About a month back Assistant-Inspector of Police (Crime) Dougan discovered a cure for his constipation.
To be honest, his constipation was not an issue that had been had plaguing him for a good deal of time. If Dougan were to sit for a while and focus, he supposed this problem had cropped up less than a year back, shortly after he received his promotion. The current job and the related stresses had cost him in various ways, and this was one of the departments in which he was paying a heavy price.
Like most sufferers, he had in the beginning relied on the usual methods of tackling constipation, increasing his dietary intake of fibre, and gulping down two cups of hot tea after his breakfast, and finally had summoned the courage to approach a chemist and purchase laxatives. Nothing had produced consistent results. And right about then, crestfallen and discouraged, he had taken his smart-phone into the toilet with him for some online research. That was when, fifteen minutes later, he had discovered the healing powers of WhatsApp Messenger…
And now, each morning after breakfast, he would retire to his bathroom with an extra cup of tea and a green banana – and of course, his phone – and when he was comfortably in position then proceed to browse through his messages. He wasn’t sure what it was about poring over texts and watching video clips in the relaxing environment of his toilet that did the trick, but each time, on cue his bowels would surrender themselves.
This morning began in his usual fashion, securing himself inside the toilet with the tools he would need. He settled himself on the commode and picked up his phone. He tapped the touch-screen and while the images unfolded before his eyes, he could feel the twinges from within that told Dougan it was going to be a good day.
But before anything significant could happen, the phone in his hand began to ring.
The call was so unexpected that Dougan nearly dropped it. Stifling a curse, he adjusted the device so he had a better grip and saw that the caller was his subordinate, Naik. The Assistant Inspector of Police rarely called at such an odd hour, preferring to wait until Dougan reported to work before unloading the latest on his shoulders.
Feeling his intestines lapse back into their original paralytic state, he touched the accept icon and put the phone to his ear. “Naik.” He put as much feeling as he could into that one word, intending to express just how welcome this interruption was.
Naik wasted no time with a greeting. “You remember the party we attended last night, sir?”
Dougan let out his breath. “I presume, Naik that you’re referring to the same function both of us were at ten hours ago? The same party at which I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol and so would have no difficulty recalling this morning.”
“Morgan’s brother is dead, sir.”
Dougan was caught off guard. Like his phone bursting into life in his hand, this was unforeseen. The birthday boy of the previous night was a senior Crime Branch officer by the name of Morgan. The party had been held at Morgan’s residence, celebrating sixty years, and while the guests list hadn’t been a long one, the bash had gone on beyond eleven, which was when Dougan and Naik had said their goodbyes. Among those Dougan had met at the affair was Morgan’s younger brother, Solomon. Solomon lived right next to Morgan in a spacious four-bedroom apartment. In fact, the twin apartments occupied one entire floor of the posh Riviera Towers.
“What happened?” asked Dougan, his bowels a distant memory.
“It looks like Solomon fell from his bedroom balcony forty floors up and onto somebody’s car. The body was discovered by a newspaper boy an hour back. Morgan’s wife called me.”
Dougan knew they would have to go and meet Morgan to convey their condolences and offer whatever support was needed in his hour of grief. His eye fell upon the banana, propped up against his untouched tea cup. “Give me fifteen minutes before you pick me up…”
It was the first time Naik had hesitated, and it made Dougan wonder what further bombshell he could expect from his junior officer. “More bad news, Naik?”
Naik cleared his throat. “I’m already outside your door, sir…”
As always, Naik looked smart and thoroughly professional in his crisp brown uniform. The cap sat firm atop his clean-shaven face, reminding Dougan that his countenance needed similar attention.
Side by side, they walked the short distance to Naik’s SUV. While both men had access to official vehicles for their duties, Naik preferred to use his own car to get around. Few police vehicles had proper air-conditioning, and when driving through Mumbai’s polluted suburbs, air conditioning was a necessity of life. The other thing he liked about having his own car was the GPS device. He got behind the wheel, and reversing expertly, turned the SUV from the private road onto the main highway.
“What else did Morgan’s wife tell you?”
“She said it looked like he had been drinking. She sounded grief-stricken. I didn’t have the heart to ask for details.”
“Morgan kept pulling me round his flat last night, introducing me to relatives. I didn’t really get a chance to interact with Solomon.” He shook his head, ruing the lost opportunity. “I remember meeting his wife, the one in the strappy green dress – Tina, was it?”
Naik gave a firm nod. “Right. And you probably also met her sister Yvonne; they look almost like twins except that she was wearing a pink outfit, and she has a few greys in her hair.”
Dougan turned to study his officer, eyebrow arched. “Consider me impressed, Naik.”
Naik suppressed a smile. “Both of them were by far the most attractive women in the room.”
“I take it you managed to engage in small talk with the sister?”
“She lives with Solomon and Tina. She’s actually Tina’s older sibling, by four years. Her own marriage broke apart some years ago, and she ran back to Tina, who was her only family. She does copy-writing for two advertising firms, and most of her assignments are done at home. When she moved in with Tina, her sister was still single at the time, and while Tina was at work in the supermarket where she had a job as store manager, she managed the home-front. And when Solomon came along, Yvonne was apparently part of the deal.”
“All this from just a few moments of idle chit-chat?”
“We may have bumped into each a couple of times during the party…” admitted Naik with a grin. He pulled up into the guest parking lot of the Riviera Towers and they left the car.
The lift took them to the top and within moments they were seated inside Morgan’s flat. The place still bore signs of the previous night’s affair, but the mood now was markedly different. No one was smiling, and Morgan was looking a lot older than his sixty years.
Morgan was sipping from a mug. “They were the last to leave, you know. I reached the four of them to Solomon’s door, made sure they got inside, said good night.” He shook his head slowly. “I never thought it would for the last time…”
Dougan’s chin went up marginally. “Four of them? Solomon, his wife and Yvonne. Who was the fourth person?”
“Solomon’s ex-wife, Ivy.” He noticed his colleague’s startled look. “Tina’s his second wife, Dougan. It’s not one of those things you advertise, you understand.”
“So the ex-wife was here at the party last night?”
“Ivy and Solomon parted ways two years ago. But they remained good friends; in fact, he still sees to her financial needs on a monthly basis. And she’s a wonderful person. I saw no reason not to invite her last night.”
“So, what happened after the party? How did Ivy end up staying with them?”
Morgan lowered his coffee slowly. “Dougan… this isn’t one of your cases. There’s nothing remotely suspicious involved here. My brother tragically fell to his death last night. That’s all there is to it!” His voice had gone up and there was both grief and anger etched across his face as the words spilled out.
Morgan’s wife crossed over to him and laid an arm on his shoulder. Her eye fell on Dougan and the message there was not difficult to read. Dougan and Naik rose to their feet, murmuring their apologies and repeated their offers of any assistance that might be required.
Morgan continued to stare at the floor, still ashen-faced. His wife escorted the two officers to the door and thanked them for coming. She shut the door after them. Naik let out a small sigh of relief but wisely refrained from comment. He noticed that Dougan was looking at the door adjacent to Morgan’s. Looking at the ornate name plate, Naik realised it was the door to Solomon’s residence.
“Let’s pay Tina and her sister a visit.” suggested Dougan casually and rang the bell before Naik could utter a word.
The younger man glanced guiltily at Morgan’s closed door but before he could frame any protest, Solomon’s door opened. Yvonne was standing there in a night-gown, eyes puffy, her hair mussed.
They accepted chairs in the spacious lounge area, but declined any refreshment. Dougan’s first thought was that Solomon had great taste in women. Both Ivy and Tina were stunningly beautiful. His second was that, judging from the level of sheer luxury oozing from the immediate surroundings, the deceased man had been worth a lot of money. He murmured the necessary words of comfort, then added they had a few routine queries “-so we can close the matter.” He directed his first question at Tina. “When did you realise that all was not well?”
Solomon’s wife sat directly opposite them. Though her eyes were red from crying, when she spoke, her voice sounded firm. “When I went to sleep at about one something, Solomon was not yet in bed.” She gestured at the others. “Both Yvonne and Ivy retired just before me, and they both said they notice anything out of the ordinary last night. Then this morning, my phone woke me. It was Morgan’s wife, calling to tell me the terrible news.” She touched her mouth then, as if to stifle a sob, composure broken. No one said anything. She went on: “I immediately rushed to our balcony, and peered down. I could see a crowd gathered…”
“So, what do you think happened?” asked Dougan quietly.
She looked stricken. “I looked about frantically, hoping that it was all some sort of crazy mistake that Solomon was actually sleeping on the couch. I found a half empty whiskey bottle on the balcony.” Her shoulder lifted, a feeble gesture that served only to emphasize her state of helplessness. “I thought he had been drinking, and then…” Her voice trailed off.
Naik noticed that while Ivy was following the dialogue intently, Yvonne was looking at the floor. She seemed a different person from the radiant, flirtatious beauty of last night.
“So, he hadn’t actually gotten into bed at all?”
Tina shook her head. “His pyjamas were on the side-stand. I guess he simply wanted a night-cap before hitting the sack.”
Dougan turned to Ivy. “Do you live far?”
She cocked her head at him. “Is that a devious way of asking me why I spent the night here?” When she saw Dougan frown, she nodded to herself. “My building is a fifteen minute drive away. When it was time to leave, I was feeling so weary that Tina suggested I stay over and go home in the morning.” Her exquisite face fell. “And then- this happened…”
Later, as they walked back to the car, Dougan said: “Strange: wife and ex-wife amicably spending a night under the same roof with the man who’s been married to both.” He caressed his chin, the action serving to remind him he needed a shave. “I wonder if Solomon had life insurance…”
Naik got the answer to that question without much trouble and when he phoned Dougan, the senior officer told Naik where to pick him up. While Naik was at the wheel, Dougan studied the report. In the last eight years, Solomon had made two policies with Ivy as the beneficiary, and another two favouring Tina. But the surprise was the last policy he had made, with the benefits going to Yvonne. According to the bank statement, this check had been cleared only two days ago.
“Why are we going back to Solomon’s flat, sir?”
Ahead, Dougan could make out the prominent outline of the Riviera Towers. “I received Solomon’s post mortem report an hour ago. There were no traces of alcohol in his system…”
When Dougan repeated this statement in Solomon’s lounge, Yvonne looked flabbergasted. She turned to her sister, trying to work out the implications of what she was hearing. “But if Solomon hadn’t been drinking, then he couldn’t possibly have fallen…”
Looking in Tina’s direction as well, Dougan noticed the wife’s lack of any reaction. As he continued to gaze at her, she sighed and shook her head in a dismissive gesture. “You don’t look surprised, Tina.”
Tina reached for her iPad which was on the low table next to the couch. “There’s something I need to show you, Inspector.” She fiddled with the screen, tapping commands. “It’s an email that Solomon sent me – before he died, obviously. I saw the email later in the evening of the same day he died, and I told no one; you’ll understand why when you read it.” She held his gaze firmly. “It basically says that he was planning to commit suicide.” She ignored Yvonne’s shocked gasp. “Yes, I know… I freaked out when I read that. But what was next was worse.” She looked away from the two men, and at Yvonne. “He said he had brought shame upon himself. Basically, he’d been sleeping with my darling sister.”
Yvonne slumped back into the sofa, shoulders coming together as her hands flew over her mouth. “He wrote how pathetic he felt, messing around with Yvonne, a guest in his house, and how stricken he was for betraying me, his wife.” Tina’s voice had hardened, her eyes never leaving her sister. “He said he held himself in scorn, and that suicide was the only solution.” Tina handed the device to the Inspector. “At the end, he pleads with me to keep this a secret, to make believe that his death was accidental. His reason: the insurance firms don’t pay in case of suicide.”
Dougan read slowly through the email. He then handed the iPad to his subordinate. He knew Naik would check the details that mattered.
Tina rose and walked to the inset bar. She poured a large measure of brandy into a glass and went to Yvonne. “Here, have this. You look like you could use it.”
Yvonne’s right hand automatically uncurled, reaching out to take the brandy. Suddenly, she froze and her hand dropped. She shook head quickly, unable to hide her dismay.
Both Tina and Dougan stared at her strangely. It was Tina who said it first. “My God, you’re pregnant!” Her frame seemed to abruptly shudder and she sank into the couch, appearing dazed.
“When did you tell Solomon?” asked Dougan quietly. He was thinking of the policy.
“A week ago.” She answered softly.
Naik made the connection too. “That’s why he made the policy for Tina…”
Dougan nodded, but his face was clouded in thought. “But if Solomon is smart enough to mask his suicide as an accident to hoodwink the insurance people, then why does he end his life only days after making a new policy?” He suddenly looked up. “Unless it wasn’t suicide.”
The silence that followed this statement was almost chilling in its fullness.
Dougan got up. “Naik, we need to have another look at the balcony.” He led the way into the bedroom and out into the open. “If we’re dealing with murder then there are three suspects: Tina, Yvonne and Ivy.”
“But Ivy said that her stay was a last minute decision.” pointed out Naik.
“If the murder was unpremeditated, that rules out nothing. But,” A curious look came onto Dougan’s face. “what you said raises another point. She was advised to stay, wasn’t she…” He looked out into the distance. “You took the contact numbers of all three women that day. Get Ivy on the phone for me, Naik…”
Ivy answered on the first ring.
Switching on the speaker, Dougan identified himself. “I need to ask you two questions. You said you felt very tired when it was time to leave. Were you drinking that night?”
“Actually, I had only juice. I try not to let my hair down unless I’m in the company of close friends.” A puzzled note crept into her voice. “I know I was surprised by how exhausted I was feeling. But no, it wasn’t because of alcohol.”
Dougan quickly told her about Solomon’s affair with Yvonne.
She chuckled. “Well, I for one am not shocked, Inspector. Do you know the reason why Solomon and I split up? It was because I discovered I couldn’t conceive. And Solomon so badly wanted children of his own. So we made a deal to break up, and because he loved me, he’s taken care of me ever since, and we remained on the best of terms. He met Tina not long after we parted ways, and they married. But three months ago, Tina had an operation for her fibroids. Her uterus was taken out, which means no kids for her either.” She sighed. “And if Solomon was true to form, then I guess it was only a matter of time before he started looking elsewhere for what’s been eluding him.”
“And so now we have motive.” said Dougan softly. Naik was speechless and could only shake his head in wonder at what they had heard. “And yet,” murmured Dougan, almost to himself. “if it was murder, we cannot explain why Solomon touched no alcohol last night…”
“But how can we assume that Solomon was a drinker?” objected Naik.
Dougan gave him a cutting look. “Naik, the initial assumption was that he fell to his death after getting drunk. Morgan would have been the first to cry foul play if Solomon was a teetotaller.” His gaze swung away from his sheepish deputy. “So we have a situation where a man who obviously loves his drinks avoided drinking at his brother’s birthday party.” His eyes had a faraway look. “What might cause such a person to-” And then he let out his breath in a sigh, and he nodded slowly. “Let’s go ask Tina if Solomon was taking any medication…”
With both men standing before her, Tina nodded. “He had high blood pressure. He had pills for that. And he had an inhaler for his asthma.”
Her words made Dougan reach for his own inhaler, stored safely inside his pant pocket, ready for instant withdrawal and use. “Nothing else?”
Tina appeared hesitant, as if revealing more would sully Solomon’s memory. “Well, he’d been having some trouble sleeping lately…”
Dougan nodded. “Sleeping tablets, yes. You wouldn’t want to mix alcohol with those…” And looking at Naik, he saw that he had made the other connection. “Yes, that’s right, Naik. When Ivy complained of feeling exhausted, what she didn’t realise was that her juice had been spiked. She had been coerced unknowingly into spending the night here at the flat. And we know who suggested to Ivy that she stay the night…” He looked down at Tina.
Tina stiffened in shock. “What?”
Dougan’s gaze was relentless. “Who gains the most from Solomon’s death?”
Yvonne looked bewildered by the turn the conversation had taken. “What are you saying, Inspector? That Tina killed her own husband because of– money?”
“That might not have been the only reason.”
Yvonne simply stared at him, her expression pained.
“How long have you been having an affair with Solomon?”
“A month is a long time, Yvonne. What are the chances your sister – living under the same roof – wouldn’t have realised what was going on? And if she found out then we can work out the rest. She knew what had happened to Ivy and she knew why. If she couldn’t conceive, and Solomon was now involved with you then her days were numbered. The next step is to plan his murder. The birthday is coming up. She makes her plans. First, send an email from Solomon’s account to hers, with the ‘suicide’ note. Then slip a pill into Ivy’s drink and later convince her to stay over. Much later, she lures Solomon out into their balcony and pushes him over. The parapet is not a high one and Solomon was no heavy-weight. Then she sets up the scenario, placing a bottle of Scotch at the scene. She awakens the next day a widow.”
“But what’s the point of getting Ivy to spend the night?”
“Tina’s initial plan was to make it look like an accidental death. She must have hoped that being Morgan’s brother, we wouldn’t look too closely into the matter. IN the event that failed, she had the email to prove her back-up plan, which was to make it look like suicide. And Ivy was an absolute last-ditch, in case someone thought it could be murder. If that were the case, three suspects are better than two, right?”
Tina shook her head. “Inspector, you are hallucinating. I am guilty of nothing except holding back that email, and I’ve already explained why I did that. You say that I am guilty of murdering my husband, but the fact that you have no proof to back your tale suggests otherwise.”
Dougan looked unfazed. “The first thing I’m going to do is ask Ivy to come in for a blood test. All we need is to find a trace of medication in her system.” His look was almost admiring. “It wasn’t the worst of plans. And except for the fact that your sister was pregnant and you didn’t know about it, you might have gotten away with it.”
But Tina was looking past him and when Dougan turned, he felt his breathing slow down.
Morgan was standing at the doorway and he was looking directly at him. Dougan wondered how long he had been there.
Morgan drew a long breath and when he spoke, his voice was harsh. “Dougan, I remember telling you that my brother’s death wasn’t one of your cases.” He stepped into the apartment and when he looked at Tina, his expression was icy cold. “I’m very glad you decided not to take my advice.”