“Tap, tap,” came a rapping sound. Krishanu tried to move into a more comfortable position as he slept on. The insistent tapping continued though and opening an eye, he saw that he had gone to sleep at his office desk. “Arrrghhhh,” he groaned out loud, his neck, shoulders and back protesting at the odd position he had slept in.
“Tap tap,” came the sound again. Realizing that someone was knocking on his office door, he rose with another loud groan and went to open the door, all his muscles protesting. The crime officer of Bhawanipore police station stood right outside his door, all alert in uniform. Seeing Krishanu’s blood shot eyes and unshaven face, he shook his head, and came inside. “I need your help,” said Mr. Nilimesh Basu.
Krishanu did not bother to reply, but raised a sardonic eyebrow. “There has been a murder in Rashmoni Lane last night. Help me solve it,” said Mr. Basu.
Krishanu was a private investigator and had helped the police with some difficult homicides earlier. He had helped the police catch the murderer of a famous actress six months back and since then he had been tolerated by the police force even if they did find him a nuisance from time to time. Krishanu had used his observant nature and love for solving difficult puzzles to set up his own investigative firm. He rented a small office on Ashutosh Mukherjee Road. Mostly he earned his living following unfaithful spouses and investigating credit card frauds and though he disliked doing it, he had no other choice. He had one assistant investigator helping him with the small cases.
“Who is it?” he gruffly asked Mr. Basu. “It’s a lady who was working as a part-time journalist in Mumbai. She was here on leave. Her mother found her in the morning. We have not yet moved the body. Come with me, now. It’s not very far...”
“Okay,” replied Krishanu and accompanied Mr. Basu to the victim’s house. As they turned the corner towards the house, Krishanu felt old memories stir in him when he saw which lane they were headed towards. This was the lane, where his girlfriend from college had lived before she moved to Mumbai. As they approached the house, he felt a growing horror as he realized that it was the same house where his girlfriend and her mother had stayed in. It was then he guessed with a sinking feeling that the victim might very well be Roshmi, his ex-girlfriend. He went inside with Mr. Basu and there in the living room, was the body lying on a sofa face down with a knife sticking out of her back. There were multiple stab wounds on her body and blood splattered all around the place.
As Mr. Basu asked one of the crime techs to turn the body over, Krishanu turned chalk white as he realized that he had guessed right. It was Roshmi his ex-girlfriend.
“Mr. Basu, I knew her!” said Krishanu. “You did?” exclaimed a surprised Mr. Basu, “How?”
“She was my girlfriend back in college,” said Krishanu and suddenly a wail came from the bedroom. He approached and saw that Roshmi’s mother, Gauri was sitting on the bed, crying in anguish. Krishanu slowly walked up to her, and Gauri on hearing the footsteps looked up. A look of recognition immediately dawned on her face and she asked, “Aren’t you Krishanu – Roshmi’s friend from college? What are you doing here?” “Yes Auntie. I am an investigator and I help the police to solve cases…” replied Krishanu his words tailing off as he realized that the lady’s daughter was also a “case” now.
He quickly changed tack and said “Can you tell me whatever you can remember from last night? Where was Roshmi?”
“Roshmi had gone out. She came back late and never woke me. I got up today morning and walked into the living room to find her like that…” said Gauri breaking into fresh sobs of anguish. Krishanu felt memories stir in him of his lost love and quickly escaped outside for a smoke.
“Ouch,” Krishanu exclaimed, as the cigarette he had been smoking for the past few minutes burnt through his fingers. Stubbing out the cigarette with his toe, he went inside the house. Mr. Basu said, “There is no sign of forced entry. So either she knew the intruder and let him in, or he had a key and was already inside waiting for her…”
Krishanu nodded and noticed that one of the ornamental knives on the wall was missing. Could that be the murder weapon? Well, he would have to wait for the autopsy results to confirm that. He and Mr. Basu went in to talk to Mrs. Gauri Raha again.
“Can you tell us your daughter’s movements last night?” asked Mr. Basu
“Well she went out in the evening and told me she would be late. I did not hear her come in. In the morning I walked into the living room to find her like that…” and Gauri’s voice broke.
“You did not hear anything?” asked Krishanu
“Do you know who she was with?” he asked.
“She did not tell me,” replied Gauri.
Krishanu sighed to himself. His work now involved interviewing Roshmi’s friends. He knew some of them from the past and was still friends with a few. “It would be awkward to question them as murder suspects!” he thought to himself.
Finally, the two detectives wound up the interview with Mrs. Raha and came out when Mr. Basu suddenly asked, “You realize you need to account for your movements, last night, don’t you?” he asked Krishanu.
“You mean I am a suspect and you need my alibi?” asked Krishanu incredulously. “I have not met her for some years now!”
“Nevertheless, you knew the victim and had the means, opportunity, and errr motive to kill her. So…” he trailed off looking a little awkward himself.
Krishanu sighed and tried to remember what he had been doing last night. “Let me see. My assistant went home at 8:30 PM, after which I sat in my office drafting some surveillance reports for a corporate firm who is my client. At 10:00 I ordered some Chinese delivery for dinner, and then continued to work and drank a couple of glasses of scotch till I fell asleep,” he remembered. “Does that clear me or not?”
Mr. Basu held up his hands, “Yes, I think so. Hey, I am just doing my job! If you ask me, I don’t think you killed her. But you know we have to eliminate every possibility.”
Krishanu nodded wryly and decided to go back to his office to look up all his college friends’ phone numbers and get his assistant to start calling them for appointments.
He also made an appointment with the medical examiner to find out about the murder weapon and cause of death.
The next morning, he planned to talk to Dr. Indira Ghoshal, the medical examiner and then interview a couple of his old college friends. When he reached the medical office, Dr. Ghoshal was talking into a Dictaphone, recording one of her autopsies as he walked in. “How can I help you today?” she asked politely. “I was wondering if you could tell me a little about the Roshmi case…” he replied with equal politeness.
Indira steepled her hands together on her desk and said, “Well she was stabbed multiple times with a sharp object, with serrations. Judging from the blood splatter and the depth of the wounds, it was a crime of passion…”
“Could it have been one of these knives?” asked Krishanu showing her a photo of the knife set on Roshmi’s wall he had clicked on his cell phone while at Roshmi’s house.
“It could be. I will have to check one of the knives against the wounds on the body to confirm that,” she replied looking at the photo and then looking up suddenly with compassion in her eyes she said, “I am sorry. I know she was your friend. I can tell you one thing and I don’t know how you will take it. She was pregnant…”
Krishanu kept his face blank and replied, “It’s fine. We were not together for ages!”
He made the doctor promise that she would inform him about anything she might find out and went to meet his friend Arnab next. “What’s up, buddy?” asked Arnab as they ordered two beers in a small pub.
“Roshmi is dead. Murdered - last night,” said Krishanu straightaway.
“What? Oh my God, no! Do they know who did it?” exclaimed Arnab. Krishanu observed Arnab closely and tried to figure out whether his surprise was genuine or just a put on.
“Arnab, were you in touch with Roshmi?” he asked.
“Me? Oh no. You know that we never got along,” replied Arnab shaking his head. “I am sorry she is dead but with her lifestyle…”
“What do you know about her lifestyle?” asked Krishanu
“What everyone else knew from her Facebook updates! She seemed to be quite dissipated!” said Arnab
“Hmmm. What were you doing last night?” he asked Arnab
“I was out with my office buddies till 12 after which I drove home,” said Arnab glibly.
“You need to give the contact numbers of some of those buddies so that I can confirm that,” replied Krishanu coolly.
“Of course,” said Arnab and recited some names and numbers. Krishanu noted them down and after checking with the concerned people, he cleared Arnab as a suspect.
Krishanu decided to go visit Surajit, another common friend, who had been close to Roshmi in college. Greetings over, Krishanu decided to take care of the difficult part first. “Tell me what you were doing on the night of 8th June.”
“Well, I was watching a movie with my wife at Priya Cinemas – the six to nine show. After that we came home, had dinner and fell asleep,” answered Surajit calmly.
“But I would like to tell you that I had met Roshmi a couple of days before she died. I had gone to her place and we chatted for a while. She seemed her usual self though and I did not notice anything strange about her…” he pre-empted Krishanu’s questions.
“Fine. What do you know about her friends and life in Mumbai?” asked Krishanu unruffled.
Surajit hesitated a little and Krishanu said baldly “I know she was pregnant at the time of her death. The medical examiner told me. Now stop dithering and tell me what you know!”
“Well…she was dating a movie star…” said Surajit hesitantly.
“Who?” asked Krishanu in surprise.
“You know that guy who is everyone’s current heartthrob? Mohan Khanna? He’s the one she was seeing.”
“But he is married!” exclaimed Krishanu. “So what? When has that ever stopped anyone from having an affair?” retorted Surajit.
“Hmmm,” mused Krishanu. He wondered if the actor was involved in her murder. Questioning Mohan about Roshmi would be extremely tricky and he came to the conclusion that it was best left to the police to handle.
Krishanu thought that even if Mohan had not murdered Roshmi himself, he could very easily have hired a goon to take care of the ‘pregnant problem’.
On the way back from Surajit’s house, Krishanu decided to stop by Dr. Indira’s. Indira opened the door herself and looked surprised at suddenly finding Krishanu at her doorstep. “Is anything wrong?” she asked.
“No no! Nothing!” reassured Krishanu. “I just wanted to talk and ask you if you had got the results for toxicology and also about her stomach contents when she died…”
“Come in,” said Indira stepping back into her living room. “I got the results today just before I left the office. I was going to call you tomorrow. She did not have drugs in her system when she died. However, her arm had old track marks, which meant that she had used earlier. Regarding her stomach contents, she had had some kind of continental meal the night she died. Does that tell you what you want to know?” asked Indira.
It did strike Krishanu that Roshmi had been trying to clean up for the baby inside her, which meant that she had planned to keep it. Her stomach contents meant that she had had dinner at some restaurant, probably with someone she knew. Krishanu had to find out who that was.
Krishanu went to meet Mr. Basu and told him about Roshmi being involved with Mohan and for his help in questioning Mohan. Mr. Basu said thoughtfully, “Tough! He will resist any efforts to be questioned and we do not have jurisdiction in Mumbai to question him. Celebrities! How I hate them!”
He thought a little more and then said, “Let me call some of my contacts there and see if one of them can go talk to him using a little discretion…”
Saying so he called one of the guys he knew who promised to try and talk to Mohan but be tactful about it, so that they did not scare him into shutting up and not cooperating with the police.
Krishanu had to be satisfied with that and he spoke a little more about the other people he had been investigating and then left.
Krishanu thought hard about the case, and realized that he still had not found out who Roshmi had had dinner with the last night of her life. He went to the police evidence locker and asked to see Roshmi’s handbag which the police had seized on the morning when the body had been discovered but done nothing further about it.
Rummaging through the tiny purse, he found the usual compact, lipstick, credit cards and some loose change. Under everything finally he found what he was looking for. There was a crumpled paper napkin with lipstick marks and the name ‘Sugar n Salt’ written on one corner. ‘Sugar n Salt’ was a popular eating joint on Ashutosh Mukherjee Road and Krishanu knew that chances were high that Roshmi had been there the night she died.
He called Mr. Basu and together they went to the restaurant to question the staff there. The manager looked at Roshmi’s picture and nodded his head. “Yes, she was a regular here. She would mostly come alone and have a drink or two, sometime have dinner. Often she would be with other people too. I think she came in alone that night but was later joined by a friend…”
Now Krishanu showed the manager, some photos. The first one he showed was of Mohan, which had the manager shaking his head. “Oh no, we would have known if he was here!” Next, he showed the photos of friends from St. Davies College, and one by one they were eliminated until he saw Arnab’s photo and exclaimed, “Yes he came in a little later and joined the lady at her table for some time!”
Krishanu was stunned beyond words. Arnab had denied meeting Roshmi and had even provided a number of alibis, which had checked out. “Why would they meet in secret when they had never gotten along?” he wondered. They thanked the manager for his help and cooperation and left. Mr. Basu said, “We have to go talk to this Arnab chap! He is your friend right?”
Nodding his head, Krishanu agreed and together they went to meet Arnab, who was at work in MCTC bank. Arnab came outside when Krishanu called him to say that they were there. Mr. Basu leaned against his jeep and let Krishanu take the lead in questioning Arnab.
“You lied to me! You did meet Roshmi that night. Did you kill her?” asked Krishanu going straight for the jugular. “We have eyewitnesses that put you and her together at the restaurant the night she was killed!”
Hearing this, Arnab seemed to go ashen and hanging his head mumbled, “Yes I did meet her at the restaurant. But it was not by design. I had gone there to meet some of my friends from work, saw her sitting there alone and went up to her table for some time. That is the truth. I did not kill her. She left while we were still there.”
“Why should I believe you when you lied to me earlier? You could very well have accompanied her home and killed her!” said Krishanu
“I didn’t. I spent the rest of the evening with my office friends and then went home. I swear that is the truth!” replied Arnab.
Krishanu realized that it could very well be, as Arnab and Roshmi could have met up by accident, but there was little chance of her taking him home with him. They were just not close enough for that. Then who had killed Roshmi, he wondered? It was a question he still did not have an answer to…
Krishanu went back to trying to solve the mystery of Roshmi’s murder. He prodded Mr. Basu into following up with the Mumbai police about questioning Mohan. The questioning of Mohan by the Mumbai police though led nowhere. For a change, Mohan was unusually cooperative, asking only that the police be extra discreet and not reveal any details about his relationship with Roshmi to his wife. In exchange, he readily talked to them and told them he had seen Roshmi before she left Mumbai a week back and had spoken to her on the phone every day since, even on the day she had been killed. All this was cross-checked by Mr. Basu and Krishanu against Roshmi’s cell phone records and it matched. Once again the two detectives were stumped and got no further in figuring out who the killer was.
They talked about the case as often as they could or rather Krishanu would run down the list of possible suspects, all of whom were cleared for the time being. He still had his eye on Arnab and Mohan, either of whom could know more than they were telling, was what he felt.
The next morning, he landed at Indira’s office early, and waylaid her before she started work. “Run me through everything you found when you autopsied Roshmi, please…” he requested her.
Indira, got out the case file, and began listing her findings one by one. The first time they had talked about Roshmi, Krishanu had asked her whether the knife wounds on her body matched the ornamental knife set hanging on Roshmi’s living room wall. Indira had said she would need to make sure and she had. She said that the knife wounds were consistent with the serrations on the knives but none of the knives the police had confiscated from her house was the murder weapon. Krishanu knew that one was missing and he now became sure, that the missing one was the murder weapon.
He ran over what could have happened that night again. Roshmi had gone out, presumably to have dinner. In the restaurant she was joined by Arnab for some time, and then she had dinner alone and came home. No one knew exactly when she had returned but she had been stabbed by someone she either had let in or someone already present in the house.
Suddenly a veil lifted. There had been no signs of forced entry nor had there been any evidence of a third person in Roshmi’s house other than her mother. Ergo, the murderer was the one person they had overlooked as a grieving mother. He thanked Indira and hurriedly left to get Mr. Basu and go over to Mrs. Raha’s. They reached Roshmi’s house in record time.
The door opened and Mrs. Raha stood there. Now that Krishanu had figured it out, he felt that her eyes spoke volumes. There was sorrow there, along with guilt at having taken the life of her own daughter, as well as the belief that she had done the right thing.
He simply asked, “Why?” Mrs. Raha sighed and looked old and defeated. “Come in,” she said leading them to the living room. As they tentatively perched on one of the sofas, she started to speak. “Roshmi was my child and I loved her. I never said anything when she started living the way she did. People told me that she was involved with a married movie star and I ignored even that. I always thought that she would come to her senses one day. I hoped with all my heart that she would stay at home for some time, and I would be able to cleanse her life. That night she did go out. After she came in, I heard her talking on the phone to someone, probably Mohan and I heard her say that she was pregnant. I don’t know why but the fact that she would be bringing an innocent child into her wasted life and exposing it to her debauchery infuriated me. Before I knew it, I had grabbed one of the knives off the wall, and stabbed her in the back – once, twice, countless times…
Afterwards, I was sick with grief at what I had done. I buried the knife in the small patch of land behind our house and put all my blood spattered clothes into a bag. It is still in the bottom drawer of my wardrobe where I hid it. Oh God forgive me for what I have done!” she cried out.
Mr. Basu called the police station to ask a woman police officer, for arresting Mrs. Raha.
They had finally figured out who the killer was. However, there was no joy in this knowledge. The truth was a sad one…
The queen bee was dead and had taken two others with her!