It was late Monday evening, around 8.15 p.m. and I was in the office chamber of J. M. Bhupesh, Radio Station boss. He was a large obnoxious man with unruly mass of white hair. Standing before his table I was listening to him with increasing apprehension.
He was saying in a high-pitched voice, “Lohit, I am very annoyed with your performance … is this the way you do your work for radio plays? Those you have conceived… they are awful flops. And your USP of imitating voices of celebrities … it is miserable. I have received several calls from the audience, critics and public; so many were complaining about your pitiful work…”
Suddenly his voice started to rise further – bordering on anger and irritation- he shouted, “…. this has been happening for last several months… no signs of improvement… none.”
I was stunned to hear all these. No words came from my lips.
Suddenly he appeared to take hold of himself. Leaning forward with an ugly scowl on his face, he said “Do you know how much harm your poor performance is doing to my radio station’s business… of course you don’t bother…”
Then abruptly standing up he declared, “I can’t afford to keep you any longer… this is the end. I terminate your services, here and now! I also cancel all my payments to you for the business loss I am suffering.”
Saying that he picked up an envelope, probably containing my termination letter and threw it towards me …hitting me on my face. I was fortunate that my eyes escaped from being hurt. Then with gritted teeth he said, “Return the money I loaned to you last year …every pie. With interest.”
It was such a great humiliation; it was patently unfair! No man with self-respect could endure this. My eyes were filled with brazen tears! What could I do? Perhaps I need solace of my friend and colleague, Fotedar or some way out.
Next day morning I was at my breakfast table, my thoughts were depressing, when I heard the noise of an approaching police jeep. Looking out I saw a tall strapping handsome man, in a police uniform, alight from the vehicle and started walking towards my door. Another uniformed man, short and rotund, followed him.
He was Inspector Nokul Hegde of the Homicide Squad with Sub Inspector Mubarak.
Sitting on my sofa, the Inspector was speaking,” I am sorry to barge in your house so early in the morning but I have to make some enquiries about an attempted murder of J M Bhupesh, yesterday. I understand that he was your Boss while you were working with his Enjoy Radio Station.”
He stopped and looked at me.
My mind was reacting; this came as a rude shock. I knew J M Bhupesh was a venomous character with anti – employee attitude, so unscrupulous that almost anyone working with him would have thought of bumping him off at some point of time. But who would have thought this. Frankly, this world would be a better place if that scum of a man went to hell. And I had ideas how to do that.
Ultimately, I didn’t say anything but merely returned his gaze.
“Well”, the Inspector continued, “Tell me whatever you know about this man, his organisation and why you have left that job after working for almost seven years.”
Showing my sadness, I spoke frankly about J M Bhupesh and what I thought about him, the whole set up and my experience. Sub Inspector Mubarak took notes of those.
Little later after a few more enquiries, both left.
I heard nothing from the Inspector during the day but that evening he called me in my mobile. “Mr. Lohit… remember my visit to you … we will appreciate if you can come to the Police station now.”
Suddenly I got worried. It was always dangerous to come into the investigation net of the police.
Inside the Police station the Inspector took me to a room which was bare except for a table and two chairs. I occupied on of these and he pulled the other one a little away and sat down.
There were two glasses of water on the table one of which he picked up and drank it at one go. Wiping his lips with the back of his hand he settled down and cleared his throat. I didn’t touch the other glass although my mouth was dry.
He began,” For your information, J M Bhupesh, your ex- Boss is now dead. He didn’t survive the attempt on his life. So, it is a murder.”
He stopped to gauge my reaction. I didn’t react so he continued.
“Are you interested to know how he was strangled to death? I may have guessed the modus operandi of the murder but the identity of the murder is yet to be clear.”
I watched him not showing much interest, but it seemed that he had decided to tell me irrespective of whether I wanted or not.
He went on.
“As you had already said, J M Bhupesh was an extremely unlikable character. We understood that he was roundly hated by virtually everyone in his office. And we found that the murderous attempt was made on him in his office much after regular office hours. Most probably an insider was involved since the building security had clearly told us that, during the evening hours, no outsider had entered the building, only the office staff had left for the day.”
“That narrowed down our investigation of those persons who were in the building during that evening. Now who were there? In three other offices, there were five men. Out of them three were peons. In your office, there were four men, you, two of your junior colleagues and a peon. That excluded the Victim. Opportunity wise one or more of these persons could have killed, but who? I spoke to all of them.”
Inspector Nokul Hegde, then excused himself, got up and went out of the room. I sat there thinking …. my mind was wandering …what would the Inspector reveal now?
The Inspector returned and took up his narrative.
“It appeared that the murderer was known to the Victim since there was no forced entry. It couldn’t have been otherwise as there were other people in the office who would have known.”
“The murderer entered the chamber of your ex- Boss, which was at a distance from the main hall. Hence it was not possible for others to see who entered and left that room unless someone deliberately kept a watch. This was what the office staff told us.”
“It was clear that the killer having entered and throttled the Boss, left the building unobtrusively. If he was an employee he would have digitally signed out with a recorded time. We checked the data and found that one person had left before you and one after you. You had left around 8.37 p.m. The Peon was still waiting for the Boss to go. During all this time, the Peon didn’t see any person from other three offices enter the office, therefore the killer was from the Boss’s office.”
“Sometimes at 9.25 p.m. the peon saw the daughter of J M Bhupesh coming into the office and enter his chamber. Immediately he heard her scream and on entering found the Boss lying on the ground having fallen off from his chair. He appeared dead but was in fact unconscious. We were then called.”
There were signs of struggle and marks on his neck showing that he was strangled by killer’s hands to bring death. Bhupesh’s left hand with the wrist watch had hit the ground. It was an old winding watch which had broken and stopped, showing the time of 8.27 p.m. This must have been the time of the attempted killing.”
“Very importantly, the killer neither knew that J M Bhupesh was feebly alive nor a broken watch had pin pointed the time of his attempted murder.”
The Inspector shifted in his seat and settled down more comfortably.
“Now the interesting part. The daughter had received a call in her mobile from an unknown number at 9.12 p.m. asking her to come to office. Strangely it was from her father and his voice was normal. How could that be possible since he was unconscious and on the verge of death since 8.27 p.m.? Besides three calls were made by his daughter to his mobile between 8.45 p.m. and 8.55 p.m. These remained unanswered indicating his near-death status.”
“What is the mystery? My mind tried to find a possible answer. Was that calling real or a hoax? But the daughter was swearing that her father had called at 9.12 p.m. It was unmistakably his voice. But the call came from a number which she said was not her father’s number. Very crucially it had come from a pay booth phone. Was it possible that the murderer had called?”
“Then my thoughts veered on the likelihood of the murderer trying to set up his alibi or defence …which meant he was afraid that he could be found out. But how was he to ensure that he would be safe? I had to enter into his criminal mind to answer this.”
The Inspector stopped and looked at his mobile messages, then resumed.
“If he could establish that after he killed his Victim, which he thought he did, the dead man was still alive, his alibi would be set. Hence it would look that the murder had happened later than the time of the actual killing”.
“The plan was that even after the murder, J M Bhupesh would appear to be alive at say 9.12 p.m. Thus, the murderer could safely escape within this intervening period of 45 minutes. If the police questions him about his whereabouts at the time of murder which will seem to be after 9.12 pm, he is already safely away from the murder site.”
“It is very difficult for any murderer to establish this type of alibi. But it will be very easy if he has special skills by which he can imitate J M Bhupesh’s voice accurately over mobile so that even his daughter will not know that her father has not spoken but the murderer.”
“With my years of crime solving experience, I believe that this method may have been used. The voice of J M Bhupesh was cleverly imitated by the murderer. ”
The Inspector, then, abruptly got up and spread his hands.
“After all these I am unable to move forward. It is only a hypothesis which has to be confirmed and we have to find the murderer.”
While listening to him my tension was rising. Had the murder been committed in the style the Inspector explained to me? This was so familiar. And was he asking my help? If I helped him what would happen to me? I was not able to decide my next course of action. I remained speechless.
Following morning as I was turning the newspaper with a cup of tea at my side when I noticed a small news item on page four meant for local news. It was innocuous. It read that J M Bhupesh, the well-known owner of Enjoy Radio station who was hospitalised on late Monday night for an attempted murder was declared dead by mistake. He was alive. An internal probe was going on.
The news was a whiff of relief to me! This was God sent! At least it might take away the Inspector from my back! Thank goodness for that! I would talk to him later.
That evening, I got a call in my mobile. The voice which was so familiar said, “Lohit… I am damn sure that you are recognising me… you murderer …. you have failed in your crime to kill me …. Now you must face your punishment … you creep… come immediately to the Police station and give yourself up before Inspector Nokul Hegde.”
The line was disconnected abruptly.
My God! This was totally unexpected. J M Bhupesh, who was now alive was threatening me for something which I didn’t do. I must go to the Inspector and explain my innocence.
With nervous steps, I entered the Police station and asked for the Inspector. It was late night.
He was there; seeing him, I blurted out, “Inspector …. J M Bhupesh is not dead… I read the news today and ……”
“Is that so?” preventing me to speak, the Inspector said. “Do you believe in news like that?”
“But…” I said and stopped. Would it be advisable to tell about the call I had received from J M Bhupesh, implicating me? Was it a fraud call? Was I landing myself in trouble? Could I justify my innocence? Everything seemed muddled.
He was staring at me, leaning against the door of his office, then said, “I think I had given you enough details, yesterday evening, for you to come clean on the modus operandi of the crime… to tell us the truth, but you didn’t. Glad that you have come to your senses now.”
He then closed the door.
I sat down and wiped my face.
“Inspector…there is some mistake… I have neither killed J M Bhupesh nor I tried to kill him…. I swear to God. Yes, I thought about killing him, who wouldn’t have…. he is such a scum of the gutter, but that doesn’t mean I have actually done something so drastic… And he isn’t dead…” I trailed off.
The Inspector went to his chair and sat down, “Mark my words. I think you are the originator of a unique idea of murder and alibi. This idea I have already told you … is it not correct… tell me … Admit it?” He was suddenly insistent.
I gaped at him. I couldn’t reply. Reluctantly I was conceding in my mind that his guess was correct. Amazing! Perhaps my face was revealing my thoughts.
The Inspector smiled and spoke.
“You are wondering how I know your idea…well it is not that difficult. You forget that we know you are a senior artist specialising in radio plays and voice imitation. We also know that you are very creative… over the years you have suggested plots of murder mystery. Many in your office have said that. One can therefore make reasonable conclusion about who conceived this unique murder idea.”
“But that is not proof enough. There must be the motive and the opportunity. In your case, the motive was there since J M Bhupesh had behaved very badly with you, fired you and refused to make any payment. Besides, the opportunity was also there since you were present at the crime scene just before the murder. Thus, you have been the first suspect.”
“But …” I cried out loudly, “How can I be a suspect of his murder? I am telling you that J M Bhupesh is not dead …I did not try to murder him… I don’t know who has tried!”
“We will come to the fact whether J M Bhupesh is dead or not, a little later …” the Inspector responded.
I looked at him aghast; wanted to respond.
Ignoring me, he went on, “Like I said, initially I did suspect you. But while talking to you and evaluating your reactions it didn’t seem that you were a guilty man. You were quite open about negative thoughts you had of J M Bhupesh and that fateful evening’s incident with him. No killer would clearly tell about his harsh feeling for his victim and the altercations he had with him minutes before the crime. I also think that your motive is not strong enough. Generally, people don’t kill their boss, on getting fired. You appear to be innocent.”
“So, there must be another person who has the real motive for this murder and who is also a voice imitator artist. And he too was present near the murder scene.”
These words of the Inspector caught my breath. My God, he was about to tell me the name of the murderer! But, did I already know his name?
The Inspector continued impassively “You may not be involved in the murder but you have done a foolish act. I presume that you must have revealed your unique idea of murder to a junior colleague. Now, who can that be? Only one person fits the description of a voice imitator, other than you, and he is Fotedar.”
The name didn’t surprise me now! I wanted to interrupt but the Inspector went on relentlessly.
“Both of you and Fotedar have been very unhappy with J M Bhupesh and your revelation of the unique murder idea to him may have been a friendly and casual talk between you two.”
“Here I will venture to say that Fotedar’s motive to murder J M Bhupesh is much stronger as compared to you. The reason is Bhupesh’s long illicit affair with Fotedar’s wife. Also, just before the lunch hours on the day of murder, unknown to you, he had fired Fotedar from his job on a flimsy excuse, to ruin him. Perhaps Bhupesh wanted to marry that lady by playing dirty tricks. This, Fotedar could not bear. Your unique murder idea offered him the assassination plan which he carried out ruthlessly. You never could suspect that a friendly chat had resulted in such a serious crime.”
Saying this, the Inspector went out and asked Sub Inspector Mubarak to bring Fotedar into his room. He had already been summoned to the Police Station.
Meanwhile my mind went into a tizzy. Subconsciously I had guessed his name. Still there was a sense of disbelief. Fotedar was such a mild mannered and reticent man that it was impossible to think that he was a murderer! And he was my good friend.
The Inspector returned to his chair and resumed.
“My investigation had revealed that Fotedar was in the office that fateful evening. That was his last day in office. He was keeping a watch on your movement. He surely had heard your arguments with the Boss. After you left his chamber in a huff, he took the opportunity to enter the room, committed the crime and then left the office at 8.31 p.m. You left thereafter at 8.37 p.m. Your last colleague left at 8.44 p.m. All exits were by digital signing and had been recorded.”
“Here we understood that when Fotedar went out none of you knew that the Boss was dead. The Peon was also not aware as he waited for his Boss to leave after which the office was to be closed.”
“While investigating, we found that Fotedar had made some fatal mistakes. He took from the PA of the Boss, the mobile number of his daughter. This was his first step in the morning. None in the office knew her number. Another error was Fotedar calling her from a public phone booth which was situated very near his house. We had traced the taxi which had taken him to the booth at that time. Besides, unknown to him he had left numerous finger prints on the glass top table of the Boss and on his eye glasses.”
“In comparison, while investigating you I became certain that you had not committed the murder and called the Boss’s daughter because at that time of 9.12 p.m., you were still travelling to another part of the town. There were witnesses who saw you in the local train. You couldn’t have accessed that particular public phone booth. And your finger prints were not there on that table or on Bhupesh’s eye glasses.”
The Inspector paused then continued, “Now the truth about J M Bhupesh can be said. Whether he is dead or alive? In the interest of investigation, fake news was planted in the newspaper that he was not dead.”
“Fotedar who always thought that J M Bhupesh had died that evening was told about this fake news. We asked him to call you imitating the voice of J M Bhupesh and putting the blame on you. He thought it was to trap for you but it was, in fact, to trap him. He readily did this also thinking that we were suspecting you and so he was very safe. But he didn’t realise that his perfect imitation of his dead Boss’s voice showed that he had rehearsed well for this crime. A good imitation needs some practice. That is another mistake which will nail him.”
The Inspector got up and opened the door. He turned to face me.
“To help us now you must confirm and later in the court, about your unique idea of murder and alibi. This is crucial since this may be not in the realm of usual murder trial. The Judge must be convinced that this is possible. Also, you must tell the court that you have discussed this idea with Fotedar, though casually and innocently and have nothing to do with murder. We will support you with our findings. Our prosecution lawyers will also do the rest to nail Fotedar.”
There was, now, absolute silence, I could hear the noise of the vehicles moving on the road near the Police station.
My mind was becoming free … gradually… the murderer had been identified; although the unique idea of murder was mine but it was only hypothetical with no criminal intentions; Fotedar had just taken my idea and executed it;
I was fortunate that the Inspector had made a brilliant piece of investigation and found the truth.
I nodded emphatically and said, “You are right Inspector…I did conceive this dangerous idea, unfortunately, and told Fotedar in a careless manner not knowing that he would actually put it into practice.”
Just then Fotedar came in. He was a medium built powerful looking man. He appeared calm as was his normal personality. But as the Inspector explained to him his misdeeds, Fotedar suddenly lost his mental balance… with a high-pitched scream he picked up a chair and threw it towards the Inspector and ran towards the door. Sub Inspector Mubarak and another policeman surrounded and held him.
Somehow, I felt bad for him. He was a friend. And this murder was under extreme provocation. But crime is a crime!
Inspector Nokul Hegde was unhurt. Calmly he shook hands with me and escorted me out the Police station. He also asked me to visit the Police station in days to come to establish my innocence and help in the prosecution.
Another successful case for him! I salute him!