The stink of death was unmistakable. It surrounded him, crawling through his nostrils to block his windpipe. As he got closer, it was only years of experience that saved him from retching all over the crime scene.
“Three days old, sir. I’m sending her to the lab. I found no ID.” The young officer murmured.
Saak nodded, not taking eyes off the dead body. Something was familiar about the half-decayed face.
The place looked like a mess. Saak picked up a few items- the broken paint brushes, splashes of red and brown oil paints, smashed easel, and torn fabric with paint blotches. They were artfully arranged among other debris.
“Saak! Nina is missing. Do something.” His sister burst into the tiny cabin.
Sniffling, she told him that Nina was a small-time model. She was currently posing for a painter.
Suddenly, Saak remembered. He saw Nina at his sister’s birthday party a few months ago. Breaking the news to her wasn’t easy. It took him two hours to pacify her. While the autopsy was going on, Saak found the address of the painter.
“It can’t be… I… ” The painter slumped into a chair. Saak noticed his studio was spotless. The brushes were either soaked in a solution or laid out on the table. On the easel was the painting of Nina.
“What can you tell me about her?”
The painter wiped his tears. “We started on the wrong note, but I needed a model. She needed the money. As we began the sessions, things changed. One painting became two, then three.” His eyes turned glassy as he whispered, “We planned to get engaged next month.”
“Weren’t you worried she was missing for 3 days?”
The painter shook his head. “I spoke to her yesterday. She was down with flu and asked me not to pressurize to see her. Are you really sure?”
Saak nodded. “Where is your assistant?” He saw a small empty table and chair in the outer room.
“She left ten days ago.”
“They fought all the time?” Saak asked a young woman.
She nodded delicately blowing her nose into a tissue. “Always. Things broke frequently. The studio would look like a mess. The worse thing was, he’d take out his frustration on me.”
“Was he violent?”
She revealed her bruised arm. There were four red scars. “He gripped me so hard, his nails bruised my skin.”
Back at the station, Saak read the autopsy report thrice. There was only one way it could have been possible.
The assistant confessed to her crime. Unable to digest the painter’s love for another woman, she killed Nina after calling her to an abandoned building and framed the painter.
The marks on her arm were a result of Nina’s fight for life. Bits of skin found under her nails matched the assistant’s bruises. Nina’s mobile phone was also found in her house, tucked in a secret drawer.