Previously on THE RETURN…
Francesca scrunched up her face into an expression that reflected incomprehension.
“You have no memory of killing him?” she echoed, her brows lifted in question.
At first, James did not understand her words to be a question, but when her silence lingered, pregnant with expectation, her apprehensive stare pinned on him as if to bare his thoughts, he gave a small sigh and shook his head.
“Look…I just…I…” His voice trailed off and he expelled another heavy breath before continuing, “I know I’m not making any sense.”
Francesca’s arms were folded over her chest, but she let them fall as she said, “Look, Jamie, I understand you’re going through a particularly rough patch right now. This sudden memory loss seems rather…” She paused briefly, and then said, “Convenient. It might just be a way of you denying that all of this madness ever happened. And I think denial might be a way of you coping with it all.”
James dropped his head into his hands. “You’re right,” he agreed miserably.
“So, what next? What do you intend to do now?”
He lifted his head. “I think I’ll just go to the police and turn myself in.”
“What! You can’t do that!” The words exploded out of her like a firecracker.
When James turned to her, her expression was earnest. “Why can’t I? I killed my father –”
“Or perhaps you didn’t. You can’t say for sure. Let’s not commit you as the person the police will nail for a murder you can’t even remember committing.”
“But you said –”
“I know what I said.” Francesca leaned forward and placed a hand on his shoulders, and her eyes urged him. “I care about you, Jamie. And under normal circumstances, I’d even drive you to the station. But this is murder. You have to be smart about this. Right now, the police will still be gaining their bearing. You have the advantage of enough affluence to get out of the country. And you’re even lucky you’re a British citizen.”
“Francesca, what –”
“Let’s leave the country. I can follow you back to London. That way you don’t run the risk of being convicted of this. We can go there and start our lives together over.”
“I am not leaving.” Jamie husked the words, the volume so low that his girlfriend missed the strength in them.
“Look, baby, we have the advantage of time. We can –”
“I am not leaving.” This time, they came out louder, with an unmistakable note of finality.
Francesca pulled back from him, incredulity settling on her face. “You’re kidding, right? You really are going to hand yourself over to the police?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Then, what the heck, Jamie?” she burst out in exasperation. “What are you thinking – are you even thinking? James, this country is the last place you need to be!” It was a rare moment of uncharacteristic loss of control from her, one of the few times he had ever heard her that loud.
“Francesca, I can’t leave,” he urged. “What do you think my siblings will think if I disappear so soon after my da–” He stopped abruptly, and then fell into silence as though he had forgotten what he was about to say. In the quiet, he could feel the intensity of Francesca’s stare on him, the weight of the many questions it seemed to pose to him. He wished he could make her understand.
“What do you care what your siblings think?” she snapped when she could no longer bear his muteness.
He sighed again. “I do care what my siblings think. Maybe not Michael, but Joe and Sandy…”
“So, that is why you’re staying then? Because of Joseph and Sandra?” Her tone implied that those weren’t enough good reasons to risk getting arrested for murder.
“No,” he said as his jaw worked, resolve creeping over his face. “I also want some answers. I’m not finished with this place, not by a long shot.”
“Detectives, would you like a drink?” Joseph said as he moved in the direction of the cellaret.
“They’re on duty, Joe,” Michael snapped, his eyes flashing with irritation at his brother’s obtuseness. The ‘Don’t be an idiot’ that followed his admonishment was not said, but Joseph heard it all the same, and his face tightened with responsive annoyance.
“Uh, thank you, Mr. Joe,” one of the plainclothes policemen who had earlier come to meet the Obiorahs for questioning said. He was a droopy fifty-year-old with a fishlike face, and a countenance that mixed world weariness with silent calculation. He was Detective Gbadamosi.
His partner, Detective Darren, was much younger, seeming a few years younger than Michael, and wore a brown suit that complemented his curiously reddish-brown hair and clean-cut good looks.
“If we could just get this over with…” Cynthia said from a couch, looking regal in a plain black dress that the detectives were sure had cost more than their salaries for a month. Her hair was pulled back in a severe chignon and her face was remote.
Beside her sat Sandra, who looked like she didn’t understand why she was there to be a source of comfort for her mother, and yet her mother looked like she didn’t need comforting. Her face had an irritable expression that flashed through, disturbing the appropriately somber expression she was struggling to hold on to, and Detective Gbadamosi noticed her right fingers twitched occasionally where they were placed on her thigh.
She is a smoker, he deduced silently. He recognized that tic as one possessed by one itching to light a cigarette but had enough will to resist. He knew this because he’d been trying to quit smoking for years.
“We were under the impression that you have four children, Mrs. Obiorah,” Detective Darren said.
“Ah yes, the other child,” Michael said around a sneer. “James is never around when you need him.”
“Do not speak like that about your brother,” Cynthia said, her tone soft but the whiplash very present.
The detectives observed Michael’s face tighten and his mouth work itself into a moue, as though he was biting back the urge to make a rejoinder.
Clearly this one doesn’t like the absentee, Gbadamosi thought, quietly filing away that information as well into his mental cabinet, where he kept little, innocuous details that ultimately served him well, making him one of the best police detectives in the state.
“Officers, please,” Cynthia addressed them now, “let’s just continue. My son, James, has been incommunicado, but I will endeavour to get him to the station at your convenience so you can question him too.”
“Yes, please!” Joseph burst out then, his voice a little slurred as he waved the hand that held his drinking glass in the air. “Let’s do this now! Rescheduling will kill my buzz. I can’t keep congregating with this lot too often. That’d be too much for my blood pressure.”
“Just a glass and you’re already drunk?” Michael snarked at him. “How many have you already had today?”
“Oh fuck you, big brother!”
“You two, cut it out!” Sandra snapped this time.
Their mother hadn’t bothered with the two men; instead she maintained a steady stare on the policemen, as though to tell them that she was ready when they were.
“Okay, so do you have any idea why anyone would want your husband dead, Mrs. Obiorah?” Gbadamosi asked. Inwardly, he was wondering how interesting it would be to observe this family in their unguarded moments.
“No. Then again, this isn’t a case of anyone wanting him dead, is it?”
“Why do you say that?” Darren jumped in.
But Gbadamosi knew her answer before she gave it.
“Because it was on the news that he was attacked by some mugger,” Cynthia said matter-of-factly.
Damn the press! Gbadamosi cussed silently. Aloud he said, “Yes. We are aware what the press has reported. But some inconsistencies have led us to suspect otherwise.”
“Inconsistencies?” Cynthia queried.
“What inconsistencies?” Sandra asked.
“Miss, we can’t –”
“You have to tell us.”
“No, we don’t.” Gbadamosi accompanied the rebuttal with a flat look. “This is an ongoing investigation, and by the looks of it, Mr. Obiorah wasn’t even murdered where his body was found.”
The collective shock that received the news and deciphered its inference was genuine and absolute. Sandra’s hand fluttered to her mouth which was an O, Michael’s eyes narrowed with unfathomable expressions, and Joseph shakily found a seat to lower himself into. Gbadamosi couldn’t however get a read on their mother, because Cynthia had dropped her face downward, automatically cutting off the detective’s discernment from her countenance.
“So you’re saying he was killed…?” Sandra whispered. “And then moved…” She choked off and then spluttered, “Who would do such a thing and why!”
“That’s what we are here to find out,” Darren said.
“Why would you be here to find that out?” Joseph blustered again, flailing his hands as he spoke. “You have to go out there and look for his killer. You can’t be here –”
“Unless they think one of us might have a hand in it,” Cynthia interrupted him. She had raised her head again, and there was again that remoteness in her eyes that Gbadamosi wasn’t sure what to attribute it too.
She could be grieving, he thought.
Or hiding something!
“You what!” Sandra exploded. “Surely you can’t think one of us killed him. He is – was our father for chrissakes! He and our mum were married for thirty-three years! Thirty-three years, detectives!” She played three fingers on her right hand at the policemen. “We were family! You’re wasting your time with us!”
“We like to keep our bases covered, miss,” Gbadamosi said patiently.
“So, could you all kindly tell us where you individually were,” Darren said, “and what you were doing between 9pm and midnight day before yesterday night?”
“Unbelievable,” Sandra scoffed, starting to shake her head disbelievingly.
“Maybe you should go first, miss,” Gbadamosi said, turning a steely stare on her that stopped her head mid-shake.
Her eyes flashed, hinting at her spiritedness to the detective, before she bit out, “I was at home, in bed, with someone I was fucking.”
“Do you have to be so crass, Sandy?” Michael bridled.
“Shut up, Mike, and focus your attitude on your brother,” she retorted cuttingly.
“Who is this…erm, lover?” Gbadamosi interjected.
Sandra returned her attention to him. “He was hardly a lover. A lover implies he’s been around. I don’t do steady fucks. He was just there for the night.”
“Who is he then, this man that was just there for the night?”
“A guy from work – Biyi Johnson is his name.”
Darren was scribbling as she spoke.
“Did he stay the night?” Gbadamosi asked.
“No. I don’t do sleepovers either.”
“So he left your apartment around what time?”
“I don’t know, midnight, maybe an hour later. He was a clinger, didn’t want to go. Took me being a real bitch to get him out of my house.”
Oh I’m sure you are capable of being all kinds of a bitch, Gbadamosi thought, eyeing her.
Sandra eyed him back.
“What about you, Mister Joseph?” Darren asked, moving along to the next.
The man chuckled, a coy expression coming onto his face. “Yo man, I was having me a ball! Coke, babes, you name it! We was high as fuck at the Burma Club.”
“You were there all night?”
“Yes. I’m well known there. Ma boys can vouch for me. We didn’t leave the club until God started waking up.”
Gbadamosi chuckled under his breath. He had already dismissed the youngest Obiorah child. This one was too much of a free spirit to orchestrate a murder. He had not enough depth for that.
He turned to the prickly oldest of the three. “And you, sir?”
“I was hosting a small get-together at my house. It was a small sedate affair, just a few friends and business partners. It was on from around 8pm to sometime around midnight.”
“Might we be able to get a guest list of the attendees?”
As Gbadamosi turned to Cynthia, as if everyone else in the room suddenly understood the term ‘saving the best for last’, all eyes followed suit and settled on the matriarch.
“Ma’am?” the policeman urged.
“I was home,” she said quietly, giving nothing away. The woman was as inscrutable as a sculpture. “I was upstairs in my bedroom. I left my husband in the living room upstairs. He was watching television. We’d just finished dinner and the help had retired to their quarters at the back of the main building.”
“Around what time did you finish dinner?”
“Around 9pm. I went into my bedroom –”
“I’m sorry, your bedroom?” Darren cut in. “You don’t share a room with your husband?”
“No, detective, I don’t.” Cynthia pinned an arctic stare on the young man, as though daring him to pursue that line of questioning.
The man balked and muttered, “Carry on, ma’am.”
She dismissed him with the simple gesture of turning her face back to Gbadamosi. “I was in my bedroom, did some reading. Then I heard some pottering about in the bathroom. It seemed like Dike was changing clothes or something. When I got to the bathroom, he was gone. But his running clothes weren’t in the hamper where he dropped them the day before for wash.”
“So he was going running,” Gbadamosi said.
“I assumed so.”
“At about nearly 10pm in the night.”
“I had long since ceased to make sense of my husband’s habits.”
“So you weren’t worried?”
“He has gone out for several other runs at night. This wasn’t new. I wasn’t worried.”
“Did you ever get worried at any point in the night?”
“I didn’t. He had a set of house keys to let himself back into the house with when he was back. So I went to bed, and woke up to the news of his death.”
“The news on TV…”
“So before you turned on the television, you had no idea whether he had come in the night before or not?”
“No, I had no idea.”
“You didn’t check?”
“Checking up on my husband isn’t exactly routine for me.”
“Look, detective,” Michael interjected, “my parents lead very separate lives –”
“I’ll say,” Darren muttered.
“And surely, that is no basis to pepper her with questions as though she might be a suspect.” He paused and his stare became beady as he added, “Is she a suspect?”
Gbadamosi smiled benignly. “Of course not, Mr. Michael. These are simply questions that have to be asked. We’ll take our leave now.” Both policemen rose to their feet. “You all are however mandated to stick around and not leave town. We might have more questions. And ma’am” – he turned to Cynthia – “may I have an address for where your middle son, James, lives?”
“I told you I will bring him to you.”
“That won’t be necessary, ma’am. We will go to him. We just need the address.”
“He stays with his girlfriend,” Sandra intoned. At the policeman’s enquiring glance, she reeled off the address while Darren wrote it down.
A few minutes later, the two law enforcement agents exited the room, leaving the Obiorahs behind to sort through their new reality.
Written by Tobi