Add water and leave on the kitchen counter overnight,
He wrote down the time he took his medication: 2:57 PM. He did not write down the date. As long as he knew what day of the week it was, he was pretty much set. When he was murdered, the Post-It note with 2:57 was the only clue that was important to the detective, though there were, of course, many other things that might be clues: a family picture, a key, a bracelet, an appointment book. Irrelevant, actually, once the mystery is unraveled.
But what did the note mean? The reader knows it was his medication. But the detective does not know this. The detective only knows that it is important.
The reader might think that it was the medication he took at 2:57 PM what killed him. It was not.
But the detective doesn’t even know yet that the note is related to when he took his medicine.
Suppose this: Suppose the victim was a very orderly man, particularly with respect to time. Suppose he did things in particular time sequences. So if he took his Advil at 9 am, he took it again regularly 4 hours later at 1:00. So perhaps the clue will tell us something that happened much earlier than 2:57PM. Maybe even the day before. Perhaps he was regular in his sleeping habits, rarely varying more than a half hour one way or the other for weeks at a a time. So perhaps something happened that kept him up later than usual the night before so that his sequence of Advil was put off by two hours. Or perhaps he had an unexpected phone call that last nearly two hours
Who is he, this man who’s been murdered? And how did this person, this man or woman who’s committed the crime, reach the extreme in nature of taking another person’s life?
(I hate one’s where the reason isn’t really a motive, just a lust to kill. It’s just too creepy . I’m squeamish: I screamed aloud in the theatre when that gooky creature burst out of the guy’s stomach in Aliens. So no “serial killers.” Too cheap an explanation anyway. Just a variation on “a madman did it.” Same with sex crimes. Too sick to enjoy. And meanwhile, while the detective’s figuring it out, people are being fucked up in the most horrendous, wretched ways. And like I say, ultimately there isn’t a “motive” as much as there are just some people who are completely fucked up. True, too true, but not a “motive” for a murder.)
But back to our story: the detective has to find out what the time means.
Who is he, our detective? (Do we really care? Pruriently, perhaps, like why we read the celebrity magazines on line at the grocery store, but that’s about the level of our interest. Oops, the cashier’s getting ahead of us scanning the items, time to move on.) So forget the tec’s private life. He goes home, he sleeps when he can. That’s it. Is he fat is he slim? Is he tall or short, sexy or flat, sloppy or neat? Tux and martini or over-worn slacks and a beer?
What he is is a detective: He is determined, above all else, to get to the bottom of the case, to solve the case, to bring the perpetrator to justice. That’s more than his job, it’s his identity. (How many plots have you seen where the detective is put on suspension, his badge or private investigator license taken, and yet he soldiers on?) Cliché or not, he has no choice. That’s what makes him our detective: He must solve the crime, no matter what the cost.
And all he has to go on is the scribbled time on a post-it note: 2:57 .
So he goes out and talks to anyone who knew, had contact with, or was related to the murdered man. Each interview leads him to another interview. Sometimes he has to circle back to someone he spoke to before. The victim’s widow? His girl-friend or boy-friend? His wife or her lover? Our detective is caught in a web that has more lies than truths, since everyone also has something to hide, including our detective.
As usual: Everyone had a reason to kill the victim, but really no one has a reason to kill him. Are they crazy? Nasty? Seductive? Innocent? Helpful? Possibly. All are suspect.
So our detective stops: Perhaps if he only knew one thing, one fact that he could make sense of, one fact that included the note on the post-it: 2:57 PM, he could make sense of it all, unravel the mystery.
But will we understand the motive only after we’ve solved the murder or do we need to understand the motive in order to make sense of the clues?
The victim wrote 2:57 on a Post-It note just before he died. (The coroner says he died a 4:15.)
The victim is a large (or perhaps a small or medium-sized) man. Perhaps he is not a man at all. No, we called him “he” at the beginning. He is a man, though it does not matter. We have supposed that he is a very regular man, that is, a person who does everything in carefully ordered and repeated sequences. Let us suppose: He is a regular man.
And our detective has determined, by interviewing a series of people (A typesetter? A botanist? A parolee?) that either some people have lied about when they saw him get up and get his newspaper or that he altered his schedule for some reason prior to 2:57 PM.
Our detective now plunges us into the web of truths, white lies, omissions, misremembered facts, and the cold-blooded lies of the murderer, as each tells their story and variations. What happens? It turns out that the sister’s mother is not the person who raised her, but it doesn’t really matter. It turns out that the uncle who pleaded insanity, is, in fact, insane. And quite harmless. It turns out that the banknotes were forged, or not forged but slipped into the country illegally, or maybe the banknotes have nothing to do with the story. It turns out that one of the small mirrors in the dining room as been tampered with to allow someone to see what happened in a certain room at a given time, but what they saw was not what they thought they saw.
The detective uncovers all this. Does he do it by impersonating insurance salesmen or telephone company repairmen? Does he throw his weight around, act tough with cops? Is he a private eye or a public servant? Does he sneak into places where he could be killed, or fired, or sent to prison if he got discovered?
Eventually the detective solves the mystery. The time on the note leads to the uncovering of a lie that leads to the discovery of the killer and the reason for the murder.
What was the motive? Was the victim murdered for money? Do people commit flesh and blood murder for money alone? A robbery gone wrong, perhaps? No, not good enough.
Jealousy? Perhaps. Fear of exposure of his fraudulent existence? That too. Lust, sure.
But it is always desperation that causes the crime.
The killer wants, but can’t have. He wants out, but can’t escape. It’s over: There’s no where to turn. Past a line of no return. What’s already happened was the end for him, the bitter end, but he lives on. Only dark hatreds drive him forward. He kills. He covers his tracks. Carefully.
But he did not know that his victim arose a bit late that morning or that his day was interrupted so that he took his Advil two hours later than usual. Our detective knows what delayed him. We knew why at one time, but we’ve forgotten. It doesn’t really matter. It wouldn’t have saved his life if he took his Advil some other time that day. But it enabled our our detective to put the pieces together. Was the motive that the killer was about to lose his wealth andreputation and have to endure his wife running off with his brother-in-law’s wife? Perhaps.
We’ll never really be sure. How can it end this way?
Because it does.