You might think hate is a strong word; okay, so I won’t use it. I will say ‘dislike’. I disliked Radhika Roy the moment I set my eyes on her. In her dominating tall frame, plain dress and a firm determined ex-cop demeanor, she looked like those feminist activists that one should give a wide berth to.

But I needed a job badly and the salary she offered me was quite attractive. After I had exhausted all my attempts at the Civil Services examination, my father had warned me that he could no longer afford my continued stay in New Delhi. But I wanted to stay in Delhi. For the sake of Rukmini, who was my girlfriend. I met her last year at the Chanakya IAS Coaching Center.

So here I was, looking for a job, a temp job to be precise. My phone buzzed and I saw it was Rukmini, “Hi Gogo, I have found a nice job for you. Are you free tomorrow morning at ten? I am texting you an address. Please reach that office in time with all your documents and certificates. It is a walk-in.”

Our relationship has reached the stage when we no longer need to coochie-coo with ‘Babu’ and ‘Shona’ and I-love-you’s.

“Okay, I will,” I replied, “and give me the complete details when we meet in the evening.”

Rukmini was from the South, but somehow has landed in Delhi after her company opened a branch in New Delhi. She was a recruiter, and will be completing her online MBA in a few months. She would occasionally use her good offices to find some suitable jobs for me. But I was not cut out for such mundane things. If I do not get into the Civil Services, then I will try for Bank P.O. jobs and that would be the end of it.

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I reached the office which Rukmini had mentioned in her message, a few minutes before 10 AM. They were looking for an administrative officer who can handle almost every operation in the office. The office was at 221B, Lodhi Road. It turned out to be the basements of a shopping-cum-office complex in Lodhi Road, constructed by DDA in the early eighties. The office seemed to have been inaugurated recently. Remnants of items used to decorate the office, were strewn all over the place.

I immediately recognized Ritika, who was sitting at the Reception. So, it was Rukmini’s manpower agency which was handling it.

“Hi, Gopal! The interviews are going on. You will need to wait a while.” Ritika greeted me with a smile and gestured for me to sit on one of the chairs, “meanwhile fill up this form and attach it with your CV.”

I looked at the small crowd in the room. There were people from all age group, including three women and a few candidates were looking as if they had worked for several MNC’s. I hardly stood any chance.

Just then a lady in her forties came out and asked Ritika about the candidates. She turned out to be Radhika Roy. My heart sank as I saw her. I had seen her yesterday at Saket Mall. She was coming out of the Mall while carrying several shopping bags. Suddenly she lost her grip on the bags and things started tumbling all over the car park. As I rushed to help the lady in distress, she told me in a stern voice that she can help herself and doesn’t require my help.

After two hours of agonizing wait, during which I had gone out twice for a smoke, my turn came. Radhika Roy opened the interview not with the usual, “Tell me about yourself”; it came later. She broke the ice with, “Do you smoke?”

Without waiting for my reply she informed me, “I hate smoking and I will not allow anyone of my team to smoke during office hours.”

It hit me pretty hard. It was then that I was asked the usual question and I responded with what I had rehearsed for maybe a thousand times, “I am Gopal Goswami. I am from a small town in Bihar…”

She interrupted me with a smile, “Ohhh… Gopal… Hmmm… Do you have any nickname?”

I said, “My friends call me Gogo, short for Gopal Goswami. But formally I would like to be addressed as Gopal.”

I went on to narrate what my achievements so far had been, there were not many; and what makes me best suited for the position of Administrative Officer in her office, which I felt I did not sound convincing enough.

What shocked me later in the afternoon, was an envelope containing my appointment letter, which Ritika handed over to me. That is how I became employee #1 in Radhika Roy Intelligence Bureau.

If you are still interested to know; it took quite some time for my dislike for Radhika, to turn into admiration.

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One evening I was in the gym. Rukmini had gone to Chennai to be with her parents, and I had my evening free. The instructor handed me my phone telling me that it had been ringing for quite some time. I took the call, it was Radhika ma’am.

“Gopal, can you come to my flat immediately? Something urgent has come up.”

I packed my gym dress into my gym bag and changed. It had been around three months of my employment and I have become a fixture in her life. I was her Man Friday, driver, the odd-jobs man and even her bodyguard at times; not to speak of the myriad roles I had to play in the office.

When I reached her place, Ruffy greeted me enthusiastically. He barked at me excitedly and put his paws all over me, as he tried to lick my face. There was a packed suitcase and Radhika was looking at a printout of airline tickets.

“Gopal, I need to go to Kolkata. My mother has had a heart attack. I received a call from the old-age home. Can you come with me?”

It was not a question, but a gentle order.

We called a cab and on our way to the airport, put a whimpering Ruffy at Kapoor’s Kennel run by a retired army officer whose love for canines was exemplary. At the airport, she bought me a few sets of clothes, inner garments, toiletries and a bag to put these all in. Ah, the bliss of being single; one can go anywhere at the drop of a hat.

We reached Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata in the wee hours of the morning and rushed to her home in Salt Lake City, also called Bidhan Nagar. Radhika asked me to relax, as she changed and left home to visit her mother.

When I woke up, it was already 11 AM and Radhika was back. I could smell the aroma of cooking in the kitchen, as the pangs of hunger tugged at my tummy. The maid in the kitchen was doing her work exceptionally well.

Radhika told me about her mother and that it was nothing very serious or life-threatening. She would be with her mother for the rest of the day, and I was free to explore the city on my own. Of course, she did hand me a wad of medium-value currency notes to cover my daily allowances.

Our sojourn in Kolkata would have gone uneventful, had it not been for the murder that made headlines in the local newspapers the next morning.

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The headlines in the morning newspaper screamed, “Scion of top footwear company Nazir’s killed in a bizarre stabbing incident!

The news mentioned that Abhirup Chaudhari, heir to the famous Nazir brand of footwear, was stabbed repeatedly outside a mall by a lady. Later he was taken to the Mayflower Hospital, where the doctors declared him ‘brought dead’. The cause of death was due to excessive blood loss caused by multiple stab wounds. Eyewitnesses said they could see a minor brawl taking place after which the lady, who was carrying a two-year old girl child, took out a knife and repeatedly stabbed him. According to a spokesperson from the Lalbazar Police HQ, the assailant has been arrested and produced before the magistrate. The accused has been remanded to a week’s judicial custody.

The TV channels made it a “Breaking News”.

I would have dismissed it as another news story, had it not been for what followed next. I was waiting for the breakfast. But instead what I could hear was a howling and sobbing by the old maid. She was with Radhika and crying inconsolably, in between saying something in Bengali. A few words that I could catch were, “Okey baanchao ma, sey kichhu kore ni, sey nirdosh…” In other words, that is in English; it meant ‘Please save her, she has not done anything, she is innocent!”

What I gathered later from Radhika was, her old maid who was also her cook, knew this lady who is being accused of the crime. She is an orphan from a poor family. Her husband ran away after her daughter was born. She has studied up to class eight, and is somehow surviving while taking care of her little child. The Police arrested her yesterday and she has been lodged in Alipore Central Jail during her judicial remand.

Radhika confided in me that she has taken up this case, gratis. In any case, they cannot afford her fees. But if the lady is innocent, she will move heaven and earth to get her out. She was also astounded at the speed at which the Police had taken action. It seems the financial status of victims played a role in the efficiency of the Police.

“Let us go to the Lalbazar Police Office,” she looked at me, “and find out from the Investigating Officer”

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About two hours later, we were at Lalbazar police headquarters, sitting face-to-face with the officer who was dealing with the case. Prodeep Mukherjee, as the nameplate on his uniform read, introduced himself as Inspector Mukhaarjee notwithstanding his name written as ‘Mukherjee”. He looked as if he has only seen “achchey din” or good days. I had read somewhere that it took Katrina Kaif, the beautiful Bollywood actress, three months to train herself for the belly-dance in one of her blockbuster movies. It seemed Inspector Mukherjee was born with this talent. His fat belly danced at the slightest provocation; whether he was shaking hands or speaking. He appeared mighty impressed to know that Radhika was an ex-IPS and had worked in the CBI. He instantly metamorphosed into civility personified. He ordered tea for us and began in Bengali, “Eta to ekey baarey Open-and-Shut case…

“Madam, this is an open-and-shut case. There is hardly anything to investigate,” he voiced his considered verdict like a parliamentarian tabling a proposal; “We have eye-witnesses who saw her stab the victim several times.”

“But I think, the Police has a duty to investigate cases,” Radhika’s voice had the frosty feel as if it has been just taken out from the freezer, “Police-work involves finding out the truth and not relying only on hearsay from people who claim to be eye-witnesses.”

Inspector Prodeep Mukherjee’s face lost a bit of its shine. He muttered audibly, “We have done a background check on the accused. She is a history-sheeter, with cases as long as this,“ he raised his right arm dangling an invisible long scroll of paper. He went on, “She has been arrested several times earlier for shop-lifting, petty theft, prostitution, assault and causing physical hurt, and many more offences.”

“A woman, who is forced to commit such offences, needs to be treated with empathy and sensitivity. Where does it say that such women carry knives and can kill without any provocation?” Radhika admonished him.

Inspector Mukherjee had no answer but he was saved the ordeal, as at that precise moment the tea that he had ordered, arrived. He was astute enough to have ordered it from the TeaCity chain of restaurants, and it was delivered well packaged in a thermos flask.

“Ma’am, we were under tremendous political pressure to arrest the killer. Abhijeet Chaudhury, the cousin brother of the deceased, has been constantly after us to catch the killer.”

“Who is this Abhijeet Chaudhari? Is he not the same person who is one of the leaders of a political party?” Radhika asked.

“Yes, yes. The very same person!” Mukherjee replied, “the Nazir’s was started by Bikash Coudhary, four decades ago. He has retired from the business a few years ago, after a severe attack of paralysis. The business is looked after by Abhijeet Chaudhary, his nephew. His son Abhirup, who was killed, used to stay abroad. He came back last year after his father became invalid due to paralysis.”

I generally do not interrupt when Radhika Ma’am is talking to someone about the case. But, she asked just the question that I would have; “Can you tell us, Mr. Mukherjee, the turn of events leading to this murder?”

“Sure, sure Ma’am,” there was a relief in Inspector Mukherjee’s voice, of being let off the receiving end. He went on to explain, “On that fateful night, Mr. Abhirup was at Bhowanipore Club. He had his usual, sitting on the bar stool near the bartender. Then he settled on a dining chair at the corner of the dining hall, and ordered dinner. He was seen talking on his cell phone, by the waiter serving him. He then left without finishing his dinner. He drove his car himself from the parking. We have the Parking Attendant’s statement too. On his way, he stopped at the East City mall and got knifed by the lady. He quickly got into his car and drove to someplace nearby. Then he called up his cousin brother Abhijeet, who took him to the Mayflower Hospital. The doctors could not save him as there was excessive blood loss.”

Inspector Mukherjee stopped for a moment, during which we kept silent.

He continued from where he had left off, “We found a lot of blood on the car driving seat and the car floor. There was also some blood on the pavement where he must have tried to get out of the car while waiting for his brother. We have the eye-witness account of people who were near the mall at the time he was stabbed.”

I let this information sink in. Meanwhile, I could see Radhika was thinking deeply, her eyebrows were furrowed and her eyes focused at some point on the table.

She raised her head and asked, “What was the assailant’s story?”

Mukherjee looked at us. He didn’t want to smile but his face and especially the lips, betrayed the emotions. Moreover, his pot belly swayed back and forth silently as if it had a mind of its own that did not want to be controlled by its owner.

“Madam, madam…” The repetitions were unwarranted, but perhaps he thought it would bring a good effect to what he was about to disclose, “That is what proves her guilt. What a cock and bull story! I think it comes from watching cinema and TV too much. The young lady says she was approached by a lady in the evening, who offered her money to act in a TV serial. She just had to stab a guy and leave. She was assured that the person would be wearing a rubber plate on his tummy for safety and she had to just act as if she is stabbing him. There will be dummy blood in a plastic bag under his shirt to make it appear as if she has stabbed him.”

Both Radhika and I were taken aback by this revelation. I could feel my jaw dropping for a moment.

“Hmm…” Radhika muttered aloud, “A lady! Could this be about love turned sour, a betrayal or a revenge? Did you check who that lady could be?”

“Oh Ma’am, that is just a story. Every accused gives an excuse for his innocence,” he went on, not quite bothering about fixing the gender in his sentence with the context, “we do not have time to go after chasing wild goose. There was so much pressure, and Abhijeet Babu was breathing down our neck. You know madam, in West Bengal if the murder accused is not arrested within 24 hours, people have burnt down police stations. Pathetic situation! My bosses would turn my body over hot coal.”

I do not know about Radhika, but his fat belly and ass being turned on hot coals, was a thought that made me chuckle to myself.

“I would like to meet this lady.” Radhika said with an air of finality, “I want to ascertain first hand her version.”

“Oh sure, Ma’am”, Mukherjee picked up his peaked police cap and put it over his balding pate. Now he looked more like a policeman than the priests at Kali Ghat, a few of whom I had seen yesterday evening on my visit.

Picking up his police baton and a few files from the table, he said, “I have some more paperwork to complete. I am going to Alipore Central Jail, where this lady Annapurna has been kept in judicial custody along with her child. Elsewhere we do not have facilities, and you know how our judicial system takes good care of the accused and under-trials. Ma’am, if you wish you can come along with me.”

We got into his vehicle, a white Toyota Innova, which had ‘Kolkata Police’ written on its side in bold red capital letters. We reached Alipore Central Jail in about an hour and met the accused in one of the small meeting rooms.

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Annapurna Sikdar was a married woman, whose parents were Bangladeshi refugees who entered India during the Indo-Pak war in 1971. Her husband had left her about two years back after her daughter was born. It is said that he had left for Rajasthan to seek a job. He belonged to Murshidabad district in West Bengal and worked as a mason at construction sites in Kolkata. Annapurna had been doing odd jobs like stitching at a sewing center, working at beauty parlors, cooking at several homes; for a living. However, none of these jobs were regular nor offered a good steady monthly income. She always yearned to bring up her daughter as an educated child and saved whatever she could, for her child’s future.

Radhika quickly built up a rapport with her. She had a great quality of empathy and sensitivity. Soon Annapurna was pouring out her heart. That fateful day a smart good looking lady has approached her to act in a Bengali TV serial she was shooting. She offered her ten thousand rupees in crisp currency notes. The police later confiscated the amount as evidence that she tried to rob that person. Rest of her story matched with what Inspector Mukherjee had told us at the police headquarters. She added that she was asked to leave the scene immediately as the shooting would continue and police vehicles will arrive and other characters will play their roles.

“I did what I was told to do. I wanted to earn more money for my child.” She began sobbing, “I don’t know if I really hurt the person, or I missed to stab him at the right place. I have no experience with knives or stabbing people.

Radhika let her cry for some time. After Annapurna has regained her composure a bit, she put her hands on her shoulder, “Don’t worry Annapurna. Your maasi works at my house. She has told me everything about you. If you are innocent, I will do everything to save you from this ordeal.”

The little child was looking at us with her innocent eyes. It seems the jail authorities had arranged for a new dress for her.

Meanwhile, Mukherjee was busy scribbling on his official pad of paper, putting two sheets of carbon paper underneath the one he was writing on. He was busy preparing the accused’s statement and his investigation report in triplicate. He read out her statement and asked if she understood what was written and spoken to her. Annapurna nodded. He flipped out his stamp pad to take her thumb impression. Annapurna stopped him and said, she is literate and she would put her signature on the papers. Mukherjee, a stickler for police procedures, then took mine and Radhika’s signatures on the sheets, as witnesses.

On our way back Mukherjee asked, “So madam, what do you think about the case?”

I never thought Radhika’s somber voice could have such effects when she replied, “I think she is innocent.”

We were lucky that Mukherjee was not driving the vehicle. The jolt would have made him crash the Innova car on some bikers or pedestrians.

“How… how….” He muttered like a small Pomeranian dog whose tail has been stepped over by a person wearing heavy boots. “How can you say that madam?” He was feeling hurt, or perhaps offended.

“Because she is telling the truth. There is some foul play. We have to trace out this lady who gave her ten thousand rupees,” Radhika replied.

For the rest of the journey, Mukherjee kept quiet.

When we reached Lalbazar police office, Mukherjee offered to get some snacks for us, which Radhika politely declined. We settled for tea, again.

Radhika asked for the mobile numbers of the Chaudhury brothers, which was dutifully provided by Mukherjee.

“Is there anything else that you would like to share?” Radhika asked Mukherjee. “I do not think you have got the call records and locations for these numbers. They are big names, but I have been in the CBI and I have my own network to get these things done.”

Inspector Mukherjee had no answer, but his face had lost much of its color. He was looking like the temple priest who could not catch any clients that day.

We bid Mukherjee adieu and strolled out. As we reached the exit gates, a constable came running and said, “Please come back. Mukherjee Sir has called for you, it is something urgent!”

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When we were back at his table, Mukherjee was beaming with pride, “Ma’am, a breakthrough! I just received a call from a gentleman who has made a short film on the problems of economically weaker women in terms of livelihood. He says Annapurna was one of the ladies whose life featured in his documentary.“

He gave us the details and address of a gentleman called Partha Ray.

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When we returned home, Radhika was not able to sleep. She looked tense as she paced around the sprawling house. I could see her making a lot of phone calls.

Next morning, Radhika decided that we should go to Partha Ray’s house. She called for a cab. While we were having breakfast, a young guy with rookie cop written all over him; delivered a thick envelope. Radhika immediately got busy with it, underlining and highlighting the pages.

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Partha Ray lived in Maheshtala near Batanagar, in one of the newly constructed flats. It took us more than an hour to reach there. Partha Ray turned out to be a retired bank officer. He was a thin man, clean-shaved with sparse long grey and white hairs on his head. With his thick black framed spectacles; round in shape, like the one you must have seen Amitabh Bachchan and Steve Jobs wear; he looked every inch an intellectual. He had taken to making short films as a hobby, and being a feminist and women’s rights activist, found his hobby to be very effective in sensitizing people on these issues. He has met with quite some success in his avocation. He proudly showed us the trophies and mementos he had been awarded. But how he knew the assailant lady?

“You see, I made a short film on the working women in the unorganized sector,“ he began explaining, “and this lady was one of those we interviewed in the film. She seemed to be very hard-working and upright. Someone told me yesterday that she committed such a heinous crime. I can’t think of any reason for her to go to this extreme.”

For quite some time he went on rambling on the exploitation of such women and how the system is insensitive to their plight; before telling at length how he has been contributing to the society by highlighting economic disparity and the issues of livelihood.

I was getting a feeling that we have just wasted our time, when Radhika took out the sheets of A4 papers which she had received this morning.

“Here is a list of some people along with their photos, names, and addresses,“ she handed the bunch of sheets to Mr. Ray, “can you tell me if anyone looks familiar?”

Ray held the papers and peered into them. He turned the pages. At one point he suddenly gaped, wide-eyed, and his eyebrows were curved and raised. He then turned the paper towards the light and mumbled inaudibly.

“Did you find anyone you know?” Radhika asked, more to encourage him than expecting something worthwhile.

“I know this young lady, but her name is given here as Arunima. But her surname Sikdar and her address at Behala, is correct. I know her as Purnima Sikdar. I still have her address and phone number. We have worked together while making short films. Ohhh… wait a minute… I think the picture is of her twin sister. She had one, who teaches in a school.”

“You mean to say that you Arunima Sikdar, whose photograph is here, has a twin sister Purnima, whom you knew?”

“Yes, ma’am. That is what I meant.”

“Do you have her contact number? Purnima’s number. Can you tell her about us and that we want to meet her?”

“Sure, I will do it now.”

Mr. Ray called a landline number from his landline phone and fixed up our appointment.

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We reached Purnima’s house in Behala. It was quite in the interior, near a school with a signboard proclaiming it as Banitirtha Girls’ High School. On the way, Radhika had told me that she could get a week’s call details including the tower locations of Abhirup and Abhijeet Chaudhary. They have also shortlisted the frequently called numbers and got the names, addresses, and photographs from the records of the telecom service providers. The phone number of Arunima figured a number of times in Abhijeet Chaudhary’s call records. Even their locations at times, matched for quite long durations.

Purnima turned out to be a svelte, sophisticated and sensuous young lady with shoulder length dark brown hairs which had a deep shade of chestnut. She offered us a cold drink and sat opposite us. Although she was trying to act cool, her demeanor betrayed her attempts. She looked more shaken when Radhika introduced herself and told her the purpose of our visit.

“We would like to talk to your younger sister Arunima.” Radhika told her, “It seems she was very much in touch with Abhijeet Chaudhary, whose brother died recently.”

I could see a faint shiver that ran through Purnima’s body.

The next moment she regained her composure. “But she is in the school, teaching. She will be back only in the evening.” She replied.

“Can you call her, and tell her about us. We could at least talk with her.”

“But my phone battery is down. It is on the charger.”

“No problem. In that case, let me call her.” Radhika took out her cell phone and dialed the number that was on her list.

A mobile phone rang somewhere close. It was in the pocket of the denim jeans Purnima was wearing. She took it out and disconnected the call.

Her face was drained of color.

“I… I think my sister … forgot to take her phone…” was all that she could manage to utter.

Radhika noted her discomfort and took this as the right moment for her dramatic exit, but after leaving a disguised warning, “Okay, be careful. We are leaving now, please tell your sister that we will be calling on her. It would be in her interest, if she comes out clean with us.”

Radhika raised her phone and did something that seemed so strange and unusual of her.

She went near Purnima and took a selfie, “This is just for my records, hope you don’t mind.”

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We returned home. It was a long drive. On the way back, I had been looking at the side rear-view mirror, as Radhika was deep in thoughts. I could see a black Maruti Desire, a few cars behind us. It reminded me oddly of the car that I had spotted, parked near Purnima’s house. It is not usual for two cars about a hundred meters apart to trace the same long route in a city. We passed through the Diamond Harbour Road, then Alipore Road, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road Flyover, then Maa Flyover and finally through NH12 to finally enter Bidhan Nagar. The black Desire followed us dutifully. The dent just behind the right headlights over the wheel arch made it distinctive.

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After dinner, Radhika invited me for a walk. I had this uneasy feeling since late evening.

“Do you have any arms at your place?” I asked her sounding casual.

“Of course, I always carry my Walther Pee Two Two Target, it is so light and small.” Radhika tapped the concealed shoulder holster that carried the handgun. “There is also a twelve bore handgun at home. A Poldi, Czech gun. My grandfather used it for hunting. I will show it to you.”

We got engrossed in discussing the case. There was a huge water tank in the next lane. There was hardly any traffic around. A Tata 407 mini truck which was coming from the inside lanes, turned on the road on which we were strolling. It had its headlights switched off and only the dim parking lights were on.

There was a sudden revving up of an engine, and the roar magnified in intensity in milliseconds. It sounded like a muffled explosion. I held Radhika by the waist and pulled her towards the edge of the road. We glided off the pavement and fell on the extreme side. There was a blur, and a deafening sound as the truck passed by. It hit a yellow-green painted street bollard, uprooting it. The swerving vehicle then sped away.

“Thanks,” Radhika got up as we dusted our clothes, “That was really lightning fast of you. Seems like we have forced them to show their hand!”

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When we reached home, Radhika handed me the double-barreled shotgun and a box of cartridges. I checked the gun and flipped the barrels open. It was in fine shape even though it had not been used for decades. The cartridge box contained an assortment of several types including the lethal LG, SG, MG shots which were used in big game hunting. These can even bring down an elephant if it is shot in the head. I chose the non-lethal bird hunting No.2 and No.4 cartridges. I loaded them in that order in the left and right barrels.

I rearranged the bed, shifting it towards the corner, away from the window. I pushed the dressing table opposite the window. I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. I was awakened by a rustle of leaves outside the window. In an instant, I was alert as I gripped the gun which was on the bed beside me. Through the dressing room mirror I could see the window curtains fluttering, but nothing beyond it. I tip-toed stealthily and reached the window. I could see two shadows moving in the backyard. In metro cities firing a shot in the air can be an offence and a danger to civilians. I pointed the barrels at the rose-beds and squeezed the trigger. There was a deafening sound and the shadows dispersed immediately. It took me more than an hour to get back to deep sleep again.

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Next morning, again another young guy from the CBI, I was inclined to think so, though I did not ascertain it for sure; delivered a large sealed envelope to Radhika. She rifled through the contents looking for some information only she was sure about.

It was a while after breakfast when she said, “It is time for us to visit Annapurna again. This time we will go alone. I think she was hesitant to tell us everything in the presence of Inspector Mukherjee.”

At the visiting rooms of the Alipore Central Jail, she talked at length with Annapurna. Most of it was in Bengali, so I played a deaf ear to it. When the conversation was almost concluding, Radhika pulled out the same stack of papers that she had shown to Partha Ray.

“Can you recognize any of them?” Radhika handed over the sheaf of papers to her.

Annapurna turned the pages, nodding her head sideways from time to time. She stopped at the photograph of Arunima, “She looks familiar, but I don’t remember knowing her.”

She returned the papers.

“Hmm…” Radhika’s eyebrows furrowed deeply. She took out her mobile phone. She flicked through the pics, and stopped at the selfie she had taken yesterday. She enlarged the pic with two fingers till Purnima’s face was all over the screen.

She showed it to Purnima, “Have you seen her anytime recently?”

Purnima reacted as if she had stepped on a live electric wire. She sat bolt upright.

“Yes, she is the one who gave me ten thousand rupees for the small act!” She exclaimed excitedly.

Radhika looked at me and glowered to no one in particular. “Look at her nerves, so audacious, insolent… She could have told us that she has been using her sister’s phone all the time.” She stopped to think and said, “That points to her guilt. Now I have a fairly good idea what had happened.”

She got up and I did the same. Radhika hugged Annapurna and patted her back. “Do not worry. I know you are innocent. I will get you out soon.”

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On our way back I asked Radhika, “Ma’am, have you found the murderer?”

Radhika looked at me with twinkling eyes, “Yes, of course. What do you think?”

I had no reply, so I just smiled back at her as if I knew it already. I did have some inkling of this. It was for nothing that she had been spending hours, of late, on her phone. Most likely, she must be in discussion with her old network of CBI and their informers.

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Inspector Mukherjee was beaming with pride, as if he had accomplished a Herculean task. He had brought along the Joint Commissioner of Police, Mr. Shyamal Bagchi; more for effect or as a pillar of support, I was undecided. Along with Radhika Ma’am, they sat in the second row of a more swankily decorated Innova that belonged to the Office of the Commissioner of Police. I was in the first row, sitting next to the driver. Inspector Mukherjee’s Innova followed with a posse of policemen, a few of them armed. If you are interested to know, Kolkata policemen wear an all-white uniform. A blue-colored van followed us to complete the convoy. Except us, no one in the convoy knew our destination. This was the standard operating practice of the Police to avoid any tip-off to alert those being raided.

We reached the registered office of the Calcutta Footwear Company, the company that owned the Nazir brand. It was located at 2/7, Camac Street. It was next to Park Street. The convoy was asked to park there. The company office was spread over three floors. The second floor had the offices of senior executives and Board Members.

The receptionist conveyed the message and led us to Mr. Abhijeet’s cabin. Abhijeet turned out to be younger than I had thought. He was fair and handsome. He had a thick wavy set of dark hairs on his head, an aquiline nose, and a beard to offset the feminine softness in his face.

He did not look too enthusiastic upon seeing us. He shook hands and informed us coldly that he was very busy for the General Body meeting of the company scheduled next week, “Pardon me, but after the loss of my elder brother, I feel so helpless and pressurized to attend to these matters alone. I am really awfully busy.”

It was Radhika who started laying the ropes of the trap, “We are sorry Mr. Abhijeet, but you may need to delegate these matters and worry about more pressing matters.”

“What do you mean, Ma’am?” He asked incredulously.

Radhika looked at the Joint Commissioner of Police. Mr. Bagchi began tightening the noose, “Mr. Abhijeet, we have investigated the death of Late Abhirup Chaudhary on the night of 23rd instant. We have come across sufficient evidences that suggest that it was not a case of stray violence or accidental injuries. It was a pre-planned murder. You called up the deceased from the club where he was having his dinner and asked him to meet outside the lane near East City Mall. There you stabbed him and let him bleed to death before taking him to the hospital. You both drive the same black BMWs with consecutive registration numbers. You thought you will get the eye-witnesses confused. You have no idea how we have traced all your movements through electronic surveillance.”

“Electronic surveillance… Huh…” Abhijeet looked defiant and arrogant, “You can’t prove this in court. It is not admissible as evidence. Anyone can take or steal my mobile phone and go around killing people.”

“Mr. Abhijit, we have gathered enough pieces of evidences and witnesses’ statements.” The Joint Commissioner explained patiently, “For example the video recordings of the club, statement of parking attendant; when the stabbing took place at the mall, Mr. Abhirup was just leaving the club. Moreover, we have a star prosecution witness, who has agreed for plea-bargaining!”

The noose has tightened now.

“That bitch…” Abhijeet gritted his teeth and spat out verbally, “I always knew she would double-cross me some day.” He looked like a leaking balloon getting deflated slowly.

Radhika stepped in with her query, “You sent people to attack us. I don’t understand why you had to kill Abhirup yourself?”

“I had to kill him myself because I didn’t want anyone to know this. Just because he is elder, and son of Mr. Chaudhary, does he get everything on a platter? He went abroad and lived his life. I struggled with Mr. Chaudhary for years and made Nazir what it is today. Why should he inherit everything that I helped to create? He had tortured me when we were children. Just because my father was the younger brother of Mr. Chaudhary and left me an orphan. He treated me like a servant. He comes back and gets everything? He was also getting my personal expenses audited, and was asking me for justifications for so many business decisions….” He stopped as if all strength has ebbed from him.

Radhika spoke like an enlightened saint, “Whatever feelings you may have had for him, it does not justify wilfully taking a man’s life.”

I could not stop myself from speaking, “You did not think twice before implicating a mother of two-year-old…”

“I just wanted someone helpless to take up the rap,” Abhijeet replied scornfully.

I rarely judge people, but I had no doubts that behind the attractive suave personality, this man was one of the worst specimens of humanity.

Inspector Mukherjee stepped ahead and delivered the coup de grâce, “Mr. Abhijeet Chaudhary, I am putting you under arrest for the murder of Abhirup Chaudhary. Please come with us to the police station.”

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Next morning, we had an early visitor. Inspector Mukherjee had come with a bouquet, Radhika’s favorite dark chocolates and a packet of Sandesh sweets that seems to have brought after being offered in a temple. A beaming and smiling Mr. Mukherjee looked so different from his usual police-self. I would not have recognized him in a street.

He saluted Radhika and said with a bow, ”Thank you so much, Ma’am. The Commissioner has announced an award for me. He has also promised that I will get my long awaited promotion this year! The credit for everything goes to you, Ma’am.”

He got up to leave, “Ma’am. Annapurna shall be released today. She is a free person now!”

Then he looked at us, and smiled; “Radhika and Gopal… Gopal and Radhika! What a divine team. God bless you both.”

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We had to catch the late evening flight. We had already packed and were waiting for our flight. The cook informed us, with a beatific smile that some people are here to meet us. She called them in. Annapurna touched and almost fell on Radhika’s feet. She introduced the man who was carrying her daughter, “Didi, he is my swami, Nitai. He came this morning. He found some permanent job in Jaipur. We will be leaving for Jaipur soon. We will always be indebted to you. You saved our life…”

We were getting late for the airport for our flight back to New Delhi. I would have loved to tell you more; especially how my initial dislike for Radhika had changed to admiration, and more. But they tell me there is something called – the word limit! Maybe next time when I tell you the new stories. Till then… stay tuned and don’t forget to take good care of yourself.

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About the Author :

Raj Kumar Hansdah is an HR Manager by profession and a writer by passion. An avid reader since his childhood, he is interested in all genres of fiction. When he is not busy reading, ghostwriting or working on his debut thriller; he loves to spend time with his wife and son.

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Written by Raj Kumar Hansdah

Raj Kumar is an HR Manager by profession and a writer by passion. An avid reader since his childhood, he is interested in all genres of fiction. When he is not busy reading, ghostwriting or working on his debut thriller; not necessarily in that order; he loves to spend time with his wife and son.