They placed the call from a desk phone Inspector Rali had commandeered from the Students’ Affairs Office. How she always had that effect: stepping into a room and owning the place, did make Sergeant Bamshak wonder, and admire her.
Having set up in an empty office that was now used as storage space for some glossy green and blue books that had STUDENT’S LOGBOOK printed on them in white, both police officers stood each on a side of the desk phone as the sound of ringing filled the room—
“Hallo!” Mrs. Atete’s voice boomed on speaker-phone.
“Hello Mrs. Atete, this is Inspector Raliyat from the Kano State Police Command speaking”—
“I am the IPO”—
—”investigating the murder of Mr. Edom who was a staff in the law school here, and whom I’ve learnt reported directly to you. Is that right, Mrs. Atete?”
“Yez, you ha rite. Edom work honda me. Ham so sad habat the news”
“I understand also that you’re currently in Abuja, answering a query.”
“Yez, but no query o. Ham not answer hany query. His jos complain dat one student make habout me hund hi come to hesplain masef ear.”
“Oh, I see. So when are you due back?”
“On Monday, by the graze of God.”
“Ok, I would like to speak to you then, see if there’s anything you know that might help in our investigation”—
“His my pleshore.”
“One more thing Mrs. Atete… Is there any other officer from Kano campus, or lecturer even, who is due to be in Abuja this weekend, or who is there already?”
“Some of the leshurers hin Kano teech hin Habujá too. But none hof them was hin Habujá has hof now.”
“Oh good then. Is anyone of them expected in Abuja today, or at anytime before the weekend, on official business?”
“Hofficial bisness to wia? Habujá? Hi don’t tink so. Hexcept his to come han leshure.”
“Thank you very much, Mrs. Atete, you’ve been most helpful. See you Monday.”
“So I guess that proves Dr. Yesufu has no business in Abuja, and might not even be headed there” Inspector Raliyat perked, straightening and planting her hands on her hips.
“He might have a house in Kano town” Sergeant Bamshak offered.
“Yes, but who can we wring such information out of? Definitely not the Professor.”
“We could ask some other colleague of his.”
“Yes, the place is swarming with them” Inspector Rali muttered sarcastically. “Most of the offices were locked, remember?”
“So what now?”
“I think we should pay that Assistant-Porter a visit now.
Mark, the Assistant-Porter for C Block, was small. That was the first description that came to mind. One of those people condemned to —or blessed with, depending on who you ask —perpetual youth, it was almost impossible to guess his age, because though he had the looks of someone in SS1, he carried himself with the grace of one much older. And weirdly, as he settled into a seat across from Raliyat in the C-Block porter’s lodge, Rali had a sense about him, that he was mature, responsible, and far beyond his young-adult years, but yet deferred to him like she would have a younger brother if she had one.
A study in antithesis, she thought, flashing a smile as she introduced herself for the billionth time that day.
Standing behind her, Sergeant Bamshak rolled his eyes, because not for the first time, she had casually forgotten to acknowledge him.
Not that he cared. It wasn’t like it was a big deal, or anything. It was just… What was the word he was looking for now? Annoying? Yes, annoying. And to be honest, he did care, and it was a big deal. She could at least try to be more —respectful? —no, accomodating.
When asked about his relationship with Mr. Edom, Mark said simply: “We work together.” And that was it.
Inspector Rali glanced briefly over her shoulder at Bamshak. If only she’d stop doing that, he thought inwardly. That was her characteristic gesture when she thought they were coming upon something interesting, and while it felt inclusive when the said “something interesting” was one Sergeant Bamshak could also himself deduce, it left him feeling stupid when he drew blanks, as he now was.
As far as he could see, it was one calm fellow sitting in a chair and answering a bunch of questions, emotionlessly.
Hang on! Could that be it? His colleague, a man whom he worked with, a man who had severally been depicted as the epitome of kindness in the last few hours, had just died. Shouldn’t Mark be more affected? And seeing that he wasn’t, what did that mean? Did that make him a suspect, or did it just mean that there was no love lost between the deceased and his assistant? And if Mark, considering proximity, who should have known Mr. Edom better than most on the campus, acted with such indifference at the thought of him dead, what did that say about Mr. Edom? Was he as saintly as had been asserted, or had everyone —in the manner in which the living, themselves guilty to still have their lives —been beatifying the dead?
“Do you have an idea where Mr. Edom could have been coming from when he was murdered?”
“He went to drink at Daka Tsalle” Mark said in the same deadpan manner. And Sergeant Bamshak thought to himself that Mark, with the off-hand tone with which he spoke, was making himself an obvious suspect, too obvious in fact. It was clear, as far as Sergeant Bamshak could see, that Mark disliked Mr. Edom, and from the unapologetic manner in which he made this obvious, the feeling had probably been mutual, and death had done nothing in watering down whatever bitterness he felt towards his deceased colleague.
Could Mark have wished Mr. Edom ill? Sergeant Bamshak wondered. Clearly.
Death? Maybe. But that was a long stretch from killing Mr. Edom himself. Except whatever had caused the animosity between them was motive enough.
“Do you have any idea if Mr. Edom went alone to Daka Tsalle?”
“No, he didn’t. He went with a student.”
At this Inspector Raliyat sat up straighter.
“Do you have any idea who this student is?” She pressed.
“No. All I know is that the student stays in N hostel.”
“Is there anything else you can think of that might help?”
“No” Mark replied calmly, without missing a beat.
“OK then, I suppose that’s all for now. You’ve been most helpful, Mark. I —we’ll let you know if we need anything more from you.”
They started to head out, Inspector Raliyat leading the way, when suddenly she stopped in the doorway and Sergeant Bamshak bumped into her from behind. He took a quick step back, mouthing an apology, hot in the face with embarrassment, and for a second he could have sworn he saw Inspector Raliyat smile. Probably a trick of light, he decided.
“Mark?” Inspector Raliyat called. “Does Mr. Edom have a car?”
“No ma. He just has the motorcycle that’s parked outside there.”
Inspector Raliyat paused for a minute then returned into the room, saying as she did, as though she was thinking out loud: “If his motorcycle is parked out here, it means then that he got to Daka Tsalle someway else. Did this student —the one Mr. Edom went to Daka Tsalle with —do you know if he had a car?”
“Yes, I think so. I overheard Mr. Edom telling the student on the phone to come and pick him at mammy market so they could go to Daka Tsalle together.”
“I see… Thank you once again, Mark” Raliyat repeated, and this time she let Bamshak lead the way.
“Do you think he did it?” Bamshak asked finally.
“Did what? Mark? Kill Mr. Edom?” Inspector Raliyat scoffed, then laughed. “Not a chance.
“He didn’t like Mr. Edom much —that much is clear. Or maybe he’s just a bit too stoic, but whatever it is, he’s not stupid. I think people we should be wary of are those that are more devastated than they have a right to be. You know, the ones that would cry and roll on the ground, even though they have no reasonable connection to the deceased. Our killer would more likely be amongst those.”
“Why do you think they fell out, Mr. Edom and Mark?” Bamshak asked.
“What makes you think they were ever chummy?” Inspector Raliyat shot back.
Bamshak shrugged. “I don’t know. I just have a sense.”
“Whatever it is though” Raliyat said dismissively, “I don’t think it’s important. The leap from unsympathetic to cold-blooded killer isn’t one I can envision here.”
“And because you can’t envision it, it’s not possible?” Sergeant Bamshak meant to sound incensed, but instead —as much as he hated to admit it —he sounded hurt.
“That’s not what I meant, Bamshak.” Was that remorse he heard in her voice? “But I really don’t think Mark had anything to do with Mr. Edom’s death.” Clearly, that was the closest he’d get to an apology.
“Sometimes, the most obvious answer is the correct one” Bamshak said, a last ditch effort to come out of the exchange with as much dignity as he could: without feeling like a schoolboy who was all up in his feelings.
“Yes, I agree completely. But even some answers are so obvious that latching on to them would be laziness, not ingenuity.”
Sergeant Bamshak fisted his hands and shoved them into his pockets. Just when he thought his ego couldn’t take any more bruising, it did.
Inspector Raliyat was making notes; notes, not in a wholly intelligible fashion, but basically doodles and diagrams, names and adjectival jottings beside them, of her observations on the bearers of those names. As the pen slid across the pages in frenzied pace, so did she chatter; characteristically, as if she was thinking out loud:
“So we have Professor Yilzum” —she wrote his name and appended a question-mark beside it —”And then there’s Dr. Yesufu. And then there’s the student with the car, with whom Mr. Edom had been out drinking before he was murdered…”
She drew and ‘S’. “Now, we have the skid-marks. Whose car do you think made the skid-marks?” —Sergeant Bamshak knew a rhetorical question when he heard one, and as he expected, he learnt instantaneously who was top of her suspects-list of those who she thought could have left the skid-marks close to where Mr. Edom’s body was found —not much of a list considering there was as yet only one suspect:
“The student. I think it’s the student” Raliyat said. “He could have killed Mr. Edom in his car, thrown him out of it, and peeled away.”
Sergeant Bamshak felt obligated to chip in here. “It’s not possible that someone could have inflicted such injuries as those we saw on Mr. Edom in a car. Except he was drugged and lying in the backseat on his stomach. Wasn’t it you who said there had been a struggle?”
“What if there had been two attackers in the car, and the killer attacked Mr. Edom from behind?”
“It makes the neck wound plausible. But not all those wounds on his back. Except there were stools without backs, rather than seats in the car.”
“I suppose you’re right. But what if they stabbed him in the neck. Took him out of the car and stabbed him several times in the back before taking off?”
“Would you have done that?” This question seemed to catch Inspector Raliyat by surprise, and Sergeant Bamshak half-expected her to say something snide, but instead she replied:
“No. I don’t suppose I would have. What I’d have done is finish him off in the car, toss him out, and peel away as fast as I can.”
They both looked at each other then, silent, and though the silence had lasted for no more than a few seconds, it was weird, charged with something neither of them was willing to test.
Raliyat was the first to tear her eyes away. “Yes, I don’t suppose killing Mr. Edom in the car makes much sense” she muttered, no longer making notes.
“I think the question” Sergeant Bamshak said once he found his voice, “is why Mr. Edom was walking down that path when he was murdered. He had been out drinking with a car-owner. Why hadn’t the student offered to drop him off at the porter’s lodge?”
Raliyat shrugged. “Because he wanted to trail him and kill him?”
“Yes. Or because he didn’t like him.”
Inspector Raliyat’s eyes thinned as a frown of concentration crossed her brows. “Male bonding isn’t exactly my turf, but really, do guys drink beer with people they don’t like?”
Bamshak shrugged, and responded: “If they have to. And then it’s just the beer and no extra niceties”—
“Like saving you the stress of a long walk in the dark, right?”
Sergeant Bamshak nodded, and Raliyat smiled at him.
“And then it looks like Mr. Edom was out drinking a lot the day he died. Melvin saw him at Tiga, remember? And now, according to Mark, he was at Daka Tsalle too.
“What we need to find out is where he was first.”
“If I was a betting man” Sergeant Bamshak said, “I’d wager he was at Tiga first. Melvin said Mr. Edom and Dr. Yesufu had been arguing behind Dr. Yesufu’s car. There’s only so much one can make out with his auditory sense. He had to have seen them, which means it was probably light outside.
“Knowing what Melvin’s like, he was probably hiding out of earshot, eavesdropping on them while they argued.”
Raliyat laughed again. “You really despise this guy, Bamshak.”
“Yes, I do.”
“And I don’t blame you.” She smiled. Why was she being so warm? Was she being warm, or was he imagining things? “I suppose you’re right though. It would mean then that Mr. Edom went to Tiga, had an altercation with Dr. Yesufu, returned to campus, hitched a ride with some student and changed venue to a bar in Daka Tsalle.”
“Yes” Bamshak acquiesced. “Sounds just about right.”
Then he asked: “So where do we start asking about the student Mr. Edom went to Daka Tsalle with?”
“We don’t” Raliyat piped up. “We’ll just get a list of the names of all the students in N hostel who have cars, pick out those that have been known to be chummy with Mr. Edom or those who have been known to go watering-hole hopping with him, and then we question them; put the facts to them, and see how they react.”
“That’s brilliant” Bamshak gave out with a smile. You’re brilliant, he thought, but didn’t say; couldn’t say. Instead, he asked: “So, what do we do now?”
“Go home, change into casual clothes, and go out for a drink.” Raliyat was beaming. Bamshak wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.
“You and I?”
“Absolutely. You say that like it’s a bad thing.” She laughed again.
“So where are we going to?”
“Where else? To Daka Tsalle, of course.” And then he realised. They were going to chase a lead. What was he thinking anyway?
“Are you sure you shouldn’t just let me go alone, and report my findings to you tomorrow.”
“What now, you think I can’t handle being in a bar?”
He shook his head. It wasn’t her he was worried about.
“Don’t worry, Bamshak. I promise not to bore you. It would be fun, but then it’d be work. Work plus fun. We’re about to make inventing history.”
But that was what Sergeant Bamshak was wary of, the possibility that they could have fun together, a bit too much of it. Police business or not, the both of them, casually dressed and out about town, was going to feel a lot like a date.
And for some reason the thought made Sergeant Bamshak break a sweat.