by Brian Biswas
It is known for certain that when Louis Kincaid happened upon the murder scene and saw his commanding officer, Sergeant O’Neill, hovering over the naked body of Julie Blain, he in no way suspected O’Neill of murder.
The sergeant was an upright man, honest, thoughtful, devoted to his men and to his profession and was not the type to commit even a petty crime. But as Kincaid watched O’Neill staring uneasily at Julie’s body — a single thrust of a knife had ripped open her chest — he felt himself growing apprehensive, as if just maybe O’Neill knew more about the crime than he was letting on.
Kincaid had been returning to his quarters for the night, walking past the rows of barracks, when he noticed O’Neill in the pale moonlight, about ten yards in the distance. He called out to the sergeant and was drawing near when he realized O’Neill was staring not at Julie’s body but at a diamond necklace that had been pulled partially over her face in a hurried attempt to remove it. The diamonds were of an unusual cut — Kincaid could tell so even at this distance, so large were the stones — and Kincaid assumed that robbery had been the motive for the crime.
When he reached O’Neill, he asked what had happened, but the sergeant — apparently in shock — did not respond. It was then Kincaid recalled rumors that O’Neill had once had an affair with a Miss Blain; the affair — the rumor went — had been intense, but had not lasted long. Kincaid had never believed a word of it. It would have been completely out of character for the man he knew.
Just then police cars arrived, their red lights ablaze in the night, and a moment later, cops were everywhere. Evidently the murderer had no intention of covering up the crime: several feet from Julie’s body, a long butcher knife was found; and nearby, Julie’s clothes: a blouse, skirt and wide-brimmed hat.
“It was only a matter of time,” said the chief investigator as he puffed on a cigar. “What did the woman expect, anyway?” A prognathous, contemptuous man, he seemed almost indifferent to the murder. He looked at Kincaid and laughed. “It could have been one of a thousand men,” he said. “God knows, she had that many lovers!” Julie Blain was not a prostitute, but the investigator was, for all practical purposes, correct. It was no secret that Julie enjoyed a rich and varied love life: this was a military base, tension and stress were facts of life, and the men needed the relief that only sexual congress brings.
Oh, there did exist a seedy group of women, whores by any other name, women who loved the power they believed at their command when they seduced a military man; but Julie belonged to a different league: she was the crème de la crème, the most sought-after woman on the base. And Julie was beautiful — with curves so shapely they had brought tears to the eyes of even the most faithful of husbands. And she was ambitious.
It was Julie’s way to play one man off another. She would do anything to satisfy the desires of her current beau — and she could! — but always at a price; Julie was always after something. Perhaps one night she had gone too far, asked too much. Or, perhaps, as Kincaid suspected, robbery was the motive and Julie had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The investigator turned to Kincaid and scowled. “You discovered the body?”
Kincaid indicated that he had. Though a lie, this was certainly a commendable action on Kincaid’s part; faithful soldier that he was, he did not wish to involve his commanding officer in a rigorous interrogation when he himself could easily supply the details. He then gave an account of how he had come across the body and of his previous whereabouts that night.
He told the investigator his theory about robbery and indicated the necklace. The investigator mumbled something about a lovers’ quarrel and turned to the body. Kincaid turned to O’Neill, but his commanding officer was in no shape to converse: his eyes were staring vacantly at the constellation Orion which hung low in the sky.
I will leave the investigating to the investigators, thought Kincaid and he returned to his barracks. His last view of the murder scene was of two men lifting Julie’s body onto a stretcher before they carried it away.
Now who were these two men, O’Neill and Kincaid? O’Neill, by all accounts, was a giant of a man, with a large head, enormous ears, and thick, muscular legs. He was forty-two years old, married, no children. He was known by everyone except Kincaid to have fooled around with the ladies, an activity which caused his wife no small amount of grief.
As a commander, O’Neill was said to be strict, yet fair, kind-hearted and humane, one of those people who always seem to be in a good mood. He was well liked by most of his men, though there were exceptions, and at least one man was known to detest him.
Kincaid, on the other hand, was of medium build, average height, rather nondescript in appearance, mid-twenties, unmarried. If his appearance was rather ordinary, his personality was even more so. Most people had trouble remembering the slightest aspects of his character. Somewhat of a loner, he kept to himself.
It is known that Kincaid greatly admired O’Neill as a commanding officer. O’Neill had written several books on military life, books that Kincaid studied diligently, underlining salient passages and even going so far as to memorize entire sections which he would repeat word for word to the amazement of the others in his regiment.
On several occasions Kincaid is known to have mentioned, somewhat in passing, that O’Neill considered Kincaid destined to become a great soldier, perhaps a member of the top brass, though no one remembers O’Neill ever singling out Kincaid for praise or special commendation.
The next several days brought noticeable changes to the life of Kincaid. The murder affected him profoundly, casting a shadow over every event and action, every thought, word, and deed in his own life. Perhaps it was the sight of Julie’s corpse, so hideous to behold, the smell of death in the air. Perhaps — even so — the serenity in her face, the calm in her eyes, that was forever etched in his mind.
Who can say why any particular event causes us to change and to forever see the meaning of things in a different light? Suffice it to say that in Kincaid’s case this had now happened.
Several weeks passed during which an event of extreme importance occurred: Julie Blain’s necklace vanished. It had been kept in a safe at police headquarters, but when a member of the investigative team opened the safe one day to examine the jewels for the hundredth time, it was nowhere to be seen.
With the necklace gone and no fingerprints on the knife, the investigator had nothing on which to build a case. The police had no suspects, and they seemed resigned to the fact that the crime would never be solved. The case was not closed, but no progress was made: the end result was the same.
One Saturday evening after several hours of drinking, a group of soldiers from Kincaid’s regiment, hoping to relieve his depression, talked him into visiting a brothel. Kincaid had never gone to such an establishment before. Nor was he the type to do so. But drink can make a man do many things he would never normally consider.
The whorehouse was labyrinthine — or so it seemed to Kincaid — dozens of corridors with doors on both sides. Kincaid stood around with the others, waiting his turn; when it came he was led down one corridor to a rather smallish room on the left, set somewhat back from the others. He entered and saw a young girl on the bed, her body smelling of lavender, her hair scented with rum.
The girl indicated she would do whatever Kincaid desired and, believing she knew what he desired, began unbuttoning her blouse, an enchanting prospect to be sure, but what Kincaid saw next made him recoil in horror; he blinked several times in disbelief but there was no mistaking it: around the girl’s neck he saw Julie’s diamond necklace.
“Those jewels — let me see them!” he stammered, his hands groping outward.
The girl, who was not particularly intelligent, thought Kincaid wanted the necklace as part of some exotic sexual rite — this is what she herself told me — and she unfastened its gold clasp and handed them over. The diamonds gleamed brightly and Kincaid saw that they were of the same unusual cut as the jewels that had graced Julie’s neck.
“Oh God, no!” he cried, and much to the young lady’s astonishment, he dropped the necklace and rushed out of the room.
Later that evening, the soldiers who had talked Kincaid into visiting the brothel went to his quarters intending to ask how he had made out. They were shocked to find him pale and frightened, barely able to speak. Stuttering horrendously he finally managed to tell what had happened. He was greeted with laughter. “That sounds like Peg,” somebody said. “She’s one of O’Neill’s women.”
Accounts differ as to what happened next. One source says Kincaid, sitting morbidly in a bar, thought he saw the sergeant dancing arm in arm with Julie Blain; another, that it was not Miss Blain but the devil himself, clothed in red robes of regal splendor.
According to a third version, Kincaid happened upon O’Neill and Miss Blain kissing passionately in a darkened alley, that Kincaid implored O’Neill to leave the woman alone, but that his commander ignored his entreaties, and instead, as Julie uttered an audible moan, pushed her to the ground, crushing his lips against hers, his hand moving beneath her dress.
Why Kincaid would begin having these hallucinations is obvious to any student of psychology, but it was not obvious to the authorities: instead they took this as convincing proof that Kincaid was the guilty man. And it is really not hard to see how they would have come to such a conclusion.
Rumors spread throughout the base that an arrest was near, though no names were mentioned. Kincaid, believing O’Neill was the one to be arrested, realized his commander must be warned at once.
That night Kincaid went to a military nightclub, The Red Light Lounge, hoping the entertainment would help ease his troubled mind. He dined alone.
On stage were members of a traveling burlesque show. Kincaid was watching, trying in vain to enjoy the comedy, when suddenly there was commotion at the table behind him. Turning around, Kincaid was surprised to see O’Neill rising angrily from his chair, shouting obscenities at his wife, a petite woman with her blonde hair pulled up in a bun. O’Neill was glaring at the woman, his face red, the veins bulging on his neck, and then he reached out and slapped her. Never had Kincaid seen his commanding officer in such a mood. At this O’Neill’s wife burst into tears.
O’Neill, who was already starting to leave, wheeled around and cried: “From now on, mind your own business, woman!”
“No, Sergeant,” said Kincaid. “The jewels! They know about the jewels!”
O’Neill whirled around to face Kincaid and for a moment Kincaid thought he saw fear in the sergeant’s eyes. But just as quickly his commander caught himself, and stabbing the air with his forefinger, he cried: “You’re drunk, soldier!”
Kincaid opened his mouth to protest — certainly the sergeant had misunderstood — but his commander was already out the door.
When Kincaid reached O’Neill’s office the next day, still intending to warn his commander about his impending arrest, the door opened at once — it was as though O’Neill had been expecting Kincaid — and there the sergeant stood before him, his massive frame made more massive by the violent tendencies Kincaid knew he possessed.
“They’re on to you, Sergeant,” Kincaid said.
“Yes, I guess they are,” O’Neill replied. “What surprises me is what took them so long.”
For some reason, Kincaid began to grow uneasy — perhaps it was the drone in his commander’s voice — and he began to think something was dreadfully wrong.
“But they are mad,” continued O’Neill.
“And you are mad.”
Each man stared at the other: O’Neill hypnotically, Kincaid with a look of growing unease. And when O’Neill finally spoke, breaking the shadowy silence, he droned like a somnambulist: “At the murder scene, I was not in shock. I was calculating probabilities, determining the future course of events. In a matter of seconds I knew what the future held: I saw into time, I saw into space, I knew what was and what would be.” Here O’Neill paused, for Kincaid had begun to tremble.
“Events themselves are of little consequence,” he continued, “more important is how we perceive events, for that is what governs our actions. In the brothel you saw Julie’s necklace, or rather, you saw what you imagined to be Julie’s necklace and that vision started your mind on a journey that led you here — which had to lead you here. Unfortunately you erred in one important detail: I didn’t kill Julie Blain. You did.”
I am sure no one amongst you has ever known the terror Kincaid felt. He stiffened and there was horror engraved on his face.
O’Neill continued icily: “To help you atone for your crime I am now going to shoot you. But first — there is one small thing I would like you to do.”
Minutes later a shot rang out. Kincaid uttered a cry as the bullet shattered his brain and he crumpled to the floor.
When the police arrived they found Kincaid stretched out on the floor. One hand held O’Neill’s gun, the other was arranged neatly over his chest. A suicide note, dictated by O’Neill, written and signed by Kincaid, revealed Kincaid’s final moments of agony and despair. It concluded: “I can’t live any longer with the blood of Julie on my hands. I killed her, she whom I loved.”
The investigator, relieved the case had finally reached its conclusion, removed the gun from the dead man’s hand and twirled it about his fingers. He turned to the chief of police and smiled.
Copyright © 2011 by Brian Biswas