Prologue

“Go now and get me a packet of gutkha.” She shoved a twenty rupee note in his hand. “Remember to hand me the change.” She glared at him.

Kabir lowered his eyes. Fear, disgust and anger together cast a shadow on his eyes. Suhasini rushed to the door, she was smiling now, “Aww, have I scared you now darling?” Her voice was soft. Lovingly she ruffled his head full of hair and planted a kiss on his cheeks, “You know I love you, right? Don’t disobey me. Ok?”

Kabir cringed a little, pushed her hands away, nodded slowly and got out of the room.

After about half hour the bell rang. Suhasini answered the door, it was Kabir. “You are late.” She complained as she closed the door behind them.

Kabir didn’t say anything. His feelings seemed to have turned to steel. Suhasini was behind him now.  “Won’t you tell me what took you so long?” Suhasini said in a teasing tone while she poked him in the butt and laughed out loud.

Kabir flinched. The metal flower vase was a few steps away from him. A rush of courage swept on him and in a flash he took two steps, picked the flower vase and in a swift motion turned and hit Suhasini on the head with all his might.

The laughter turned to a shriek followed by a thud. Then there was silence. And a trail of blood.

__________________________________________________________________

Chapter 1

It was 11 a.m. and the roads in Delhi were filled with heavy mist. People were rushing and blaring their horns in order to get… well, nowhere. It was in this mist and chaos that Radhika was driving her Swift towards Dwarka, normally an hour from her house on Tughlak road.

Radhika would have loved to spend the morning at home with Ruffy, after wrecking her brain last two days to catch a fraudster. The guy had forged bills worth almost Rs.50,00,000. He was a difficult catch. But Radhika’s grey-ish cat eyes had immediately detected the variations in the signatures on the bills after she was called to help. That was a turning point in the case. Also, her sixth finger helped a lot in this matter. It so turned out that whenever she tried writing her name with her left hand, because of her sixth finger, the curve for the R turned out to be rather difficult and different. This was something she found while checking the bills. Then it was easy to find out which employee in that bank had a sixth finger and was the culprit as well.

Now that the case was done and dusted, Radhika had some free time on her hands. Solving complicated cases and getting the culprits caught was the most rewarding and satisfying feeling for Radhika. So was some time off, especially if it was spent in the company of loved ones.

Radhika’s iPhone had flashed Debojit’s number last evening and she had happily answered the call. That’s how she landed with an invitation for lunch today at 1 p.m. at Debojit’s new apartment at Dwarka, where she was headed right now.

Debojit had been her friend since her police days. Although he was senior to her when she joined the police force, she had always found him easy to talk to. Probably she saw a shadow of her dad in Debojit which made her very happy in his company.

They had been in the same department and Debojit was already Additional Superintendent when she joined as an Assistant Superintendent of Police.  He had a big protruding belly and a loud laugh which had earned him a name of Santa Claus in the department. Radhika admired Debojit’s strong and objective viewpoint when it came to building and solving the case in hand.

Radhika remembered her first meeting with Debojit. She was much younger and naïve. She had been given the task of preparing the case file of a case they had recently solved. She hated the paperwork. But it had to be done. So she went with her files to meet the Additional Superintendent Debojit Chakraborty for the first time.

He was seated at his desk which was cluttered with papers, files and of all things pistachio shells! Radhika was mildly amused to see this lovable character and the treasures hidden in the clutter. She looked up at Debojit and met with a broad honest smile, somehow, she felt an immediate connection with the man seated behind the desk.

Radhika was still reminiscing the past when she realized the signal was about to go green. She put the car in gear and her mind raced with memories.

Radhika remembered how Debojit had helped catch her first culprit, how he was the one who through his myriad humour always brought in details that went unnoticed by many. Debojit was the one who had given her the idea of developing her own cryptic language for taking notes which gradually, became a habit.

Debojit had stood by her whenever she was in a difficult situation. He was naturally one of the first persons Radhika informed about her decision to leave the police force and become a Private Investigator.  Radhika remembered the awkward half hug and a smile full of pride that Debojit had given her when she shared the news. His eyes told her, her decision was all correct.

Finally, after a very long drive, rather a crawl, Radhika reached Dwarka. She parked her car and picked up the housewarming gifts she had brought along. She knew that just a bag of best quality pistachio would bring a delight to Debojit. But then, he had a sweet wife Anuradha who was a kindergarten teacher and had a voice like a nightingale. Radhika had picked a music CD for her, a golden era classic collection she was sure Anuradha would love. The last item was for the youngest member of the household, the little monster with an angelic face, having her mother’s voice and her father’s keen eyes. How could she not get something for her? The little girl considered Radhika something of a superwoman and loved her like her own. The feeling was mutual. Keeping Geetanjali’s playful and inquisitive nature in mind she had brought her a Baker Street mystery board game. Radhika knew the girl would enjoy that.

Debojit’s flat was on the sixth floor. As Radhika reached for the lift button she realised that the power was out. She waited for a couple of minutes in the hope of the backup turning up but then she decided to just climb up. Carrying the gifts to the sixth floor would have been a tall task if she had not been working out daily. Taking the last step she thought: power cuts in Delhi are now becoming a regular…be it any sarkar. She rang the bell, and right at the moment, the door was flung open by the tiny little monster.

Geetanjali gave a shriek of delight, jumped and landed in Radhika’s arms calling “Mommy, didi eshe geche!” Anuradha was right behind, hurrying out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on the napkin besides, greeted Radhika with open arms. Both the daughter and mother started conversing at the same time in Bengali, Radhika could only understand half of it. There, she thought, yes, welcome to the mad house. Radhika was happy to meet them after a while.

Debojit was seated languidly on the sofa, but seeing Radhika, his eyes lit up. The smile brought his creases out, Radhika thought, age showed in the little grey hairlines and lines forming on the forehead. But his eyes were the same.

Radhika and Debojit spoke about the good old days while having a generous delicious Bengali lunch.

“Remember that fatso, Jasleen Jogi? He retired last month.”

“You don’t call him fat now!” Radhika shot back and the whole group burst out laughing while Debojit caressed his belly with affection.

“Ok Ok…don’t laugh so much my paunch will get upset.” He winked at his daughter.

“Baba, why don’t you exercise and be like didi?” Geetu retorted.

“Ok now, concentrate on the food, why did I put in so much of effort?” Anuradha put an end to the banter.

Geetanjali, whom they lovingly addressed as Geetu had grown up since Radhika had last seen her. It scared her how quick these little things grew up. Geetu was as inquisitive as ever, while playing with her hazel-eyed cat Minnie, she had a thousand questions for her didi.

Radhika decided to take a stroll after the hearty meal. Geetu tagged along with Minnie in tow. They went to a nearby park where Radhika started her brisk walk while Geetu got busy with the slides and swings. She kept an eye on Geetu and continued her walk. Suddenly she heard Geetu’s cry and rushed back to her.

“Geetu what happened?”

“Minnie is missing!” She managed to inform in between sobs.

Radhika looked around, but the cat was nowhere to be seen.

Geetu’s eyes suddenly lit up, she tugged at Radhika’s hand and whispered in her ears, “You know what, you are a detective! You can find my Minnie isn’t it?”

Radhika smiled at her conspiratorial tone and winked at her, “Yes I am! Let’s get going partner.”

Both of them started looking for the Minnie hand in hand. They looked beside the see-saw, down the slides and up on the swings but of course, Minnie was not there. Therefore they started looking around the rest of the park.

As they neared a bougainvillea bush on the other side of the park, her detective instincts told her there was something wrong. “Geetu, I think I heard something near the slide, go check please.” Radhika deliberately sent Geetu away.

The ironic smell of stale blood alarmed her. Believing her instincts, she moved few branches and found a woman’s dead eyes staring at her, unblinkingly.

——————————————————-

 

Chapter 2

Kabir saw her fall. He waited for her to retaliate. But Suhasini did not budge from where she lay. Kabir waited for some more time. Still there was no reaction from Suhasini. Her eyes were open like a dead fish. As if her eyelids were stuck to her brows. He noted that her chest was not heaving like it usually did. He bent down and tried to see if she was breathing. He was scared of waking her up.
Nah, he was now sure there was no breathing. Kabir even checked for a pulse but that was not flickering as well. He couldn’t believe, finally, his ordeal was over. He sat besides the dead boy with a silly smirk on his face. While his anger, disgust and angst dropped down from his eyes.
Suhasini’s mobile suddenly started ringing. “Aa re pritam pyaare…” filled up the room. Kabir hated that sleazy song. It was his dad, Pritam Saikia’s, caller tune set on Suhasini’s phone.
Kabir hesitated a moment before picking up the phone. “Hello meri jaan, are you ready yet? I will reach in ten.” Pritam enquired.
“Papa…it’s me.” Kabir spoke slowly. “Can you please come up?” He added.
“What happened Kabir? You sound different? Is everything ok at home?”
“You come soon Papa.” Kabir disconnected the phone without giving Pritam a chance to question him further.
Pritam reached home much before the ten minutes he was telling Suhasini about.
Kabir opened the door at the second knock. Pritam rushed in and froze for a moment. He recovered soon and rushed to hold Suhasini. “Su, Su!” He screamed as he shook her limp body.
Pritam looked up at Kabir, “What has happened to Su?” While turning to look back at Suhasini, Pritam noticed the blood. “What happened here?” Pritam screamed at Kabir.
Kabir stood shaking in a corner. He couldn’t speak. Kabir felt choked with emotions. Tears were still rolling from his eyes.
“Who did this Kabir?” Seeing Kabir’s reaction Pritam softened his voice. “Do you know?”
Kabir managed to nod in reply.
“Good, now tell me who did this or was it an accident?”
“I…I…killed her.” Kabir let out the truth and felt lighter. Hearing the same paralysed Pritam on the other hand he slumped on the floor besides the dead body.
“Why?” The question escaped Pritam’s mouth while his mind raced ahead. He could not let his son be arrested. Kabir’s mother had been taken by cancer and now his beloved Su was not alive either. Pritam loved his son, he could not live without Kabir. He needed to find a way to get out of this nightmare.
Time only seemed to stand still, but it was racing ahead as usual. After several minutes of pondering Pritam stood up and looked at Kabir, “I will talk to you later, but first we must get the dead body out of our house. Understand?”
Kabir nodded again.
“Go get her purse and take out everything from that.” Pritam ordered.
Kabir seemed to get a purpose and walked out of his trance. He picked a recently used purse, cleaned it out and handed it over to Pritam.
“Good. Now get her sandals.” Pritam ordered while he draped the purse across Suhasini’s body.
Kabir got a pair of belles which Pritam took and put them on Suhasini’s feet.
“Help me to pull her up then run down and open the car.” Pritam tossed the car keys at Kabir who took a neat catch.
With a little effort both of them were able to lift the body. Pritam was a well built man while Suhasini had been a petite woman. He held on to her waist and lifted her a little off the ground. Then he walked ahead like they were walking together. Luckily no one was around on their floor and he got into the lift without a problem.
Kabir was ready and waiting at the car. Once Pritam arrived they quickly put suhasini on the back seat and they were seated in the front. The busy Delhi street seemed oblivious of the dead body walking into a car.
Pritam’s mind was googling a place to leave the body. It should be far off from the house. They drove on for a good thirty-five minutes before they reached Dwarka. There were a few parks and gardens here which would be ideal Pritam’s mind  had directed him. They drove within the area looking for a suitable place. Their search ended pretty soon as they found a park tucked away on the side of the road. No one seemed to be particularly interested to go in there. There were residential apartments nearby but the road was mostly empty.
Pritam drove by the area for a few times before coming to a stop near the park. The father son duo got out and took the dead body out of the car. Then they walked into the park and placed the body under a bougainvillea bush. The body was not seen from the road. Pritam was certain it would take a while for someone to notice.

———————————————————————————

Chapter 3

The area was sealed off and investigations had begun. An unidentified body of a woman was found in one of the posh locations of New Delhi. The gossip knew no bounds. Soon the news channels were on the case and the reporters were giving a hard time to Debojit, as he was not only the District Superintendent now, but also because the body was found in his locality.

Radhika had called Debojit immediately on sighting the body. He arrived in less than a minute and took in the scene. They swiftly removed Geetu from the scene before the team of police investigators and medical examiners were called.

The police and Radhika started working together, she being the person finding the body, couldn’t be ignored.

After the body had been examined and taken to the lab for an autopsy, Radhika sat on the bench and stared at the unblinking stars that reminded her of the dead woman’s eyes.

The woman would have been beautiful, when alive. She was clad in a shimmering silver sari and a sequined backless blouse, which showed off her well-kept figure. Examining it, Radhika deciphered the body was at least two to three days old. The exact time would be told by the ME team.

Lost in these thoughts, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking back she saw the tired face of Debojit. He sat beside her and for a moment stared into abyss, without speaking. Then without a preamble, he spoke, “Did you notice that the purse was empty?”

“Do you think it’s a robbery?” Radhika knew Debojit had more to say.

“No,” he said. “Then why leave the gaudy diamond ring and gold watch behind?”

Pondering upon the same lines, Radhika questioned “But, why was the purse empty?”

“I think the purse had been deliberately emptied…”

“So as to make identification difficult.” Radhika completed the sentence. He smiled, nodded then continued..

“Do you think it might be a marital issue?” Sindoor on victim’s forehead told them, she was married.

“It might be, but then there was no sign of rape or any other injuries on the body.”

“True Radhe, I see, being a lousy private investigator, you haven’t lost your eye.” Debojit said this with a wink and a light laugh.

Radhika smiled at the name, which only few close people used to call her and she allowed them. Closing her eyes, she laughed upon the remark made by Debojit.

“You still light my mind, by your myriad remarks…as such I just remembered, the victim’s eyes, wide open, showed no sign of fear.”

“You got me, girl.” Debojit added.

A sergeant looking for a lost belle of the victim shouted loud, “Sir, the right belle is nowhere around.” Shaking his head at the sergeant Debojit acknowledged him.

“Your men are never going to like me, are they?”

“No, never….Why should they? You are always beating them in their own game.” Debojit said with a false disgust.

She shrugged, “There’s no denying that the victim was surely beaten to death…or should it be a rap on the head beat her of out of her game?”

“Hmmm…the dent on the left of the skull, sure suggested some heavy metal object.”

Both concluded the case to be of murder, but the question as to why and who, still remained unanswered.

In about two hours, Debojit got information about the dead woman. They had gathered her fingerprints and run it in the government database which returned a positive result. Radhika had a name to start with.

———————————————————————————

Chapter 4

The drive back home was filled with silence. Pritam was lost in his thoughts of Suhasini. His eyes were empty. Kabir was silently contemplating how a life without torture would be. He was finally free to tell the world of his misery. No one held any power over him anymore. His eyes were hopeful.

The drive back home was quicker. Father and son walked inside, they realised the door was open wide all this while. Kabir enters and stops near the door, leans against the wall and stares at the space where the lifeless body of Suhasini was lying about an hour back. Pritam stared at the place then closed his eyes and sat on the sofa nearby.

Some moments pass before anyone gets the courage or strength to talk. Kabir gathers himself together and gets a bottle of cold water from the fridge. He gulps down some then passes the bottle to Pritam.

Pritam pushes the bottle away and stays where he was. He still couldn’t believe his beloved was dead and that she was killed by his own son. He looked at Kabir then looked away. Kabir sat on the floor near his father’s feet. He put his head down on Pritam’s lap and held his legs tight. “Papa, I can… tell you… today. No one… no one… will… poison you… if I tell.” He finished his sentence with great effort. Memories of the threats filled his eyes and he started sobbing again.

Pritam heard his son but didn’t understand what he was saying. “Poison? Who would poison me? What are you saying?”

“She said…if I … didn’t do… what she said, or if… I told you… then she… she would poison you. Then I will not have anyone Papa.” Kabir was sobbing and speaking at the same time. “I could not live without you Papa.” He held Pritam’s legs in a death grip.

“Su said that?” Pritam was still trying to process the information.

“Yes.”

“She said she would poison me?”

“Yes Papa. I was so scared.”

“What did she ask you to do?” Pritam looked down at Kabir and started patting his head with love.

“She… She… I didn’t like what she did Papa.” Kabir’s tears now knew no bounds. “She…made me undress…and…”

Pritam didn’t know what to understand. He couldn’t believe his Su would be such a person.

“…and she undressed too…Papa… I didn’t like what she did to me…” Kabir’s words were lost in his tears.

Pritam pulled Kabir up and held him in a tight hug. “My son, I am so sorry…I am so sorry.” Pritam could not hold his tears anymore. He kept saying sorry and cried with his son.

——————————————————————

Chapter 5

Radhika checked the address once again on the GPS. The house should be here somewhere. She parked her Swift near a curb and got down. The neighbourhood kinara stores were a good source of information. She walked into the nearby one. The time was late afternoon and the shopkeeper was trying hard to ward off sleep.

“Excuse me!” Her voice startled the man.

“Yes madam, what are you looking for?”

“Can you tell this address? Should be around here somewhere.” Radhika held out the phone.

The man took a look, “This is our Saikia Sir’s house, this next lane, third building on the right.”

“Thank you!”

“You want to buy something madam?”

“No. By the way, how is the lady of that house?”

The man seemed to blush a little at the mention of Suhasini, “Saikia madam is also very nice. Why do you ask?”

“Have you seen her today?” Radhika ignored his question and asked one of her own instead.

“No actually,” he was thinking now, “Usually she would come every two days to buy milk. I think she was due to come day before yesterday but she didn’t come. Is anything wrong madam?”

“Nothing, thanks.”

Radhika turned and left without giving the man a chance to ask further questions.

She entered the next lane, the third building on the right was four storied. These cramped houses seem to run one on top of another, without a breathing space in between. Suhasini used to stay on the third.

Radhika saw a few women sitting on the curb in front of the opposite house. She smiled at them.

“Do you know where Suhasini lives?” She asked.

All the ladies looked at each other and exchanged meaningful glances. No one was interested to reply to her question.

“Does she live on this street?” Radhika asked again.

“In that building, third floor.” One of the ladies who looked like the leader of the gang, pointed out.

“Thanks. You all don’t seem to like her, do you?” Radhika asked again.

There was again no response from anyone.

“Is she home? Would any of you know?”

“Don’t know. Actually, I haven’t seen her in the past few days. Usually she would be seen in her balcony most of the time.” The leader spoke again.

“She has any friends?”

“Not that we know of.”

“She is busy with her husband and step-son.” Said another.

“And with posing on the balcony for all the men in the colony.” Quipped another.

“Is the husband a good man?” Radhika queried on.

“He seems like a decent man, but Suhasini was his second wife.”

“How old is the son?”

“Kabir is around fifteen. But that fellow is weird. Boys his age have loads of friends, play games and create noise. He is never out. Has no friends.” Observed the leader. “Are you a friend of hers?”

“Thanks. Let me go and see where is Suhasini.” Radhika ignored the question once again and crossed over to the other curb.

She was looking up and down the building when one of the ladies from the group shouted out to her, “That blue Santro is Suhasini’s.” Radhika turned to her and waved a thanks.

She then went and checked the car from outside. There was a thick layer of dust on the car. It had not been used in a few days. She peeked inside, nothing amiss there. As she was turning something caught her eyes. She took a good look at it and was certain that it was one belle, one that was missing from the crime scene. Radhika decided to meet the family.

Pritam answered the door. “Yes, what do you want?”

“Hello, I am Sharada,” Radhika replied, “I am coming from the census office for record verification.”

“This time of the year?”

“Yes sir, the Delhi government wants to verify all the details before the next elections. May I come in?”

“Can you come back later? I am not feeling very well.”

“Sir it will take only a little time, I am coming from very far for this work. Please sir, ten minutes only.”

Pritam pondered for a while then let her in.

Radhika sat on the sofa, exactly where Pritam was sitting few days back. She looked around and saw a decently kept place. Suhasini’s photos were adorning one of the walls. Kabir peeked from the door and went back.

“Sir, how many family members?”

“Huh? Family? Me and my son.”

“You wife?”

“She left us.”

“Oh, am sorry. Are you divorced?”

“Not legally.”

“You still have her photos here, I mean I just saw these. How long were you married?”

“Seven years.”

“How old is your son?”

“He is fourteen, from my first wife.”

“Okay, where is your first wife now?”

“She died when our son was very young, cancer.”

“I am so sorry to hear that. Can I talk to your son?”

“Why do you need to talk to him? I am giving you the details.”

“Just verification sir, we need to talk to everyone in the house.”

Pritam scrutinized Radhika then called for Kabir. Kabir was reluctant to come out of the room. His discomfort was written clearly on his face and body language.

“Which class do you study in?” Radhika asked.

“Eighth.” Mumbled Kabir.

“Sit here, nothing to be afraid of.” Radhika tried to reassure him. “He seems a little disturbed. Is your separation bothering him?” She asked Pritam.

“None of your concern miss.” Pritam was getting annoyed.

“Actually am a child psychologist in my day job. This is government task that I have to do. So I was concerned.”

“Oh, ok. But Kabir is alright. He is just bogged with his studies.” Pritam tried to manage the situation. “Go on now, finish your project work Kabir.”

Kabir nodded like a doll and started to walk off.

“Are you hiding something Kabir?” Radhika questioned him directly.

“Ah, what are you doing?” Pritam jumped in.

Radhika ignored him and continued to question Kabir, “Don’t be afraid of your dad. Tell me what is bothering you.”

“Get out of my house. Right now!” Pritam stood between Radhika and Kabir.

Radhika went out. Then she took out her phone and called Debojit. He was waiting outside the colony with his men. Within fifteen minutes there was a knock again on Pritam Saikia’s door. This time Radhika and the police team were blocking their doorway.

—————————————————————–

 

Chapter 6

Radhika was reading about ‘Suhasini murder case’ in the newspaper. The police were lauded for a quick investigation and SP Debojit Chakraborty was in the limelight. She was not interested to have her name featured in the papers, it would only make her life difficult.

Radhika remembered how that day, when they blocked the doorway of the third floor flat, Pritam Saikia had nowhere to hide. He had let them in and looked at Radhika with a mix of fear and hostility.

Debojit explained how they had found Suhasini’s body and that they suspect something foul had happened within the four walls of the house itself. Pritam stood still while they narrated their version of the story about domestic violence and the resultant murder.

“I want to show you something.” Pritam said once the police were done talking.

“What is it?” Debojit demanded.

Pritam dug out a phone from his pocket and opened its gallery then handed it over to Debojit. “This is Suhasini’s phone. This is how she was torturing my son. Once I learned about it I could no longer take it and confronted her. She wanted to kill me and we got into a fist fight when she slipped and hit her head. I was scared and thought of disposing the body.” Pritam gave his statement.

Radhika observed that Kabir was trying to stop his dad and say something. But each time he tugged at Pritam’s arms he would shove his hands back. Kabir then looked at Radhika and turned his head from side to side.

Debojit looked at Radhika once Pritam was done talking and they had seen pictures and videos of Suhasini raping the kid. She had used these videos to shut him up and also threatened him with dire consequences.

“Pritam didn’t murder.” Radhika uttered.

“What are you saying Radhika, he just confessed.” Debojit sounded slightly disappointed.

“No madam, I did it.” Pritam cried out from behind.

“But that was just an accident, see the videos, Suhasini was definitely a culprit.” Radhika was trying to convince, “I agree that by disposing the body and hiding the truth they have done some wrong but they should not be charged with murder is what I am saying.”

Debojit seemed to get the drift of what she was saying. He instructed his team to file the case as accident and charge them only with hiding the truth and disposing a dead body.

Radhika had looked at Kabir. He was hugging his dad and both had tears running down their cheeks. They had each other for support she thought.

Radhika remembered Suhasini’s well manicured fingers and stylish dress when they had found her body. She wondered how someone could be beautiful just on the outside while being a witch inside.

 

Story by: Manidipa Bhattacharya and Krupa Joshi
Cover by: Shankar Hosagoudar