It was a glorious Tuesday morning when Grace Desai stepped out of her house. She checked that the door was locked and trotted down the short flight of steps into the double driveway. She laid a hand on the handle of her silver Audi, a gift from her husband on her fiftieth birthday, and then on impulse, turned to look back at the house.
The double storey red-bricked villa stood proudly against the blue sky. It had been their home for the last decade and a half, roughly about the time her husband Manoj had become a partner in one of the most prestigious law firms in the south side of the city. The villa was part of an estate filled with doctors, lawyers and businessmen.
A vine of money plant creeping up the west face of the house caught her eye and she frowned. She would have to get the gardener to tend to that, perhaps later in the day. She needed to be on her way now if she was to make her appointment with her beautician.
The crunch of tyres on gravel made her look around and she saw a white SX4 stop in the guest parking lot. The door opened and a man in police uniform got out. He was short and had a paunch. He was probably in his thirties but the bearded cheeks and stubble over his scalp made him look older. He approached Grace slowly. He was wearing sunglasses and under his left arm was a file.
“Are you Grace Desai?” His voice was what she expected: gravelly, no hint of emotion. When she nodded, he too nodded. Silence followed, as if he was unable to find the right words. He removed his aviators. She saw then that she had been wrong: there was emotion in his eyes, it looked like pain. He introduced himself as Assistant Inspector Deepak, attached to the Versova branch of the Metropolitan Police. He held out his credential for a long while. Grace studied the ID carefully, then nodded. She said nothing, unsure what was happening here. At this stage she wasn’t really afraid: after all, wasn’t Manoj one of the most connected lawyers in the city?
The police officer cleared his throat. “I’m bringing you news that you will not welcome, Mrs. Desai. About four weeks ago, I asked a friend who is a security consultant to undertake some surveillance work on my wife. I had reasons at the time to suspect some infidelity on her part. I feared the worst and when my colleague brought his report a few days ago, those fears were confirmed. My wife, Arya Kapoor is having an affair.” He looked at her sharply then. “Is the name familiar to you?”
She shook her head.
“Arya Kapoor is a lawyer at your husband’s law firm.” He saw her lips tighten, and nodded with a long drawn sigh. “Yes, Mrs. Desai – my wife is having an affair with your husband…”
She began to shake her head to deny the allegations and he removed the file beneath his arm. “For the last four weeks, twice every week, your husband and my wife have been meeting up in a hotel at Pedoda. It’s the City Sky Hotel. Every Tuesday and Thursday, between 4 to 6 PM, they retire to a room in the hotel. He has a membership there apparently. And when they go there twice a week, they get the same room. So my colleague set up video surveillance inside the room. I needed to know: unlikely as it seemed, were they simply conducting some legal work in a non-official setting?” He looked down at the file. “My friend gave me the CD and his apologies at the same time…”
Grace was looking at the file but inside, she was processing what the police officer had said. Manoj had a life membership at the hotel, that was true; and those two days were days when he returned late. Could this be true?
Deepak was speaking. “- to confront my wife with this CD tonight, and press for a divorce. But I thought: why do I need to walk away from this empty-handed? The bastard killed my marriage – he should pay for it.” He held out the file. “There’s CD inside, along with a ransom note.”
She stared at it for some instants before taking it. “I don’t know what to say. This is a terrible, terrible shock…”
He looked down at his feet. “I’m sorry. Not for doing this, because he deserves it, but for putting you through this. It was not your fault.” He shifted uncomfortably. “I’m going to return tomorrow-” He left five minutes later, after giving her some details.
She entered the house with the file and looked at the paperwork inside. The next thing she did was cancel her appointment. Watching the CD, she felt herself go faint. It was her husband in the video. She recognized him and his birthmarks and the other features about him that only she would know. And though she didn’t recognize the woman, she could see why he been attracted to her. She watched all forty minutes of the CD, listening to the voices and watching them in action, shaking her head over and over again, unable to believe her eyes.
She made herself a cup of strong coffee and sat in front of the TV, forcing herself to watch it again. She felt devastated. How was she going to deal with this? First the news of Manoj’s infidelity and now the ransom demand. She had to make this problem go away. She sipped slowly, not tasting the brew, mind churning. There was not much time: Deepak was going to confront Arya tonight and he wanted the money the following day. When Grace finally stood up, she had a plan in her head.
Today was Tuesday and if things were true to form the duo would be meeting at the hotel at 4 PM, about two hours from now. Grace intended to be there at 4. The first thing however, was to phone Manoj’s firm and get the mobile number of Arya Kapoor from the operator…
At four o’clock, Grace was seated in the coffee shop of the City Sky Hotel. She had observed Manoj and Arya enter the lobby just five minutes earlier. Both were dressed in business suits and had leather satchels. To any curious onlooker, it could have been a business meeting they were en route to. A tear ran down her eye; even after watching the CD, a part of her had hoped it was a scam or misunderstanding. But seeing him waltz in with this attractive thirty year old, Grace was left in no doubts in her mind.
She waited until five minutes past the hour and then called Manoj’s mobile number. He answered, sounding startled. “Grace, what is it? Is everything okay?”
She answered, making her voice sound a bit high-pitched. “Oh God, I locked myself out of the house again! I’m on my way to the office to collect your set of keys. Should I come up or will you come down to the lobby with them?”
He almost choked. “You’re on your way to the office?”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
She could hear the stress in his voice as he struggled to think. “Uh- uh- ok, I’ll uh – I’ll meet you in the parking lot. Yeah. You stay in the car, huh?”
She cut the line and waited, sipping at her espresso. The law firm was less than five minutes away from the hotel. If she knew her husband, he would leave the hotel alone, sure that he would be able to return to his liaison with Arya quickly. Sure enough, within minutes, she saw Manoj hurry out of the elevator and rush out of the lobby.
She picked up her phone and dialled Arya’s number. She had no reason to believe that Arya knew her number so hopefully she would accept the call. And when Arya said hello a few seconds later, Grace spoke quickly, her tone decisive and firm. “Arya, this is Grace Desai. I’m sitting downstairs in the lobby, and I need to show you something very urgent. It is a matter of life and death, literally. It’s about Manoj, and I suspect you are not aware of these facts. As you obviously know, I have sent him away to the office on a false errand, so we have about twenty minutes before he gets back. I’m hoping you will trust me enough to come down and see what I have to show you.”
If Arya didn’t turn up in five minutes, she would have to go up. As Manoj’s wife, Grace knew exactly which room he had blocked. She had been there in better times on several occasions. Grace had opted for a meeting away from the room because of the Inspector’s friend video surveillance inside the unit.
Arya appeared soon and Grace waved her over. The table she was seated at was at a corner cubicle, affording some privacy. She was wearing the same outfit, but her expression now was shaken. Grace gestured to the opposite seat and when she slid into it, Grace looked at her, careful not to show any sign of hostility. “I have known about this affair for the last four weeks. I had suspicions that Manoj was sleeping around and I hired an investigator to shadow him. Let me show you what he found.” Her laptop was already on the surface. She tapped the ‘play’ button and swivelled the screen so that only Arya could see. She saw Arya’s face disintegrate as the recording unfolded, hand flying to her mouth. Grace reached forward and froze the playback. “I have a lot of that, and I could show it all to you but we don’t have much time before he gets back.” She looked across and the other woman had to lower her eyes in shame. “Now what you don’t know, Arya, is that there’s another woman besides you.” Arya’s face jerked up, startled. “Her name is Janice Pinto.”
Recognition came into her features. It was the name of an intern at the firm. Grace had intentionally picked a name
that would register.
“From the dialogue, it’s clear she knows about you. And what I discovered further is that they plan to kill me – and put the blame on you. He then gets my assets and marries Janice.” She settled back, gratified to see the fear enveloping Arya’s face. “Now I’ve told you this because you obviously don’t have a clue as to his true intentions. All you’re guilty of is sleeping with the man. They want to kill me. I need your help to take this to the police.”
That jolted Arya out of her silence. She shook her head violently. “No! No police!” Grace knew she was thinking of her husband. “I can’t be involved in this! I know I made a terrible mistake getting involved with your husband, but
it was just an arrangement, nothing more. I meant no harm.” She licked her lips. “This is crazy! I had no idea….”
Grace kept her manner gentle. “Without you help, I won’t have the evidence I need to put Manoj away.”
Arya sat back, her look determined. “I’m ending this affair right now. I’m getting my stuff from the room and I’m leaving. And I’ll quit the job so I won’t have any more contact with Manoj.” She stood up. “I’m sorry for everything.” She walked away.
Her phone buzzed; it was her husband. “Manoj – I found the keys, they were in my bag…”
Grace waited in the coffee shop until she saw Arya leave with her leather satchel. She signalled for the bill and after paying up, departed. She didn’t want to be around when Manoj returned.
She saw her husband next when he entered the house about half an hour later. He had a pensive look on his face and he didn’t seem to notice she was in the living room as he put down his bag.
He looked up as she coughed. She indicated a chair. “Sit please. I have something to show you.” An annoyed look spread over his face and she added: “It’s about a woman named Arya.” His expression changed instantly and his shoulders suddenly appeared to droop. “Sit, Manoj. I want to show you a CD I was given.” She aimed the remote at the LED TV.
Manoj watched in horror as the action unrolled in his living room, showcasing his antics with Arya. He clutched the back of his favourite sofa for support, gripping it tightly. He stared at his wife only to find she was looking away, out through one of the windows.
“The CD is forty minutes long.” She said tonelessly. “There’s a page with dates and times at the hotel where the two of you have been shacking up. Oh, and there’s this.” She held out a paper. “It’s a ransom note for ninety lakhs. I’m to take the money to an address tomorrow. I will come to know where tomorrow. I just need to see that the money is in my possession by two o’clock. If the money is not there, well – I suppose you can guess the rest…”
His look was one of pure dread as he read the ransom demand. The agony he was in was worse than that he had felt when he saw the video. It was altogether a different type of pain. “This will cripple me.” He whispered, looking at her. “I’ll have nothing left if I pay!”
Grace kept her own voice calm. “You messed up, Manoj. And now you have two courses of action: you either pay up and put all of this behind or you can refuse, in which case, I will have no option but to file for divorce. I won’t have my friends looking at me in pity if the CD becomes public. I won’t play the scorned wife here. I’ll file for divorce and I’ll hit you with everything I have – including this CD. So, you need to consider very carefully what you’re going to do next.”
“You’re not making this easy for me.” He said bitterly.
‘This situation isn’t of my doing.” She reminded him curtly. “Now deal with it.”
Assistant Inspector Deepak rang the doorbell of Grace’s residence the following day and when the door opened he stared at Manoj. It took all his strength not to punch the face of the man who had ruined his marriage.
Manoj, pale and withdrawn, looked back at Deepek. “Yes?”
Finally Deepak spoke. “Where’s my money? And where’s your wife?”
“Money?” Manoj frowned. “Who are you?”
“I’m the husband of the woman you’ve been sleeping around with.”
Horror creased the other man’s face and he took a step back. “You know about – us?”
Deepak gave him a cold look. “I’m the one who gave the CD to your wife.”
“You?” Manoj blinked, clearly unsettled. “But she said… Grace told me that Arya gave her the CD…”
“Where is she? Where’s your wife?”
“She went out with the ransom money thirty minutes ago. She said that Arya gave her an address-” He looked bewildered. “I don’t understand- You mean, you’re both in it together? You and Arya? It was a set-up?”
Deepak shook his head furiously. “Idiot! There was no set-up! You slept with Arya and you’ve destroyed my marriage! I gave your wife the CD and told her I wanted ten lakhs to keep quiet.”
“Ten lakhs!” erupted the lawyer. “She told me the ransom was for ninety lakhs!”
Both men stared at each in silence.
Then Deepak said: “When I confronted Arya with the CD last night, she broke down and told me some crazy story of how your wife had met her at the hotel yesterday. Grace told her you were having an affair with someone else and they were plotting to kill Grace and blame Arya for it. Arya said she got scared and left the hotel. I thought she was bluffing.”
Manuesh thought back. “Grace got me to leave the hotel saying she was locked out. Then she must have got to Arya and scared her, which got her to leave, and not just leave but to resign her job and change her number so I couldn’t contact her. And then Grace shows me the CD you gave her and says that Arya gave it to her, and she’s demanding a ransom. And now,” He said, voice hollow. “she’s got my money.”
Deepak didn’t know whether to believe him or not.
Manoj’s look was one of sheer disbelief. “But she’s my wife! She can’t just run off with my money!”
Wonder spread through Deepak as he realised that Grace had actually hoodwinked her husband. The incredulity on the lawyer’s face was just too genuine to be staged. “It looks like she just did.” He said slowly. “And the next thing she will probably do is come at you with a divorce. All she has to do is produce the CD and she’ll walk away with half of everything you have. Well, maybe more seeing as how she’s already taken away all your cash assets.”
Manoj was furious. “She used the CD to blackmail me! I’ve got the best lawyers in the city working for me! She won’t get away with this! And when you tell them about your role, that you approached her-”
Deepak looked at him as if he were crazy. “You think I would help you? You ruined my bloody marriage! My wife is going to very soon be my ex-wife, thanks to you! I can’t even stand the thought of being touched by her now.” He willed himself to be calm. “In any case, I’m sure your wife realised that I can’t divulge that I taped the CD, not without incriminating myself. And she’s cleverly ensured Arya’s silence with that tale of a planned murder.”
Manoj sounded desperate. “Would you at least tell Arya the truth? Maybe with her help-”
Deepak silenced him grimly. “I was after revenge when I met your wife. I thought asking for a ransom would buy me some measure of happiness for what you had taken from me. Well, the money is gone but looking at the situation you are in now – I realise that this is the best sort of revenge I could ever get.”
He left the anguished lawyer at the doorstep and walked down the garden path to the road. Inside his car, he lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. Once his divorce was final, he would release the CD on the internet. He didn’t think the lawyer was lying, but Deepak didn’t care. Through the smoke, he saw a silver Audi turn onto the driveway. Grace stepped out of the car. She saw him immediately and froze.
Deepak got out and dropped his fag to the road. “I have just had a chat with your husband.” He looked up at the house then back at her. “Did you really rob that bastard of ninety lakhs?” There was a hint of admiration in his tone.
Grace gazed down the road. “I’m 56 years old, Inspector. Everything I ever had was invested in that man, and he let me down. Everything I have ever done, I did out of love for him. In the end, it looks like it just wasn’t enough.” She gave a tiny shrug. “We do what we do to survive.”
Deepak chuckled, despite himself. “You have great survival instincts. My wife and I are through, and it looks like I’m walking away empty-handed. But your husband is in a world of pain right now, and that’s enough for me.” He slid his aviators on. “Once the divorce is final, I’ll release the CD onto the internet.”
Grace nodded slowly. That’s something I’ll have to live with, I guess.” She looked at the house. “In the meantime – do you know any good divorce lawyers?”