Rishabh and Shweta were driving through the isolated streets of Mulund, when few guys came in front of their car and waved to them to stop. Rishabh almost immediately applied the brakes to the car. The car screeched to a halt. One of the gentlemen came over, knocked on the window of the car and motioned to him to open it. Rishabh slowly rolled down the window.
“Mr Rishabh, it has been a long time since we met”
“Yes, Munnabhai, I was out of town for over a month.”
“I understand your moves. You are conveniently out of town when you have obligations to fulfill”
“No Munnabhai, I am not evading your obligations. I had urgent matters to attend”
“Shut up, you think you can take me for a ride”
“Munnabhai, I request you to believe me. I was in Pune for some work”
“You stayed in Hotel Regency and did nothing. You did not have any appointments. You did not meet anyone. You think you can fool me. Do you?”
Rishabh was stunned to know that Munnabhai had these details. His evasive act had been detected.
“Rishabh, this is my last warning to you. If you do not pay me, 50 lac rupees that you owe me, you alone will be responsible for the outcome”
He pulled out a pistol as he completed the sentence. He waved it in the air twice and then pointed the barrel towards them. Sweat rolled out on Rishabh’s face. He was terrified and so was Shweta. After few minutes, he lowered the gun, turned around and walked towards his car. He sat in his car and drove off.
For a few minutes, no one spoke. Rishabh slowly started the ignition and drove the car towards their home. His mind went back a few years. They had a dream of starting a new venture. Their plan was to manufacture soft toys and then export them to the international retailers. To fund their dream, they borrowed 1 crore from Munnabhai. Their plan went well for the few years. Sales increased, so did the profits.
But this was short-lived. Recession struck and affected the whole world. To their misfortune, this was the second worst in the century. International retailers began collapsing like a pack of cards. The demand for their products waned. The struggling retailers demanded lowered prices. The Chinese firms were able to provide it. But they could not. Their business collapsed and Rs 50 lacs still remained unpaid. No one was willing to buy their business.
After few minutes, they reached their home. Rishabh sat on the couch, thinking deeply. He was probably scrambling over the few options that they had. He was staring at the wall opposite him and his eyes fell on Prakash’s photograph. Prakash was Rishabh’s childhood friend.
“Shweta, come over here for a second”
“Yes, tell me”
“Look at Prakash’s photo. Doesn’t he look very similar to me?”
“Yes he does.”
“You know, in our school, many people used to mistake us as biological brothers, because we looked similar. I never knew that it would help me in such a way”
“What do you mean?”
“It is a bit risky but it is our last resort to get out of the mess that we have created”
“What are you thinking?”
“I will take advantage of our similar faces. I will call Prakash to meet me at our school. That place is completely isolated at night.”
“I will then kill him and disfigure his face. I will change our clothes and leave the body to be discovered. The body will be identified as mine.”
“Meanwhile, I will undergo a plastic surgery and have a new face. You will collect the insurance proceeds. I will come to your life as your childhood friend. You will pretend to start a new life and then we leave happily ever after “
“All I need is your support”
“You have my support in any form and at any time”.
Early next morning, Rishabh called Prakash.
“Hey Prakash, what’s up”
“Hey Rishabh, good morning, what makes you call me so early in the morning.”
“I realized that we have not met for a long time”
“You said it. Let’s meet then”
“Does 8’o clock in the evening, behind the school garden, work with you?”
“Why do you want to meet in our school gardens? It will be dark there at 8’o clock”
“I think that is a perfect place to sit, relax and rekindle our memories of the school. I understand that the place will be dark but our nostalgia will lighten up the place”
“Perfect. It’s a deal then”
“See you then, at 8”
Rishabh hung the telephone and smiled at me. They spent the day putting the final touches to their plan. The plan seemed to be foolproof to them. In the evening, Rishabh dressed up and left for the meeting.
It was the next morning that I received a call from a local person. He had discovered a body whose face was mutilated. I, along with Aditi and three constables boarded a police van and commenced their journey towards the place. The body was discovered on a lane which was parallel to the highway on the eastern section of Mulund suburb. We crossed the railway line and arrived at the scene in about 20 minutes.
The body was lying in the heap of grass about 2 feet away from the road. Its face was mutilated. A stone with sharp edges lay nearby. It was covered with blood. I could infer stone was used in the murder process. One of the constables lifted it and out in the plastic bag, to be sent for forensic examination.
Head constable Tukaram examined the body and checked the pockets of the trousers and shirts for its content. Tukaram discovered a wallet in the back pocket with credit cards, money and a PAN card. The PAN card identified the victim as Rishabh Sharma.
Aditi came up to me and asked me her patented question
“Sir, what do you think?”
“I am a bit confused. I am not able to understand why the face of the body has been mutilated.”
“The killer did not want the body to be identified”
“If that was the case, then why did the killer leave the wallet in the pocket?”
“May be, he forgot to check it in a hurry”
The body was sent to the forensic lab for post mortem examination. The police checked the bushes around but apart from a cell phone, could not find anything material. The phone which they discovered was a Nokia 6400 model. The police noted the number and sent the instrument for examination.
As a next step, we went to Mr Rishabh’s residence. A young middle aged woman opened the door
“Are you Mrs. Rishabh Sharma?”
“I am afraid; I have some bad news for you”
“What is the matter” The lady displayed a tense face.
“We have discovered an unidentified body. The face was mutilated but we checked the clothes and the wallet. We found the driving license and the Permanent Account Number card. These details indicate that the body belonged to your husband.”
“No, Inspector, you cannot be right”. She broke her bangles on the wall and removed the bindi from her face. This was a typical reaction that an Indian woman would display when she learnt that she had been widowed.
“Calm down, madam, we will find the killers.”
“No Inspector, Let it be. Even if you find the killers, it will not bring back my husband”
“Our job is to catch the culprit. If you do not wish to pursue the matter, you may request the public prosecutor accordingly”
“For the moment, I have a few questions so that we can commence our work immediately”
“What was the last time you saw your husband?”
“Where did he say, he was to go?”
“He mentioned that he had some work in Pune. He was to take an MSRTC bus to Pune yesterday and come back the same way this evening”
“Can you please tell us if your husband had any enemies, disputes or any conflicts?”
The lady told me the entire story of how she and her husband had borrowed money and failed to repay. She also told us, how they were being threatened by Munnabhai.
We then took leave of her allowing her to calm down and cope with her loss. As we walked out on the road, Aditi remarked “This lady is of tremendous character. It is not so easy to forget the loss of your husband and forgive the killers”
I nodded my head. “You see, we have a history of forget and forgive. We forgave the colonial rulers, we forgive our neighbors, and we forgive the people who murdered their chief ministers and prime ministers. It has become ingrained in our DNA”
As I completed my sentence, I removed from my pocket an ashtray and displayed it to Aditi.
“I managed to pick this one from their house. Please send this to the forensic lab. Request the fingerprints expert to analyze the prints and compare them with those on the stone”
Meanwhile, Shweta placed a call to the Surya hospital.
“Hello, Surya hospital, you are at the attendant’s desk”
“Can you please let me know, if a patient by the name of Prakash Mehra has been admitted”
“Yes, he has. He is currently lodged in the second floor. He will undergo a plastic surgery tomorrow.”
We issued summons to Munnabhai and ordered him to show up at the Police Station. He showed up in the afternoon.
“So Munna, what are you up to these days?”
“Nothing much sir, I am only involved in legal businesses these days”
“Your legal businesses include stopping people’s car and threatening them with your gun”
“Sir, my business is to lend money and finance dreams. But when their dreams are realised, they forget to pay their money. So we have to negotiate with them”
“And if they still do not pay them, you kill them”
“No Sir, if I kill them, then I will never recover the money. The only objective behind threatening people is that they should expedite the process of arranging the cash and treat it as highest priority”
“Do you know that Rishabh Sharma was found dead earlier in the day”
“Sir, I will never kill Rishabh for the money. Rishabh’s account is insignificant for me. My top accounts run in hundreds of crores. Rishabh owed me only 50 lac rupees”
“That’s fine. For the moment, I am allowing you to go. But do remember, if anything that you said is a lie then you have had it”
“Thank you, sir”
I turned to Aditi and said “Please do a couple of things for me. Firstly check with the insurance companies if Rishabh or Shweta Sharma have an insurance policy and if they do, what is the amount payable on the death?”
“Secondly, please have a few plain clothes policeman outside Rishabh’s house. I want details of who goes in and who goes out. Keep a tab on this woman’s activities. I want a full report of where she goes and whom she meets”
Aditi looked confused “Why are we suspecting Mrs Sharma?”
I got up. “Assume that you are a murderer. You either want to extort money or you have some other motive like revenge or ill feeling. You murder the victim. What is your next step? You have two ways. First either you have a foolproof plan, you are confident that you can evade the police or your motive is burglary. You will take the wallet away and leave the body as it is. You don’t care if people find it or if people recognize it”
“In the second case, you are not confident of your plan. You suspect that you may be traced and suspected. So what would you do? Disfigure the face or destroy the body. The police won’t find the body itself and even if they do it, it will take centuries for them to identify who the victim is”
“In this case, the murderer has disfigured the body but left his wallet. It is a basic mistake even for an amateur. It makes me feel that this was intentionally done”
“What do you mean?” Aditi quizzed
“The murderer left the wallet because he wanted the body identified as that of Rishabh. But he disfigured the face of the body because the body must belong to some other person. Else there is no reason to disfigure the face”
“You mean the husband and wife are faking the murder and the motive is the insurance money”
“That is also the reason why she does not want the police to pursue the murderer. I suspect her husband is the murderer. The fingerprint report can tell us a lot about this”
Aditi then left to investigate the ends that I had mentioned. It was not until the next morning that she returned. She was holding few papers in her hand. Her eyes were twinkling and she could not hold back her smile.
“What is the matter?” I asked.
“Sir, the fingerprint reports have come. The fingerprints on the stone and the fingerprint on the ashtray do match. This set of fingerprint also matches with the victim’s fingerprints”
It was my turn to be a little surprised.
“How many set of fingerprints on the stone?”
“One and it belongs to the victim”
“Has the autopsy report come?”
“What does it say?”
“The death has occurred as a result of a severe damage to the brain”
“Was there a scuffle or a fight”
“Yes, the victim’s shoulder bears the injuries from nails. The victim’s rib cage was also damaged. The forensic expert opined that the person who assaulted the victim could have hit strong boxes on the body”
Head Constable Tukaram who had been seated on his desk came up. “Sir, Mrs. Sharma went up to Surya hospital yesterday afternoon. She inquired for a person by the name of Prakash Mehra. The doctors informed that the patient was unconscious and hence she could not meet him. They, however mentioned that the patient would be discharged by the end of the day”
“Who is the patient and what is he suffering from?”
“We are following up the identity of the patient. However we know from our sources in the hospital that the patient was treated for plastic surgery”
“This was expected. Rishabh murders Prakash, takes his identity, undergoes plastic surgery and then comes back as Prakash or some other person. Meanwhile his wife claims insurance money. They have the money and they have Munnabhai out of the way as well. Their plan seemed to have worked well” Aditi said.
Aditi looked at me. I was staring in the space besides her. “Sir” she gently asked me. I looked at her and said slowly “I don’t think it did”. I got up and motioned to her to follow me “We have to get to her house very fast”
Couple of days passed by and then one day, the door bell rang. I opened the door. A gentleman stood before Shweta. He was black in complexion. His hairs were turning white. He had few pimples on his face.
“Shweta” he said.
She could not believe her eyes. The wait was finally over. She sprang ahead and hugged him. He held her in his arms and gently caressed her.
“The wait for so many months almost killed me”
She led him inside the house. He took a seat. She then went into the bedroom and brought a small leather bag and placed in front of him. He looked at her first and then at the bag.
“What’s in there?”
“Have a look.”
He opened the bag and had a look inside. The bag had money. He smiled.
“I enchased all the insurance proceeds”
He then looked at her. They stared at each other. He then took the initiative. The feeling today was more relaxing. The troubles were over. After relaxing for a few minutes, Rishabh got up. Shweta continued to lie on the bed. There was no hurry as such.
Suddenly, something struck her in her stomach. It must have been a sharp pointed object, like a knife. She saw that the kitchen knife was pushed in her body. She had been stabbed. She looked up to Rishabh. He was wearing his shirt and smiled very menacingly.
“Why Rishabh?” She could barely hold back my tears.
“Your Rishabh is responsible for your condition”
“What are you talking about?” The pain was now increasing. She was bleeding profusely.
“Your husband thought he was smart. He would kill me. He will go to the hospital as me, get operated and then live happily with you. So much change at the cost of my life.”
“However, there was a change in the plan. I heard your plan as I was at your house, the other day. I had come to meet my friend. I was devastated to hear both of you. I had to save myself. I also thought you deserved some punishment. When I met your husband, I killed him. I went to the hospital as myself and got operated. Now I came here as Rishabh”
“There is more to it. I got all the insurance money. I made love to you. I stabbed you and you will die. Now I am rich.”He bent down to me and kissed her on my lips. She resisted but she was in such pain that she could not prevent the confluence. He got up and smiled wickedly. He then reached down to the knife and rotated it in a clockwise direction. Her stomach was filled with more pain. The knife ripped through my stomach and my intestines, tearing all muscles. With a jerk, he then removed the knife and enclosed it in her hand. He then scribbled something on paper, folded the paper and kept it near the pillow.
“The police think your husband was killed by Munnabhai. But few hours from now, they will discover your body. They will also see that note” He added, pointing to the note. “You have admitted that you conspired with a child hood friend of yours, to murder your husband and claim the insurance proceeds. But your friend betrayed you and ran away with the money. You had no option but to commit suicide”
“Not so soon, Mr Prakash. Today is not your day”. Outside the apartment, I stood along with Aditi, Constable Tukaram and three constables.
Before he could grasp the situation, I darted forward and held his shirt by his collar. I snatched the bag from his hand and forced him to sit on the sofa nearby. He was a smaller person by height and was aware that he could not escape. He also realized that it would be impossible to overpower me and elude five armed people.
Aditi checked the rooms and discovered Shweta in a wounded condition. She was lying on the bed in a pool of blood, stabbed through the stomach and intestines. Aditi immediately called for the ambulance.
Meanwhile I sat next to Prakash on the sofa in the drawing room.
“So, Mr Prakash Mehra, your game is up. It was clever plan but unfortunately the police have decoded it before you could flee”. Prakash was silent.
“One question, before you are taken away. How did you know that Rishabh intended to kill you when he met you?”
“Rishabh was away at Pune for over a month. He had come back on that day. I thought I could meet them. So I visited their home. He had left the door ajar. They were talking about me. But before I could ring the bell and enter his home, I heard of his plan.”
“So, next morning, you prepared a counter plan. You killed Rishabh and followed the plan as he would and came here as Rishabh”. Prakash nodded. “Tukaram, take him away”
Aditi cleared her throat and asked me the routine question “When did you know it was Prakash and not Rishabh?”
“If Rishabh had killed Prakash, then the fingerprints on the ashtray should have watched the ones on the stone. They did it. But the fingerprints on the ashtray should not have matched with the fingerprints of the victim. Yet they did”
“It certainly meant that the victim was indeed Rishabh and the person who met Rishabh was most likely the killer. But one thing still baffled me. There should have been two sets of fingerprints on the stone. But there was one. It certainly meant that the person who met Rishabh knew in advance that he was going to be attacked and had a counter plan.”
Aditi smiled as she led me out of the room.