Written by Pan So Tan Lu That Hmu. Translated by San Lin Tun.
The story so far:
Overlooking Inya Lake, the ‘Cosy Corner’ house of Babu Chat Thar Gyi becomes a crime scene. A tiny stab-wound to the neck sees his clerk fall victim, and his final words to the household staff claiming, “It was that woman” shroud the case in mystery. With no footprints, sightings or witnesses to go on, Inspector Ko Ohn Pe calls on U San Shar to solve the mystery of “that woman” and the clerks death.
Ko Ohn Pe: “What if he fell onto the spike?”
U San Shar: ”I had thought of that. But, if he fell, we would find him with a spike stuck in his neck, Sayar. However, the spike and corpse are quite separate. Also, we must consider his final words before death.”
Upon hearing this, Ko Ohn Pe took out a single golden spectacle from his pocket, and showed it to U San Shar. ”The young clerk wasn’t dim eyed, Sayar. So, these must be the spectacles of the murderer.”
Taking the spectacles, and inspecting them thoroughly, U San Shar put them on, walked towards the window, and looked into the street. He then studied them with his magnifying glass, sat down at the table, and wrote a short letter which was handed to Ko Ohn Pe.
The letter read as follows:
“The murderer is a Bengali woman, with a big nose bridge and a lined forehead. She dresses in the finest attire and her eyes are set close to one other. Recently, she’d been to the optical shop twice”.
On seeing the letter, Ko Ohn Pe and I were amazed. U San Shar merely smiled at our facial expressions that spoke of befuddlement.
“It’s really quite easy” he said. “Didn’t you pick up any hints? Have you ever seen Burmese people wearing spectacles like these? When we wear spectacles, we prefer them with nose bridge.”
“Only those who have got a distinct nose bridge would use such spectacles. So, the wearer must be Bengali or English. In addition, we already know it was a woman who took his life. However, any association between a babu and an English woman is rare indeed. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“That’s why I say, it must be a Bengali woman. Look at the wide nose bridge rest. I am a man of distinct nose bridge. Look at me, where are my eyes? They are to the side of the glass.”
“So, the one who has got eyes which are close together should be well suited to these spectacles. And, look at the thickness of the glass. Only the dim eyed will wear these.”
“Now, imagine the expression of the dim sighted one? When they look at things, they look at them with a creased forehead. Because of that, the forehead of our murder suspect will most likely reveal a permanent crease.”
“Now look at the rim. It is made of real gold, not fake gold. So, the woman who bought these expensive spectacles will most likely dress in the finest attire. Well, is there anything left?”
Ko Ohn Pe: “How do we know that she’d been to the optical shop twice?”
U San Shar: “Look at the spectacles. There are silicone pads for comfort. Look at one side, which is worn out. It must be at least one month old. Look at the other one, it is the same style from the same shop but brand new. It must be around ten days ago that they fitted it in. Therefore, we can conclude that she visited the same shop twice. I must find this shop.”
Ko Ohn Pe: “Are we closer to knowing why the murder took place?”
U San Shar: “No, at this stage you know everything I know. Why the murder took place is above my head. What are your thoughts?”
Ko Ohn Pe: The come with us tomorrow, Sayar, we’ll go in the car”.
“Yes, in this case there are one or two facts I want to know. I’ll come with you tomorrow. Alas, it’s one o’clock nowl, you’d better sleep here. Early in the morning, we’ll go there.”
As soon as morning broke, after coffee and bread, we took the car to Innya Lake.
At the gate, Ko Ohn Pe met a sentry and asked him, “Anything new?”
“Have you seen any strangers? Did you detect anything?”
“I asked if anyone had seen any strangers loitering, Sayar, but the response was negative.”
Ko Ohn Pe turns to U San Shar, “This is the back alley which I told you about, Sayar.”
U San Shar: “Can you see which side the grass is beaten down?”
Ko Ohn Pe: “I remember it was that side, Sayar. The grass between the lane and the plot which is prepared for flowering. But I can’t see it right now. Yesterday, I saw it clearly.”
Looking at the grass, U San Shar said: “Ahem, it’s strange because she can walk between the flower bed and the lane. If she steps on the lane, the footprints will be left. If stepping on the grass, more distinctive the footprints will be left.”
Ko Ohn Pe: “Certainly, Sayar. She is a very scrupulous woman.”
U San Shar: You think that she stepped on the grass and walked back.”
Ko Ohn Pe: “Yes, Sayar.”
U San Shar: “This is quite unusual, but there’s nothing left to look for in the lane so let’s move on. This entrance door is loosely locked with a bar. I believe the woman lifted the bar and walked on the grass to the rear door. The corridor was laid out with coconut fibre so no footprints were left.”
“When she arrived, she had no intent of murder. If she had she would have brought a weapon. It seems like she grasped a weapon at hand in the heat of the moment. We don’t know how long she spent in the working room.”
Ko Ohn Pe: “Ah, I forgot to tell you one thing. The errand woman went upstairs soon after cleaning the room, Sayar. She says she was upstairs for least 15 minutes.”
“Ah, really? Well, the murderer, what would she look at first? She would look at the bureau because there is nothing else of interest in the room. On looking at the bureau, there appears to be no fancy or expensive items worth stealing.”
“So what does she want? I believe she wants something locked away in te main drawer in the main drawer. And alas, it would seem there is a scratch. Light it up, Ko Thein Maung. Well, here it is, clearly a scratch. Why didn’t you mention this to me, Ko Ohn Pe?”
That scratch was about four inches, and it was a scratch on wood near the lock hole.
Then, Ko Ohn Pe said, “I did see it, Sayar. But, it is quite regular to find scratches next to the lock.”
U San Shar: “Indeed, but this is a recent one. Don’t you see paint dust on each side of it? Look at it with my magnifying glass.”
With the magnifying glass, we could see paint dust rolled up on each side like the soil cake on furrows.
Then, U San Shar said: “Where is the errand woman? Call here up.”
U San Shar addressed the errand woman in Hindustani.
“Did you brush this table and bureau this morning?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I thought so. If you had brushed this table, we wouldn’t see the paint dust power. It would be gone. Who has got the key to this bureau?”
“Babu Gyi has the key.”
“Is it an ordinary key?”
“It’s a special key.”
“Ah, really? Well you can go now.”
When she left, U San Shar said: “Well, we are much closer to solving this case. What did she do after entering the room? She opened the bureau. While she was opening it, the clerk came in.
When the clerk saw her she hurriedly took out the key, leaving a scratch on the bureau.
“So, it seems the clerk grasped her. Then, she saw the spike on the table, and she picked it up, and stabbed him with it, hitting a major artery that proved fatal. When the clerk died, she ran away. We don’t know whether she got what she wants or not. Call back the errand woman.”
When the errand woman returned U San Shar asked her, “Do you think the murderer ran away from this door?”
“No, it can’t be. If the murderer came this way would have seen them. If going that way, murderer would meet Babu Gyi. Only the rear lane can be the exit.”
U San Shar: “Then, it is for sure. Entry and exit are the same, through the corridor laid down with coconut fibre.”
Ko Ohn Pe: “What does this mean?”
U San Shar: “I can’t tell it exactly, but I have my theories. Come, let’s go to the Babu Gyi’s room.”
To be continued…