Dibyasree Nandy

Horror Crime

4  

Dibyasree Nandy

Horror Crime

The Witness Who Arrived Late

The Witness Who Arrived Late

7 mins
299



Both of us were drawn to the same thing. While one desired to copy it, the other wished to add a layer of frenzy to it.


“Chief Inspector Patterson?” A young constable addressed the black-haired, bespectacled detective who sat at his desk, appearing as reserved as ever, “A gentleman’s here to see you. Says he has information regarding the missing persons case from four months ago.”

“Does he, now?” Patterson raised his eyebrows, clearly sceptical, “Show him in.”

A tall man in a dark brown puffer jacket entered the police station carrying a newspaper.

“You claim you have knowledge about a certain series of incidents we reluctantly had to cease investigating due to lack of evidence.” Patterson narrowed his eyes. “Why did you decide to enlighten us now after so many days have passed? We requested anyone with even the slightest of details to step forward. Where were you then?”

“Chief Inspector,” began the newcomer, “I assure you, I have valid reasons for this delay. My name is Vincent Ashton, an interior designer. I was overseas for quite some time. Upon returning home yesterday, I went out to dine and it was there that I noticed this old paper.” He held out the torn, crumpled, yellowed sheet in his hand. “One of the workers was wrapping someone’s food with it, I was just behind the customer in the queue.” He paused for a breath. However, Patterson, who had been in charge of that case, was rather impatient.

“And?” He prompted curtly.

“Uh, right… So, I wasn’t really thinking much, you understand, being hungry and quite tired, as I glanced at the worker’s ministrations. Five grainy pictures were lined side-by-side, images of young women. I ran a cursory eye over them, not paying attention, but then, I remembered. Four months ago, just before leaving the city, I was at a store, looking at wallpapers. It was raining that evening and I happened to gaze outside the shop window, and I saw the ladies, Sir! All of them together! They were with another woman, close in age.”

“I see. Thank you, Mr. Ashton. You will leave your testimony with my subordinate, including the name of the establishment you were in, the street, the direction in which the women were headed to.”

“Understood, Sir.” Ashton appeared a little taken aback with the policeman’s lack of inquisitiveness.

“Also,” Patterson inquired, expression unfathomable, “can you identify the sixth person should you ever come across her?”

“Yes, Sir. She had a beauty mark just below her lip.”

“Is that so? You’re sure?”

“It was quite visible to me, Chief Inspector.”

“I shall take your word for it, then.”

**

“What do you make of that story, Moran?” Patterson asked his junior once Ashton had left.

“Well, Sir, we were searching for one factor that these women all had in common and it seems this sixth person-”

“This sixth person isn’t the issue, Moran. Take a look at these photographs in the newspaper he showed us.”

“I don’t see what you’re getting at.”

“You don’t? Then come with me to that store Ashton was talking about.”

**

“Oh!” Comprehension dawned on Moran’s face as the two stood outside the door of the shop mentioned in Ashton’s testimony. “So that’s what you meant!”

“See? By the way, he spoke of some street left from here, didn’t he?”

“Yes, Sir, that’s supposedly where the women were headed to.”

“Left… Left…” Patterson mused, “Say, Moran, isn’t Marvin’s Avenue close by?”

“Two blocks away.”

“It’s still in development, isn’t it?”

“Most of the apartments are still not done yet.”

“Convenient. Send out a search party, Moran.”

“Of course.”

**

“Yes, hello? Patterson here.”

“Moran speaking. You were right about Marvin’s Avenue. Nasty business; you won’t like it, Sir.”

“Did you look into… that other line of inquiry, Moran?”

“I did. But I still don’t understand why.

“To tell you the truth, neither do I. Let me know the address, I shall meet you there immediately.”

**

It was a painting by our grandfather. One wanted to re-create the tea party within the dollhouse depicted in the piece of art. The other hoped to make slight alterations to the six subjects in the image.

**

Patterson recoiled, a handkerchief clamped over his mouth.

Six people, rather, their remains, were seated on chairs around a table, rotting pastries upon it, a porcelain cup and a saucer in front of each skeleton with just rags as clothing.

“Is this… supposed to be a macabre tea party?” The Chief Inspector asked in revulsion.

“Seems so, Sir. And look, six, not five. Manacles around the legs of five of the women.”

“One kidnapped the rest, eh?”

Both Moran and Patterson glanced around the basement floor in one of the buildings that were still under construction in Marvin’s Avenue. It was made to appear like a balcony with clumps of pretty hedges lining the insides, overlooking a garden path.

“What is this madness, Chief Inspector?”

“Oh, this is utter sanity, Moran. A mind that revels in lunacy.”

“It’s the same thing, Sir.”

“No, Moran. I’ve come across many, many people in my line of work. There are two kinds of dingbats, the quiet type; harmless. The other is the dangerous sort, for they desire to flaunt.”

**

A gilded knob turned.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Vincent Ashton.” Patterson addressed the man who had just opened the door. “You are rather a fine interior designer, I must say, to craft a chamber resembling a little girl’s toy box. It was breath-taking, actually, the cubby, I mean, and a tea party arrangement to boot. The sixth body… Your twin, yes? Our forensic department reconstructed the remains, you see. The woman had an uncanny resemblance to you, frighteningly so.”

Ashton exhaled and then smirked. The grin was reptilian, spine-chilling.

“And you are frighteningly intelligent, Chief Inspector. So… what gave me away?”

“The police, Mr. Ashton, aren’t quite the idiots the detective novels make them out to be.” Patterson spoke dryly. “And as for you, I had my suspicions right from the start. The pictures in the newspaper were poorly published and small in size; they weren’t even in colour; as is the case with the missing persons column. You may have taken a look at them but they simply weren’t good enough for a person to recognize the ones in question with just one cursory glance. You mentioned it was raining and that it was dark. And yet you noticed the beauty mark of the sixth person from so far away. I visited the store you spoke of. You couldn’t have seen facial features with such detail from your position inside on a rainy evening. In other words, you saw no one at all.” Patterson pushed up his glasses. “Also, have you ever heard of the natural association concept in psychology? Someone like you, who just couldn’t keep quiet, succumbed to it, which, of course, became your undoing. I asked myself, “If Ashton didn’t see anyone, then stating that the women were headed left… is that true or a random lie?” I had to take a shot in the dark and zeroed in on Marvin’s Avenue since it wasn’t yet a residential area. You didn’t lie. When you provided us with false information about seeing your sister with the five missing ladies, your mind inadvertently connected her location with ‘left from the store’. Well? What have you got to say for yourself?”

“Nothing much.” He shrugged vacuously. “My grandfather was an artist of great acclaim. I merely wished to surpass him. He used dolls as his subjects. My sister loved them and wanted to have tea with others like the six figurines in that artwork. She’s the one who befriended those women on social media and enticed them to meet offline. I created that room for her. I did love my sister, you know, Chief Inspector, but she had to die for the sake of beauty. She placed shackles around their feet and forced them to have high tea with scones and the like. I let her do as she pleased. Then, it was my turn to have fun. I always hoped to repaint Grandfather’s piece with skeletons instead of dolls. Therefore, I killed all six. Ah, I was just on my way to paint too, before you interrupted me.” Ashton stared upwards, eyes glassy, vacant; then, almost instantaneously, he cracked his neck sideways which made Patterson step backwards out of unadulterated fear, as though it was Ashton who was accusing the policeman for committing the vilest of sins, irises appearing like a serpent’s slits for a moment under the dim light of the foyer. However, the Chief Inspector stood his ground.

“You waited for four months for the bodies to turn to bones, yes?”

“Obviously.” The man tilted his head, one eyebrow raised.

“You know what the problem with you criminals is? Or perhaps I should call it an ‘asset’?” Patterson did not flinch. “You never know when to keep your mouths shut. Good for us, though. Since you like to believe we are imbeciles. Anyway, I asked my man Moran to look into what you were purchasing at the store. Rolls and rolls of wallpaper resembling a verandah and a garden. Apparently, the shopkeeper wanted to know what they were for and you replied with, “They’re to beautify some wonderful skeletons in my closet”.



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