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Prey on the Prowl - A Crime Novel
When a dejected Dhruva returned home that evening, Raju informed him that a woman named Radha came to see him in the morning. What with the lost love and his hurt ego haunting him, he thought no more of petticoat chasing, even if it were Radha the suspected murderess, so he thought. Whatever, to catch up with the lost time and to get back to business, he invited Shakeel to review the Operation Checkmate afresh over a couple of drinks.
Lying in wait in mufti near Maisamma temple, said Shakeel sipping Teachers on rocks, he sighted the earmarked Santro, driven by a young woman in her twenties. When she brought the vehicle to a halt opposite the roadside shrine, though she didn’t readily alight from it, yet he alerted the patrol parties at all the exit points. When he nearly tired of keeping focus on the target in that dim light, he saw the woman lead Kavya out of the vehicle and into the vaulted staircase. Shortly thereafter, he spotted a young man stepping out of the staircase with the handbags that he had arranged for the Operation Checkmate. While the guy got into the Santro, a Skoda passed him by, and in the flash of its headlights, he was surprised to realize that the kidnapper was Pravar. When Pravar steered the car to the Ramakrishna Mutt Road, he had alerted the patrol party in wait near the Dharna Chowk, and by the time, he joined them, the police had already nabbed the stunned culprit. However, during interrogation, as Pravar revealed his hand in the unresolved double murder of Madhu and Mala, it was Shakeel’s turn to be shocked at his own investigative naivety.
Sparing Shakeel further humiliation, Dhruva, for once, didn’t spar him with his barbs, and instead wanted him to picture Pravar’s background for him to gauze its likely affect on Kavya’s perturbed psyche. Shakeel, as he began to sketch Pravar’s skewed past, was rather surprised at Dhruva’s never before eagerness.
Mala was ten when Pravar was born, and soon after, as their mother became sickly, their father took to drinking, further denting their family resources. What with a drunkard father to contend with, a sickly mother to tend to and a young sibling to groom, Mala began to mature more than her age. When Pravar was ten, she married the miserly Suraiah, a measly clerk in the civil works department; she herself believed that a paisa spent was far more worthy than a rupee horded. Soon, her mother died, making Pravar an orphan in his own home that was nearly impoverished by then; but when their father too kicked the bucket, she took him under her wings for his succor and support. Pravar was fourteen then.
The move didn’t auger well for Pravar as he was torn between his sister’s affection and his brother-in-law’s resentment to his presence in the house, which turned him into a schizophrenic: as his physical proximity with her induced in him a sub-conscious sexual affinity for her, her marital closeness with the man he abhorred bred a sexual jealousy in him. When his sense of helplessness eventually turned him into a bully in the galli, even as his rowdyism perturbed Mala, it attracted Rajan, a minor bootlegger, who took him under his tutelage. As Suraiah began to jibe at Mala on that count, it only furthered Pravar’s subconscious oneness with his sister; however Suraiah died soon, leaving Pravar with no rival to Mala’s affections insensibly augmenting his sense of possessiveness of her. Pravar began to dote upon Mala like never before, which suited her as well, for it catered to her innate need for male attention. But things changed when she was absorbed in the department on compassionate grounds and Radha’s man Madhu, who happened to be her boss lost no time in wooing her on the emotional plane.
Around that time, Rajan happened to meet the sixteen year-old Natya in an orphanage and tricked her into eloping with him; even as his boss boasted about his conquest, bitten by her charms, Pravar was obsessed with possessing her, however, perceiving it as a betrayal of his devotion to Mala. While he was beset emotionally thus, the lifting of prohibition in the State ending bootlegging had hurt him monetarily too as the contraband was disbanded.
Then, Rajan thought of extortion as a way out for the three of them, and as Pravar gained ground on the crime front, Mala slipped on the sexual ground to become Madhu’s mistress. While that development distressed Pravar morally, seeing Mala bestow all her attentions on Madhu, he was depressed emotionally as well; however, he found a soul mate in Raghu, Radha’s young son, whom Madhu began reducing into Mala’s errand boy. Pravar took up cudgels with Mala on Raghu’s behalf but perceiving that was the privilege of a mistress, she paid a deaf ear to his protestations. Soon Pravar came to identify himself with the hapless Raghu, and that made him resent Mala’s liaison even more.
Abetted by Pravar when Raghu rebelled, an irate Madhu said that for all he knew, he could be a bastard and as Raghu in humiliation committed suicide on the railway tracks; Pravar felt that Madhu had no right to live, and so also Mala, who was no less callous. Also Pravar came to perceive Radha as a cock-pecked wife, unwilling to protect her hapless son, and that evaporated the sympathy he felt for her, as a neglected wife, owing to his sister’s trespass onto her marital bed. So it was Pravar’s conscious sense of hurt, abetted by his subconscious righteousness that steeled his heart against the trio.
After Raghu’s death, as Madhu started taking Mala home, Pravar worked on a plan to eliminate them all without soiling his hands that developed the skill to tamper with bottle seals during his bootlegger days. Aware that under Madhu’s influence, Mala took to drinking, he presumed that Radha would like a drink as well, so he poisoned a bottle of Teacher’s Scotch, and waited for the day that Madhu and Mala gloated over as their Union Day. On that U-day, he presented the ‘bottle of death’, sans his fingerprints, to Mala for ‘celebrating’ with her lover and his wife. When Mala said that Radha was ‘no game for that’, Pravar suggested that they might as well leave the dregs for her to rue later, and true to his word, he sought to implicate Radha by poisoning Shakeel’s mind about her involvement in the double murder.
As Mala’s death ended Pravar’s emotional divide, so his passion for Natya came to rule his heart, and being bolder for the double murder, he plotted to kill Rajan to usurp his woman, and waited for the opportunity, which presented itself soon enough. That midnight, the three of them were at a secluded spot in Shamirpet to collect the ransom from a businessman, whose kid they kidnapped the day before. While Rajan and Pravar waited for the father at the agreed place, Natya stayed in the background holding the kid; when the dad came with the ransom, Pravar went to Natya to fetch the kid for barter. On their way back with the booty, Pravar shot Rajan dead and to mislead Natya, he fired from his as well as Rajan’s revolver to fake an encounter, which the police made out to be a real thing to score a few Brownie points of ‘law and order’.
Having thus gained an entry into Natya’s hapless life, Pravar doled out from the booty to worm his way into her enamored heart. After their marriage, though she wanted him to give up his bad ways, as he was too far down the road of crime; she had no choice but to keep pace with him. While he planned to kidnap Kavya, wiser for the hazards a secluded place posed in collecting the ransom, he conceived the ingenuous rendezvous on the Tank Bund. What with Natya playing her part to perfection, they almost pulled it off, but only almost. While Dhruva’s genius spoiled the party for Pravar, Natya gave the slip to Shakeel when he went to nab her in their den.
When Shakeel ended the remarkable tale saying that he was confident of seeing Pravar on the gallows for the double murder, Dhruva said that any novice of a lawyer could induce the courts to set him free for want of evidence. However, when Dhruva said that Pravar was too dangerous to be left alone, Shakeel agreed to put him under constant scanner.
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