The Fluorescent Green Shirt

The Fluorescent Green Shirt

If one can define something as phenomenally difficult in this world, then I must say it is being subjected to an interrogation by the cops. 

 It had already been a tiring day with a long wait at the Changi airport. 

After a cumbersome journey when I reached my only sibling’s house in the US, I was all Verklempt to learn that my twin brother John had been shot through the bedroom window.  However, John’s left shoulder was what came in the bullet’s trajectory, and he had been admitted to the hospital in an unconscious state, with profuse loss of blood.

The cops viewed me with a hawk eye as if I had condoned the transgression of some divine law. 

“Someone does have a motive behind wiping your brother permanently from the scene,” the chief cop said, waving a stamp paper in front of me.

“Your lawyer says that he had briefed you about your father’s WILL. Your brother would inherit this house and 30% of his money, while you would get the remaining 70%. No immovable property has been bequeathed on you. 

However, a clause says that if Mr. John passes away before your dad or in the interim period between your dad’s death and legal execution of the WILL, then you would inherit the house. At the same time, his family will receive 70% of your dad’s money, leaving 30% for you. And if you happen to die first, then your share of the money goes to Mr. John.”

The chief cop rolled his eyes from the ceiling of the sprawling house to the floor. 

“A prime property like this worth more than half a million would stir the sincerity of even a saint.” His remark reeked of sarcasm.

It took me a whole part of a minute to comprehend that the cop was suspecting me of remote controlling the attempted murder to appropriate this palatial house.

Diffident as I may sound, I must agree that I was in an awkward position not able to carry on with this particular argument. I looked poignantly at Mr. Lobo, our family lawyer. He sighed wistfully. 

He had kept me abreast with every financial deal in the family.

Blame it on my foolhardiness for this delicate situation. Topics related to property, money, etc., failed to tickle my curiosity. I was making money like crazy, and had amassed enough wealth to last for my lifetime and was still minting money.

This is precisely why I had neither bothered to know how much dad had earned by selling his flourishing sports shop nor what his WILL stated.  

I realized now that the WILL was indeed in favor of John, but then dad must have contemplated before drafting it. No clause in it disturbed me.

**************

John lived with my parents.  He was an obedient son, a loving husband to Bertha, and an adorable father to Adrian and Sarah. 

I moved to Singapore long before and was doing great, with my garment export business having flourished over the years.

John’s indolence made him abandon father’s proposal of carrying on with his shop. He preferred a job that would fetch him a monthly salary.

Though both our countenance and even intonations were strikingly similar, we were poles apart in every aspect. John was a very timid, soft-spoken guy who, without any resentment, adapted to the mundane route in life as my parents preferred; marriage at twenty-eight and father of two kids by the time he was thirty-five.

 On the other hand, I had my stint with lovely ladies. Work, alcohol, party; that was Steven.  My mother gave up pursuing me to settle. The wise lady passed away when John and I were 30 years old.

I generally traveled home on all our birthdays.  It was I who bought gifts and clothes for my brother and his family.  Though Bertha and the kids would give me their preferences over the attire or color, John had to be coaxed.

I was therefore surprised when John had asked me for a fluorescent green shirt this time.

“Why would you prefer such a garish color? It will make you look like a circus clown.” I pulled his legs. He was somewhat adamant in having that particular colored shirt. I promised John that his fluorescent green shirt would be his on our birthday.

We were celebrating our 40th birthday today. We would be missing our father this year. Dad had passed away a couple of months ago. I had been held up in a business conference then and was not able to attend the funeral.

*******************

It had been nearly an hour after my arrival, and the cops had been hounding me over the clauses of the WILL. 

 For the moment, every discussion seemed inconsequential to me. My bladders were threatening to burst any moment. I fervently pleaded with them to allow me to visit the washroom.

 Before giving their nod, they searched all over my body and snatched my phone, which had completely drained its battery. 

If I had found an opportunity to charge it, I would have contacted John from Changi airport, when the airlines had rescheduled my flight to 10.30 pm.

The flight departure had been pushed by an hour and a half from the booking schedule timing and was to leave at 8 pm instead of 6.30 pm as per a message received from the airlines three days before. 

I had called up John then to inform him about the delay.

“Hey bro, my time of landing has been pushed by one and a half hours. I should be home by 6 pm on our birthday.” 

“Oh, is it?” John had sounded a bit disappointed but composed himself as always and said, “Doesn’t matter you will be home well before seven, right?” he confirmed. 

The packed crowd at the charging station in the airport didn’t give me a chance to inform my brother about a further delay that would enable me to reach home later than he had expected me to come. 

I knew John hated tardy people. But then I couldn’t be blamed for the delay either.

His strict inclination towards punctuality had forced John to make double sure that I would reach at least half an hour earlier before we cut the cake.  Every year the birthday party would start strictly by 7.30 pm. Unlike the parties that I attend, which had guests swarming and going on till the wee hours of the morning, the bash here used to have a handful of John’s close friends and would wind up well before midnight.  I wasn’t even sure if John would prefer to have a vast celebration this time. I speculated it to be only a family affair.

*********************

The cops were interrogating Ambrose, our household servant when I came out of the washroom. 

“Where were you when your master was shot at?”

“Master asked me to get the beef because Master Steven loves beef.” The septuagenarian said defensively.

The cops were too vexed.

 I was under the scanner for reasons best known to them, though no solid evidence was found to label me as the accused.  

At last, they left telling us they would return the following day to interrogate Bertha and the kids, who had gone to her parents’ place a good 300 km away and were already on their way back home.

Two Policemen were posted outside our gate to make sure that neither Ambrose nor I moved out.

All further investigations drew a blank. Bertha said that she had to pay a visit to her ailing father.   This was a convenient weekend to go. The kids were going to take a couple of days leave from school to spend extra time with me.

“Initially, I was a bit reluctant to go because I knew Steven would be home on Sunday and it was their birthday, but then John said we were not going to have any invitees this time. The brothers would celebrate it together. Since Steven was going to be here till the coming Saturday, we could spend time together after we returned.” 

“Do you know of any rift your husband had with anyone recently?” The cop asked. Bertha shook her head. Sobbing intermittently she explained to them that John was not a garrulous person, and as far as her knowledge stretched, he had no enemies.

The cops warned me from traveling back to Singapore until John regained consciousness and was fit enough to give a statement.

An excruciating week passed before John could bring himself to speak. But the cops were more than disappointed, having got no breakthrough in the case. John said that things happened in the flash of a second and left no room for him even to have a glimpse of someone holding a pistol.

Since John was recuperating in the hospital, he nominated his wife to be present when the WILL execution was carried on in the presence of Mr. Lobo and two cops. 

 I instructed Mr. Lobo to make a document transferring my part of the money to John. The act may have perplexed Mr. Lobo, but I had to do it more for self defense than munificence.

As contemplated by me, all apprehensions that I had masterminded the murder for the lust of money, was put to rest. The cops eventually allowed me to travel back to Singapore but solicited my presence whenever they needed it.

When I reached my destination, the first thing I did was make a call.

“Mr. Lewis, I am Steven, John’s twin brother.”

 I heard him gasp awkwardly on the other end.

“Book your tickets to Singapore by tomorrow’s earliest flight.  I will pay for your trip and stay. Reach Changi beach club by 6 pm the day after tomorrow. We need to talk. I am sure you know what I am hinting at. If you do not turn up, you are inviting trouble for yourself.” I snapped the call.

********************

At Changi beach club, I sat face to face with this tall, hefty guy, all of thirty.

“Come on, Lewis; tell me what it is all about, though I have gathered bits and pieces.”

Bewildered, he began speaking, clearing his throat.

“I am a contract killer. Mr. John had met me a few days before.  He was upset that as per your father’s WILL, a substantial amount was going to fall in the kitty of an imprudent person like you, whose coffer was already overflowing. He felt it was an unfair deal, since it was he who had taken the responsibility of nursing your bedridden mother and your father. He wanted to usurp the whole property of your father.”

Lewis paused to observe my reactions. Tough days in business had taught me to camouflage my emotions, but my heart ached. 

How could John accuse me of not taking care of my parents?  They had refused to move with me to Singapore, but I had made it a point to travel often when mother was unwell. This was just a frivolous reason stated by John; in fact he had eyed the entire property of dad. 

After a few seconds, Lewis continued.

“Mr. John told me that his identical twin brother would arrive on their birthday.  Mr. John would make sure that only the two of them would be in the house at 7 pm.  The color of their shirts would be the main aspect to distinguish them from one another. I was entrusted with shooting from the bedroom window, the person not wearing a fluorescent green shirt, at 7 pm sharp.  Though he could not precisely tell me which colored shirt his twin brother will be wearing.” Lewis took a few minutes, probably allowing me to digest every word of the newly made revelation.

I feigned a natural look, though the information jolted me. I gestured to Lewis to proceed.

 “I had my apprehensions and asked him what if his twin brother also wore the same colored shirt. He said that they had never had this practice of wearing the same colored dress and his brother preferred extremely light colors right from childhood. Fluorescent green would be the last choice he would prefer, and that is why Mr. John had opted for that shade.”

Lewis gave me the much needed few minutes to assimilate his words.

“Well….” He dragged. “I suggested that if Mr. John could sport a beard it would be easier for me to differentiate between the two. But your brother seemed pretty upset with that suggestion. ‘You think you are too brainy or what?’ He reprimanded me. ‘My brother has this habit of sporting a beard off and on. You never know he too may turn up with one. You do as I say.’ Mr. John sounded livid.”

However, Mr. John also cautioned me, saying that there might be a 50% chance of not seeing him in his fluorescent green shirt in the vicinity. 

‘I trust your perfect aim but do not want to risk being close to my brother at the time you aim the gun. I will excuse myself under the pretext of fetching something from inside a few minutes before seven so that he will be left alone. But you never know, sometimes he may coax me to sit next to him. In that case, as I told you to concentrate on the man not wearing the fluorescent green shirt.’ 

The arrangement did sound a bit vague, but I tutored myself to shoot at the person among the identical twins, not wearing a fluorescent green shirt.”

Calling for yet another drink, I asked Lewis to continue.

 “Mr. John’s strategy exuded shrewd groundwork; it looked like he had made thorough plans to steer the attention of the cops too,” Lewis informed.

“‘You do not worry about the case.’ Mr. John had assured me. 

He said that the last time you visited him; you had a brawl with some native on the phone. That person, who had accused you of arrogating his million dollars worth of order, had threatened to have you killed. Your brother said he would hint about that to the cops, thus steering the path of investigation.” Lewis looked at me keenly, searching for revulsion, while I was trying hard to recollect the telephonic conversation he was referring to.

“I reached your brother’s place at five minutes to seven and through the bedroom glass window saw this guy in a blue-colored shirt walking towards the washroom.” Lewis resumed his explanation after taking a sip of the drink.

“I arranged my gun to aim at him when he would emerge from the washroom. Just then, I got a call from Mr. John. Assuming that he was prompting me to go ahead with my job, I didn’t bother to pick his call.  There was no point in wasting time. This man wearing a blue shirt and looking exactly like Mr. John was my target. I aimed my revolver at him as he returned from the washroom.” Lewis snuffled awkwardly.

“I later came to know that I had shot Mr. John.  Maybe he had called to inform me not to proceed with the act as per the 7 pm schedule.  I then realized why the person whom I had correctly targeted had jumped to his right, away from the window frame. Mr. John might have realized his blunder of having surfaced near the window as the shootout time approached.” Lewis sighed

 “However, I am baffled because almost an hour later, when I had not come to be aware of the mistake, I had made a call regarding my payment to Mr. John, as per his instructions and he answered me.”  Lewis shook his head at the thought of having struck a conversation with an unconscious person.

 “That was I who answered your call.  You made a blunder by ringing John, incognizant of the adverse outcome. What if he was being interrogated for my attempted murder at that time? And you vaunt of being a professional killer? Fortunately, the cops had still not raided the washroom where John had forgotten his phone after trying to contact you before being shot at. 

 It vibrated no sooner than I entered the washroom. Assuming it to be a friend’s call to whom I can convey about the calamity, I answered it. You responded to my ‘hello,’ surmising I was John since we have a similar voice and accent too.” 

Lewis was taken aback to hear this.

“Your occult behavior and the short, vague conversation triggered my anxiety. You said, ‘Mr. John, I hope the birthday party went off well. Can I meet you by tomorrow evening?’

If you recollect, I cut the call saying, ‘I will get in touch with you soon.’

Your words sounded cryptic. I could very well guess that there was no birthday party as such. Your mention of one sounded out of context. I realized something not very pleasant was brewing. 

I haven’t become an astute business man overnight, boy!!!” I patted the befuddled man.

“The cops could not trace John’s mobile because I had placed it in my pocket after switching it off, knowing well that I won’t  be put through scrutiny again.”

Lewis was left speechless. He sat glued to his seat, stupefied by what he had heard just then.

“Let me pay your dues even though you goofed up everything.” I handed double the amount he had quoted and gestured to him to leave.

Sitting by the shore of the Changi beach, I looked at the calm water. ‘Still water runs deep,’ they say. John was a living example of this adage, calm and composed from the outside but with a tsunami raging inside his heart.

While I had always revered him, all that he had nurtured for me in his heart, was hatred.

In acrimony, I hit the send button of my mobile.

The audio recording of the past hour reached the cop investigating the shootout.

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