Change is good I thought after I was overwhelmed by the ambience of my new hangout, “Freedom” – a pub on Koramangala 6th cross. One never feels it crowded though there are more people than at an Indian wedding. I could find all kinds of people here… artists, actors, students, businessmen, and so on, which offered me a very good opportunity of studying them. It would definitely help my detective work.
I got out of my home that day too, right at seven o’clock, and started walking towards my Freedom. I sensed a stalking and turned back abruptly. A man behind me also stopped. Six feet tall, thin body, wrapped in a shawl. A monkey cap covered his head and face, leaving only eyes out. He looked at me in a confused mind, and after a couple of seconds, started walking and went past me. He wore jeans and Nike shoes. I ignored him and stepped towards 6th cross.
Sitting on the bar counter, sipping my drink, I was watching people with keen eyes. A guy in mid-twenties came and sat beside me. He ordered whiskey and started making rhythmic sounds with his fingers on the table in synch with the music being played in background. Curly hair, round fair face, unshaven for a week. He wore glasses. He caught my dissecting sight and stared. I shifted my eyes towards glass in my hand and gulped a sip.
“Hi”, he said bringing his hand forward.
I closed his palm and returned “Hi”. He had a very steady eyes. The kind of steadiness you see in the eyes of smart graduates from IITs or IIMs which subtly say, “I know how to succeed”.
“Sunil”, he said.
“Thanks”. Our hands departed.
His drink was ready. He sipped and continued the conversation.
“So what do you do Mr. Pulakeshi?”
“Well… I am a private detective”.
“Whoa!” he exclaimed. “Super… I had never come across one in my life”.
I just smiled in reply. “How about you?”
“A software engineer, of course”, he giggled. My eyes went down and rested on the Nike shoes on his legs. He was about six feet tall. My thoughts were squaring, and he interrupted,
“Are you a regular visitor here?”
“Yes…” I said, “fr…rom two years. How about you?”
“This is my favorite place since my student life. But I haven’t seen you around”.
“I don’t come when I have a case at hand”.
“Ah! I see…” My whiskey was over and I rose to get out.
“Where do you stay?” he asked.
“Not far… 12th cross”, I said, “And you?”
“Sarjapura Road. See you tomorrow then”
“Sure, if I don’t find a case”. He showed a thumbs up.
I came out and waited for him.
The next day he came and sat beside me with a dull face. It inclined me to ask,
“Are you ok?”
His eyes were almost tearful. I pulled him to a corner table, sat across him and asked again the matter.
“My wife’s cheating on me”, he said wiping his eyes.
“How are you sure?”
“I followed her today after her office hours. She went with a guy to an apartment in Bellandur and came out after an hour. When I called her, she said she was still at office”.
“I thought you stalked only me”, I said in a cold voice. He suddenly got frightened and started to sweat. I stared right into his eyes with a “your game is over” look. He tried to control his expressions, but failed.
He wiped his face with a hanky, lifted my glass of drink, gulped it in one shot and rubbed his mouth. Maintaining my stare I spoke,
“Will you speak up?”
“Sir, how did you know I was following you?”
“You looked a lot like the guy in shawl. Further to check your honesty, I lied that I am a regular visitor here since two years… but you went ahead of me and said you came here since college days.”
“What’s wrong about that? I really used to come here”.
“Dude, the pub’s been open only since six months.” I lighted a cigarette. “And you don’t stay in Sarjapur. You stay in Jakkasandra… a house on 2nd floor.”
He wondered, “How did you find that?”
“I followed you yesterday”.
“Oh! But I didn’t notice”
“You need to be trained for tailing. It’s not as simple as rolling yourself in a shawl and a monkey cap”.
He sighed, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay… I’ll tell you the truth. But can I order a drink before that?” I nodded.
He called for a waiter and ordered whiskey. I too repeated my order. In a while the drinks came, and my friend was back to his stable eyes- “everything in my control”.
“I followed you because I wanted to know about you before I hired you”.
“Hire me? What for?”
“I knew my wife’s been cheating on me for a while now. We have quarrelled and are staying separate for a month now. I want you to gather proof which can help me get divorce ASAP”. There was a ring on this smartphone. I signaled to answer. He spoke,
“Yes… I am sitting with Pulakeshi here… I am talking the details… I’ll call you back”. He disconnected and said in a convincing voice, “My sister… she knows all about it”.
I wondered if he is lying again. But it didn’t matter because I never entertained such cases.
“Sorry, I can’t help. I don’t handle such cases. But I know someone who can help you”. I handed him a card.
“Can you give me your card as well? Just in case?”
I gave him my card. He gazed at it for a while. I finished my drink, stood up, and said,
“Never meet me again”. He frowned.
After three days, one sub-inspector Girish, from Koramangala police station called me and asked me to come down immediately. I ate lunch, changed and rushed to the station.
“Hi, I am Pulakeshi. You called me?” He was sitting across the table. Mid-thirties, well built, matured look.
“Hi, I am Girish, take a seat”. He continued, “Is this your business card?” He extended his hand and gave me a card. It was mine all right. I nodded. “We found it in this guy’s wallet yesterday”. He showed me Sunil’s photo who had met me at Freedom three days ago.
“When did he die?” I asked in a careless voice.
“How do you know he is dead?” his tone was neutral.
“You find my card in his pocket, but don’t know why it was there. If he’s not able to answer it I presume he is dead”.
“What if he’s met with some accident and is hospitalised?”
“I would bet his chances of getting murdered were more than a silent death”.
“You talk interestingly” he smiled. “Seems like you know who murdered him?”
“His wife or wife’s lover”.
“His wife?” he giggled. “He wasn’t married”.
“What?” I said to myself. I was surprised. I narrated the entire story to him. He listened meditatively and questioned on every detail. He was also surprised of the episode.
“Can you tell me your side of story?” I urged.
“Sure”. He started to talk sipping tea. “You must have heard about Ashok Kashyap? The business magnate?”
“Yep. I’ve heard about him”, I replied.
“Well, his only daughter, Sudha, wanted to marry this guy. They loved each other. But her dad, Mr. Kashyap was against it. He wanted her to marry a son of his close friend Mr. Shetty, another tycoon. According to Mr. Kashyap’s housemaid, Sudha and Mr. Kashyap had a heated argument on this matter. Kashyap had warned her that he would make sure she doesn’t get a pie and will be thrown out of the house if she marries him.”
I took a deep breath. “Can you tell me about this person? I don’t know what all he lied me.”
“His name is Sanjay Mishra, a Bihari. He finished B.E. from UVCE and MBA from IIM, here in Bengaluru and now working in SoftNet as a marketing manager. The girl’s been his friend during B.E. and they both had an affair since then”.
“How was he murdered? If you don’t mind…” I made a begging voice.
“Sure I can tell. Your quick wits can be of use to me”, he smiled. “It was Sudha who first saw him dead. She went to his house on Tuesday morning when he didn’t answer her calls all night. The door was locked, so she borrowed a duplicate from the house owner and opened it. He lied just behind the door with his head soaked in a pool of blood. Appalled for few moments, she called his friends after gathering herself. They came and called us in turn.”
“Hmm…” I took a moment or two to sink in the details. “What does autopsy say?”
“He was hit in head twice with a sharp metal object, like that of a billhook. One shot was shallow, but the other, which seemed like the second one, was deep leaving no chance for survival”.
“Monday evening between six and eight”.
“How far have you come?”
“Not much. Sudha is in a shock, and is hospitalised. She is recovering and will get home soon. I’ve to yet inquire his friends.”
“Can we see his house again?”
“Sure. Come by in evening. We can go together”.
It was a two bedroom house on 2nd floor of an apartment in Jakkasandra, the one I saw him get into. One spacious bedroom, average size living room, and a small kitchen. One of the living room walls was decorated with several of Sudha and Sanjay’s photos standing together. The wall opposite had a design made with plastic butterflies resembling an “S + S”. I was looking at photos keenly when Girish spoke,
“Youth these days have this strange addiction of taking photos. His smartphone is flooded with selfies”.
“You have his smartphone now?”
A constable took out a smartphone from his bag and handed it to me. I looked at selfies. Tongue out, cross eyed, hands joined to gesture a heart, and so on. As I scrolled through all of them, I noticed a striking difference in Sanjay’s face expressions. I showed it to Girish.
“Do you notice difference between these two selfies?”
He looked keenly, but shook his head. I continued, “In this one Sanjay is truly happy. You can make it out by his cheek muscles and his eyes. But in this one, he has just pulled his lips wide. Not just this selfie, all the selfies clicked after this one have Sanjay’s not-so-happy face.”
He thought for a moment and asked, “What do you deduce of it?”
“Maybe he was not happy after Sudha had row with her dad.”
“You mean he was eyeing Kashyap’s property as inheritance?”
“I am just guessing. You can cross check the selfie date with the day she had argument… then it will be clearer”.
I returned to photos on the wall. One of them was taken in the same room with both of them standing in front of the butterflies. There was a flower vase on the floor next to Sudha. I turned and looked at the butterfly wall, the vase was missing. I drew Girish’s attention at once. It was a two feet tall, handcrafted brass vase.
“Maybe this is the murder weapon?” He exclaimed.
“Could be. It has sharp edges on the bottom and top”.
Then I walked into his bedroom. A queen’s size cot, a table, a wardrobe. Plenty of books, mostly business management related, were arranged in a rack next to bed. There was a white board adjacent to table with lot of doodles. I could make out few words- revenue model, sales, advertisements. He seemed to have some business idea. I identified two kinds of handwritings, which implied someone shared his plans. It could be Sudha. Girish took a snap of the white board and we came back to the living room.
“Where was his body?” I asked.
Girish directed me to the place where he found the body. They had outlined it, but when house owner got the blood cleaned, it was wiped out. The body was close to the front door, but the blood was spilled from the center of living room to the front door, which meant the first hit was at the center and second one was at the door.
Girish then searched the whole house for the vase, but couldn’t find it.
We came out of the house and the constable locked it. The lady next house was standing at her door with curious eyes. Girish asked her a few questions after introduction.
“Did you see Sudha come here on Monday?”
“Yes, I saw her around five in evening, but I don’t know when she left.”
“Anyone else came after her?”
“Well… I didn’t see anyone coming, but I saw three Muslim people go down the stairs about seven. I thought they came to the house next to Sanjay’s, on the other side.” She pointed to a house.
“No. One was a man with Jubba. Other two were ladies wearing burkhas.”
We inquired the other house and they discarded of the event with anyone like that visiting their house, which made us conclude that three people were involved in this murder, and not necessarily women.
The next morning when I set foot into the police station, I saw Girish scrutinising some papers spread all over his table. They were phone call details of Sudha, Sanjay, Kashyap, and Sanjay’s friends for past one month. He had drawn some conclusions and shared them,
“Sudha and Kashyap hadn’t talked to each other for fifteen days. But she called him on the day of murder at five thirty in evening. And then Kashyap called her back after ten minutes.”
“Maybe they didn’t talk to each other after the argument”, I reasoned.
“Maybe. And Sudha has called Sanjay regularly on the night of murder, like she said to me earlier, but there was no response. Sanjay’s friends Anoop and Govind haven’t called him on the day of murder, but have called him before that.”
“Yeah… there’s one number to which Sanjay called thrice a week ago. He also received calls from that number, latest was on Saturday, two days before murder. We checked that number… the name and address are false.”
“Why don’t you call that number and ask?”
“No. We don’t make calls unless the bona fides are true. It might alert them. So we track down the location and catch the person”.
That’s right method I thought. “Have you talked to his friends?”
“Not yet. They are coming here in few minutes”.
Both came right at ten o’clock. We first decided to talk to Anoop.
He was formally dressed, clean shaven, good looking guy. After the introduction and questions of his background were over, Girish turned to the case.
“Where were you on Monday evening between six and eight?”
“I was at my office till seven thirty. And then went to my P.G., ate food and slept.”
“How was Sudha and Sanjay’s relationship? Was there any difference lately?”
“No sir, not at all. They both loved each other deeply”.
Girish bought out the snap of the whiteboard scribbling and showed him.
“One of these handwritings we have identified as Sanjay’s. Do you know who the other person is?”
“No Sir. I don’t know”, his hands were shaking while returning the snap.
Girish pointed to me and said, “You see this guy here? He’s a handwriting expert. Why don’t you write something on this paper, and he will try to match it?”
Anoop was sweating now. He gave-in in a few seconds,
“Sir… it’s my handwriting. So…rry I lied”, he fumbled.
Girish sighed, “Why did you lie?”
“I was afraid sir… this is a murder case, so wanted to distance myself from it.”
“If you lie, we will find it now or eventually… you can’t get away. Tell me again, where were you between six and eight?”
He was frightened. “Sir I didn’t lie that… I was sure in my office. You can check or ask anyone”.
We were finished, and let him go. It was Govind’s turn. He was dead opposite to Anoop. With heavy face and body, he had about an inch of beard and mustache, untidy cloths, breath of cigarette smoke. His lips were burnt dark. After routine questions, Girish asked about his alibi,
“I was at a bar sir”, he acted blush.
“Who was with you?”
“No one sir… people rarely join me on weekday sir”. He overly used “sir”.
“Who you think might have killed Sanjay?”
“Only one person sir… Mr. Kashyap… and you know the reason.”
The next day, Sudha was back to normal, so we decided to visit her at Kashyap’s residence in Indiranagar. Girish discussed with me the questions he would be asking, and I made some suggestions. Two guards pulled apart the big gate, and we rode through driveway of about fifty meters. There was another guard at the front door, and he let us in after checking Girish’s identity.
Kashyap’s residence was finest example of opulence. Mr. Kashyap himself welcomed us. He was five and half, a little broad body for this height, face brightened by ambitious eyes, with French beard. After introductions, he was dissatisfied with my presence. Lawyers next to him suggested that it did not matter much. He introduced the lawyers, both of them well known for handling criminal cases.
Kashyap ushered us into Sudha’s room on first floor. She had a tiny cute face, which had become pale with gloomed eyes. She wore blue jeans and a pink t shirt, and had combed her hair back. It looked like she was forced mentally to get ready for this inquiry. After asking about her health, Girish began questioning.
“When did you see Sanjay for last time?”
“Monday evening. I went to his house after he was back from office at five fifteen. We had regular chat, and I left at five thirty or so.”
“Where did you go after that?”
“I was in a parlor near my house till eight.”
A lawyer interrupted, “Parlor owner can provide witness”. Girish smiled in contempt, and turned back to Sudha. I spoke to myself, “you guys can generate any number of witnesses”.
“Was Sanjay in some trouble? Anything that worried him?”
She thought for a while and said, “No… nothing that I know of”.
“We’ve gathered information that you father, Mr. Kashyap resented your relationship with Sanjay. What was your decision after you had argument with your father?”
“I still wanted to marry him”.
“Who do you think is behind Sanjay’s murder?” She bent her head, looked at the floor, and shook her head.
“You need not be afraid of anyone… please speak frankly”. Mr. Kashyap squirmed in his seat. His lawyer signaled to remain calm. She wiped the tears, lifted head up, and shook again. I felt pity for her.
Girish took a breath, and sighed. He pointed towards me, and said,
“This is Mr. Pulakeshi, a private detective. Sanjay contacted him about three days before he died. Do you know why?”
“No”, she gave a straight answer. She was turning obstinate.
Girish took out the photo of the flower vase from the cover he was holding, and showed it to her.
“We got this photo from his house. Can you see this vase beside you? It is missing now. Do you know anything about it?”
“No”, she continued succinct nay saying. Girish looked at me with upset eyes. I signaled “It’s ok”.
He continued, “The evening Sanjay was murdered, you called your father after a gap of fifteen days. May I know why you called?”
Now Kashyap couldn’t control himself. He rose and protested, “She is my daughter after all. She can call me anytime”. Lawyers pacified him, and he sat down. Sudha answered,
“I just called him to ask how he was. Nothing else.”
“What do you think about Sanjay’s friends?”
“Anoop is good, but I don’t have good opinion about Govind. I don’t know why, but I felt he was a rogue”.
Questions were over. Girish stood up, asked her to take care, and gave his number and said she could call him anytime if she has something to say about this case. Everyone got up and headed towards door. I slowed down deliberately. Went close to her and spoke with consoling gesture,
“You must be too disturbed as to why all this happened”.
She lowered her sight and nodded. I put my hand on her head to give a feel of comfort.
“Time will heal”, I said. She forcefully dragged her lips wide. Others were at the doorstep, looking at us. They could hear me. I continued,
“Sanjay was planning to start a business. Do you know about it?”
“Yes… he had planned to start some online business with Anoop. He had great ideas and wanted to patent them. He didn’t wish to partner with anyone, so he was hoping that…” she swallowed her words back.
“Hoping that?” I pressed.
“You already know it… dad didn’t approve”, she mumbled.
“Take care”, I said and walked towards door. Kashyap had a furious face. I walked past him towards front door.
“Hey Shamus”, he yelled. “Stay out of this case… or I’ll make sure you pay for it”, he snarled. I gave a smile and walked briskly towards door.
Girish came out after ten minutes with a dull face. He said,
“Sorry buddy, I can’t entertain you anymore.”
“That’s ok” I said. “You got anything else inside?”
“Yeah. I talked to housemaid and confirmed the date of argument. It matches well with the selfie date”.
I thought for a few moments. My questions were still unanswered. Why did Sanjay come to me? If Kahsyap is indeed the culprit, why is Sudha hiding it? After all she loved Sanjay. There were two loose ends to the case now. One, find more about Anoop, Govind, and the other to trace the unknown number on Sanjay’s call list. I suggested Girish to follow up on those and headed back home.
Girish called me after a day. He sounded excited and told me the case was almost closed. He tracked down the unknown number and caught a person. He was some Manja, who had criminal background, a kidnap specialist.
“Sanjay and Govind gave a kidnap supari of Sudha to this guy, Manja” He said. “Somehow the kidnap did not go as per plan. Sudha found a chance and escaped from them in a place with enough public for her safety. Sudha doesn’t know Sanjay was involved.”
“My God!” I was baffled. “When did this happen?”
“Last Wednesday. About ten days ago.”
“Well… Manja started blackmailing Sanjay for money. Since Sanjay didn’t entertain, he wrote a letter to Mr. Kashyap on Saturday and gave away all the information”.
Now things started falling in right places. I could picturize the whole episode as if it happened before my eyes. Girish was still speaking. I interrupted him and asked for an info,
“Girish, can you do me a favor?”
“Sure. Tell me”.
“Can you check who called Sanjay last Friday at about eight in evening?”
“Give me a minute”, he seemed to be surfing through papers. He came back after a minute,
“There’s a call at eight-five. Nine Nine eight… oh this is Sudha’s number. Sudha called him that day”.
“Thanks a lot!” I said. He seemed not to care much about this. His case was solved is what he thought. He continued with his adventure,
“I bought in Govind as well. He accepted it immediately. In fact it was he who gave Sanjay this kidnap idea. I am convinced that Manja killed Sanjay because he did not pay him. But Manja is dismissing. He says he didn’t knew Sanjay was dead. He is a tough guy… I’ll have to work more on him to make him accept the guilt”.
“Sure… carry on. Meet me today evening in private.” I requested and he agreed.
I disguised as a constable, and headed to Kashyap’s residence with a mock file in my hands.
Sudha must have pressed Sanjay to file a police complaint regarding her kidnap. He has somehow convinced her otherwise and then maybe she suggested to hire a private eye. Meanwhile, Mr. Kashyap gets to know of the kidnap affair and reveals Sanjay’s intentions to Sudha. She goes to his house and confronts him, and maybe… maybe they had a fight, and it’s possible that she hit him with the vase. Only she can tell exactly what happened there.
“I need to get this paper signed from Sudha madam”, I told the guard at the gate. He let me in.
I repeated the same to the guard at the front door. He went in, talked to Sudha, came back and escorted me to her room. He was standing at the door, while I advanced towards her and spoke,
“Sanjay kidnapped you only because he wanted money to start a business. He never meant to harm you, he loved you so much, and you know it”.
She was perplexed. She shifted stare between me and the guard. The guard took out phone from his pocket and called someone. I continued to drill thoughts into her head,
“You know you love him. Only you can provide justice to your Sanjay and his death. You HAVE to speak up even if it means accepting your own guilt. Make sure your love wins”. From her expressions, I could make out that she was sufficiently perturbed.
The guard came into the room, stood before me and asked for my badge. I said “I don’t have it”. He pushed me out of the room, and eventually to the front door. I kept shouting to her, “Provide justice to his love, reveal the truth”.
The furious guard forced me out of the gate, and punched my face. My nose started to bleed. I didn’t care much. Wiped it with my hanky and said,
“Thanks!” and walked towards my car parked in the next street.
That evening Girish met me at a coffee day outlet and I explained him my venture. He agreed to my findings, but did not approve of my meeting with Sudha. I tried to convince him,
“You couldn’t have forced Sudha to tell the truth about kidnap or aftermath. She could have always said that she didn’t find it serious enough to be reported to police. Kashyap can anytime dismiss that he ever got a letter and that he never knew of the kidnap event.”
Girish nodded. I continued,
“The only way was if Sudha willingly spoke of the truth. She was angry when she got to know that Sanjay was involved, and must have hated him. I tried to awaken the love hidden behind that hatred, and I presume it has worked well. Let’s wait for a day or two and see if she makes a confession. If not, you have your ways to try”, I smiled.
He nodded, and spoke in doubtfulness,
“Why didn’t you think Manja could have done this?”
“If Manja’s intention was to murder him, he would have come with his own weapon. Even if we discount that idea and assume he has murdered, he would have been absconding by now”.
“Yes, that is true. Else, he wouldn’t have cried in the cell that he never knew Sanjay was dead”.
The next day when I was at my bookstore, billing some books, I got a message from Girish. He had sent me snaps of Sudha’s confession statement.
“I, Sudha Kashyap…
I was at home on Monday afternoon, when my father inquired me about my kidnap attempt, and told me that Sanjay was involved. I went to Sanjay’s house at about five fifteen in the evening and tried to confront him. He struggled to convince me that he was not involved, but I could see clearly that he was lying. To further ascertain myself, I told him that I’ve decided to lodge a police complaint. He suddenly became violent and tried to restrict me by forcing me into his bedroom. In the scuffle, I took a vase lying around and hit him on the head. He fell unconscious immediately and his head started to bleed mildly. I was very much frightened. I called my dad, and explained him all that had happened. He asked me to lock the door, and stay calm. He called me back after ten minutes, and guided me on next steps and hung up. As he had mentioned, two guys came after forty minutes, cleaned up the house as it was before. Meanwhile, Sanjay had gained consciousness and crawled towards the front door. He was still bleeding. One of the guy gave me a burkha and asked me to put it on inside the bedroom. When I was inside I heard a bang sound. After I came out I saw Sanjay bleeding more. I was very afraid and completely lost my conscience. The guys brought me back home and then I did exactly like my dad and another guy (I don’t know his name) told me to do.
I am making this confession to free myself from the feeling of guilty. I wish his soul rests in peace.”
Below the snaps was his message,
“I am going to arrest Mr. Kashyap tomorrow”.
I sighed and thought for myself. There was no way for Kashyap to leave Sanjay alive and let his daughter suffer with an attempt murder case. He couldn’t have proven that it was a self-defence.