planned how I’d make my moves. I quickly stripped the outer clothes off the body and stripped off my clothes too. You see, I had almost the same body shape as the deceased so I made use of the opportunity. After getting myself off my outer wears I put on his trousers, the inseam of the trouser was just right; the waist was inches too big, but I cinched it with a belt, I also put on his shirt and overcoat which fitted perfectly, I put on his hat and pair of sandals which were slightly loose but wearable. I think you would have known what I did by now. I picked up the pistol on the ground and got into the vehicle. For some time I could not drive, I kept asking myself if the plan was going to work and I was wondering what would happen if it didn’t. I drove the jeep towards the house leaving Mr. Martins partly Unclad by the roadside––I knew that nobody would come across the body, at least, not yet. My body was shaking violently from fear as I was driving, I had driven a few metres close to my destination when one of the tyres climbed a sharp object and burst; at first, I thought it was a gunshot sound, I thought someone was firing at me from behind, until I leaned out from the car and realized the jeep was leaning on one deflated tyre. I was afraid some more, I didn’t know if I should stop the car or continue driving on, sweat had begun to run down the nape of my neck, I decided I should drive on if I wanted to really save myself, a part of me wondering what kind of omen backed up the flat rubber. I wanted to stop the car and scream my lungs out; I think I was also crazy for a millisecond. But screaming would only complicate situation so I drove on. I grabbed the steering wheel tightly because my hands were shaking, my palms were damp with sweat and they were slippery on the steering wheel when I reached the gate. I hooted and as the gate was opened by Mr. Chima, I bent my head low to conceal my identity, the clothing and the hat were enough to make him think it was Mr. Martins who drove inside. Still with my head bent very low, I drove in stealthily; and as Mr. Chima turned his back to lock the gate I quickly got out of the vehicle and rushed inside the house with a prayer that I wouldn’t meet Abigail still awake. It was almost three in the morning; half past two to be precise, and I didn’t expect her to still be awake. Luckily for me, as I had prayed, she was already in the bedroom sleeping––I had successfully completed the first phase of my plan which was convincing the gatekeeper that Mr. Martins returned alive that night. The second phase was also to convince Abigail that her husband came back alive that night, and yet, I wanted her to feel my presence there. I didn’t know if my plan would be successful, but if it wouldn’t, I wanted her to know something very important if I was convicted. I went into the bedroom and found Abigail sleeping peacefully; I stood looking at her for some time, reveling in her beauty so ravishing that I could not stop myself from touching her tender face––what I could not bring myself to tell her in person was that I am very much in love with her. I love her intensely, and I will throw myself off a high cliff for her if she asks me to jump. I would, of course, need to understand the reasoning behind her request. Yes, I confess I like her a lot, even from the moment I first met her to my working for her husband, but I wasn’t unaware of the danger inherent in my esteem. So, I couldn’t bring myself to really let her know the way I feel about her until Cain passed on.”
The detective looked at Daniel who carried a defeated expression on his face, Lot felt sorry for him, and he felt what he felt, because he himself was not unacquainted with the agonies of love unrequited.
“Because I could not summon enough courage to tell her that I am crazy about her, I decided to let her know through a note. I tore a small sheet of paper from a book in that room and wrote I LOVE YOU on it. I did not put my name or signature because Abigail recognizes my writing quite well. I slipped the note under the bible lying on the stool by the bed, and just at that moment, Abigail turned on the bed. I quickly turned my back at her; I knew she would have opened her eyes before falling back into her deep sleep. I didn’t want to take any other chance so I got out of the bedroom into the living room ready for the third phase––I had to get out of the house without being seen or heard at that particular time, if I had to get my alibi right. I went over to the bar and took some shots of brandy to get over the nervousness eating me up but I only succeeded in becoming slightly drunk, but there was nothing like Dutch courage in everything I did. I peeped out to see if the gatekeeper was still outside, he wasn’t, he had gone back to his room probably sleeping, too. I went out quietly into my room and hid the gun in the wardrobe among my wears, intending to bury it if I had the opportunity. Thinking that I’ve successfully hidden the gun, I went out of my room into the compound where I climbed the fence to the other side into the street. I ran back to where I had left the corpse and the money. I quickly stripped the deceased’s clothes off me and put it back on the body carefully, then with only my boxers short and singlet on me, I headed to the house carrying the body on my shoulder, it was the most horrifying thing I could imagine I would ever do. As I carried the body, I could not look at the fixed but unseeing stare of the dead man’s cold eyes. I put the corpse beside the gate. When I looked at my wrist-watch, it was almost four in the morning and rigor mortis would soon be setting on the body. I went to a bush far away from the scene and retched violently until my belly ached.
“I ran back to where my clothes were lying, I didn’t place them carefully on the ground when I was leaving so they were crusted with more sand than needed to fill an hourglass. In my condition, narcissism was not a courtesy I could enjoy, so I wore the clothes mindlessly. I carried the money and when I again checked the time on my wrist-watch it was four-fifteen; the coldest, darkest hour out of every twenty-four. People would soon be coming out and I must not let anyone see me or my plan would be thwarted. I caught the early commercial bus to my mother’s, I got there at around five, she was surprised to see me very early, I lied to her when she tried to question my early visit. Besides, if I needed to stay innocent, everything must come in lies, I told her that I was sent on an errand by my boss to his business partner the night before, I said I spent the night at the partner’s house so very early that morning I decided to come and see her since her house was not far from where I was sent. The most painful part of it all was that she believed my lie; I wished she had at least suspected me of not putting all my cards on the table for her. I slept like a log of wood that morning and woke up about four hours later before I decided to come here.”
He spread out his hands in a banal of finality, “That’s what happened, the rest you know.”
The detective sighed, “How about the text message on your phone?”
“When I was coming here on the morning of that Saturday I branched off at a call centre and bought a SIM card through which I texted the message to my number, thereafter, I broke the SIM into pieces. I had to save myself, so the truth mustn’t surface; I tried my best not to make Mr. Martins’ death linked to me in any way. I thought making his death look like murder would save me, but I didn’t want an innocent person to be, in a wrong way, convicted of the murder, so I cooked up a story of kidnappers getting involved in the affair, I thought that would divert your attention to somewhere else, at least, that was what I was thinking when I was showing you the message.”
“How about the note found by the gatekeeper?”
“I don’t know anything about that,” replied Richard, “But I believe it was written by the late himself. He intentionally put the note in the gatekeeper’s room because he was positive that his friend would certainly hunt me down, he called you so that you would see the note since whoever is the murderer in your eyes is surely the murderer to the world. With you two strong pillars, how am I going to go unscathed if I had said the truth?” he sighed, “I feel better telling you about it at last. I guess confession is really good for the soul because I’m feeling as innocent as Jesus Christ right now. Even Mary and Joseph all know that what I said is the truth. My atlas now feels lighter without the world on its prone shoulders.”
The detective stood up, sucked deeply on his cigarette and exhaled a ball of smoke which made Hakeem cough. He began pacing around the room and nodding occasionally at what was forming in his head. He looked intently at Richard and gave a smile which crinkled the lines around his eyes. He gave the ex-driver a thumb-up sign.
“I should confess, I really like you––I like your intelligence,” said Lot, “I’ve never met anybody as clever as you are. But do you think I’ll swallow that theory as if it were a spoonful of vanilla ice-cream? You should have kept your lies as brief as you can, the best lies are the short ones. Because it’s a pity now that I can’t find any veracity in all what you have said.”
“What are you talking about, sir?” Richard said, his voice shaking. “I’ve told you what happened.”
“You failed by trying to deceive me about a gang of killers threatening you boss. Now you’re giving me another cooked up tale and you expect me to believe you. What makes you think I won’t count this as one of you lies? This is pure malarkey, I’ve come to know that a story has to be very good before a detective can tell it is a lie. There’s no scintilla of truth in what you have been saying.”
“It’s the truth, I swear!” screamed Richard, casting his gaze again upon the gatekeeper to help him take off the noose the detective was gradually putting around his neck.
“Oh, save me that. I really accept the fact that you’re a very clever man, but you can’t buy my belief with that fable of yours.” He placed a sharp emphasis on fable. “You’re forgetting one thing which you cannot cover up with your lies; one doesn’t commit suicide by shooting himself on the forehead with a pistol. If Mr. Martins had killed himself, the bullet would have gone through the temple and not the forehead.” He looked around at the people; Hakeem was staring at him with his mouth wide open. Others were just staring at him. He shook his head:
“Too bad you’ve all allowed yourselves to be moved by his lies,” he bit his lower lip, “I agree that his story is quite fascinating. With what he had said I’ve been able to determine that robbing the deceased was not his only motive––as he’d confessed, he was in love with the deceased’s wife and he’d always been annoyed every time he saw Mr. and Mrs. Martins together, believing in the notion that Mr. Martins did not deserve her, so he decided to put him off. I don’t know how long he had been waiting but he was patient enough to wait for the right moment to strike––the moment was when his boss came to him that night to drive him out.
“Richard went back into his room to get the gun, which he had already been hiding, and slid it into his pocket. After driving a considerable distance from here, where he believed the shot would not be heard, he shot his boss point-blank in the forehead. Richard is a very fast thinker, he’d already planned everything permanently. Unlike most criminals who would have simply worn gloves before holding the gun, or they might even bury the gun after using it, Richard was smarter and cleverer, he wanted all the evidence to point to him as the murderer and still get away with it; he purposely lied about the gang of killers because he knew that I wouldn’t believe it really, he showed me the text message on his phone so that I’d see the date and time it was sent, he gave me the fake address because he knew I would verify if the address really existed. This is the third week after Mr. Martins’ death, Richard had more than enough time to get rid of the gun but he intentionally left it in his room for me to find, very clever of him. I don’t know, but he somehow managed to conceal under the gatekeeper’s pillow a note which he had written in a different handwriting.
“After killing his boss, he had to return the car into the house to complicate the investigation. He really got me there, when the gatekeeper and Abigail said they saw Mr. Martins after the time he was proclaimed to have died, I did not believe them because I had a reason not to. What I was thinking about was the car; Mr. Martins has two jeeps of the same type––one, I learnt from a reliable source, was with the motor mechanic because it developed a minor fault. The jeep was reported stolen a week before Mr. Martins’ death, and when I checked the second jeep in the compound it had a flat back tyre, so I concluded that the stolen jeep was the one used to commit the crime. Now I know better, the stolen car was only a coincidence; it has nothing to do with this case.
“As I was saying, Richard returned the car to the house by pulling the stunt of disguising as the deceased to the innocent gateman and Abigail. I know you are all wondering why he did so much, I mean, intentionally planning evidence against himself as well as pulling a strong alibi. The reason’s not far-fetched, he wanted to gain Abigail’s unconditional love, he believed that with that last story he’d said, Abigail would by no doubt fall in love with him––women have flexible hearts, they fall in love if given the chance. He knew that he would be in control of Mr. Martins’ fortune after marrying Abigail. Another reason is thus––the blood of his father flows in his veins. Like his father, he thought he’s a perfect criminal who would always get away with every crime committed.” Lot turned to face Richard, “Remember, even Iago did not get away with his crime.”
Detective Georges Lot turned to Mrs. Philip, “I’m sorry again, Madam. Destiny has been showing you no mercy. First, the one who fathered your son was a hardened criminal, and that son is now one.”
Richard’s mother wept bitterly, “My son is not a murderer––my son is innocent––he will never kill.” She continued sobbing. On her face were more tears than could have been found from peeling ten thousand onions.
The only person without tears in his eyes was the detective. Every other person was weeping in his own way. Even Ayo Festus, Moses Anuku and Daniel Famous were not so strong-hearted. The pathetic situation was enough to make the devil lose a few drops of tears.
Richard looked with tears into the detective’s face, “I knew it––the truth doesn’t make you free.”
Lot replied coldly, “Neither do the lies. And you can cue the violin as much as you want.”
“My son is not a murderer! He’s innocent!” Mrs. Philip cried.
“I’m sorry, but justice must be served––the law doesn’t set murderers free. At least, not the last time I checked.”
“He’s innocent,” a gentle voice said behind Lot. The detective turned, it was Daniel.
Lot whistled, “Goodness! I can’t believe you are also moved by his lies. My God! You’re even weeping for him––”
“He’s innocent,” Daniel repeated, wiping his tears with the back of his hands. “He was not lying––I’m the one who killed Mr. Martins.”
WATCH OUT FOR PART 22

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