Alas! The boot was on the other leg!
What brought about this figurative lamentation was the extraordinary event that occurred this past Christmas. I can proudly say that my involvement in the uncommon affair was one of my ingenious moments. The few people who know me would conclude that I’m not one of those species of the human race who constantly blow their trumpets so loud that even dancers stop for a moment to cover their ears. But in this regard, I don’t mind, for a moment, falling among the class of those vociferous musicians, since I have no one else to toot my horn but myself.
The extraordinary event happened in a similarly extraordinary manner and day; it was on a Christmas Day. The day was unusually hot; even as people sang carols, the heat of the sun sang with them. It was barely noon and the weather was already as hot as it could possibly be; a rather fiery clime in close reminiscence of Hell, which, in a way, was quite ironical, considering the fact that the day was the only one in every three hundred and sixty-five one is allowed to enjoy the feel of heavenly bliss on earth. But this year’s weather proved particularly miserable, so miserable that I began to wonder if the ‘Santa Claus’ I just passed by was a devil hidden behind the mask, and if there was a legion of the demons scattered all around the world and offering candies to small kids. Well, I would have spent the rest of the Yule dwelling on the ridiculous thoughts if I had not experienced what I tagged ‘The Case of the Cherry’.
I was returning home from church that hot Christmas afternoon when it all happened—or began—or whatever. Their strange doctrines of this new church and the lousy weather were the only thoughts that filled my mind. I confess, I came to worship in the new synagogue with an intention far from righteousness; I actually went over with the hope of finding a new ‘catch’ I could spend the day with and probably roll each other in the hay at the end of the day. But this was not to be; the congregation was too religious for my own celestial believability. I used to be a devoted member of our local Catholic parish, but when Lilian—a damsel I used to sneak out with—married a rich politician and moved with him to the metropolis, my faith ebbed.
I was driving home from the synagogue that hot afternoon when I spotted a very attractive young lady pointing a gun at a heavily-moustached older man in front of a semi-detached house in a quiet street. Naturally, because I lacked the control to see beautiful things and pass them by, I stepped on the brake. There is something quite attractive about a pretty lady wielding a gun, if it wasn’t you she was aiming the gun at. As I climbed out of the car, a part of my mind chastised me for this slow-wittedness I was demonstrating. A few metres before me was a young woman with a murderous mien and I wanted to approach her; all because of what—beauty? I must be dumber than I thought, my mind insulted. But I threw both caution and sanity to the terrible weather and walked towards the dangerous damsel. I must have totally lost my mind because it ceased to counsel me. It was the mustachio who saw me first.
“Please, please young man,” he begged, “save me from this mad lady.”
I was taken aback by this statement. Mad lady? Was this man yearning for death? That was never how I would describe someone pointing a gun at me. However, to honour the first adjective that escaped from the oral cavity of this barbarous fellow, I stole a more careful look at the assailant in question to detect any evidence of insanity among her personalities. All I could see was a perfect epitome of beauty; she was absolutely stunning, I experienced a kind of illusory correlation where the perfect kind of woman I had met in my dreams came to reality. It didn’t matter if you looked from ankles up or you diverted your scrutiny to the crown-to-sole observation—she was faultless. Taking my eyes off her was becoming such a herculean task.
I was surprised that her beauty wasn’t having the same effect on the moustached moron. To hell with danger! If I were in the man’s position, I would still bask in the glory of beholding her beauty. It would be nothing short of good fortune to have such a paragon of impeccancy pull the trigger on you if you suffered a death-wish. But this was good, anyway; it was good that the man was not sharing my appreciation of her beauty. If he was, I would have taken offence. I usually tend to be overly jealous over things relating to pulchritude in the opposite human gender; I would have told the man to cast his eyes off of her. I would have asked him, rather rudely, if he realized that I was interested in her—or that I would soon have her in my arms at the end of the day. And if he objected or doubted me, I would strangle him before the lady shoot him, or kick him in that tender place in the groin, or simply rain abuse on him.
But this particular man was not seeing any perfection or beauty about the lady, he was actually seeing the opposite—terror. He was under the shade of the shadow that the house cast on the floor, yet he was perspiring much more profusely than I who remained under the ball of fire. Apart from sweating like a drummer boy, he was also shivering; a weird combination, an evidence of approaching lunacy. I was momentarily worried he might fall into an epileptic fit if he kept on his unstableness.
“Please save me from her! Stop standing there like an excited manhood and do something!” He raised his pitch a notch.
I wondered what the nitwit wanted me to do—save him by jumping between the gun and him? Not a chance in hell. I can afford to rescue a drowning dog with a helicopter (if I have one), but I don’t think I would ever rescue this uncultured man with a bicycle.
The distressed damsel looked at me as if I were a roach that had just crawled out from the pit of a latrine. She asked, “What do you want here?”
If I told her what I really wanted with her, I was sure she would shoot me with all the bullets in the gun’s chamber and then knock down the moustached man with the handle of the pistol. Instead of being inanely honest to my own detriment, I asked, “What has the gentleman done wrong to warrant this impressive assault?” My mind instantly gave me the answer before the lady did. The man had somehow managed to pluck her petal. I desperately wished that was not the case; I could not stand the thought of knowing that this man—this ridiculous earthling-surrogate—would have tainted this acme of perfection with his groin. That would be terrible.
But the lady’s answer to my question was more terrible.
“This man is a murderer,” She said wrathfully. Hell hath no fury like a pretty damsel scorned. “He killed my father!”
“What!” I exclaimed.
“What!” the accused exclaimed, his moustache ruffled.
Our collective peals of exclamation were so raucous that a grazing goat nearby ignored its food, looked up and stared at us balefully.
“Wow!” I wowed. “That’s serious.”
“What nonsense are you talking about?” The man ejaculated, still wide-eyed.
“Stop acting like you’re innocent! You’re a murderer!”
“Of course I’m innocent, I didn’t kill anyone!”
“Shut your ugly gob, murderer!” the handsome lady was beginning to lose her temper. Judging by the way she held the pistol, I could tell that it was her first time of holding a gun. This was bad; such kind of weapon in the hand of a novice was way more dangerous. She could shoot without intending to; like her index finger might itch and accidentally pull the trigger. And with the weapon being clumsily held by this firearms-dilettante, no one was really safe among us; she might intend to shoot the man and blow off her own foot—or shoot me instead. There was no way telling the extent of disaster she could provoke.
Maybe I should have meddled at my own peril and driven off when I had the chance. Now that I had seen her face, I was rooted; I could just not possibly leave. Therefore, before slugs began to take wings and lodged themselves in my skull, I quickly interfered, politely of course.
“Why don’t we calm down?” I said.
“Who the geisha are you to tell us to calm down?”
I had no answer to that question. It is not everyday people call me a fish.
“Young man,” she was talking to me, “I suggest you crawl back to where you crawled out from before you share in this monster’s fate.”
Now I could walk away from this dangerous drama with my body parts still intact. This was a one in a million chances. I cast my face downward, sighed audibly with satisfaction, looked up into the lady’s bright eyes, and said, “But I can’t walk away from this.”
The lady stared at me as if snot was running from my nose, I even had to place my finger against my nostrils to confirm, it was dry.
“Are you having a death-wish or something?”
“Something.” I said.
“Why don’t you leave us to settle our issues amicably?”
“If shooting another man is your own way of settling issues, then I won’t leave—even if you have to shoot me. I can’t watch you kill another man in my presence.” I was horrified to hear myself saying those words. I decided I would never spend so long in the sun after today, that’s if I lived past today anyway.
She looked at me skeptically and said, “Why are you so interested in this devil’s well-being? Do you know him? Is he your relation?”
I was sure that a look of disbelief and horror took possession of my face. “Who? This man—my relation? Heaven forbid!”
“Then why don’t you mind your own business?”
“This is my business.”
“How do you mean?”
“I’m a police officer.” Guess what, I lied.
She cast me that look again; that look that could kill. It was evident that she didn’t believe me. To her, I didn’t look anything like a police officer; and to me, being a police officer is the last thing I would ever be. I don’t aspire to fall among one of the country’s finest; let’s be honest, I’ve committed some teeny-tiny crimes I’m not proud of. The next thing the lady said nearly threw me off my feet, “Show me your identity card.”
I was sure that right there, my eyes betrayed my falsehood, but she didn’t seem to notice it.
“Erm—erm,” I stuttered, “It’s in the car. I can get it for you if you want.”
“I want.” She replied flatly.
“Okay, but how am I sure that you won’t shoot the poor man before I return?”
She shrugged, “I might. He deserves to die! The devil murdered my father.”
“What makes you believe he was your father’s killer?”
“Because I was there when he died,” she seemed irritated by my question, “Can’t you see the blood on me?”
What blood? I nearly asked. Then I saw it; the black satin dress she was wearing didn’t allow me to notice it at first. A part of her dress was wet. One would have thought it was sweat until a closer look revealed the redness of the liquid; she was really having blood on her.
“This demon killed my father, that’s what happened.”
“Give me the details. How did he kill your father?”
“He poisoned him.”
“This devil was my father’s business partner.”
All these demonic titles for only one man? The man should be blushing, and giggling.
“A huge contract they landed last month fetched them an equally huge sum of money. According to my father, the money was safely kept in a bank with the intention of sharing it by January. But this greedy man—this fiend—wanted all the money for himself. So, he poisoned my father.”
Wow! I didn’t see that coming; that was quite a remarkable story. But I couldn’t help asking: “How did he poison him?”
“Late last night, we received a Christmas gift from him. It was wrapped in a box; my father refused to open it because it wasn’t yet Christmas. This morning, he opened the package.”
“It was a bomb?” I blurted out. That was usually the most common dramatic method of killing one’s enemy. A murderer sends a package to his victim, the recipient opens the gift, and boom! Six feet under.
The way the lady looked at me gave me the impression that I had said something incredibly silly.
“No, wise one,” she replied with reproach, “It wasn’t a bomb my father found in the package; he found some cherries. Didn’t I tell you he was poisoned?”
“Cherries?” I had problem registering that information into my mind. “Who would send someone some cherries for Christmas?”
“Evidently, people who knew my father, because that is the only thing he would appreciate above anything else. Cherry was his best fruit; he loved it a lot. He could go for days without food but he couldn’t stand a day without cherries, even his friends nicknamed him ‘Cherry’. He literally jumped with joy when he opened the package and found cherries in it.”
“What is your father’s name?” I interrupted her.
“And what did you say your name was again?”
“I didn’t tell you my name.”
She got me there.
“So, what is it then?”
That skeptical look returned anew. “Why do you want to know my name?”
“I’m a police officer, remember? It’s standard procedure.”
“My name is Jessica Smart.”
Jessica—peachy! I had never dated anyone with a J in her name. I almost dated a girl named Jummy but backed off when I learnt that her brother was a boxer and her father was just out of jail for putting five men in a hospital theatre. Wisdom comes from knowing which waters to not trouble.
“Kindly continue what you were telling me.” I said aloud.
“There were half a dozen cherries in the box but it was the first one my dad took that killed him. He had barely finished it when he started coughing vigorously, and by the time I fetched some water he was already coughing out blood. There was nobody to help me; it was a Christmas morning, all my neighbours had gone to church. I was weeping and screaming as I beheld his entire face covered in the blood that came from his nose and mouth. He wanted to tell me something but he was choking in his own blood. He died within ten minutes of gobbling the cherry. The cherries were poisoned, I knew he was trying to tell me that this monster poisoned him, but he could not.
“I remained there on the floor with him, his head still cradled in my arms. I was crying helplessly. My father had been brutally murdered, I had to do something about this; his murderer cannot go scot-free. I had to avenge my father’s death. Then I remembered that my father had a pistol in his cabinet. I gently laid down my father and went to retrieve the gun, it was still loaded. I covered my father with the bed sheet before leaving the house. This devil murdered my father. He doesn’t deserve to live!”
Oh Lord! She could pull the trigger anytime from now. I quickly turned to the accused and asked, “Is there any truth in what she said?”
“It’s definitely not! I didn’t kill anyone!”
“Are you saying it wasn’t you who sent her father some cherries?”
“It was me, but I didn’t poison the cherries.”
“Stop denying, killer,” she said, “You poisoned the cherries.”
“I didn’t poison the cherries, I swear on my life! I had no reason to kill your father.”
“Of course, you did. You killed him to have all the money to yourself.”
“But I’m not the only partner. There is a third partner.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. I was gradually getting confused.
“We are three business partners—Sam, John and I.”
“And what is your own name?”
“John is this third partner, right?”
“Didn’t I say that already? The three of us are the signatories to the account. None of us can withdraw the money without the signatures of all of us.” Then he gasped suddenly, “Oh my God!”
“Has she shot you already?” I asked.
“It now occurs to me,” he said and turned to the lady, “Miss Smart, I think John killed your father.”
She became puzzled, “What nonsense are you talking about? The cherries came from you, don’t pin your crime on someone else.”
“You don’t get it; the cherries didn’t come from me, they came from John.”
“Stop lying! You already admitted that the package came from you.”
“It’s true, John sent the cherries to me yesterday afternoon as a Christmas gift. He must have thought I was the one who liked cherries. When I opened the package and discovered what it contained, I was disappointed. I don’t like cherries at all. There were four cherries in the container, I bought two more, wrapped them in another package because the original package was destroyed while I was carelessly opening the gift. Then I sent the package to your father last night. I knew it was your father who loved cherries. If your father died by poisoned cherries, then the poison came from John. Good Lord, John must have wanted to kill me. He must have wanted to take me out because of the money. Such a greedy bastard!”
“I swear I’m not!”
“Where does this John live?” I asked.
“He lives in the next street.”
I turned to the armed lady, “Jessica, you don’t have to shoot him now. Let’s find out if he’s telling the truth or not.”
“We will pay John a visit.” I was now neck-deep involved in the situation. I hoped it paid off.
“What if we discovered that he was lying?”
“Then I would shoot him myself.” I desperately hoped Ben wasn’t lying. I wasn’t ready to shoot anyone. Hell, I hadn’t held a gun before, let alone pulling a trigger. I’m not as dangerous as I look.
“How would you do that? Do you have a gun on you?”
“I shall use your gun.”
“No, thanks. I would rather shoot him myself.”
“You don’t want to soil your innocence by having his blood on your hands.”
“I already had my father’s blood on my hands this morning.”
“Well, I meant that figuratively. Let’s go and see John, shall we?”
Like a spell, the accused and the accuser alike followed me to my car. Ben sat beside me in the front while Jessica obliged to remain in the back seat. She wanted to keep watch over Ben in case the older man attempted to try anything daring; Ben was to give directions to the third partner’s house. As I drove on, I prayed there would not be an accidental discharge where she would blow my brains out instead of Ben’s. Besides, I wouldn’t like the idea of having to face the mess of wiping Ben’s tiny brains off my dashboard.
The journey to John’s proved longer than I expected; we spent about quarter of an hour on the road, cutting from one dirty street to another. Ben was not being entirely truthful when he said ‘next street’. The route to the place was a maze of bumpy roads. The place wasn’t really as far as we had as much turnings. We finally stopped in front of a nice bungalow in another dirty and quiet street. I wondered what was wrong with this Christmas; everything that walked, crawled, flew or swam seemed to have suffered a sudden extinction.
We all got out of the car and walked to the front door of the house. Ben knocked three times before the door was finally opened by another older man who was completely hairless except his eyelashes; there was nothing on his head, eyebrows, no moustache and beards—even his arms and legs were as smooth as a baby’s bottom. He was dressed only in singlet and a pair of shorts.
“Ben!” He said when he sighted Ben, “Merry Christmas!” He didn’t seem to notice us.
“Why did you want to kill me, John?”
John looked bewildered, “Kill you? Why would I want to kill you?”
“Stop pretending! You poisoned the cherries you sent to me yesterday. Sam Cherry is dead!”
“Oh God! Who killed him? Why are you talking about poisoned cherries?”
Once again, I interferred. I said to John, “We were informed that you sent mister Ben here a package of cherries as a Christmas gift. Is that true?”
“That’s true; I thought he would appreciate my gift.”
“So, you are the person who killed my father?” It was not really a question, I was sure.
John turned to her, “Who are you?” He had barely finished asking the question when he gasped with surprise. He was noticing her for the first time, and he had been caught off-guard by her beauty.
“She is Cherry’s daughter. Her father died by the poisoned cherries you sent to me. She nearly shot me to death with the thought that it was me who poisoned the fruit, all thanks to you.”
“I didn’t poison any fruit, I swear.”
“Can we talk about this inside?” I suggested.
“Sure, why not? Please come in.” He stepped aside and we all filed inside, like sheep entering the Ark. John’s room was well-furnished. We all sat down like gentlemen, even Jessica relaxed a little bit and sat beside me, the gun well-hidden somewhere in her; I couldn’t guess where she kept it but I was sure she didn’t swallow it. Evidently, she was now interested in knowing who really killed her father between the two men. I was interested too; I was interested in her, but there was no denying the importance of discovering her father’s killer.
“You were saying you didn’t poison the cherries?” I asked John.
“Yes, I didn’t poison anything, I’m innocent.”
“How come Sam Smart died from cherry poisoning?”
He shrugged, “I don’t know.” Then he added, “Ben could have poisoned it before sending it forth.”
That made sense. It was possible that Ben could have injected poison into the fruits after receiving them and sending them to Sam, knowing that John would be accused of the crime. Besides, John sent him four cherries, and he, on the other hand, sent six to Smart. He could have deposited poison into the extra two.
But Ben threw this accusation right back at John, “You bought the cherries, you could have poisoned them with the intention of killing me. Too bad I sent the gift to someone else.”
“I didn’t buy the cherries,” John declared, “Someone sent them to me as a gift too.”
Now this was getting ridiculous; we were going round in circles.
“Who sent the gift to you?” I asked him.
He spread his hands, “I don’t know.”
“Come on, you can’t expect us to take that bullshit.”
“But it’s true, I don’t really know. I woke up yesterday morning to find a package on my doorstep.” He stood up and went to a nearby table for a small card. “There was nothing on the package; no sender’s name or address. All I found on it was the complimentary card.”
I collected the small card. On it was scrawled artistically with a calligraphy ink the words ‘A Merry Chrstmas’. I showed it to Jessica.
“Was there nothing else on the package?” I asked John.
“The truth is, I don’t know. I didn’t even open the package to check what it contained, I just sent the Christmas gift to someone else. I didn’t even know that the package contained cherries. I sent it to Ben without opening it. I only kept the complimentary card. Whoever poisoned Sam Cherry isn’t me, I swear.”
This was a tough conundrum; one of these two men killed Sam and neither one of them was admitting it. At least, one of them was lying. Why did Ben buy two more cherries? Why did he open the package in the first place when he knew that he would be sending it to someone else? His first reason wasn’t entirely smooth. Why did he send the gift in a different package? Not all the reasons he gave jive. And John himself could be lying when he said he received the gift anonymously. He could have bought the cherries himself, poisoned them, packaged them and sent the gift to Ben with the intention of killing him. The card he claimed to find on the package was hand-written on. He could have written the words himself. If not, why did he keep the card with him? Why didn’t he send it with the gift? Of course, he couldn’t. He kept it to convince us of his innocence. One of the two was the criminal. I looked at the card and stared at the faces of the men. There, I knew who was guilty; I knew the criminal.
I turned to Jessica, “Can I see you outside for a moment?”
I whispered into her ear, “I think I know the criminal.”
“Excuse us for a moment.” I told the men, then Jessica and I walked out of the house and shut the door behind us.
“So, who killed my father?” She asked without preliminaries.
“I believe neither of the men killed your father.”
“I believe your father committed suicide.”
“You’re crazy. I believe a lot of people would have told you that already.”
She was actually right; many people had called me a crazy young man. I always saw it as a compliment.
“Let me explain myself,” I told her, “When the three men got the money and kept it in the bank, one of then wanted a larger share; and that could only be achieved if at least one of the other partners died. The dead partner’s signature would not be needed for the withdrawal of the money. It was your father who placed the package on John’s doorstep yesterday morning. He was intending to have John killed so that he and Ben could share the money. Perhaps he was also intending to have Ben killed before the end of the year; that, I can’t tell.
“But his plan boomeranged when John, without opening, sent the package to Ben who in turn opened the package, found the fruit he hated, bought two extra, changed the package and sent the gift back to your dad. But due to your father’s exceptional fondness for cherries, he didn’t suspect anything. There was nothing to suspect anyway; the package he received was different from what he sent, and the number of cherries he received were more than what he sent, so he had no reason to suspect that the poisoned fruits he sent out yesterday morning were returned to him last night. He ate one of his own poisoned cherries and died.” I stopped.
Jessica looked at me for a long time; studying me, appraising me, assessing me. Then she asked, “What gave you the impression of the deduction you just made?”
I gave her the small card I was holding and said, “Look carefully at what is written on that card, did you notice anything different?”
She shook her head and said, “No.”
“Look again, you will see that the ‘Christmas’ is spelt wrongly; it’s without the letter ‘i’.”
“Yes, I see it. What does that have to do with anything?”
“It has a lot to do with everything. Your father left a clue there, I can call it a signature. He just didn’t know that anyone would notice it. Thank goodness he did, an innocent person could have been prosecuted for his death if he hadn’t.”
“I don’t understand anything you’re saying.”
“What was your father’s nickname again?”
“Then it’s plain for everyone to see.”
“What is that?”
“It’s simple,” I said, “What is written on that card ‘A Merry Chrstmas’ is the exact anagram of ‘Sam Cherry Smart’.”
“Oh, my God!” She covered her face with her palms. I was sure she was close to tears when she asked, “What are we going to do now?”
Take note of the royal plural pronoun.
“Four things,” I replied, “First and foremost, you’re going to give me the gun you concealed within you. It’s a dangerous.” She handed me the gun. “Secondly, you will go back inside and tell the men that you’re no longer interested in knowing who killed father but you’re going to collect your father’s share of the money. I can go with you if you don’t mind. Then thirdly, we shall go and bury your father.”
“Okay, let’s go,” she said, paused for a moment and asked, “What is the fourth?”
I smiled and spread my hands out, “You will marry me.”
She was not surprised, she regarded me curiously for a moment before stepping into my embrace.
Naturally, I should kiss her. I did exactly that.
Courtesy: Larry Sun #FOS
Merry Christmas!* 😃