Jerry pulled up in front of Mary’s now-deserted family house in his plant-green Toyota Camry. He’d had his mechanic drop off his car for him at the station, sparing him a trip to the greasy mechanic village. The house looked battle-weary and desolate. The family had evacuated probably a couple of hours ago; he’d made sure of that. He didn’t want them there for a while, due to work-related reasons, as well as the fact that staying there would be hell for them. He’d wanted them to leave until things returned to normal.
But Jerry doubted things would ever return to normal, at least not for a long while. He only hoped the family would stay strong during this trying period. It was going to be damn hard but hell, when were things ever easy?
“ So,” Jerry began, breaking the silence in the car, “ I’ll go in there. I want you to stay here and wait for me.”
“What? In this heat?” James protested.
Jerry smiled. “Okay. Who called the police last night?”
You know the particular house?”
James pointed behind them, to the right of the Okoro residence.
“Okay. Now go in there and ask them some questions. Try and find out more. Then come here and wait for me.”
“Why?” James asked, still protesting.
“Look, you want to learn, right?”
“Then I suggest you direct your questions to the family you are about to meet instead of at me. Now go.”
Grumbling a bit under his breath, James got out of the car. Jerry smiled to himself, then rolled up his windows, cracking them open a bit to let air in and out. He had to fix his broken A.C. Sighing, he got out of the car and made his way to the house, putting on his sunshades.
What secrets will you yield to me? Jerry asked the house.
He wasn’t expecting any.
Jerry closed the door behind him, putting his sunshades into his breast pocket. He had already put on latex gloves and checked the door for signs of forced entry, and he hadn’t found any. He was aware of the fact that the door had been checked before, but he always preferred to see things for himself.
The interior of the house was dark. The furniture were just shapes in the darkness of the room. The place felt...heavy. Heavy with pain, sadness, loss. Heavy with death...
Jerry pulled the shades open to let in the sunlight. He also turned on the lights, and was grateful that power was on. He walked around the sitting room slowly, soaking in everything, trying to get a feel for the family. On the TV stand, beside the 21-inch screen, he saw a small family picture. On the wall directly above the TV hung a larger family picture. They were all smiling, all dressed in matching traditional attire. Mary stood behind the parents who carried the other children. She seemed to be a happy person; her eyes were shining playfully. On the wall beside that one hung a portrait of Mary, sitting and smiling demurely, looking at the camera from beneath her eyebrows, her eyes telling Jerry that she knew something that he didn’t.
The picture was so right.
Only Mary knew how she died.
Jerry made his way to her room and stood in the doorway. The room was dark too; the shades were drawn and the light was off. Took a deep breath, then reached in and turned on the light. The light bulb bathed the room in its pale yellow glow.
Jerry stepped in, pulled open the shades, and then looked around, taking in everything. When he was satisfied, he proceeded to walk around the room, first one way-front, back, move a little, front, back, till he got to the end, then the other, in a crosswise pattern, eyes peeled, looking for nothing, anything, everything. When he was done, he stood and looked at the bed frame. The bed had been stripped bare by prior to his coming, with everything, including the bed carried to the lab for analysis. He looked at it for a while, then looked at the dried bloodstains on the walls.
For the umpteenth time, Jerry asked, What really happened here?
He just didn’t know what to think or say; to say that he was baffled was the understatement of the year. Usually, crimes had a specific pattern. Robberies were all the same basically, as well as murders. The criminals always left something behind, always. And the criminals in
were not that sophisticated. Nigeria
However, this one was different. It felt different too. Usually, he could sense the emotion in crime scenes. Here, nothing. It was as if Mary had just died on her own; like no one had killed her.
Jerry opened the wardrobe and skimmed through it. Saw the basic make-up kit and stuff. Nothing fancy. As if she didn’t spend much on make-up. He closed the wardrobe, and then sat down on the single stool in the room. He looked at the small cupboard at the foot of the bed. Pulled out the first drawer. Nothing but some cards. He picked them all up, flicked through them. Some birthday cards and two romantic cards. A guy named Chris. Jerry put the cards in his jacket and pushed the drawer shut. Pulled the second one. A waterproof jacket containing some photos. He pulled them out and glanced at them. A few were of Mary and her family, Mary and her friends, and Mary alone. Some were in another waterproof jacket. He pulled these out. Three pictures. All of her and a guy. Probably Chris. He was handsome, looked obviously older than her, though not by much. In one of the pictures, Chris’ eyes seemed to mock the camera. Jerry looked at it for a while, then slipped the three photographs of Mary and Chris into the waterproof jacket, and into the inner pocket of his Blazer. The remaining pictures, he replaced in their jacket and back in the drawer. He stood and turned, and his gaze fell on the cot in the room.
Nkechi had watched her big sister die in a horrible manner. He wondered about the effect it would have on her. Would she remember it? Would she forget?
For her sake, Jerry hoped she would forget.
Jerry pulled the drapes shut and left the room, switching off the light. In the sitting room he did the same, throwing the whole house into darkness. Then he left the house.
The sound of the door closing had with it the finality of a coffin slamming shut.
James relaxed against the car, sunglasses on, looking at something down the street. The sound of the door snapped his head around, and he watched Jerry from over the roof of the car as he made his way down. Waited for him to come and unlock the car. When they were in the coolness of the car, James removed his sunglasses.
“So?” Jerry asked.
“Well, I learned nothing new. Same old story. They heard screaming in the night and called the police. They didn’t see anyone climb the fence. You really have to fix your car A.C.”
“I’ll do that soon. Any sign that the killer could have come and gone by climbing the side or back fence?”
“No. It’s laced with broken bottles at the top all around. No signs of any broken bottles, and no, they haven’t swept their compound this morning. The events of the past hours have not exactly let them do that.”
Jerry let it all sink in. Then he compared what he had heard with what he’d seen. Nothing measured up. He stared out the window at the house. James watched a mother look at her son as he played beneath a mango tree, waving a plastic toy, laughing and lurching in ungainly steps.
The pace was strangely quiet and subdued. Normally, people would have been playing around, sun or not, and kids would have been making a racket. However, it seemed like the death had shut down everybody, temporarily.
“I found these pictures of her, and these cards” Jerry said, bringing out the pictures and giving them to James. He took out the cards and tossed them onto the back seat, then took out his keys and inserted them into the ignition while James took out the pictures. Jerry rolled down the windows.
“Who is she leaning on here?” James asked.
“Could be her boyfriend. I found a card from a guy called Chris. That could be him.”
“Chris. Her boyfriend apparently.”
“But there’s no one here. She’s alone.”
Jerry turned to look at James, his eyes asking, What do you mean by that?
The picture widened his eyes instantly.
Jerry’s mouth went dry. He shook his head, closed his eyes and opened them again; perhaps he was seeing something else.
“Wrong picture man,” Jerry said, chuckling “It must be. Lemme see.” He took the pictures, flipped through them. “This isn’t funny James.” James just sat there looking at him as he flipped through the pictures again and again, then turned to the backseat, scattering the cards and looking amongst them. Nothing.
Jerry turned to look at James, fully incredulous now. “It can’t be”, Jerry whispered. He fumbled out of his car and ran back into the house. He almost broke the key getting in, but he didn’t care; things like this didn’t happen at all, not now, not ever. He blew past the sitting room into her room, and switched on the light. Maybe you put it somewhere else and can’t rem-
Jerry squashed that thought. He rushed to the drawers, opened them. The card drawer was empty. The other one; he took out the pictures. Went through them frantically, twice.
No no no no no.
Jerry opened the wardrobe and searched.
Nothing under the bed either.
Jerry felt as if someone had taken the ground from beneath his feet without his knowledge; he felt like he was in free-fall. He stood for a while, trawling his memory for the face he knew he’d seen. All he could see were a pair of mocking eyes swimming in the darkness.
What is this REALLY all about? What is going on here?
Feeling fifty years older, James turned off the light and trudged out of the house, locking up after him.
James watched him walk down towards the car, shoulders slumped. He was visibly disturbed. He kept quiet, knowing that he would speak.
Jerry got into his car and fell back with a sigh, staring out through the windshield without seeing anything.
“I know what I saw James, and trust me, she wasn’t alone in that picture. She was with a guy. She was leaning against him; you saw the way her body bent.”
“But people don’t just disappear from pictures J,” James said, puzzled as well. What Jerry said made sense and didn’t make sense at the same time.
“I know, but I know what I saw James. I really saw someone there. Shit.” He turned and took the cards from the backseat. Selected the one he was looking for. Opened it.
He looked at the cover and back of the card, just to be sure. It was the right card.
“What?” James asked.
“Here.” Jerry passed the card to James. “Take a look at this.” He went back to staring at nothing as James opened the card and read what was in it.
“This is a romantic card,” James said.
“It was from Chris. Her boyfriend.”
“How do you know? Nothing’s written here.”
The silence weighed a ton, then two. Then James spoke. “What exactly do you mean to tell me Jerry? What did you see? What is going on?”
Heaving a great sigh, Jerry spoke. “I saw the card inside, with Chris’s name and handwriting on it. I saw the pictures and saw him in that one you showed me. He was present then, but now he’s gone, and for the life of me, I can’t seem to remember him anymore, except for his eyes. They seemed to be mocking me.
“Now, every trace of him is gone.”
Jerry turned to look at James. “It’s like he was never there.”
He took note of everything, every detail. He’d gone over everything before, but he was a stickler for details. He only had one chance to get it right.
Just one chance to get into the Senator’s house.
One of the Mobile Policemen (MOPOL) on duty at the gate looked out the window, suddenly convinced that someone was watching the house.
No one was there.