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Prey on the Prowl - A Crime Novel
When Inspector Shakeel entered the Saifabad police station, the echoes of the boots-in-attention greeted him, and as he stepped
into his cabin, as if calling stand-at-ease, the telephone had started ringing. Soon, as Shakeel opened the dak folder, the Head
Constable Karim rushed into the cabin to alert him about a double murder.
“Where was it?”
“At 13, Red Hills, sir,” said Karim
“Have you checked about the jurisdiction?” asked Shakeel, who was newly posted there.
“It’s a stone’s throw away, sir, in our very own Hyderabad,” said Karim unable to hide his irritation as if the question questioned his procedural knowledge.
“Who’re the victims?” asked Shakeel unhurriedly.
“Man and his mistress, sir.”
“What if it’s a suicide pact?”
“No sir, they were poisoned by the man’s wife.”
“Who told you so?”
“Pravar, sir, the dead woman’s brother, who said she’s absconding.”
“Let’s see how long she can evade me,” said Shakeel, getting up.
“Not long enough, sir,” said Karim stepping aside.
When the duo entered the drawing room of that single-storied building at 13, Red Hills, Pravar had drawn their attention to two empty glasses and a half-empty Teacher’s Scotch bottle on the teapoy, with khara boondi for company. When Shakeel surveyed the scene, Pravar ushered them into the adjacent bedroom, where Madhu and Mala lay dead on a double cot bed. Soon, as the forensic squad, summoned by then, was engaged in collecting the evidence, Pravar, who provided Shakeel a photograph of Radha, Madhu’s wife, made out a case that she could have poisoned the couple.
Leaving the corpses to Karim’s care, when Shakeel returned to the police station with Radha’s photograph, he was surprised to find her there ‘to aid the investigation’. But in spite of her assertions about her innocence, Shakeel, whose mind Pravar had poisoned, could see but her hand in the double murder, and so arraigned her as the sole suspect. But as his sustained custodial interrogation failed to crack her, believing in her guilt, with a view to extract her confession, he brought every police trick up his sleeve into play, including the third degree, but to no avail. Though eventually he had to set her free, owing to the judicial intervention, yet he failed to free himself from his sense of failure to pin her down to the murder of her man and his mistress. As he was cut up thus, seeing Dhruva’s ad in The Deccan Chronicle for a ‘lady sleuth to assist him', he had a premonition that she might try to secure the position to secure herself. So as to preempt her, even in that inclement weather, he had set out that evening to 9, Castle Hills.
Having done with his preamble on a serious note, Shakeel said in a lighter vein that if only Radha were to come under the Dhruva’s wings, it could as well portend a romantic opening for him in his middle-age.
“When you began, I too thought that a murderess on the run makes an ideal prey to any womanizing cop like you, that is from what I’ve heard of you,” Dhruva said, and wanted to know if he had noticed a woman at the bend. Picking up Shakeel’s blank look, Dhruva said in jest that he had expected the cop to have an eye for women, if not an eye on the mafias. However, to Dhruva’s light-hearted banter, Shakeel said that though he fancied himself as a womanizer, from what he had heard about him he was no match to him. Dismissing all that as exaggerated hearsay, Dhruva led Shakeel into the study, where the latter poured out the problems the death of the man and his mistress posed to the investigation.
Madhu was hell-bent upon divorcing his wife Radha, which would have left her with a pittance of alimony, making her the prime suspect, never mind she was away with her friend when the illicit couple drank the poisoned Teacher’s Scotch to their death. Her motive to murder them made it an open-and-shut case; there was no difficulty in guessing that after poisoning the Scotch, she might have picked up a quarrel with them as an excuse to leave them in a huff. But yet her alibi had become a big hurdle for him to cross over to pin her down, more so for she withstood the sustained interrogation and came out clean even in the lie-detector test!
Unable to hide his admiration for the unknown woman, when Dhruva said as to how such a steely woman could have allowed herself to be so ill-treated, Shakeel said that she could as well be a tigress on the prowl in the garb of a lamb. With the detective evincing an interest in the perplexing case, the relieved cop savored the hot pakodas that Raju had fetched for him, all the while detailing his investigation, which based on hearsays bordered on surmises. However, when he ended his account by stating that the old guard, Appa Rao, told him that Radha reminded him of Mithya, whom Dhruva could not bring to book, the detective, with a perceptible change in his demeanor, dismissed it as learning curve. But as Shakeel persisted with the topic, Dhruva said that it was better they skipped it for it involved a dead woman, and when Raju came to serve them some Darjeeling tea, the detective changed the topic to the politics of the day that was after committing himself to solving the intriguing case.
Long after Shakeel had left him, Dhruva, having delved into his memory bank, was at fathoming the perplexing present.
Could the trespasser be the murderess after all! But then, given his focus on her, surely, Shakeel would have spotted her from a mile, even though the weather was too foggy for a proper sight. And in spite of her compelling face, he himself might fail to spot her if he were to espy her again before the contours of her exquisite frame would have turned hazy in his memory. Was it possible that she was indeed innocent save Shakeel’s silly theories; if it were indeed Radha, what had brought her to his gate; did she, as Shakeel thought, came to pander to him to preempt his involvement in the case? If it were so, why should she have been so tentative to begin with only to end up beating a hasty-retreat in the end? Could she be as ingenuous as Mithya though she seemed as seductive; would history repeat itself after all? Well, only time would tell, he thought.
As Dhruva seemed to love the idea of the trespasser being the alleged murderess, a restive Dicey went up to him making him wonder whether it sensed his distraction from its former mistress. Soon, he changed into his shorts and took the pet for a stroll in the twilight, by which time the drains were clear and the roads wore a fresh look glistening under the newly lit streetlights. However, as the roadside trees tried to dry up themselves, the pet and its master got wet, and with the chilly winds making it uneasy for them, as Dicey turned its tail homewards, as Dhruva led it home, Raju said that someone was waiting for him in the anteroom.
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