It was wet, cold, drizzling. There had been a storm the night before.
A man in a raincoat, huddling under an umbrella, was making his way to the yellow crime-scene police tape.
“Good morning,” said the man to the uniformed police constable standing guard behind the tape. “Bernard Odero. City Daily.” He fished out his press ID from his coat and showed it to the policeman.
The constable took a step forward to look at the ID, then turned to Bernard. “Wait here,” he said.
As the policeman walked away, Bernard let out a long impatient sigh. Forgetting to remove his glasses, he peeped out from under his umbrella to look up at the grey clouds. He wished he was at his desk right now. Warm and dry. Not out here in the suburbs, getting wet.
He had received a tip. A promising tip from the looks of it, thought Bernard as he wiped the raindrops off his glasses and put them back on.
In front of him, Police officers and forensic techies were all over the front lawn of a tidy looking bungalow, square in shape. The manicured grass on the lawn was a patchwork of muddy shoe prints.
Separating the bungalow from the neighboring houses on either side was a trimmed hedge, waist high.
Bernard looked up and down the street of the gated cul-de-sac, ten or so houses – a mixture of bungalows and two-story houses – they all had the same kind of hedge. Same trim.
Bernard imagined this was a normally chirpy and bright neighborhood.
Coming down the drive of the police strewn bungalow was a tall man in a suit – He was slightly on the heavy side but physically fit judging from his stride. Following close behind him was the constable.
“Inspector Muli,” said Bernard, smiling at the tall man. They shook hands.
Inspector Muli, his eyes squinting against the drizzle, looked grave, more so than usual.
“So,” said Bernard. “What happened here, Inspector?”
The constable stepped forward. “Should I remove him from the scene, Sir?”
Inspector Muli raised his hand, restraining his man. Bernard looked at the constable and then turned to the Inspector.
“What is going on?” Bernard asked.
Inspector Muli held Bernard’s gaze, then he lifted the police tape between them.
“Do you really want to know Odero?”
The Inspector’s tone made Bernard hesitate for a brief moment, but only for a brief moment. He folded up his umbrella, ducked under the tape, and followed Inspector Muli into the bungalow, open notebook in hand.
* * *
Bernard got to the office after dark. It was pouring rain outside, accompanied by thunder and lightning. No one else was in the office.
Under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights, Bernard made his way across the newsroom to his desk. He pulled a chair from the desk nearest to his and draped his wet raincoat over it. He then sat at his desk and looked at his watch.
There was just enough time to write the story up and send the copy to print. Before getting started he leaned back in his chair to collect his thoughts. After a moment, he sat up straight, switched on his desktop and as the machine quietly powered up, he patted himself down; before stretching to his raincoat and finding his notebook.
The computer was now up and running. He had everything he needed, but he paused and stared at the screen.
Inspector Muli had given him an out this morning, Bernard remembered. He had asked him whether he really wanted to know.
Bernard’s fingers hovered over the computer keyboard for a moment, and then, he started typing.
5 MURDERED IN PARKLANDS by Bernard Odero, News Editor.
5 People were this morning found murdered in their homes in the Parklands suburbs of Nairobi. The five victims, from two separate families, were discovered early Thursday morning. The alarm was first raised by a friend of one the families (who asked not to be named) after he discovered two of the bodies. Police arrived on the scene soon after. The two, single mother Edith Wambua, 50, and son Kenneth Wambua, 16, were found dead in their home at 7.30am…
Bernard stopped typing.
Rubbing his forehead, Bernard let his thoughts take him back to this morning. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw after Inspector Muli invited him into the bungalow.
They walked through the front door into the living room. With the exception of investigators walking to and fro, nothing seemed out of place. The room was neat, smartly furnished. No upturned chairs or broken vases, nothing to suggest to Bernard that a crime had occurred.
“This way,” said Inspector Muli, leading Bernard to the kitchen.
There, Bernard met Edith Wambua, 50.
She lay slumped against the wooden cabinets under the kitchen sink, dead. Her hands, one placed on top of the other, were impaled with garden shears to the drawers underneath the sink.
Bernard’s mind registered what was in front of him in fragments. A middle aged lady in a white dressing gown. Clotted blood, running all the way down her arms. The shears used as stakes. Her mouth, agape in death.
Bernard didn’t know who led him to the second victim in the house. It might have been Inspector Muli.
Kenneth Wambua, 16. The boy’s bedroom was navy blue in colour. The curtains, heavy, also navy blue, were drawn keeping the room dark even though it was light outside. Forensic photographers were using flashlights to take pictures of what had happened in this room.
As the room lit up in flashes, Bernard saw a young man, face down on his desk in front of his computer, a pair of garden shears sticking out of his back. The boy’s head was facing the door. His lifeless eyes, lighting up in rapid intervals, stared back at Bernard.
A brilliant flash of white jarred Bernard back to the present.
It was lightning. The receding rumble of thunder told him as much.
Bernard swung his chair round and with a far off look, he stared out the newsroom window a few desks away. The storm was getting intense.
After a moment, Bernard turned back to his computer. He leafed through his notebook, then, adjusting his glasses, he turned his attention to his keyboard.
…3 other bodies were discovered in an adjacent house by police. The three, Ramesh Shah, 38, his wife Priya, 25, and their son Nilesh, 5, were found dead in their home at 9am by investigators canvassing the area. According to police, preliminary findings indicate that the 5 murders were committed by the same person or persons…
In the bungalow that morning, Bernard, unable to look at the dead teenager any longer, turned his head away. Standing silently next to him at the door, staring into the room, was Inspector Muli.
It took a moment for Bernard to find his voice.
“Who would –?” Bernard didn’t get any further. A uniformed police officer had rushed to Inspector Muli and frantically said something in his superior’s ear.
Inspector Muli, a handful of police officers, and Bernard, following surreptitiously, trooped to the house next door, a two-story house. In the living room, they found them.
A father, mother and son, impaled with garden shears to the couch. Their bodies were arranged such that they were facing the television, as though they were watching a G-rated movie together. Only the Shah’s weren’t watching anything. They never would again.
Bernard didn’t remember much of what happened immediately after. The last thing he remembered before fainting was the blood. Blood was everywhere, congealed under the dead family’s feet, a living room turned carpeted abattoir.
…Police are looking for a gardener, last seen working in the area, to help with their investigation. According to witnesses, the said gardener was seen on Wednesday afternoon, tending to a hedge separating the two properties where the crimes occurred.
Bernard regained consciousness not long afterwards. It was still midmorning, overcast. He was outdoors lying on the wet tarmac, behind the police tape again.
A policeman was leaning over him administering first aid while his unformed colleagues stood around watching; their expressions difficult to read, derision perhaps.
It had stopped drizzling.
“Okay, get back to work.” Inspector Muli’s approaching voice dispersed the policemen.
“You okay Odero?” said the Inspector, allowing, despite the circumstances, a restrained smile. Offering his hand, he helped Bernard to his feet.
Aside from a bruised ego and his coat in need of a wash, Bernard nodded he that was alright. He was keen to put the embarrassing fainting spell behind him.
“So Inspector, when do you think this happened?”
The hint of a smile on the Inspector’s face disappeared, he sighed heavily.
“Looks like it happened last night,” said Inspector Muli, glancing back briefly at the two houses behind him. “None of the neighbors heard or saw anything this morning… which leaves last night. It’s the only time the murders could have taken place without anyone hearing.”
“The storm,” said Bernard. “If they screamed no one would…” He left the thought hanging.
Inspector Muli nodded, his thoughts though were not quite in the present.
“Do you have any clues as to who might have done this?” Bernard had his notebook ready in hand, pen poised to record the Inspector’s words.
“Off the record,” said Inspector Muli.
Nodding, Bernard put his pen and notebook away.
“Forensics can’t find a thing,” the Inspector said. “And this rain, probably washed away most of the evidence.”
Bernard looked over at the manhole in front of the two houses.
“Are there any suspects?” Bernard asked, turning back to the Inspector. He meant for the question to be objective. It came off sounding hopeful.
Inspector Muli remained silent.
“The gardener,” Inspector Muli murmured.
“The gardener?” said Bernard, unsure of what he’d heard. “You think a gardener did…?”
The garden shears, of course, thought Bernard.
Inspector Muli seemed to read Bernard’s mind.
“Look Odero. We are looking for this gardener to help with investigations. That is what you write, nothing else, understand?”
“He is not a suspect,” said Inspector Muli. “Is that clear Odero?”
“Yeah, clear Inspector.”
Inspector Muli remained silent for a moment. “Good,” he finally said. “You can add in your notebook that we are chasing every lead and the criminals will be brought to book.”
Without saying another word, Inspector Muli ducked under the yellow police tape and walked back to the crime scene.
As the Inspector walked away, Bernard’s eye wandered to the hedge running between the two houses.
…The motive for the murders is unclear. Police are however confident investigations will lead to arrests. Speaking to this reporter, the lead investigator on the case Inspector Muli said, “we are chasing every lead and the criminals will soon be brought to book.” The murders sent shock –
A loud crack, followed by an even louder clap of thunder startled Bernard. He looked around the newsroom half expecting to see a desk or computer monitor cut in half.
Wow! That was loud, he thought.
His train of thought now disrupted, Bernard picked up his notebook and leaned back in his chair. He started going through his notes.
The gardener, thought Bernard. None of the neighbors he interviewed really remembered seeing him.
He ran his finger across a page in his notebook, over the names of some of the neighbors he had talked to. Mr Hudson. Mr V. Singh. Chloe Mburu.
After his interview with Inspector Muli, Bernard decided to run down the gardener angle. He would talk to the neighbours. Maybe it was the same gardener who did their hedges.
Lucky for him, the neighbors were gathered in an anxious group not very far from the scene of the crime, watching the proceedings. This way, he wouldn’t have to go round knocking on people’s doors.
A light drizzle had started up again.
“What happened to Mrs. Wambua?” A burly white man asked, after Bernard introduced himself to the small crowd.
“And Shah?” someone shouted from the back.
There was no going round it. Bernard told them. They were shocked into silence for a minute or two.
“Are you sure?” Again the white man spoke up first.
“Yes,” said Bernard, and to avoid dwelling on the gory details he plunged in, got on with the job.
“Did any of you see or hear anything this morning? …Last night?” Bernard asked.
The gathered group consulted among themselves, questioningly looked at each other and then collectively shook their heads.
Had any one of them ever seen a gardener hanging about in the area, Bernard managed to slip the question in without making it sound important.
“No,” said the white man. His name was Hudson. Just Hudson he insisted, but the way he answered the gardener question gave Bernard pause. Hudson sounded uncertain.
Mr V. Singh remembered seeing a gardener, he told Bernard, but he couldn’t remember when exactly. It was recently though.
“I saw him yesterday,” said a teenage girl in the crowd. “…afternoon I think. Yeah he was there.” The girl pointed at the two houses encircled by the police tape.
“And you are?” Bernard asked.
“Have you ever seen him before?” Bernard pressed.
Chloe paused to think. “Well not really. I mean I think I’ve seen him before. It’s the guy with those scissors thingies right… buuut, can’t say for sure you know.”
Bernard put this down in his notebook.
“Whoa!” said Chloe. “You are not putting my name in the paper.”
“You don’t want me to?”
“Of course not,” Chloe snorted.
Singh spoke up as well. He didn’t want his name in print either. Hudson too was keen that his name not appear in the City Daily.
“This gardener,” said Bernard, looking around at the gathered neighbors. “Can anyone describe him?”
No one could.
“Is it the same gardener who does all your hedges? I noticed they are all the same.”
The neighbors turned to each other wondering aloud whether they used the same gardener. That perhaps they did, had never occurred to them before now.
Bernard had his answer.
“Here!” said Hudson. “Why are you asking us about a gardener? What has he got to do with any of this?”
The small gathering stared at Bernard, expectantly. Just then, the light drizzle turned into heavy downpour.
As the neighbors scrambled off to their respective houses, Bernard rushed to his car. He was going to stick around for a while, see if anything bubbled up at the crime scene.
Rain thumped on the roof of his car, and mist slowly started forming on the windows. Bernard was staring straight ahead, lost in thought, his mind on an invisible gardener, perhaps the murderer. While this was on his mind, Bernard looked out. He couldn’t make out anything outside the car. The sheets of rainwater running down the misty windscreen, and the windows, turned everything – the policemen on the lawn, the trees, the houses – they were vague, dark shapes surrounding him.
It made Bernard feel uneasy; vulnerable sitting there alone in the car.
The driving rain hit against the newsroom window a few desks away like little fists trying to get through.
Bernard was staring at the office window again, his glasses off.
Nothing more had come up at the crime scene, so Bernard looked elsewhere.
All day long he chased down any information he could get on the gardener. There was nothing to find. No records of any kind. It was a mystery how the man came to work in the Parklands neighborhood in the first place. No one had hired him or sent him there. He came and he went, and not one person noticed.
Thunder rumbled outside, and lightning, its sudden brief burst of light, filled the window frame.
Putting his glasses back on, Bernard turned to his computer and stared at the last, incomplete sentence.
…The murders sent shook –
Bernard deleted the sentence.
He read through his piece, manoeuvred the mouse, then clicked SEND.
As the story electronically moved from his desk to the print department, Bernard imagined what it must have been like in those two houses the night before. His mind conjured up a faceless dark figure with shears moving through the two houses like a wisp of black smoke. A nebulous mass, that swirled up before its victims and then struck.
Bernard looked out the window. It was raining just like this, he thought.
A thunderclap rent through the air and threw the newsroom into darkness.
The darkness was unsettling.
Using the pale light from the computer screen and the eerie illumination coming through the office windows at intervals, Bernard quickly put his things away and nervously collected his raincoat.
Lightning momentary lit the newsroom as he hurried towards the exit. Bernard stopped in his tracks.
Something, or someone, was standing at the exit.
“Hello?” said Bernard, hating the quiver in his voice.
The silhouetted figure started walking towards Bernard. It was holding something.
Bernard took a step back and just as he did, the lights flickeringly came back on.
Standing before Bernard was an old man, with a work coat on, holding a broom. Bernard let out a long breath.
“Mr Odero,” said the old man smiling. His front teeth were missing. “What are you doing in the dark?”
“Uhhhm… I was working late. The lights went out.”
“Ah,” said the old man, starting to busy himself, moving the chairs about so he could start sweeping. “Strange weather we are having, eh?”
“Hm yes… strange,” said Bernard, distracted.
A silence hung in the air for a moment.
“Well, Goodnight Mr. Odero,” said the old man. He started to sweep.
Bernard walked a few steps then turned to look back at the old man.
“Excuse me, have we met?” Bernard asked.
The old man stopped what he was doing and stared at Bernard. Suddenly he started laughing. Bernard joined in with chuckle, even though he was not sure what was so hilarious.
“Oh Mr Odero,” said the old man, managing to catch his breath. “You are so funny. I’m here every evening. I see you almost every day.”
“Ah! Yes of course,” said Bernard. He couldn’t remember ever having seen the old man before.
“Well,” said Bernard. “Goodnight.”
Bernard walked to the exit, stopped and looked back again. The old man was busy sweeping. Still amused, he was chuckling and shaking his head while he worked.
Bernard turned and left the office. As he walked away he thought of the old man, and the gardener in Parklands. Invisible people. People we forget are there, right in front of us. People who go unnoticed, unseen, until they…
He should write an editorial about it, Bernard thought. A heading came to mind… Shadows.