He knocked at the door thrice
Before I yelled, ‘It’s open!’
He hung up his raincoat and smiled,
And extended a hand cold enough to be frozen.
‘Albert Swettenham, he said,
But you can call me Al,
I’m here to talk about Alfred –
You know, the one who knew it all.’
‘I’m afraid I’m clueless,’ I replied.
‘Alfred Wargave, the young doctor
Who recently suffered from food poisoning, and died;
And wouldn’t have, if he had been smarter.’
‘Oh! Dr Wargave of the local clinic,’ I said,
‘Funny how he contracted food poisoning so suddenly,
But what about it? Wargave is now dead.’
The old man shook his head stubbornly.
‘It wasn’t food poisoning, but poisoning from atropine,
That simulated its symptoms to make detection harder;
Detection of the fact that the death wasn’t by accident, but by design,’
‘Good Lord!’ I gasped,’ Do you mean…murder?’
‘Yes.’ The man seemed happy I had finally cottoned on,
While I sputtered,’ How do you know? And why?’
He continued calmly in the same baritone,
‘Because he had seen another man die.’
I stared at him, with a mixture of curiosity and disbelief.
He continued,’ Murders can be done for money,
Jealousy, love, fear, and the desire to conceal;
And poor Alfred, he never knew when to speak.
While on his evening rounds, Alfred looked into a window
And saw a murder committed right before his eyes;
The identity of the murderer confused him all the way home
And he was filled with incredulous surprise.
He bounded off to the murderer’s house the next morning
To reassure himself that it was all right;
That there would be an explanation for everything,
Everything he saw that night.
Our murderer heard him out, and looked at Alfred carefully
Regarding him with a smile
And said, “Sorry Wargave, sorry awfully –“
And pulled out a bloodstained, yet sharp, knife.
Realizing that he’d put himself in hot water,
Alfred tried to keep calm, and convince the murderer it was all right;
That he’d swear to keep mum about the murder
That not a soul would hear about the previous night.
The murderer considered him for a while, and then told
Our dear Alfred, that he believed his promise,
And then, noticing how Alfred seemed shivery and cold
Asked for coffees to be brought in to his office.
Alfred, trying to leave as quickly and smoothly as he could,
Could make no protest to drink up his coffee;
He never knew that this fateful drink would
Be the last drink that he would ever see.
He stumbled back home in a daze,
Congratulating himself on getting out safely
And thought of coming to your place
To see what an Inspector’s advice would be.’
‘And he died,’ I finished, ‘died before he could come to me,’
‘And the murderer’s identity remains unknown.’
‘Which is why I came here now, you see,
To tell you all that I know.’
‘But who is the murderer? Do you know?’ I cried
‘Tis your job to find out who,’ he said.
‘If what you say is true, two people have died,
If we don’t apprehend him, many more may!’ I said.
He said, in a voice that echoed in the room,
‘I feel guilty, guilty that I could not save
My poor friend Alfred, from the man because of whom
I now lie in my grave.’
The blood drained from my face.
In ghostly apprehension, I croaked, ‘What?’
Albert Swettenham smiled, and turned away,
Picking up his raincoat and walking into the rain.