The tut-tut sound of the cane could be heard each morning as Mr. Grunge trotted along the lane for a morning walk. It was well known that the cane was not for his disability, for he could walk perfectly fine, but rather for the aura of fear he wished to emit to any child who might come in his way.
He wasn’t looked upon favorably by adults, either. The community itself was a sleepy one, mostly made up of elderly couples. Kids however, popped up from the nearby hill neighborhood, to ride on the flat streets of the serviced apartments, much to the glee of most elders who had no family living with them, however greatly disliked by Mr. Grunge.
The other grand ladies would bake a few cookies for the kids – especially old Miss Surris. She lived by herself in a cottage apartment, paying from her annual annuity. She was bright, full of energy, and loved by everybody.
Mr. Grunge however, as you can imagine, was quite the opposite. The surprise was not expected, although, when he was found dead, or rather, murdered. People openly expressed no grievance over his death, in fact, glee.
The doubt had arisen when Mr. Grunge, as grumpy as he was, missed his morning walks for quite a few days. Which was not something he did do often. He lived for his morning walks, as you and I would for TV. He didn’t show signs of enjoyment; it was looked upon as a routine, as would be sleeping or eating. His apartment was not serviced, as expected, for his temper was feared of.
The milkman would leave the bottles in the wedge near his door each morning, excluding Thursdays, when he would leave them in the evening. The bottles, much to his bewilderment, had remained untouched for a period of a morning, so he had decided he would ring the bell.
Slowly, very slowly, shivering, he pressed on the bell button. His knees shook, awaiting to get his head bitten off. But the door never opened; a lifeless Mr. Grunge was lying on the couch.
He had knocked the door, but to his great astonishment, the door gave away and opened. Which was a weird thing, for Mr. Grunge liked his privacy and the door was never open. A rotten smell wafted, as would a place with a dead body, as he wrinkled his nose in distaste.
“Mr. Grunge?” he called out in an unsure voice. He heard no reply. He repeated his call several times. Still no reply. He entered the house. The lights were off; the smell got stronger as he went closer.
He was in the hall. The kitchen outlooked the living room couch and a small television set. He felt around for the switch and turned it on. He walked near the couch, where he had seen Mr. Grunge’s smelly socks, and gasped loudly.
He ran out of the spooky place swiftly, as fast as his stout legs could carry him. He then dialed 911 on the landline in the corner.
The complex was currently labelled “Dangerous” by the media, who had managed to catch every moment of the scene. Old Madam Hawks was only too pleased to give a quote to the TV and had been ready for it. She had flushed her face with an overdose of makeup, in an attempt to look like one of the reporters she had admired, in vain. She had made herself awfully funny on TV, and she regretted it.
“I should think the security ought to have been more watchful,” she had said in a strong, confident, fake American accent, “For we elder ancients won’t have half the energy we did. Why do we live in serviced apartments? Because it is taken care of, for us oldies. Now if it becomes dangerous, how will we trust to live here? I believe -” she could have gone on and on, but was interrupted by the reporter, who had suddenly become wary of her, and had moved on to the police group who had currently arrived.
A tall woman with a suit and a skirt, smiled grimly at the camera as she walked boldly into the crime scene with a group of policemen and men in white doctor uniforms. The media chattered constantly to the cameras in the backdrop.
Two policemen emerged out with a roll of tape, ready to plaster it on the entrance of the house. The words “Crime Scene” were printed in fine black letters over the yellow tape. The group came out, not long after, missing a few members who had stayed back to inspect.
The head, the women in a suit, who apparently was the head of the crime branch, got ready for media coverage. She steadied her tie, flattened her skirt, and ran her hands through her hair as she walked to the reporters.
Lately, two flats had been relocated to another floor, not wanting to be relevant in such matters, she had understood. The police were going to solve the case, she knew. She was trying really hard, she told them, and she required public support, she added.
The media was satisfied, and the interview ended as one of the junior constables whispered something to the woman, who smiled and walked away. Her heels clicked noisily as she walked down the stairs.
The crime branch was in a clutter as a result of the current case. The forensics handed an elaborate report on their discoveries, followed by the detectives who had hunted for clues.
The door swung open as a constable entered with a pile of folders. Laura looked up from the papers, removing her glasses as she acknowledged the entrance.
“It’s the forensics,” he said, “a detailed report of the likely poisons used on the victim; and the findings in the house. You must get the statements soon too,” he briefed her. She nodded slowly and skimmed through the folders.
“Yes,” she nodded in acknowledgement. “I understand you are to visit the place today? I suggest you use discretion when it comes to the method of murder. Is that clear?”
So Mr. Grunge had been poisoned. The motive? She was in doubt. She scratched her forehead rapidly, and frown lines deepened as she studied the report. He had been dead for quite a few hours – five, they had concluded.
That meant he could have been murdered around midnight, no, perhaps early morning. It was Wednesday, so the milkman would leave it by? – well, she would clarify. Supposing around six, when Grunge got out for a walk, he might’ve been murdered at one-o-clock. It was a perfect time – the sleepy citizens would have been snoring.
She took another folder – the hints they had found in the house, which was nothing except a button. A red button with white holes. It looked most peculiar that a thief would leave behind a button. It was unintentional, of course, or was it?
Meanwhile, the residents were piled up in the lounge together. They had been awfully frightened by the events, although they didn’t regret it in the least.
Old Madame Hawks tapped her foot to grab everyone’s attention. “Well, fellows,” she said in her hippy voice, “I’m considering the case for a moment. One of the residents here has been brutally evicted, and although I can’t say I’m in tears about it, I’m not happy about it either, for it means lack of safety, doesn’t it? I think it’s rather weak, the method of using poison. Of course, if the guards were as attentive as they should be or as they made out to be, nobody could have entered. So it must be one of our own.”
Everyone gasped loudly. A few moved away from each other, while many made promises that it wasn’t them. Old men were watching golf to take their minds off the murder, however, the women sat as the club, talking. They looked at Hawks. Her big, thin nose was sticking out. Her thin body was seated on a green chair, her legs over one another.
Hawks cleared her throat again, looking very sensible as she did so. She got up to make her announcement, her arms folded.
“Residents of Lone Towers,” she began, “I’m going to announce an event that we must all be ready for, and that is called interrogation,” she paused for effect. She gained confused looks from the audience. “Interrogation is a questioning procedure the police use, to know if we did the crime. They will ask us where we were, what we were doing, and why we wouldn’t kill him. So we must be prepared.”
As the residents had expected, the interrogation was scheduled for the day. The same grim woman arrived in a new outfit, a suit, but this time no cloak.
Her face had a strict line of seriousness. Her thin pursed lips showed no signs of tolerance for any kind of criminal. She sat in the lounge with two guards by her side.
Although Old Madame Hawks had taken the lead, she wasn’t quite ready to go first. Mr. Pom went first.
“I’m Laura,” she introduced herself, “And you are? -“ “Doug Pom,” he replied meekly. She noted it down.
“I understand a few events may cause great concern to you folks,” she said, “However, to expel the danger, we request your cooperation. Hence, I will be honored if you can answer our questions, uh, honestly.”
Her firm tone made him shiver. Yes, he would answer honestly, he thought. He sat straight.
“Thank you. Starting from the day before the event, Tuesday, would you please narrate to me your version of the events?”
He thought for a moment. “Okay. Tuesday morning after breakfast, I was watching golf with, I think, Mr. Roger, Hicks and Rob, sorry Robert. It was a rather interesting match, USA was close to winning, but-…”
“Where were you watching this, uh, match?” she interrupted.
“In Roger’s house. He has a big TV screen, so we watch it there.”
“I see,” Laura noted it down, “What about the others?”
“I don’t quite know,” he said, “I was into the match. I should remember Dupont, Mrs. Pom, was going to bite Mrs. Moore’s head off, for well, forgetting to come over for dinner yesterday. And they were all piled up in the lounge, to knit a bedcover or something for Hawks, because it had gotten torn.
And yes, Surris did come over to get some sugar and nuts for the snacks… and I think Rob went to his house to fetch a bowl of ice cream. That’s all I know actually. I’m afraid I won’t be much help.”
“I should think not,” she said as she made a bunch of notes yet again. He got up to leave.
“Wait,” she said, “So the whole day you were watching the match? So what were you doing around three the next day? I mean morning.”
“Yes, the whole day. Three of course, I had been asleep. No light in the flat, well, except…”
“Except?” she persisted, looking alert.
“Except the cottage, I should think. We are on the third floor, facing the cottage, where I think one of the ladies live. That cottage had lights on.”
“For whatever reason, would you happen to know?”
He shrugged. “As I said, I won’t be of much help, I’m afraid. No, I didn’t know. You know us oldies, we like to do things at odd hours. But I suppose one of the ladies might know the gossip. Perhaps even Dupont knows.”
She thanked him and stared at her notes. She had decided what she would ask old Hawks already.
The rest of the statements were less informative. Hawks appeared next.
“I must say I’m rather sorry about the events,” she said, “And yes, I shall be glad to help. Now, if I am to go on Tuesday, we were all in the lounge I presume, to knit a bedcover for me. by ‘we’, I mean the ladies, the dear things. Rather sweet of them to help me, right? I know, I know. The others, as in the grandpas, most were I think in Roger’s house, weren’t they? Old Surris said so when she had gotten us snacks, the sweet lady. She usually makes some cookies for us, you see, but she has been rather dull lately. Her head throbs, she says. Went to see the nurse this morning. Kept awake last night, she said. Disturbed thing.”
And she went on, until Laura decided she wasn’t getting anywhere, and duly asked her to be done. Hawks was surprised at the rudeness, however dared not say a word more but simply obliged.
But Laura had found it necessary to note the fact about Surris. Kept awake. Could it have been for this? Perhaps. But she seemed a rather delicate little thing, for she had spoken to her, and read her personality as weak.
“An astounding development, rather observation,” Inspector Mont informed her, “I should think it will be of much interest to you.”
Inspector Mont took a breath. “Well”, he said, “It is perhaps the only clue we ever got – the button. An owner has been identified, I mean of the shirt, however it is incomplete without the fact that he still has a button on the shirt.”
Laura sighed. “Quite important. Good observation. I shall be over in a minute. Do get the person in for questioning… uh, do leave out the real reason. Use discretion even between the team.”
Inspector agreed and put down the receiver.
She took her notes down carefully. She hadn’t gotten who it was, nor had she asked. Perhaps it was better to find out in person.
A call followed not long after. Except, it wasn’t such good news. She gasped in shock.
“Yes… I’ll be there. Oh my, things are getting serious.”
She walked out without her notebook, grabbing her phone only. She sighed.
“Well, how is he?”
“Hard to say. Blunt force trauma, I think, from behind. Hard on the head. I doubt he will have much memory. His lifetime is… let’s say limited for the time being. He has been given appropriate doses of medicine, but he is reacting at a moderate speed, given the nerves partially wounded. I can assure another month, maximum, if he goes on in the current state. Improvements are expected, so worrying can’t be suggested. Do ask the nurse if you have any other questions.”
“May I visit him?”
“Not today. Perhaps tomorrow. He has just gotten out of a coma, and he isn’t handling anything well. And make it a friendly visit, no business, please.”
“What about the accident? Will he have a memory of it at least.”
“Possibly. Possibly not. Not easy to determine at this point. We’ll see his progress and submit a detailed report on his health. Now I must rush. I have another surgery, but do take care.”
She nodded and thanked him. Another mystery to solve, like her hands weren’t full already. She would investigate. Constable Jones met her at the reception.
“So, he was at the lounge alone,” she summed up, “And a piercing scream could be heard through the hallway. He was later found by Mr. Roger, am I accurate?”
“Yes, that will be all. Questioning the suspects ideally must be scheduled for tomorrow, for senior citizens in an uproar isn’t a pretty sight.”
She chuckled. “Nor is an unsolved murder,” she said quietly.
The elders were in an uproar. Somehow, the information about a button had been leaked out, this time the media suspects or rather, determined criminals.
Laura had suggested Constable Jones to go instead, to which he obliged without further arguments, so she could ponder over the recent developments. The case had seemed to get interesting, however at the cost of lives.
She began to think about the button. She opened her drawer and got out the little plastic cover which held the button. Red and white, red and white. Where had she seen it?
Perhaps nowhere. She sipped on a light coffee beside her and saw the notes again.
There had to be a clue. There simply had to be one. And Inspector Mont hadn’t named the person with the button. Of course, nobody had it on today. She hoped he would get better soon.
She would visit the murder site again. Yes, she would. And this time, alone.
The room had been sanitized freshly, however nothing had been moved or touched, so as to not disturb evidence. She tightened her gloves as she examined the hall.
The couch was clean as ever. It had been a neat way of killing. But what was the motive? He wasn’t rich, he had no will, nor had he any relatives. Maybe a grudge or quest for revenge?
Perhaps, she thought. Considering all circumstances was important, she had learned early in the job. She remembered the case she had solved previously. It had been less complicated, with more clues. But something caught her eye. She tightened her glove and picked it up. Surveying it, she confirmed her suspicions.
The gathering had assembled in the hall as was insisted by Laura. She cleared her throat.
“This meeting, I know, is at a rather odd time. However, I would like to present the murderer to you. Perhaps, Inspector Mont, you will assist me with that?”
Inspector acquiesced, “With pleasure.”
“Let me go over the sequence once, without leaving behind anything.
It all began in the morning when the body was found by the milkman. Considering the statement, he has been removed from our list of suspects.
The body remained on the couch, not a blood wound to be found. I assume that you must have imagined it was poison?” Hawks nodded from the audience.
“The forensics indeed approve of that fact. The next thing to consider is perhaps the statements. The statements have sounded rather normal to me, apart from one. That one being Mr. Doug Pom’s.”
She paused for effect. All eyes fell on Doug.
“Particularly about a light in the night. From a cottage below, he believes. The one of Mrs. Surris. She happened to be infected with a medical issue, which seems to not matter. But, from her statement, she completely denies having a light. She didn’t. The reason being, she was never inside the cottage.”
Surris went red. Gasps went throughout the room.
“She had, you see, a family obligation. The medical issue seems to be a cover. She, I am given to believe, implied no living family. but why? The reason is simple: she disassociates herself with her family. background checks were run for every suspect, and let me tell you, her parents were murderers.”
Now it was Surris’ turn to be in the limelight.
“She moved in only a month ago, and with the recent murder, poison being the weapon, she believed she would be suspected. But I say, her alibi was perfectly sound. Surris was never in the cottage.”
Inspector Mont nodded. “Next, if I were to go on with all the names, it would be a while before we are done. Perhaps I will mention another suspicious personality:
Describing the murderer will appear understandable if we start from the time; the light as was seen by Mr. Pom was none other than the murderer with the lamp.
The murderer, apparently cold and unable to find a coat, took a blanket and wrapped it around himself or herself, but being careless, tore it and the piece was found in Mr. Grunge’s room.
I think you, Madame Hawks, should narrate the rest.”
Madame Hawks looked afraid but laughed. “I tell you”, she said, “I did murder him. Also the policeman. He was getting too nosy, finding some clue. Ah, perhaps it was the button. Yes, it was my button. And I never thought I’d get caught. My motive remains unknown; however I urge you to think further. What was his full name?”
She paused for a moment and then answered herself: “Grunge Orcas. And what about me? Hawks Orcas. May I tell you; we are siblings. You, of course, remain in the dark of my motive. But let me enlighten you: My motive has never been money, for I had been perfectly happy with what I have. My motive wasn’t a maniacal murder either; it was revenge. Vengeance.
When I was a child, my parents died early. Naturally, his being the elder brother, should have taken care of me, however, he left with the little money our house contained. I was put in an orphanage, from whereupon I became a teacher, for my learning was quite good.
Why do you think I moved into this sleepy old residence? For old Grunge. I stayed here long enough to gain trust, lead you all, and finally commit murder. That’s why I love it here in Carmea. You people are so naïve. Perhaps –”
She was cut off abruptly by Inspector Mont, who had her handcuffed and taken out.
“But how must she have done it?”
“That’s a good question. The poison happens to be an immediate one, but he hasn’t had anything recent. It’s most puzzling.”
“I know how,” Laura entered the room, her hand clutching a syringe.
“Hawks confessed,” she said, “Couldn’t make Grunge have a coffee or something, so preferred a syringe. Injected into his mouth, thus no physical wound.”
“Perhaps we should tell the public?”
Laura shook her head thoughtfully. “Certainly not,” she said, “It would give future murderers an idea of killing; best let this new way remain unknown. Yes, some things are best left unknown.”
“To the media,” Inspector Mont mumbled.
Sanjana Divakar likes reading books, mostly fiction, mystery novels and autobiographies. Her parents are Kavitha and Divakar. She has a brother – Sanjay. She lives in Chennai, India.