Finally, ‘The Last Smile’ (eBook) would be released on Wednesday 31st May, 2017. Anticipate. Thanks for continuous love and patience. Kisses.
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.”
Mouths were opened in utter disbelief, eyelids were stretched, stares conveying a paralysis born of shock. Lot’s cigarette was suspended in midair. The detective, though accustomed to a daily diet of crime, was clearly startled; his jaw especially was a gaping orifice as he stared at the young police officer. This time, he found himself incapable of masking his amazement because his flabbergasted countenance gave him off, and he felt as if he had all the while been investigating this case with one eye closed. He emitted a soft, nearly inaudible whistle.
“This is too much,” he mumbled. He removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and muttered, “My father wanted me to be an architect, I should have listened to him.”
Richard, who had given up every hope of ever getting out of the jam, was rocked. He could hardly believe his ears at first, he looked at Daniel with astonishment, he was short of words and all he could forcibly bring himself to say was, “You?”
Daniel held up his wrists for others to see––on each wrist were scratch marks. “These are where Mr. Martins scratched me.”
“How–how come you––” Lot could not finish the words, he was too astonished to make a sensible proclamation.
“This is the moment,” Daniel declared, wiping his tears again, “This is the moment to let the cat out of the bag, or the bag out of the cat––whichever way it may come. It’s becoming a burden on my conscience and I can’t stand here watching another man get punished for a crime he did not commit. It’s true, I killed Mr. Martins, but it was not intentionallly.”
Hakeem Musa got up suddenly, “What the devil is happening to me? Am I crazy or dreaming? Something in my head kept telling me that Papa Cain committed suicide, another said he was murdered by Uncle Richard and one is telling me now that he was shot by Brother Abduldaniel. Can someone please call me a psychiatrist?”
As usual, everybody ignored him, nobody was in the mood to get in a crazy chit-chat with a teenager. They were all looking at the sergeant’s face for explanation.
“It happened at about quarter to twelve that Friday night when I was going to church to attend a vigil. It was already late in the night and I was afraid of getting attacked by robbers, so I decided to jog in the attempt to get to my destination faster. As I cut out of this street into the next one, I saw a figure in black overcoat wearing a hat––and he was holding a gun in his gloved hand. I initially thought he was a vigilante, then it struck me he could be a highway robber, or worse, a ritualist. Three days earlier, a corpse had been found at Allen Area, with its head absent. I was so afraid that I hid in a nearby bush quoting Psalm twenty-three. It was when the figure aimed the pistol at himself that I sprang out of my hiding, what was actually ringing in my head was to save a man who wanted to kill himself. I ran in the cold air of the night, not because I am brave, which I am not, neither because I am prone to risks, which I am not, but because idleness does not breed salvation and I was bereft of any sanity whatsoever at the time. The suicidal man was having his back at me, so I crept silently behind him and grabbed the hand with the gun, we both struggled with each other for some time, that was when he scratched me with his nails. He was trying to break free from me and I was trying to wring the gun off his hand. It was when he turned to face me that I was horrified; he was looking very mad, like a bear with a boil. His face was scary, the teeth bared, and the eyes glittering coldness. He shook his body and pushed me with a growl but I still held unto the gun hand, he kneed me where it made me regret being born a male, I was still nursing the effect of the groin assault when he thrust his clenched knuckle into my breastbone with such impact that I coughed, the sharp blow nearly paralyzing me as it sent a high clinking report in my head. For a moment I thought there was an ancient cathedral nearby and the faithful Christians were being called to church service, I soon realized the bell was in my skull, tolling cacophonously. And the heat in between my legs was not in the least dropping its temperature.
“ ‘I won’t let you kill yourself,’ I said to him, breathing hard.
“ ‘What business of yours is it?’ he said, baptizing me with a fine spray of saliva, ‘You should have meddled at your own peril. Your death would aid my plan.’ He swung loose from me and aimed the pistol at me. Sensing the danger coming towards me, I quickly made my action. I’d ended up at the wrong end of a pistol before and I know how terribly a bullet can hurt, if you were not killed. I was very scared––he must not shoot me, yet, if I waited, he would kill me. Then, before he could pull the trigger I rushed him with a speed I didn’t know I possess. Within a split second, it dawned on me that I was no more trying to save the man who wanted to kill myself, I was trying to save myself from the man who wanted to kill me before killing himself. I grabbed the pistol again, trying with the whole of my strength to prevent him from pulling the trigger. But I could not match him in strength, he pushed me roughly and I landed hard right on my back which shook the holy breath out of me, like I had been hit by a truck––I lay where I had fallen, knowing fully well I was alive but reluctant to move my limbs, afraid that broken bones would come poking out of the skin. I looked above me hazily after what seemed to me like a century but was actually a few seconds, and I saw three small holes. It took me a while to realize that two of them were Mr. Martins’ nostrils––he was aiming the gun at me again. It is often misquoted that pride goeth before a fall. I’ve never understood the expression; after my encounter with Mr. Martins, I thereafter believe that it should rather be pride goeth after a fall. However it is viewed, I took a hard fall from his push, and my pride therefore wenteth. Because I had always prided myself in my cleanliness and stamina.
“ ‘Nobody can stop me,’ he roared, ‘Not even you.’ I thought the moment for me to meet my ancestors had come. Mr. Martins was looking like a devil; his eyes were merciless. Set. Decided. His finger on the trigger of the pistol, ready to pull at any moment. He was making a low growling sound that would have done credit to the soundtrack of a horror movie. It was then that I knew he was really ready to kill me.
“The pistol pointing at me again made me stand up slowly in an effort of surrender––no bone poked through my skin. Common sense had told me that you can never be faster than a squeeze of the trigger. No matter how fast you can hit or kick, or how much Western movies you’ve watched––I knew Mr. Martins knew that too, and he knew I knew he knew. Then I did something that anyone with an IQ greater than mine would not have dared––I kicked the gun out of his hand.
“It’s hard to send that kind of pistol flying; it’s not exactly a light gun. Nevertheless, it flew. Before the gun flew out of his hand there was a deafening shot; the shot went past my ear that I thought for a moment that its bullet had taken my brain with it. For a second, I think he look amazed at how stupid I had been before I quickly rushed to the gun and picked it up. He was rushing towards me like a bull when I looked behind me. I knew I would never be so lucky again if he got the gun from me so I shot the pistol as he was closing in on me. Believe me, I never intended to kill him––I only shot the gun to scare him off but the bullet went straight into his head, he fell down lifeless immediately, I thought I shot the pistol wide. My brain must have really been screwed from the fall. I stood there unable to move. What’ve I done? I felt the panic spreading through me, paralyzing me, causing sweat to break out on my face and my neck. Despite the coldness of that night, I was sweating as much as I would if I were locked in an oven. What had I done? Yet, what else could I do? I had killed a man, but only because that man had tried to kill me. The fact still remains that I had grabbed a gun and shot another man to death, in my bid to keep myself alive, I had sent another to his early grave. Before that night, I had never killed anyone, I was never comfortable with the use of a gun. I had never had a cause to shoot any man to death, and it was a cause I never thought I would initiate, so I hadn’t been looking forward to it.
“Mr. Martins’ head was turned to one side. Even in the dark, his fixed stare was unmistakable. Guilt sutured my heart and mind together, the thought of what I had done caused stitches of pain to pull in my chest. I will never be the same person again, for I had taken a life. Although circumstances had given me no option but to kill or be killed and though I knew Mr. Martins had chosen to serve evil and to serve it well, the gravity of my action weighed on me nonetheless, and I felt diminished in more ways than I could count. Gone was a certain innocence that I would never be able to regain. I began pacing rapidly back and forth, trembling from fear and exhaustion, rivulets of sweat were rolling down my face, my eyes were wide and darting this way and that at nothing, I had committed not only a terrible crime but a mortal sin in the eyes of God––I had taken another man’s life.
“Then, suddenly, I heard the faint sound of an approaching vehicle. ‘I must no be seen here!’ I said aloud. I must flee if I had to stay alive. I quickly dashed back into this street straight down, I should have taken the gun with me but I could not go back to retrieve it for fear of being spotted, I found myself, as I ran, chanting over and over a four-letter synonym for poop. I turned to a narrow footpath in the middle of the bush by the road which leads straight to my domain. I went into my room and locked myself in, my mind wasn’t at peace, nobody must ever find any trace of my going out that night. I could not remember whether I was breathing like a marathon runner or was sweating like a well-digger. The whole of my body ached from fighting with that bear; there was a long scrape on my left knee and a promising bruise on my left hip, and also a square inch of skin was missing from my right elbow. In addition to the damage to my hide, my clothes were already ruined with a big tear in the sleeve of my shirt. I could not shower or iodine let alone bandage, I quickly changed into my jersey and a faded pair of blue jeans trousers. Then I laid on the bed waiting for what would happen next, I could not sleep, my tired eyes were wide open still, so piqued I could have kneed myself in the groin if that were humanly possible. And about five hours later, I heard hard knocks on my door––a loud rapping. My first thought was that someone had seen me escaping and that person had made a report to the police, now they were on my door knocking to take me away. I started shaking uncontrollably, the knock continued growing harder and louder on the door. I thought they would break down the door if I refused opening. I was very surprised to see Hakeem standing there in front of me when I opened the door, he was breathing very hard.
“Hakeem is the only friend I have, he’s the only person who doesn’t despise me for my profession. He likes me and shares his problems with me, I never hesitated to share mine with him likewise––except this. He’s like my brother.”
Daniel looked directly at the boy who still had tears in his eyes but was staring at the police officer open-mouthed.
Daniel continued, “I relaxed when Hakeem said to me that he saw a dead man, at least I’d not been found out as the killer. Feigning ignorance of what had happened, I told Hakeem to take me there. We came rushing to the scene in his wake but I was very confused when I saw the body––the body was lying by the gate of this building, but I shot Mr. Martins some distance away, how come the body was lying by the gate? That was the question I was asking myself. I immediately knew that there was something very wrong––somebody carried that body and put it by the gate. That morning, when Detective Lot materialized at the scene, I became more positive that everything had been staged from the outset.”
“Why––why did you keep quiet all these while?” asked Abigail, slightly angrily.
“Are you kidding me?” exclaimed Daniel, throwing up his hands. “You expect me to confess and end up dangling by the rope? Besides, why was Mr. Martins out in the midnight aiming a gun at himself? Why was his corpse moved from the original place he died? What did he mean when he said my death would aid his plan? You think you would know the answer to all these if I had confessed from the beginning?”
“To which part of his body was Mr. Martins pointing the gun when you saw him?” Lot asked, “His chest?”
“I can’t really say, he was having his back at me, you know? I only knew he was aiming the gun at himself; it might have been his chest or his arm. Mr. Martins did not look like someone who was really determined to kill himself, his look was that of someone who was ready to bring another man down––not himself. Moreover, shooting oneself in the chest is less comfortable than shooting the temple, isn’t it?”
Lot said, “No wonder you looked scared when I asked you about the football match’s score.”
“With your reputation, I was scared you’ll find out that I was the killer after all.”
“I see it now,” said Richard, wiping his tears, “He wanted to shoot himself, probably wound himself by letting the bullet graze his flesh without reaching the bone, then he would accuse me of robbing and shooting him––if I was lucky enough to escape execution, I would surely spend the rest of my life in a federal prison, with his faithful backups.” He turned to Daniel, “I would have sworn on a stack of Bibles that he committed suicide.”
“What are you going to do now, Detective Lo?” Abigail asked.
“My name’s not Lo for heaven’s sake,” said the detective, “Call me Lot or keep your widowy mouth mute.”
“Forgive me, I can’t stop myself from shortening people’s names,” she apologized. “Well, what do you say?”
“Justice must be done,” Lot answered simply, “Richard, I congratulate you––I wouldn’t have believed you if he hadn’t confessed.”
“What is my stand now, sir?” Daniel asked, “How many years are we talking about?”
“Who’s talking about years?” Lot asked him sharply, “You killed a man, remember? You may end up in the guillotine.”
Daniel swallowed hard, “But––but I didn’t kill him intentionally!” he screamed, “All I wanted to do was save his life but he made me take it. It’s not my fault, is it?”
“Sorry, I have vowed from the beginning of my investigation that I would do everything in my power to bring the criminal to justice.”
“But he’s not a criminal.” Abigail protested.
“Your own idea of justice is arresting a man who fought for his life? You’re despicable!” Richard retorted.
“This gentleman is not a criminal, I can prove it legally, if that is what it’s going to take.” Barrister Kish said.
“I’ve always been dreaming of kicking a public figure in the behind, I will gladly do that to you if you arrest my friend.” Hakeem warned.
The doctor looked at the boy, and then he faced the detective and said, “I don’t think arresting him would be a good idea. Look at that boy, he’s mean.”
The detective relaxed in his seat, he could feel the stare of everybody on him like he was a villain of a movie. A faint smile crinkled the corner of his mouth.
“With these eyes,” Lot said, “I think you people will beat me to a pulp if I as much try to get him arrested, with the inclusion of going out of here with an injured rectum inflicted by our Muslim brother here. I was only putting a little fear in Daniel; I’m not in anticipation of convicting him. Yes, the Bible says thou shalt not kill, but the true commandment is ‘Thou shalt not murder’. It doesn’t say ‘kill’ in the original language, because killing is a whole different thing from murder. Self-defense isn’t a transgression, defence of oneself is required when necessary, they don’t chain a man who defends himself, even in some circumstances, they give him medals. My mission here was to arrest the murderer, even if the murderer were my own son, justice must be served. But there isn’t a murderer her––only a criminal. The criminal in this affair is not Daniel––it’s Mr. Martins. It’s too bad I won’t be able to arrest him; one can’t flog a dead horse. He was the criminal, he planned the crime himself but unfortunately for him the plan boomeranged. Out of hatred and jealousy, he destroyed himself,” he turned to Richard, “Please don’t blame me for not believing you at first, I’ve heard too many lies that seemed the truth. I guess that was why I couldn’t discern the truth from the lie. I’m sorry.”
He turned to face Daniel, “You think I was going to arrest you? You think I’ll sit back and watch the future pride of this country rot in jail? No, I won’t do that. Martins got what he deserved, he has been hoisted by his own petard.”
Daniel smiled for the first time since he had entered the room with the detective.
Richard went to Daniel and shook his hand, “You saved my life––I don’t know what to say.”
“Kiss me on my next birthday.” He joked and Richard hugged him.
“Richard,” Michael Kish called from behind his son.
Richard turned, casting cold eyes at the barrister, “Can I help you––Mr. Lawyer ex-criminal?”
“You’re going to pause there because I’m not your son, my father is dead,” Richard said sharply, “I’ll never forgive you––never! The dent you put in my life, the atrocities you’ve committed. How can I be a son to a man who was once a criminal, a rapist? Don’t ever call me your son again!”
Michael sat down morosely, another stream of warm tears riding down his face, he said, “You’re right, I don’t deserve being called a father after all I’ve done, God had even made that clear to me. How I wish I was thinking about the future then, this is a regret I’ll live with for the rest of my life.” He looked at Richard’s mother and said, “I know that I’m like the devil to you right now, I spoilt your life and destroyed what you’ve ever dreamed of becoming, I’m sorry––I really am.” He wept, covering his face with his hands.
Mrs. Philip wanted to reach to him, she wanted to hold and comfort him; a man shouldn’t be crying this way. She felt pain in her heart for him; she wanted to carry his head in her laps and rock him, telling him she had forgiven him but she was not really sure if she had. Maybe she had, but she was not sure if her heart had. Because she could not go to him, she said, “How many tears are you going to shed?” she asked solemnly, but she was also shedding tears, “I’ve learnt one thing in life: the worry about our past becomes an obstacle to our future.”
Michael raised his tears-filled face, “If I could be given a chance to turn back the hands of time, I would change what fate is offering me. I’m sorry uh–um––”
“Maria––Maria Philip.” Mrs. Philip said softly.
“Oh––oh, I’m really sorry. I’m a devil to have put you through this, please forgive me, Maria––I’m sorry, I truly am.” Then he kept a straight face, he stood up and wiped the tears on his face before turning to Abigail. “I’m happy for you, Abigail; you can now live your life freely. After all you’ve been through in the hands of Cain; the least you deserve is someone to love and care for you.”
He said to Richard and his mother, “I should have known, I don’t deserve you. I tried to change my ways of life after my escape from the police but I faced too many temptations in the course of living a clean life. It’s not easy to give up a habit in a day––especially habits like smoking marijuana. The nightmares of my life began when I decided to live a better life. When you came in with the truth that the boy who had already been convicted of murdering my friend was my son, I thought it was that final blow from God. What started running through my head was the thought of the easiest way to commit suicide–would it be less painful if I shot my brain out? Or if I just jumped down the Third Mainland? Should I slashed my wrist in a water-filled bath tub?” he turned to Daniel, “You saved my life–really, you saved our lives. Thanks to you, I don’t know what would have happened to us if you hadn’t confessed.”
Barrister Michael Kish turned and faced the mother and son again, “Now, here you are–my son’s alive and safe; even if I don’t deserve you, it’s still a comfort to know that the woman I love and the son with my DNA are hale and hearty. I love you both.” He walked out of the room with his face set downward.
“I know we’ve had our differences lately, man.” Ayo said, giving Daniel a pat on the back, “But I’m really proud of you. You’re a hero.”
“We’ve got a lifesaver here and it’s the wonderful Danny Fame!” The tall white-skinned officer bellowed and shook Daniel’s hand with such violence that Famous thought he would tear his arm from its socket. “You should be celebrated.”
The detective stood up and shook Daniel’s hand before hugging him, “I’m also proud of you, son. You don’t become a hero by defending your country alone but also by doing the right thing. You are the hero here, wall posters don’t make heroes, neither does doing stunts in helicopters to rescue damsels in distress; with all the blows they rain on villains, they get only one back. Then marries the rescued damsel and the public praises him and put him in televisions and newspapers. Damn those heroes! God bless you. You’ve saved not one–but many lives today. Bravo, you’re the real hero.”
“I’m really flattered, thank you, sir.” Daniel said, smiling broadly.
Lot scanned the room and spread his hands, “Well, I’m done with my work here, I should be going now.” He said his goodbyes and left the room. Daniel ran after him.
Outside, he said to the detective, “You’re right. She isn’t for me, I should have known, Richard is the right man for her. I saw how she looked at him, she doesn’t look at me like that. I’m happy for her–for them actually, they’re just as compatible as TWO.”
“Tunde and Wunmi Obey.”
“Oh, those two lovebirds.” Lot cast a sharp look at Daniel, “Don’t tell me you’re jealous.”
“No, no, I’m not jealous. On the contrary, I’m happy for them,” he smiled broadly, “Besides, I just found out that she’s three years older than I am––that girl’s twenty-six years old, can you believe it? I’m not in readiness to spend the rest of my life with someone years older than me. My interest lies in dating someone not less than seven years younger.”
“If I heard you right, you’re trying to tell me that you’re hunting for sixteen years old girls?”
“Sweet six-teens.” Daniel said brightly.
“This time, I will get you arrested if you try it.” They both laughed.
“There is another thing which gave me the idea that she had been in love with Richard even before now–when you showed her the second note; the one we found in the bedroom, she already knew that it was Richard who wrote it but she lied to protect him. She knew that he would be suspected if she’d told us the truth. Did you notice her reaction when she saw the note, sir?”
“No, I didn’t.” answered Lot, feeling impressed with the officer’s sense of observation.
“One; she was surprised––how did the note get into the room? Two; she was happy––she really loved Richard and he had also confessed his own love for her through the note. She recognizes his writing alright. Three; she was afraid––she thought Richard was the one who killed her husband but she was not sure.”
Detective Lot looked duly impressed and appreciative, he felt it proper to congratulate his subordinate, “They say your eyes begin to deteriorate at the age of seven or eight, and your brain follows suit about some years later. But your brain, Daniel. It seems to get sharper. You know, with a few trainings, you could make a great detective. Maybe sometimes later we’re going to hunt together again, we’ll make quite a team.” He shook Daniel’s hand, “I really should get going. What I’m going to do when I get home is to get into bed and sleep nonstop for forty-eight hours.”
Daniel smiled, “A wise decision.” Then he added, “You’re starting to sound like Hakeem, sir.”
Lot smiled at him, “See you later.”
“Wait! There’s one more thing I’ll really like to clarify––we both searched Richard’s room and I didn’t see you test the gun for fingerprint. Yet, you claimed it contained Richard’s print when you showed it. How did you know that, sir?”
“Who says I know?”
“What! You mean you lied?”
“I didn’t lie, I guessed. It’s a simple process of deduction––a gun was found in the suspect’s wardrobe, there’s an eighty percent chance that the print on it would be the suspect’s. You’ve got to sometimes trust your guts. See you!” he departed.
Daniel was nearly speechless, he could only manage to wave, “Au revoir.”
N.B: Finally, ‘The Last Smile’ (eBook) would be released on Wednesday 31st May, 2017. Anticipate. Thanks for continuous love and patience. Kisses.