Mysterious case of Veronica Part 2

Brandon was kept handcuffed in the room, and he kept on screaming, “I swear to God I didn’t kill her. I went to the house but then just remembering her made my stomach ache, so I went to Melinda’s house, but she was not in her home, so I came back. I am telling you the truth. I didn’t kill her.”

Claire was going to take Brandon to holding cell when Lee stopped her. For Brandon, he was the sheep in wolf’s clothing surrounded by villagers ready to kill him and Lee was the head who stopped the killing just to find the real wolf. The reason for this stop was Adrian. According to Adrian, a purchase was made in the previous month. The person who bought the poison was Robert Martins, Alex’s Partner. An immediate arrest warrant was issued in the name of Robert Martins. They went to his house. After knocking several times, Lee decided to barge in. Robert was nowhere to be seen but an awful smell was filled in the whole place. The smell was originating from the bedroom. Robert Martins was sleeping dead in his bed. Forensics were called to take the body. With no visible wound marks, everyone suspected that he also died of poisoning.

Adrian asked, “Why he wanted to kill Veronica?”

“The real question is whether he was an accomplice or a pawn or another victim?” Lee replied.

The whole house was searched for the poison, but nothing was found in his home. Everyone returned to the bureau. According to the early reports, he died three days ago probably the night he was talking to Lee and his team at Alex’s house. He went to sleep and never woke up again. Last time forensics opened the floodgates but this time, they destroyed it. The news stupefied half of the office. The poison used was not strychnine; it was ricin. According to the forensics, ricin takes about an hour or more to act on anyone’s body. The whole team was exhausted as this new evidence confused the already complicated case to its epitome. Lee told everyone to sum it up for that day and look into the case with a fresh set of eyes next day. Lee also went to his room, but the face of Veronica always surfaced whenever he closes his eyes. Lying there he decided to use his nicotine patch to clear his mind. His usual two nicotine patch was not sufficient this time. Instead, he ended up using five of them at the same time. He flooded his body with nicotine and mind with thoughts.

“Maybe Robert was blackmailed to do.”

“Maybe he collaborated to kill Veronica but why then what he could gain by killing that poor soul.”

“Maybe killer made him buy the poison to keep his name off the charts.”

“But the main question is why two different toxins were used to kill them.”

Lee decided to make the timeline of everything that happened.

“Veronica was found dead in Alex’s room. If our hypothesis is correct, Robert also took the poison at Alex’s house. Since he bought the previous one, it is safe to assume that he had a part in all this. Wait a second. He would have gained nothing by killing Veronica, but now it looks more like the coffee was for Alex to drink and with her dead, he might have taken over the company. This is it. But it only explains what happened before we still need to figure out who killed him and why he needed other drug and especially why ricin. This also means that whoever murdered Robert was also in the party, but if Alex was the target, then there is a lot of money involved. We need to know everyone who will be benefitted from their death.”

Next morning, Lee discussed this idea with everyone. Everyone knew Lee was high during the previous night, but none complained as the theory seemed correct and this would help them move forward in this case.

“But this is a hell lot of a coincidence. What a poor soul.” Claire said.

“Or we can say Alex is incredibly lucky” Adrian tried to lighten the mood, but Lee shut him off. They started looking for people who will be benefitted from both of their deaths. Lee decided to call Alex to know that what will happen to the company and her money if anyone of them dies. According to her, Robert might have named everything he owns to his brother and company to her.

“Why the company to you?”

“He said that we both don’t have the right heir for our business so we should name each other.”

“What will happen if you both die?”

“If I die, everything will be going to Veronica and company to Robert. But if we both die then Michael will get the business as he is VP.”

“This is why no one should name unknown people in their wills, they end up dead and leave guys like us with a lot of work.” Lee thought.

“Find out who is Robert’s brother and call Michael again for questioning but before that gather as much data on him as you can because this is now two homicides and a possible corporate benefit.”

“Detective Lee, why are you asking me this question?”

“Ma’am, we all think that the poison which killed Veronica was intended for you. She just accidently got in the way.”

“Do you mean Robert tried to kill me?”

“Most probably and he was not alone.”

“Please, find them. My sister died because of me; this is so not fair. God even took away the last family I had.”

Alex started sobbing. Claire showed her way out. Michael reached the bureau and asked,

“What’s the matter?”

“Did you and Robert talk during the party?”

“No, not actually. Why?”

“Do you know what will happen to the company if both Robert and Alex dies?”

“I am afraid not.”

“The company will be yours, and I am not sure about you not knowing, so tell us the truth or we will force it out from you.”

“I am telling you the truth, and I think I will need my attorney now.”

With Michael lawyered up, Lee figured they won’t get any useful data from him now without any substantial evidence. On the other hand, Adrian tracked down Robert’s brother. His name was Jordan Martins. He was a salesperson for a car company in Texas. He was notified and was called to the Bureau for further questioning. In the meantime, the team was gathering information on other people at the party to check if someone else is also involved.

“Hey Boss, how to buy ricin?” Adrian asked.

“You can buy it online from the dark web, but it can be made in a home using castor beans.”

“Okay.”

Everyone kept vetting the people from the party. Claire and Adrian were given the job to go through their online data to find anything useful. Adrian’s scientific curiosity was piqued, so he started searching for ricin and castor beans. While he was searching for castor beans, he remembered seeing the plant at Alex’s house. The team immediately went to her house. But no one was at the house. They went to the backyard, and there was a castor bean plant. Before anyone can comment on anything, Lee’s phone rang.

“Is Detective Lee there?”

“Yes, Detective Lee here.”

“A girl named Alex was admitted to the Lance Hospital. She gave me this number before fainting, and she said something like P or Po, I didn’t catch it.”

“Who are you?”

“I was shopping at the general store where she fainted,”

“Give it to the attending doctor, right now.”

Lee heard him running.

“Hello, this is Doctor Smith here.”

“Hello doctor, there is a high possibility that she was poisoned probably by ricin or strychnine.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am confident about poisoning but not the drug.”

“With the real murderer continuously changing the drug how can I be sure about the drug.”

Lee and team directly went to the hospital. According to the doctor, she ingested ricin and was almost lethal if she hadn’t arrived on time or without the proper knowledge.

“How is she?”

“She’s stable, but we have given her sedatives. She can talk to you tomorrow morning.”

They straight-forward went to her house and started collecting all the edibles. Claire found a half-eaten chocolate in her kitchen. She was pretty sure that she took poison from this item. She also found a box full of it in the fridge, but there was another piece missing. The forensics send the report early morning, and Claire was right; the chocolate was sprinkled with ricin all over it. According to the forensics, if she had eaten the whole chocolate she was beyond saving.

“She’s got the devil’s luck,” Adrian said laughing.

They went to the hospital. Alex was awake. Lee asked, “How are you feeling now?”

“I am fine but still feeling weak.”

“Are you good enough for us to ask questions?”

“Yeah, I am feeling alright.”

“Why does your backyard has a castor bean plant?”

“Backyard was handled by Veronica. I didn’t even know which plant you are talking about.”

“Okay, who gave you the chocolates that you were eating?”

“Those chocolates…. Veronica gave me before the party. But I kept it in the fridge because I assumed it would be bitter in taste as she loves dark chocolate.”

“Is there any chance Robert might have taken it?”

“Maybe. I mean Robert always helps himself with edibles, and he was very fond of chocolates.”

“Thanks for the input.”

They went to check with the forensics about what Robert ate before he died. According to the forensics, there were steak, lettuce, capsicum, chocolate and some other veggies. They cross-referenced it with the chocolate they found at Alex’s house. It was the same one, so Veronica’s chocolate poisoned Robert. Everyone was a bit astonished by this revelations.  Robert and Veronica are dead because they something didn’t go according to the plan. Everyone wanted to know whose plan got awry. Meanwhile, Robert’s brother Jordan arrived at the bureau. They started off with general questions about their relationship.

“He and I were a bit distant after our mother died. I didn’t even know he was a partner in a company.”

“Where were you on May 20?”

“I was in Texas doing my job. You can verify that from my supervisors.”

“Okay. Thank you. We will be in touch.”

Everyone knew that his brother is not even remotely involved in this case. Lee believed every piece of the puzzle is on the board, and no one else is involved in this case. He started explaining everything.

“Let us assume there was someone else killed Robert but that would mean he and Veronica were collaborating to kill  Alex, but then this mystery man also knew about the strychnine in the cup. That means he planned on killing Alex by giving her two different poison from two different sources but then one screwed up, and he killed the other guy. “

“It is a possible explanation, isn’t it?” Adrian commented.

“No, it’s not because I don’t think there is a mysterious guy. I believe that they both tried to kill Alex for monetary gain but took each other’s poison and ended up dead.”

“That would be quite the case. I see tomorrow’s headline. Murderers killed themselves.”

“God favors the good,” Claire said.

“Maybe. We have to tell Alex about this and put an end to this case.” Lee said and then Adrian ordered the case ending pizza. Next morning, Alex was discharged. Lee called everyone related to the case to Alex’s house to tell everyone the whole story and after hearing what happened, everyone was shocked by the turn of events.

“God didn’t wait for the human court to punish the wicked,” Melinda said.

“I knew she was the type of the girl who could kill someone for money,” Brandon added.

“Let’s not insult the dead. It’s not right. What are you going to do, Alex?” Michael said. He was still not convinced that the girl he loved tried to kill someone.

“I still can’t believe what happened in this week. I need to take a break. First, I have to visit Oregon and do some paperwork. Michael, you are in charge till I come back.”

Lee and his team left. Alex has made lunch for everyone else. After taking lunch, everyone went on their way. Alex went to Veronica’s room, laid down. It was night by the time she woke up. She went to the living room to drink wine and think about the past.

“It’s been five years since we came to this city and it took me five years, but now everything belongs to me, even your name plus an added bonus from that fool Robert.”

The Mysterious case of Veronica

It was a dark, dull and weeping night like a widow who had lost all her hope for tomorrow when they received that ill-fated call. So, Lee and his team took off for the crime scene. When they reached there, the first responders had already sealed the room. When he looked at the corpse, she was facing him, staring at him forlornly and asking him why her. She was in her late 20s. There were no visible wound marks. The investigators started the preliminary examination and by the end of it, it was concluded that she died because of asphyxiation. To get the necessary details post-mortem of the body was needed. It was clear that it was either murder by poison or suicide. So, everyone started exploring the room for the usual suspects and found something.

“A Suicide, huh.” thought Detective Lee. They found a phial of poison with a suicide note in it.

The letter said, “I am tired of this life, taking care of everything and with everything going down I don’t think we can survive much longer, so I have decided to end my pitiful life, and I apologise to everyone who cared about me. Please forgive me.” They got their suicide note, but the whole ink was smudged because of the liquid in the phial. Even though it was a suicide, deaths during parties tend to increase the work exponentially. The forensics started taking the body for post-mortem and phial as the evidence, so Lee and his team began questioning everyone at the party. After noting down everyone’s alibi during the estimated time of death, Lee decided to call it in for the day. So they were left with four people Brandon (victim’s boyfriend), Alex (House owner), Robert (Alex’s Partner) and Michael (Alex’s marketing VP) who were directly or indirectly related to her. They decided to get all the details so that they can close the case.

They started with the boyfriend. Brandon was the first to discover the body, so they asked what happened.

“I was late for the party, so I went to Alex and asked about Veronica (victim) to which she replied that she was not feeling well, so she went to her room.”

“So why did you go to Alex’s room?” Adrian interrupted.

“I didn’t find Veronica in her room, so I went to Alex, and she said that Veronica might have gone to her room to take the medicine. So she and I went to her room, found Veronica lying there unconscious so I dialled 911 they said she was dead. Alex fainted just by hearing that.”

Lee decided to ask Alex about Veronica’s mental state before committing suicide, but as soon as he turned to her, she broke into tears. So they decided to let her calm down.

“What do you feel about Veronica, Robert?”

“She was a sweet girl, and I seldom meet, so I didn’t know much about her.”

Robert was feeling sick, so we let him go. They moved on to the VP, who was also Victim’s ex-boyfriend and Claire sensed anger in his words; he said that she was a lovely lady, but she had some pride issues which occasionally gets her into trouble, but there were never any significant issues.

By that time, Alex was calmed down, but the face of pain and horror hadn’t left her when they asked about Veronica, and she said, “Veronica and I know each other from childhood. We lived in Michigan. We were orphaned because of a gas cylinder explosion at my house where we all were having picnic killing our parents and my brother. We kept moving from here and there, until some year back when I decided that I should use my father’s money to start a company and settle down. We came to Oregon and established our little enterprise, but Veronica didn’t want to work in the business, so I didn’t force her.”

“Was she in any debts?”

“None as per my knowledge.”

“Strange. So, how was her life pitiful? Adrian go check her balances.”

Then they asked about her state of mind before her death, and she replied, “Veronica was cheerful like always, and she was enjoying the party till a guy approached him. I was not able to see him, but he said something that upset her completely, and she went to the bar and then she started drinking. Her head began to hurt so I told her to go and take some medicine. I should have noticed that she was feeling lonely. I should have.” She again broke into tears.

But for Lee there was a simple question, “Could it be a homicide?”

In the following day, the forensics report came, and the opened the floodgates before the inauguration. They indicated that the ink on the paper was at least a month old and the poison used is a very excruciating one known as Strychnine so either the victim was a masochist or someone wanted her dead badly. Since the case was now a classic homicide, the team was sent to the house to search for evidence. The whole outside was wiped out clean because of the heavy rain previous night. Adrian went to explore the outside, so Lee and Claire went to search the insides. The inside was ransacked for evidence, but nothing was found. On the other hand, Adrian found some washed off footprints outside the house leading to the house from back exit.

With some washed off prints, the case was as good as nothing. “More evidence are needed just to deduce how someone did it.”

Now, everyone started to believe that mysterious man is somehow involved in this case, so Alex was called to describe him.

“Alex, how will you describe that man?”

“He was an average guy with a fair complexion, brown hair, and was wearing a round neck black T-shirt and light blue jeans.”

Only three people matched the said criteria: Brandon, Michael, and Nick. All of them were called in for questioning. Nick was a coworker at her company. The line of question started with where they were at the time of the murder and how was their relationship with the victim.

“I was at The Shrimps drinking,” Nick replied.

“So how did you end up in the party?”

“The bar was near the house so I thought I should join the party.”

“Anyone can verify that you were in the bar?”

“Yes, I was with Nigel.”

“What do you think about Veronica?”

“I was not particularly fond of her. I was angry at her because she took my promotion even though she didn’t want it and I was in a desperate need of some extra cash because of my mother’s illness. I was there just to show my anger.”

“By killing her?”

“For god sake, NO. I would never harm a human.”

Adrian went to confirm the alibi. Michael was next in question.

“Where were you, Michael?”

“I was dancing with Jessica outside the house.”

Michael’s alibi was in question. But, since there was no strong evidence there, he couldn’t be detained because everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Adrian arrived with a grin on his face as according to Nigel he was asleep for most of the time and he did not remember a single thing. Lee went to demand an explanation from Nick, but he was nowhere to be found.

Nick escaped.

An immediate bolo was put for his capture. Lee was furious that how one of the prime suspects escaped the building. But thanks to the unfortunate luck of Nick, he was caught in his uncle’s car while trying to elope the state. He was brought down for questioning.

Ferocious Lee slammed the table and asked

“Why did you kill Veronica?”

“I…” “I sw….” “I swear, I didn’t.”

“You ran from the station. Just accept it, you don’t want me angry.”

“But…”

“I am telling the truth I accidently saw the evidence and found you have found footprints outside the house.”

“So?”

“Those were mine. I was furious at her, and while I was drunk and a wicked thought came up, and I went to complete that thought but as soon as I entered there was a party going on and heard that Veronica was found unconscious. I am telling you the truth. You have to believe me.”

Lee didn’t believe in him at all, but it was Michael who saw something and said, “You might want to look into Brandon his ex-girlfriend Melinda who he started meeting again.”

“How did you know?”

“Ah….. Actually…”

“Spit out or we will make you.”

“I was spying Brandon so that I can use something to break Veronica and Brandon.”

Lee decided to call Melinda. Claire did the background check for her and found out that she was a chemist. They were looking for some with good knowledge of chemicals as the poison used, was rare and needed a permit. So, a chemist sure jumped to the top position in the list of suspects. Claire and Adrian were sent with a warrant to search Melinda’s house. They went to her house and knocked, but no one answered the door. After waiting for a few minute, a Brunette girl arrived. She was in her early 30s and kept on shaking like she was having trouble standing. When they showed her the warrant, she invited them and then slammed the door on their face. They break into the house. They saw Melinda trying to escape from the back. Claire ran to catch her, and Adrian went from the other side. She jumped out and started her bike to run away, so Claire gave the final warning before taking a shot.

The bullet grazed her shoulder, and she lost her balance. Adrian came from the side and captured her, but she fainted due to the concussion. Adrian and Claire were happy as they thought that they had arrested the culprit. She was brought to the bureau for confession. When she woke up, she was handcuffed in the interrogation room. Her face told the team that they caught her red handed.

“I swear those drugs doesn’t belong to me. It was my friend’s,” said Melinda.

“What are you talking about?”

“I am arrested for possession of drugs, right?”

“No, you were arrested for the murder of Veronica Stensland.”

“What? I didn’t kill her.”

Meanwhile, Adrian was rummaging Melinda’s house. He found a lot of chemicals and drugs. He sent all the chemicals to the forensics so that they can verify them. She also had a small farm in the backyard. He also found some pictures of Veronica with Brandon in a box hidden in the closet. The forensic report was sent directly to Lee.

“Oh, look what we found at your house. Heroin, cocaine, marijuana, pesticides, and strychnine and photos of Brandon and Veronica. So you were spying on them as well.”

“These photos were clicked when he and I were in the relationship. I hired a PI to investigate him whether he was cheating me or not.”

“You know, the poison used for killing Veronica was strychnine which you are also having.”

“I use that for killing rodents in my farm.”

“So what? Can’t you use them for poisoning Veronica as well?”

“But I didn’t.”

“Where were you around 8 pm on 20th May?”

“I was in the stadium watching the Beavers match.”

Everyone was lost. Melinda’s alibi was rock solid. But the most important thing was missing even if they know she murdered her, there was no proof whatsoever against them, and all the evidence are circumstantial. They started to work backwards to know if the can find the correct co-relation between the motive and victim.

“Murder occurs only because of few reasons,” Lee said.

“Anger, Greed, or Lust,” Adrian added.

“Greed can’t be the reason to kill her because she doesn’t own anything. Lust is out for now, and we hadn’t looked into anger. She must have agitated someone to the level he blew off.”

“Was there any camera at the scene?”

“No, there was none at the site, but we do have a camera on the road.”

Lee was hoping for the best that the camera might have caught someone who is not supposed to be there so that this case can move forward otherwise it was going cold. The camera footage would be there in an hour. But, according to the forensics, this poison can’t be bought easily. Lee decided to ask Melinda a few more things like where she bought it. According to her, only two stores sell this chemical, but you can buy it online. He asked while buying from the store is there any paperwork. She replied affirmatively. Finally, there was some paperwork which can help them in moving this case forward. They started collecting data on everyone who bought the poison. Patrick brought the camera footage, and they began to look into it.

A whole day passed, and they were not able to find a single thing when suddenly Adrian said to stop the tape and rewind it half an hour and there it was, the proof that would be used to nail the murderers to the wall.

“This looked like a one man job, but both of them were in it together.”

The recording revealed Brandon arriving at the party twice that means he was lying about his time of arrival. Lee was excited to catch him, so he went to pick Brandon, and Claire went to collect Melinda from the prison. Brandon came in quietly but also called his lawyer this time.

“Brandon there is no escaping from this and you know that. We caught you on the camera this time so just confess. We are aware that you were at Alex’s house half an hour before the crime, and then you took off. You received help from Melinda for the poison and then arrived at the party after the murder. You were the guy she met just before her death.”

“I hated her. I thought she was an awesome person, but she was a person who lived on other people miseries. When I came to know about her true nature I tried to break up with her but she won’t allow it as she was enjoying herself. She even blackmailed me to keep the relationship. But, I swear…”

Alex couldn’t hold it anymore and went there and slapped him and said that you never knew her. Lee couldn’t resist his smile, but Adrian’s call faded it.

END OF PART I.

 

The Lost Child

Everyone was searching for her.

They saw a head poking out from the dirt in the woods. Its right eye was gone, and a worm had burrowed in the empty socket. They thought it might be the corpse at first, but soon realised it was only a doll. They pulled it up and sent it to the forensics. She was used as evidence in the case, I believe. She was shown to everyone in the courtroom. The poor thing looked so confused, very lost and far away from home. I swear I can see that desperate flicker of emotion in its remaining left eye, but of course, that’s ridiculous. I was just a child, attaching meaning to things that were not there. After the trial, it was given back to the family, but her mother abandoned it and screamed that she wanted it out of her sight. The mother’s sister – my mom – said not to do that, and that she would give the doll a home cause it’s the last thing that my cousin held dear.

Thirty-five years later, now everyone involved in that case is dead. The doll is still in my possession. But now, it’s all rusty and old with color faded hair. During the day it is simply an old doll with a glassy eye and a waning face. But when viewed in the night, things change considerably. Darkness always has a way of warping the reality. I would become a child again feeling haunted by its mere presence. That doll just gives me the feeling of living with ‘Annabelle’.

The doll was no longer a mere toy that children plays with; it has become a haunting memory, a lost child crying in the woods. It reminds me of her; like forever trapped in youth, forever entwined with the doll. I would begin to question the possibilities that what had happened to her, and why she would ever leave the doll behind. I’d sit for hours and wonder, staring the doll and hopelessly thinking. I had been watching it that morning, surveying the doll with dull and tired eyes when I found something written in its socket. Since leaving work, I thought to see it later as I would need a magnifying glass to read the small letters.

In the evening when I started to examine it, I heard the telephone.  It’s incessant ringing quickly drowned my macabre thoughts, and I went out to the hallway to answer it. “Hello?” The voice on the other end was a familiar one, which always unnerves me more than hearing a stranger’s. Family always want something. True enough, my cousin Swati had a favour to ask. Our mutual uncle, Ramesh needed somewhere to stay while she went and pleasured herself with a four-week cruise. “He says he’s okay to be left on his own,” she said “But we all know he isn’t. We’d be so grateful if you could.” I cordially accepted the offer as uncle gave me a lot of gift in the past and was a frequent visitor at our house. He’s a lone figure that traipses through my childhood memories, with ropes of sentiment or emotion binding him to me. I hadn’t seen him for a decade, after my mother’s demise. But whenever he’s around I feel chilling waves passing through me, I don’t know why.

The doll slumped as usual against the wall, stared at me. Dolls can’t look at people, so I suppose I mean that I was staring at it. Either way, our eyes met. So, I took the magnifying glass and read what was written there. It read: “2845/56/2 9764” I know as much as the next sane person that this is related to some code but don’t know what it is and where it leads to.  In my bedroom, I took a damp cardboard box from the wardrobe and spilt the contents over the mattress of my bed. Yellowed newspaper clippings and legal documents tumbled onto the sheets, curling at the edges like stale sandwiches. I searched through them, spreading each one out in search of a pattern.
Search for missing child continues

Local man suspected in child’s disappearance

Thirty Years On- The Mystery of the Lost Girl and the Doll she left behind.

My Uncle arrived a few weeks later, and it was evident he had succumbed to the pitfalls of age as much as the poor doll on the mantelpiece. His face was mapped with creases and dips, grey eyes sunk back into their sockets. His hair, once thick and Auburn has been reduced to smoky grey tufts between canyons of the bare scalp. “Sam…” his greeting was cold, distant. “Nice of you to have me.” “My pleasure…” He’d brought a stuffy grey armchair from home, and I seated him in it carefully. Dust clung to it like creeping ivy. We seated him few feet away from the TV. The doll was almost hidden from view, tucked away in the corner of his eye.

We rarely spoke, quickly adopting the template of an embittered married couple. I brought him his food and helped him to the toilet, carrying out menial tasks that required no conversation. Sometimes I’d close the door and eat my food in the kitchen just to avoid talking to him. I’d sit there, listening to him watch the television. There was an unspoken awkwardness between us, one neither of us could rightfully place. I couldn’t help anyway. Not at first. “Where’s the doll?” I showed him the doll. I glanced casually upwards from vacuuming. My hand gripped the side of his armchair. “The doll looks rather pale.”, He said. I sighed through gritted teeth.

“What do you mean?” “I loved this doll as it reminds me of her, so I thought it to be kept in better conditions.”

“I am too busy in my job and was not able to maintain the place together,” I replied. “It’s a shame, Sam. Why don’t you let me take it?” That stayed with me for days. One night, we were watching television. He’d dozed off in the chair, and I was about to join him. As my eyelids fell heavy over my vision, I suddenly caught sight of the doll; its face turned enquiringly at me. As I stared at it, half asleep, my uncle’s words from floated back in my mind. “Why don’t you give it to me?”

—————————————————-

The following day, while uncle had fallen asleep watching daytime television, I took the doll from its rightful perch and marched it upstairs with me. There were photos too, black and white snapshots of the two of us standing together in matching dresses. We were both smiling; innocent smiles in the box that I had. I remembered how we would play in the forests, treating the quarries and mines as though sections of our private play area. But, then I again started going through the clippings. My smile soured. I wanted to fight the thoughts that were creeping into my head, but instead I let them flow over me. What if it had been him? I knew I was acting on irrational impulses – namely the evidence of a child’s doll – but I couldn’t stop myself.

He had always been searching for the doll like he’s looking for the code, never having married or held a steady job. I’d overhear my mother and aunts talk pityingly of him, wishing he’d find a nice girl to settle down with. I tried desperately to make something of it, trawling my memories for any hints or clues. My recollections of her death are hazy in the extreme, and I’ll only occasionally remember the odd scene or snatch of dialogue in passing. I could have repressed some of it, perhaps because of him.

Crouched over my patchwork of papers, I failed to prevent a steady stream of tears rolling down my cheeks and into my mouth.  If these cloudy speculations formed into a hard truth, then the repercussions were colossal. It also meant I was sharing a house with a child killer. My blood boiled, chilled, ran in cold streams through my veins. I ran to the door suddenly and bolted it. I picked up our photograph again, the black and white snapshot in the lives of two little girls. I was wearing a smug smile, my thick black hair bound in clumps. She, curly and freckled, presented a gap-toothed smile to the camera. The doll hung from her hand, lopsided head and also looking absently into the lens.

————————————————————-

I dropped the tray of processed, ready-cooked food onto his lap. He winced with pain and looked up at me with a flash of anger. “Do you mind not dropping it on me like that?” “Sorry…” I opened the curtains in a rush, and unwelcome light sprayed into the room. I decided that I should interrogate my Uncle about the subject, so I sat down on the sofa opposite his armchair, and our eyes inevitably drifted towards the doll. “Why didn’t you want me to have that doll?” He grumbled into the hollow globe of his teacup. “It’s because you are not keeping it well.” “How so?” The anger crept into his voice. “Because it’s the doll of my dear niece. And it reminded me of her, how she was before she died.” I pounced on a single word he had chosen.

“You’re assuming she’s dead then?”

“Of course, she’s dead. We held a funeral.”

“I know, but they never found her body, did they? You don’t think she….ran away?” He turned, his wrinkled face taking an age to incline toward me. He raised his eyebrow slowly. “Do you think she ran away?” I averted his gaze. “Maybe…” We sat in silence for a few hours, and then I helped him to bed. I returned to the living room and watched the doll. It seemed unusual to find the pieces falling into place so long after the jigsaw had been thrown away, but perhaps things had been overlooked or rushed at the time. Ramesh had indeed been questioned by the police initially but released due to lack of evidence. Sitting alone with my thoughts, I quickly fell asleep.

Suddenly back in my house, we watched the television, and I told him not to scare me like that again. He laughed loudly, and his laughs mutated into knocks at the door. As I got up to answer, I shot a casual glance at the mantelpiece. The doll was gone and in its place a little girl. A dead girl. With empty eyes and a bloody mouth and pale as a mortuary slab. I remember trying to scream. Then suddenly I woke up. When I awoke, the living room was cold, and my mouth was dry. I heard shouting, so I ran to uncle’s room. He was sat in bed, looking helpless and impotent. “Where have you been?” “Sleeping. I’m sorry.” “I can’t get out of bed by myself.” “I know…I know…” I felt a pang of sympathy for him, a momentary lapse that quickly dissipated. I jerked him upright suddenly, and his face winced in pain. “What?” “Nothing, nothing…just my leg…” I wasn’t thinking rationally at this point, already starting to convince myself that he had been held up in her death, and all for that doll. I felt drawn to the mystery surrounding her, as though a shard of my life was trapped there too. I thought that what’s up with the code and why he had to kill her for a doll.

“Will you bathe me?” There was a painfully long silence. “I told Swati I could manage by myself….but I’ve realized I can’t. I need a wash….could you help me in and out of the bath?” The initial thought filled me with revulsion, but then something clicked at the back of mind. “Yeah…yeah…no problem…” I told him that I would bathe him the following night. This ample amount of time helped me to check and re-check my questions as I was totally convinced that he was the murderer, and now I just have him spill out all the beans. Why did he kill her and what’s with the code? The beans about my cousin’s disappearance as well as his connections to the code in the socket.

The following morning, I placed a bacon sandwich on his lap. He murmured thanks we have reduced our conservations to almost null and asked “About that bath?” “Yes, tonight.” That night, I took him for the bath. I watched as the cold ceramic was filled with piping hot water. The temperature of the room rose steadily; the sweat was running down my arms and mingling with the bathwater before I could stop it. I heard him coming.  I listened to the deep thuds of his walking frame as he made his way across the landing toward me. When he did finally emerge, our eyes refused to meet. Walking slowly to the bath, his cane fell from his grasping hands and hit the cold white tiles of the floor. The noise it produced made me feel like I’d been smacked in the face. I had to undress him, working through each layer of clothes until we reached his bare and wrinkled flesh. Watching him standing in the cold sent a shiver down my spine. Age was a cruel, circular thing and in Ramesh’s spotted, stretched body I saw the worst it had to offer. I lowered him into the tub, the clear water making his body sway and ripple as though it weren’t real. I brought the doll from downstairs. He started watching it, rather than me, as I stepped back to the bath and knelt down beside it.

His head turned to me suddenly, still waiting for an answer. “Well?” “I want answers, Uncle”Answers about what?” “About her and the doll.” The muscles around his mouth twitched, his tongue stroking empty words.  He spoke carefully, each letter and syllable carefully enunciated. “What do you want to know, Sam?” I felt my confidence failing. The sheer idiocy of the situation knocked me sick in the stomach, and I almost laughed with embarrassment. I almost stopped dead, but then I saw her face. The face that has always lived on in my memory, long after the death and decay of the original.  I paused for what seemed like endless time, before finally soldiering on. “I think there might be something you’ve not told me. I think you may have been involved in her death and that you have something to do with the code written on the doll.” His eyes widened in what appeared to be a genuine shock. Then, his face sunk back down. He didn’t answer my accusations, but rather directed a question back to me.

“Do you remember her, Sam? Do you remember her?” I was puzzled by the question. Rather than bringing him back to my point, I decided to answer. “I remember her about as well as anybody else. Obviously, there are gaps.” “Really? And how much do you remember about her?” A nostalgic smile wet my lips. “Oh, plenty. Her curly hair, her cute little dresses, her laugh…I loved her…” He sneered. Gooseflesh rippled across my arm. “Are you…laughing?” His clawed hand reached from the bathtub and grabbed my hand. Water ran from his skin to mine. His eyes were aflame, more life burning inside of them than I had seen in many years. “You hated her. Hated. You went out of your way to make her life a misery, didn’t you?” I balked at the suggestion. “You’re lying! None of that’s true.” “You pushed her, you kicked her, and you tore her hair because it was nicer than yours. You were an absolute bitch to her, Sam, and only I ever seemed to notice…” I shook my head in utter defiance, pulling away from his plastic grip on my arm.

“You’re just taking attention away from yourself! You’re making all this up!” “And that doll…Christ, you were so jealous of that thing….you used actually to pull it out of her grasp, poor thing…” A change had fallen over the doll’s face. Before I had viewed it as a living being, the personification of her killer’s guilt. Now I saw only a child’s doll. An empty thing. “Can you look me in the eye and tell me you’ve forgotten?” I met his angry gaze. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “You were a nasty, malevolent little girl,” his lip curled over with a vigorous and biting hate. “I always said that something would happen…” He was leading me somewhere with these questions, down a dark and dusty path. I let him take me there, dragged into his poisonous re-imagining of our past. “You’ve got some nerve….accusing me of something! We both know what happened to her…” I spat out a mute reply, mouthing only the ghosts of the words I had planned to say. Memories were slowly coming back to me, developing like darkroom photographs. Everything coloured, memories were bright and vibrant again. His face was soured; lips were snarling. “I knew, I knew it all along…I knew you were a malicious child….but the police wouldn’t listen…they thought I was unhinged….I tried…I tried to tell them that it was…… You…..” My hand slipped against the wet surface of the bath, and I lost my balance. My head missed the porcelain by inches. I tried to steady myself again, shaking. “No, I wouldn’t…I would never…” I would, and I had.

I remembered the childhood jealousy stirring inside me, the plans hatching in my mind, and the day where I told her we were going to play a little game in the forest. She had laughed, and skipped behind me as we entered the woods. “There were so many of those old mines in those forests…so old that people had forgotten they were there …” He recounted the story as a despondent narrator, grimly retracing my bloody steps. “I don’t know what happened; I wasn’t there. My guess at the time – and my guess now – is that you lead her into the forest, into one of those mines….and…” His eyes were shining with tears. I reached and my mouth filled suddenly with warm and sickly bile. I spat it out against the cold, white floor. I wanted to shout out my denial, to scream at him that he was a dirty little liar. I couldn’t because I knew he was telling the truth. Everything was clear now, all the vivid memories forcing themselves against my skull. It was like peeling off layers of my skin, revealing a rotten inner self. I knew all the words: projection, denial, repression – but couldn’t believe any of them applied to me. I wasn’t a killer. Sameera Saxena was not a murderer. Never.

I remembered my gleefully sadistic behaviour towards her. I loved to tease and torture her; it gave me some naïve sense of power over weaker creatures. All the sympathy, all the grief had been an invention of my guilty psyche. Even my memory of leaving her funeral crying had suddenly been altered; I remembered it correctly now. I had been told to leave because I couldn’t stop laughing. “Only now you’re remembering?” Ramesh said, reminding me he was still in the room. “I don’t believe you.” I didn’t reply because there was nothing left to say. My whole life I had let her bloody murder scab over with false memories and invented stories, trying to fool everyone so badly that eventually, even I fell for it. He rose from the bath, and the water ran in snakes across his body. I turned around and stared at the doll. Running towards it, I picked it up and held it against the light. I remembered burying her, covering her beautiful white face with handfuls of dirt. It had stuck under my nails, and I’d cleaned them in the pond. I started to cry. The doll looked at me impassively, giving me the same blank look it had for the past forty years. It had known all along. “You sicken me; Sam…you disgust me…” I ran from the bathroom.

My head throbbed suddenly, and I felt as though my whole body were pumping with sick. I stopped, nearly laughed, and remembered that all this was happening. I tried to make it fiction, but the reality was screaming in my head. I don’t know what’s happened to him. I’ve left him in the bath. Maybe he’ll get out or maybe he will just give up and drown. I don’t know. I can’t care. I am in my room, with the newspaper clippings. Mystery? There was never a mystery. Just the usual horror cliché, a killer hiding behind a mask. In my one hand is the doll, and in the other, I clutch the telephone, ready to call the police. I will have to drop one of them. I don’t know what to tell them if I do. Sameera Saxena didn’t kill anyone, at least not the Sam she thought she was. I’ve changed so much. I’m not the same person anymore. Am I?

Am I?

The doll cracks as she hits the floor.