Murder in a Mask – by Poppy Gray

There were five people living in the house. Polly was on the top floor, self-isolating. She had inherited £100,000 the week before and had been to see her solicitor, who’d then got Covid and called her. No-one had heard from her all day and, at twenty-past six, Gianni had gone to her room to talk to her. The door was ajar and when he knocked, it swung open. He walked into the room, saw Polly collapsed on the floor, partially covered by the duvet, with an Agatha Christie novel, inches from her arm. He put his hand under her head and lifted it. She was still warm. He felt something wet and, when he took it away, his hand was covered in blood.
At that moment, the floorboard behind him creaked. Sam came through the door, saw his hand covered in blood, and screamed. The others sped up the stairs.

David asked, “Is she breathing? I’ll call an ambulance!”
Sam, putting her hand over the phone’s camera cried, “For God’s sake, Nafisa, stop filming!”
Later Inspector John took Gianni into the kitchen for questioning.
“Did Polly have any enemies?”
“Last year she began studying psychology, but she didn’t have the best track record for making friends. Although we all knew Sam was on her last warning, Polly got her fired from the café by complaining that she was insolent. She broke up with David by text. Then she filmed Nafisa drunk and posted it on her Insta, which lost her hundreds of followers.”
“And how was your relationship with her?”
“I made a mistake, I’m not proud of it: she caught me cheating, and when I’d paid her, she told my girl anyway.”
“Where were you from 17:30 until you found her?”
“In the garden, tending my tomatoes.” He left, obsessively rubbing his hand.

Nafisa was next. She strode into the kitchen, scowled at the inspector, and said, “I didn’t do it! I couldn’t have – I was doing the jigsaw challenge. I had to do 500 pieces in an hour. I didn’t have time to kill psychos! I did the challenge and was vlogging, when I heard screaming.”

David entered a few minutes after Nafisa left.
“I was in Primrose Hill park with Jake and Ryan, my mates, when I realised I’d forgotten my mask. I was putting my key in the lock, when I heard the scream; I ran upstairs to see what had happened.”
Staring down at her feet, Sam said, “The Wi-Fi wasn’t good, but I was on a Zoom call with seven of my cousins. Polly cost me my job, and I wanted her to pay… but I would never have killed her.”

Inspector John read the pathologist’s report: 19-year-old female victim; no sign of a struggle, approximate time of death, 17:40-18:10; cause of death, blunt force trauma to the head, by means of a 24” baseball bat. No prints were found. The inspector had discovered the bat opposite Polly’s room, on the floor in the bathroom. It was damp, as though someone had tried to wash away the blood.

Inspector John gathered all four suspects together in the living room, next to Polly’s room. The policeman beside him lifted up the bat in its clear plastic evidence bag.
“Does anybody recognize this?”
“Polly kept it in her room. She was paranoid,” said David. “It was with her when she moved in two years ago.”
Sam interrupted, “I found it strange that she had a bat, when we all helped move her stuff up here.”
The inspector continued, “All of you had the means, motive and opportunity to kill her without the others knowing.”
“But we all had alibis,” interjected Gianni, hastily.
“Who saw you? Anyone?” The inspector looked round at the others. “You were alone in the garden, and then first at the scene. You could have gone upstairs unseen, killed her and then, when you heard Sam coming, knocked on the door and gone in just before she arrived.”
“Why would I want to be found with the body?” Gianni replied, defensively. “Sam’s always leaving Zoom calls to do stuff. She could have killed poor Polly without being spotted: her room is directly underneath Polly’s and the closest to the stairs. Then she must have waited in here till she heard me knock and go in.”
Sam turned abruptly to Gianni. “You backstabber! No-one saw David either; in films, it’s always the ex who did it. He was meant to be in the park, but arrived seconds after Nafisa. He could have run back earlier, sneaked up the stairs, and murdered her when we thought he was out. He could have hidden in here, and pretended to have run up the stairs.”
“I could never hurt her. I still loved her,” whimpered David. “Ask Ryan! Ask Jake! I wouldn’t have had time to do all that.”
Nafisa cut in. “Any of you could have done it! I’m the only one with a solid alibi. I had hundreds of fans watching me complete the challenge LIVE on my channel! Any of you could have run upstairs, bashed her head in, and hidden the bat in the bathroom, while I was putting the last three pieces in.”
“I never mentioned where I found the weapon,” said the inspector, pulling out his handcuffs.
The colour drained from Nafisa’s face. She pointed at Gianni, “He told me the bat was in the bathroom. He’s guilty. I’m INNOCENT!”

The inspector replied calmly, “You finished the puzzle early, only leaving a few pieces out; you went upstairs quietly and hit her while she was reading, facing away from the door. You then rushed to the bathroom, cleaned the blood off the bat, and wiped off your fingerprints. You went downstairs to finish the puzzle on camera, and wait for the body to be found; giving you a perfect alibi.”
He clicked the handcuffs onto her wrists, and said, “You have the right to remain silent…”

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