“Sir, there is a visitor. Inspector Shastri.” said my maid.
She was as excited as a 5 year old girl would be, when she comes across a new doll. She had been constantly threatening me to leave the job since last three days as I wasn’t able to pay her off. There was a spark on her face when she announced this bizarre news to me. Visitor coming to a Detective Office is a potential client. And an Inspector? Of course, there is a case!
I jumped off my chair and began to comb my hair. I instructed her to let the Inspector in exactly after 5 minutes and to go prepare tea for the guest. 5 minutes to clean the entire visible web on the wall corners, to dust the filthy desk and chairs with a thick cloth and to stuff in, somehow all the lying clothes into the cupboard. I put on my coat and sat down on the fluffy chair with few papers in my hand with my head dived into the computer screen. The door went wide open and a hugely built 50 year old man strolled in.
“Good Morning Mr. Shastri” I faked a decent smile and waved my hand in direction to the chair right opposite to me and then again peeped into the screen. He came right towards the desk and sat down… (Without even bothering to check the walls I had just made rid of the webs because of him).
“There is nothing so good about this morning Shivam, for that matter.”
I noticed he wore a tight jacket climbed over a clean white shirt. His moustache had tiny drops of the tea I had my maid prepare. His shirt had a click black pen with many square shaped papers arranged into the transparent pocket.
“A really strange case happened today and we need your help. Detective Arun forwarded your name to me as he is on a vacation trip to Goa.”
Arun and I were close schoolmates. I thanked him in my mind.
“We need to hurry towards the spot now. I will explain to you the case in the travel.”
We slipped into his Maruti and headed towards Red Carpet. Along the way, he offered me to eat roasted peanuts twice, to which I politely refused.
“We really have a sad case here. A man named Rajendra committed suicide on the day none other than his own birthday! We need to investigate the reason behind it as soon as possible.”
“Hmm… “I smirked. “Please go on with complete details”.
“So, Rajendra owns a retail shop on Meera Street. It has been just six months…”
“First, let’s tell him how he died. It’s really a bizarre way to commit suicide.” Pointed Sub-Inspector Murthy in an attempt to mark his presence in the vehicle.
“Hmm” Shastri went into a meditation mood. He was sitting alongside me on the back seat. His huge body wavered like a heavy beast on every bump-ahead’s giving me a slight push every time. Then suddenly, a sharp turn came and he almost dived over me.
Shifting back to his normal stance, he leaned his head forward. “Yeah. But let me unravel the situation from start.” He knocked out Murthy from the conversation in a single blow.
Turning back to me, he explained, “So, Rajendra owns a retail shop on Meera Street. It has been just six months since he is the city, but his success rate was pretty impressive. The simple and polite nature of his earned him many faithful customers. He belonged to the Dahesar village nearby and had come here to try his luck with a shop. He was earning well, so there is no issue on financial angle. He used to regularly send home half the amount of his monthly income. But 2 days ago he sent all his savings to the village through a courier service. “
“Hmm.. that’s strange. “ Said Sub-Inspector Murthy peeling off the peanut. He didn’t intend to be knocked out that easily.
“Yeah, in any case this is odd. He used to send exactly a fixed amount of sum to the village through the same post office which is 2 km from his house down the Foolwari Street. But, this time not only did he send all his money but also he changed the modus operandi. He sent it through a courier service. We confirmed it to the branch; the time was when there is a lunch break in the post office.” Said Inspector Shastri.
“He was in a hurry”, jumped Murthy in excitement. “In any case, he wanted the money to reach to his home in minimum time, which is why he didn’t choose to send it via post office, as he always did. Indeed, there was an urgency.
I kept myself still with wrist placed under my mouth and arm resting on the thighs. I lifted my head. “Where exactly is the courier branch?” I turned towards Shastri.
“It’s just in the second floor of the building behind his hou…” All of our eyes widened all of the sudden. That was because we realized the weirdness of this. Maruti made yet another sharp turn.
Why was he transferring his money through the post office far away from his residence when he had a much more reliable service right next to his home?
We sat silent for a moment then again Shastri continued. “Actually his idea to kill himself is even more weird and ridiculous. Dying on his own birthday wasn’t merely a co-incidence! He had planned beforehand to kill himself on his own birthday after a small party which he hosted in his own house.” Shastri pointed. He took out a small balloon and showed it to me, “See. In his party, he had many of such normal looking balloons planted in his home. You would probably think it’s completely normal. But the thing is, all the balloons didn’t contain air, they contained poisonous samples of a highly poisonous gas.”
“After the party got over and as soon as all the visitors left, he burst all the balloons and by inhaling the gas, he died.” Murthy completed the most awaited incident story in a single sentence.
“Ohh.” I said. “Who all were the guests?”
Shastri took out a paper from the file he was carrying and handed over to me. His phone rang. “Yes, Bala. Speak.”
While he was on the phone, I quickly went through the list. All the guests were the nearby shop owners. Their individual interrogation had been already done and the statements of each were recorded in the sheet.
“He strictly informed all of us to come alone without carrying our kids…..”, “The party was all awesome, booze, food, we enjoyed all night.”, “Rajendra was very sad and all the while he sat idle…”
I read all of them. And went through them again. I looked up. Shastri was almost done with his phone. “The reason of death has been confirmed and the result’s obvious. The victim died due to inhaling Arsenic Pentafluoride. It’s the same gas, the cylinder of which we recovered from his home. I don’t know why he decided to use one hundred balloons to decorate his house but anyway, to do that he needed a cylinder.”
We reached the spot. The body was being carried out. The family of the victim was being interrogated.
I looked towards the wall opposite to Shastri. “Where did he get the cylinder from?”
“It’s from a chemical factory nearby. Owner- Ranjit Gupta. He is known to be a close friend of the victim. Our informer says that they met two weeks ago and they were already very good friends. We have the address of his factory. The partner of Murthy has been already sent for interrogation there. He is waiting for us.” Said Shastri.
“Alright. Let’s roll”
Before moving, I again had a glimpse of the room. It was all properly maintained, good enough for a single man living in it.
We arrived at the chemical factory. The accomplice of Murthy was waiting for us at the entrance. He led us to the owner’s office.
I slammed the door open and sat on the chair. Shastri walked in slowly followed by Murthy and then his partner. They all sat on the nearby sofa.
Gupta got startled by the sudden entry of four heavily built men into his room. After seeing Bala coming in, he had it confirmed that we were from police. He relaxed his shoulders and then looked towards me. I was staring him with the most dangerous gaze I could get. A fine line of sweat, from his forehead mixed into the blot which was somehow hanging with the beard, ultimately surrendering it to gravity.
“The victim got the cylinder containing that poisonous gas from your factory. We have enough proofs to take you under our custody” Shastri broke into us.
“No please sir.” He cried. “It’s true that the cylinder was taken from my factory but I didn’t intend to give my dear friend that in the very first place!”
“And how are we supposed to believe it?” I thundered. I had been drilling him inside with my super-cruel gaze all this while.
“No. I didn’t do anything. Please believe me. I just asked Rajendra to collect the balloon Helium cylinder he wanted. I didn’t have a single idea that he would take the fluoride cylinder.” Popped Gupta.
“That’s too much for a mistake. Just too much.” I spoke in a low ambiguous tune since I believed that it was possible. The cylinder was of a typical size without having any individual label on it. Considering the worst possible luck ever, one can seriously pick it up in place of required one. But there should not be still any chance that an outsider was taken care of with such irresponsibility.
“Believe in me. I am not saying even a single word of lie. The day was Monday when he had come to my place to ask for a balloon cylinder to use it for his party. Monday is the day when I check all the account reports and records and verify contracts. He came to me at a point where I was in a meeting with a prospect client and studying their assignment with my crew. Since I was too busy, I told him to get it by himself as the helium section was in the room right in front of the entrance. I hurled the keys towards him and told him to collect it from the room. Rajendra and I were close friends so I didn’t bother about him stealing anything and I allowed him to access it. I clearly remember that I had told him to search for the label “helium” of the container. But still I don’t know why he deliberately picked up the other cylinder. He also didn’t meet me while returning. He just left the door open and got away with the cylinder through the back door. I didn’t even get to see him.”
I was carefully listening to his story, carefully enough to point out ambiguities. I replayed it again in my mind. And then one more time. Still, I couldn’t come to any point of deduction. We checked the reports which he was claiming to have it signed. The data was perfect. There indeed was a company from Bhopal who wanted to lay a joint venture for a boiler project. We, then searched the whole factory, but we couldn’t get hold of any clue which we could use against him. But according to the law, the cylinder from the very factory of his was enough for us to arrest him. A police van was arranged. Gupta and Bala were in the van. In the Maruti, again the three gentlemen were discussing deeply about the case.
“We can arrive to a conclusion. Rajendra must have actually deliberately picked up the poisonous cylinder and had taken it to his home.” Shastri was in a deep mood thinking about one way, just any one way by which he could prove what he said, wrong.
“He then filled up the balloons. Planted them. Had the party. And in after being left alone, killed himself by inhaling the gas.” Pointed out Murthy.
“Why he needed to play party in the very first place?!” I said. “Why did he only choose to die from inhaling fluoride from balloons? No. We are missing something and we need to expand our horizons of thinking.”
“Where should we start from” asked Shastri.
I leaned back and closed my eyes. This was the only question I have had been trying to find answer of, since last few minutes in my head. I narrated the whole case again in my mind. A well settled businessman sends regularly some part of his income and after living by from the rest, saves the remaining. Pretty much normal for a common man. He do it by walking all down the road of length 2 km in spite of doing the same through the courier right next to his home but suddenly one day he uses the courier service and transferred all the amount he saved throughout the tenure of his living in the town. He then mysteriously takes a gas cylinder filled with poison and he didn’t take it directly, instead he went through all of the trouble to inflate the balloons with it, throws a party and then kills himself.
Did he deliberately choose the timing when Gupta was busy? Or there is something still left to explore about this case. “What is it… What is it. What is that missing piece of this puzzle” My mind cried. I sat there silent for the next two more minutes and finally spoke out,
“Let’s start with finding how Gupta and Rajendra met. We will interrogate Gupta, and then verify his statements. Till then, Murthy I want to ask some few questions to the invitees. Please make the necessary arrangements as soon as possible.”
“Alright” murmured Murthy.
The next day was quite a hectic one. We first showered our questions on Gupta and then I interrogated the visitors of the party to find out some more about Rajendra. All we could come to know was Gupta and Rajendra met in order to resolve a fight. The owner of a chemical factory Ranjit Gupta was a philanthropic. He was known for his dedication towards his work and responsibility. But his brother, Rajeev Gupta was a jobless jerk. He was famous for being rude and arrogant. Lately, he got involved in a small road accident with Rajendra and the quarrel got at the highest level. He was on his bike; rash driving and he had hit Rajendra who was silently walking across the footpath. Rajendra protested, they exchanged bad words, situation got worse and Rajeev planted three full powered blows on Rajendra’s face.
Owing to his nature, Ranjit Gupta met Rajendra to apologize and to pay for the compensation for what his brother did, to which Rajendra politely refused. Then Gupta told him his melancholic story about Rajeev, how he was fed up with his brother. It was then for kind-hearted Rajendra who decided to help him but this only worsened the behaviour of Rajeev as his heart now was all burning and was hungry for revenge. Initially, Ranjit didn’t tell us about the incident in order to protect his brother but when we didn’t give up, he let this slip out.
Now all our focus was on this new angle. Revenge. Vans were set out to look for him. All the police stations of the state were sent a copy of his photograph. Finally, we succeeded. We found Rajeev in a gambling club and here he was right in front of us, head down, hands locked, with sweats all over the body.
“How much more can you bear? There’s no chance for you to escape now. Confess your fault and you will be exempted from this torturous beatings.” Shouted Murthy out of his throat.
Rajeev lifted his face. He was al covered with scars. With trying to move his shoulders which had given up long back, he opened his mouth. Blood oozed out of his lips but he managed to speak, “I haven’t killed anybody. Yes I perform small acts of robbery every now and then but I haven’t killed anybody.”
Murthy slicked one tight slap right on his face. His shoulders and head fell again. After having received so many blows, he was barely able to move all this while.
“These type of criminals are trained to be silent even after having this much. I know them very well.” Said Shastri. “Anyways we will continue to search for more proofs. Till then, keep going until he don’t confess it by himself.”
Saying this, he signalled me to accompany him till the door. We stepped out of the room with energetic legs but soon our momentum gradually turned down as we knew nothing for a place to investigate. Anyways, we were at the door with the same old Maruti standing right in front of us.
Let’s roll.” I slipped into the Maruti.
It was another busy boring day too. Had the factory previously installed CCTV cameras in it, the case was an open and shut one. Hence we decided to circulate a warning message to nearby business openings to install them in order to avoid such severe accidents and also to aid police investigation if any crime is committed. We then asked nearby people to find any prospective witness of Rajendra leaving the factory.
“Do we have the receipt or the form of the transaction which took between Rajendra and the courier service.?”
“Sainath Courier Agency it is. As I had already explained it to you, they do have the entry in their computer for a customer named “Rajendra” but the payment from which Rajendra filled is missing. They have been instructed to inform us as soon as they find it.”
“Okay.” I folded my fingers around my chin.
2 Days Later
I was sitting infront of Rajeev. His face was down. After three days of being continuously being thrashed up, this guy still haven’t given up. He was adamant on his statement.
“Well you still won’t confess?”
“Well, you got any proof?” He notoriously asked. “I haven’t done anything.”
“In that case, Mr. Rajeev Kumar Gupta why did you touch the very old labels which were placed to indicate the name of the gas which the cylinders in the particular column?”
His face tuned blank with eyes wide open. He puffed heavy with his nose. He looked like a thief who just now have been cornered red-handed.
“Believe me. I haven’t killed him.” His temperament changed. He bulged down a large down the throat.
“I asked what were you doing with those labels” I thundered.
‘I had some business.”
The reply of his pissed me the worse. I got up from my chair and laid a tight slap on his face. His whole body waivered alongside the stool.
“Seems like you don’t have a habit of saying any truth. In that case, I will only explain what happened. First you attacked Rajendra’s home two times to the response of which Rajendra filed an FIR against you. Here is the copy of that FIR. Evidently, he didn’t inform about this to your brother. You got even more pissed and were probably searching for a decent opportunity to have your revenge. You were delighted when your target himself arrived at the factory one day. You knew he wanted a helium cylinder so you changed the labels of the two columns so that Rajendra picks up the poisonous cylinder instead of the helium one.
You knew that for fingerprint check, everyone will check for the cylinders or in worst case, the doors, handles etc. But nobody will bother to match the fingerprints with that of the labels. But unlucky for you, I made my men to check them too and we successfully matched your prints with that of those. What’s even more pathetic about you is that you were so blind in getting your revenge that you didn’t even a single time thought of your brother as he might have got the blame.”
His face suddenly turned into that of a highly frightened kid. Then he looked down and said nothing.
“So, you won’t still say anything. Seems like it. Either way, we now have enough proofs to get you punished for the crime you committed without you having to confirm it.”
I got up and left the room. Shastri and Murthy followed.
“Yeah, thanks Shivam for the help, seriously we forgot to think of such a simple thing to check for the labels.”
I responded nothing to him. Just smiled. We got out of the police station for a tea.
“This was a very simple case, I am telling you. Not a open and shut but very close to it. I say the investigation was already over when we, as per Shivam’s instructions found out that Ranjit had a grudge against Rajendra. It was not much of a thrill.”
We both listened to his extravagant nonsense for a minute. Then my phone vibrated.
“Hello. Detective Shivam speaking?”
“I am talking from Sainath Courier Agency. We had been asked to search for the collection receipt form of a customer named “Rajendra”. It is to inform you that we have found it. Please collect it from us.”
“Alright.” I kept the phone.
“Murthy, you only will conclude the story. The only thing missing is the receipt which the courier service had lost which has now been found. Go collect it to complete our documentation about this case.”
“Okay.” He was up before even I completed my sentence. Murthy takes up jobs very passionately.
The next day, Shastri sent me the completed file. I flipped through the pages just to have a cursory look on it and kept it on the table. Then I remembered that the receipt might have also been added. I took a nice bath and again picked it up.
I had to search for it a bit, but I found it. It was all but normal. “Sainath Courier Agency” it read at the top. Name- “Rajendra Kumar” , Item-“Envelope”, Address-…, “Signature-
I immediately stood up. I checked it again. It was as it is.
“Ohh my f**king God.”
I ran outside my room. Didn’t even bother to wear slippers. Took an auto and told driver to speed up till the police station. I couldn’t even rest on the seat. There was a traffic jam near, I didn’t wait. I got out of it, threw him a 100 rs note and ran all along the road till the station. I directly went to the section where the belongings of the victim are kept. I searched throughout and I finally found it. The document was an application to terminate the lease given to his shop. I looked down for his signature. My eyes gleamed.
“Inspector we have made a mistake. Rajeev is not the culprit.”
“What are you saying. His fingerprints were on the label. He created confusion intentionally.”
“Yeah. He did touch the labels. But to create confusion could not be the only reason. Rajeev was an employee at the factory. There could have many reasons for him to touch it. Furthermore, even if Rajeev would have tried to do that he would have never succeeded in deceiving Rajendra!”
“He would have never succeeded in deceiving Rajendra? What are you trying to say?”
“Yeah. Since from first, we had been thinking very advance and we were always one step above the reality, when everything was pretty much simple. Let’s start decoding. We assumed at start that kids were not invited since owing to their nature, they will try to burst the balloons which would ultimately kill everyone which Rajendra didn’t want to. But, actually the visitors were told such simply because there was booze. There can be many reasons too for Rajendra to send all his savings. He might have been missing his family and could have decided to shift back. These are the papers of the lease of his shop. It’s a first step one has to do if he wants to sell his shop. Then, there could have been reasons for Rajeev to touch the label.”
“Ohh” Shastri gave a blank face to me.
“Now, Inspector check again this document and this courier receipt. Can you notice anything peculiar?”
Shastri looked closely at both the documents.
“Yeah. There is a thumb mark of Rajendra in place of his Signature… that means.. Whoa..” Shastri stood up from his chair.
“Yeah. That’s right. He was illiterate. He was a kind-hearted villager who became successful in his newly run business in the city but was an illiterate. So, this concludes that he was not at all affected by the name of the label put it as he couldn’t even understand what was written on it. At first, he could have thought of asking his friend as to which cylinder to choose but then he ultimately didn’t choose to disturb his friend. He picked any cylinder thinking that he will just merely fill any gas into the balloons as long as he has a nozzle. He couldn’t think of possibility of being a poisonous cylinder to be present among them.
Also he used to go to the post office since there he didn’t need to sign any document which avoided him of any embarrassing situation. For the last time, he chose to try out courier as he had already decided to leave this city and had nothing left to be embarrassed about. He probably was feeling contended that day, since he was about to leave the city. On the day none other than his birthday. But unfortunately, he accidently killed himself.”
“What a lame man.” Shastri cried. “Sh*t!… Yeah you are correct. Rajeev just got caught up in the situations. He is not guilty of Rajendra’s murder.”
“Yeah.” I lifted my head.
I sat on the chair. I was out of stamina after running so much. I looked straight towards the fan. That old man was somehow trying to diminish the temperature with his full power. I had solved the case.