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Short story: The pocket-watch murder mystery



By Sohini Mandal


That sound was enough to make me jump out of bed in the middle of the cold winter night. I couldn’t ascertain the source of the noise, although it seemed it was a gunshot. I was reluctant to enquire about it as I was on a holiday to get some well-deserved rest, but alas it didn’t seem I would get it. ‘It was midnight and going out now would be quite suspicious,’ I thought. Finally, after a deep thought, I decided to check about it tomorrow and went to sleep.

The next morning, I was woken up by the commotion just outside. I hurried to the spot, only to find tons of people outside and police flooding the ill-fated room. What I can make out from whispers around the incident was that it was a murder! I went inside, only to find the lifeless body of a man, with a gunshot on his forehead. The victim was an affluent businessman, who came here for a deal just a few days back. I also came to know that this man was also quite an antiquarian. But one thing was clear, whatever happened cannot be an accident, it was planned. The murderer didn’t touch anything else; he/she straightaway opened the businessman’s wardrobe. All the clothes and other belongings were scattered here and there. When I looked through the wardrobe it gave a shattered look.

I started to search for any additional information from the dump of clothes and suddenly my hand brushed against something hard. It was a pocket watch. Gold-plated with intricate designs; it was quite an object of beauty. Such a unique piece! As there was nothing else inside that cupboard, I realised that stealing of this pocket watch must have been the motive of the crime which was, for some reason, unsuccessful. The only doubt which remained was whether this valuable pocket watch was valuable enough for a man to get murdered? I started to look for more evidence and soon I found the answer to this question. While I was turning the pocket watch in my hands, the upper half of the pocket watch twisted open like a container. And a container it indeed was! What I found inside made my jaw drop. Inside that beautiful pocket watch, was a ring adorned with a brilliantly carved piece of the blue diamond, which was one of the most valuable stones of the world. This gave enough reason and value to the murder.

As I made further inquiries about the businessman, I came to know that the pocket watch in question was bought in an auction. There was stiff competition between the businessman and another person, called Mr. Smith, but eventually, the businessman bought the pocket-watch for a whopping US$4 million. I was almost certain that both these men and whoever else was present in the auction, knew about the ring inside the pocket-watch as they were willing to give such a huge sum of money for it. I gathered Mr. Smith’s address and went to his residence. After welcoming me inside his house and expressing his profound grief on the death of the businessman, Mr. Smith showed me another ring with a blue diamond and said, “I imported this ring from England for US$5 million, I only stopped at the auction that day as my secretary informed me that this deal was confirmed. I have no reason to murder that businessman.” I left, all my suspicions on Mr. Smith erased.

I then went to the hotel manager and asked for the keys to the room where the murder took place. The hotel manager looked nervous. He gave the key to me and, on seeing that I was eyeing him with suspicion, whispered that he was anxious as, because of the murder, the popularity and tourism of his hotel will decline. I simply nodded at this and went to the crime scene. I roamed around the room, immediately finding the missing pieces to this unfinished jigsaw puzzle. I went to the police station and told them what I found and retired for that day.

At the onset of dawn, the next day, I received a call from the police. I smiled when they told me the information they had gathered. I rushed to the reception and told the hotel manager to gather everyone in the hotel and told Mr. Smith to come as well. Once everyone was present, I started,

 “Good morning, everyone. As you all must have guessed, we gathered here to discuss the murder of the businessman staying here. But first, I would like to ask whether Mr. Smith can show us the blue diamond ring he owns?”

On being handed over the ring, I took it to a small table and scratched it with a knife, which left a deep scratch.  Mr. Smith angrily shouted, “What are you doing! It is a diamond worth 5 million dollars!”. Hearing this rebuke, I calmly responded, “Don’t worry Mr. Smith, I am sure its value is no more than a hundred rupees. Do you expect a real diamond, which is the world’s hardest stone, to get scratched by a simple knife? No. The truth is that you were never able to buy a real blue diamond ring, you only made a copy of it with a cheap stone. You always craved for that ring which the businessman possessed. For that, you even sent a hired assailant to steal the ring and kill the businessman that too, by coincidence, on the same night in which he got murdered. Before you ask for the evidence, I must tell you that this man left his fingerprints all over the door handle, which once tracked down led the police to him and he has confessed that you were behind his actions.”

 Mr. Smith turned red with anger and embarrassment and sat down silently. Then, I continued, “However, by the time your man got to the room, the businessman was already dead. So, he did not murder the businessman.” I turned to the manager and asked, “Did you ever visit the businessman’s room during his stay?”

The manager, who was uncomfortably shifting in his seat, answered anxiously, “Y-yes I did visit him once, to talk about the re-reservations and all.”

On hearing this, I said, “Yes, but that was not the only visit you made. When you visited him the first time, he was wearing his ring. You saw it and, naturally, you wanted it. So, after leaving, you decided to wait. And, through the peephole, you saw everything. Finally, after coming up with a master plan, you went to his room at midnight, murdered him and started searching for the pocket watch in the almirah, but your search was interrupted when you heard footsteps. Scared, you ran from there. However, you didn’t notice that, during your frantic search, your shirt got stuck to a nail near the wardrobe and got torn. You fled from the crime scene, but a piece of your shirt remained there as evidence. Moreover, your fingerprints were found as well.” I concluded.

The manager had turned quite pale but did not speak anything. The police arrested him and thanked me. I checked out of that hotel the next day and realised that I can never have a peaceful holiday in any corner of the world…