Mark opened the door and stared long and hard, ahead into the hallway. It was pretty dark but slowly, his eyes grew accustomed to the dimness. He could make out a bench farther down the hall. It was leaning on a wall that looked like it badly needed a touch up. Up above, a fan hung, dangling from the ceiling by a tiny wire. It was clear the fan could fall off soon or when next its put to use, whichever came first.
At first, Mark thought to close the door and head back to the car, the house looked too quiet and dark to be safe, but he wasn’t paid 15,000 dollars to turn tails and run at the first sign of trouble, so he opened the door wider and put a step in. Instantly, he heard a screeching sound down the hall and he froze. It was dark so he didn’t know what it was but it sounded like the quick slam of a door whose hinges were rusting. Mark swore under his breath. Whatever made him leave his torch in the car. He had a gun but it was useless if he couldn’t see what he was going to shoot. He thought about going back to the car to fetch his torch but he knew it was a bad idea; whatever threat he was going to face already knew he was around and leaving the scene will only give more room to the threat- whoever or whatever it was- to beef up and track him down. He had to face whatever it was and tackle it. This was tone of the times he wished he could pray like his sister who somehow believed so strongly in the power of prayer and it always worked for her.
Mark felt his pocket for his gun, to ensure it was in place as he took tentative steps into the hallway. His research showed him that no one had lived in the house for the past 25 years, at least no one was believed to be living there, until 3 days ago when the senator’s daughter had mysteriously disappeared while going for a walk down the street where the house was located. The street was a bare street, no trees, no thing except for this lone house standing all by itself and the street ended on a close so naturally, when the senator’s daughter was declared missing after being seen turning into the street, the first and only place that came to mind was the house as every other place was open with no place for hiding.
Mark instantly spun around on his feet, simultaneously reaching for his gun.
“Hey..hold. I won’t hurt”
“Who are you?” Mark growled. His palms had suddenly become sweaty and his heart rate increased as in all his years of training and experience as a private detective, nothing prepared him for the sight he saw before him. He couldn’t fathom who…or what he was looking at. It looked like a little girl but it had the voice of a woman but what qualified it as an ‘it’ in Mark’s perception what the remainder of its body – it was a stump of wood. Mark wanted to look down but he feared that if he took his eyes away, it will strike him on the head.
“Now that you’re done staring, maybe you should ask ‘what are you’?”
Mark realised his stares had been obvious and muttered an apology.
The girl smiled and reached down into the wood to click on something, then the wood popped open at the middle and the girl stepped out of the wood.
Mark cursed under his breath. He could have sworn the lower part of the girl was all wood.
“My name is cintinatilacumna. I wish I could tell you what my friends call me but as you can see, I don’t have any. So you’ll just have to call me that.”
Mark wasn’t sure if he was to be civil or brusque but he didn’t come to exchange pleasantries, he came to take the senator’s daughter back home but if he acted difficult, he might not get the cooperation he needed.
Mark forced a smile. “My name is Mark. Like you I don’t have any short name as well; my name is shortened already.”
“That’s nice. You’re welcome to the old castle. What brings you?”
Mark starred at the lady before him, something was amiss. The person before him was seemed like a vision from the 1800s but with the fluency and outspokenness of today’s woman. And what was a lady like this doing here all by herself?
“Do you live here?”
“Yes. Isn’t that obvious. What can I do for you Mark? You’re interrupting my peace and quiet.”
There was a little edge of impatience in her voice and Mark knew it was time to shoot
“3 days ago, a certain lady was taking a walk and turned into this street at about 4:43pm. That was the last she was seen. She was with a bodyguard who was trailing behind her but got distracted by a stone that hit his foot and when he looked up, he didn’t see the lady anymore. And she was here right on this street.”
Mark looked intently at the lady’s face as he was talking, searching for any facial cues that could indicate recognition or give him a head way.
“Go on,” cintinatilacumna said
“Well…that’s all. We’re looking for her. She’s petite. 5feet 4. Light complexioned. A little busty, brown eyes. Did you see her. Please?”
“What happened to the bodyguard?” cintinatilacumna asked
Mark didn’t see how that was her business but he had decided to play nice so he could at least get some form of cooperation from her
“He absconded. Wrote a letter to the girl’s father that he knew he would be put in prison and he still had his life ahead so he had decided to abscond. He offered his sincere apologies and tendered his resignation. He doesn’t have a family here so there was no way to reach him and he apparently left the country even though there’s no record of him going through the ports..”
“So why do you think he’s left the country”
Mark wondered where this was going. He was here to find a missing girl, not a full grown man who absconded because he couldn’t handle the punishment that came with his negligence.
“Cintinatilacumna. The name is Cintinatilacumna and maybe you can call me Cici so you don’t murder my name. “
“Ok.” Mark responded. “Look, i’m here to find Lucy, not some strange fellow who absconded because he couldn’t face his punishment. Is there any way you can help?”
“Oh! So you want to find this girl but you’re not interested in where the guy might be. What if the bodyguard can give you a clue? What if he is actually the one you need to look for?”
Mark was shocked. He realised Cici had a point. But it amazed him that he never even thought of it. The focus had been the girl because, well the bodyguard had absconded and someone actually said they saw him getting into a bus leaving the city so that was not the focus. The focus was Lucy who turned into the street and disappeared.
“You know, you do have a point but I must ask, why did you think of that?”
“Well, its pretty obvious. Someone is missing on this street and you think she’s here because this place is the only sign of life…or death on this street. She isn’t here.”
Mark’s shoulders dropped. There was a finality to cici’s statement that indicated that she was unwilling to help. He wasn’t sure if she knew anything but it was clear she wasn’t going to be help.
“Look, I really can’t be bothered and You can close the door behind you.” And with that, Cici turned around and walked away, obviously angry at something.. or someone, Mark wasn’t sure.
“Please wait. Please.”
Cici paused but still had her back turned on Mark.
“Look. I don’t know what the issue is. You sound upset and I’m not sure why but I’m sorry all the same. I really do need your help. Please.”
“But she isn’t here. There’s only one room in this house with three doors. You can use the other door to search the room but she’s not here.”
Mark glanced at the door Cici pointed to. It was close to the main entrance of the house and must have been where Cici cane out from. There was another door about 6 feet away from it which was obviously the one Cici was heading to. The third door was obviously down the hall, most likely the one that screeched earlier.
Mark thought about going to search but he knew Lucy wasn’t in the house. It was obvious. But the question was, where was she?
“Look. She was last seen on this street. The only place that has any similitude to hiding is this house so it’s natural we’ll come here first.”
Cici shrugged and resumed her walk back into the room. Mark didn’t know what to do but if he left here, the only clue he had was gone. It was obvious Cici knew something, she wasn’t just willing to share…or maybe she was, if he asked the right question.
“OK. I’ll take your advice. I’ll look for the bodyguard. I don’t know how the senator will take it but I’ll look for him and I pray he’ll have some good answers.”
Lucy was at the door now, about to turn the handle.
“Better,” she replied, with a look he couldn’t make out clearly.
“The problem is the senator though. How I’ll explain to him that the focus of the search has changed”
“You don’t have to tell him dude! You just search for the guy and you’ll find the girl. I don’t know what with rich people and their ego, always so self-centred and egoistic. Always wanting something done their way. Well, it’s either you look for the boy and find your girl or you hang!”
The anger in Cici’s voice was almost palpable. While Mark understood her possible anger at being considered a suspect, the anger in her voice didn’t match the situation. There was something in her voice that sounded very personal. Too personal for comfort. Being a private investigator meant he didn’t have the backing of the law to arrest or apply pressure to get the truth. The senator could have involved the law but he had always worked very hard to keep his personal life away from the press and involving the law meant exposure to the press. The senator didn’t want that exposure and so far, he’s been able to keep everything secret and part of his exorbitant initial payment was based on the agreement that he would handle everything with great secrecy so he had to be careful, very careful.
But what was making Cici angry about the whole stuation? Was it possible she knew much more than he thought. Or maybe she even knew Lugard, the body guard.
The sound of Cici’s door closing snapped Mark out of his thoughts and he stared towards the door. He had some thinking to do and he’s sure that by midnight, he’ll have some clues. All he needed was to add the dotted lines that appears somewhat scattered.
End of Chapter 1
Hope you enjoyed this chapter? I’m curious though. What do you think Cici knows that she’s hiding? Do you think Mark should have searched the house? Or better still, do you think The Senator’s daughter is the house? Tell me, what are your thoughts? Looking forward to hearing it all. Let’s talk.
Chapter 2 will be available same time same page…next week
Aijay Ufomadu….letting my light shine