MURDER MYSTERY – a murder mystery – by Chris Green
My head is pounding. My mouth feels like a dried-up drainage ditch. I am used to more formal surroundings when I wake. A comfortable bed, and if I’m lucky, a cup of tea. This room is unfamiliar. I have no recall of how I came to be here. A few feet away, lies a naked woman with a snake tattoo running up one of her thighs. She is asleep amongst a heap of Film Noir print cushions. She has her back to me. At first, I do not recognise her.
Slowly I realise this is Scarlett. But what is this weird place? A black bakelite telephone sits on a small rococo table beside Scarlett’s recumbent body. Above the table hangs a zebra-patterned rug. A large aloe vera plant skulks in the corner. Four identical black cats sit in different parts of the room at exactly the same angle in the same upright position, looking towards the window. It takes me a few moments to realise that they are stuffed. There is a musty smell in the air. I go over to the open window. It looks out on to a pool of dark water, rich with rotting vegetation.
Another woman comes into the room. My partner, Anya. A little of the puzzle falls into place. Scarlett is a friend of Anya’s. Scarlett has recently taken up with Ivan, an Albanian taxi driver, or is it a taxidermist. We suspect Ivan may be using his taxi driving or taxiderming as a cover for his work for the Albanian Mafia. Anyway, this must be Ivan’s flat.
Anya and I must have arrived last night, although I remember very little. I feel something is wrong. I don’t want to be here.
‘We need to get back, Anya,’ I say.
‘What!’ she says. She looks as dazed as I feel. Her eyes are sunken and her hair is matted. Her dark mesh tights are laddered and her pale jacket is smeared with something. There is probably no point in asking her anything about last night at present.
‘I think it would be good if we got on home,’ I say.
‘Back home,’ she says. There is something strange about the way she emphasises home. I am not sure why. Perhaps she does not consider our flat as home. Technically, I suppose it is my flat, although Anya has been living there on and off for nearly twelve months. Perhaps she feels she has somewhere else to go. Maybe this is why we are here at Scarlett’s. I try to remember what has happened.
‘Yes, back home,’ I say. ‘I feel weak. I think I may need to eat soon.’
‘And having breakfast is going to solve everything, is it?’
‘Well, perhaps we could have a talk at the same time. Find out what’s happening between us.’
Anya greets this with an icy stare. She goes into another room and returns with a scuffed black leather overnight bag. She throws it across her shoulder. I do not seem to have any baggage. I am clearly missing something about the situation. Until I can discover what this is, I decide I must back off.
Scarlett is still asleep. Anya scribbles a note for her. We take our leave along a dark corridor. It is difficult to get one’s bearings. A succession of rooms leads off. Some have doors but others do not. No light comes through from the rooms. It looks as if the space might be used as a storage area. It must be a very large building. Perhaps it is a converted warehouse. Maybe a warehouse in the process of conversion. In the nineties, it may have been used for art shows or parties. There is a menacing echo to our footsteps as we tread the floorboards. I cannot find a light switch. I bump into a large spider’s web and send its occupant goes scurrying across the floor.
Anya is several steps ahead. She is definitely in a mood about something. I wonder if it is about something that happened last night. The freight train running through my head no longer stops at last night’s station.
We find ourselves at a staircase and go down some steps. We make it out into the daylight. Where is the car? Did we not come in the car? I go through my pockets. I do not have the car keys.
‘Have you got the keys?’ I ask. No reply.
‘Did we come on foot?’ I ask. No reply.
‘Where are we exactly?’ No reply. Anya is giving me the silent treatment. Lately, it seems like I’m treading on eggshells. The problem is I can’t remember what it is I’m supposed to have done. Did I buy the wrong type of gin? Did I not notice her new hairdo? Did I delete something from her phone? Did I say something bad about her degenerate son? From her expression, I get the impression that it may have been something worse.
The streets are flooded. It has been raining heavily, but it is not raining now. I recognise where we are. It is Toker’s End, a part of town I have not been to often. It must be two or three miles from where we live.
Toker’s End is named after the nineteenth-century philanthropist Sir Charles Toker. While similar areas in other parts of the country have been subject to gentrification, Toker’s End has bucked the trend and is heading towards dereliction. With its tall Victorian buildings, it was once a well-to-do area, but over the years it has been bought up of Greeks and Macedonians and converted into flats and bedsits. Legendary slum landlord, Dinos Costadinos (Costa) I believe owns the whole of Prince Albert Street and according to urban legend has never once called in a contractor to take care of any maintenance or repairs.
As we walk along, I feel an odd sensation of disengagement. I feel like I’m floating. Street sounds seem muted. A muffled soundtrack of distant voices seems to play in a loop. This is punctuated by the hiss of tyres as the early morning traffic eases its way through the surface water. I feel a sense of doubt about my surroundings. At any moment the scene might evaporate. The lines of everything I cast my glance upon seem hazy and indistinct. The brightly coloured street art daubed on the run-down apartments in George Street is blurred like an impressionist painting. The torn poster of the neo-noir movie, Dead Ringer in the bus shelter is dissolving. The shopfront of the Bangla convenience store looks frosted over. The roadsigns are melting.
After several blocks, we come to the river. It is a fast-flowing stretch before it reaches the old mill. The river is normally shallow here, but the water has come up over the low stone bridge. We look for another place to cross. There are one or two places we might wade through, but then we might as well cross over the bridge. Whichever way we cross, we are going to get wet. We would need to double-back the way we came to reach the main road bridge.
Why have we come this way? In my daze, I realise I have just been following Anya. It occurs to me we are heading for Finnegan’s Wake, where Irish poets with a lunchtime thirst vent their anger in Open Mic sessions. Finnegan’s is one of Anya’s haunts when she wants to give life a miss. She has been struggling with sobriety lately. A visit to Finnegan’s is unlikely to help. I suspect that soon we are going to break up. I cannot live this way. I cannot take Anya’s mood swings any more. Should I tackle it head-on right now or leave it for later? I feel at forty years old I should have left all of this behind. I don’t like to have arguments in the street. I decide to leave her to it and go home instead. The riverbank seems as good a place as any. If Anya doesn’t come back later, fine. This is the end of the road as far as I am concerned.
When I get home, there is no sign of the car. I cannot be sure where I left it, but I report its disappearance to the police. I tell them it was taken from my home address. Twenty-four hours later, much to my astonishment, they return it.’
‘It was taken by joyriders,’ Detective Sergeant Lucan says. ‘The forensic boys have gone over it but come up with nothing.’
‘There’s a lot of it about,’ his oppo, D.C. Hammer says.
‘Happens every Saturday night,’ says Lucan. ‘Car theft should have become harder with more sophisticated locking systems, but still, it is on the rise.’
‘Fords are the easiest cars to steal,’ says Hammer. For some reason, he seems to be pleased about this.
I check the car over. There appears to be no damage. They have even left my Cocteau Twins CDs in the glove compartment. I sign the form to say that the vehicle has been returned and congratulate them.
Anya does not come back that night or the next. At first, I am a little concerned, but this quickly passes. When something no longer works, it is good to move on. Presumably, the feeling is mutual. I get into a routine of going to work and coming home. Gradually I begin to feel better, but I still have no recollection of what happened that night at Toker’s End. I imagine it involved some kind of intoxication, but I have overindulged on many occasions in the past with complete recall afterwards. There is something about the blackout, and the abstraction I felt the following day that disturbs me.
It is nearly a week later that I read in the local paper about Ivan’s corpse being found. The report is splashed across the front page. There is a grainy photo of him. It looks as though it was taken a while ago. He looks younger. While they have not established the cause of death, the police are treating it as suspicious. They are appealing for information. They do not know the actual day or time of his death, but they want anyone who saw him over a three-day period to come forward. Or anyone who may have witnessed anything suspicious in the vicinity last weekend. I cannot recall exactly when I last saw Ivan, but I have a strong hunch that it may have been last Saturday evening. The report mentions a blue Ford Mondeo. My heart starts thumping like Tyson Fury in training. Phlegm rises in the back of my throat. I feel I am going to be sick.
I try first to contact Anya, but as expected her phone is dead. She has not picked up the charger. I have a number for Scarlett and try ringing it, but it goes constantly on to voicemail. It may not even be the right number, so I do not leave a message. I would not know what to say anyway, under the circumstances. I wonder what I can do about the car. While there are many blue Ford Mondeos on the road, my burgeoning paranoia tells me it is mine they might be looking for. After all, it was unaccounted for last Saturday night. Surely soon one section of the CID will cross-reference it with the other section and come looking for me. I do not know what to do for the best. My memory of events has not returned.
That the police have not established the cause of death worries me. I appreciate that there are procedures that must be followed, but how difficult can it be? If the body is found chopped up and put in the freezer, then you can rule out suicide. If the victims head is caved in then you know that he has been hit over the head with a heavy object. If there is a bullet hole in his chest then you can assume that shooting was the cause of death. If the victim is found face down in water, then he probably drowned. Why am I thinking that Ivan did not die in any of these ways? Why am I thinking that he was suffocated by someone pulling a bag over his head? Where is this coming from? Perhaps it is a thriller I have read recently, or a movie plot is leaking into my consciousness. Surely it is a common theme in the thriller or horror genres, but despite racking my brain, I cannot come up with an example.
I comfort myself that no matter how wasted I was last weekend, killing someone is not something I would be capable of. It is not in my character. While Anya is a little unpredictable and has been known to hit out occasionally, I cannot imagine that even if she lost control this would run to murder, and what would be the motive? Scarlett, on the other hand, is every bit as volatile as Anya. In fact, she is possibly more unpredictable in both appearance and behaviour. Furthermore, she has had a one-on-one relationship with the deceased. There would be both more of a motive and more of an opportunity. Designer drugs might have played a part. Ivan comes up with all sorts of things I’ve never heard of. Both of them could just flip in the blink of an eye. I remember the time that Anya and I went with them to the Stealing Banksy exhibition at the BankRobber Gallery in Notting Hill. They were laying into each other so much that the stewards had to pull them apart. After that, they wouldn’t let any of us in to see the stolen street art.
Ivan’s death could have been an accident, of course. Probably not if it were suffocation with a bag, but then you never know. Until the cause of death is announced, it is pointless to speculate. The problem I have is that the announcement is only likely to come when the police come and speak to me. What do I have for an alibi? Any way you look at it, whether I committed the act or whether I witnessed it, I am in trouble. Even if it was nothing to do with any of us, I am stuck for an alibi. What if there is DNA evidence in the back of my car or the body was carried in the boot. How am I going to get out of this one?
I haven’t seen my therapist, Daniel DeMarco in a long time. Not since my oneirophrenia cleared up, and I stopped having hallucinations. He probably won’t be able to get me off the hook for a murder charge. He may not even be able to re-stimulate my memory about last Saturday night, but he will be able to lend an ear. Daniel is good at listening. He uses what he describes as non-directive therapy. He is so laid back that sometimes he is asleep by the end of the session. The remarkable thing is that by this time you’ve resolved the issue that you came with. Admittedly with my oneirophrenia, it took a little longer, but on other occasions when I’ve gone to him with a problem, he has neutralised my anxiety in a blink of the eye.
He sits me down in a comfortable chair and seats himself opposite me. As he does so, he hums a little tune. I think this is designed to relax me. Or maybe he suffers from earworm and has just been listening to John Denver.
I open up about my predicament. Everything just comes pouring out in a torrent of wild emotion.
‘Hmm,’ he says when I have finished.
‘What do you think that I should do?’ I say. ‘Should I get rid of the car in the canal and get on a plane? Should I tell the police it was me? Or perhaps I should just end it all.’
‘Yes. I see,’ he says. ‘Which one of those makes you feel most comfortable?’
‘Comfortable! None of them makes me feel comfortable. Nothing about the situation makes me feel comfortable. Splitting up with Anya doesn’t make me feel comfortable. Having blackouts doesn’t make me feel comfortable. Being a wanted man doesn’t make me feel comfortable. I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know where to turn. I’m desperate, Doctor DeMarco.’
‘Dan. Dan. You can call me Dan.’
‘I’m desperate, Dan.’
It is the middle of the night. Anya has let herself in and has sneaked into bed beside me. I am still awake. I cannot sleep much at the moment. She snuggles up to me and we make love as if nothing has happened. It may not be the tenderest of couplings, but we are both happy with the result. There has never been anything wrong with the physical side of our relationship. It’s all the rest that is the problem. Is has often puzzled me how the physical and the emotional can be so separate.
It’s all very well lying here sated, but I can’t ignore the problem at hand. It will not go away that easily.
‘Ivan’s dead,’ I say. ‘Someone killed him.’
Anya studies my face for a moment and sees that I am not joking. ‘What are you saying?’ she says. ‘That you think it was me. Is that it?’
It seems our peaceful reconciliation is going to be short-lived.
‘No that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just trying to find out what happened.’
‘He probably had it coming,’ she says, giving no indication of what this means.
‘So you know nothing more about it than what the papers say. What happened last Saturday night?’
‘That’s typical of you, isn’t it? You fuck my best friend and then you claim you can’t remember.’
‘I suppose you thought that I was sleeping with Ivan. That’s why you slept with Scarlett. Is that what you are going to say? And now that Ivan’s dead, you think I killed him. Perhaps it was you who killed him. Have you thought of that?’
‘As it happens, I have thought of that. I’ve been thinking of little else.’
‘I suppose you can always blame it on that condition of yours. You have an excuse for everything, don’t you?’
She is already putting her clothes back on. I try a more gentle approach and ask her to calm down.
‘Whatever it is, we are in it together,’ I say, but this does not stop her walking out on me again.
I am no further forward. If anything, things have moved backwards. I still have not eliminated myself or Anya from the murder suspects, but there is the additional complication of my apparent clandestine liaison with Scarlett to consider.
I get up and do some research into Ivan Luga on the internet. Perhaps there will be a clue buried in there somewhere. There are a number of references to people with this name. I home in on the Facebook profile of an Ivan Luga in the UK. This is our man. His profile photo shows him with the head of a stuffed tiger. He likes David Lynch films and death metal music. He reads Haruki Murakami and nihilistic poetry. I would have thought he might be a little challenged by the language barrier with some of his choices. He has posted some pictures of circus freaks. There is a shot of him brandishing a Remington hunting rifle and another of him posing with a pistol. He has sixty-four friends, about fifty of whom have Eastern European names. The photos of them suggest that these are shady characters. There are some statuses in a language I take to be Albanian. The English expression crystalline powder occurs in the middle of one or two of the posts, along with the name, Molly. It seems an odd subject to mention on social media. But this is an odd profile. What sinister world am I uncovering? I feel a chill run down my spine.
It occurs to me that whatever I might reveal here, I will not get anywhere with it, as I cannot go to the police. Anyway, Ivan is dead, isn’t he? I am just about to leave the site when I notice that one of the statuses is dated yesterday. That’s impossible. There must be some mistake. I take another look. The content of the post seems to be of little significance. It is just some gobbledegook about SHADOWCAT and TOR. I have no idea what it means, but it is a status and it was definitely posted yesterday. The Keyser Söze that has commented on it is presumably an alias. It cannot be the real Keyser Söze. There is no real Keyser Söze. But this is a development in the puzzle. Either someone else has taken over the account or Ivan Luga is not dead.
Scarlett’s arrival is a bolt out of the blue. There she is on my doorstep. She has on a little red dress showing nearly the full extent of her snake tattoo. She has a smile that would get her noticed in any crowd and a twinkle in her eye. This does not look like a woman who has recently murdered someone, but then neither did Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
‘Didn’t we have a great time last weekend,’ she says? ‘We ought to do it again. Why did you leave so suddenly?’
I explain to her about Anya and I going our separate ways.
‘I wondered if that might happen,’ she says. ‘Never mind. I’m here now.’
I start to explain to her about developments since we last saw each other.
‘No! I haven’t read the paper,’ she says. ‘What do you mean, Ivan is dead?’
‘But he may not be,’ I add.
‘He hasn’t called me,’ she says. ‘I think perhaps he has gone off travelling somewhere and couldn’t take me. But you are saying he is dead.’
‘But may not be,’ I repeat.
‘Show me the paper!’ she says.
I show her the report.
‘That’s rubbish,’ she says. I don’t even think that the photo is of him. He has younger brothers. It might be one of them.’
‘You’d better let me in on what happened last weekend,’ I say.
‘I don’t remember too many of the details,’ she says. ‘But I do remember us ending up in bed together.’
‘I don’t remember this,’ I say.
‘Well, then you should,’ she says. ‘You were sensational. The Molly probably helped though, don’t you think?’
‘Who’s Molly,’ I say.
‘Not who, it’s a what. I thought you had taken Molly before,’ she says. ‘Don’t you remember? We’re not talking MDMA here. This was the real deal, straight out of the lab. Ivan brought a new batch of it round.’
‘Did he? And I took some?’
‘Yes! We all did. It was dynamite. Anyway, we all went out to Frenzy and then that new club, Vertigo. And we ……. I wonder what has happened to Ivan.’
I can’t tell from her expression if she is trying to be ironic or not. She doesn’t seem to want to elaborate. It seems her present intentions are elsewhere. I try to remember what happened in Basic Instinct. Catherine Tramell, the Sharon Stone character, got away with it, didn’t she? Also, I seem to recall that there was a sequel.
Copyright © Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved