The commissioner’s voice was deep and commanding, and it went well with his build. Considering it was his daughter’s boyfriend who was murdered, Chrome had been expecting him to make an appearance, but not so soon. He had made sure information concerning the death of Jackson Etim and Monica Scott’s connection to it was kept within a closed circle.
Chief Scott took a look at all three officers before he continued, “I believe you are holding my daughter here against her will and without an attorney. I believe you officers of the law know the gravity of such an infringement on the fundamental rights of a citizen.”
Chrome was the one who responded. “Our apologies, sir, but your daughter is in fact our only lead in a murder case. It is only procedure that we cross-examine her.” Chrome flicked a look at the driver and wondered idly about the origin of the scar on his cheek. He refocused his attention on the commissioner and said, “Since you are a man of the law, you are welcome to sit in while we ask your daughter some questions.”
“I don’t mind if I do,” Anthony replied.
They all walked into the building and the driver got back into the car and drove towards the parking lot.
By the time the three officers walked into the interrogation room with the commissioner, Edeeth was trying her best to get some answers from an inconsolable Monica. Chrome could see that her tears were genuine just as Walter had said. When Monica saw her father, she rushed up from her seat, across the room and embraced him.
“Daddy!” she cried into his shoulder.
“What have you done to my daughter?” Anthony quizzed.
Edeeth shook her head and walked over to where her fellow officers stood. “May I see you guys outside?” she said sotto voce, and the four of them left the chief and his daughter in the interrogation room. “According to her,” Edeeth began once they were outside, “she was nowhere near the crime scene last night.” She paused before she continued, “But I think she’s hiding something… There’s something she’s holding back, she’s just not talking.”
“With the way she was crying in there, who can?” Jerome chipped in.
Walter said, “It’s going to be even more difficult to get anything out of her now that daddy’s around.”
Chrome peered through window of the interrogation room. He looked intently at the Scotts, especially at Monica. He tried not to miss a thing. Then, he turned to Walter. “We need to get back to the hill. I feel we must have missed something.” To Edeeth and Jerome, he added, “Edeeth, I want you to get as much information as you can on our dead friend. I want to know his personal background, his parents’ background, anything that can give us headway in this case. Jay, I need you to do me a favor. I want you to reach out to your contact at the airport. I want to know about flights from Uyo to Jos within the past twenty-four hours.” Jerome raised an eyebrow and Chrome understood what he was asking. “I want to know how the commissioner could be here so quickly. Even if Monica called him this morning while you guys picked her up from her house, it still would take a while for him to make it down here. If my hunch is anything to go by, then I believe we either have a leak within the department or Monica knows a whole lot about last night.”
The other three officers exchanged glances, and Chrome continued, “We can’t hold her for more than six hours without any proof to put her as a suspect, so we have to cut her loose for now. But we will have to keep a close eye on her…and her father.” The others nodded in agreement. Chrome looked at his watch and concluded, “It is 2:30pm now. Let’s meet back at the war room in three hours with our findings.” He paused to divide a searching gaze on their faces before adding, “Let’s do our best to close this case as quickly as possible.”
“Yes sir,” they chorused.
Jerome headed off in the direction of the exit while the other three went back into the interrogation room. Anthony got to his feet immediately they entered; indignation was starting to tighten his features. “Why are we still here?” he seethed. “Aren’t you done interrogating my daughter?”
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, sir,” Chrome replied.
“You had better be,” the commissioner spat at him. “We are so out of here. And you better not bother my daughter again unless you have something more concrete. Have I made myself clear?” Without waiting for an answer, he turned to Monica. “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s leave.”
The young girl stood.
As the two of them walked towards the door, Chrome stretched out his hand to shake that of Monica’s. “My condolences, I know this is a very hard time for you.” He held her hand and looked steadily into her eyes. “We would, however, appreciate it if you didn’t leave town until the investigation is over.” He turned a pointed look on her father as he spoke.
“Don’t worry, she won’t.” And then, Anthony led Monica out the door and towards the exit.
The officers stepped out of the interrogation room after them, watching the father–daughter duo as they walked toward the wide front door. The light of the afternoon haloed them and cast the outlines of their bodies in sharp relief. A soft breeze caught and fluttered the hem of the kaftan the commissioner was wearing as he opened the door and held it so until his daughter had passed.
The door shut behind them, and Edeeth spoke first, “OK, it’s official. She killed him. Who wants to bet money on it?”
Walter chuckled at her words. He liked that about her, always making jokes at the appropriate times to ease the tension in the air.
Chrome started for the door, saying, “Ok, Walter, let’s get going.”
The other man turned and winked at Edeeth as he followed his boss. Edeeth smiled and shook her head before heading off to her own assignment.
Jerome got back to his makeshift desk in the forensics department and put a call through to his contact at the airport using the secured line in the office. The room was not exactly what you would expect an elite unit such as the CSI team to be occupying. The room was rectangular and clean, with the smell of fresh paint now fading after weeks of use. The linoleum was well-trodden, and the swivel chairs creaked when you sat on them. The only computer in the room was the one on Chrome’s desk, and the internet connection was very nearly lamentable. Jerome couldn’t wait for them to be done with this case and be on their way back to Abuja, from whence they’d been summoned. They’d already been in Jos for close to a month, working on another murder case, one that they resolved just yesterday. The perp they’d been hunting blew his out brains when the hand of the law knocked on his door. Today was supposed to be about wrapping up the paperwork and flying back to Abuja.
But no, Jackson Essien had to tumble down the hill and keep them in Jos for God-knows-how-long, Jerome thought with some disgruntlement as he waited for his call to connect.
The Crime Scene Investigation department was permanently stationed in the FCT, with the objective of traveling out to different cities in the country when summoned by the local police; twice they’d even flown out to Accra in Ghana to assist on two different cases, one of which had been about the serial killings of victims in the exact same way described in the bestselling novel of the widely-celebrated Nigerian author, Ben Ikhator. The writer had assisted them on that case, and the addition of the CSI team’s investigative prowess had left a lasting impression on the Ghanaian police force, hence the re-invitation to help in the investigation of the second case. But they only responded to cases that were unique.
Suddenly he was pulled out of his reverie when a perky female voice said, “Hello?”
“Nene, it’s me, Jerome.”
His contact was a woman named Nene Ezike. She worked at the Records Department of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, but she was always in the know about goings-on within each airline that operated in all the other airports. If anyone was going anywhere, she would know.
“Hi, Jay, what’s up? Caught your bad guy in Jos yet?”
“Kinda. He decided to hurry on to hell ahead of schedule.”
Nene giggled. “Oh man. Don’t you just love when they speed things up that way?”
“The redefinition of justice, even though it makes closure for the victims’ families hard to get.”
There was a brief uncomfortable silence as Nene’s mirth was swatted by Jerome’s somber words. “Uh…so, ok, what can I help you with? Every time you call, there’s always something you need.” She added a chuckle to take the sting off her words.
He told her what he needed from her. She gave him the assurance that within the next hour she would have some information for him. Jerome dropped the receiver of the desk-phone and leaned back on the chair he sat on. He let his mind wander to earlier that day. He remembered the corpse of the young man. He was an orphan. Something the dead man had in common with him. Something in that thought stirred up a question within him. He leaned forward and picked up the receiver of the desk-phone again. This time, he put a call through to the Akwa-Ibom State police command.
The commissioner’s car sped down the Jos/Abuja expressway, towards the Bukuru residence of the Scotts. Even though only a few yards separated Anthony and Monica Scott in the back seat of the car, it seemed as though a chasm was yawning wide open between them. The young woman stared unseeingly out the window at the passing scenery. And judging by the set look on his face, Anthony wasn’t in an amiable mood either.
“I told you not to go to the police!” he suddenly burst out. He turned to face his daughter. “Do you know what kind of unnecessary publicity you have brought upon yourself? You are very lucky that I already had an engagement here in Jos. Who knows what those officers might have subjected you to?”
Monica made no response. She kept on staring out through the window. Anthony leaned toward her, and that was when he saw her tears. They streamed steadily down her cheeks, giving a silence to her grief that was poignant. Touched by it, Anthony held her head softly and gently drew her to his arms.
“There, there, my dear, I’m sorry for being hard on you,” he consoled. Her sobs began to gain some volume, and her father added, “I know you loved him so much. I promise you that whoever is responsible will surely pay for this!”
For a moment, she said nothing. Then she broke the embrace, rested her teary gaze on her father and husked, “Thank you, daddy.”
“You are welcome, my dear.”
During this time, the scar-faced driver kept on eyeing them through the rearview mirror. When his boss looked in his direction, he averted the gaze.
“Dapo,” Anthony called.
“Sir,” the driver answered.
“Get us home quickly.”
And the driver stepped on the gas pedal.
Walter pulled up his car on the far end of the road, which wasn’t tarred, and led to the hills. Chrome was the first to step out of the car as Walter killed the engine. The sun was scorching. Chrome had his shades on and he looked around to take in the entire landscape. Walter got out after him and shut the door with a slight slam that appeared to resonate in the stultifying stillness of their environment. The crime scene was just ahead of them and it was sealed off from the public. Armed police personnel guarded the region so that nobody would tamper with the scene until the investigation was over. Chrome spotted a figure standing not too far from where they were parked. He pointed towards the end of the road behind Walter. “Start from that side. I’ll check this side,” he instructed.
Walter nodded and walked off in the direction Chrome had pointed. He was holding several plastic bags customarily used for the packaging of exhibits found on crime scenes. There were some on atop the roof of the car and Chrome picked them up as he walked in the opposite direction, toward the figure that stood watching them. On getting closer, he could see that the figure was that of a woman – a Caucasian woman. He remembered who she was; the expatriate who had found Jackson Essien’s body earlier in the day. He walked up to her as she looked towards the top of the hill, shielding her eyes with her hands from the bright rays of the sun. Chrome was a few steps behind her when he coughed to get her attention. Visibly startled, she whirled around.
“Oh my! You scared me,” she gasped, with a smile building up on her face.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Chrome said, returning her smile. He could tell from her accent that she was British. She had pale-blue eyes and her skin was well-tanned. Her hair fell in straight chestnut-coloured waves to her shoulders, which were straight and lean under the cotton blouse she was wearing. Chrome was tall, and was used to staring down at most women. Not so with this woman. Her height stretched just as tall as his, and she looked to be in her late thirties.
“You are Officer Chrome Chunke, am I correct?” she asked, rather boldly. Her blue gaze rested searchingly on his face.
“Yes I am,” he replied, a little taken aback.
“No need to be surprised, sir,” she said, her smile coming back. “Your reputation precedes you.”
“My reputation?” Chrome’s brow arched.
“Yes sir, you are the one who solved the case of the hallucinogenic gases been used as refrigerants by that Chinese Air-conditioner company last year, not so? It was quite a scary episode. To think I almost bought the so-called eco-friendly air-conditioner.” She effected a shudder.
“Oh that.” Chrome smiled demurely in recollection of the case that took place the previous year. “That was a long time ago. So you have been in Nigeria since then?”
“Yes, I’ve lived here for quite a while now, two years to be exact. I love this country, so peaceful, yet with such an understated vibrancy. You can imagine my surprise when I saw the dead man this morning as I was taking my morning walk.”
Chrome watched her as she spoke, taking in a more scrutinizing observation of her. She had none of the stunning good looks of the likes of Monica Scott, but perhaps, that had to do with the fact that her looks had been hammered and firmed with age. Her musculature was well-toned, evidence of her addiction to exercise, and her voice was soft and crisp.
“–I mean, the poor man, to die in such a ghastly way, it’s just horrible –”
Chrome refocused on her words with some effort. Cutting in, he said, “I’m sorry to interrupt, Miss –” He waited for her to give her name.
“Oh, I’m sorry, where are my manners?” she said with some self-deprecation. “My name is Lorna – Lorna Jones.”
“Miss Jones –”
“Please call me Lorna.”
“Ok, Lorna, I’m sorry but you have to leave this vicinity.”
“Oh I know, you have to do your police stuff.”
“Thank you for understanding.”
“My pleasure, officer. It was a real honor to meet you.”
Chrome watched Lorna leave and waited until she was nearly out of sight before he began canvassing the scene. He made sure he didn’t miss a thing, his eyesight swept from one point on the ground to another. He was about to walk to another part of the road when his cell phone rang. It was Walter.
“Talk to me, Wally.”
“Chief, I think I found something. Come with the car, I’m quite far from where you are.”
“Ok, I’m on my way.”
He ended the call and walked back to the car. Within a few minutes, he had driven to the part of the road where Walter was waiting. He got out of the car and both men met at the centre of the road. Walter cast a look around before asking his superior officer, “Chief, do you notice anything odd?”
Chrome looked around him the same way Walter just did. “Um…not really. Enlighten me.”
Walter looked around again, and then answered, “We’ve been on this road for close to an hour now, haven’t we?”
“Yes, we have.”
“I haven’t seen another car come through this route except for ours.”
“That’s right.” Chrome stood, hands akimbo, his crocheted brows betraying his impatience. Get to the point, he seemed to be saying.
Walter continued, “Even this morning, when we first got here, I noticed none of the cars on the highway ever turned to this road. Nobody uses this road because it leads to nowhere, just to the hills. And there is no point taking this road to the hills since there is a better road on the other side of the hills, the less steep side.”
“Excellent observation, Wally, but where are you going with this?”
“Follow me, sir.” Walter led Chrome to a spot quite a bit off the main road, at hidden end of one of the hills. Walter pointed to the ground. There were tire tracks imprinted in the loose earth. Chrome crouched to get a better look. Walter brought out his High Definition digital camera and took a few snapshots of the imprints.
After carefully observing the tracks, Chrome got to his feet. “What can you tell me from this?”
“Well, the tracks are fresh, most likely left here in the morning, nothing earlier than that or else the winds would have covered them up. They were most likely made by a jeep because of the unique tire patterns.” He walked to one point on the tracks and pointed towards the opposite direction and said, “The car came from the other side of the hills, where the good roads are.” He walked on a bit towards the direction Chrome was standing and stood. “It stopped here and the occupant got out.” He pointed at the only footprint that was closest to the tracks. “Those aren’t my prints, and neither are they yours.” He brought out a measuring ruler from his knapsack and placed it beside the footprint before taking a picture of it.
Chrome followed the footprints with his eyes until they disappeared into the road where their car was parked, and came back towards the tire tracks. “At least, we are most certain now that our victim was murdered. We also know his killer was mobile and was waiting. Let’s get to the top of the hill.”
Walter followed closely behind Chrome as they made their way to the top of the hill where it all began.
Edeeth had just got off the phone with one of the secretaries over at the Corporate Affairs Commission and was waiting for the final bit of information she was promised to be sent to her via email. So far she had gotten information on Jackson Essien’s school background and his deceased parents’ marital life. All that was left was to put all the pieces together to get a bigger picture of the Essien family. Her Blackberry suddenly buzzed and she knew the email had been sent as promised. She used the computer on the desk she was sitting behind to open the mail. She was reading through the information sent to her when she caught sight of a portion which seemed to be of great interest to her. She clicked on PRINT on the home screen and went over to the copier machine to collect the printouts.
All the while, she kept on muttering, “Interesting, very interesting…”