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Prey on the Prowl - A Crime Novel
That early dawn, waking up to the first ring tone of his mobile, so as not to disturb Radha lying beside him, Dhruva swathed it off readily, and moving out of the bedroom, he realized the call was from Shakeel’s cell. As he was kept on hold for long when he returned the call, he dialed Shakeel’s residential number he found it ever engaged; however, the stalemate ended as Shakeel’s son got Dhruva on the mobile. Shocked at hearing that the cop had died in his sleep, Dhruva was dumbfounded, and recovering, he wondered whether he too went the Ranjit way. Changing into his formals in the bedroom, as he recalled Radha’s fears for Shakeel’s life, he instinctively looked at her; finding her in serene sleep, he told Raju to inform her about the development it as she woke up.
When Dhruva reached Shakeel’s Chatrinaka home, he had to wade through the milling crowd to make it to the cop’s corpse. While all thought that he could have died of a stroke, insisting for a post-mortem, as Dhruva began his investigation, it transpired that it was business as usual for him on the day of his death and that there was none to be suspected anyway.
On his return, as Dhruva aired his apprehensions about Shakeel’s death to Radha, she voiced her suspicions about Pravar’s possible involvement in it. What if Kavya is Pravar’s next targets Kavya for she would have called it quits with him, so thought Dhruva; if it were Pravar who had seen Ranjit’s end to own Kavya, would he let her go scot-free by ditching him? If he really avenged himself on Shakeel for foisting a false case on him, would he go soft on his ladylove for being hard on him? Sexual hurt was as compelling an impulse as any to commit crime, and Shakeel did sketch this fellow as cunning and ruthless. Well, why place the cart before the horse; let the post-mortem report arrive.
When the forensic tests confirmed Shakeel’s death by poisoning, Dhruva was truly worried about Kavya’s safety, and to have a word with her, he drove down to Spandan. Receiving him warmly and finding his enamored look flattering as well as embarrassing, Kavya became tentative, but as he succeeded in hiding his emotions she revealed to him that some cop came to enquire about her whereabouts the other day. As Dhruva wanted to have her take on the probability of Pravar avenging himself on Shakeel, she said that it was true that he was obsessed with the idea of revenge and she too used to urge him against it. After Ranjit’s death as she turned cold towards him, he begged her not to desert him for he might go berserk all again, but sick and tired of her shameful liaison with him, she was firm not to yield to him come what may. Who knew, he could have killed the cop hoping that she would reach upto him to renew her counseling, so be it but there was no way she would succumb to him ever again.
While Dhruva stared at her with empathy, as she broke down, saying that she was miserable carrying the cross of her shameful past, he told her that if only she knew Pravar’s true character, she would realize that he was not worth her thought any more. As she looked at him with hope, he unraveled Pravar’s criminal mind, etched by Radha and sketched by Shakeel, which prompted her to say that she felt wretched for having carried on with such a character. Moved by the radiance of her visage in her repentance, as he took her into his arms, driven by her sense of emptiness, she sank into him, and he told her that she better treated it all as a bad dream and forgot about it. Smug in his arms, as she confessed to him in remorse that she reduced herself to be Pravar’s accomplice in crime as well, he said that was understandable; but shamed by her recollections, she withdrew herself, but goaded by him to off-load her guilt, she briefed him about her life and crimes with Pravar.
By the time he kidnapped her, having splurged all the booty in wooing Natya, he was already a broke, and with that farce of a ransom having ended in the confiscation of the stolen cars as well, he had nothing left to fall back upon. While he was content to live on her doles in the beginning, after he won her over, he came to seek more and more from her, but Ranjit, as if on cue, curtailed her access to the family purse, and that forced her to play ball with Pravar at extortions. Why, it was her idea that with right tactics, they could make the corrupt to part with part of their ill-gotten wealth, with none going to town about it. While he felt that they might conduct fake tax raids with forged identities, she reckoned that it would only land them behind the bars sooner than later as someone or the other was bound to call their bluff. When Pravar said what to make of her non-starter of an idea, she said that with her brains and his brawn, they could yet make it workable; with her contacts in the department, she would be able to prepare a list of tax evaders and profile their character for him to pick up the faint hearted from amongst them. Still if someone were to act out of character, yet there was no way he would go to the police to report against him, and if only he would keep his greed art bay, it might as well be a smooth sailing for him.
As if benumbed by shame, Kavya had paused for a while, but being aware of Dhruva’s understanding, she resumed saying that her plan did work to her peculiar excitement, which made her realize that deep in her heart there could be a criminal beat after all. Dhruva patted her, as if to convey his empathy, and she said that she was ashamed of the darker side of her nature that came to the fore then; but as he reached out for her hand, she ran inside in despair, and he stayed back to let her overcome her grief in solitude.
But smelling gas and rushing into the kitchen, as he saw her picking up the gas-lighter, he grabbed and closed the cylinder valve; crying, she fell into his arms but as he led her to the verandah for fresh air, she withdrew from him in self-remorse. While he was at a loss to understand as to how to calm her, she told him that she could not bear the thought of life with a foul soul in a polluted body. Taken aback at her self-pity, he pleaded with her not to feel so low and told that it was only time before she regained her self-worth; she looked at him in hope and he offered to take her to his place, where with the Rajus in attendance, she would have Radha for company. Thanking him profusely as she hesitated to agree, as if to show her the way, he took her hand, and cajoled by him, she packed up some essentials.
When Dhruva reached home with Kavya, Radha knew she had a rival to contend with, but thought it might not help her cause, if she were to cut up with him on that count; but as he pondered over Kavya’s predicament with her, she said that she saw an unmistakable linkage between both the murders. Before she could elaborate upon her theory, he received a call informing him that the day he died Shakeel was with a woman in burka. As Dhruva shared that news with her, she said that it could have been a case of Pravar’s poison at work under Kavya’s burka, why, she had Natya’s word that Kavya lost her soul to Pravar, and reduced herself as his vassal.
Cautioning her against jumping to conclusions, he said that it was not wise to go by Natya’s words for she could have a grouses against Kavya, and added that she should learn from her own experience. Wasn't it Shakeel’s over-reliance on Pravar’s version that caused her so much grief, why repeat the mistake to Kavya’s hurt? She reminded him how Kavya had given a clean chit to her paramour in her husband’s murder and said that it was for him to decide whether she was feigning remorse over her liaison with him. Were it not possible that Kavya’s suicide attempt was fake, a la Pravar, to gain his sympathy, and, for all she knew, it could be a ruse to divert his attention away from Pravar and herself.
But as he maintained that his gut feeling was that Kavya was innocent, and her change of heart was for the real, she said, in jest, that his fondness for desirable women tended to fudge his judgment about them. Making light of her remark, he said that she was free to keep a watch on her suspect, and she told him smilingly that it would be better for her if he kept his eyes off the charming guest; as he came up with a repartee that she had herself blinded him, she retorted by saying that what if her rival’s attributes acted as lasers.
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