Continued from “Prey on the Prowl”
That day, when Shakeel entered the Saifabad Police Station, he was greeted by the echoes of the boots-in-attention but as he stepped into his cabin, as if calling stand-at-ease, the telephone had started ringing. However, after attending the Circle Inspector’s call, as he opened the dak folder, the Head Constable Karim, carrying the news of a double murder, rushed up to him.
“Where was it?” asked Shakeel.
“Last night sir at 13, Red Hills,” said Karim.
“Are you sure about our jurisdiction?” asked Shakeel, who was newly posted there.
“Very much, sir,” said Karim unable to hide his irritation as if the question questioned his procedural knowledge.
“Who’re the dead?”
“Man and his mistress, sir.”
“What if it’s a suicide pact?”
“No sir, they could’ve been poisoned by the man’s wife.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Pravar told me, sir?”
“Who’s he by the way?”
“He’s the dead woman’s brother, sir.”
“What else did he say?”
“He said that Radha the murderess is on the run ever since.”
“Let me see how long she can evade me,” said Shakeel, getting up.
“Not long enough, sir,” said Karim stepping aside.
When the duo entered the drawing room of that dwelling at 13, Red Hills, Pravar had drawn their attention to two empty glasses and a half-empty Teacher’s Scotch bottle on the teapoy, with kaara boondi for company. When Shakeel surveyed the scene there, Pravar ushered them into the adjacent bedroom, where Madhu and Mala lay dead on a double cot bed. Soon, as the forensic squad, present by then, was at work, providing Radha’s photograph to Shakeel, Pravar made out a case of her poisoning the couple.
Leaving the corpses to Karim’s care, when Shakeel returned to the police station with the suspect’s photograph, he was surprised to find her there ‘to aid the investigation’. But in spite of her pleas of innocence, Shakeel, influenced by Pravar’s assertions, could not but see her hand in the double murder, and so arraigned her as the sole suspect. Not only that, even though his sustained custodial interrogation failed to crack her, believing in her guilt, so as to extracting her confession, he brought every police trick up his sleeve into play, including the third degree, but to no avail. Eventually however, he had to set her free, owing to the judicial intervention, but yet he failed to free himself from his sense of failure to pin her down to the murder of her man and his mistress. As he was cut up thus, seeing Dhruva’s ad in The Deccan Chronicle for a ‘lady sleuth to assist him', he had a premonition that she might try to secure the position to insulate herself. So as to preempt her move, he had set out that evening to 9, Castle Hills, even in that inclement weather.
While Dhruva was grappling with that sum and substance of Shakeel’s recollection of the bygone incident, the cop said in a lighter vein that if she were to come under the detective’s wings, it could as well portend a romantic opening for him in his middle-age.
“When you began, I too thought that a murderess on the run makes an ideal prey to any womanizing cop like you that is from what I’ve heard of you” said Dhruva jocularly; and then assuming a serious look he wanted to know from the cop if he had noticed a pretty woman at the bend. But picking up Shakeel’s blank look, Dhruva said in jest that he had expected the cop to have an eye for women, if not an ear to the underworld. And to Dhruva’s light-hearted banter, Shakeel said that though he fancied himself as a womanizer, from what he had heard about him, he was no match to him. Dismissing all that as exaggerated hearsay, the detective led the cop into the study, where the latter poured out the problems the death of Madhu, and Mala posed to the investigation.
On Pravar’s account, Madhu was hell-bent on divorcing Radha and that would have left her in the dire stairs; won’ that be an enough motive, apart from her rivalry with the other woman, to poison her man and his mistress. Never mind her alibi that she was away with her friend when the illicit couple drank the poisoned liquor to their death, won’t her possible means to poison the drink make her the prime suspect. So her motive to murder them made it an open-and-shut case; there was no difficulty in guessing that after somehow poisoning the drink, she might have picked up a quarrel with them as an excuse to leave them in a huff. But yet for Shakeel, her alibi had become a big hurdle for him to cross over to pin her down, more so as she withstood the sustained interrogation and came out clean in the lie-detector test as well!
Unable to hide his admiration for the unknown woman, when Dhruva said as to how such a steely woman could have allowed herself to be so ill-treated, Shakeel said what if, as a wounded tigress, she prowled on its prey in the garb of a lamb. With the detective evincing a keen interest in the perplexing case, the relieved cop savored the hot pakodas that Raju had fetched, all the while detailing his investigation that led him nowhere. However, when he ended his account by stating that the old guard, Appa Rao, told him that Radha reminded him of Mithya, whom Dhruva could not bring to book, the detective, with a perceptible change in his demeanor, dismissed it as learning curve. But as Shakeel persisted with the topic, Dhruva said that it was better they skipped it for it involved a dead woman, and when Raju served them some Darjeeling tea, he changed the topic to the politics of the day that was after committing himself to solving the intriguing case.
Long after Shakeel had left him, Dhruva, having delved into his memory bank, was at fathoming the perplexing present.
Could the trespasser be the murderess after all! But then, given his focus on her, surely, if indeed it were she, Shakeel wouldn’t have failed to spot her from a mile, even though the weather was foggy for a proper sight. And in spite of her compelling face, he himself might fail to recognize her if he were to espy her again before the contours of her exquisite frame would have turned hazy in his memory. Was it possible that she was indeed innocent save Shakeel’s silly theories; if it were indeed Radha, what had brought her to his gate; did she, as the cop thought, came to seduce him so as to stall Shakeel’s future maneuvers? If it were so, why should she have been so tentative to begin with only to beat a hasty-retreat in the end? Could she be as ingenuous as Mithya though she seemed as seductive; would history repeat itself after all? Well, only time would tell; he thought.
Even as he seemed to love the idea of the trespasser being the alleged murderess, a restive Dicey went up to him making him wonder whether it sensed his distraction from its dead mistress. Soon though, he changed into his shorts and took the pet for a stroll in the twilight, by which time the drains got cleared to let the roads wear a fresh look to glisten under the newly lit streetlights. However, as the roadside trees were set to dry up themselves, the pet and its master got wet, and with the chilly winds too making it uneasy for them, as Dicey turned its tail homewards, Dhruva led it home, where Raju said that someone was waiting for him in the anteroom.
Continued to “Ranjit's Predicament”