Copyright ©2017 by Anthony Mugo
‘Centre for excellence,’ Pai said as he drove through the gates of Shalom Junior School. ‘Well, substitute “excellence” with “murder”.’
The moment Pai pulled up near the flag mast a bespectacled man hurried towards the car. But for the black suspenders the man was all white; white suit, white polo neck, white shoes.
‘Detectives,’ the man said. ‘Clinton Baraza, we talked on the phone.’
‘Where is the body?’ Michael ‘Mike’ Sanse, Pai’s partner, asked as he stepped out of the car. Baraza was stupefied to see him combing his perfectly combed hair.
‘This way,’ Baraza said.
From their position Pai and Sanse could see four buildings in the compound: two blocks roofed with corrugated iron sheets, a storied block coming up, and a cabin just before the block to the left. The space between the complete blocks was occupied by swings, slides and seesaws.
‘I wish this matter was behind us already,’ Baraza said. ‘What a blot to a decade-old reputation!’
The murder had taken place at the far end of the middle block. About ten metres from where the body lay were staff toilets.
‘I sealed off the area as ordered,’ Baraza said.
‘Smell that?’ Sanse said.
‘Bhang,’ Pai asked.
‘I’ll be damned!’ Baraza said. ‘Was he after the smoker?’
The body lay on its face, a rusty metal rod projecting from the nape of its neck. Sanse squatted to study the murder weapon as Pai put on latex gloves and reached for the pockets.
‘Zachary Muia,’ Pai was holding an ID card and a photo with the inscription, HAPPPY 2nd BIRTHDAY KATE. ‘Was he married?’
‘He was ambushed from behind,’ Pai said.
‘The rod was used to stoke fire in the kitchen,’ Baraza said. ‘It went missing two days ago.’
‘Where is everyone?’ Pai asked.
‘We’re in mid-term break. We planned a staff meeting from 11.30 am.’
‘How many workers do you have?’ Pai asked.
‘Sixteen,’ Baraza said. ‘Only seven had arrived by the time the murder took place.’
‘Could you give me their names?’
‘Zachary, Esau, Judy, Janet, Edmond, Clifford and Maggie.’
‘Who discovered the body?’ Sanse asked.
‘Maggie,’ Baraza said. ‘No one has gone in or out.’
A police Land Rover with three Regular police and two forensic officers drove into the compound. The forensic officers got down to work taking pictures and dusting for fingerprints.
‘Damn, who invited the vultures?’ Baraza said as a girl and a man in RTV t-shirts walked into the compound.
‘The killer did,’ Pai said.
‘Mr. Sanse!’ the female reporter exploded.
‘Bertha,’ Sanse said.
‘I cherish the day I’ll catch you without a Kaunda Suit or Travolta boots,’ the reporter said. ‘Do you have a suspect?’
Sanse turned to Pai, ‘Do we have a suspect? Agreed; we should be let alone to get one!’
Sanse walked to the closest room to the murder scene and tried the lock. The door was labelled ‘Class 4’.
‘I can get you the key.’
Sanse turned to see a girl whose hair was plaited into three giant lines. ‘Hello Janet. Don’t trouble yourself.’
The girl’s face clouded. ‘How do you know…?’
‘You colleague called out your name a while ago,’ Sanse said moving to the window. ‘That ceiling is a disaster in waiting.’
Sanse proceeded to the smaller gate near the toilets, tried the padlock and joined Pai who was talking to Baraza.
‘We need fingerprints of the workers,’ Sanse said.
‘But of course,’ Baraza said and summoned the workers. But for a man in a red t-shirt and blue jeans the workers avoided the glare of the camera.
The press left in a hurry twenty minutes later to cover a building that had collapsed nearby. The Land Rover left with Zachary’s body thirty minutes later.
‘I am Senior Detectives Cosmas Pai,’ Pai addressed the workers. ‘My partner is Senior Detective Mike Sanse. Let’s start with some ground rules. One, nobody leaves the compound. Two, stay in the open.’
‘Excuse me sir,’ a man in a checked pair of trousers, a white shirt and red tie said. His long hair framed a thin face. ‘Why must we keep in the open?’
‘What is your name sir?’ Pai said.
‘Clifford, someone killed Zachary. A murder to cover a murder needs very little persuasion. I doubt you woke up today planning to die.’
‘May I?’ Clifford stepped forward and faced his colleagues. ‘Zachary was a friend, a colleague, a good man. He had his limitations which, in my humble view, were far outweighed by his strong points. The least we can do is to help the detectives bring his killer to justice. Then and only then can his soul rest in peace.’
Clifford stepped back.
‘We need a room,’ Sanse told Baraza.
‘Zachary’s office will do,’ Baraza said.
‘Maggie?’ Sanse called out.
‘Yes?’ A girl in a jeans skirt, a trench coat and Ngoma rubber shoes stepped forward.
‘We will start with you,’ Sanse said. ‘Kindly show us to Zachary’s office.’
Zachary’s office was a partition within the staffroom. Sanse sat on the deceased’s chair, Maggie sat across the table while Pai remained on his feet. Sanse took a minute to study the room; the files on the table and the shelves, the dilapidated ceiling, the duty roster on the far wall and the keys rack under it. Pai concentrated on Maggie who in turn studied her shoes, her head corked dejectedly to the right, her hands folded in front of her.
‘How did you discover the body?’ Pai asked.
The big eyeballs behind bushy eyes lashes could have been dashing on a merrier face but now, as Maggie faced Pai, her eyes were windows to a soul in turmoil.
‘I was on my way to the toilet,’ her voice was barely audible.
‘What was the time?’
‘About 11.05 am.’
‘What did you do on discovery?’
‘I dashed to him but stopped when I saw the rod and the blood. The next moment Judy was calming me down.’
‘Were you close?’ Sanse asked.
‘He was my senior. He was… he was a good person to work under.’
‘Are you married?’ Sanse asked.
Maggie shook her head.
‘What do you do?’ Pai asked.
‘I am a cook.’
‘Then you recognize the murder weapon,’ Pai said.
‘The rod went missing two days ago. We thought it was just misplaced until I saw it on the body.’
‘Who is “we”?’ Pai asked.
‘Judy, the matron, and I.’ Maggie was lost in thought for a while. ‘Esau!’
‘What about him?’ Pai asked.
‘He visited the kitchen the very day the rod went missing,’ suddenly Maggie was alive. ‘When I asked how I could assist him he said he knew his way around. He must have taken the rod!’
‘Can you prove that he took it?’ Sanse asked.
Maggie was lost in thought for a long moment. ‘He once borrowed the rod after he had lost his keys.’
‘Do you think Esau killed Zachary?’ Pai asked.
‘He had no respect for Zachary as his boss,’ Maggie said.
‘Any other useful information?’ Sanse asked and Maggie shook her head. ‘Tell Esau to come.’
Esau was tall and muscular. His beard was shaved to leave a strip that connected his ears.
‘How many cigarettes do you smoke in a day?’ Sanse asked.
Esau displayed his cigarette-stained teeth, amused. ‘It varies.
‘An estimate will do.’
Esau’s right hand began turning the ring on his left middle finger. ‘Five.’
‘How about weed?’
Esau’s eyes oscillated between the two detectives. ‘Is this important?’
‘Just answer the question,’ Sanse said.
‘I have never touched weed.’
‘Were you and Zachary close?’ Sanse asked.
‘I am never close to my workmates,’ Esau said. ‘It kills respect. Of course you will hear all manner of stories.’
‘What stories?’ Pai asked.
‘Of imagined animosity between us,’ Esau said. ‘To Zachary leadership is bulldozing everyone around. I strive to earn my pay, willingly, always.’
‘Where were you between ten thirty and ten past eleven?’ Pai asked.
‘I was at my desk before I moved outside the compound to smoke.’
‘Who can vouch for you?’ Pai asked.
Esau lifted his shoulders, dropped them and said, ‘I don’t know. The gatekeeper was not at his post.’
‘This is important,’ Pai said.
‘Look, if you don’t anticipate a session like this you just do what you have to do. Anyway, just ask around. Someone must have seen me walking in or out.’
‘Have you ever been to the kitchen?’ Sanse asked.
‘Yes,’ Esau said at length.
‘When was the last time?’
Esau turned the ring rapid-fire. ‘Yesterday but one.’
‘What was the purpose of your visit?’ Sanse asked.
‘A cup of water.’
‘You had lost your keys, right?’ Sanse said.
Esau squirmed. ‘I found them.’
‘Before or after you had found a way to access the locker?’ Pai asked.
‘Have you ever seen the metal rod used in the murder?’ Sanse asked.
Esau stole a glance outside the window. ‘I once used it to access my locker.’
‘About four months ago.’
‘And you didn’t take it two days ago?’ Sanse said.
‘That’s what I said.’
‘Are you married?’ Pai asked.
‘Where are the keys?’ Sanse asked.
Sanse and Pai accompanied Esau into the staffroom where the two detectives examined Esau’s padlock and the locker.
‘Who are your neighbours?’ Sanse asked.
‘Janet to the right, Purity to the left.’
‘Who do you think killed Zachary?’ Pai asked.
‘You’re the detectives,’ Esau said and hurried out.
‘We train the mouth to lie but forget the rest of the body,’ Pai said.
Edmond, the only worker who had engaged the press, was stout, dark and clean-shaven. His t-shirt bore the tale: I would rather push a Chevy than drive a Renault.
‘Are you married?’ Pai asked Edmond.
‘Two years next month,’ Edmond’s face glowed with pride. ‘Detectives, much as I would like to honour Clifford’s call I just can’t figure out why or who would want Zachary dead.’
‘How was his relationship with your colleagues?’ Sanse asked.
‘I can only speak for myself,’ Edmond said. ‘I admired his strict but considerate leadership.’
‘Was he seeing anyone?’ Sanse asked.
‘Noel, Mr. Baraza’s daughter.’
‘How did Baraza take it?’ Pai asked.
‘He was definitely boiling inside. He has had to sack two teachers who were involved with Zachary.’
‘The school has a no-intimacy policy,’ Edmond said. ‘For reasons best known to the women they loved Zachary more than they did themselves. As for Noel, Zachary had had more beautiful and marriageable girls who couldn’t tame him.’
‘Was he related to Baraza?’ Pai asked.
Edmond shook his head. ‘To Mr. Baraza Zachary was special in many ways. If I push for a raise I’ll be threatened with a sack; if Zachary threatened to quit he got a raise.’
‘How long have you worked here?’ Pai asked.
‘Mr. Baraza poached him from a neighbouring school a year ago.’
‘Was he ever intimate with Maggie?’ Sanse asked.
‘If he wasn’t done with her then she was in the queue.’
‘When did the murder occur? Pai asked.
‘Some minutes past eleven.’
‘Where were you at the time?’ Pai asked.
‘In the lower classes staffroom,’ Edmond said. ‘As a matter of fact I had dozed off. It has been a lazy morning, you know.’
‘Who can vouch for you?’ Pai asked.
‘I was alone.’
‘Was Noel around today?’
‘Who do you think is the killer?’ Sanse asked.
‘I wish I knew.’
‘Are you always this smart?’ Pai asked Clifford the moment he settled on the chair.
‘Yes, assuming that you’re not being sarcastic,’ Clifford straightened his tie.
‘Time to act on your call for justice,’ Sanse said. ‘Where were you when the murder occurred?’
‘Right here reorganising the office. We were almost done when Zachary excused himself. I can’t believe he is dead. We have been such a formidable and cohesive team and now this.’
‘Formidable, maybe, but cohesive?’ Sanse said. ‘Not when Esau thinks Zachary was a bulldozer.’
‘Esau hates the straight and narrow,’ Clifford said. ‘To him as long as one delivers lateness is a nonissue. No one should castigate his leader from such standpoint.’
‘You said that Zachary had his limitations,’ Pai said. ‘What were they?’
‘To him women were use-and-dump objects,’ Clifford said. ‘He cost two colleagues their jobs.’
‘Were you present during Noel’s visit?’ Sanse said.
‘Noel and I passed each other at the door,’ Clifford stopped to study a spot beyond the two detectives. ‘This could be important: the two split yesterday. Noel wanted reconciliation but Zachary’s mind was pretty much made.’
‘So you were his confidant,’ Pai said.
‘Not really. He mentioned it out of anger.’
‘Do you think Noel killed him?’ Pai asked.
‘I’d hate to speculate,’ Clifford said. ‘This might prove useful too: Zachary planned to quit. Apparently, someone was offering him a better pay.’
‘Who?’ Sanse asked.
‘He didn’t say.’
‘Have you ever seen the metal rod used in the murder?’ Pai asked.
‘I only learnt this morning that…’
‘Yes or no?’
‘Have you ever been to the kitchen?’ Pai asked.
‘A couple of times.’
‘When was the last time?’
‘About a month ago,’ Clifford said.
‘And you didn’t see the metal rod?’
‘I can’t remember seeing it.’
‘Are you married?’ Sanse asked.
‘Are you seeing someone?’ Pai asked.
Clifford shook his head. ‘As the Bible says there is a time for everything.’
‘How old are you?’ Sanse asked.
‘What should one be doing at twenty four?’ Sanse asked.
‘Finding one’s footing in life,’ Clifford’s eyes had clouded.
‘What do you teach?’ Pai asked.
‘Who is your favourite fictional character?’ Sanse asked.
Clifford chuckled nervously. ‘Okonkwo, I guess. He was a hero of sorts.’
‘When did Zachary leave the office?’ Pai said.
Clifford said, ‘On his way out he suggested we take a ten-minute break to resume at eleven. His body was found five minutes past eleven.’
‘Favourite fictional character, huh?’ Pai said upon Clifford’s departure.
‘Aren’t you tired of the rehearsed answers?’ Sanse said clicking his knuckles.
Judy had worked under Baraza in his last posting. Now with all-grey hair and sacks under her eyes she looked all her sixty years. She oozed an air that commanded respect not just of a parent but that of someone who knows and respects the line between right and wrong.
‘I was in the staffroom preparing a verse for the meeting when the wails came,’ Judy said. ‘Coincidentally I was reading Psalms 103:15 which say…’
‘A person’s life is like grass,’ Sanse said.
‘Who else was in the staffroom?’ Sanse asked.
‘Clifford was in Zachary’s office. Janet arrived minutes before the tragedy.’
‘Tell us about the metal rod,’ Pai said.
‘I got it from my son four, no, five years ago. He is a welder…’
‘When did it go missing?’ Pai said.
‘Two days ago. It has been misplaced a dozen times over the years.’
‘Do you know who took it?’ Pai asked.
‘As a matter of fact I thought it had been misplaced within the kitchen.’
‘Tell us about Maggie,’ Sanse said.
‘She is an angel,’ Judy said. ‘For the two years we’ve worked together she has been the perfect companion; industrious, mature, honest.’
‘Does she have a lover?’ Pai asked.
‘I think she is best placed to answer that.’
‘Whom can you vouch for?’ Sanse asked.
‘Clifford and Janet,’ Judy said. ‘Detective, are you saved?’
‘Another time and place,’ Sanse said. ‘Kindly call your boss.’
‘Out goes the only person whose word can be relied upon but who has nothing to say,’ Pai said. ‘The rest are knots to be un-knotted.’
‘Why not remove the ceiling altogether?’ Sanse asked Baraza the moment he stepped inside Zachary’s office. Baraza glanced at the dilapidated ceiling before he collapsed on the chair. ‘Tell me you have the killer.’
‘Who replaces Zachary?’ Pai asked.
Baraza adjusted his glasses. ‘Is the murder about positions?’
‘Esau?’ Pai asked.
‘Esau is too cavalier and temperamental,’ Baraza said. ‘To my wife he is “the tout”. Nonetheless, he delivers.’
‘Would his friction with Zachary get this far?’ Sanse asked.
‘Hardly,’ Baraza said. ‘Incidentally, I ought to have known if this is about work. I’ve been in the game for four decades.’
‘Clifford?’ Pai said.
Baraza chuckled. ‘Clifford is too buttoned-up. Most geniuses are anyway. He must be hurting to advocate for Zachary’s justice. Can he lead? No.’
‘Edmond?’ Sanse asked.
‘Zachary replaced Edmond who heads the lower section. Nonetheless, it has been a year with no incident!’
‘What was the agenda of the meeting?’ Pai asked.
‘Routine stuff: performance, plans for the remainder of the term, staff morale.’
‘I understand there ought to be a gatekeeper,’ Sanse said.
‘James called in sick.’
‘Who keeps the key to the second gate?’ Sanse asked.
‘Was Zachary seeing someone?’ Pai asked.
‘Yes, my daughter.’
‘Zachary was a user, so to speak, how did you take it?’ Sanse asked.
‘Noel is Zachary’s mirror image,’ Baraza said. ‘She once bolted with a man for six months. Look, it is every parent’s wish that their kid settle down. Perhaps the two could have tamed each other, who knows?’
‘Still you hold a policy against intimacy at work and hiring of relatives,’ Pai said.
‘So I can’t stand by my principals, is it a crime?’
‘Is anyone intimate presently?’ Sanse asked.
‘Clifford and Janet.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I have my ways,’ Baraza said.
‘What steps have you taken?’ Pai asked.
‘None,’ Baraza said. ‘Janet is leaving at the end of the term.’
‘Where is your wife?’ Sanse asked.
‘She is a manager with National Bank.’
‘When did you arrive?’ Pai asked.
‘Twenty past eleven.’
‘Fifteen minutes after the murder,’ Sanse said. ‘Who is your doctor?’
‘H. M. Nene.’
‘You said that nobody got in or out,’ Pai said.
‘That is correct.’
Baraza slid furthest in his chair, his mouth wide open.
‘Call her over,’ Pai said.
‘I arrived at eleven sharp,’ Janet said. Her confidence seemed to have waned since her exchange with Sanse.
‘What did you see on arrival?’ Pai asked.
‘Maggie was standing on the building under construction.’
‘Who did you find in the staffroom?’ Pai said.
‘The matron,’ Janet said. ‘Clifford was in Zach’s office. I was hardly five minutes in the staffroom when Maggie wailed.’
‘Were you dating Zachary?’ Sanse asked.
Janet shot Sanse a sharp look. ‘Why?’
‘Zach was seeing Noel,’ Janet said.
‘Zachary ditched Noel,’ Sanse said. ‘He sounds like someone who left a girl for another. Do you have a boyfriend?’
‘That is odd for such a beautiful girl.’
‘Not when the girl is principled,’ Janet said. ‘Can I be blunt? This is becoming uncomfortably personal.’
‘Can I be blunt?’ Pai said. ‘You are seeing Clifford.’
Janet could as well have received an electric shock. ‘We ended it.’
‘Four days ago. I plan to pursue my education.’
‘How did Clifford take it?’ Pai asked.
‘It was not like I gave him the boot,’ Janet said. ‘Besides, Clifford was in Zach’s office when the murder occurred.’
‘Have you ever seen the metal rod used in the murder?’ Pai asked.
‘It was on the window sill behind Esau’s desk two days ago.’
‘Are you sure?’ Pai said.
‘That is interesting,’ Sanse said. He embarked on clicking his knuckles as a girl in a miniskirt appeared at the door. Her thin face, with rings and studs jostling for space on her nose, was framed by a green wig.
‘Noel?’ Sanse called. ‘Glad you could come.’
Noel replaced Janet on the hot seat.
‘Reportedly you were present during Zachary’s murder,’ Sanse said. ‘Why did you leave?’
‘I have and want nothing to do with the incident,’ Noel said, her fingers flying on her phone’s keypad. ‘I was stupid to have been around.’
‘When did you leave?’ Sanse asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Noel said.
‘You had left before your father’s arrival at 11.20 am,’ Sanse said. ‘That means you left just after the murder.’
‘How did your family receive your affair with Zachary?’ Pai said.
‘Why should it matter to anyone? It is my life.’
‘When did you arrive?’ Pai asked.
‘Why were you present?’ Sanse asked.
‘It is our school.’
‘You are too collected for a lover who just lost her mate,’ Sanse observed.
Noel rolled her eyes then said, ‘Do you expect me to hang myself?’
Sanse’s fist landed on the table before he jumped to his feet. ‘How dare you eyeball me when the man who just gave you the boot lies in the morgue? If you were brought up to expect others to please you know that I am a different kettle of fish! Do you understand? Do you?’
A fuming Sanse stepped out.
‘What is my crime?’ A stammering Noel asked.
‘We know that Zachary left you,’ Pai said. ‘Why?’
Noel bit her lip and corked her head. ‘He said he no longer loved me.’
‘You certainly didn’t wish him good health and a long life.’
Noel took a while to talk. ‘I wanted him sacked. That is why I kept in my father’s office.’
‘Who can verify your being in your father’s office?’
Sanse reappeared and stood against the doorframe.
‘I rarely interact with the workers.’
‘Who do you think killed Zachary?’ Pai said.
‘All I know is that I killed no one.’
‘Keep within the compound,’ Sanse said. Noel regarded him coldly before she replaced her earphones and walked out.
‘Some curses take the shape of kids,’ Pai said.
‘What are Ed and Norah?’ Sanse asked him.
‘Blessings, no doubt.’
‘What a neat mess,’ Pai said. ‘Baraza banked on Zachary too heavily to let go. Edmond was envious of Zachary and wants his position back. Perhaps there existed a stronger undercurrent between Zachary and Esau. The latter confiscated the murder weapon from the kitchen two days ago. Zachary was probably onto Janet, Clifford’s lover. Noel is a woman scorned. Evidently, if Zachary had nine lives and if everyone acted on their motives he would be dead nine times.’
Sanse led the way out as his phone rang. After listening for a while he said, ‘You found some prints? Judy, Maggie, Edmond and Esau. Abel, did I ever tell you that you’re a lifesaver?’
Sanse terminated the call and dashed after Pai as a wail cut the air.
Pai and Sanse got to the building under construction to find Judy standing over Maggie’s body, crying. Pai barked for everyone to give room, checked Maggie’s pulse and stepped back. Sanse ran up the staircase of the unfinished building, his gun on the ready.
‘Is everyone present?’ Sanse shouted.
‘Yes,’ Esau, the last one to arrive, said. His fingers were busy on his ring.
Sanse asked Janet to join him.
‘Exactly where was Maggie standing?’ Sanse asked.
Janet moved five steps to the right. From his position Sanse could see the staff toilets but not the spot where Zachary’s body had been found. He could also see, although not much, inside Zachary’s office, Baraza’s office, the staffroom and class four to eight.
‘What the hell did you see?’ Sanse murmured to himself.
‘I saw her come this way and I came to check on her,’ Judy was saying. ‘Who will take care of Kate?’
‘Do you mean this girl?’ Pai showed Judy the photo he had found in Zachary’s wallet.
‘Poor Kate!’ Judy grabbed the photo. ‘Zachary and Maggie had a deal. Zachary would support Kate if Maggie let him alone.’
‘Why the hell didn’t you tell us this before?’ Sanse asked, joining them.
‘It would have made no difference,’ Judy said.
‘We decide what may or may not make a difference!’ Sanse said.
‘What else did she tell you?’ Pai asked.
‘She had gone to ask Zachary for money when she found his body,’ Judy said. ‘She had just received a call that Kate had broken her arm.’
‘He probably turned her down,’ Clifford said.
‘I am a good judge of character,’ Judy said. ‘In opening up to me Maggie was grieving, not justifying killing anyone.’
‘She was strangled then thrown over,’ Sanse said.
‘How do you know that?’ Baraza asked.
‘The worst that one can suffer from such a fall is a broken limb,’ Sanse said. ‘I will illustrate my point with a jump.’
‘You will do what?’ Judy asked.
‘On second thought I’ll call the eyeball expert,’ Sanse said.
‘Excuse me?’ Pai said.
‘There is a ton of information in those eyeballs,’ Sanse said.
‘She jumped to her death!’ Pai said.
‘Probably,’ Sanse said. ‘Unfortunately she is not in the mood to make a confession.’
‘You have my vote,’ Judy told Sanse. ‘Maggie neither killed Zachary nor committed suicide!’
‘Mom,’ Pai addressed Judy, ‘you are too emotionally attached to Maggie to see through her. Much as you want to see the best in her it’s a rotten world. Besides, killing someone is one thing, living with it is something else altogether.’
‘Why would she kill the father of her child?’ Judy asked.
‘He used her,’ Pai said. ‘He probably failed to keep his end of the bargain.’
‘Maggie was right,’ Judy said. ‘I should have kept my mouth shut!’
Sanse dialled his phone and moved aside. A while later he joined Pai. ‘I’ll have to fetch the doctor. I can’t raise him on his phone. Folks, from now on you must stick together.’
‘Why?’ Esau asked.
‘Two reasons,’ Sanse said. ‘One, I don’t want another copse and two because I said so!’
‘Why are you doing this?’ Esau charged.
‘Why am I doing what?’
‘Your partner is right: Maggie took her own life after killing Zachary!’
‘Esau,’ Baraza said. ‘Mr. Sanse is only doing his work.’
‘Like hell he is!’
‘Why don’t you take the body with you?’ Janet asked.
‘Good question,’ Edmond said. ‘Just being in the compound freaks me out.’
‘How much longer must you detain us?’ Clifford asked. ‘You were right; I didn’t wake up planning to die. Likewise, I didn’t plan to spend eternity under compound arrest or whatever it is that we are under.’
All the workers murmured agreement with Clifford. Sanse fished out his comb from his pocket and embarked on combing his hair. Pai stood aside wearing an incredulous look.
‘Clifford,’ Sanse said. ‘Kindly remind me what you teach.’
‘Mathematics,’ Clifford said.
‘Are you good at it?’
‘I believe I am.’
‘How does it feel to be good at something?’
Clifford smiled nervously. ‘Exhilarating.’
‘Exactly! I hunt murderers and I am good at it.’
‘Every man to his calling,’ Judy said.
‘Let’s get her inside,’ Sanse said. ‘We need a wheelbarrow.’
Baraza barked at Edmond to fetch a wheelbarrow.
‘Who is the eyeball expert?’ Baraza asked Sanse.
‘I prefer that cabin he got the wheelbarrow from,’ Sanse said.
‘He is a doctor who can reconstruct what one saw before their death from the eyeball,’ Sanse said.
‘The gardener’s store?’ Baraza said.
‘Maggie deserves better!’ Judy said.
‘I’ll take that under recommendations,’ Sanse said. ‘Don’t tamper with the eyes!’
‘I can’t believe I am putting up with this,’ Pai said.
Once Maggie’s body was inside the cabin Sanse locked it and pocketed the keys.
‘You know what to do,’ Sanse told Pai before he drove out of the compound.
Pai turned to the confused faces watching him. ‘What the hell are you waiting for? Get in the staffroom!’
Sanse terminated his call, entered Crescent Plaza along Moi Avenue and used the staircase to the second floor. He was delighted to find the same receptionist at Herman Medical Centre two years down the line.
‘Claudia,’ Sanse said. ‘Is the good doctor busy?’
‘He is abroad,’ the girl said with a business smile.
‘Is that a fact? When do you expect him back?’
‘When did he leave?’
‘Really?’ Sanse embarked on clicking his knuckles.
‘I remember you,’ the receptionist said. ‘The clicking of knuckles. Your colleague was undergoing dialysis sometime back.’
‘What a superb memory. Who conducts dialysis in Dr. Herman’s absence?’
‘You know him; everything practically stops in his absence.’
‘Seems like I must seek assistance elsewhere,’ Sanse said. ‘Thanks all the same.’
Sanse stopped at Disneyland Club along Accra Road for a beer before he drove to Shalom Junior School. He parked outside the cabin where Maggie’s body was being kept. After a brief exchange with Pai the two proceeded to the manager’s office.
‘Detectives, is the doctor here?’ Baraza asked.
‘Can we see your payroll?’ Sanse said.
Baraza regarded the two detectives for a long moment before he took a piece of paper and wrote employees’ names and their pay. ‘I am the payroll.’
‘Zachary got thrice Clifford’s salary,’ Sanse said.
‘Zachary was worth a hundred times more,’ Baraza said. ‘Kids loved him, parents respected him. Where are you going with this?’
‘You sacked two girls with whom he was involved,’ Sanse said. ‘You would do anything to keep him.’
‘I am a businessman,’ Baraza said. ‘Much as employee retention is important I can’t allow everyone to play Romeo and Juliet. Of course the sackings rubbed the staff the wrong way but I am not here to please anybody. Making a business decision is not like pointing black from white. The simple truth is, if I had to choose between Zachary and the next worker my choice would remain constant over and over.’
‘Yet he planned to quit,’ Pai said.
‘What gives you the idea?’
‘How dare he after all the demigod treatment?’ Pai said.
Baraza peeled off his glasses. ‘Are you insinuating what I think you’re insinuating? My goose is cooked for heaven’s sake! Now parents will question the safety of their kids. Workers will spend half of the time looking over their shoulders. Look at the dormitory coming up. Look at it! I plan to grow this place, not to run it down! I think you owe me an apology.’
‘Dr. Herman is out of the country,’ Sanse said.
‘You keep the key to the gate near the toilets,’ Sanse said.
Baraza jerked suddenly and dialled his phone frantically. ‘I can explain… Caroline, where are you? Thank goodness. Hurry up to my office, please.’
Pai paced. Sanse clicked his knuckles. Baraza removed his coat and mopped his dump face.
A slim, timid-looking girl walked into the office.
‘Caroline,’ Baraza’s voice was laden with relief. ‘Sorry for everything. But you should give the detectives our whereabouts at the time Zachary was killed.’
The girl’s eyes dropped.
‘Prestige Hotel,’ she was barely audible.
‘Doing what?’ Pai asked.
‘Mr. Baraza said for me to work here I had to…,’ the girl tried to talk but ended up sobbing.
‘So the workers can’t be intimate with each other but you can force yourself on them,’ Sanse approached the girl. ‘Do you want to press charges?’
Caroline’s sobs increased. Sanse excused her.
‘I know it is wrong…,’ Baraza started.
‘Get in the car,’ Sanse said.
‘We can settle this…’
Sanse reached for his gun. Baraza hurried towards the detectives’ car.
As darkness crept in so did frustrations in the workers. They were excited to see Pai and Sanse argue as they headed to the car. Pai was clearly as fed up as they were. Noel, now crouched at the corner, was the only one not interested in the drama taking shape outside.
Sanse opened the door for Baraza and slammed it after him.
‘Poor Pai,’ Esau said as Sanse seized Pai by his collar and shoved him. Sanse entered the room where Maggie’s body was as Pai hurried towards the staffroom. He stopped at the door for what seemed like a roll-call. He stepped away just as the car was driving out of the compound, fished out his phone, talked briefly, pocketed it and stood akimbo. His eyes narrowed as Esau approached him.
‘You’re increasingly becoming unlikable,’ Pai said.
‘That is unfortunate,’ Esau said. ‘Your partner seems a bit obsessed with corpses.’
‘Congratulations for fuelling his obsession,’ Pai said.
‘Blame it on my genes or whatever. My elder brother hanged himself when his wife left him. My father slugged his boss following a dress-down. Think of a shoot-from-the-hip bloodline.’
‘You mean like a fools bloodline?’
‘You said the two of you are in the same rank,’ Esau said. ‘Senior detective.’
‘And you know otherwise?’
‘You are stronger physically than Sanse yet he keeps tossing you around.’
Pai’s eyes became slits. ‘What do you want?’
‘To go home,’ Esau said. ‘Come on, you want out too.’
Pai regarded the young man in semi-darkness. ‘Do you ever tire of being a nuisance?’
‘Your partner is…’
‘Don’t test my patience.’
Esau retreated to the staffroom. Fifteen minutes later a car drove into the compound. Pai hurried to the staffroom and summoned Judy.
‘You are in charge,’ he said. ‘No one leaves. Understood?’
‘Sir…?’ Judy started.
‘Just do it!’
A storm was already afoot before Pai could drive out of the compound.
‘Damn!’ Esau said. ‘We are stuck between a busybody and his toy.’
‘Rephrase that to “a lunatic and a dunderhead”,’ Edmond offered.
‘Why did they arrest Mr. Baraza?’ Judy asked.
‘I have an educated guess,’ Clifford said. ‘He was interviewing Caroline.’
The men laughed, the women frowned. Noel was still lost in her own world at the corner.
‘Shit!’ Clifford exploded. ‘I am tired of this circus.’
‘I am hungry, angry and weary,’ said Edmond.
‘Spare the departed souls a thought, will you?’ Judy said.
‘Guys,’ Esau started for the door, ‘so long!’
‘You heard the detective,’ Judy warned.
Edmond followed Esau.
‘Hey, I am warning you,’ Judy said.
‘We stand warned,’ Clifford said walking out. Janet regarded Judy, lifted her shoulders, dropped them and marched out.
Noel remained at the corner.
The hooded figure combined caution with speed like a seasoned soldier as it approached the cabin. Every second mattered as Sanse or Pai could return any moment. Interesting that the whole affair should start and end with metal rods, he thought fastening his grip on the metal rod in his gloved hand. Anyone who stands in the way is as good as dead, he thought. I have become damn good at it.
The padlock gave on the first blow. He stormed the small room, his heart threatening to break free. Thirty seconds and he was out of here.
‘Clifford,’ a voice called. ‘What took you so long?’
Clifford stopped dead as a powerful beam caught him dead in the face. He flung the rod which hit the far wall. He froze as a gun cracked.
‘What are the odds that I will empty the clip wide?’ Sanse said. ‘Do the math, Clifford.’
‘You left in the car,’ Clifford said at length.
‘My passenger left in the car. Looks like you bought the little altercation with my partner.’
‘Let me guess,’ Clifford said, ‘the eyeball thing is a ruse too.’
‘It is a murder detection myth we all shared in our childhood.’
‘Nobody ever pulled the rag from under my feet like this. Congratulations.’
‘We are smart until we’re not,’ Sanse said.
‘What gave me away?’
‘Janet,’ Sanse said. ‘You separated four days ago. Furthering one’s education can necessitate the suspension of tying the knot or having kids but not an affair. I wouldn’t have let go without a fight if I were in your shoes. Zachary gave Noel the boot yesterday. He sounds like a guy who kicked out a girl for another. Coincidentally, to Janet, Zachary was “Zach”. On your part you denied ever having been in an affair. You wanted justice for Zachary until I mentioned the eyeball expert. You suddenly realised we might take forever to solve the case.’
Someone put the lights on to reveal some workers at the doorway.
‘You!’ Janet said.
‘Liar!’ Clifford charged. ‘I trailed you to Java where you and Zachary had dinner. How could you choose him over us? The bastard was a user who would never marry in a thousand years. I couldn’t sit back as he broke your heart.’
‘You are a dunderhead,’ Janet said. ‘It is my love to give, not yours to take!’
‘No one can love you as I do!’
‘No one can hate you as I do!’ Janet said. ‘You were ever too insensitive and selfish.’
‘Wait a minute,’ Judy addressed Clifford. ‘How did you get from Zachary’s office?’
‘Through the dilapidated ceiling,’ Sanse said. ‘He took the keys to Class 4 whose ceiling is peeling off as well. The lock opens from either side. He used a chair on the table in the office and a rope in the classroom.’
‘Let me guess, Maggie saw him take the metal rod,’ Edmond said.
‘Esau took the rod,’ Pai said joining Sanse.
‘I was about to break into my locker when I saw my keys under Janet’s chair,’ Esau said. ‘I put the rod on the window sill planning to return it to the kitchen. I was shaken when I saw it on Zachary’s body.’
‘Then why kill Maggie?’ Judy asked.
‘I urged her to recount what she had seen and when she mentioned having seen a movement in Class 4 I suggested we investigate,’ Clifford said. ‘We got to the building separately to avoid attracting attention.’
‘Why, Clifford, why?’ Judy asked.
‘I saw Janet through college,’ Clifford said. ‘I pushed her to apply for a job. How could she turn her back on me? I preserved myself for her. I am a virgin for goodness’ sake! What was expected of me? Jubilation for losing Janet to the man who thought I am here to get him bhang? When, two days ago, I arrived in the staffroom and saw the rod an idea occurred to me. I confiscated it and gave in to Zachary’s push to help him organise his office. At ten to eleven I suggested we smoke some weed near the toilets. I told him I would join him momentarily.’
‘Clifford,’ Sanse said. ‘The little that I know about love is that it is a two-way traffic. Love that was meant to be will be no matter what. Not that it matters now because you are under arrest for the murder of Zachary Muia and Maggie Keya.’
The Land Rover that had ferried Zachary’s body drove into the compound and left with Maggie’s body and Clifford.
‘You put Judy in charge knowing we would defy her,’ Esau addressed Pai.
‘Some of you are incurably arrogant,’ Pai said.
‘I just can’t believe you were playing us all along,’ Esau said. ‘You make a wonderful team. To be honest I doubt I could have cleared my name were you to charge me with Zachary’s murder. Thank you guys.’
Judy approached Sanse. ‘Why did you arrest Mr. Baraza?’
‘Who arrested who?’ Sanse asked. ‘The last I heard of Mr. Baraza he was at home shooting the breeze with his wife.’
‘But you left with him?’
‘How else could you be in charge?’ Pai asked.
Judy shook her head, smiling.
Books by Anthony Mugo
Emilio Gitonga is murdered following a quarrel with Bob Gitau, his son. In the quarrel father disowns son and son threatens father’s life. When Bob is found at the scene of crime holding the murder weapon he is put on trial. His fate appears to be sealed until his wife hires Mike Sanse, a former CID officer now a private investigator, to interrogate the case. The judgment is a week away. Sanse has a week to stop the bank from repossessing his home. Can the police stand being challenged? Did Bob kill his father? If not, can Sanse navigate the web of deception, blackmail and greed in time? Get it from Amazon, Smashwords, Okadabooks, eKitabu
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… Get it from Amazon, eKitabu, Smashwords, Okadabooks
Never Say Never is a compelling story of a teenager’s quest for education under the most difficult conditions. Daniel Muthini Njoki, the son of a poor, single mother, is arrested and taken to a remand home in Murang’a, then to Getathuru Reception Center. He is subsequently transferred to other approved schools: Kericho, Othaya, and finally Kabete, where he sits and passes the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education. The doors to a university are now open. Although he is an innocent inmate, and although textual evidence points in the direction of the mother, the question of who engineered his arrest is part of what makes this work so interesting. The sum total is a superlatively well written novel about the difficulties, the challenges, and the hopes of getting an education in Kenya.
In Ask the Stars, Titus Mutuiria remembers how at the age of ten he seemed to lead a normal life of sibling rivalry with Njorua, Antonnina and Sarah until some events from their past threaten to rewrite his life. Njorua and Antonnina learn that Mutumia Mutana, the mother they have always known is not their biological mother while Titus learns that Muthuri Mukaru is not the biological father of himself and Sarah. What follows is a gripping story of jealousy, fear, loyalty, friendship and love as the siblings grow and confront an array of challenges as the family forge solutions to the troubles that beset them. The story of young love between Titus and Joan and the actions of a lurking rapist in the village bring added dimensions to the story, showing that things are not always what they seem. Eventually, the teenagers and their parents must nurture a love that strengthens their family and that also brings sanity to the village.
Ask the Stars won the Burt Award for African Literature in 2014.
Blame it on the Stars is a sequel to Ask the Stars. When Mukaru’s marriage to Simane collapsed he retained custody of their children, Njorua and Antonnina. He married Mutana who had a son, Mutuiria. She bore him Sarah. Mukaru dies leaving behind a will that tie his beneficiaries together for four years. A week is hardly gone before Sarah is kidnapped forcing the family to disregard the will. Who would demand a million shillings from a family that is down to its last cent? Will Njorua and Antonnina sacrifice their inheritance in time to save Sarah? Blame it on the Stars affirms Anthony Mugo’s place as a master storyteller. Buy it from eKitabu, Amazon, Okadabooks, Smashwords