In R Giridharan’s murder mystery, an out-of-favour sleuth chases conspiracy that consumes only scientists
Superintendent Vijay, an award-winning cop falls prey to the machinations of his rivals in the force and is transferred to the traffic department from crime. He finds solace in a stimulating friendship with a lovely freelance journalist, Padmini.
A slick murderer eliminates scientists right under the nose of the police and leaves forensics baffled. Tensions rise as the whole country watches the massacre of the entire team of inventors with shock and awe. In response, The Chief Minister calls upon Vijay, who is given an impossible deadline to solve the case before Parliament resumes in a week.
Vijay’s skills as a detective along with Padmini's creative intuition and imagination are pitted against a genius who eliminates every possible lead an Vijay repeatedly finds himself in square one. His rivals in the force actively conspire against his success.
Vijay’s mother had a surprised look on her face as she opened the door. 'I have not made lunch,' she admitted.
‘Amma, I want to sleep.’
Concerned, she placed her palm on his right cheek. ‘Normal temperature.’
‘Plain exhausted,’ Vijay explained.
He changed into pyjamas and hit the bed. In less than five minutes, he was snoring.
When he got up, it was early evening. His mother served him aromatic filter coffee. He popped a delicious barfi into his mouth and whistled. ‘I am off.’
He dashed to the garage. The purple Victor motorbike appealed to him more than the car. He loved the breeze on the face as he rode. He looked at himself in the side-view mirror while waiting at the lights.
In his list of most-hated things, morgues were close to the top. His scalp prickled as he parked his motorbike. He took off his helmet. The guard, who knew him well, ran forward to take it. He promised to keep it safe.
The glass doors parted to the strong smell of formalin. If he were ever kidnapped, gagged, blindfolded and dumped, he would still figure out that he was in the morgue—so revolting was the smell of the disinfectant. A morgue attendant was diligently cleaning the scalpel and scraping the saws.
The only thing that Vijay liked about his visits to the morgue was talking to the forensic head Dr Ayushman Gaikwad. He took out his diary to take notes.
Dr Gaikwad spoke like a professor delivering a lecture, ‘The death was caused by a bullet fired at close range.’ He beckoned Vijay to follow him.
The room was an eerie reminder that death could come in myriad ways. A face, crushed by a rock, had been disfigured beyond recognition. Another had its mouth gaping open, probably screaming for help that never arrived. Bodies that had spent days in water were boldly labelled in blue. Each body had an unknown story to tell. All the formalin in the world could not mask the odour of death.
Dr Gaikwad offered a pair of gloves to go with the sole coverings. As he lifted the white linen covering the corpse, Vijay had his first look at the man whose life he had tried hard to save. The victim was around five feet eight in height. Untrimmed facial hair covered most of his face. He probably had not cared much for his appearance. His belongings, which included his glasses, were all in a sealed transparent bag.
Dr Gaikwad’s forefinger rested on the corpse’s neck, and he gently massaged a point with his finger, saying, ‘The bullet entered from the left side.’ He lifted his fingers. Vijay saw it from close quarters.
Dr Gaikwad moved over to the other side. His finger now zeroed in on a point on the right side of the corpse’s neck. ‘The bullet severed the carotid artery in his neck. The loss of blood would have caused loss of consciousness within three minutes, brain death within two or three minutes.’
Vijay asked whether photographs were available.
Dr Gaikwad replied in the affirmative. ‘Death,’ he said contemplatively, ‘would have occurred within minutes of the infliction of the wound.’
Vijay’s mind raced back to Dr Amarnath pronouncing him as dead straightaway.
‘Young man, you’re lost in thought.’
Vijay smiled sheepishly. ‘Happens.’
Dr Gaikwad pointed to a bump near the left bicep. ‘That is an injection shot, not long before his death.’ He lifted a hand lens from the tray and zoomed it on the corpse’s chin to reveal a chessboard-like mark under the stubble. ‘I am told it is a lip tattoo, used by models and fashionable young women.’ A small plastic box labelled ‘Case 108, 2012’ contained the blood samples, skin, hair, and teeth belonging to the corpse.
Vijay shook hands with Dr Gaikwad, who saw him off as far as the parking lot.
Vijay rode straight to his office.
Dalvi was waiting there, bursting with news. ‘The murderer is a record clerk in an export firm. This murder is a revenge killing!’
‘The murderer’s name is Karun. He claims that the victim raped his sister a couple of weeks back although we have no such information. His sister committed suicide soon after.’
Vijay thought for a moment. Then he turned to Dalvi.
‘Take me to the murderer.’
Dalvi shouted orders. The police jeep waited at the door.
‘I fancy,’ Vijay said thoughtfully, ‘that the killer was a novice shooter. He nearly missed from point-blank range.’
Vijay had never seen a murderer like Karun before—a frail body, bespectacled eyes, an earnest bearing and a ready smile. Somehow, evil did not emit from him.
Karun’s smile widened. To Vijay, it was the smile of a satisfied man. ‘A burden has lifted off my chest. My sister Kumudini’s soul will now rest in peace.’
Vijay observed him intently.
Karun was jubilant. He wasn’t denying his crime. He raised his chained hands in triumph. ‘God is great.’ Then he folded his hands and thanked the heavens. ‘I am a novice with guns, but my bullet found its mark.’
There was an earnestness in Karun’s eyes that floored Vijay. There was surely more to his words of confession that he so readily uttered. Yet, how could a man caught red-handed for murder appear so innocent and pure.
‘How are you so sure that he raped your sister?’
Karun laughed derisively. ‘Why are you wasting your time?’ He looked at Vijay. ‘You need not have tried so hard to catch me. I was going to surrender anyway.’
Dalvi communicated through his eyes that they were dealing with a mule.
Vijay walked back, head bowed down.
Dalvi missed a step and nearly tripped. He steadied himself and looked at Vijay and joked, ‘Tripped over the sharp edge of realization.’ He laughed.
‘Why this philosophical crap?’
‘A realization hit me that it is not as simple as it seems to be. Karun is a pawn in a larger game.’
The old wooden stairs creaked under the weight of the two large men.
Vijay dug his hands in his pockets. ‘Some questions need answers.’
‘Let me,’ Dalvi volunteered, ‘frame the questions. One, why did he choose such a busy spot? He could have done it in lonelier places.’
Vijay raised his eyebrows in approval and nodded.
Encouraged, Dalvi went on. ‘Two, how was he so sure that the victim was going to be there at that moment? It’s all the more fishy because Karun did not use his mobile. It seems that an accomplice must have informed him in advance.’
They had reached the parking lot. Vijay sat on a bench and spread his arms. Dalvi remained standing.
‘Good questions,’ Vijay said, ‘but I have some more to add.’
Dalvi whisked a diary from his trousers’ pocket to take notes.
‘A black Nano with the registration number MH-26AH-1986 was around the murder site making suspicious movements. The man you are referring to as the accomplice might have a motive of his own and could be the mastermind.’
Dalvi flailed his hammer-like fists in the air, almost jubilantly.
Vijay cast him a startled look.
‘After a long time,’ Dalvi said, elated, ‘a case that will challenge us.’
Vijay could not agree more as he took leave of Dalvi.
Dalvi lost no time in proceeding to the crime scene to find an answer to Vijay’s question.
A man with a limp in his leg was waving at Dalvi. Dalvi recognized him as Madan, a man who had once been a witness in a theft case, investigated by Dalvi, many years back.
Looking at his legs, Dalvi asked, ‘What happened?’
‘Operated for gangrene. My diabetes was uncontrolled.’
Dalvi raised his eyebrows in surprise.
‘At your age? You are barely thirty-five.’
‘Ill health can strike at any stage,’ Madan laughed.
Dalvi asked, ‘You have the contract for managing parking slots for vehicles, don’t you?’
‘For sixteen shops. From Krishna Textiles to Deccan Medicines.’
Dalvi consulted his diary.
‘I want to enquire about a black Nano with the registration number MH-26-AH-1986, which was parked here yesterday.’
‘Yes, it belonged to a lady,’ he replied straightaway. ‘She had reserved the slot in the morning itself.’
‘Do you reserve parking spots?’
‘Not really, but she wanted one right next to Padma Jewellers. I charged her five hundred extra.’
Dalvi crossed the item. It was a false lead. The woman was probably buying expensive jewellery and was therefore nervous. She chose a Nano, to avoid attention.
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