The Lollipop Flew Away introduces private detective Mike Sanse. Below are the first three chapters of the story.
The court was full. The defendant, Robert ‘Bob’ Thuo, a wasted, twenty-year-old youth with the face of an older man, appeared oblivious to the storm gathering around him. His sunken, close-set eyes oscillated between the judge and the prosecutor finally settling on the audience. Grace Nduta, his wife, appeared shaken for reasons best known to her. Jeremiah Wira, his uncle, was in a trance. Why the heck was he muttering to himself? Then there was the audience, a pathetic, holier-than-thou mob that attended burials for a first-hand story. He couldn’t hate them enough.
Bob’s confidence that truth would set him free had long thawed to be survived by dread. The prosecution was painting such a twisted picture he was confused. Of late a few shillings’ worth of the poisons they called alcohol was enough to knock him out cold. Indeed he had woken up in the ditch a couple of times. Nevertheless, could he kill someone – his own father – and forget?
The prosecutor, Edwin Ponyi, a forty-something, six feet tall man with broad shoulders, wiped his face with a handkerchief, his eyes glancing at the stalled fan momentarily as if in a plea. His manner said it all: this was his stage and sending criminals to jail was his mission in life. On the stand was Elizabeth Watene, his star witness.
“What did the defendant say?” Ponyi asked.
“That he would kill Gitonga,” Elizabeth said.
All eyes were on the defendant who appeared subdued.
“Let’s go to the evening of the same day,” Ponyi said.
“I had gone out for fresh air when I heard raised voices coming from my brother’s house.”
“What did you hear?”
“Gitonga and Bob were quarrelling about a woman. Gitonga said that the woman loved him. Bob said that she was his wife. Gitonga said that Bob could have the woman’s body but not her heart. Bob said Gitonga would have neither because he would be dead within seconds. A commotion erupted and I wailed for help.”
“Who is the woman at the centre of the quarrel?” Ponyi asked.
“Grace Nduta, Bob’s wife. She was once Gitonga’s lover.”
All eyes turned to Grace who cupped her face in her hands.
“Some neighbours answered my distress call and we set on forcing the front door. We moved to the rear door which is lighter only to find it open. Bob lay unconscious outside the door holding a hammer. We dashed to the sitting room where Gitonga lay sprawled on the floor, de- dead.”
It was the defendant’s time to question the witness.
“Why do you hate me so?” Bob asked feebly.
“This is not about love or hate; it is about what I witnessed.”
“You want to take my father’s wealth. I want the world to know that I didn’t kill him!”
“Do you have any question?” the judge interjected.
“I didn’t kill…!”
“Order! Order! Shouting will not give you better results.”
“I was ambushed. It is true!”
“Any questions?” The judge asked. The defendants shook his head. He was sobbing.
The next witness, a slender, tall bespectacled man in his fifties, was sworn in. His beard ran thick and wild, a momentous contrast with his bald scalp. He exuded the confidence of one who has walked a particular path a thousand times.
“Tell the court your name please,” Ponyi said.
“Alfred Shikuri your honour,” the man said in soprano.
“What is your profession, Mr. Shikuri?”
“I am a pathologist, your honour.”
“For how long have you been a pathologist?”
Shikuri scratched his scalp in recall. “Twenty-five years.”
Ponyi nodded appreciatively. “You must be very experienced, Doctor Shikuri.”
“Thank you, your honour.”
“Now, did you carry out an autopsy on Mr. Emilio Gitonga?”
“Yes your honour.”
“Kindly furnish the court with your findings.”
“But for a smashed skull the deceased’s body was fit enough,” the doctor said. “The damage on the skull must have resulted from repeated blows by a heavy, blunt object.”
Ponyi walked from the witness box to the defendant’s and, facing him, asked: “So, Doctor, in your professional view, what caused Mr. Gitonga’s death?”
The doctor cleared his throat. “The deceased died from excessive haemorrhage and brain damage. The blow at the back of the head impaired the medulla oblongata which controls the heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing among other vital functions of the body.”
Ponyi walked to the clerk’s table and picked a hammer in a polythene bag. It was introduced earlier as evidence.
“This, for the reference of the court is exhibit A. Now, Doctor Shikuri, you were requested to classify the blood on exhibit A. What did you find?”
“The blood group on exhibit A is O.”
“And what is the blood group of the deceased?”
“Blood group O your honour.”
“Thank you sir. That is all.”
The defendant had no questions for the witness. Silence ensued as the judge scribed away furiously. He stopped, removed his glasses and studied the court.
“Thank you for the business of the day,” the judge said. “Robert Thuo Gitonga versus the Republic adjourns until October 31st.”
His gavel landed on the table.
Grace forced her way through the human traffic milling out of the courthouse. She knocked a tall man off balance who turned to look at his aggressor, his look carrying more amusement than annoyance.
“Slow, madam, easy does it.”
Grace turned to offer an apology and gasped. “Mr. Rumu! I am so sorry.”
“Grace!” Rumu shook Grace’s hand, his bulk towering over her. “You look dreadful.”
“It doesn’t get any worse, does it?” Grace said. “Bob is telling the truth, you know.”
“In a court of law truth is rarely enough particularly against a man of Ponyi’s experience.”
“I must do something. I just don’t know what.”
“You need someone to look into the mugging angle,” Rumu said scribbling an address and a name on a piece of paper. “He is the best.”
Grace studied the piece of paper, thanked Rumu and took off. She was a twenty-one year old mobile hour-glass in cream top and red skirt designed to conceal as much as it revealed. She fanned herself with the palm of her hand as she closed the road. An approaching car swerved to avoid her. She didn’t see it. She didn’t hear the driver’s obscenities either. Her mind was far, far away. She had made the wrong decisions once too often she was about to pay dearly. If Bob was convicted all would be lost. As matters stood, that was almost a certainty.
Kathare was a town on the move with new buildings and businesses mushrooming every day. It came as a surprise to Grace that a private detective had set up shop too. Nyota House stood off the main street; a three-storey relic with a steep staircase whose climb gave a low opinion of the intended saviour. She stopped for a breather at the second floor. The corridor before her was dim and empty. She walked half-heartedly and stopped at door no. 23. A fresh, handwritten tag read: GENIUS INVESTIGATIONS. She pushed the door and walked into a tiny office. At the middle was a small office table. On the table was an empty tray. At the table sat a man who struggled to his feet to welcome her. He towered over the small table, his frame bent forward seemingly too frail to stand upright. A quick look at his face suggested stupidity, but his eyes were alive, keen and intelligent.
He was drunk.
“Welcome to Genius Investigations,” the man said.
“I want to see Michael Sanse.”
“At your service.”
Grace’s eyes squinted. Her intended saviour, if at all the skeleton in front of her was Mike Sanse, could save nobody. If anything he himself needed saving. Rumu was wrong. She turned to leave.
“How was the honeymoon?”
Grace turned sharply to face the man. “Excuse me? Sorry I bothered you.”
Grace stormed out and hurried down the staircase into the afternoon sun. She felt bitter with Rumu and the world. How could Rumu pair her with a drunk to counter the police? Heavens, she could achieve more on her own. Come to think of it, she could go on a hunger strike, or even threaten to strip…
She dialled Rumu’s number. “How could you? Heavens, my husband’s life is on the line yet you send me to a wino?”
“Enough, young lady! You are abusing a man of honour. Mr. Sanse is the best detective I ever came across. But for him hordes of crimes would still be unsolved today. I have a testimony. Some years ago my son was kidnapped. The kidnappers wanted one million in cash. Well, I didn’t have that kind of money. I offered what I had, six hundred thousand but they insisted on a million. Sanse saved Christian. Don’t ask me how.” He stopped to let it sink. “There is something you should know. Mr. Sanse was ever a true professional. He loved two things in life: his family and work. He lost his family six months ago. He also lost his job.”
“How many kids?”
“Yes. I personally financed his undertaking. Now, don’t question my judgement. If anyone can do anything then it is Mr. Sanse. Go back to him.”
Grace stood rooted. She felt as if she had physically hit a wall. The staircase was a sure turn-off, but it was the act of baring her soul to a drunk that made her weary. After a long thought she decided that she stood to lose little. She would only burn some fat, waste a few minutes and get her ego bruised. She had lost a lot already and was about to lose everything. She started up the staircase reluctantly.
Grace took time to re-appraise the office. That the man was drunk was a fact. However, everything else about him was remarkable. The grey Kaunda suit would have sat him better if he were five kilos heavier. His hair part was so perfect his hair could have been held in place with glue. On his left hand was an expensive Omex watch. A trilby hat was perched on the coat stand.
“Why do you think I am newly married?” Grace asked.
“Your ring has a gold-coat that fades easily. Yours is perfect. You couldn’t have lost one because your finger is thicker at the middle than the base.”
Grace had to smile despite herself. “I married two years ago. My finger out-grew the previous ring.”
“I see,” Sanse said solemnly.
“Mr. Rumu told me about your family,” Grace occupied a chair. “I am sorry.”
Sanse embarked on clicking his knuckles. His eyes had a distant look.
“How can I help you?” Sanse said.
Grace noted the strict business tone. “You must have heard about the murder of Emilio Gitonga. My husband, Bob Thuo, has been accused falsely of his murder. He was mugged on his way home.”
The sobs came and when they did it was an El Nino. Sanse leaned back on his chair, bored, and let her cry. Five minutes later she was drained.
“I am sorry,” she said. “My husband is all I have. I need you to look at the issue afresh.”
“Who would want your father-in-law dead?”
“I don’t know. He was a good man.”
Grace narrated what had transpired in court so far. She was stupefied as Sanse opened a drawer, took out a jolly comb and started combing his hair meditatively.
“I will take your case on one condition,” Sanse said.
“In the event that your husband is culpable it will not constitute failure on my part.”
“Agreed,” Grace said.
“Where is he?”
“He is remanded at Kathare prison.” Grace said. “I will give you anything to set him free.”
“I will need a retainer.”
Grace ransacked her purse. “I didn’t plan for this. You will take what I find.”
“Five thousand,” she said handing Sanse the money. She left promising to top up the amount soon.
Sanse’s phone rang. It was Rumu.
“Tell me about Gitonga,” Sanse said.
“So you are on,” Rumu said. “I knew him through Kathare Orphanage. I have been to his place a couple of times. He lives with his sister and brother. The sister, Elizabeth, is tough and mean. Her son works for Gitonga’s firm, Gitonga and Sons Ltd. Gitonga’s wife died way back followed by two of his sons. As regards the murder you’ll need to dig to form your own opinion.”
Sanse pocketed the jolly comb, perched the trilby hat on his head, closed the office and strolled out. He crossed the street and kept walking. He entered Busy Bee Bar. Pewa, the owner, glared at him.
“Don’t even try,” Pewa warned.
“Try what?” Sanse said placing some money on the table.
“This should go to your account.”
“Just give me a glass of Medusa,” Sanse was impatient.
Pewa bit his lip and closed his eyes hoping to muster enough hatred and strength to hold on to the money and order Sanse out. However, he had a weakness for his once best customer. Sanse had savoured the whole range, from best to the worst liquor. Eventually he couldn’t afford the cheapest. Sanse’s tab was already in excess of a thousand.
“If I must wait ten minutes every time you serve me will I ever be able to work to clear my debt?”
Pewa poured Medusa in a glass which Sanse had bought from home. Sanse drained the glass, received his balance, thanked Pewa and walked out.
Bob looked pathetic in a torn, oversize prison uniform which had vertical black and white strips. Sanse was having a hard time conceiving a Bob-Grace intimacy. To him, love could be blind but something is always amiss when the beauty meets the beast. In turn, Bob studied him the way a rat studies a trap.
“I am Michael Sanse. Your wife hired me to look into your case.”
Bob shot him an incredulous look. “She did? What are you?”
“A private investigator.”
“I didn’t kill him. I swear…”
Sanse stopped him with his hand. “Just tell me what happened on Tuesday 16th.”
“I was ambushed…”
“From the beginning.”
“I arrived at one,” Bob started. “I have been away for over two years. You see, I always bragged that I am a millionaire in waiting…”
“Finally I gathered courage like the prodigal son of old. It was my 20th birthday and I had to reason with the old man. I was prepared to kneel before him and seek absolution. I knew I had made a mistake coming when my father refused to answer my greetings. He was very annoyed to see me. I was devastated when he opened his mouth.”
“What did he say?”
“That I should have died at birth,” Bob said. “That marked the end of my mission. Some people have told me they would have knocked the silly old man off right then. I simply told him what sprang to mind.”
“That I felt like killing him.”
“I don’t know. I was mad.”
“We are talking about your life here.”
“Okay, exact words.” Bob looked uncertain. “He called me names and I called him names. We were two madmen. I left in anger. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I thought of killing myself. I walked and walked figuring the best way to die. At five I went to Kathare Bar hoping that the decision would be easier while drunk. I later moved to First and Last bar.”
“Whom were you drinking with?”
“At Kathare Bar I had a table all to myself.”
“First and Last?”
“Jimia, my father’s first cousin. There was Job, my father’s farmhand. I have never met the rest. You know bars; your look tells.”
Sanse’s eyes hardened. “What did you say at the bar?”
“I talked about the brawl with Father.”
“Did you say you planned to kill him?”
“I did. I was mad...”
“On the way home I was ambushed. I woke up to screaming faces, kicks and jabs. I went under again and woke up in hospital chained to the bed. There was a cop guarding me. The doctor was looking at me funny and told me I had been dead for hours.”
“Did you see the person who attacked you?”
“He came from nowhere and I was too drunk.”
“In short you can’t tell what happened between the time you left the bar and the time you woke up to a beating.”
“How splendid,” Sanse said. “How did you plan to kill your father?”
Bob stared at Sanse. “I didn’t have a plan.”
“Did you think of hitting him with a hammer?”
“No,” Bob protested. “I told you I was mugged.”
“Of course you did.”
“What progress have you made this far?”
“I just started, son.”
Bob had a faraway look. “They will hang me, won’t they? I know they will. I saw it in the eyes of the judge.”
“If you killed your father then…”
Bob’s eyes almost popped out of his head. “If I can kill I would have killed him years ago. What Father did was a replay of countless similar if not worse incidents over the years. Now I wish I killed him.”
And he started to cry. Like Grace, Sanse let Bob cry. “My childhood was a living hell. I had a father who wasn’t fatherly. He treated his servants better. He bought my brothers presents and left me out.”
Sanse had driven home determined to read the letter which had arrived two days previously. Of course it carried bad news; he just didn’t know how bad. He had imbibed two glasses of Medusa on his way home yet he felt too sober to see his fate in black and white. However, much of his reluctance stemmed from his inability to avert the impending doom. He walked out planning to drink some more.
“Hello Mr. Sanse,” a boy in uniform greeted him outside the gate.
“Hello Alex.” The boy was in the company of Karembo, their house girl.
“Do you have a gun?”
“Only the police carry guns; I am not a police officer.”
“Was the man who shot Daddy and Jack a policeman?”
The question made Sanse regret having walked out of the house. A blue Suzuki drove up to them and stopped. Catherine, Alex’s mother, stepped out and planted herself in front of Sanse, her arms akimbo. She was young and voluptuous. She raised her hand to slap Sanse who grabbed it in the air.
“Why did you come into our life?” She said. “I am a widow at thirty for heaven’s sake!”
Sanse said nothing.
“Keep your distance!”
“By all means,” he said and let go of her hand.
“I hope next time they won’t miss.”
Catherine bundled Alex in the Suzuki and spent towards her compound. Karembo trailed the car dejectedly. Sanse retreated to his house cursing that black Friday six months ago for the millionth time.
It had been a long week and all Sanse had wished for was his family’s company. He had boarded a bus from Nairobi at three. When he arrived home at six his family was out. Earlier in the day he had assured Raymond, Catherine’s husband, that he would travel home. He was considering Raymond’s challenge to a game of pool when the nightmare unfolded. There was shouting, there was gunfire and yes, there was hell. Within five minutes the bodies of his wife Betty, his son Jack, his daughters Vivian and Emma, and Raymond, lay strewn on his lawn. A neighbour driving by knocked the assailant dead. Sanse identified him as Chei, a tough criminal he had arrested a week before. He was out on bail.
Sanse had had the feeling that Catherine disapproved of any engagement between her family and his. However, Raymond loved pool and Sanse was the man to beat. Again, Alex and Jack were inseparable. Now, with Raymond dead, she was like a spitting cobra. Sanse did not blame Catherine. His own life was shattered. He was on a free fall. Hell; how did one hold to their marbles after their world has collapsed? Now, six months after, the memories were still fresh despite a spirited effort to push them away. Not even booze could obliterate them. He doubted time ever would.
Sanse took the letter and tore the envelope. The letter read:
Re: Outstanding Arrears of Kshs 55,600.
The foregoing refers.
Despite our constant reminder the amount above has remained outstanding. Be advised that if the amount is not paid in full within fourteen (14) days we shall institute measures to recover the outstanding loan in full and penalties thereof at your own expense.
The letter was signed by the Branch Manager, Mercantile Finance Bank on 16th October 2007
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