Malhotra had my new number…
The sudden realization had my brain whirring into activity.
Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? While Suhana was never able to obtain my new number, how had her father managed that? And why didn’t he tell Suhana about it? But it wasn’t the why that had me dialling the police station’s number, it was the how.
Sushant was standing bewildered beside me, “Hua kya hai, what happened? Who’re you calling now?”
When no one at the station picked up, my mind went back to going through all those things that connected Malhotra to his daughter’s murder. Her leaving her home, his death threat, his presumption that she must have come to me, and his anger, finally leading to her murder. It all seemed to make sense. It all seemed to come together and I was convinced that I had the missing link to Suhana’s murder. That her death wasn’t a suicide after all, it was cold-blooded murder.
I explained all this to Sushant and expected him to agree with me, but he did this instead, “Are you fucking crazy? That doesn’t mean much! There are a million ways of getting a phone number. If I can get a girl’s phone number to ask her out on a date in 30 minutes flat, how hard will be yours? And you work in a line where being connected matters….”
“Yeah? So why couldn’t Suhana get it? And why did he never tell Suhana?”
“Maybe she didn’t try hard enough… And of course, why will he let Suhana have your new number? He wants you gone from her life, right? Won’t letting her have your new number be counterproductive?”
It made sense from that angle but I still wouldn’t give up the idea. So I decided, come morning, I was going to the Police Station and talking to that Officer about it.
I wasn’t able to sleep a wink that night. I tossed and turned in my bed. I made numerous trips to the bathroom, the kitchen, the balcony just to clear my head, but I was buzzing with excitement. If the police found something in this information, it could let me off the hook, but more importantly, it would mean that the case would come closer to finding the real culprit, who in my mind, was Malhotra, right from the start.
The only thing I couldn’t understand was why he’d kill her when I had already told him that I had turned her out? Could he be that cold blooded that he’d kill his own daughter just for leaving home? Could any father kill his daughter for plain revenge? At that point, my hatred for Malhotra and the events of the past one day had compelled me to believe anything about that man.
Around 8 in the morning me and Sushant headed to the Police Station. He wouldn’t stay at home, wouldn’t stay behind, wouldn’t go to work without ensuring that I came back from the station. He made some lame excuse about wanting to get a new lock for the faulty main door, and I clapped him on the back, and he rode pillion on my bike. No questions asked anymore.
Neither said a word through the ride. We were too keyed up.
At the station, we found the officer easily enough but getting him to talk was a different ball game. He feigned being busy, shuffling from one room to another, drinking his millionth cup of chai, talking aimlessly over the phone. I had had it!
I shouted at the Constable to let me though to him, “We’ve been waiting here to talk to him for over an hour! I have important information for him, and you won’t even let me into his room…”
“Tukaram! Aan de ladkon ko (let the boys through)”, he feigned nonchalance as he took another sip of his chai. Then he looked at the pair of us and exclaimed, “Kya bhai, are you guys joined at the hip? You come and go everywhere together, stay together? What do they call those queer fellows these days? Oh, yes, gay! Sure you aren’t gay?” He laughed uproariously at his own joke, while we just stood there, suppressing any wayward comments or looks that might get us thrown out of the station.
“Sit down”, he ordered us and then continued, “Well, what is it? Subah, subah shor kya macha riye ho tum dono (Why are you making a ruckus this early in the morning)?”
I told him and he sat there blinking his hawkish eyes at me for sometime before he thundered, “You think we policemen are idiots?”
I didn’t know what to say. I was confused at his reaction. Why was he not appreciating this bit of information?
“Tum chokron ko kya lagta hai? Hum yahan sirf bidi aur tambakoo khane aate hain? Hain?” (What do you guys think? We policemen only come here to smoke and grind our palms over tobacco?)
He muttered some profanities under his breath while me and Sushant stole a glance at each other. Sushant gave me a look that said ‘I told you so’.
“Tukaram, get his phone out from the evidence locker.” He took out a file from one of the drawers in his desk and opened a page on it. Then he started talking to us again, “So you think that based on that single information I should arrest and convict Malhotra? What makes you think think convictions are as easy as that? And if it were that easy, you’d be arrested sooner than him, because you were the last person to see and interact with her.” He gave us time to let that information sink into us.
“We’re not fools. Based on the information obtained from your phone and your service provider, we could make out that this was a new number you had obtained only after your breakup with the deceased. That question bothered us as well, why he had your new number and not the deceased. We asked Malhotra about it too. Turns out he and your Salon Manager go to the same sports club. Malhotra knew you worked for him, long before all of this happened. Malhotra lied to him about needing your number for his wife’s appointment. And that’s how he got your new number. We talked to the Manager too. He confirmed giving your number, that you were at work that day, and had left at the usual time. Mystery solved”, he cocked a supercilious eyebrow at me.
I could hear Sushant cursing softly at me.
But I still couldn’t believe that that was all to it. I tried explaining why I had my apprehensions, why I thought it was Malhotra, why Suhana could not have been involved in drugs, but the officer wouldn’t listen. “Between you and me, Lover Boy, the more we investigate this case, the more it looks like a suicide. There’s no DNA other than the deceased’s. There’s no indication of a struggle that she may have been forced or something. Even your alibis, your’s and Malhotra’s, his wife’s… and your Ms. Peehoo’s, are strong… We’ve cross checked each one of you.”
So they had already interrogated you. Thank god, he seemed to think your alibi was strong.
He carried on, oblivious to the sudden palpitations he had set off in my heart, “Unless there was someone else involved that we don’t know about, it seems like a suicide. All trails are going cold. I appreciate your sleuthing, but I’m afraid I might have to finally report this case as a suicide.”
I couldn’t believe it. He was ready to give up? “But Sir, she never took drugs! Alcohol yes, but never drugs…”
“Yeah, yeah I know. But her parents confirmed that after your break up she had started drinking heavily. She may have started with drugs too. Who knows. People do that when they’re troubled.” Tukaram laid my phone infront of him. It was sealed in a plastic bag with something scrawled on the top left corner. The officer turned the file towards me and offered me a pen, “Now take your phone, sign here, and get out of here. And don’t bother me again unless you have real information.”
I signed while he eyed me suspiciously, then he started again, “By the way, this…Peehoo girl… how much do you know her?”
The alarm bells in my head went off again. “Why, Sir?” I looked up at him failing miserably at hiding my deer-caught-in-the-headlights look.
“Just answer the question”, he replied passively.
You have to be careful, I told myself. I looked him straight in the eye, steeling myself to say it confidently, “Just over three weeks”.
He scratched his chin and asked another question, “Hmm… Your phone records confirm that, but… ah… have you met her family? Friends?”
Where did that come from? I was genuinely taken by surprise by his question. I couldn’t control myself before blurting out, “What? No! I… I don’t know anyone from her side. Why?”
“I ask the questions around here, boy, remember? Now take your phone and get lost.”
“Sir, but why? Is she in trouble?” I wanted to kick myself for saying that.
He caught it immediately, like a sly predator, “Is there a reason for her to be in trouble?”
Careful, careful. My heart felt like it would burst out of my chest. “No…nothing…. but at least tell me what drugs was Suhana taking? What was in her suicide note…”
“Lover boy, I’ve already told you more than I ought to. Get out now!”, he glared at me.
“Get. Out.” By now the irritation in him was a palpable thing. Sushant dragged me out of there, whispering in my ear, “Let’s go. There’s nothing more you can do.”
We walked back to the parking lot in heavy silence. Before I could put the key in the ignition, Sushant blurted out, “I told you he could have gotten the number from anyone. But no, you never would listen to me.”
“Yaar Sushant please, don’t eat my head now. You’ve no idea what I’m going through.”
“Oh, I don’t?! We stay in the same flat, we’ve known each other for 5 years. I know what you eat, wear, what makes you tick, what does not, and I don’t know?!” Clearly he was pissed at me for making that comment.
I tried to make amends, “Yaar, Sushant, what I meant was that I’m confused. I don’t get how she could have committed suicide…”
“Dude, I know what your real problem is? Your real problem is that you desperately want someone else to put the blame on. That’s what’s eating you up on the inside. Because if it turns out that she committed suicide, you’ll forever blame yourself for it. And you don’t want that blame!”
He had explained it so clearly for me. Exactly what I was feeling but was unable to express it in words. When he said that, all the pent up rage, frustration and remorse in me came hurtling out, “Would you?! Would you wanna live with an albatross across your neck your whole life? Can you imagine how heavy that burden is? Someone DIED FOR ME, Sushant, someone died. How often does that happen to someone?”
He softened down immediately. He knew me well and he knew that the guilt was killing me from within, scraping away my humanity, piece by piece.
We heard a rustle behind us, and turned back to see what it was. Tukaram was observing us from a few paces away. We both became conscious immediately. Is he spying on us? What else could he be here for?
He closed in the distance between us and spoke to dispel the mystery,
“You want information on that deceased girl? I can give it to you… but for a price”.
To be continued…
Copyright ©2017 by Pradita Kapahi.
All rights reserved.
Image Credits: Hastywords at http://www.pixabay.com