Given that Sherlock Holmes released last evening in India, I decided to unravel an old mystery story that I wrote in 2001. My English then was certainly worse than it is now (not that it is any great currently), so pardon for any errors. And please do not hit me after reading the story... BTW, the Sherlock Holmes movie was a pretty good and worthwhile watch...
Enough said - Read on for 'The Mystery of the Dead...' (Long Post Alert)
It was a bright Sunday evening. The mood was joyous. There were around twenty to thirty people who had come for the supposedly grand occasion in this far-off village. The weather was just a classic English setting. Slight drizzle, but sunlight still bright enough, even at well past six in the evening. The air had just the right fervor for a celebration.
And wasn't the occasion big?!...Their village boy had come first in the inter-district music competition. Mark had always been a great Casio player and everyone in the village had great respect for his talent. But winning a big competition was something never done before. Something unheard of in this village, far away from the walls of the bustling cities… And so the village elders had decided to felicitate the boy. He would play the song he got the prize for. They were all eagerly awaiting the moment. And they would present him with a cash award.
The village called Austra, after a British colony of the same name, had been famous in the district for its disciplined law and order that there was not even a police station. The people were so confident of their village-folk that they used to leave their doors and windows open even in the night time. Theft or murder was unheard of in the village. There were very few people in the village. And the houses were fewer and far spread out from each other. Some houses were spread out as much as a mile from others. And Mark's was one such house. People in the village did not have cars or bikes. They had to walk miles to reach Mark's house but still, there was a considerable crowd to grace the occasion.
It was nearing seven and the party was about to start. Almost all the important people had already come. And of course there was Mark's own family as well. His father, Waugh, a proud dad, with his big curved moustache, was taking care of the arrangements. There was Mark's mother Linda who was taking care of the dinner. She went about her tasks in her silent but effective mild-mannered way. She was a seasoned home-maker. There was Steven, Mark's younger brother who was crying as usual. But he was crying more than normal today. It surprised his family but they felt it could be because of the crowd that was so unusual to this calm place. Little did they realise what it was about.
There was Mark's old but energetic grandpa. Sitting as usual in his easy-chair and tapping the floor with his age-old walking stick. He was thought to be eccentric for his uncanny behavior at times. But he usually had a pleasant smile to everyone whenever he went out for a walk. Today, he had to smile at so many people coming in and going out, it almost looked too artificial.
There was Glenn, the house servant. Glenn was new to the house; he had just joined the household a week back. Not much was known about him, but Waugh had appointed him at the request of his close friend. He was thought to be a dumbo who would just do his work. Nothing more, nothing less. There was absolutely no life in his movements or thoughts. Nothing exciting about him. But he had not been much of a problem to anyone, Waugh thought. He was efficient. He was punctual for work. But today was like a test for him. So many things to do… So many things to arrange… And so many guests to serve... The real test! He had looked out of sorts in his evening work today. Waugh had himself shouted twice at him for having dropped things. He thought that the situation was getting to Glenn. He had had a terrified look since evening. And Waugh felt that the poor chap could not handle the pressure of the work.
And then there was Mark's little dog, Shane. He had been excitedly running around since afternoon. But the elders had had so much work to do that they hadn't bothered about the dog. Even Mark hadn't seen his dog for sometime that day. He had just landed from his city expedition for the competition. He had been tired but this was a grand occasion. He would not let down his parents by complaining about the function being the next day itself. His body was aching all over after the long travel, but he was just thinking about the prize he had won the previous day, and the function that was fast approaching. He had come back and slept, and had had time just to have a quick wash and dress up for the occasion.
They were all there too. Mark's school friends, his teachers and the school headmaster… Even the ever-frowning aunt and uncle and their quarrelsome son were there. Mark had a great dislike for Adam, who always used to make fun of Mark in school. But now the time had come to pay him back his dues. But no - Mark would not retaliate. He would not show off. He would not make fun of Adam.
Mark was always like this. He was considered a very level-headed chap, even though he was all of ten years old. People knew him as a well behaved kid who always presented himself immaculately in front of elders. He was a no-problem kid at school. He would say his prayers without fail. Play cricket in the evening with his friends. And he was a brilliant kid at his studies. And of course, he would go to his music classes without fail. He used to work musical wonders with the little fingers of his, on the small Casio he had. He had been presented this battery-powered gizmo, a rarity in the village, some years back by his uncle who had settled in the city. This lovable boy had now made the village proud. And the people had come to celebrate.
But someone else had other plans...
It was now almost seven. Everyone had assembled. Almost everything was in place for the event. Or that is what it looked like. The big chandelier lit up the hall. It was getting dark outside. And the weather was getting murkier. The rain now seemed to be getting heavier. There was the occasional streak of lightning. But things were still calm. Mark came into the room from the balcony, neatly dressed for the occasion. His dog followed its master running excitedly to the small podium-like arrangement that had been made for this occasion - immaculately designed but still simple in its look. Mark's mother was standing just beside the podium. His father was still trying to pacify the crying Steve. And grandpa was starting to get up from his chair.
Then it happened.......
A loud burst of thunder and lightning at the same time… And the door to the bedroom opened all of a sudden. And then they saw it.....All of them....With their mouths open. They were all in a state of shock. There on the floor, all in red, lay.....
They were all dead. Or so they seemed to indicate. They had a worn out look. Being battered and bruised all over. There was pin-drop silence in the hall. Mark started to cry. Not many had still realised the gravity of the situation. But Mark was quick to understand. This was the first time in the village this was happening and....
The occasion lay spoilt. Mark was crying inconsolably. His brother was crying too. Linda had no clue of what was going on. Everyone still lay in a state of shock. There were murmurs starting to emanate. They were all proud people of a great village. And the village was not famous for nothing. They were all proud of the law and order in the village. Now, they were all proud of Mark. They had all come for this occasion, in spite of the great distances to travel. What was about to be a lovely Sunday evening marked by celebration now seemed to lie in tatters. And everyone seemed to be murmuring in low hush tones. The question was...who had done it?
Mark's father was the first to come out of this state of shock. He asked everyone to calm down. He had to first pacify Mark. Mark's grandpa came over and asked him to carry on with the job of proceeding with what had to be done. So many people had come and there were still murmurs. The party had come to an end abruptly. And someone amongst them had been the cause of it. It could certainly not have been done by someone else who was not there. Their house was one of the secluded ones in the village. There was no chance of some third person doing it. It had to be someone in the household.... And this sent shivers down Waugh's spine. How could he handle the situation? How could he face the elders? How could he face his wife? How could he face Mark!? How had this happened?...
Waugh decided to act fast. Knowing the village people had to be pacified first, he went about his task. He left Mark with his grandpa and went to the bedroom. He first asked the people to be seated. He appealed to them not to panic and the party would go on as anticipated . But at the back of his mind there were several thoughts going on. His child's feelings, what everyone would think, and so on and so forth… But uppermost on his mind, the question was... who had done it?
This was no mean act. There were six of them. And all were dead now. There was absolutely no other clue in the room. Or at least at first sight... There was just the big wall-clock, the window that opened out to the garden and Mark's cricket bat that was resting on the cot. It was normally always kept in the balcony. The window was always open. So there was no great surprise in it being open now, though it was well into the night. The rain was still pouring outside and the humidity could be felt inside the room. Sweat was dripping down Waugh's forehead, more from the tension than from the weather.
Waugh's immediate suspicion was on the servant. Glenn had just joined the household. And he had been jittery throughout the evening. But he would not decide matters just on the basis of suspicion. He needed proof. He would have to investigate. And that is why he had asked everyone else to clear the area. Now he was alone in the room. He was still looking at the window when he heard another bout of thunder and lightning. Then he saw something strange. There was a patch of liquid just near the bed. And there was a distinct odour coming from it.
He momentarily looked to check - they were all still there. Red in color… Dead...Dead for some time now. The odour was stronger when he took a step closer. He wondered if it was from the liquid he had seen near the cot. The mat had some patches here and there but it wore a particularly bad look today - as if some tussle had gone on in the room... But he could still not figure out what might have happened.....
He then thought about questioning Glenn, and then all the others who had gone into the room. None of the guests could have come into the room. It had to be one among the family. And the thought frightened him. The door from the hall was almost always latched from this side and the other entrance from the second bedroom, was used only by family members and the servant. The door had now been accidentally opened by someone frightened by the sudden thunder.
The lack of a clear lead worried him. Glenn could have done it. But what was the proof? He would have to question Glenn. But Glenn might obviously resist from properly answering any questions. Linda or grandpa would not have done this act. And Mark himself had come back only this afternoon. Waugh was still looking at the evasive clue.
And suddenly a thought flashed in his mind. He bent all of a sudden and gave a look underneath the cot. Yes. He had cracked the case. There it was - the tape-recorder set given to them by their uncle in the city. It was lying down on the floor beside the mat. And it had recorded the entire thing the whole day. And he had heard it all the whole day too. He had never bothered to take much notice of it. But now everything was clear. The bits and pieces were put into place. Waugh had got the culprit. How could his own father have done it?
Grandpa at once admitted to the guilt. There was not much questioning done. No forcing. Even Glenn was party to it. He had been silenced by Grandpa's promise to him that he would never do such a thing in his life again. And Steve too had been "silently" involved in it. But of course he was too small to explain things out. Shane, being a dog could obviously not be a witness, though he had been there when the "nasty" episode had occurred.
Grandpa first apologised to Mark, who was now more cheerful than before. The crowd had also warmed itself to the occasion and was getting back on track to continue with the event. Never mind if this has happened. They had to continue with the proceedings. A big event such as this could not be put off due an eccentric old man's misdoings. The only person affected by the entire thing seemed to be Waugh. He still had to get the explanation from his father as to how he could have spoilt this occasion. And the mystery of the ruffled mat, the cricket bat, the small patch of liquid and the final clincher, the tape-recorder. Grandpa offered to explain...
It was these eccentric feelings in grandpa all of a sudden that had caused this. This act from a man of such a stature… And such an elderly person at that... He had suddenly gotten the desire to sing and dance aloud in the room. And he had wanted to record it too. And this was what was happening until the door opened. And Glenn came in. He had Steven in his arms and he was to put Steven on his cot for his afternoon nap. Glenn was startled to see Grandpa behaving in such an odd fashion. But the threesome of Glenn, Steven and the dog Shane, which had followed Glenn and Steven into the room, were almost all shattered on seeing Grandpa sing and dance too. Grandpa was so huge that the ground started to shake and the mat was totally trampled upon. Steven had gotten so frightened and had started crying inconsolably. Now Waugh understood why he was crying more than his usual quota. He had been totally frightened by the picture of Grandpa dancing. The smelly liquid patch that was lying in the room had to be attributed to what the dog would have felt about Grandpa's dance. No wonder the dog had been running around excitedly all day. And Glenn had still not recovered form the shock of seeing Grandpa sing and dance so badly. And Glenn had threatened to strike Grandpa with Mark's cricket bat if Grandpa continued to sing and dance as horribly as he was doing. Grandpa had obliged and stopped. And last but not the least, the tape-recorder and the mystery of the dead....
Of course, Waugh had found it all by himself. The tape-recorder lay open, with a cassette that had been completely recorded. And the six batteries that were the only ones left in the household had all been used up to do this work. Grandpa had taken the batteries from the Casio in the afternoon and had used them to record his voice on tape. The batteries were already old and rusted and their last remaining power had been totally drenched up in this. But late afternoon, the event was announced and people had immediately started to pour in for the occasion. And Grandpa had forgotten all about this. All about everything, including the fact that the batteries he had used were removed from Mark's Casio, and that Mark had to play the Casio that evening to the gathering. The tape-recorder had fallen to the ground on Grandpa's continuous stomping of the ground. And the cover had broken open to let the 6 red-colored dead batteries out.
Sunday being a holiday, there was absolutely no chance of getting any batteries for the event. The nearest house was at least a couple of miles away and it would not be possible to get any batteries at such short notice when it was raining so heavily. And anyway, not many in the village had electronic gizmos. So the event would have to go ahead without the main feat. Mark could not play the Casio now. He could not play the song that had won him the award!
The crowd had a hearty laugh on hearing the story from Waugh. Grandpa and Mark too had a hearty laugh. The mystery of grandpa and the dead batteries are now part of Austra's famous history.