“Husbands are always the usual suspects, you know. And I have statistics on my side too. And I love statistics you know”.
The detective winked at him as he said these words. His steely eyes piercing through him as he spoke.
He looked down at the table of the room in which he had been sitting for the last four hours. What had started off as a “casual couple of questions” had ended with the detective sitting across the table and throwing a barrage of questions insinuations and allegations across his face.
It had not even been 24 hours since his wife’s body was found below the bridge. He was at home when he got the call. It’d been a particularly hard day and he had come home only to find his wife not there. He messaged her and she messaged back saying she’d found an investor who was willing to back her project. And she was out to meet him. He smiled to himself as he read that message. “As if she’d ever find someone willing to spend their hard earned money on her nonsense”. He shut his eyes as he lay on the sofa. A slight smirk on his lips.
He was awakened by the constant vibration of his cell phone. He had been in an important meeting earlier that evening and didn’t want to be disturbed. So he’d turned the ringtone off. He had forgotten to put it back on after he had finished his work. He picked up the phone and was horrified at what he heard.
He struggled to get up from the plush leather sofa, but once he did, he raced down the stairs of his apartment to reach his car and drove like a maniac to reach the spot where he’d been asked to come.
A few policemen in uniform and a couple of them in plain clothes were surrounding what obviously seemed to be a body. As he reached closer he recognised it. The beige floral top and maroon bottoms he immediately recognised. A couple of officers stopped him but on telling them who he was they allowed him to get near the body. He saw her face. Eyes shut. She seemed to sleeping peacefully, he thought. Although the stab wounds on her top near the stomach and that single slash across her neck suggested anything but peaceful.
A detective identified himself and asked him to come along. They drove in the detective’s car to the station. “My men will bring your car here. Just a couple of casual questions and you can go home. The shock must be too great, I can understand”. He sounded genuinely sympathetic.
It was four hours since then, nearing midnight and he was still at the station. The sympathetic detective had gradually transformed to a flesh-notching hawk who was hell bent on proving his guilt.
He was tired by now. His whole day had been a hectic one. In fact the last week had been a hectic one. And he really needed a break. Moreover the shocking events of the evening had absolutely crushed him. He was tired. He was grieving, he wanted to sleep.
The detective was about to ask him more questions when a bald man wearing thick rimmed glasses knocked on the door. As the detective turned around irritated to see who the intruder was, he was relieved. It was his friend Thomas. The company lawyer. He was glad to see Thommo finally make it.
“I have bail papers for my client”, the bespectacled man thrust a bunch of papers near the detective’s face. For a brief second he thought Thommo would strike the detective with those papers. “I wish he did”, he thought to himself. He was eager to get out of this hell and grieve by himself.
The detective, once he recovered from the surprising movements of Thommo’s hands, leafed through the bunch of papers, looking alternately at him and Thommo. “So your client here is a big man, is he”, the detective snarled as he got up from his chair.
“You’re free to take him, for now”, he added deliberately. “But sir you know better. Do not leave town while the investigations are on”. His tone was a challenging one. He sounded as if he was letting a convicted killer off the noose. “Mr Mehra won’t be going anywhere Sir”, Thommo’s tone exuded warmth reassurance and a distinctly false sense of humility. “He will willingly cooperate with you and the entire force on the case. After all it’s his wife who’s been murdered. And Shantanu would definitely like to see the culprit being caught. Neelima Bhabhi was…”, Thommo’s voice quivered, totally in line with his overacting.
“Shaan you better go home and rest. Uncle aunty are there. Even Shashank and Madhu have come over. You’ll feel nice with people around you”, Thommo spoke as he drove.
He felt strange entering his own house for some reason. His parents, his brother and his sister in law were waiting for him as he walked in. He didn’t have the will or energy to face them. His mother broke down as she hugged him tight. He put an arm around her to comfort her. His tired eyes pleading with his father to pull her away. He couldn’t handle all this at this time. They all settled down on the large sofa in the middle of the huge drawing room. As everyone spoke, each expressing their shock and sympathy and anger over what happened, he had zoned out. He kept staring around the room wondering how he’d carry on without her. He looked around the room and every object his eyes fell upon reminded him of her. Their happy times together and so many memories. In the midst of their conversations he got up and left. He went up to his bedroom and plonked himself on the King sized bed. He was asleep within a few minutes.
He awoke the next morning with his phone ringing. He hadn’t even managed to change his clothes from last night. He went to wash his face and looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. His eyes were blood shot his hair ruffled and his 2- day stubble looked prickly. Within an hour he had stepped out of the apartment looking and feeling fresher than what he was sometime ago. The detective had asked him to come to the station for “a few more questions”. “As if last night wasn’t enough”, he grumbled to himself as he drove through the city traffic to reach the station.
The questions followed. Days changed to the next days and then weeks and then months. Detective Shardul was hell bent on proving his guilt, but Shantanu remained cool. “When I have not done anything why should I worry”, he kept repeating to himself, during those tough times. Continuous interrogations were enough to drain a man of all his energy and patience. But Shantanu displayed a surprisingly steely resolve and composure. Even he didn’t realise he had so much calm inside of him. He handled all the questions the accusations and the pressure tactics used on him with utmost composure. There was a sense of dogged determination, laced with a sense of supreme self confidence. He loved the look on Shardul’s face everytime he managed to answer his queries and leave him stumped. Shardul was getting nowhere with the case. “I know it’s him sir”, he would answer to his superiors every time they pulled him up for being too strong on Shantanu. He was after all a reputed architect owning a substantial business.
Finally after months of enquiries and investigations it was decided to close the case. There was not an inch of movement that had led them to believe Shantanu could have murdered her. “One of those unsolved cases”, Shardul’s boss told him as they worked on the formal papers to close the case. Shardul has never felt sadder than that day. On his long career he had seen a number of cases being closed unsolved, but somehow this particular one affected him more than the others.
Shantanu was a happy man that day. He was in his office that day when the phone call came. He expressed his relief at his own name being taken off the suspects list. But at the same time he felt sad somewhere that Neelima’a killer had gotten away scot free.
“I would love to come and meet you this evening if possible”, Shardul’s voice sounded surprisingly humble as he called from an unknown number. “I don’t want to make this official as I don’t even have the right to make it one. But since you have tolerated me for so long I hope you won’t mind one last meeting at your house”. Shantanu was surprised at Shardul’s sudden new-found humility. He agreed to meet Shardul in his house. “Maybe he wants to come and admire the sea view or just gape at the artefacts”, he smiled to himself, still trying to figure out why Shardul would request such an odd “unofficial” meeting.
“I just wanted to say sorry to you Mr Mehra”, Shardul said as he extended his hand to shake with him. “I know during the course of our investigations I have troubled you, accused you, abused you, all the while forgetting that you were also grieving the loss of your wife. Maybe I had blinkers on and failed to admit that it could be anyone but you”. Shantanu was surprised at this unexpected transformation. He heard Shardul get more and and more emotional with every drink he poured in his glass. Shantanu was beginning to enjoy it.
3 Months Later
Shantanu lay down on his king sized bed. “You can be such a cunning rascal you know”, Madhu said as she embraced him from behind. “In these last three months I’ve seen a side to you which amazes me but also scares me a bit. The way you engineered dad’s heart attack with the TC 16, mum’s mental breakdown which led her to be shifted to the institution. And Shashank’s “accident”. When I first met you after marriage, I never knew you had all these qualities in you”. “I was always the adopted son wasn’t I”, he swung her across the bed and bent down to kiss her on her neck. “Mmm you smell so nice darling. Does a grieving widow really use so much perfume”, he laughed as he began to tickle her all over her body. She writhed, laughed and fought back with him rolling all over the bed along with him.
“This is a new one for sure”, Inspector Ghorpade said, shaking his head. “Now where has detective Shardul disappeared. Three months and no news of him. Just like that. Out of the blue. Ekdum Se Gayab. I wonder where he went”.
“He was a good man, Shardul was…”, Shardul’s boss said dispassionately as he looked out of his gloomy office window into the bustling streets of the city.
Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar