The Timekeeper: Chapter 1

The air lightly ruffled his hair as he pushed open the glass door. The corridor was long and white; the open window on the front wall unceremoniously broke the stark monotony. Shades of grey slowly crept into the blue sky, enhancing the glimmer of the emerging stars. Detective Eric Taylor checked the time. Ten minutes to seven? He gasped. He had intended to finish the case today.

Detective Taylor turned right hastily, taking long strides to reach the steel wall at the far end. He inserted his ID in the slot and almost smashed his index finger on the scanner. While the machine verified his identity, he donned on his overcoat, cursing the delay. “Brace for the winter,” he muttered, as the machine let out the contended beep of acceptance. The steel doors parted to let him in. Inhaling deeply, he entered the morgue.

The temperature inside dropped steeply; the chill penetrated his skin. The vinyl partition walls reflected the light from the few lighted incandescent lamps, imparting sufficient illumination to the room. He walked down to where Detective Allan Anderson and Dr. Randall Morgan stood; his steps echoed rowdily in the dead silence. Most of the beds he passed were empty. So was the hall, except for those three and a nurse who quietly noted down something on his clipboard.

He greeted them with a brusque nod and said, “I am sorry for the delay. I left as soon as the case wrapped up.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered much if you arrived an hour earlier, Detective. This one,” said Dr. Morgan, pointing to the body, “is going to take more than a week. I doubt we will even reach the end.”

“You are quick to conclude Dr. Morgan,” said Detective Taylor, glancing at the victim, his face passive. Turning to Detective Anderson, he asked, “Information about the deceased?”

“Ellery Gilbert, 35, wife of Ralph Gilbert. Found dead at 5pm by the husband in their living room,” replied Allan.

Detective Taylor moved towards the head. The body lay so serenely, that Ellery Gilbert appeared to be sleeping. The cold had turned the skin pale, giving it a stone-like look. Too unnatural for a murder, he thought. He removed the sheet from the body, and quickly scrutinized it. Creasing his brows, he spread it uniformly again. He looked at the doctor and questioned, “No signs of any fatal wounds?”

The doctor shrugged, “Nothing except a tiny pinprick at the back of her neck.” He tapped at the back of his neck to indicate its exact position.

“Strange”, was all Detective Taylor could say. He pondered for a while before he spoke, “It couldn’t be a heart attack, could it?”

“No. The skin would not have been so pale otherwise. Her relaxed face is the other pointer,” Dr. Morgan replied.

“Yes, I thought so,” said Detective Taylor, “Did you run the blood tests?”

“I did,” said the doctor, “there was nothing unusual. I have given it to the labs for further analysis but I am not expecting much.”

 “We will have to look into minute details. Careful potassium overdoses cannot be traced easily, especially when injected directly into blood,” explained Detective Taylor, tapping the back of his neck.

“It is a wishful thinking. Potassium is also released by the body after the heart stops, and is practically undetectable. But if I speak from my experience, the cause of this death does not seem to be located in the realms of our investigation,” Doctor Morgan stated, cautiously choosing his words.

“It may be doctor, but we certainly cannot base our analysis on supernatural reasons,” replied the detective, as he looked out of the window into the blackness, through their translucent reflections. Where every case presented them with numerous causes which had to be briskly narrowed down, this one hit a dead end everywhere. If Eric Taylor despised anything, it was giving up on a case. That was absolutely not going to happen. He wouldn’t let it happen.

He turned abruptly, thinking out loud, “What bothers me, Anderson, is Ralph Gilbert’s murder claim. He was evidently the last person to see her alive.”

“He is a major suspect for the case, Detective. According to Ralph Gilbert, Ellery was supposed to meet an old friend around 3 pm. It seems that the friend came in a little late, as per the footage seen in the security camera. Around 3.30 pm, a man six feet tall came in –” Anderson was interrupted by Detective Taylor.

“—who should be the claimed murderer. I expect you have already questioned him.”

“I am sorry Detective, we haven’t. The man was wearing a wide brimmed hat and he never faced the camera. The murder seemed to be perfectly staged,” clarified Anderson.

Perfect”, said Detective Taylor, irritation clear in his voice. He sighed and apologised, “I am sorry Anderson, please continue.”

“At 4.30, Ralph received a call from Ellery, who was crying and asking him to come home, aware of the potential threat. Then she screamed and the phone dropped–”, Anderson stopped as Detective Taylor opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, waving him to continue, “and Ralph immediately rushed home from his office. The mobile lay near the parlour sofa, and there were signs of struggles in the lobby. Ralph Gilbert alibied out, but we still suspect him. For all we know, he might have been the last person to see her alive,” completed Anderson.

Detective Taylor was not wholly convinced. “The victim knew she was going to be murdered. Why did she agree to meet the old friend?” he questioned.

“I suppose she did not see it coming. The housekeeper said that Ellery was perfectly normal today. Maybe she was tricked,” said Anderson, straining hard to figure out a reason.

“I want you to begin with the investigation tomorrow morning. If there are any other cases ongoing, put them on hold. I have a feeling that delay here would cost us dearly. Is Detective Jillian here?”, he spoke to Anderson while he walked around the body.

“She was questioning the neighbours about the murder, but she should have been here by now. I’ll send her up if I see her. Good night Detective,” said Anderson, and walked away.

“Dr. Morgan”, said Detective Taylor, facing the doctor who was examining the pin-prick, “Does this murder remind you of a probable mortal cause, now that you have a background to the case?”

“None that I can think of,” replied the Doctor,

“We will have to wait for the results then. Thank you Doctor, for your assistance,” said Detective Taylor.

“Good night Detective.”

After the doctor’s departure, an eerie silence fell in the morgue. Detective Taylor could hear his heartbeat, which reminded him of the fact that he was the only living person, apart from the nurse, standing in the room. He leaned against the wall, staring at the dead body, going over the whole incident repeatedly. There has to be a loop hole, he thought, now focusing on the possible events that could have happened. His thoughts were interrupted by sharp clacking of heels.

“You called for me, Detective?”  asked Jillian Torres, still steps away from Ellery Gilbert’s compartment.

Detective Taylor waited for her reach before he replied, “Jillian, I want you to make the list of all crude potassium selling industries and the dealers in the town, and their transactions in the last 15 days. It would be helpful if this is done before the investigation starts tomorrow morning.”

“Consider it done, Detective,” she said absent-mindedly. She softly walked up to the body, as if her steps would wake Ellery from her state. She tilted and stared at the body, her face showing clear signs of perturbation.

Detective Taylor was quick to read them. “Do you have any theories?”, he asked.

“No. The story seems straight out of a crime fiction novel,” Jillian replied, after a while.

“You do have something in your mind,” the Detective prodded. Jillian was the best in his team. Her assumptions were usually right.

“It is a hypothesis. Until I confirm it to be a theory founded on a strong reason, it would be safe in my mind,” she stated and changed the topic, “I think you should call it a night, Detective.”

The first signs of weariness showed in his stance. “You’re right, Jillian. I don’t know about time, but this case will demand a lot of energy. I will rest while I can.”

Jillian nodded, and left, still perturbed. Detective Taylor lingered a little while longer, making his presumptions. Ellery’s was the only compartment still lighted, and his watch now displayed eight-thirty. He reluctantly departed, taking a last glance at the body as the steel doors closed. The nurse now stood near his victim, still noting something.

The lights went off as soon as the steel doors closed. A shadow crept to where the body lay.

The nurse was nowhere to be seen.