Copyright ©2016 by Anthony Mugo
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems – except in the case of brief quotations in articles or reviews – without the permission in writing from its publisher, Anthony Mugo. firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
When a decapitated body is found Diana Ciuri identifies it as that of her husband who went missing two days ago. Oscar Ciuri happens to be a popular candidate in the oncoming elections.
Senior Detective Cosmas Pai and Senior Detective Mike Sanse fell apart when the latter pointed his gun at the former. Pai transferred to Kathare to distance himself from Sanse. Sanse has since lost his job to become a private investigator in Kathare. He has information that could cost Pai his job.
And now Pai’s boss wants the two men to be partners all over again.
The two rivals must find a common ground and find Oscar Ciuri’s killer before his mad supporters burn down the town. Just when the two think they have it figured out another body surfaces…
Senior Detective Cosmas Pai wished he had magic as Diana Ciuri came to a stop at his desk. Her round face was rendered picturesque by sleepy eyes and puffy lips. Her boyish frame couldn’t have weighed a gram above fifty kilos. To correct some of what she perceived to be God’s mistake she had dyed her hair brown and bleached her skin.
“Any contact?” Pai asked.
Diana continued to stare at him.
“Two days and no contact?”
“Detective Pai, have you ever rescued a kidnapped victim?”
Pai had succeeded once and failed twice. “Every kidnapping is unique.”
“How do you live with yourself? You couldn’t protect my husband and now you can’t find him.”
Pai wondered how so petite a figure could house so much nastiness. How was he going to make her understand that solving a crime was not exactly like fixing a cup of instant tea? Her husband possibly bolted to escape her wrath!
Pai felt relieved when the office phone rang. His relief was short-lived.
“Sorry,” he said replacing the receiver. “I have to leave.”
“Oh, I get it. A more pressing matter has come up.”
Pai lost his patience. “Yes. There is a body at Thima River Bridge.”
Diana collapsed on a chair. “Man or woman?”
“They didn’t say.”
Pai busied himself tidying up his desk.
“I want to see the body. I’ll wait outside.”
A sea of eyes bore into Pai as he stopped for Diana outside the gate. Her entourage was growing bigger by the day. Tomorrow it will be the whole village, Pai mused. He turned down a couple of requests to ride along.
Evidence of previous day’s chaos littered the small town; placards, broken window panes, burned tyres. If a disappearance could generate such heat the town would burn if the body at the bridge was Oscar Ciuri’s.
Neither of the two spoke during the twenty-minute drive.
Thima River was the largest river in Kathare. The ten-metre long bridge was built ten years previously after its predecessor was swept away by the El Nino rains. A sizeable crowd had gathered on the bridge and either side of the river to form a human crime scene tape. A Regular Police officer was barking himself hoarse trying to push the crowd back. Pai ordered Diana to remain in the car and elbowed his way through the crowd wondering what attraction people found in a corpse. His legs grew shy of carrying him further two metres to the body. It lay on its back three feet from the river bank. Judging by the flat chest and the clothing it was a man. His head was missing. So were his legs from the knee and arms from the elbow. It was not just a murder but the work of a maniac.
“Someone was really pissed off,” the forensic officer working the scene said, his camera clicking away. “Looks like he planned to toss him into the river.”
“No blood,” Pai moved closer. “He was butchered elsewhere. Where is the rest of him?”
“On the way to the Indian Ocean, I guess.”
“Any documents on him?”
“That’s why we called you in.” The officer handed over a leather wallet. “Your disappearance is now a homicide.”
Pai’s heart somersaulted. Have you ever rescued a kidnapped victim?
“Oh, oh,” the officer said, his eyes trained beyond Pai who turned to see Diana approaching them. The crowd stirred with expectation.
“Man or woman?”
“I told you to wait in the car,” Pai was fully aware that he was wasting his breath.
“I am a big girl.”
“Let professionals handle this.” Diana brushed him aside. Her legs grew less determined as she neared the body. She stood dazed for a while before she turned sharply, her hands covering her mouth to stifle a scream. When her eyes returned to the body all confidence had ebbed out of her.
“Any identification documents on him?” she stammered.
Pai mouthed ‘NO’. He imagined another death resulting from shock.
The forensic officer shook his head.
“May I see the inner thigh of his left leg?”
The officer tore the trouser to honour her request. Pai caught a glimpse of a black mole before Diana screamed and collapsed in his hands. He scooped her and dashed towards his car. A news van pulled up in time to capture him bundling her into the car.
Michael ‘Mike’ Sanse had been sitting alone for an hour. Occasionally his eyes travelled with the bartender who did his best to ignore him. To take his mind off the bartender he tried to recall where he had seen himself today a year before. His transfer to a station nearer home was supposed to be complete. Of course Kathare was out since Pai had beaten him to it. Betty’s boutique was supposed to be on its feet. Betty had stuck with her kids until Jack, the last born, was six. She couldn’t stand house helps. Emma, at twelve, would be enrolling in a boarding school come January.
Sanse wondered what he would have done differently had he known that he would lose his family and his home within the year.
Self-appointed gurus were torn between blaming God and Fate. To him his predicaments were products of human deliberate choices to be evil. If God was to blame for a man’s decision to kill so was He for Eve’s decision to partake the forbidden fruit. And Lucifer’s rebellion. When a rogue bank repossesses a client on the excuse that they cleared their arrears hours late God has no part in it.
Sanse stirred with anticipation as a well-fed man in a well-cut suit walked into the bar and started in his direction.
“Mike Sanse, right?” the man said settling on a chair. “They said you would be in a trilby hat and Kaunda suit. I am Mathew.”
Sanse was positive that no hair could be as dark as Mathew’s without the help of some dye. Most likely his specs were an excuse to compensate for the protuberant forehead.
“What can I do for you?”
“I’ll get straight to the point.” Mathew placed a picture of a young woman in front of Sanse. “Beautiful, isn’t she?”
Sanse’s eyes followed the bartender.
“When we got married a year ago she would call me at work. A welcome-home kiss awaited me at the door. Always. I was honey, darling, sweetie; the works.”
Sanse moved furthest in his chair as though to distance himself from the dejected lover.
“It was pure heaven! But it is no more. She is aloof and sulky. Think of a living ice block.”
Mathew stopped to chew his lower lip. Sanse considered telling him to man up. That at his age he ought to know that if men dashed to investigators every time their women refused to play ball the world would come to a standstill. That perhaps his wife was reacting to the very ineptitude that had informed his decision to broadcast his woes.
Sanse could imagine the young man’s journey to his fix: a boy from a poor family studies so hard he posts his school’s best results. He heeds his father’s caution that in every girl hides a Delilah so religiously so that his idea of love is limited to the study of Romeo and Juliet. His hard work is rewarded with a well-paying job. He rewards his wise father with his first pair of Safari Boots and a stone house. Meanwhile girls are tearing at each other because, well, he is the most eligible bachelor about. He picks the princess because that is what brilliant men with well-paying jobs do. Now he was running scared because the honeymoon was over and the centre couldn’t hold.
“I suspect she is seeing someone,” Mathew went on. “I want you to gather the facts. They say you’re the best. I will make it worth your while.”
“I am sure you will,” Sanse said. “Nevertheless, as a matter of principle, I don’t tackle infidelity. Indeed no one should.”
“Wife-husband love life should be left entirely to them. Thank you for showing so much faith in me nonetheless.”
“Do you wait until we butcher each other to arouse your interest?”
“Ask her if she still cares.”
Mathew could as well have stepped on a landmine. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“What if she says she doesn’t?”
“Then she doesn’t.”
“That is tough. Here is my card should you reconsider.”
Mathew pocketed the photo and marched out. Sanse studied the business card. Mathew Mithamo, Claims Manager, Borderline Insurance Company. He ventured on clicking his knuckles as a girl appeared at the door. She occupied Mathew’s chair.
“Miss Naomi,” Sanse said. “Tell me we have a client.”
“Not yet,” Naomi said. “The landlord wants to see you.”
Sanse continued to click his knuckles.
“We need to find money soon otherwise…”
“Leave the worrying to me,” Sanse said.
Silence took charge. Naomi had developed immense respect for the boss she had acquired out of desperation. Sanse’s performance in their last case was something out of a movie. However, she doubted the next case would find them in business. They were already three weeks behind in rent.
“I want you to teach me,” Naomi said.
“Teach you what?”
Sanse snorted. “I thought you were level-headed.”
“I know it is a risky occupation. But so is every other occupation. A doctor risk contracting dangerous diseases: Ebola, AIDS, Rift Valley fever. A driver risks a road crash. A teacher risks…”
“Where did you see yourself today?”
Naomi smiled. “A well-paying job. A car. A big house. A handsome husband.”
“You are young and beautiful.”
“Your dream is still valid.”
“Please, I want this.”
Heavens, she is determined to be Miss Marple, Sanse thought. He was fascinated by Naomi’s transformation since her hiring a month before. Just the other day she was the dutiful assistant who kept her ideas to herself. Then she had elected herself his shrink. ‘You’re as gone as you’re willing to admit,’ she had advised. ‘Your loss should but make you more determined, more focussed.’ A week earlier she had made her boldest move: “You should see life through the lens of someone who never had much in life; no home, kids or a wife. Someone who never had the gift of sight. Someone who begs to get by. Someone who, to many, is a burden. But he knows that abundance is not another name for happiness. Mbao is his name. He is Mbao because he doesn’t ask for much, only mbao for a cup of tea. Mbao, Swahili for twenty shillings.”
“How come you know him so well?” Sanse had asked.
“Some time back I fantasised on becoming Mother Teresa. I chose Mbao as my starting point. I bought him clothes. I still do his laundry once a week.”
“And now I have joined him.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You are my boss.”
Curiosity drove Sanse to visit Mbao at the entrance to Kathare Bus Terminus. True to Naomi’s word, the blind man looked healthy and well gloomed. Sanse wondered whether Mbao would be singing Thank you Lord so incessantly if he could see. Judging by the traffic hurrying past the answer was a big no. God is more real in the face of adversity. Sanse dropped a coin in Mbao’s bowl wondering why he never did it often. The only exchange between beggar and benefactor was a ‘God bless you’ from Mbao as he reached for his additional wealth.
Thinking of Naomi afterwards Sanse decided that she was punching above her weight. However, she still had a lot of ground to cover as far as the seesaw that is life was concerned. Existence of seemingly happy beggars didn’t make loss any bearable, at least not to a spendthrift man who had worked hard and long – a celebrated detective who was living his dream not so long ago. The narrative of a sassy Job losing everything before his wealth was doubled remained just that, a narrative.
Naomi had since moved from saving the ship to grabbing what she could.
“You sat and passed an interview for the post of a secretary,” Sanse said. He knew he was being unfairly harsh with her. “If a different post comes up you will be the first to know.”
Naomi walked out of the bar.
A news item on the radio caught Sanse’s attention. The body of Oscar Ciuri, the outgoing councillor for Kathare Central Ward who went missing two days before, was found early morning at Thima River Bridge. His head, legs and arms were missing.
Sanse walked to the counter and faced Pewa, the bartender.
“No means no,” Pewa said curtly.
Sanse strolled out of the bar.
Sanse walked. Of late he just put one foot in front of the other without a destination in mind. The guard outside Mercantile Finance Bank glanced his way for the briefest moment. Sanse was dying to know if his cheek still hurt from his slap on their last encounter. Goddamn thieves.
The small town was a collage of posters bearing magical rallying calls and heavenly promises. The outgoing regime was everyone’s punching bag. It was inefficient. It was corrupt. It was tribal. Thank God a new dawn was here. The optimism bubble was at its fullest. ‘Pragmatic’, ‘best’, ‘most qualified’, were among adjectives in season. The voter was a stubborn girl who needed pampering and cuddling. Oscar Ciuri smiled off one of the billboards. Choose visionary leadership. Well, not any more. A bunch of his supporters were gathered under the billboard to brainstorm on their way forward now that their bubble had been perforated.
Sanse noted Mbao’s absence from his usual spot with a tinge of disappointment. He wondered whether beggars ever took the day off. He reminded himself to honour his resolve to drop something in Mbao’s bowl often. There was a good chance he wasn’t so blessed because he rarely spared the deprived a thought. I-scratch-you-you-scratch-me had been his currency all along. He bought a bunch of bananas and munched them as he walked. He hesitated as he came upon a beggar with underdeveloped legs. He wanted blessings but no, he wouldn’t part with the coins in his pocket. Didn’t the good word order one to love their neighbour as one loves themselves? Surrendering the coins would amount to loving the beggar more, not as.
Sanse invited himself to a nearby stone telling himself that it was meant for visitors. He handed his host two bananas. The two munched in silence for a while.
“Thank you,” the beggar said hurling the peels away.
“Are you a local?” Sanse asked.
“Chance hauled me here. This guard in Nairobi used to accommodate me in the vehicles he guarded at night. Of course he wanted company. On this day I woke up to a speeding lorry. I shouted myself hoarse before I retired to my fate. The moment the driver stopped to take a leak I jumped off. I was in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. I would have to produce the lorry if I returned to Nairobi. I spent a week trying to fix Kathare in the map. It has been five years since.”
“How does it compare?”
“I had friends in Nairobi but all we shared were miseries. If the City Council had its way it would toss every beggar in the Indian Ocean Idd Amin style. ”
“It sounds tough.”
“They raped you in your sleep. One of my friends lost his private parts.”
“Witch doctors. It is scary.”
Sanse went to his office, his first time since the bank repossessed his home three weeks before. He had never felt so challenged to stand on his feet again. He risked being thrown out of his house if he didn’t pay his rent in a week’s time.
Naomi beamed on his entry.
“Don’t you hate it when people don’t die suspicious deaths?” Sanse said.
“Some can’t afford to hire an investigator to address their suspicions.”
“Or they don’t know we exist.”
“But how could they?” Naomi said. “The Gitonga Case put us on the map.”
“When do you see Mbao next?”
“Why?” Naomi asked.
“I ought to chip in.”
“Mbao found greener pastures.”
“A Good Samaritan, Kim, moved him to Nairobi. Apparently beggars become millionaires over there.”
“When did he move?”
“On Sunday. He called me on his way out. Did you talk to him?”
“No,” Sanse said stepping out of the office.
“About the landlord…”
“Leave him to me.”
Sanse travelled to Oscar Ciuri’s home ten kilometres out of town. Now that clients had refused to come to him he would go after them. Ciuri’s home was the first to the left of the junction of Kathare-Nairobi road and Gitwe road. Boda boda operators at the junction hooted to attract his attention. He shook his head and walked past.
The u-shaped house with a chimney, wooden window frames and wire mesh grills was reminiscent of 1970s. Some men sat under the waiting shade chatting. Sanse asked one of them if Mrs Ciuri was home. The man directed him to the house. When he entered the house a covered figure lay on the sofa. On the coffee table was a plate of half-eaten chicken soup.
The figure stirred and uncovered its head.
“Sorry for your loss,” Sanse said.
“Thank you,” Diana said weakly studying him with interest.
“Mike Sanse of Genius Investigations,” Sanse said. “A singular question must be weighing you down: who is responsible? Of course the police are breaking their backs to get answers. Nonetheless, their failure to bring your husband home would trouble anyone.”
Diana struggled to a sitting position. “Would you have brought him home?”
“Unfortunately, we will never know the answer to that. But we can find an answer in regard to his murder. You only pay for results, not a cent before.”
“Is that so?”
“A better offer is most welcome,” Sanse said.
“I know a busybody when I see one.”
Sanse removed his hat and ran his hand through his hair. “You have nothing to lose.”
“I doubt I stand to gain anything.”
Sanse’s focus rested on Ciuri’s photo on the wall. “Such a handsome man. My offer stands should you change your mind.”
At the gate Sanse had to step aside for a man in a suit. He would have to trek to town because he had no money. Diana had called him a busybody. Well, he had earned the abuse. He had to be the first investigator ever to hawk his services. As he walked he racked his brains on how else he could earn a living. He had operated a taxi with dismal results.
Sanse stopped at Kigio, a small centre halfway to town, to watch men play draughts. He couldn’t recall the last time he had played draughts. It must have been over a decade. He had learnt that draughts, like wrestling, goes hand in hand with chest-thumping. Only one player, an elderly man sporting a goatee, seemed able to match chest-thumping with action. He was so confident in his prowess he promised a thousand shillings to anyone who made king. Five men came up short.
“I doubt a year’s practice will get you close,” the champ said pocketing his money.
Sanse occupied the challenger’s seat.
“Do you know the number of pieces in play?” the champ asked Sanse getting on his feet.
Sanse placed his Omex watch on the board. “Would you love to own this?”
The look on the champ’s face evoked laughter from the audience.
“How dare you fart when you have cholera?” the champ added some notes to the thousand.
Sanse was now the centre of attention. The champ moved his pieces with such aplomb he didn’t look at them.
“If you beat me I will never play again.”
“You mean it?” Sanse asked.
“That watch changed ownership the moment you pushed the first piece.”
“It’s an honour to lose it to the best.”
The champ’s poise changed on his fifth move. “I didn’t get your name.”
“The-man-who-doesn’t-know-the-number-of-pieces-in-play,” Sanse said.
The champ took five solid minutes to study the pieces. Whatever the move he made he stood to lose two pieces. Sanse would not only make king, he would trounce him.
“Your move,” Sanse said earning himself a glare from his opponent. The champ counted the empty boxes.
“You cheated,” he said. “You moved two boxes at a go.”
“True champions go down gracefully,” Sanse said.
“I should know,” the champ said. “I have played this game for fifty years.”
“Hey, you are that detective,” a man who had just arrived said. “You solved the Gitonga case!”
“Mike Sanse?” another spectator said. The crowd became animated suddenly. The champ’s face crowded as spectators ganged up against him. His eyes rested on the bundle of notes then the board.
“I will win but not as fast.” His voice carried less contempt.
The game was over in three minutes. The fallen champ gave his hand for a handshake. “I knew I was up against a great mind. Where did you learn to play so well?”
“I studied your moves and refused to be cowed,” Sanse said. “I would have given you a return match but you are retired.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Well, I took it that way.”
Sanse boarded a matatu for the remainder of the journey.
End of excerpt.
Read The Eyeball Expert, the first story in the Mike Sanse Murder series.