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. Read part 7: The Suspects, here.
Read part 8: Searching For The Cutthroat, here.
Friday, 5:45 p.m.
Nina Daruwalla was watching Netflix on her TV when her door bell rang. She wasn’t expecting guests.
Nina opened the door and was surprised to see the visitor. A little chit-chat followed. They sat on the sofas.
The AC was running. The purple curtains were ensuring that the oppressive sun was an afterthought inside the room. The visitor mentioned how the room was a respite from the humidity outside.
They discussed their respective schedules for the day. Nina went to the kitchen and made ginger milk tea for the two of them. The guest was glued to the TV.
She returned with a tray. It had two cups of tea and a plate with cookies. The guest took a sip of the tea and mentioned that it was light on sugar. Nina took a sip herself and realised her mistake. She returned to the kitchen and picked up the sugar box and two spoons. She walked back out.
Her amazement at the empty sofa was fleeting, because the next second, she felt a cold, sharp object at her throat. It then occurred to her that the TV was playing a football match. She heard herself cooing, and realised that there was a gloved hand over her mouth. She wanted to free herself, but the knife tip slicing into the left side of her throat held her still.
The person, erstwhile guest, wannabe killer now, spoke.
“You should know your limits.”
“Please don’t kill me, please,” Nina wanted to say, but it came out as gibberish through the glove. Her gut was growling and shaking, and her heart was beating in her throat. Her eyes fluttered around, trying to find something, anything, to attack her attacker with.
“Please let me go,” she blabbered into the glove again. Warm tears were streaming down her cheeks. The air from the AC was chilling her skin. She closed her eyes and was wailing and gabbling. More cuts made themselves felt on her neck. She cried out, more in fear than in pain, but was relieved to find herself still alive. She heard the attacker sigh, again, and forced herself to calm down.
“This isn’t how you are going to die, Nina. Focus! You have to free yourself.”
The pressure was constant on her neck. She attempted to tuck her chin into her neck. But the attacker was resolute. She noted that they were creeping towards the sofa in this struggle.
She heard the clang of the spoons on the floor. She’d dropped them without even knowing that she was holding them. The metal box containing sugar was weighing her other hand down. On the TV, one of the teams had scored a goal, and the noise level had gone up.
She drooled into the glove again, receiving a snigger in return.
The attacker’s breath on her ear sent goosebumps through her body. She estimated where the attacker’s face would be.
It was now or never.
She threw the box up, but the attacker was alert and batted it off with the left hand. This freed her mouth. The knife in the attacker’s right hand, shaken from its position, made another deep cut on her neck.
She tried to bat the attacker’s left palm away, and pulled at the right-hand sleeve of the shirt to get the knife away from her neck.
She managed to shout, “Bachao*,” but that was about it as the gloved hand repacked her mouth. This time, she felt her throat cut open.
She screamed into the glove. Blood gushed out from her neck as she felt the hand come off her mouth. She tried to cover the wound with her hands. Her mind was jumbled, but she noticed the pillow on the sofa. She attempted to bend to pick it up, so as to use it as a bandage. But her balance was off and her right knee stumbled into the sofa. She felt her body shake. There was movement at her periphery, but it didn’t register. She slumped into the sofa, gagging on her own blood. The metallic taste filled her tongue as the light left her.
Sunday, 8:00 a.m.
Yaqoob Ansari was getting ready for office. He was sitting on a chair in the hall and polishing his shoes when his wife, Zahala, came out from the kitchen. Their kids were getting ready in the bedroom and his mother had gone to the neighbour’s for some work.
“Tell Ammi that I’ll be joining the school from tomorrow. She’ll have to take care of Umar and Shehla till 2 pm, daily.”
“Why don’t you tell it to her yourself?” He smiled.
“Uff, you know why I don’t want to do that, and yet.”
He got up.
“If you don’t say it to her before leaving for the office, don’t even dare touching me after you return.” She declared, brandishing the spatula.
“Come here.” Ansari took her in his arms.
“Let me go. Kids will come out any moment now.”
Unfazed, Ansari whispered in her ear, “Why do you want me to be the lamb to the slaughter?”
“I don’t want the mess myself, that’s why.” She giggled and hit him in the arm with the spatula. “I have to cook. Getting romantic in the morning, stupid.”
He got ready, had breakfast with the family, and relayed the info to his mother over the meal.
Sunday, 9:45 a.m.
Ansari was at the scene of a gruesome road accident when he received a call from Tadpadkar.
“Sir, we have received the call records from the phone companies.”
“Get onto it.”
He returns 45 minutes later to find the head constable working through the files on a computer.
“There’s something interesting, sir.”
“This number was used to make a call to this other number. These two people talked yesterday too. The call went the other way.”
“I don’t want the mess myself,” Zahala’s words rang in his mind.
“We’ve been had, Tadpadkar. We need to track these numbers.”
“I’ve drafted the application and kept it on your table, sir.”
Ansari went to his table and signed on the application. He beckoned a constable.
“Thomas, get this to DCP sir’s office.”
Ansari called the DCP and told him what they had found.
“It’s all circumstantial, Ansari.”
“Which is why we need to track the numbers, sir.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Sunday, 2 p.m.
Ansari was at his desk. The adrenaline rush of the morning had dissipated in the humidity. He was having lunch from his tiffin when Tadpadkar came running.
Ansari looked up. He would have asked the question in other circumstances. But at that moment, the answer was shining in Tadpadkar’s eyes.
“You need to hear this, sir.”
Ansari was up from his chair before his subordinate had finished speaking. He licked the daal and rice on his finger as he rushed after him.
In the other room, Tadpadkar played the call recording from one of the numbers they were tracing.
The caller was clarifying something. The other person was agitated.
“Come to the gate number L of Deonar dumping ground at 6:30. You’ll get your money.”
Ansari smiled and glanced at Tadpadkar, who was beaming himself. Behind them, four other members of the team had huddled at the door.
Ansari turned around, grinning. “Time to catch our fish, boys.”
Sunday, 6:15 p.m.
The Deonar dumping ground in the east of Mumbai is older than independent India. It also happens to be higher than flat 177 of Regal Apartments. The stink from the mounds of garbage spreads far and wide, and spontaneous fires are a constant, meaning poisonous smoke mixes in your breath.
Twilight was taking hold.
An SUV was standing at Gate L of the dump. Another car, a sedan, arrived there 20 minutes later. The driver parked 15 feet away from the SUV, directly opposite it. He waited for a minute before getting out.
He walked to the space between the two cars.
“Have you brought my money?” The sedan driver couldn’t ascertain who was sitting in the SUV, but posed the question regardless.
“Come on out then.”
The SUV’s driver-side door unlocked and a man came out holding an airbag in his left hand.
“Who are you?” The sedan driver was suspicious.
“Here’s your money,” the SUV driver growled.
“But, who are you? Why isn’t he here?”
The SUV driver unzipped the airbag and held it up. It was empty.
Alarm bells started ringing in the sedan driver’s head. He ran around to his car.
“Stop!” The SUV driver hollered.
The sedan driver’s hand stopped at the door of his car. He thought for a moment to go for it, but felt it’d be stupid. He glanced sideways. The SUV driver was pointing a gun at him. His hands went up in surrender.
Before a shot could be fired, a voice reverberated around them.
“This is Mumbai Police. Throw your weapon down.”
Instead of shooting the sedan driver, the SUV driver ran back and got inside his car. The sedan driver, seeing the opportunity, also got into his car.
“We have surrounded you on all sides. Keep your weapons in your cars. Come out with your hands raised above your head. This is your final warning.”
Within seconds, the area was teeming with cops.
The two men got out of their respective cars and stood as ordered.
Inspector Ansari came out from behind a wall.
“Hello, Babulal Sahu, or should we say, Karanjit Kapoor?”
He removed the SUV driver’s fake wig, prosthetic nose, and fake moustache.
Kapoor winced. Ansari fixed handcuffs around his wrists.
Head constable Tadpadkar walked up to the other man and handcuffed him.
“Hi, Mister Manak Dey, how are you?”
Manok knew the policeman didn’t give two hoots about the correct pronunciation.
Sunday, 8:15 p.m., Kandivali Police Station. Interrogation Room 1
“5’8.5”, that’s your height Dey, isn’t it?” Ansari asked.
The room was lit by an LED bulb that shone in Dey’s face, which was dark with sweat and grime.
“You were the one she had to make do with. That’s why she allowed you into her flat on Friday, even though the meeting was scheduled for Tuesday.”
20 minutes later. Interrogation Room 2.
Ansari was sitting across the great star, Karanjit Kapoor, who was unflinching but didn’t look great.
“You offered Dey money to kill Nina Daruwalla.”
Kapoor was silent.
“You thought it’d be a good idea to finish him too, rather than pay him the money. Your driver does have a cousin named Babulal Sahu, but he looks nothing like this.” He slid a printout of Sahu’s Aadhaar card. “You impersonated him to keep your flings going without anyone recognising you.”
“You have no proof that I did any of that, officer,” Kapoor raged.
“Is that so?”
“Yes!” He was defiant.
“We have the killer’s DNA at the scene, which will match Dey’s. He has the photographs.” Ansari paused, as a terror flashed through Kapoor’s eyes. “Yes. He has copies. He had no idea till the very end that you were going to off him. But call it intuition or greed, he kept a set of photos after destroying all that he and his friends had.”
The wrinkles on Kapoor’s forehead deepened.
“Those photographs were the basis for the crime, weren’t they? Then we have the fake Aadhaar card. And, best of all, we have you at the dumping ground, caught red-handed. Pretty tight case, I’d say.” Ansari smirked.
Kapoor was silent.
“You called him on Tuesday from the Sahu number. You didn’t want anything from that affair coming back to you. Then, once you told me about the call with Nina, you thought you were safe. You thought I’d take you as a good Samaritan doing his duty. Except, loan shark Pakya bhai’s terror made Dey call you yesterday.”
Kapoor hung his head.
Ansari was revelling in it now.
“I have an inkling that Dey will turn on you if we offer him relief in return for a full confession. He might well think,
‘Hum to doobey hain sanam,
Tujhe bhi le doobenge^.’”
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
“Hello, Mr. Godbole, this is Inspector Ansari speaking.”
“We have caught the men responsible for your partner’s murder.”
“Thank you, sir, thank you.” Godbole sobbed into the phone.
Sunday, 9:30 p.m.
“Congratulations, Yaqoob saheb.”
“Vithhalbhai, yaar, 2-2 peg to banta hai aaj+.”
Both men roared with laughter.
* – Save me
^ – Urdu couplet. I’m sinking dear, why not take you down too?
+ – man, this calls for 2 pegs each today.
Featured image courtesy.