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THE POLICE HAD yet another bizarre death to puzzle over.

Just how did a man choke on smoke in his kitchen when there were no signs of fire outbreak anywhere in the house? There were no charred remains or burned out stuff in the kitchen, the neighbors didn’t burn any substantial refuse overnight; the gas hadn’t been turned on and there had been no fire in the fireplace.

The air was confirmed clean, because they were constrained to test for toxicity in the atmosphere; anything poisonous or radioactive that could cause a man to suffocate. The investigative team even had to put on hazmat gears to work the scene, for fear of falling victim to whatever ‘gaseous’ substance that killed Jonathan.

So where did smoke, concentrated enough to kill, come from without leaving any trace in the kitchen or on any of the surfaces around? The only place there was any telltale sign of smoke were in Jonathan’s heart, lungs and blood stream. Although he’d been a smoker, Jonathan didn’t touch a stick for weeks till the time of his mysterious death. And even then, the smoke residue they gleaned from his inside during autopsy had no trace of nicotine, so it was definitely not the cigarette that got him.

“It was something else,” said Lee Davies, straightening up to look around the kitchen uncertainly. The body was already in the morgue, but Davies and his partner had to come back to the house after the autopsy report came in, just to double check things to make sure they were not missing anything.

Beside him, Detective Simmons looked equally bewildered. “What do you think happened, Davies?” he asked quietly.

“Hell if I know what I think,” Davies sighed.

All they found on the floor were spilled tea and pieces of broken cup, and some smudge of blood from when the victim slipped and hurt himself. But the autopsy result had been abundantly clear on the fact that Jonathan did not die when he fell.

“Sure?” he’d asked the pathologist earlier on.

The man, a burly looking fellow with sandy hair and a stiff countenance nodded. “Sure, Davies,” he said. “In fact, with regards to the wound he sustained when he slipped, I think he might have lived.”

So now, back in Jonathan Prince’s apartment later that evening, the two detectives stood in the kitchen quietly, unsure exactly what they were looking for yet knowing in their hearts that something was spookily not natural about the way the man had died.

The kitchen opened directly into the sitting room, and as Davies sighed and straightened up, he saw the widow of the deceased, Samantha Prince, where she sat on the couch coiled up into a ball and shaking feverishly like a little girl. They walked over to her, and Simmons got a blanket from one of the other chairs and placed it gently over her shoulders. She had a cup of tea in hand, but she wasn’t drinking it. There was a blank, distant look in her eyes. It was almost like she was there physically yet she wasn’t there.

Davies sighed with empathy. He felt very sorry for the woman, even though, technically and pending findings of further investigation that was to follow, she was a suspect in the murder. They’d read up on her profile, and her story was quite gripping – gone through a very trying marriage, recently separated from her husband with divorce pending in court, two children killed in a ghastly auto crash a couple of years ago, and her only surviving son was in coma at the hospital after a horrible suicide attempt…

Christ! This woman could be losing her mind! Maybe she’d snapped and taken out her husband. But a rap like that could only be sustained with convincing, infallible facts and solid evidence. Presently, there were none, which left everyone at a dead end.

As Detective Lee Davies’ mind drifted to the trail of the other cases still on his desk waiting resolution, he bowed his head, staring at the floor intently as though the answer he was looking for was on the ground by his feet. When he lifted his face again, his eyes locked with Samantha’s and he felt the shiver at what he saw in her eyes; it was a look of profound terror.

He felt almost certain in that single moment that she knew, or had some idea, what actually happened to her late husband, and the knowledge was quite weighty on his chest.

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