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Prey on the Prowl - A Crime Novel
Kavya returned to Dhruva’s ‘think of the devil’ welcome and Radha’s ‘what’s the news’ query before Raju greeted her with a cup of filter coffee. As Radha began exhorting Kavya to lead her to the leads that she might have laid her hands on, Dhruva would have none of that for he felt that, as it was not wise to mix drinks, so it was prudent that his assistants did not mix their leads in between them. What with her enthusiasm reined in thus, as Radha kept mum, Dhruva led Kavya into the study to have a first-hand account of her fact-findings.
Kavya told him that her enquiries at Guntur led her to an elderly woman, who, having recognized Ranjit from his photograph that she had carried, recalled that he lived next door with his newly wed wife, who kept aloof from all, save Shyamala, aunt of her childhood friend Rani. As Ranjit did not mix much either, all suspected that they could be an eloped couple trying to cover their tracks, and soon, as he disappeared deserting her, the neighborhood was agog with ‘I told you so’, but when she too left shortly thereafter, no one knows where, the grapevine only grew. Well, that was so long ago but Shyamala, who was due to return soon from the U.S, where she had been to help her daughter deliver, might be in the know of the aftermath of the elopement that went awry.
Recalling Radha’s intriguing description of her childhood friend as ‘full-soul mate and half-namesake’, Dhruva thought what if Shyamala’s niece happened to be Radha’s childhood friend, and if it were so, won’t it mean that Ranjit’s deserted wife was none other than Radha herself. What a circle of love it makes if Radha’s friend Rani were to be the Rani, his child bearer! Whatever, he realized that Shyamala’s niece holds the key to Radha’s fate but thought it was premature to share the clue with Kavya.
That evening, when Radha proposed that the apprentice should celebrate her maiden foray with three cheers over Gin with Thums Up, even Kavya said that she was a game for it, Dhruva said in half jest, that Radha might rue her move for Kavya might out drink her. Mixing the drink for Kavya, Radha said in jest that it always paid to keep the other woman high, especially when the stakes were high, and after a couple of drinks, a thrilled Kavya said that she would oblige Radha so as to make up for the lost drinking time, and, as if to make good her promise, when she wanted to have a third one, Dhruva said that she better stopped at that. While as a tipsy Kavya insisted, Radha broke the deadlock by mixing a small one for her, and when Raju came to announce dinner for them, Radha said bottoms up, Dhruva stubbed his cigar and Kavya sipped the last dreg.
Next morning, when Dhruva was at the cards table playing rummy with the women, Raju said that Inspector Simon, who replaced Shakeel at the Jubilee Hills police station, came to see him. Being privy to the fact that Simon was advised by all to avoid him for Shakeel could have bungled up the fake notes case at his behest, Dhruva sensed that Simon’s was no friendly visit. Stepping into the anteroom tentatively and greeting the cop warmly, Dhruva enquired in jest whether he came to the Castle Hills for a morning walk; but when Simon said, rather tersely, that he was there to question Kavya about a double murder in Spandan, Dhruva knew it was no joking time.
As Dhruva led him into the study, Simon said that upon receiving a late night complaint that foul smell was emanating from Spandan, the police broke open the door and found the decomposed bodies of a young man and a woman. With no traces of bodily injuries or signs of forcible entry, prima facie, it appeared that they might have died in a suicide pact. But as it transpired that the dead were not the residents of the house, the police were at a loss to understand as to how so soon after the house owner’s mysterious death, these unknown characters should have met their end there in a like fashion. While it was puzzling enough that the house was locked with the landlady away for long, the assertion of a chowkidar in the locality a burka-clad woman entered the house four days back made it all the more intriguing. Since the neighbors were no wiser to Kavya’s whereabouts, Simon came to know from the Jubilee Hills post office that her letters were being redirected to 9, Castle Hills, which should explain his rather unwelcome visit.
As Dhruva broke the news to Kavya, she was shocked beyond belief, and wanted to go to Spandan to see it all for herself, but Simon said that she should try to identify the dead at the Gandhi Hospital before all else. Accompanied by Dhruva and Radha, Kavya made it to the mortuary and identified the dead as Pravar and Natya, and Simon had let her off after recording her statement and obtaining her assurance of cooperation in the investigation. While Kavya kept mum in confusion, a morose Radha suggested that Dhruva better had a last look at Natya, but he preferred to retain her pallu-covered face for a memory, and so desisted from seeing her decomposed body.
Upon reaching home, saying that she was too dazed to comprehend the situation as Kavya rushed into her room, Dhruva was left alone with Radha. As Dhruva began saying that he was at a loss to comprehend the mysterious deaths, Radha told him that there were questions for Kavya to answer after all. Given that she only had the house key, who could have led the ill-starred couple into Spandan but Kavya in burka? Who else could have abetted them to commit suicide, if it were the case? Who would have benefited from their end? Was she not craving to begin life afresh, and was it possible with Pravar and Natya around? Natya had vouchsafed that Kavya had a cunning mind with criminal impulses; maybe her going to Guntur was a means of acquiring an alibi.
As if to free himself from Radha’s brainwash, Dhruva rushed to the Jubilee Hills police station to get an update from Simon, who said that prima facie Kavya remained the sole suspect and revealed that he asked his men to review the dossier on her husband’s murder to bring her under the scanner. Dhruva assured him that even though Kavya was his client, if he scented her criminal hand behind the murders, he didn’t intend to hold her brief. Simon said that he hoped Dhruva would not hinder his investigation, assuring him of his bona fide, Dhruva said that he better took him to Spandan for a second opinion in cracking the case. Simon said that on second thought he felt that Pravar and Natya could have died of poisoning, and as the remnants of packed food were found in the dustbin, it was apparent that the kitchen was in disuse for quite a while. As there were no signs of the deceased having moved around the house, it can be said that they died shortly after they got in, at which Dhruva wanted to know whether the door key was found in the house. Simon said that it was not traced in spite of a thorough search, for after snaring them in, Kavya would have left with it on the sly. As the Godrej lock was self-locking, Pravar and Natya too wouldn’t have bothered, even if she had told them that she wanted to take away the key with her.
When they reached Spandan, as the guard opened the door for them, Simon said that, as the police had to force open the door, the Godrej lock was damaged, which he had substituted any way. Entering the dwelling and noticing the main door bolt was missing, Dhruva asked Simon whether there was any when they broke open the door, and as the cop confirmed that there was none when the door was forced open, the detective drawn his attention to the telltale marks of its having been in place until very recently. Having scanned the damaged Godrej lock with his magnifying glass, Dhruva turned his attention to the drawing room and as he was done with it, Simon led him into the guest room, where a burka was laid on the clothesline. Picking up the garment, Dhruva looked for a tailor’s label or a dhobi mark on it, and finding none he had its measure with a tape that he had brought along. Simon said there were some more in the attached toilet of the master bedroom, and realizing that burkas held the key to the murders, Dhruva tallied them all with the one found in guestroom. When Dhruva turned his attention to the empty wardrobe, Simon told him as they failed to trace the keys in the house; they broke them open, but found nothing worthwhile therein. Dhruva asked whether the absence a burka in the wardrobe was recorded in the police panchanama, Simon said though it was not done, he would make good the lapse in his case diary.
Wanting Simon to send the damaged Godrej lock for forensic examination, Dhruva entered the lawn and began scanning the ground around the guest room window with his magnifying glass. When, Simon suggested that it was not a case of forcible entry through the window, Dhruva said that he was looking for signs of an easy passage from there to the main door. Soon as the detective said that he had nothing more to look for there, the cop led him back to the police station, where they spent some time together.
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