Mahesh removed his raincoat and hung it on the hook. It was a small and shabby room that his senior Mr. Deb Mohanty was sitting in and lost in reading a file. He did not pay any attention to his subordinate’s complaint about the rain.
Finally, when Deb lifted his head shutting the file, Mahesh was relieved to get the attention of his senior.
“Sir, the alibi checks out. Mr. Banerjee was at his home that night. His neighbor, Mr. Shastri, whose house is exactly opposite, confirmed that Banerjee and his friends were talking and drinking the whole night and they did not see anyone leaving the house.”
“Leave from the front gate, you mean?” questioned Deb.
Mahesh scratched his head, “There are no other gates.”
Deb frowned at his subordinate’s lack of an eye for detail, “The house has a back door, and the compound wall is not that high. Jumping across that wall through the back door and to make way through the narrow lane at the end of the house isn’t difficult.”
Looking at his subordinate fret, Deb said, “Let us go and find out.”
Mahesh sighed, “Now?”
There was no point arguing with his senior though. His words were final. Cursing his day, he put on the drenched raincoat and took the wheel of their jeep.
After they hit the main road from the police station, Mahesh asked, “Sir, but isn’t this a clear case of burglary? Why are we wasting time?”
Deb, lost in his own thought process, started thinking loud, more than responding to Mahesh. “The burglar stole the cash from the drawer of the deceased’s bedroom but left the wallet on the nightstand. Also, it needs to be noted that the thief left the expensive ring on the deceased’s finger. Why?
Let’s suppose, the thief was in a hurry. He would take the wallet and the watch, assuming that the gold ring was stuck and did not come out, rather than searching drawers,” Deb continued his theory. “Isn’t it clear the robbery was staged?”
What Deb said made sense to Mahesh. So someone made the murder of Billy James, who has been dead for three days, look like a theft-gone-wrong case ending in murder.
“And what did you deduce from his notes?” Mahesh asked.
Deb took a deep breath, “Nothing. We know that Billy James was a dealer in artifacts and sometimes smuggled rare antiques, but there is no way from his books and ledgers to find it. I need more information. Let us see if his partner has any more to offer in this case.”
“It is also possible that the servant is the murderer. He does not have an alibi, and there was no one else in the house except him that night.” Mahesh suggested.
“You see, my friend, we are missing a very important point here. Motive? What would make a servant kill his master after four years of working and staying with him?”
“Maybe something that came to light recently, or he got a perfect opportunity to escape or….”
Deb intervened before his junior completed his analysis, “You are improvising. But we need to find the motive first.”
* * * * * * * *
The two of them arrived at Banerjee’s house. When Banerjee heard about the murder, his hands started shaking, and he wiped the sweat from his forehead. He was a large man, comical in certain ways, especially the way he carried himself, with his hair neatly oiled and parted in the middle.
Inside the house, Deb showed Mahesh the back door that led from the kitchen to the storeroom and to the small narrow space at the back - just enough for one person to fit in between the compound wall and the door.
“I wish I’d been there earlier. It might have made all the difference. So all I can tell you is why he was murdered.” Mr. Banerjee said, taking a deep breath, and placing his palm on his chest in a melodramatic fashion.
Mahesh removed a small notebook from his pocket and started to scribble while Mr. Banerjee continued his story, “You see, the cow-horn? That was what he was murdered for.”
Mahesh scribbled more, and Deb was listening ardently “Billy received a telegram a week before his death, a message from Obko Rejan, one of our regular dealers, that he has the cow-horn, and he would bring it with him. He had asked to meet Billy on that fateful day.”
Mr. Banerjee paused, wiped his forehead again and continued, “That evening Billy called me at around 6.00 p.m. and asked me to come over to his place for dinner and see the cow-horn. I got ready and was ready to start when it started raining heavily. I waited for the rain to subside till 8 p.m. and then I called Billy to inform him that I would not be able to keep up my appointment.”
There was silence in the room temporarily. Deb asked, “And? That is all?”
Mr. Banerjee nodded his head.
Deb asked, “When we took the inventory of the items in his room, there weren’t any items which were missing. He had jotted everything in his book, the items, their certificates and their description in a very detailed manner. There wasn’t any mention of a cow-horn.”
Mr. Banerjee replied, “It had arrived just that day so he may not have entered it in his Ledger. Nor did he have any plans to sell it. He wanted to keep it for himself because the cow-horn is believed to be sacred, and the water drunk from it is said to have healing properties.”
With that, the conversation came to end. Deb and Mahesh headed to Billy’s house. It was evening by then.
When Rabin saw both the inspectors at the doorstep again, he seemed shocked, recovered quickly without making it too evident.
The servant, a short and quick man, aged about 43-45 years was the only servant Billy had employed for the last four years. His name was Rabin Alan.
The night of the murder, Rabin had locked all the doors at around 10 p.m. after his master retired to his room. He then cleaned some dishes in the kitchen and was asleep by 10. 20 in the servant’s room. He next woke up at 6 a.m. in the morning. He went to his master’s room at 7.30 a.m. and found him dead on the floor.
Asked if he had heard any sounds, Rabin replied that he was suffering from cold and fever and that the medicine put him in deep sleep. However, he did remember locking all the doors before going to sleep and was surprised to find them unlocked in the morning.
“Isn’t this a burglary case, Inspector Sir?” Rabin asked. “We are yet to find that out,” Deb replied.
Deb also informed Rabin not to leave the city until the interrogation was over.
They spent two more hours pouring themselves over the papers that Billy kept. When there was nothing else that Deb wanted, they retired from the house and disappeared into the rainy night.
* * * * * * * *
There wasn’t much progress in the case over the next few days. The main challenge was to find the dealer Obko. He was their only source of information now. Mr. Banerjee had never met Obko, and his information came only from Billy. Mahesh dug out a few clues but nothing useful. One, for instance, was to check for Obko’s present address from the postal authorities but they could only get a P.O. Box number.
And then, Deb came up with a plan. On behalf of Banerjee, he sent a telegram to Obko stating that he was now in-charge of trade, in Billy’s absence. He also sent another telegram asking for the delivery date of an antique silver set that once belonged to a Chinese king.
Mahesh was confused about how Deb knew anything about the silver set, while Deb just shrugged off saying Mahesh needs to focus more on the situation.
On the fourth day, a telegram came in - “ORDER ARRIVING ON 21 OCTOBER 1985. COLLECT AT THE USUAL PLACE”
The ‘Usual Place’ direction perplexed Mahesh, as this was their only chance to lay hands on Obko, but Deb seemed nonchalant. On their way to the Calcutta Metro station, Deb explained how he figured out the meeting place to be the newspaper stall on platform No. 2. And he was right! Obko arrived at 5 PM, and he was seized immediately.
Deb explained to Mahesh that Mr. Billy James, on the day of his murder, had purchased a platform ticket which was in his wallet, and which Deb found during the investigation. Among other things in his bedroom, there was also a newspaper ‘Dopahari’ dated 2nd September 1985, the day he was murdered. Dopahari was published and circulated only in the afternoon. Now, you would say that Billy could have purchased the newspaper from anywhere. I found a railway timetable pamphlet in the folds of the newspaper and deduced that the probability of the newspaper being purchased in the railway station was high.
It was most likely that they met at the railway station somewhere near the newspaper stall in the afternoon hours, which was a calculated guess. There were two newspaper stalls, one on Platform No. 5 which was in a prominent place and crowded. The other one was on Platform No. 2, situated almost towards the end.
Mahesh could do nothing but stare at his senior in awe of his intelligence. “You are great, Sir.”
The interrogation with Obko did not reveal much except the fact that Billy was very keen on the cow-horn. For the last two years, Obko had been searching for one. This one was obtained after its owner had died only recently of a heart attack. It was a very close-ended deal, and he ended up paying a huge amount for it. But he also knew he could charge Billy double the price he paid.
He didn’t seem to know why Billy was interested in the cow-horn, though.
* * * * * * * *
That evening, while Deb was lost in his thoughts, Mahesh carried in two mugs of tea. As Deb quietly sipped at his tea, Mahesh let out a sigh, saying, “It is sad that we reached a dead end.”
Deb, “I don’t think so. What happened with your pursuit of checking on the local thieves and the ones we have listed with us?”
“No luck,” Mahesh grumbled.
Deb just nodded his head and said, “I might have solved the case, but I am just waiting for the last piece of information.”
“You did?” Mahesh questioned surprised.
Deb just nodded and resumed drinking his tea, looking elsewhere and thinking. Mahesh did not dare to ask any questions because he knew that look. His senior would reveal when the time was right. Right now, he was contemplating, gathering evidence and trying to fit all the missing cases in the puzzle.
* * * * * * * *
A week later, a package arrived for Deb. In it, was a photo of a five-year-old with two adults, his parents probably, and all of them were beaming. Deb asked Mahesh if he could find anything unusual. Mahesh eyed the photograph very carefully and stated that it all seemed normal except that the small boy was wearing something unusual in his neck, a cow-horn about two to three inches in length.
“Exactly,” Deb laughed patting his junior on the back.
“Wait. How did you find this?”
“Do you mind opening the letter as well?” Deb asked Mahesh, and Mahesh followed his instructions.
“Oh. My goodness,” Mahesh remarked, happiness beaming in his face, “This is solved?”
Deb nodded his head winking at Mahesh and grabbing his cap and other things, “Let us do the honours.”
* * * * * * * *
Rabin and Mr. Banerjee looked at each other and then suspiciously at Deb and Mahesh, unaware of why they had been called to the police station. Deb showed the letter to Banerjee and asked him about it. Mr. Banerjee opened it and read it aloud. The letter was addressed to Mr. Alfred Constant, the head priest of the Calcutta Church requesting to admit a young boy, Marcus Kassanah to the church.
Mr. Banerjee stopped reading and spoke nervously, “What does this letter have anything to do with the murder of Billy?”
Deb questioned calmly, “Who is this boy and how are you related?”
“To hell with the boy! I do not even know who he is. Billy had requested me to write this letter and so I did.”
“The boy is the son of the great leader, Samuel Kassanah of the Kassanah sect. The Kassanah were pagan worshippers and worshipped the Pagan God, Kassanah and hence the name of the sect. This sect always invoked hatred from the other religions for their unusual pagan rituals and sacrifices. The Kassanahs healed people and invoked the dead through their mysterious rituals.”
Deb continued – “Five years back, there were riots, and all the members of the Kassanah sect were killed and murdered. Some fled to different counties and restarted their lives under a different identity while some went underground. The leader and his wife were assassinated, their son abducted, and a lot of valuable items belonging to the rituals were stolen. Out of the many items, the cow-horn (the Kassanah believed that it was given by the Pagan God to the first leader of the sect and passed on to the next leader) was also stolen.
The traitor, who started the riots and stole a majority of items, was Billy James. He knew that the Kassanah would be after him, and so he abducted their young son who was about five months old then. He sent the boy to a foster home and secretly paid for his maintenance and upkeep.”
“But recently, Billy realized that the Kassanah members were close to finding out the location of the boy. He asked you to write a letter on his behalf. However, you sang this song in front of Rabin. Rabin also knew that the cow-horn was arriving and what better way than this to gift his young master!”
Deb pointed a finger at Rabin, “You killed him the day you got the cow-horn and the boy!”
Deb half-smiled as he continued talking. “An unsolved case makes me restless. I started researching on the cow-horn as soon as I heard about it from Banerjee, and it leads me to the study of pagan rituals and the KASSANAH. And with Mahesh digging through the bank records of Billy James – we found a cheque made out every month in the name of an orphanage, arousing suspicion. My research also led me to the church and the now adopted parents of the boy.
All of this made it easy for us to dig the past of Rabin too. I could make out you were a Kassanah and if I am not mistaken, a very high ranked priest when the riots took place.”
Rabin calmly said, “I don’t have any regrets. Revenge is served, and the boy is safe.”
Deb concluded the conversation, “You carried out your plan well without leaving fingerprints and no trace of evidence. Your one mistake was to leave the wallet and Mr. Billy’s watch untouched. And if the cow-horn had not been mentioned, this case would have never been solved.”