Read part 1: The Lover, here.
Read part 2: The Ex-husband, here.
Read part 3: The Reporter, here.
Read part 4: Cousin Pari, here.
Read part 5: Before The Inquest, here.
Read part 6: The Last Day, here.
Saturday, 10:30 am.
“We have the phone details, sir. Commissioner sir signed off on the request last night. The phone company was also prompt in its response.” Head constable Tadpadkar briefed Inspector Ansari.
They were at the police station. Nina Daruwalla’s mother had arrived early in the morning. They’d questioned her at the morgue itself.
“Did she have problems with someone?”
“Anyone who had been troubling her? She might have told you something.”
“No, Inspector. She was friends with everyone in the industry. Who could even think of this?” She broke down for the umpteenth time since her arrival.
The ex-husband had arrived too, with the son. They caught up with him outside. He was dressed for the occasion, Ansari mused, in a white kurta-pyjama. The son was in bed clothes.
“Tvarit, beta, go and sit in the car. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” The sobbing son went ahead without a word.
“When did you last meet her?”
“Last Saturday. She had come to pick up our son for a movie. I’d decided that I’d let her spend time with him every alternate Saturday.”
“You talked with your ex-wife on Tuesday.”
“You received multiple calls from her.” The two policemen were studying Dharmesh Bhide’s face.
“I did, sir.” He was looking at the ground.
Ansari wondered whether that was because he was sad or because he was trying to hide his guilt.
“Interesting call durations,” Tadpadkar remarked. He had the call records printout in his hand.
“Actually, we had a fight.” Bhide glanced towards his kid in the car, and returned to wondering about the mysteries of humus.
“Is he teary-eyed?” Ansari pondered.
“I thought you were divorced,” Tadpadkar quipped.
“We are — were.”
“Why the fight?”
Bhide told them about the property dispute and the acrimonious divorce.
Ansari’s hands were in his pockets.
“Where were you yesterday evening, between 5-8 pm?”
“At the office, sir. We were preparing documents for a client from Virar.” There was a hint of sudden terror to his voice.
“Anyone who can back your story up?”
“My receptionist, sir. She was in the office too. You can call her.”
“I know what kind of a businessman you are, Mr. Bhide.”
“You may go now.”
The cousin sister was next. Ansari thought she was dressed for a fancy dinner party rather than the mortuary.
“Ms. Palkhiwala, when did you last see Ms. Daruwalla?” He queried.
“Last week, sir.”
“Did you two talk after that?”
“No, umm…yes, sir.”
“When was this?”
“Thursday afternoon.” Her overeagerness was eating away at Ansari.
“General chat, sir.”
Had they not been policemen investigating a murder, Pari would have concluded they were leering at her. “Which they are, actually,” she determined.
“You were close to your sister?”
“She was my cousin, sir,” she replied, before rushing to add, “like a mother to me here.” Her eyes welled up.
“But you didn’t talk for that long. 2 minutes and 10 seconds only.” Tadpadkar joined in.
“We had a disagreement, sir.”
The men kept quiet, gazing at her in earnest.
Pari told them about the lip job and the pending payment.
“I’d never be able to forgive myself, sir.”
“Why?” Ansari quizzed.
“I wasn’t good to Nina Di even in her last moments. I should’ve behaved better,” she started wailing.
He rolled his eyes and motioned Tadpadkar to see her to her vehicle.
They talked to 15 more people after that. Everyone seemed to have an alibi, as Ansari knew they would. The killer, if he was on the call list, wasn’t going to proclaim that he was guilty.
The deceased’s lover came to the station itself.
“Where were you from 5 pm to 8 pm yesterday?” Tadpadkar asked Jatin Godbole.
“At home, sir. I was sleeping.”
“Oh c’mon, who sleeps in the evening?”
“I’d arrived home from the airport at 11:15 am, sir. I hadn’t slept the night before.”
“So you slept in the afternoon.”
Jatin nodded in repetition. He took a deep breath. “Composing himself?” Ansari wondered.
“You live a 20-minute drive away from the victim’s flat, right?”
“Yes, sir.” He nodded again, twice.
“Sir, please catch whoever did this. Nina was the star of my life. She deserves justice.”
“All victims deserve that, Mr. Godbole,” Ansari wanted to say. He limited himself to a solemn “we will.”
They shook hands and Godbole left.
“You think he’s taken it to heart?” Tadpadkar asked.
“It’s Mumbai, Tadpadkar. Anyone could be acting here.”
“He’s 5’9, no sir?”
“Yes, similar to the ex-husband.” Then, after a pause, he added, “How many are remaining?”
“Three, sir,” the head constable pored over the list. “We’ve traced two of them, but the third is not in the city. It’s registered to a Babulal Sahu in Dharavi. His house was locked when our men got there. Neighbours say he went back to his village in Odisha six months ago.”
Ansari growled. “Share his details with all stations. Did you get his village address?”
“No sir. He used an Aadhar procured here as ID.”
After a thought, he asked, “Who are the other two?”
“One is the owner of a news website, Manak Dey. Lives in Kurla. The other is a flower trader. Lives in Thakur village, here in Kandivali.”
“Let’s pay them a visit each.”
Ansari called Vithhalbhai from the car.
“DNA is going to be tough. There are huge variations in the samples.” Vithhalbhai started.
“Pretty much what we knew. Plus, there’s fabric under her nails, which is likely from her struggles before death. Cotton. Seems to be from a shirt.”
“No headway?” Vithhalbhai questioned.
“I was hoping you’ll lead the way.”
“There’s no magic wand, Yaqoob saheb,” he laughed.
The car was weaving in and out of the traffic.
“If you find the clincher within the next 48 hours, I’ll make Malaai Kofta for you with my own hands,” Ansari declared.
They reached the flower shop. The hubbub of traffic was on. The two men got down. The humid air was thick with fumes.
Proprietor Manish Salgaonkar said he was at the shop till 11 in the night. Ansari put him around 56-58 years of age.
“It’s the marriage season, saheb. Workload is high. Me and my son,” he gestured to a young man packaging flowers, “we have been working overtime for the past week.”
“How was Ms. Daruwalla’s behaviour with you?”
“Nina madam was so kind to us, saheb. She even loaned me money for my liver operation last year, at no interest.”
They got back in the car after some more questions. Ansari asked his subordinate to drive to Smoke House Deli in Bandra Kurla Complex. Tadpadkar had asked the reporter to meet them at the crossroads closest to the Deli.
Enroute, Ansari was going over the various facets of the case in his mind.
“Do we have anything from the CCTVs?”
“Most cameras were closed, sir. We’re checking the surveillance feed from the street.”
50 minutes later, they were at the spot. Tadpadkar called Manak Dey on the latter’s mobile. Dey, it turned out, was walking towards them. Ansari sized him up. Slimy and greedy were the words that came to his mind.
After introductions and general information about the murder, the questions started.
“How did you know the deceased?”
“I was going to interview her, sir.”
“When was this scheduled for?”
“And what was it about?”
“Her business, sir.”
“What’s an entertainment news website got to do with an event manager?”
“She has been – had been – managing parties and events for stars for years, sir. I wanted to see her side of the view.”
“How the glamour world looks like from the outside.”
“How many times did you meet her?”
“Zero, sir. But we had talked twice on the phone.”
“The first was on Sunday evening.”
“Yes, sir. And the second time was on Thursday afternoon, to decide the time and venue for the interview.”
“At her house?”
“At her office, actually.”
Ansari scratched his neck under the collar. The humidity was extreme.
“Where were you yesterday, between 5 pm and 8 pm?”
“At my house, sir. My kid has viral fever. I was nursing him.”
“Where’s your wife?”
“She died 5 years ago, sir.”
Ansari directed him to stay put in town.
They were on the way back, close to the station, when Ansari received a call from an unknown number.
“Hello officer Ansari,” the voice boomed. “This is Karanjit Kapoor speaking.”