Genre: Cozy Mystery
Alex Simpson, an ex-police officer, decides after a bout of typhoid fever to take a break in a serene and therapeutic environment. The last thing he expects is to be called upon to solve a murder at the Kinging Guest Lodge. But that is what happens, when the delectable and vivacious Maria Marshall is found dead in her bedroom at midnight.
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 …
Nagoth didn’t speak to me after that first day. He was not particularly hostile, but was indifferent to my presence. I tried to make it up to him, some days after I arrived, by offering him my stapler; I had heard him asking for one. He was reading a book in the lounge, when I approached him. I had discovered that he often sat alone by himself. He cut the miserable picture of a lonely, little man.
“Here you are,” I said offering the stapler to him. “I heard you asking around for one.” I could see the hesitation in his eyes, before he stretched out his left hand to accept it. Now, in the part of the country where I come from, it is considered very rude, to take or accept something with your left hand. I immediately glanced at his right hand, in which he held the white handkerchief, that he always carried around. He followed the movement of my eyes, but made no attempt to switch hands.
“Thank you,” he said, rather brusquely, placing the stapler on the table. I gave him a stiff smile. I walked away, concluding that he was without manners. Later that day, he gave the stapler to Ayuba to return to me. That was when I realised that reaching out to him was pointless.
That evening, I met Mrs. Marshall in the garden, at the back of the Lodge. She was sitting on one of the wooden chairs, underneath some trees, just below my window. She was knitting a blue cap.
“I hope you don’t mind if I join you?” I asked.
“No, not at all,” she said. “Feel free.”
“You have a very sharp tongue, Mrs. Marshall.” I said with a laugh.
“Have I stung you with my tongue, Mr. Simpson? I like to think that I always tell the truth.”
“The truth can be very bitter,” I replied.
“But people often need the bitter pill of truth to free themselves from the delusions and shackles of self-deceit that they have woven around themselves.” She did not pause her knitting. Yes, she told the truth, but my concern was that she delivered it like a sledgehammer.
“But you have to be careful. You may not realise how deeply you hurt people.” I cautioned.
“I can take care of myself, Mr. Simpson. But, I know at least one person in this Lodge, who would not think twice about leaving a knife in your back, if they ever got the opportunity.” I laughed, knowing it was true. There was something else I was curious about. “How do you get your information about people, Mrs. Marshall?” I asked.
“I keep my eyes open and my ears to the ground,” she replied. I looked into her round eyes, which were certainly always open. Her protruding ears were also definitely alert and seemed to quiver at the slightest sound.
Her dire warning about someone wanting to kill me, proved prophetic. It almost came to pass, later that night.
It was about 11.00pm when I got up from bed. I had been turning and tossing for hours, unable to sleep. I decided to go down to the lounge, to see if there was anything good on television. I poured myself a glass of milk from the fridge, which I decided to take along. On opening my door, I was surprised to find the entire hallway in darkness. The light bulb must have burnt out.
I heard what sounded like the crash of thunder, followed by the sound of something falling to pieces, in Nagoth’s room. Almost immediately, he began to swear and cuss. His expletives would have made a nun blush, but I was no nun. I continued unabashedly, groping my way along the corridor towards the staircase. As I passed by Willie’s room, I heard him praying, energetically. I felt a surge of envy, when I heard snores coming from John’s room.
I’m not sure why, but as I got to the top of the long staircase, I hesitated. It was like standing at the edge of a gaping, pitch-black abyss. Ayuba had to do something about the lights.
Then, I heard quick footsteps behind me. I was surprised, because I had not heard any doors opening. I tried to turn around, but I felt two hands just before the wind knocked out of me and I fell headlong down the stairs. Milk splashed on me, as the glass clattered to pieces on the stairs.
I landed with a thud, at the bottom of the stairs. My left hand was twisted painfully behind my back. I heard doors open in quick succession and a torchlight appeared, pointing down at me.
“Father Lord! Who is there?” called out Willie. “Did you fall?”
“It’s me,” I groaned in pain. “Someone just pushed me down the stairs.”
“Father Lord!” exclaimed Willie. “Who would do such a thing?”
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).