My phone vibrated just as I was checking her blood pressure.
I laid my stethoscope down and glanced at the phone’s screen. The missed call was from Lucy, the receptionist at my clinic. I stared at it for some instants, waiting to see if any text was forthcoming, and my patient timidly asked: “Doctor, is my pressure alright?”
I tucked my phone away and patted her leathery forearm. “Your giddiness isn’t because of your pressure, Rosie, not to worry. It’s likely to be due to dehydration, and I’ll discuss that matter with your son.” I put away my kit and walked over to the wash-basin outside.
Rosie’s son caught the movement and hurried over. I sat in the living room and went over how he should proceed over the next twenty-four hours. My phone began vibrating again.
It was Lucy. Giving the son an apologetic glance, I answered her call and I sat up when I heard what she had to say. Checking, I saw it was past one in the afternoon. “Since there are no patients waiting, you can close for lunch. I’ll go home from here directly. See you at five, Lucy.”
When I pocketed my phone, my heart was beating faster than usual. Two men had come to the clinic to meet me, but offering no names. Their manner had been gruff, and they had insisted Lucy call to find out when I would be returning. It was clear to me who they were and I presumed they would now be watching my clinic, awaiting my return. When they saw Lucy lock up, they would jump to the obvious conclusion and react.
It was nearly two when I took the route that led to my house out in the country. I had come to the village I now called home to live with my mother after the old man passed on a year back. This was after eighteen years working for the municipal hospital, basing myself in the government quarters in the city all that while. The years of service had left me dissatisfied and disenchanted, and my father’s death had been the excuse I needed to hand in my papers and opt for private practice. Most doctors would have scorned such a non-lucrative offer after so many years, but I had not found what I was seeking in the city. My last year had been spent building up my practice. The money was not exactly rolling in, but there was peace of mind, and hopefully, my bachelor status would change before the year was out, especially if my mother had anything to do with it.
The landscape had changed, and the narrow road plunged in between two hills that swept upward on either side. Trees lining the road stretched out as far as I could see, offering relief from the midday sun. There were few houses here, and I could see why I had opted for the city instead of working out all those years ago.
Our small house stood out of place in the setting, the only sign of civilization as far as the eye could see. A small sign with a cross indicated that a doctor lived here, ready to offer his services for the needy. I parked in the driveway and got out.
Then the door to my house opened and a man stepped out. “Doctor?” He was bulky, long-haired and he looked to be in his thirties.
I looked at him, knowing he was not a patient. Not with that pistol in his out-stretched hand. “Yes.”
He gestured at the door. “Come inside.”
My breath caught in my throat at the devastation that greeted my eyes. The entire living room had been trashed. The sofas and chairs had their stuffing torn out, and drawers and cupboards had been opened and their contents were strewn everywhere. A second man came out of the kitchen, tossing some papers onto the floor. He was older and when he looked at me, there was menace in his eyes. “Where are the diamonds?”
“Where’s my mother?” I demanded.
He pointed at one of the doors leading out of the living room. “Locked inside.”
Part of my mind was grateful she was safely out of the way for now. The other half was cursing my younger brother Henry, the reason for this mess. That idiot had been unemployed for the better part of his life. He had been abroad for two years before deciding he was too good to be serving rich vacationers on board cruise ships. He had then migrated to Mumbai, doing all sorts of odd jobs. It’s where he had picked up his wife, a wannabe singer. Two days back, he had turned up on our doorstep, coming out of the blue after years of silence, begging for a place to spend the night. It was only on the second day that he had told me his account.
He had fallen in with hardened types in recent years, thanks in no small part to his wife, Trisha. Mostly they robbed small establishments at night, making off with the sales-proceeds and other merchandise. About a week back, his regular partners had roped him in for a major caper, to hit a jewellery store where they knew the alarm would be down for a systems overhaul. Their window of opportunity was for one night. Two hours before their intended hour of strike, Henry had hit the joint on his own. I had seen the media reports: over ten crores of gems had been stolen.
The older man had come closer. “He stole them and then he ran. He didn’t even stop for his wife. We went to talk to her and she told us he was coming to meet you, his big brother. And so we’re here. But Henry isn’t here, and we can’t find the stones.”
It was time to tell my tale. “Henry came here the day before. He told me what he’d done, and went down on his knees, begging me to hide the jewels till it was safe. I wasn’t happy about helping him; I’m a doctor and I’ve always kept my hands clean, and I didn’t want to mess that up. But he threatened me with violence.
“Henry has grown up in these parts. We’ve both spent our childhood here, out in the hills behind this house. We went out yesterday evening, looking for a cave he used to hide in. He wanted to bury the diamonds inside the cave. He made me wait outside; he didn’t want me to see the exact place. So I waited outside.” I shook my head. “I don’t know what happened after that. He had digging tools with him, from home. Maybe he dug at some supporting column. I heard a crash from within and then a wave of dust rushed out. I went in and saw that the ceiling had caved in. I called out and tried digging but there was no sign he was alive.”
The other’s eyes were glued to mine as he digested this. “This is the truth?” I nodded. “So that means the diamonds are still there.”
I looked down at my feet, saying nothing because I knew what would come next.
“You take us to that cave. We’ll dig until we get the diamonds.”
I led them Indian-file to the closed front door. The gunman was immediately behind me, followed by the old man. I opened the door, and we went out into the heat.
“Drop the gun!” barked a hard voice and all of us froze in our tracks.
I don’t know how the guy holding the pistol would have reacted to that command, but the sight of a police jeep coming off the road from behind the bend where it must have been hidden, and then grinding to a halt next to my car helped him make up his mind. He put down the gun, just as four constables emerged from of the jeep.
The Sub-Inspector of Police who had shouted out the warning to drop the gun was standing at the side of my main door. He waited until his men had put shackles on the two bewildered robbers before lowering his own weapon.
I had met the SI this morning, and he had been taken aback when he heard my story about Henry. He had offered his assistance in case Henry’s partners came. After Lucy’s call, I had contacted him and picked him up. He had ridden with me in my car, listening to my plan to ensnare them. On the final approach to our house, he had slipped down, out of sight.
The police officer looked grim. “There’s bad news from the team that went to the cave to dig out the body of your brother as well as the diamonds. The whole cave has collapsed. They were barely able to get in a few feet. The only way to get inside would be to bring in heavy machinery, and as you know, that part is very inaccessible.” He shrugged. “We won’t be able to do the job, Doctor. Unless the jewellery store owner takes action, it looks unlikely you’ll be able to recover Henry’s body.”
Looking, I saw my mother at the doorway. She covered her face at the police officer’s words and then turned in and went back into the house. The police constable who must have freed her stood silently at the side.
I was about to go inside after my mother when the Sub Inspector stopped me. “Their car was parked behind your house. One of my men found a woman inside, tied and gagged.”
That took me by surprise and together we walked to the back. I halted when I saw who it was. Trisha. My brother’s wife. I shook my head, unable to believe that the men had actually brought her here from Mumbai. They must have thought that the threat of violence to Trisha would force Henry to surrender the loot.
Trisha stared at me. Far from looking scared, she appeared angry. “Where’s Henry? Where is that dirt-bag?”
The SI and I exchanged looks. Trisha’s tone changed. “What? What happened?” So I told her. She exhaled and looked away, into the distance.
The police officer offered his apologies for her loss and told her she would need to be available for questioning for the next two days.
Trisha grimaced. “Not today! I was dragged out of my house at gunpoint last night, and then driven here by two thugs. All I’ve had since morning is bottled water.” Then she turned to me. “I have no choice but to stay with you; all I have are the clothes I’m wearing…”
I was taken aback. No doubt she was my sister-in-law, but this was a woman whose wedding I hadn’t even been invited to. My mother would be furious at this invasion of her home by a person whose existence she refused to acknowledge. But the policeman was looking on, and the last thing I wanted was to air out our dirty laundry in public. I nodded heavily. “Okay, Trisha.”
My mother was aghast when I entered the house with Trisha in tow. I explained what had happened and shrugged. She stared at the younger woman and then picked up her mobile phone and called her nephew. She stated that she would be staying with his family for a few days. He would come within the next thirty minutes to pick both her and a bag of clothes.
We kept out of Trisha’s way as she had a meal in the kitchen. By the time, my cousin had come and carted my mother away. I stood at the doorway and watched the car drive away. I shook my head, feeling frustration well up at this unwelcome intrusion.
“Doctor!” It was Trisha, calling from the kitchen. How else would she address me, a part of me wondered, this woman who was a virtual stranger. I moved away from the door and to her.
She was at the sink, washing a plate. She gave me a smile when she saw me and motioned to a chair. She was an attractive woman, and I could see how Henry had fallen for her very visible charms. I pulled up a chair.
“It’s obvious to me from today’s events that you’re the smarter of the two brothers.” She put the plate on the rack and picked up another. “The way you handled those thugs was smart. You knew they would come and you made arrangements. And now they’re out of the way.” She swished soap onto the plate with a sponge. “But you forgot about me, Doctor.”
Following her actions closely, her words made me blink. “I don’t understand.”
Trisha sighed. “Henry might have been an idiot, but I am not, dear brother-in-law. Henry came here with the diamonds, and now he’s dead. With your smarts, I can see how you tricked him into doing what you wanted. Bury the diamonds in some cave. He must have thought it was great idea. Instead, you kill him and bury him inside. And now the diamonds are yours.”
My mouth fell open, conveying my shock.
She gave me a sly sideways look. “The watch on your wrist, Doctor, was my wedding gift to Henry. He never left the flat without it. He called it his lucky charm.” She chuckled and put the clean plate aside. “And now you have it. Let me guess: you saw it on his wrist after you killed him and thought it would be a waste to leave it buried inside a cave.” She reached for a spoon. “But you didn’t think I would turn up, did you?”
That much was true, I thought fleetingly. I certainly hadn’t taken her into account at all. “Henry gave me the watch, Trisha, right after he got here. It was one of the things he told me. He said he made a mistake marrying you.”
Trisha turned then and her gaze was contemptuous. “Henry loved me! He worshipped me! He would have done anything for me! Who do you think persuaded him to go for the diamonds on his own instead of waiting for those two?” Her expression became calculating. “I know you killed your brother. I can recognize the killer instinct.” She caught the look in my eye, and laughed. “Oh, yes… Henry wasn’t my first husband, though he never knew that. That skinny fool died after I got into the bath-tub with him and drowned him. I got everything he owned, but it didn’t last for long. And when I met Henry I saw something in him that made me think I would get lucky.”
I saw that she had picked up a knife. My scalp prickled as I watched her hand swipe the sponge over the blade in a gentle, to-and-fro motion.
“He was supposed to come home after he grabbed those diamonds. I would have had him then. I would have got rid of him and kept the stones.” Her voice went up. “But he didn’t come back. He just called me, saying he had done it, that he was coming here to hide. Said he wouldn’t be safe in Mumbai…” She turned to face me and my mouth went dry when I saw the wet knife. “I want those diamonds!”
I shook my head swiftly. “Trisha, I don’t have the diamonds! They’re in the cave! And the police tried but even they can’t get to them because the cave-in is so extensive!”
Knife raised, she had advanced toward me. “That’s the wrong answer, doctor.” She lashed at me.
I had viewed the weapon as a hollow threat but when I felt the burning pain sear across my palm, I cried out in shocked disbelief and fell backwards with my chair. The chair hit the ground, spilling me sideways onto the floor.
Seeing the blood gush from my palm, I grabbed it with the other, trying to staunch the flow. I looked upward fearfully.
She was gripping the knife, the blade now bloodied. Her eyes were widened and her breathing was fast. She looked crazy and when she came closer, I shouted out in terror and scrabbled backwards.
Before I had shifted back in with my mother, her one tool of defence was a hockey stick, a battered old thing I used to play with as a kid. In all those years, I doubt it had ever been wielded in anger. The sound of bone cracking as it struck Trisha’s wrist made me cringe despite my pain.
Trisha screamed in agony, dropping the knife. Her wrist must have shattered with the force but if I thought it would stop her in her tracks, I was wrong.
Eyes blazing with fury, she gave a blood-curdling shriek and sprang forward, fingers arching out like talons, her murderous intent clear.
The hockey stick slammed against her jaw in an act of utter desperation, a move borne out of rage, fear and a sense of sheer hopelessness.
She seemed to sway for some instants before collapsing sideways to the ground.
“What a bi##h.” I muttered, staring at her and knowing she was dead.
Henry lowered the hockey stick from a hand that was shaking uncontrollably and then sank into a chair.