Colour of Greed
A refreshing murder mystery
‘Chaurasiya, earlier it looked like just another incident of homicide for local police to handle. But what they have found about the victim made them turn to CB-UH.’
Senior investigator, Crime Branch – Urban Homicide, Inspector Ram Sajiwan Chaurasia, with cool eyes over a calm face, kept quiet for he knew his superior would proceed further anyway.
ACP Gadgil knew Chaurasia from past several years since his joining the service. Knowing that Chaurasiya was all ears he continued, ‘what they discovered about the victim Rajnath Sengar is….. nothing.’
Chaurasia straightened in his chair with a faint momentous spark in cool eyes – clear sign of the sudden surge in his well concealed curiosity. ‘Nothing?’
‘Yes. This man Sengar.. his past is like a clean wiped slate. Local police found no IDs. No papers. Cell number in someone else’s name whose address is fake. No bank account. No cyber profile. No DL. A man almost non existent. I am sure his face wouldn’t even turn up in our databases just in case if he himself is on the other side of the law.’
What about social circle? Acquaintance, friends, visitors, neighbours? Chaurasia wanted to ask but DCP was not the right man to answer such questions so he came right to the point, ‘when should I go?’
‘In afternoon sometime. It’s a five hours drive down West, a small picturesque town Shadganj. Circle Officer Makrand Sharma has already been informed that you are coming.’
Chaurasiya stood up to take DCP’s leave.
CO Makrand Sharma was a young man in his late thirties. His bright wide eyes gave his face a childish look which was balanced by the thicket of moustache over his thin lips. He welcomed Chaurasiya and led him to the tiny drawing room occupied with bare minimum stuff – enough for one occupant.
A bachelor Chaurasiya concluded instantly. He had already called Makrand up on his way to Shadganj. Sharma had invited him to the early dinner at his quarter. There was still sometime in dinner.
Over coffee, Sharma showed him the pictures of the crime scene. Chaurasiya picked the first one in the stack – the dead old man in his late sixties had a clean shaven face, black hair – possibly dyed, bloody face horrifyingly shattered with the fatal bullet, age nearly early fifties, body lying in a sofa chair.
The other photograph, close up of the deceased.
‘One bullet through the heart and the other through his cranium, murder weapon missing.’ – Sharma explained.
‘How did you learn about the incident?’ Chaurasiya asked while picking up the next photograph – body lying into the sofa chair in front of the big main sofa.
‘We got the anonymous call at 9:40 am, reached here at 10.’
‘Male?’ Sharma couldn’t get the sudden question for a moment then it struck him, ‘yes, yes, the caller was male. Rajnath Sengar, the victim, lived as a tenant here for past seven years, landlord stays abroad and has met the deceased only once, Sengar was spending his life as a loner except for a maid – Pamela.’
Next photograph - Television was kept beside the front wall still running that time: a news channel – Khabar 17, well captured by the police camera, some twenty feet away – Chaurasiya guessed – facing the sofa.
‘Maid? In Sengar’s employment? Exclusively?’
‘Yes,’ Sharma replied, ‘she stays five blocks across Sengar’s house in the northern part of the town, Sengar paid her well for her services. She would arrive in the morning daily at seven and leave at four. But that day she was late and reported at nine thirty, found him shot dead in sofa chair.’
‘What’s this?’ Chaurasiya interrupted, looking at the next close up of the victim.
‘Sengar’s shirt’s top button hole is unused. The first button is in the second hole.’
Sharma peeped at the photograph and said, ‘let me elaborate on this. I myself searched the dead man and found the clothes worn by him very inappropriately. The coat was damp. So were the trousers. Then I noticed the wet raincoat and a hat over the wooden hanger beside the main window. It was raining that day. Shirt was buttoned wrongly, as you see. Sleeves of the coat were not aligned with the hands comfortably.’
‘What do you make out of it?’
‘Forgetful, eccentric old man?’
‘Or in a hurry for some appointment?’ Chaurasiya contributed.
‘Quite possible.’ Sharma accepted then countered, ‘but very unlikely considering his zero social life and void past. We found nothing on the dead man. There was no landline in the 1BHK house and there was no cell phone on his person. In fact, cell phone was nowhere in the house. And there is a single cupboard in the other room which was ransacked as if killer was looking for something and probably found it.’
‘Found it!’ Chaurasiya repeated.
‘Yes, because rest of the place was untouched.’
‘How many people knew this…um… Sengar in his life?’
‘His maid and one old man Dinesh Gulati who lives a block away in the main town on this side of the river. The two men had grown up a casual relationship which cannot be put in the category of friendship or even acquaintance.’
‘Hi-How-r-u kind of?’
Sharma paused to gauge his reply then said, ‘a little more than that. In fact, Sengar’s house is situated in the far corner of the area across the bridge on the river. Main town is this side of the river. Sengar’s only outdoors routine was a daily walk up to the dairy booth across the river to buy milk precisely at six thirty am. He would get up early in the morning. Watch an astrology program on Channel Khabar 17 and leave home at six to buy milk and return by seven. This Dinesh Gulati goes on a morning walk and both the men cross each other over the bridge – Sengar going for the milk booth and Gulati crossing the bridge to go for a walk on the other greener side. They used to exchange a casual good morning or a hand wave while crossing each other.’
‘On the day of the murder did he see Sengar?’
‘Yes. He saw but…’
‘That day it was a constant drizzle since midnight. Sengar was wearing a heavy hat and raincoat. Despite that he was carrying an umbrella over his head. We found the umbrella in the verandah. Another strange thing Gulati noted that in such a dark cloudy weather old man was donning goggles. And, yes, he found Sengar clean shaven and smiling. Dairy booth guys also noticed that. They had never seen him shaven and smiling earlier. Sengar had a beard in his life.’
Chaurasiya’s calm face registered no reaction, ‘what did the enquiry with neighbours reveal?’
‘Nil. Neighbours have seen him at times but no one knows him except this Gulati.’
‘What about the maid? She discovered the body you said.’
‘Pamela discovered the dead body and rushed to the nearest neighbouring house, hundred meters from there to call the police…’
‘What about her cell phone?’
‘She forgot it at home that day in a rush to arrive here as she was already late.’
‘Why was she late?’
‘Rose late. Alarm failed. Cell ran out of battery at night.’
‘What time did she call the police?’
‘Nine thirty six. Four minutes before the anonymous call. The anonymous call had been made from another cell phone whose number is traced but owner’s is a fake address again. The number is CellOne New Delhi. The call was made from far Northern region. Averagely, two hours from here. Phone is dead since then.’
‘Did you verify Pamela’s cell phone story?’
‘I had gone up to her house that day to find the cell phone charger in the power socket which was switched on. At the other end of the charger’s wire the cell phone was very much there. She is under surveillance. Gulati too.’
The silence fell and stretched a bit too long. Chaurasiya stopped looking at the photographs. Sharma looked at him with a question mark on his face.
Then Chaurasiya asked, ‘What is the time frame of the death?’
‘Not like they show in movies or fiction. Pretty wide as usual. Between morning five till nine thirty. We have narrowed it down to seven thirty and nine thirty considering Gulati’s and dairy guys’ statements.’
Chaurasiya stood up and commenced an awkward brisk walk in the small room, thinking. Then he halted for a moment and asked, ‘fingerprints? All mixed up?’
‘Yes. Probably Pamela’s and Sengar’s. A few distinct ones are too of these two only. How are you so sure?’
‘Experience.’ Replied Chaurasia and resumed his walk again. After a while he turned back to Sharma and announced, ‘I am feeling hungry.’
Chaurasia was bowed before Lord Krishna’s small ivory idol when the cell phone rang. He saw ACP Gadgil’s name flashing over the screen. He dumped the wet towel on the chair’s back and received the call. Before he could even open his mouth for greeting, Gadgil’s excited baritone echoed, ‘Chaurasiya, there is a very interesting development in the case. I am coming over, will explain the details there.’ Chaurasiya noticed the faint hum of the car’s engine in the background.
In next half an hour he was at the local police station. He found Gulati at the police station. Sharma had summoned him for another round of interrogation. He found Gulati to be an enthusiastic, jolly natured man in late fifties. After the introductions Chaurasia said, ‘why bother the old fellow? We could have gone to his place.’
‘I myself offered coming here officer.’ Gulati chirped, ‘weather is good and I have nothing to do at the empty house.’
‘Mr. Gulati, Inspector Chaurasia needs to hear what you told us about your friend’s murder?’
Chaurasia noticed Gulati sulk with the mention of the case. In a voice shaded with grief Gulati said, ‘Sengar wasn’t a friend as such but whatever happened was horrible. I could never have imagined. Sengar was a mystery. He never told anything about himself. He was never rude but he never welcomed anyone. Not even me.’
‘You seem to have had a conversation with him.’ Chaurasia said.
‘Yes. It was a very interesting incident. We crossed each other on the bridge daily, like a set rule, except that one day I didn’t see him on the bridge. I wondered, a man of discipline, Sengar was not up and walking… something must have been wrong. Being alone, he could be in some sort of trouble, heart attack, slip on the bathroom floor, any accident in the kitchen… you know? That was the first and last time I walked up to his house and found him down with fever. He was alone. Against his reluctance I made him coffee and brought him some medicine. I thought I had found a friend but he was very strange. Very tactfully and politely he saw me off and never gave me any opportunity to come closer any further. It was as if he was surrounded by an invisible wall which no one could get over. He was a good man but very strange.’
‘What did you see on the bridge that day?’
‘You mean Sengar? Yes. We crossed each other as usual but there are certain things I noticed out of the place. One, it wasn’t raining that heavy for an umbrella and he was wearing a big hat too. It was early morning, cloudy, dark and he was wearing goggles. Second. Raincoat. A raincoat below an umbrella! The strangest thing was that his beard was gone. And now when I revisit the incident I recall that was the first time in so many days that he was first in waving hand at me. Earlier he always used to return my hand wave with his but that day he was prompt and ready.’
‘Did you two speak that day?’
‘No. As usual.’
Further discussion with Gulati revealed nothing of importance. Chaurasia dismissed him and asked Sharma accompany him to Pamela’s place.
On the way, Sharma had already filled Chaurasia in about Pamela. Parents unknown, killed in an accident in her childhood, no known relative, brought up in a convent in Mumbai, worked as nurse, babysitter, home tutor, specializes in nursing to senior citizens.
A typical celluloid brand out-of-a-mould story of another person with no background. Thought Chaurasia.
Pamela welcomed them with an expressionless face and cold manners.
No-expressions, too, is a noteworthy expression. Chaurasia recalled from his training days. People bad at acting are best at being flat face. He found her a typical out-of-convent simple lady but didn’t fail to notice the subtly thin layer of makeup on the face. A deft effort of hiding the dullness of a mourning face.
‘How did you meet Mr. Sengar?’ Chaurasia asked over a glass of water.
‘Seven years back, in Mumbai. It was a coincidence. Sengar sir was in a restaurant enquiring from someone over phone about a maid and I overheard. Offered my services and he hired me instantly, then and there. Since then I am with him. A very kind man.’ Pamela replied as if reading from a teleprompter.
‘What did you see when you reached the crime scene?’
She described. Teleprompter read out again. No more useful than police photographs and what Sharma had related earlier.
‘What do you plan to do now that suddenly you stand unemployed?’
‘Police has asked me to stay and be available for questioning anytime.’ She looked at Sharma, ‘But I can’t afford staying without work for long. I plan to go back to Babyfold.’
‘Babyfold. The orphanage? Mumbai?’
‘Yes. My home.’ She clarified.
‘Looking back at past seven years and especially the past months, can you recall any thing, any trivial incident, any unusual word spoken by Mr. Sengar, any out of the way action, mannerism, behaviour shown by him. Any small thing that you might have passed as being unimportant, worthless but now you realize it being of any importance, worth telling?’
She didn’t reply instantly from the imaginary teleprompter this time. She took a couple of moments to think, trying to recall then shook her head in negative, ‘nothing.’
‘…that once I found him stealthily talking to someone on phone that sounded like an argument or negotiation.’
‘What’s strange about that?’
‘He had never talked to anyone on phone earlier.’
‘You didn’t mention this earlier before to the police.’ Sharma complained.
‘It wasn’t asked that way earlier. Now I recall that that was rather strange.’
‘When did this happen?’
‘Last week means three days before his death.’ Chaurasia spoke to himself then looked at Sharma.
‘Obviously, you couldn’t ask him about that call.’ Chaurasiya asked with his sharp gaze fixated over her expressionless, gloomy face.
‘Didn’t he suspect that you could have overheard the conversation?’
‘If he had, he didn’t show that. I believe he always trusted me in everything.’
‘Yet he conversed on phone stealthily?’
‘I wondered about that too.’
‘Didn’t you feel bad about it?’
‘He was my employer, not my husband.’
‘Had he been your husband, he wouldn’t dare doing that.’ Sharma blurted suddenly and laughed. His misplaced joke went unwelcomed by Pamela’s stern looks and Chaurasia’s disapproving expressions. Sharma somehow tried managing to look away from both of them when Chaurasia’s cell phone rang.
ACP Gadgil had arrived in Shadpur.
ACP Gadgil’s presence in the small town was evidence in itself that the matter was far more serious than it seemed to be. Then the introduction of the old man accompanying Gadgil established this fact beyond any doubts.
‘Retired CBCID chief Somdatt Chaudhury,’ Gadgil introduced the old man with him, ‘by all the luck in the world, he came across the story in the newspapers and identified Pamela instantly.’
Chaurasia kept his usual composure avoiding unnecessary questioning – cool eyes over a calm face.
They all were sitting in Sharma’s cozy, small drawing room.
Chaudhury took the mention of Pamela as an opportunity to take hold of the conversation. He took out a set of old black and white – and yellow by age observed Chaurasia – photographs. In his husky baritone he began, tapping the first photograph, ‘this is Wilson Jonathan Taylor, his wife Sheila Taylor.’
‘Sheila Taylor?’ Sharma wondered loudly, ‘or Pamela Taylor.’
‘No this is Sheila Taylor,’ Gadgil said, ‘Pamela’s mother. Wilson was a famous archeologist and also fought in Central Burma when he was single, rescued a young doctor Sheila from a Japanese contingent, married her and Pamela, an exact replica of her mother, was born after the war, in Kolkatta, the then Calcutta. They went back to Burma to help the homeless, war torn farmers. British intelligence suspected that Wilson had had the possession of famous Burmese Pigeon Blood red rubies. Today, they are worth more than fifteen million dollars apiece.’ Chaudhury brought up the second photograph of Wilson, Sheila and a young man.
‘This young man, let me guess, dead…. Late Rajnath Sengar’s father?’ Chaurasia deduced.
‘Yes,’ Chaudhury replied and continued, ‘Kamalnath Sengar, a star spy in his life in British Intelligence. He joined Wilson’s archeology team undercover and got hold of the rubies but vanished all of a sudden.’
‘With the rubies.’ Chaurasia said as if he knew.
‘Yes. His son Rajnath Sengar was modern CID’s agent too. Far better than his father. Cracked many cases. Was awarded his own father’s long closed case to investigate. He wanted to locate his missing father too. He failed miserably, broke down and left the force.’
Chaurasia’s gleaming eyes compelled Chaudhury to drop his monologue and asked, ‘what?’
Chaurasia said, ‘then looking at Pamela’s photo in the newspaper you realized that Rajnath Sengar was not broken down by his failed efforts in his father’s search. He actually left the force because he had not only located his father’s whereabouts but also got hold of those Rubies – a fortune in small pocket. It is really all the luck in the world for us because Rajnath Sengar’s face is destroyed by the second bullet fired but still Pamela’s photo appeared in a small time newspaper, which rarely happens in such cases, and you happened to see it, another rarity. But now we can easily nab the killer.’
‘And…’ Sharma could not keep himself from proving his presence of any worth too, ‘entire scenario underlines the fact that Pamela has some connection with the killer. She either have killed Sengar herself or is in cahoots with the killer. I arrange for her arrest immediately.’
‘No Sharma,’ Chaurasiya protested, ‘remove the surveillance on her. She knows we are watching her. Let her feel safe and make her move. We have to go discreet.’
‘Chaurasia is right’ Gadgil seconded, ‘we need to be very careful.’
‘Very careful sir, because here we are dealing with an outstandingly cunning man, a sharp mind, sharper than his father.’ Chaurasia smiled.
Everyone looked in utter shock at ace investigator of CB-UH, Inspector Ram Sajiwan Chaurasia.
As expected, they got their man next week in a hotel right next to the CBCID headquarters in the big city – right below CID’s nose – the last place in the world to expect him.
Chaudhury admitted Chaurasiya’s observation: Their man was sharper than his father.
‘What made you suspicious?’ Later Sharma asked him.
‘Sengar created a scene to fool us.’ Chaurasia replied, ‘No explanation was coming to my mind for the killer to fool people into thinking that Sengar really went that day to buy milk. There wasn’t any explanation because he was the man himself as usual. He had to shave his beard off because although the man he killed was almost of his age but clean shaven. Then he put on the goggles, hat, raincoat and pulled up an umbrella for Gulati and everyone to really notice that strange sight and later mention to the police so that we start wondering why killer wanted to establish that Sengar was still alive till seven am. That was all a setup to buy time to escape and for Pamela to mix up the fingerprints and fool us and prevent Gulati to give a sudden unwelcomed visit and discover Pamela doing her part with a deadbody. There was no evidence against Pamela. She would have gone free after sometime and escape quietly to reunite with Sengar. Then Sengar gave the anonymous call to the police of his own murder. He probably left the hat, raincoat, goggle and umbrella at some place for Pamela to collect and plant them back on the crime scene. Beautiful plan.’
‘That also explains the improper clothes on the corpse. Sengar replaced dead man’s clothes with his own.’
‘Now we know that CID was on look out for Sengar, Pamela and the rubies. The man on the case; and on Sengar’s trail, was probably offered a share in the rubies. Sengar invited him early in the morning when there are no unwanted onlookers, witnesses of the shady meeting at his place.’
‘Hold on.’ Sharma’s excitement could beat a teenager’s, ‘Sengar watched the channel on the television kept facing the main sofa that means Sengar used to sit on the main sofa, not the sofa chair. Had he been shot dead, in all probability his dead body would have been found on the main sofa, not on the sofa chair at the side.’
‘Excellent, Sharma.’ Chaurasiya encouraged the small town cop, ‘that explains why the guest – Sengar’s pursuant’s dead body was found on the sofa chair. CID’s greedy officer arrived at Sengar’s place. Sengar welcomed the unsuspecting guest inside and made him sit in the sofa chair. At first chance, shot him dead, right in the heart – a sharp shooter’s hand. Then the second bullet to destroy the face.’
‘The thing he missed out is this sofa-chair-and-main-sofa point. He didn’t think of moving the dead body from sofa chair to the main sofa.’
‘He couldn’t. The impossible-to-hide bullet holes were in the back of the sofa chair. I think he would have thought about it but underestimated the police.’
Sharma said recalling, ‘now I remember you mentioning during your conversation with Mr. Chaudhury that Sengar’s face was destroyed by the second bullet. How could you be so sure that bullet in head was really the second bullet? I wonder, what’s with two bullets fired? It’s just normal.’
Chaurasia smiled, ‘don’t wonder. Think! When you think, you get it.’
Silence fell for a few moments.
Sharma murmured, thinking, ‘second bullet smashed Sengar’s face… first his heart… second…first…?.... Oh my God!!’
Chaurasia’s smile widened, ‘now you see? The bullet in the face or cranium was fatal alone. Then why was the bullet required for the heart? The first bullet in heart, killed. The second destroyed the identity of the deceased. We were fooled initially. We all began our investigation with the natural notion that Sengar was killed by his killer but, in fact, it was the other way round.’
‘That’s why no distinct fingerprints were available to match with Sengar’s and the man killed. Pamela touched every nook and corner of the house to ensure that all fingerprints around the house got mixed up otherwise a simple fingerprint match could have easily established that the victim wasn’t Sengar.’ Sharma spoke as if he had attained enlightenment.
‘As I got the whole story from Mr. Chaudhury, there were all greedy human beings involved right from the beginning. Wilson found the rubies, kept with himself. Kamalnath Sengar, the British intelligence officer killed Wilson covering it as a normal accident in an avalanche – a natural instance in archeology. Kamalnath along with his love - Wilson’s wife Sheila and small girl Pamela, disappeared with the rubies. His son Rajnath Sengar killed his father and disappeared with his love Pamela. So those rubies were not Pigeon blood red rubies. They seem to have taken their red hue out of human blood.’
‘That’s why in the field of crime we say, ‘Sharma spoke akin to an enlightened yogi, ‘comes from the blood – the red colour of greed.’