Title: Murder at Midnight
Author: John Ukah
Genre: Cozy Mystery
The gallery of characters living at the guesthouse and thrown into the mix, do not make his task of solving this chilling and brutal murder any easier …
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“I can’t find it!” Ayuba said with a tremor in his voice. “It’s missing … it's not where I kept it.”
“Break down the door, Mr. Simpson!” ordered Mrs. Marshall.
I looked at Ayuba, who shrugged his shoulders. So, I put my shoulder to the door. The door was quite good, but my shoulder was better. The door flew off the hinges, when I smashed into it. We rushed in and met a gory sight. Maria was lying face up on her bed; her eyes were open and staring in what seemed to be surprise, at the ceiling. Her mouth hung slightly open. A butcher knife was buried deep in her chest and the bedsheets were caked with dried blood. I did not need a doctor to tell me that she was dead. Ayuba gasped in shock and Mrs. Marshall screamed and fell forward. I caught hold of her, just in time to avoid a nasty fall.
“She is dead!” said Ayuba, in a strangled voice. Shock and dismay were boldly written on his face. It dawned on me that this was the same room in which a young lady had hung herself earlier in the year. Was it a room of death? This was not good for business in any Lodge.
“Did she kill herself?” asked Ayuba. “Her door was still locked from inside.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, as I helped Mrs. Marshall into a chair.
She seemed to be in a state of shock. Her body was shaking and she kept saying, “Maria! Maria! Maria!”
I took some steps closer to the bed and examined the corpse. She had been dead for hours and the knife was buried to the hilt. A loose, white, square button lay close to her right hand; I observed that it did not match those on her dress. Though I did not touch it, I could not help feeling that there was something familiar about the button. I had seen it somewhere before, but I could not quite remember.
“Call the police, Ayuba! And get an ambulance,” I said.
The other guests had been attracted by the scream and were now crowding the doorway.
“What happened?” asked Willie, who led the group. A shocked silence followed, when they saw the body.
Within the hour, an ambulance and two police vans arrived. While waiting, I had kept watch by the door of the bedroom, so that nothing would be tampered with. The others had hung around, too. Mrs. Marshall had been taken to the lounge, where Amina sat with her. She looked like she was desperately in need of medical attention. She was still saying, “Maria! Maria! Maria!” intermittently. She was also crying and shaking.
As soon as the police came, we were all waved aside. We were kept out of the room, while they worked, as was routine in such circumstances. Finally, a gurney was brought out of the ambulance and wheeled into the room. Maria's body was placed on it, covered with a sheet and wheeled inside the ambulance.
Mrs. Marshall asked to accompany them to the morgue and they only agreed, when it was explained that she was the mother of the dead girl.
Ten policemen were dispatched; they went over the room and asked us all kinds of questions. They kept nodding to themselves. I introduced myself as an ex-policeman, thinking that would make them take me into their confidence. I was greatly mistaken. They just smiled and asked some polite questions about my career in the Force, then completely ignored me.
But I was eager to know whether they had found the button, which I had seen. So, I called one of the policemen aside.
“I don’t know if you saw a white square button on the bed?” I asked.
“What about it?” asked the policeman. His eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“I just wanted to know if you took note of it,” I explained. “I observed that it did not match those on the dress of the deceased.”
“We saw it and also took note. Thank you,” said the officer curtly and he left. They probably thought I was poking my nose into their investigation. I would have thought the same. All the same, there had been something familiar about that button.
John Ukah is a seasoned banker and Associate of the Institute of Capital Market Registrars (ACMR). He is a graduate of Business Administration from the University of Benin, where he was listed as University Scholar. He also holds a Masters Degree in Business Administration (MBA).