When Tanya entered the room, she found Marie in deep conversation with Sheriff Jamie Jenkins. She noticed a pair of plastic wrapped Rubik Cube on the table. She apologized for her sudden intrusion, but Jamie cordially said, “Come, Tanya, we were actually waiting for you.”
“Thanks,” Tanya put her bag on the table just beside the Rubik Cubes and asked casually,
“So, playing games?”
Jamie laughed, “Yes, we are playing games. What did you think initially?”
Tanya walked towards the kitchen, switched on the electric kettle and started making coffee, “I thought we had got a new case.” She sounded a bit disappointed.
“We have good news, Tanya,” Marie spoke, “We have got a new case, a challenging one.”
Tanya poured hot water in a coffee mug, added coffee powder, milk and a sugar cube, “Congrats,” she said, “May I know what it is? The Green Valley murder case?”
“Exactly, Tanya,” Marie said, “The Green Valley murder case.”
Jamie touched the Rubik cube softly. Tanya looked at it, “But I could not understand what you two were doing with these Rubik Cubes?”
“Then I have to say the story from the beginning,” Jamie started, “It was Monday morning when Mr. Wilfred Bagman’s body was discovered from his living room.”
“I read it in the newspaper. Initially, it appeared as a normal death, but the post-mortem report said that he was poisoned. I think his butler was arrested two days ago because all evidence was against him…..”
“He was arrested and bailed out,” Jamie said, “Mr. Bagman’s son arranged for his bail.”
“But why? Does he think otherwise?”
“He thinks it was not the butler’s work, but his stepmother Alicia is responsible for this. Anyway, Mr. Bagman’s wife, children, and stepchildren all are fighting for his estate and business empire. The case initially appeared as a simple property related dispute, but these Rubik Cubes changed our assumption.” Jamie again touched the plastic bag softly, “His Butler Allen Ball informed us that the day before his death, Mr. Bagman received a parcel from a stranger, which contained one of these cubes.”
“Where did it come from?” Tanya asked.
“It came from New York; the man’s name is J.M.L. only initials were written, and the phone number mentioned on the parcel box was no longer in use, and the ‘sent address’ does not exist,” Jamie said.
“What kind of poison was used? What was the source of poison? ” Marie asked.
“Contaminated Fruit juice,” Jamie replied, “He consumed it during breakfast, went to his room and within an hour passed away. His wife had a doubt when he did not come out from his room. He had an urgent meeting in his office and decided to start early. Alicia went and found her husband was lying unconscious on the bed. She called the doctor, and he declared him dead. It initially appeared as a case of heart attack, but Alicia thought something else. She insisted on a post-mortem, which revealed a rare poison in his body.”
Tanya noticed that Marie was looking curiously at the Rubik cubes and Jamie saw that too.
He felt a bit impatient and asked, “Do you follow what I am telling?”
She said, “So, Alicia blamed the butler.”
“Yes, he served the breakfast,” Jamie said, “Only the butler had a scope.”
“Either butler or Alicia or the cook,” Marie took the packet of Rubik Cubes in her hand, “or the person, who has gifted it.”
“Initially, it appeared as a coincidence, but when the second murder happened in Green Valley, it changed our opinion completely,” Jamie said.
“Second murder?” Tanya showed her surprise rather plainly.
“Yes, the second one, but the victim is not a high profile man like Mr. Bagman. He had a shop, sells sports equipment and toys. His name was John Chevalier.” Jamie said, “He died on Friday morning. Initially, it appeared like a normal cardiac arrest, but his wife Shelly pointed out that he too was gifted a Rubik Cube just the day before his death.” Jamie touched the second one.
“Mrs. Shelly recalled that her husband shocked to see it, the parcel probably came in his shop,” Jamie said.
Marie picked up the first Rubik Cube and carefully examined it. Its top had eight red cubes, only a yellow one in the middle, but four of its sides had seven same colored cubes and two different color cubes in the middle column. Side patterns had created a U shaped bowl-like appearance. She brought out the cube from the plastic bag and tried to move but could not.
“These are not for solving puzzles, but their patterns contain hidden messages.” Tanya prudently said, “This one must be from Mr. Bagman?”
“Yes, but how did you guess?” Jamie surprised.
Tanya replied, “The poison was in the fruit juice. It has the pattern of a fruit bowl, very simple.”
Marie did not remark, started examining the second one. It had a peculiar design, a cube within a cube. “What was the source of poison in the second case?” She asked.
“Tea, we guess” Jamie replied, “Same poison.”
“I think sugar cube,” Tanya remarked.
“Good assumption,” Jamie said.
“But, if the fruits and the sugar cubes really had poison, then Alicia and Shelly would be affected too.” Marie discarded her theory.
“Did the same person send the second cube?” Marie asked.
“Yes, I think so,” Jamie replied.
“What kind of poison is used here? Did you test these cubes in the lab?” Marie asked.
“Marie, it is a mercury-based poison, but we did not get its trace anywhere, not even in fruits and the tea. It is only our assumption that the victims’ latest food or drink had poison. By the way, these cubes are innocent; their only problem is that they are fixed, not movable.” Jamie looked thoughtful.
“If I cannot solve it quickly, my ability will be questioned,” Jamie added.
Though Tanya initially thought that Marie would visit Bagman Villa first, she did not. Instead of going there, she decided to arrive in Green Valley as a sports organizer looking for sports equipment at a reasonable price. John Chevalier’s shop was closed, she asked a neighbor about the shop, but he could not provide any information.
Mr. Chevalier’s home was not too far from his shop. So, she knocked at the door, and a middle-aged woman in a black dress appeared. She might be the widow of Mr. Chevalier.
“Yes?” Shelly Chevalier asked.
“I had placed a bulk order of Rubik Cubes. The delivery date has crossed, but….”
“I am sorry, but Mr. Chevalier is no more, and I am unaware of his business deals. Please wait a couple of minutes, my nephew James will check everything.” She apologetically said.
Marie looked disappointed. She suddenly said, “Oh, but I came from New York and…..”
“Really, please wait,” Shelly requested, “Where are you coming from? The Cubic World?”
Marie looked confused, but lied, “Yes, we are.”
“I think, your delivery date is tomorrow and James had already requested for an extension.” She checked her phone.
“I am sorry, then, actually, last Tuesday or Wednesday, one of our colleagues came….” before finishing her word, a man of mid-thirty appeared in the scene.
He introduced himself, “I am James, nephew of Mr. Chevalier. What can I do for you, ma’am?”
“She is here for her bulk order. Did anyone come on last Tuesday from the Cubic World, James?” Shelly asked.
“Sorry madam, no one came from the Cubic World in the last week. I always remained in the shop.” James nodded his head, “Yesterday I phoned them and asked for an extension.”
“No one came from the Cubic World?” Marie repeated.
James pursed his lips and tried to think.
“Wait, ma’am, only a man came with a defective piece of Rubik Cube and said that it was not moving.” James tried to recall the scene, “A strange looking guy in a long hooded coat. I offered help, but he wanted to meet my uncle. As my uncle asked me to take care of the storeroom, I heard their conversation from the storeroom only. I found that my uncle was expressing doubt. He was firmly denying the fact that the Cube was sold from his shop. So, he asked for the bill, and then he suddenly screamed. I left the storeroom and ran downstairs. I found him in a dismal state.
Initially, I thought that the man had done something, but uncle refused to say anything. He felt sick and asked me to call the doctor. He thought to take rest for a couple of days, but….”
“I am sorry for your loss.” Marie nodded. “Did you see that man?”
“No ma’am, he disappeared before I came. Though I know all the staffs of the Cubic World, neither have I known him, nor you.” James said.
“I am a new staff and my friend too,” she looked at Tanya.
Shelly apologized, “Sorry,” she looked at James and corrected, “They must have hired new staffs for the coming competition.”
So, the Rubik Cube was not sent here through a parcel, but a man brought it, and Mr.
Chevalier probably knew him.
Marie nodded, “I have consumed your valuable time, sorry.” They left the house and walked toward the red Camaro.
Tanya asked, “What is our next destination, Marie? Bagman’s house?”
“No,” Marie replied, “They will not allow us.” She started the Camaro. “We are going to New York,” Marie said briskly.
They reached the city within an hour. Marie enquired the address, from where Mr. Bagman’s parcel was booked. The building no longer exists, construction work was going on that site, but suddenly Tanya noticed a small signboard containing Cubic World’s new address.
“Marie look,” she pointed out, “Isn’t it that Cubic World, which Shelly and James just mentioned?”
“And, we pretended to be their staff,” Marie added. She walked closer and examined the board. She smiled mischievously. “Great observation, my friend,” she looked at her cheerfully, “let’s visit the new office.”
The new office was not too far from the old site. Cubic World’s present office was located on the seventeenth floor of a skyscraper. Marie checked in her phone and said, “It promotes indoor games, especially Rubik Cube game. Every year this organization hosts Rubik Cube competitions at various levels.”
Marie came out from her car. Tanya followed her. They took the elevator and reached to the seventeenth floor. Cubic World had a huge office occupying the entire floor. Suddenly, their glance stuck in an advertisement stating that State level Rubik Cube competition was going to be held in the next month, instead of coming Friday. They expressed regrets for postponing the event’s date due to the sudden demise of one of their board members Mr. Wilfred Bagman.
Tanya stared at her with disbelief, “I never thought that Mr. Bagman has a connection with this sport.”
“These murders are no ordinary murders, but have a strong connection with Rubik Cube,” Marie remarked, “let’s go inside.”
Initially, the receptionist thought her as a candidate for the competition. Marie also concealed her identity and pretended to be a willing contestant.
“Please fill up the form online and submit it. I’ll take a print out to sign. But Remember, our event date has postponed.” The lady receptionist informed.
“Where is the venue, ma’am?” Marie innocently asked.
“Here only,” she answered.
“I read in the newspaper about Mr. Bagman, it is unfortunate,” Marie said.
“No doubt, he was one of our sponsors.” She replied.
“It’s really amazing that a busy business tycoon like him had time for Rubik Cube sports…”
“Actually his wife’s interest brought him closer to the game.” She smiled.
“I mean Mrs. Alicia Bagman?” Marie asked eagerly.
“Yes, of course,” she went on, “If you are a genuine player of the game, you may know that Alicia Lawrence twice bagged the Gold medal in the World Rubik Cube Championship. Before her second marriage, she was an instructor here. It was entirely her caliber that she convinced Mr. Bagman for sponsoring our small unit during our financial crisis.” She suddenly became aware of her surroundings and said, “Sorry for wasting your time. Please fill up the form quickly.”
She took Marie’s email id and sent the link. Marie opened it, read carefully and again walked towards the desk.
“There is a column asking about the source of information.”
“Yes, where did you hear about us and the competition, please specify.” The receptionist answered, “If you heard from a friend, please provide his name and address.”
Marie wrote a name in the column of the referee and finally submitted. The receptionist opened it and checked. Marie noticed tension on her face; she looked at her and asked,
“Who is J.M.L?”
“A Rubik Cube instructor from Green Valley,” she replied.
“Full name, please,” the lady looked uncomfortable.
Marie smiled, “Joshua M. Lawrence, I don’t know his middle name. He is the man who taught me Rubik Cube game…..”
The receptionist looked at her with utter disbelieve, “Well, ma’am, please wait for some time. Let me issue a hall ticket for the event. If you want to invite anyone, please give their names too, because we do not allow anyone without the invitation.”
Marie nodded and walked towards the visitors’ room, where Tanya was waiting for her. Tanya was reading a sports magazine. Seeing her, she kept it aside and wanted to ask something. With a mischievous smile, Marie sat next to her and said, “We are rapidly heading towards the climax,”
A woman of mid-forties stormed into the visitors’ room and glared at Marie. She tightened her jaws to control anger. Marie rose from the sofa and politely asked, “If I am not wrong, you must be Mrs. Alicia Bagman. I am glad to meet you, ma’am.” She forwarded her hand for courtesy, but Alicia did not look, please.
“Who are you?” The intensity in her voice indicated her impatience.
Marie smiled, “Miss Marie Claire, from New York. I am a private detective ma’am.”
“A private detective?” Alicia sounded furious, “What are you doing in my office?”
“I am investigating a murder case, in which your ex-husband is involved….”
“I have no term with him, and please leave; otherwise I’ll call the police.” Alicia stubbornly said.
“If I say, Sheriff Jamie has sent me here for investigation, then?” Marie’s confident broke her partially, but Alicia appeared stronger than she looked.
“My husband’s case is very clear. He is a victim of a property dispute. I have enough evidence against the butler and his helper…”
Alicia could not finish her words, Marie laughed, “How will you explain about the Rubik Cube incident, ma’am?”
The woman abruptly sat on the sofa. Marie noticed sweats on her face. She looked uncomfortable. The receptionist was standing nervously away from her. Marie asked her to bring water, but Alicia raised her hand, “No need of that Miss Claire.” She sighed and asked, “May I talk to you in private?”
Marie granted her wish. Tanya and the receptionist left the visitors’ room. Alicia pleaded, “Please close the glass door, and I have many things to say.”
Now she hesitated, Alicia noticed that “No worry, I have no weapon.” She paused a while and said, “I am just a harmless woman like you, who want to save her skin from a convicted criminal.” She inhaled deeply, “Yes, you are right. My ex-husband Joshua is behind his murder.”
“So, he has killed your husband?”
“Unfortunately yes,” Alicia looked guilty, “When the Rubik Cube came we understood that he is out from the jail. We knew that he would come back for revenge, but we failed to read his message.” She regretted.
“Then why are you blaming the butler?”
“Believe me; I asked every attendant not to allow any newcomer without checking his or her id-card. Still, the butler allowed a delivery-man in the house and said that he wanted to deliver a fruit crate, a gift from Mr. Bagman’s son.”
“Does he regularly send gifts to his father?” Marie asked.
“Occasionally,” Alicia replied, “I have no enmity with his children. They come here every weekend, occasionally send gifts. It is normal but, that day the case was different.”
Marie nodded, “No, Mrs. Bagman, I am sure those fruits and wine had no poison.”
Alicia shook her head, “You don’t know Joshua. He was an abusive husband. Mr. Bagman practically rescued me from his clutch.” She started weeping, “Joshua was addicted to betting. Every Rubik Cube competition was the source of betting. Soon he lost his money and started using me for fundraising. I met Mr. Bagman for that purpose; Joshua forced me to impress him. However, he realized my trauma and helped me out from his clutch.”
“Why he was in jail?”
“He tried to kill Mr. Bagman and me. I somehow escaped.” Alicia continued weeping.
“I am a woman too, fear not. No one will know your past.” Marie assured her.
It was half past six in the evening. Marie shut down her laptop and placed it inside her bag. Tanya had already left, but she had some works to finish. Suddenly, Marie received an email notification in her cell phone. It was from Jamie. He asked her to wait. Marie replied, ‘OK.’
She again brought out her laptop and started working on it. She opened the Rubik Cube Killer file and read the points again and again. She did not doubt his identity, but could not understand his modus operandi.
Suddenly she heard the rumble of thunder in the distance. She diverted her attention from the laptop and watched from the window of her office. The sky gradually turned black. A gust of cold wind whooshed towards her, hitting her cheeks and scattering loose papers all across the floor from her desk. She left her chair and hurriedly walked towards the window.
‘How foolish I am,’ Marie thought, ‘I should use a paperweight.’ She knelt and started picking up the papers, but the cold wind disrupted her work. She decided to close the window first and walked towards it. As she closed the windowpane, she heard someone knocked at the door.
‘Must be Jamie,’ Marie carefully placed her steps on the floor avoiding those papers. She opened the door and gasped in horror. A man in black hooded raincoat stormed into the room. Without revealing his face, he closed the door and pushed her back to the floor. Though she was trained in martial arts, he hardly gave her time to defend. Her body touched the cement floor, received injury at her back head and lost her sense.
When she regained her sense, she found herself in a sitting posture, tied with a rope against a chair’s backrest. Her legs, waist, and chest were tied firmly with the chair, but hands were free. She tried to find out the knots, but could not. Those knots might be near her toes, but she could not touch that portion, unless and until someone loosens the rope around her waist. It was a painful situation.
She tried to look around the room. It was her office room only. The clock declared half-past twelve. So, it was midnight. She tried to recall whom she received at the door, but could not remember the face.
“Help, help,” she tried to shout and felt thirsty. Marie coughed. Suddenly, a man in a long coat came out from the kitchen. His face was concealed under the hood.
“So, Miss Detective, you were looking for me?” Removing his hood, the man revealed a fleshy face full of scars and bruises.
“I am Joshua Lawrence, ma’am, the Rubik Cube killer.” He said in a cold voice. His grey eyes reflected cruelty.
“Why…what do you want from me?” Marie impatiently asked.
“Do you want an answer from me, well?” He smiled, “Rubik Cube killer gives his victim a chance to live, as I have sent a clue to Mr. Bagman and Chevalier. They were old friends of mine but betrayed me. Still, I gave them a chance to recall, a chance to repent, but they hardly cared.” He laughed.
“Anyway, I’ll give you a chance too.” He brought out a Rubik Cube from his pocket and placed it on her lap, “Your hands are free enough to hold them. Solve it, my lady.” He asked softly, “It is an ordinary cube, but it will decide your life and death, ma’am.”
Marie wanted to touch it; he roared, “Don’t touch. Put it down! Wait for my instructions.” He cleared his throat and said, “You’ll get five minutes, calm down and focus on the cube. Your time starts now, ma’am; Tick tock, tick tock ….”
She quickly began turning and twisting the colorful little knobs. Her mind raced to match the color on each side. Sweat was dripping down her forehead, her hands cramping. Suddenly, she discovered that those colorful knobs were fixed, they were not moving.
The man went on, “Every game has a rule, ma’am….”
She tried and tried but could not move those knobs.
“You know this game fascinates me in many ways, but unfortunately it is not in the Olympic. I had a dream of promoting this sport to the global level. So, set up a small center. I encouraged betting in Rubik Cube and lost my money in betting. I asked my wife to help, but the bitch betrayed me.” He chuckled, “Now I am a criminal, I have no worry to kill anyone, especially little Miss Detective if she fails to solve it.” He mocked, “I heard that detectives are smarter than the ordinary people, but it seems you were not able to complete the puzzle.” He came closer and whispered, “don’t worry; you are not the only one, who fails.”
“These knobs are so tight….”
The Rubik Cube killer laughed, “Fake cube ma’am. I challenged Bagman in a blindfolded game. He cheated me with this type of fake cubes. I solved it genuinely within five minutes, but when I opened my eyes found that he had solved it earlier.” He sighed, “Months later I overheard John and Alicia’s conversation. Bagman was given a fixed cube where all knobs were already in place. I went to kill that bitch but could not.”
He paused a while and said, “This cube’s surface has mercury-based poison, a rare kind of venom, which transmits through the skin; Goodby Little Miss Detective.”
Marie began to panic. She felt her hands were shaking badly and stomach turning. Dropping the cube to the ground, she closed her eyes.
“You’ll not die immediately, but within a day or two like Wilfred and John….” He could not finish his words.
“Bang,” a blinding light followed by a deafening sound cracked the wooden door. The bullet from a pistol had directly hit the Rubik Cube killer on his knees. He turned back, limped towards the front door and met with the blinding lights of NYPD. A blue spotlight directly fell on him, illuminating his long muscular body and battered face.
“HANDS UP,” he completely ignored the order and met with another bullet, this time on his chest. Clearing the blood, he walked towards the door, knelt down and again another bullet hit his temple. He dropped on to the floor, picked up the Rubik Cube from the ground and tried to clear blood and brain from it. He pressed it tightly, and the cube cracked into pieces.
“How are you, Marie?” Tanya asked anxiously.
Marie looked around and found herself in a hospital cabin. Jamie was staring at her worriedly. Tanya again said, “She has opened her eyes. I think the poison will not harm her anymore.”
“Poison ?” Marie asked. She tried to recall what actually happened to her. “What about the man?”
“We arrested him, but he is in the hospital, critically injured,” Jamie said, “but how are you, Marie? Did he hurt you?”
“No, he tied me with a chair and asked to match a Rubik Cube, which was fixed, but it had a rare mercury-based poison on its surface.”
“Now I realized, why we did not get any trace of poison on the Rubik Cube. Mercury rapidly evaporates but damages its victims’ blood cells, if transmitted through the skin. Thank God, we were on time. If you were exposed to that poison for a long time, you would not be saved.” Jamie said.
“He was a psycho,” Tanya remarked.
“Why did not you reach on time?” Marie asked Jamie. He initially looked surprised and then understood the meaning, “I did not mail you, Marie,” Jamie replied.
“What?” Marie looked at him in utter disbelieve. She tried to sit on the bed.
“It was quarter to seven when I realized that my email was hacked. NYPD’s cyber cell almost immediately started their work of recovering it, but it took several hours. Then I discovered the mail and your reply. I did not think twice, came to your place and found that psycho.”
“He is not a psycho, but a man who came for revenge. Mrs. Bagman wanted to hide her past but could not. He sent those Rubik Cubes to his victims, they touched it, tried to turn and twist, then poison started contaminating their bodies. So, the patterns on the cube had nothing to do with the murders. They died simply of touching the cube.”
Marie said, “I guessed Mr. Bagman’s food, and juice had no poison.”
“How did you know?” Jamie asked, “I failed to understand…”
“Look, if the fruits or juice or wine had poison, anyone could be affected. It was not possible for Joshua to know who was consuming that particular food or drink. Similarly, Mr. Chevalier’s tea or sugar cubes did not have poison. He too touched that Rubik Cube given by the stranger tried to twist and turn it for a long time, before admitting that it was fake and not a product from his shop. When Mr. Chevalier saw his face, he frightened. He felt sick in the afternoon but took it as a common illness. However, this poison works slowly damages blood cell and leaves no trace on the contaminated object.
Probably, his wife guessed that too, or he gave some hints to her. That was why she mentioned about the Rubik Cube incident to the police, but did not know that it came from a stranger, not from a parcel. Anyway, it did not harm James or Shelly, because Mercury based poison evaporated that time and…”
“And it left no trace of an anomaly in the forensic report too.” Jamie completed her sentence.
“Exactly, the cubes were the actual murder weapons, not mere messengers of death.” Marie started coughing.
Jamie offered her a glass of water and said, “Please don’t talk too much, you require complete rest for a couple of days.”