The Labyrinth22 mins 16.7K 22 mins 16.7K
When the Assistant Superintendent of Police, Abhimanyu Sen reached the crime scene, it was already crowded with onlookers and media personnel. Several OB vans were parked nearby to provide live telecast. The Sub-Inspector and two constables from the local police station were trying in vain to keep off the people from messing with the crime scene and the media persons from prying around for answers to their queries. ASP Sen took control of the situation immediately. He asked the Sub-Inspector to cordon off the area and asked all the media persons to gather around him. He told them, “Look, I fully understand your concern and emotions on the unfortunate death of one of your colleagues. I've come here to investigate the case. Don’t expect me to tell you anything at the moment. We'll brief you at the district headquarters all about our preliminary findings as soon as we find any lead in the case. Now please disperse and allow us to do our job.”
Some journalists still tried to lob questions at him. But with a raised hand, he firmly indicated that there will be no further comments on the issue. Someone from the gathering shouted, “There’s nothing to investigate. The journalist was doing a story on the Minister’s illicit businesses here. He's simply taken out.”
While assigning the case to ASP Sen, the Superintendent of Police had said,-“It’s a case of a mysterious death of a high-profile investigative reporter. Very sensitive issue. All hell will break loose in the media. Local police will not be able to handle it. Besides investigation, tactful dealing is required. So it's you ..”
Sen was one of the new batch of IPS officers who after completion of his training, was posted in the District police headquarters at Murshidabad only a few months back. Till then, he was assigned with mostly inconsequential traffic and law enforcement duties. This one seemed to be an interesting assignment and he was rather happy about it. ‘But if that news-person is right?, there’s no mystery to solve here. To book the culprit is the only job.’
The dead body of journalist Shantanu Das lay on the ground near the bamboo structure that once served as a platform for ferrying people across the river in small country boats. But growth of grass on the soil road indicated that not many people frequent this place nowadays. No boats were in sight either. Sen noticed that smokes were billowing out behind the screen of trees and bushes on the other side of the river and there were several big plastic barrels lined on the edge of water. He called one of the local constables and asked him, - “Is there any factory over there?”
“ Yes, Sir”.
The constable, a middle-aged man with a thick moustache and a bulbous nose, had a thoughtful expression on his face. He seemed reluctant for a moment and then looked furtively around and finding the SI approaching them, said - “Don’t know, Sir”. In a hushed tone, he added, “can talk about it later, Sir”.
“What’s your name”
“Oh, the great detective Byomkesh Reborn,”- ASP Sen said in jest.
When SI informed about arrival of the forensic team, Sen scrutinized the scene for one last time and asked Byomkesh to do the same so that he can fall back upon him for any supplementary information. Byomkesh pronounced his observations aloud – “ Single bullet wound, straight to the heart – seems to be the job of a professional hand - shot apparently fired from close range – no other mark of injury suggests no scuffle before the shot fired - mobile not found – nothing in the pockets, not even the purse- killer might have emptied pockets to remove any possible clue. Appearance - handsome, moderately built, average height, aged about 30 years. That’s all.” – Byomkesh rolled out his observations in a single breath.
Sen watched Byomkesh with a bemused look and told the SI who was standing by his side, “ Please spare him for me. He’ll assist me in this case”.
Nashipur is predominantly a farming village. The marketplace for agricultural commodities located on the highway has, over the years, developed into a small township. Its distance from the District town was not more than 40 kms, yet Sen decided to station himself at Nashipur to focus his full attention to the case.
“Is there any hotel here?” Sen asked the SI.
“Yes Sir, only one -‘Musafir Inn'. It’s in the market area – near to our police station.”
“Just okay – No option either.”
“Then fix me a room to stay for a couple of days. I want to complete the investigation quickly.”
SI Ghanshyam Behera, though in his late-thirties, looked much more older and matured than his real age suggested. His hair had thinned. A bald patch was already visible at the back of his head. His body was round, short and apparently looked overfed as his belly kept bulging over his waist belt. He had a smiling face. But it looked more sarcastic rather than an indication of happiness.
After leaving the crime scene to the forensic team, Sen asked SI Ghanshyam to accompany him in his jeep and asked for his input on the incident.
“This journalist had earlier published a report in his newspaper about some alleged illegal activities in Chaudhuri Group of Industries. It stirred up a sensation even in the Parliament. This time he was perhaps, digging into the Group's factories located here”,- SI started briefing.
“Did the journalist ever come to you”?
“Yes, once or twice. In connection with his report on Chaudhuri Group. I told him that my jurisdiction ends on this side of the river and their factories are on the other side – beyond my jurisdiction. So I had nothing to tell him.”
“Then why did he come to you the second time?”
SI was taken aback by the question as it sounded like interrogation. But he smiled broadly to mask his discomfort and said –“The journalist was doggedly pursuing for an interview, Sir.”
ASP Sen did not seem to be convinced by the explanation. But he preferred not to follow it further.
“Any idea about the possible reason for the murder”.
“May be the journalist was trying to sneak into the other side of the river to collect photographic evidences to corroborate his report on the Chaudhuri Group. Perhaps their henchmen found out and killed him”.
“How the victim's body was found?”
“Local farmers generally come to work in the field very early in the morning. They found the dead body and informed the Gram Pradhan. The Pradhan came to the Police Station to report it.”
“At what time did he report it ?”
“Around 8 in the morning, Sir.”
“It's now 5 in the afternoon. Police came hardly an hour ago, after the media persons took over the crime scene spoiling a lot of vital evidences. Why police came so late on the scene?”
SI was taken aback by the sudden charge. He hesitatingly explained that he was at his home at Behrampur this morning and reached the thana at around noon. He had to handle some law and order problems and other jobs which required immediate attention. Thereafter he rushed to the crime scene but by then, the media persons were all over there. He also requested him not to forget that this thana is perennially under-staffed and that is the major cause for delayed response.
“Don’t stuff me with lame excuses. The spot is hardly 3 kms from your thana”. Then he asked again, “Got any information about where the victim stayed?”
“ It’s unlikely that he stayed here. Normally people coming from city stay either at Murshidabad or at Berhampur. We’ll check.”
“ The victim and the killer might have used vehicle to come to the spot. Those marks have now been lost,” Sen said in a tone of reproach.
SI's discomfort was increasing. He wanted to end the discussion as quickly as possible.
“Here's your hotel, Sir”. SI felt relieved. Byomkesh was following them with SI's motorbike. After arranging the room at the hotel, SI took leave saying he had work to do at the thana and that Byomkesh would stay there to help the ASP.
Musafir Inn is a three-storey building at the center of the marketplace. Sen was given a room at the top floor. Not many guests seemed to be staying there at that point of time. Byomkesh explained, “People come here mostly during harvesting seasons, Sir, for trading in crops. Rest of the time it remains mostly empty ”.
“Oh I see. Now tell me what you wanted to say about those factories on the other side of the river.”
Byomkesh closed the door and said, “ They manufacture milk there, Sir”.
“Factory manufacturing milk!”
“Yes, Sir. That is spurious milk made with chemicals. Late in the night, you'll find people standing in waist-deep water, engaged in waving big plastic containers in the river. They cool it down so that the manufactured milk can be supplied very early in the morning. They also produce desi ghee from skins and bones of dead or slaughtered animals in the same factory. Maybe many things more. No one knows except those people who work there. But no one dares to talk about it. Chaudhuri's henchmen are everywhere. They'll just bump him off. No trace will ever be found. People are even afraid to register any complaint, Sir.”
“When did the victim last visit the police station”?
“ I never saw him visiting the police station, Sir.”
“ l see !” 'Then SI is telling lies or hiding the facts! Is it because of fear of Chaudhuri Group or is he somehow involved in it ?' Sen thought aloud.
Sen's inquiry with the receptionist confirmed that neither Shantanu stayed here, nor any news-persons is staying in the Inn now. However, he said one photographer is staying there but he couldn’t say whether he works with any news media.
Sen then send a request over phone to Berhampur and Murshidabad Police to find out the hotel where Shantanu stayed. The next morning after receiving information from Berhampur Police about name and location of the hotel where Shantanu stayed, Sen set out for Berhampur along with Byomkesh in his Jeep.
Behrampur was only 30 minutes drive from Nashipur. When they asked for the key of Shantanu's room at the hotel, the receptionist said that the key was with the guest.
“He’s been killed. Open the room with duplicate key”, Sen ordered.
When they entered the room, the room was already ransacked. Clothes were strewn on the floor – pillows and sheets were thrown on one side – bed was pulled from the cot and thrown on another side.
“We moved late. Someone came here before us. But the point is what's the thing they’re searching for. Whatever it is, it must be very important”, Sen said aloud.
“He surely had a laptop. That’s been taken away”.
When even after a thorough search, no clue or evidence was found, Sen said, “Let’s move. Nothing will be found here”.
As they were coming out of the hotel, someone from behind, hailed Sen. He introduced himself as Niren Roy, a friend of Shantanu working at the same media group. He inquired about the progress of the case.
“It’s too early. We're working on it”, replied Sen. Then he said again,” We know very little about Shantanu. You can help us with your input on him. Let’s talk over a cup of coffee inside the restaurant”.
Niren said that Shantanu was a brilliant journalist, both in print and visual media. He had filed several investigative reports. His reports were always truthful. For the last one month, he was frequently coming here to collect evidences for his report on the illegal activities of Chaudhuri Group. No staff photographer accompanied him during investigations. Earlier he relied on a freelance photographer with whom he developed a close friendship and together they filed several excellent reports. But lately they fell foul of each other as the photographer found out that Shantanu was having an affair with his wife.
“What’s his name”?
“ Did Shantanu sent any interim report?”
“No. He normally keeps his report secret till its publication is decided. He keeps all his materials stored in his laptop – password protected. Keeping in mind the risk involved in his job, he shared his password with me. If you find his laptop you can take my help to open the files. There must also be a pen drive as an external storage besides his mobile”.
“ Couldn’t find any of these. By the way, when did you come here”?
“Just checked in. My baggage is still lying in the reception. The receptionist told me that you’re investigating Shantanu’s case”.
“Someone had ransacked Shantanu’s room before we came here and took away all the potential evidences”.
Niren said that a few days before, Shantanu called him to say that he had almost completed his operations here and that he was waiting for the final recordings from one of his planted insider in Chaudhuri's drug factory.
“Thank you Mr Niren for all the information. We've to rush otherwise we may miss another chance to recover a vital clue. How long you're going to stay here”?
“I’ve come here to take Shantanu’s corpse home to his old parents. He was single. Shantanu was a dear friend. I'll be happy to help the investigation in whatever way I may be asked.”
“Appreciate your feelings. Give me your contact number.”
On the way back, Sen told Byomkesh that Niren has given some vital information. ‘A picture is now taking shape. Most important thing is to recover the pen-drive. The killer seems to have got possession of two of the storage devices. They must have got his mobile after killing him. For the laptop, they did not have to search the room upside down. The way they searched the room means that they were searching for the pen drive. There’s a fair chance that they haven’t found it here. If the device was not in his room, it was certainly in his person when he was confronted by the killer. It was a dark night. Throwing away the device, evading the attacker's notice shouldn't have been a problem. In all probability the device should be there at the crime scene. So we must try our luck. Let’s go to the crime scene.’
As they were reaching the spot where the crime was committed, they found from a distance that someone with a sickle in a hand, was clearing the long grass and searching something on the ground. As soon as the man heard the sound of their vehicle, he quickly hid himself behind a bush and crawling among the long weeds and grasses, he surreptitiously slipped himself away from the scene.
Byomkesh wanted to go after him, but Sen stopped him by saying –“ No need. Since he was still searching, he has definitely not found the pen drive. We don’t have much time. Soon it'll be dark. We've to find out the drive as quickly as possible. Anyway, we'll catch hold of him later.” Sen sounded very much sure of the man’s identity and his whereabouts.
When Byomkesh got down at the spot, Sen asked him to stand exactly at the place where the dead body lied. He put a small stone in his hand and told him, “Suppose that this is the device that Shantanu had in his hand. Now without making any visible movement of your hand, throw the stone behind you”. He drew an imaginary periphery taking into account the distance where the stone fell and both of them started searching the ground. It didn’t take long for Byomkesh to find the device stuck in the thorny leaves of a pineapple plant. “Got it Sir,”- he shouted happily.
“Bravo, Byomkesh”- Sen was visibly happy. “This pen drive must be password-protected. We'll need Niren Roy's help to open it. Let’s go. We’ve nothing more to do here.”
On his way to the thana, Sen called Niren Roy to inform him about Shantanu’s pen drive and requested him for his help in opening the files in it. Niren Roy agreed to come to Sen’s office at the District Police Hqrs. at Murshidabad the next morning.
It was already dark when they were approaching the thana. Nashipur is a small village town. Not many people are seen on the roads once the darkness sets in. Streetlights are few and far between. Darkness was quickly thickening around the trees and bushes and behind the houses and buildings. A little later, this dimly lit surroundings would certainly look more eerie and ghostly.
As Sen parked the Jeep in front of the thana, SI Ghanshyam came out to receive him.
“Any development in the journalist's murder case?” Sen asked the SI.
SI Ghanshyam informed him that the journalist's body has been sent to the District Hospital for post mortem. Report will probably take a couple of days. He further informed that he has interrogated a few known criminals of the area in the meantime, but no clue has yet been found.
“By the way, do you know anything about Amit Maity – the dead journalist's one-time photographer?”
SI Ghanshyam Behera looked perplexed for a moment – “No – Nothing. ..Why? Is he a suspect in the case?”
-“Yes, he has a strong motive to kill the journalist. He went to the crime scene this afternoon and he was searching for something there. He fled from the spot as soon as he heard the sound of our vehicle from distance. We need to catch hold of him before he disappears.”
-“Yes, Sir.” SI nodded his head.
On the way to the Inn, Byomkesh asked Sen how he knew it was Amit Maity who was searching at the crime scene. Sen explained that when he inquired at the Inn to find whether any media person was staying there, the receptionist pointed out to a tall man who was smoking cigarette standing in the far end of the lawn at the back of the Inn and said, “He seems to be a photographer… don’t know exactly if he works with a media.” Then he pulled out a register and said, “His name is Amit Maity”.
Sen said to Byomkesh, “I only saw him from the back. But one cannot miss to recognize him by his height and lock of close cropped hairs.”
Byomkesh again said “ If he is the killer and if it’s a murder of revenge, then he must’ve fled the scene immediately after the murder. What he's got to do with the pen drive?”
Sen seemed thoughtful for a moment and then said, “That’s a valid point. But someway or the other he seems to be involved in the murder. Let’s see what he’s to say.”
As they were about to enter the Musafir Inn, an auto-rickshaw coming out of the Inn's compound from opposite direction, ran past their vehicle. Sen could not see whom was in the passenger's seat. But instinctively he turned the Jeep and driving past the Auto, ordered the driver to stop. Although Sen never saw the face of Amit Maity, but looking at his hair he thought that the passenger must be him.
“Well Mr. Maity, what’s the hurry to leave? Be my guest today.”
The man was surprised to hear his name from him.
“Wondering how I know your name? Just a guesswork. Don’t bother.” He then asked Byomkesh to arrest him and keep him hand-cuffed in the jeep.
After recovering from the initial shock, Maity resisted, “ You can’t arrest me like that. What have I done? I'm a news photographer. I’m only doing my job. What’s the charge against me?”
“First of all, you’ve messed with the crime scene. That’s a crime. Your other crimes will be revealed later.” Sen said curtly.
After taking Maity into custody, Sen checked out of the Inn and drove straightaway towards the District Police Headquarters at Murhidabad.
“Aren’t we going to take the arrested man at the police lock-up here?” – Byomkesh asked.
“ No need. I don’t have much trust on your SI Ghanshyam. It seems Chaudhuri has turned him to be one of his lackeys. Someone from the thana must have passed the information to Maity about his imminent arrest. We'll interrogate Maity at our office. There’s nothing more to be done here.”
The next day Niren Roy came to ASP's office as promised. With the help of his password, Sen was able to open the files of Shantanu's pen drive.
It was a virtual bombshell. There were clippings of how Chaudhuri’s factories produce spurious milk, fake drugs, adulterated oils under the cover of a licensed country liquor factory - recordings of government officials being bribed – even recordings of the minister in his own voice, ordering murder. It's totally a dark world, he thought. Well, these matters can wait for now. He was quite sure that the Group didn’t order the murder of Shantanu simply because they didn’t know that he was in possession of such materials. Most of these clippings might have been sourced from employees inside the factory and some clippings from Chaudhuri's storage devices which he recorded apparently for blackmailing Govt officials. If he knew about the leak, there would have been more dead bodies.
There must be something on the SI. Sen browsed the folders and found one named 'Ghanshu'. It contained several audio and video files. One captured him while accepting bribe from Chaudhuris – another caught him in the act of enjoying wine and women at their guest house. There were several other clippings where Sen could not establish the context. From another dated video clipping, it appeared that the SI had met Shantanu on the day before the murder and offered him money in exchange for the recordings and threatened to kill him when he refused the bargain.
Indeed it’s a damaging piece of evidence not only against Minister Chaudhuri but also against SI Ghanshyam and hence his motive for killing. But how does Maity fit into the scheme of things?
Initially during interrogation, Maity put up resistance. But when he was confronted with the fact that he was not in his hotel room during the night of murder and an employee of Musafir Inn is witness to it (which Sen came to know from the Receptionist during his enquiry at the Inn), Maity broke down and confessed to his involvement in the case.
He said that he was blinded by rage and wanted to take revenge on Shantanu. When he got to know that Shantanu was in possession of some video footage of SI's misdeeds from one of their common friends, he met the SI and told him about the same, thinking that SI would eliminate Shantanu by himself. But SI instead offered him huge sums of money to bring all the copies of recordings to him. It was impossible. Shantanu would never part with the recordings as long as he was alive. SI said, “Then kill him. Here’s Rs.2 lacs as an advance.” Maity said that he doesn’t have any weapon. “Don’t bother about that. I'll arrange a country pistol from Malkhana (vault room where seized materials are stored). No one will ever discover the murder weapon. But all the copies of recordings must be secured.”
SI tried to buy the copies from Shantanu too. When he refused, the murder was planned. Maity called Shantanu to befriend him once again and asked him to forgive and forget their earlier misunderstandings. He told him that he is out of job nowadays. But one of his informers at Chaudhuri’s factory has laid his hand on some sensational materials about their operations and he wants to sell it. ‘I have neither money nor any publication. I hear that you're writing an investigative report on them. These materials will provide a new dimension to your report. If you want you can have it. We can work together as we used to do earlier.’
Shantanu swallowed the bait. As planned, the SI provided a seized motor cycle from thana's junk yard, to Maity to bring Shantanu from his hotel. At the wee hours of the night, he was brought to the ferry ghat supposedly to collect materials from his informer. The SI was already present there. He confronted Shantanu and told him to handover all his recordings on him or die. Shantanu flatly refused. Then he turned to Maity and saw the pistol on his hand. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He said, “So you have joined hands with this filthy creature ! He’s a criminal – Chaudhuri’s dog. How could you do it, Amit? You've not only trapped me but also trapped yourself. Once you have blood in your hands, do you think they’ll let you live in peace? No, they’ll blackmail you - exploit you. You'll live only at their bidding. That’s a hell of a life. I know you blame me for your wife’s desertion. But believe me, she will never come back to you whether I am there or not. Simply because she doesn’t love you. You know very well I have lived my life on principles. I'll never compromise with the crooks.”
SI asked Maity to shoot. But by then he developed a cold feet. Realizing that his entire plan was going to be spoiled, SI quickly took the pistol from him and fired the shot.
SI was not aware about the existence of the pen drive. But Maity was. He was his associate earlier and he knew very well the way Shantanu operated in such circumstances. When the pen drive was not found after a thorough search on Shantanu's body and subsequent search at Shantanu's hotel room, Maity was certain that Shantanu had dropped it somewhere in the bushes before he was shot. He went there to find it and hold it as an insurance against the SI in case he tried to implicate him at a later stage.
The Superintendent of Police after examining the recordings and Maity’s confessions, agreed with ASP Sen and issued the Warrant for arrest of SI Ghanshyam Behera and Sen immediately set out for Nashipur to take the SI into custody. SP also reminded him that recovery of murder weapon is important and his first task should be to recover the pistol which according to Maity’s confessions, was kept back in its place at Nashipur’s Malkhana after the murder.
The next morning, the electronic media and newspapers were abuzz with SI Ghanshyam Behera's arrest. In the afternoon, SP informed Sen that Minister Chaudhuri is in town and he would be coming here to congratulate him for solving the case so quickly.
“Oh God.” Sen exclaimed in disgust.
SP smiled indulgently and said, “ They are politicians and our Boss. Don’t argue with them and never get provoked. What we’ve to do, we've got to do. No other way.”
The Minister came in the evening. SP received the Minister with all due respects. The Minister insisted to meet ASP Sen personally. After introducing Sen, SP left the chamber.
“Congratulations, young man. Very well done. You have saved my skin. The entire media was making mince meat of me. Whatever misdeed happens in this District, the blame is on Chaudhuri. Now everyone will see who are on the wrong side of law.”
He further said, “I feel genuinely sorry for Shantanu. What an excellent journalist he was. He shouldn’t have lost his life in this way. Last time he came to Nashipur, he met me. This time I was not there when he came. If I was there I would have suitably advised him to exercise caution when you cross the line. You must have read the story of warrior Abhimanyu in Ramayana. Why he got killed? He entered Chakravyuha which is nothing but the labyrinth of one's own ego, pride, righteousness, morality etc. and didn’t know how to exit in an adverse situation. Shantanu too made the mistake of stepping into the Chakravyuha without knowing the art of retreat and paid the price with his precious life. Life is no lesson in morality to teach, young man; life is an opportunity to derive pleasure and happiness. You don’t gain anything by trying to stand tall. The tallest tree attracts the lightning first. So my small advice to you is ‘to live and let live'. Hope to meet you soon,” Minister Chaudhuri rose to leave.
“Thanks for your invaluable advice Sir. But your congratulation may be premature, Sir. This is only a small part of the case. Picture abhi kaafi baaki hai ,Sir. The next episode will start soon. I would prefer you to reserve the accolades till the final outcome of the whole case, Sir.”
The Minister gave a hard look to measure him. Then said, “Well, young man, prepare yourself for your big day. Till then … best of luck.”
When the Minister left the HQ, SP asked him about the conversations.
“Nothing Sir. He just taught me a lesson on 'immorality' and gave me a 'not-at-all-veiled' threat.”
“So-very-expectedly”, SP said in a jest and both broke into LOL.
“Anyway that’s a well-needed introduction for your next assignment”, SP quipped.