Avanika knew something was wrong the second she spied his name flash on the screen. It was tempting to ignore the call, but instincts told her she should at least listen to what he has to say.

“Yes?” Her voice was even.

“I need your help, Avni. Come immediately, please.”

“The name is Avanika. What happened?” Judging the desperation in his tone, it was something on the lines she specialized.

“Sorry… Avanika. Please help me. There is a dead body in my house.”

“Whose?” She asked without a change in her tone. She should have been surprised, but she wasn’t.

“I don’t know. I mean, I do. But…”

“But what, Ransh?” She snapped. Despite the situation, Avanika was in no mood to forget and forgive his past mistakes.

He audibly swallowed, “Her face is familiar. I think I saw her two days ago.” Then he added. “At the club.”

Avanika suppressed a curse. It was hardly surprising. He wasn’t the killer type, but anybody could kill when pushed into a corner. And, Ransh was mercurial enough to become a prime suspect.

“Call the police.” She ordered.

“They’ll arrest me! Avanika, I didn’t do anything. Trust me, please. I wasn’t home all night.” He panicked.

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Avanika counted until five. “Ransh, you will need to call the police. Now.”

“But…”

She picked up the keys from her table and walked to the door. “I’m on my way. If you don’t call them, I’ll have to do it myself.”

After a pause, he mumbled he would do it.

“Good. Don’t touch anything until I come.”

Ransh sighed into the phone, relieved. “Avanika, I’m glad you chose your profession over me.”

She snorted. Becoming a P.I was her only ambition. After years of persistence, Avanika was successful. But she certainly didn’t sacrifice her relationships for her career. It’s been two years but Ransh hasn’t changed. She thought.

***

Upon reaching Crimson Apartments, Avanika saw a constable talking to the security guard. She heard the guard saying that he didn’t see Ransh or any stranger coming or leaving the building. Shaking her head, she hopped into the elevator behind the reception. She thought she saw something odd but couldn’t pinpoint. As the elevator inched upwards, she composed herself.

The door of the apartment 703 was ajar. The constable manning the door nodded to acknowledge her and offered her a pair of gloves and shoe covers. Being a cop’s fiancé had its perks. Slipping on the hand gloves, Avanika stepped inside the apartment. It reeked of alcohol and a familiar ‘scent of death’. She saw the forensic investigators collecting the fingerprints and Ransh sitting on a couch.

Seeing her, Ransh rushed towards her and hugged her. Looking through her peripheral vision, she noticed Amar glancing at them. She knew those glances were not of a jealous fiancé, but of a rule-abiding cop.

“We can’t talk right now.” Pulling away from him, she said. As Ransh lumbered back to the couch, she walked up to Amar who was talking to his deputy, Roy.

Before she could say anything, Amar started, “Avni, it is a high-profile case. All eyes are going to be on us. You can’t talk to the prime suspect on the crime scene. Come to the police station in a few hours. Your expertise may help the case. However, I insist on following the rules.”

Avanika nodded and asked, “With your permission, may I take pictures?”

He replied, “Once we are done, you may. Roy, stay with her. Provide her what we can.” Amar left Roy and Avanika alone.

Roy started “The victim, Tanya, was a model who also worked as an escort. She had done the entry in the reception register as Sara at 10:45 pm.”

“Where is the body?” She asked with a frown and dejection, listening to the escort angle in the case related to her ex.

Roy led her to the bedroom. Avanika saw Tanya’s body lying in a supine position in a pool of blood. The AC was on, which considerably slowed down the decomposition rate. She noticed that the rigor-mortis* had begun to set in. Given the body’s stiffness, she concluded that the death time must be around 12 am.

“Any evidence?” She asked.

“Two glasses were used to drink scotch. The forensic officer informed that one of the glasses doesn’t have any fingerprints. We also found a slip from her purse which has the name and address of the suspect”. Roy opened the evidence box and handed over a poorly scribbled slip, which read – R. Sharma, 703, Crimson Apts.

Evidence were getting incriminating against Ransh.

 “Ransh Sharma, you lied to me.” She murmured.

***

Avanika barged into the room where Ransh was detained.

“You lied to me.” She yelled.

“What?”

She had tried her best to calm herself since Ransh’s phone-call, but was losing it now- “You said that you saw her in a club… but you had booked her for last night. Didn’t you?”

“I did not.” He sternly replied.

“You didn’t know that she was an escort?” She asked.

“No! I knew her only as a model whom I saw in a club a few days ago.” He explained

“Then how did she come here? You think I’m an idiot?” She blasted

“Avanika, I don’t know. I didn’t do anything. Am I stupid to book her and then kill her at my home?” He counter-questioned.

Avanika took a pause to reflect. He was right.

“Where were you?” Avanika demanded.

“I can’t tell that. I’ve promised someone,” Looking down, he said.

“Ransh, someone was killed at your home and you’re worried about your promise? No one saw you leaving the building.” Avanika said.

“I never said that I left the building. I said that I was not at my apartment.”

As he said those words, it struck her- he was with that woman.

“Were you with her?” She asked.

He didn’t reply. She knew it was that woman. And she barged out as she had barged in.

***

Avanika knocked at the apartment 1207. A lady wearing a green gown opened the door. Seeing Avanika, lady’s face lost its color.

“I can’t talk.” As she was about to close the door, Avanika slid her foot between the door and door-jamb.

“Was he with you last night?” Avanika asked.

“My husband has just got home…”

“Meena, Ransh is the prime suspect in a murder case. You tell me the truth or I tell your husband about your extra-marital affair.” Avanika threatened.

“Alright, I confess. He was with me for the entire night. Please, don’t tell my husband. It will ruin my marriage.” Meena pleaded.

Avanika turned to leave, then stopped and said, “Nothing can ruin an already ruined marriage.”

***

“Who killed you?” Avanika asked the chalked outline at Ransh’s bedroom. Just then she realized what had been bothering her since morning. She hurried towards the intercom and called the security guard.

“R. Sharma. Which flat does he live in?” She asked with a pounding heart.

“There are two R. Sharma- 703 and 103.” He replied.

In the morning, Avanika had glanced through two R.Sharmas on the name board- the odd she couldn’t pinpoint then. She figured Tanya would have misread 103 as 703 due to the poorly-scribbled note.

She climbed down six floors and rang the doorbell.

“Yes?” A man in his 30s opened the door.

“Mr. Sharma. I’m Avanika. I’m investigating the murder which happened last night.” She came straight to the point.

“Please come in.”  He hesitatingly said.

“Mr. Sharma…” She started.

“Call me, Rocky. Yes, I heard about the murder.” He interjected.

“Where were you last night?” She asked.

“I was at my home.” He answered.

“You have a family?” She questioned, noticing no one else in the house.

“I’ve no one here. I recently moved to this city” He said with a flat face.

“Did you book Tanya as an escort?” She asked.

“Yes, I did. She never showed up.” He spoke with a frown on his broad forehead.

“She was the one who got killed. Where were you last night?” Avanika demanded the truth.

“I don’t know anything. I was alone at home. Are you insinuating, that I booked her, somehow got into apartment 703 and killed her? It seems that she went to the other R Sharma by mistake. And got killed.” He replied.

Showing her the door, he asked: “Is there anything else?”

***

Another dead end, sitting in Ransh’s bedroom, Avanika thought.

She tried to replay what could have happened. She enacted to fall after having her head hit with the dressing. As she fell on the floor, she noticed something shiny under the bed. She picked it up. It was a car key with a guitar. She remembered the keychain, she had gifted it to Ransh. In that instant, she knew who the culprit was. She took a moment and played the sequence of events that must have happened last night in her mind.

***

Avanika drove to the police station and caught hold of Amar.

“Ransh is innocent. His driver is the killer.” She blurted.

“What? How?” Amar asked.

“There are two R. Sharma’s in the building. Other one is Rocky, who lives in 103. This is what happened last night- Rocky books Tanya as an escort. She reaches Ransh’s apartment by mistake. Ransh isn’t home. But his driver- Raju is, most likely to leave the keys after his duty hours. Tanya thinks he is the one who booked her, and Raju lets her believe so. At some stage, she realizes Raju is not the house owner. She runs but Raju tries to stop her. She falls, hits her head on the dressing, and dies on the spot. Raju runs away. But not before cleaning his fingerprints off the glass. And now he is absconding.” Avanika spoke in a breath. However, she skipped the part about Meena. She decided she wouldn’t bring it up until necessary.

Amar smiled and said: “I knew you would do it.”

***

A year later-

Ransh poured scotch in a glass and handed it to Meena,

“Cheers! A double celebration. I got divorced and Raju got only five years sentence for Tanya’s accidental death. And nobody even doubted you, not even that smart-ass Avanika.” Rolling her eyes, Meena said sarcastically.

 “I knew Avanika would trust me. There is a reason doctors don’t treat their family and friends; their emotions get in the way. Avanika’s emotions clouded her judgment, though she believes otherwise.

That day I was alone here. The bell rang, Tanya was at the door. I knew her as a model but was surprised to know that she was an escort too. I thought to take a chance since it anyway didn’t matter for her after the night. We had drinks. As we were getting ready for the action, she got a call from her home. Her mother wasn’t well. I demanded her to finish what we started. She didn’t listen. As you know, I snatch what I don’t get. I forced myself on her. She slipped out, I pulled her feet, she hit her head and died on the spot.

I was blank for a few moments. I made this plan. I called Raju, who wanted 3-4 weeks leave to go to his village, and told him that he can go to his village as I was going out of town. I planted the car-key under the bed. I cleaned off my fingerprints from the glass. After thinking about each possibility in my plot, the next morning I called Avanika. I massaged her ego by thanking her for choosing her profession over me.  She did the rest for me. All I had to do was make a puppy-face. I wonder if she still has a soft corner for me.” Ransh smirked.

Looking in her green eyes, he said, “I love our open-relationship, something Avanika would never accept as she wants everything to be ideal”

“But I didn’t understand why did Raju confess to killing Tanya?” Raising her eyebrow, she asked.

“Police knows how to get a confession they want. Later, I visited him in prison and promised him money which he could not have earned in his lifetime.” Sipping his drink, he said.

He added, “I couldn’t have done it without you. You gave the false alibi.” He said and kissed Meena’s neck.

“Anything for you, my darling,” Meena said and their laughter filled the apartment 703.

***

*Rigor Mortis- or postmortem rigidity, the third stage of death, is one of the recognizable signs of death, caused by chemical changes in the muscles post mortem, which cause the limbs of the corpse to stiffen. – Wikipedia

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