“How long has he been lying out here?” Detective Tamang sniffed the ashtray on the center table, completely ignoring the dead body lying right beside it.
It was 2 am, dead of night. 3 people stood in a carefully & lavishly decorated drawing room of Mr. Dheeraj Bakshi, while the host himself lied on the expensive carpet, with his eyes almost coming out of fear… lifeless.
“Not sure, detective.” The forensic expert hesitated and looked at CBI Inspector Kamath, his senior officer, instead.
“I thought we were not going to do this anymore, Kamath sir.” Tamang redirected his attention towards the bookstand.
“He’s new, Tamang. Don’t think too much of it.” Kamath turned towards the expert. “Detective Tamang may not work in the department, but he has been a very valuable ally to us over the years. So, you can share all your findings with him.”
“Oh, well…” The now-embarrassed expert stumbled for the right words to begin his sentence.
“No rush, officer. Just a dead guy and a killer at loose.” Tamang picked up a picture stand to have a closer look.
“Does he never look at the one he is speaking to?” Forensic expert Kumar nervously mumbled, before answering Tamang’s question. “We can’t be 100% sure before the post mortem, but it seems he hasn’t been dead for more than 2 hours. The rigor mortis is just kicking in.”
“Right!” Tamang looked up at the lights in the room. “Very helpful information!”
“Seriously! What’s his deal?” Kumar looked at Kamath, puzzled.
“We have something close to a witness though!” Kamath tried to intrigue Tamang, while ignoring the expert.
“The lady sobbing in the bedroom? Was hoping so.” Tamang finally turned towards them and smiled. “Wife?”
“Ex-wife.” Kamath smiled back and gestured towards the inner corridor. “This way.”
“Ex… I like the sound of that!” Tamang followed them gleefully.
“Don’t get your hopes up. Her grief sounded pretty genuine to me.”
“Okay… if you say so!” Tamang stopped briefly to check the family photographs on the corridor wall. “As interesting as this case sounds so far, I still don’t get why my humble presence was required here.”
“You’ll know in a few seconds.”
They swiftly entered the room at the end of the corridor. A middle-aged well-fashioned lady sat gloomily on the bed, wiping the corners of her eyes carefully, without disturbing her make-up too much.
“Mrs. Bakshi, how are you holding up?” Kamath did a quick pleasantry round. “This is our associate Detective Tamang.”
“My condolences.” Tamang uttered softly.
Mrs. Bakshi nodded.
“It would be very helpful if you told him, what you told us.” Kamath insisted.
She brushed her hair to straighten herself up. “Ask what you have to.”
“Considering your marital status, I am assuming you do not stay here.” Tamang didn’t like to waste time. “When did you arrive?”
“You’re right, I do not stay here.” She looked down at the floor. “I reached here about 11:30 pm.”
Tamang looked at Kamath with concern, as Mrs. Bakshi’s eyes had become moisty again.
“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.”
“Oh!” Tamang sat down on the empty bed-side table excitedly. “That’s… refreshing! Do tell!”
“Dheeraj is… was… the CEO of an interior decoration company called The Turquoise Tortoise.” She started. “His company was doing well, as he had built good relationships with lots of clients over the years.”
“But he wasn’t a favorite of his employees, was he?” Tamang added his quick observation, as Mrs. Bakshi paused for a breath.
“Dheeraj was…” Ritu Bakshi tried to find the right word. “…difficult, to be with. But, how did you…”
“How did I know?” Tamang gave a mischievous smile. “I saw the wall photographs. Mr. Dheeraj Bakshi was quite passionate about his organization; out of the 16 photographs, 13 was of his office. Some of formal events and some casual. However, in none of the photos did I see him in a friendly manner with his employees. The distance between him and his employees was quite apparent. Rest is a well-placed guess.”
Kamath gave his subordinate an are-you-impressed-yet look.
“Show-off!” Kumar murmured under his breath.
“But you were saying…” Tamang urged Ritu to continue.
“Well, yes… Dheeraj wasn’t a pleasant person. He shouted at his employees for even the smallest mistakes, as if they were his slaves. When he was angry, which was quite common, he would abuse people, throw furnitures… show his rage in a dirty way.” Ritu rubbed her forehead. “It was the same with me. That’s why we parted ways 3 months ago.”
“So, you think a colleague or a subordinate may have killed him?” Tamang was growing impatient with the long flashback.
“No, it was his brother, Ranjan Bakshi.” Ritu uttered with a sigh.
“There it is.” Kamath chuckled.
“Ranjan Bakshi? The… Ranjan Bakshi?” Tamang raised his brows as he understood the riddle. “The co-founder of VibraSoft, Ranjan Bakshi?
“Yes. The one and only.” Kamath nodded to confirm.
“Uhhh… I am pretty sure I read about him dying in an office fire accident last year! It was in the front page! Or was it some other Ranjan Bakshi?”
“Nope, he’s the one.” Kamath replied with a smile.
“Okay, so you are saying, the guy who clearly died in fire, has somehow come back to life and killed his brother.” Tamang lifted his hands up while trying to process the information. “Is that right?”
“Yessss!” Kumar jumped in, irritated. “Some detective you are!”
“Okay, I see now why you have called me.” Tamang sighed and turned towards Ritu. “Why did you say it was Ranjan who killed Dheeraj, by the way? What made you believe that?”
“Because Dheeraj told me.” Ritu replied firmly.
“He thought Ranjan was alive?”
“Yes.” Ritu nodded. “He was getting calls from Ranjan since last 2 weeks.”
“What?” Tamang shook his head. “How can that…?”
“Obviously, it was someone else pretending to be Ranjan, taking advantage of Dheeraj’s emotions and also distracting investigators away from himself.” Kumar hurriedly stated his deductions.
“…Or herself.” Tamang added with a smile. “Obviously.”
“Herself?” Ritu looked at Tamang, irritated. “Are you saying I am a suspect as well?”
“That’s like investigation rules 101, ma’am!” Tamang smiled casually. “Everyone’s a suspect! You know that!”
“Okay, okay!” Kamath tried to turn their focus back. “There are some other suspects as well!”
“Yes, the people at the Turkish… Turkish… Turkish what?” Tamang tried to remember the exact name.
“Turquoise!” Kumar didn’t miss the chance to rectify Tamang. “Turquoise Tortoise!”
“Right. That.” Tamang looked at his watch. “Too early to get interviews?”
“Well, yes.” Kamath gestured Kumar to step out. “We can get started by 8am tomorrow, at their office. Could be messy calling them all to the police station.”
“Sounds good.” Tamang gestured a good-bye with his trilby hat at Ritu Bakshi before stepping out.
“You took a note of everything important, right?” Kamath asked, although knowing the answer.
“Don’t worry, sir!” Tamang smiled and stroked his brain. “It’s all in here.”
“I … I didn’t do it, sir!” Asif looked at Kamath nervously, while sweating profoundly in the air-conditioned almost sound-proof cabin of the deceased CEO.
“Relax, Asif.” Tamang passed him a bottle of water, smiling. “Nobody is saying that.”
“So, tell us again! Till what time were you there at Dheeraj Bakshi’s home yesterday?” Kamath pressed.
“I wasn’t there for long. I… I left within 15 minutes.” Asif gulped down the water. “It would have been about 11:15pm.”
“Oh, so you just went in peacefully, sat and drank a cup of tea for 15 minutes… and then left like a good boy.” Tamang summarized. “Right?”
“I didn’t kill him, sir!” Asif begged. “Believe me, I didn’t do that!”
“What did you do then?” Kamath thumped the table impatiently.
“I… I was angry at him.” Asif’s tears started falling down. “I just wanted to teach him a lesson.”
“What did you do, Asif?” Tamang leaned in at the scent of a story.
“He became a bastard of a boss, sir! He would say filthy things at us, over nothing!” Asif spoke in a teary voice.
“Yes, since last 6-7 months his attitude towards us has completely changed.”
“Okay. Then why didn’t you leave this place?”
“I was… I am! I have already put down my papers. But…”
“But, Saroja couldn’t.”
“Saroja… Saroja Desai, the PR head?” Tamang asked. “We just met her 10 minutes ago.”
“Why couldn’t she leave?”
“She has a home loan, that takes up most of her salary… she couldn’t afford losing the job.”
“She is a PR head. I believe there would be demand for her profile… she could easily land another job.”
“That’s just a fancy title!” Asif shook his head. “It’s her first job… she was hired because she had no working experience, so that a high salary wasn’t needed to be paid. That’s how it works here!”
“We are going off-track here.” Kamath waved his hand to stop him. “How does it all matter?”
“Last Friday, Saroja did some mistake in a presentation she prepared. Dheeraj sir got furious over it… it was nothing! He threw away her laptop and insulted her badly!” Asif became red as he remembered the incident. “He told her to become a house-maid instead, if she couldn’t do a simple thing he asked.”
“And as her boyfriend, you had to step up.” Tamang interjected.
“Boyfriend?” Kamath looked at Tamang once. “Oh, so that’s the story. Boyfriend murders boss over girlfriend’s insult!”
“I didn’t murder him! I just had a fight.”
“Yes, we heard that from most of the employees. How you warned him of consequences and etc.”
“No, that was in the office. That’s when he fired me in front of everybody.”
“You were already in notice period… and he still fired you?”
“It was just a retaliation. He said I could leave right away and that I wouldn’t get any more money.”
“Yet, you are here today.”
“Yes, of course.” Asif was more assertive now. “I wouldn’t leave what was rightfully mine.”
“Okay, again, side-tracked.” Tamang stopped him. “What did you do yesterday night at his home?”
“I was drunk. All I could think of was how he treated Saroja and me… and everyone. I went straight to his home.”
“He let you in?”
“After constant banging at his door, he did. The moment I gazed upon his indifferent annoyed face, my anger shot right to my head.” Asif collected himself. “I pushed him on his sofa… and I grabbed whatever was there in the drawing room and threw at him.”
“What!” Tamang stood up excitedly.
“What… it was mostly books and a picture frame maybe!” Asif murmured, frightened. “It wouldn’t have killed him!”
“Forget that! Go on!” Tamang hurried with a smile, ignoring the weird look from Kamath. “Then you tidied up the room again, embarrassed by your mistake, right?”
“No… not really. He kind of looked miserable… and I knew I would have beaten him up if I stayed longer. So, I just left.”
“Of course! Awesome!”
“What’s so awesome in that?” Kamath asked with surprise.
“Let’s go, we don’t have much time!”
“To Ritu Bakshi! Let’s hurry!” Tamang stormed off the room.
“Uhh… don’t leave town.” Kamath quickly instructed Asif and ran behind him.
“These were the pictures taken from the drawing room yesterday.” Tamang held a few pictures in front of Ritu. “Can you see if something is wrong in these pictures?”
“Okay.” Ritu grabbed the pictures and sat cozily in her couch, slightly irritated of being interrupted in a lazy day at home. “Nope, all things are where they should be.”
“This is how it was when you reached?”
“Yes. Of course!”
“How was the drawing room when you arrived?” Tamang turned towards Kamath instead.
“It was clean.” Kamath shrugged.
“Exactly. Clean… unlike what Asif told us.”
“Oh… right.” Kamath got his point. “But, so what?”
“If that dude left right away, who cleaned the room?”
“Ummm… the killer?”
“Why? It’s a perfect setup for him… why ruin it? The killer strangled him while wearing gloves, no fingerprints on Dheeraj’s neck. Room is messy, signs of a fight all over the room… people know Asif visited Dheeraj at night. Nobody suspects the real killer! Why clean up?”
“Think about it. Was the room out of order? Were things arranged in a weird or inappropriate way?”
“Ummm… no, Mrs. Bakshi just attested to that.”
“Exactly! Who would know to keep the fallen items back at its original place? Who would know how the drawing room was originally organized?”
“Dheeraj Bakshi himself. He may have cleaned it afterwards, right before the killer came.”
“Without leaving fingerprints? Do you not remember there was no fingerprints in the items in his drawing room, except the sofa?”
“Uhhh… yes, there wasn’t any.”
“There were zero fingerprints. Things were wiped clean. Even if Dheeraj didn’t pick it up then, his fingerprint from earlier would be somewhere at least… one book, one shelf… somewhere!”
“That’s right! Somebody kept them back at their place and wiped them clean!”
“Somebody except Dheeraj. Somebody who knew what went where. Somebody who lived at that house at some point of time.” Tamang winked. “Can you guess?”
“Mrs. Ritu Bakshi!” Kamath turned back at her.
“What are you trying to insinuate!” Ritu turned red in anger.
“Insinuate? Insinuate means imply, suggest… I am not suggesting Mrs. Bakshi.” Tamang’s face turned stern. “I KNOW, that you arrived right after the killer left. You found the room in a mess, and got worried about the killer getting caught, unaware that it was Asif who messed the room. You did the only thing you could think of. You cleaned up the room.”
“I… I did no such thing.” Ritu stood up in a rage.
“Sit down, ma’am.” Tamang stood up along with her. “I don’t say things without being a 100% sure. You messed up ma’am… you messed up by cleaning up.”
“What proof do you have of this?”
“You cleaned up everything… but forgot one. The damn cloth that you cleaned everything with. The one you left at the bathroom in the wash basket. It’s been picked up by the lab already, as the ultra-violet scanner showed promising number of fingerprints. I would be willing to bet that most of them are yours, although you haven’t been living there since last 6 months.” Tamang looked right into her widening eyes. “Proof enough for you?”
Ritu sat down, silently admitting her guilt.
“Well done, Tamang!” Kamath patted him overjoyed. “You got a breakthrough in the case within 12 hours! Now we can easily find out the killer!”
“I doubt it would be that easy.” Tamang still stared at Ritu. “Who is the killer, Mrs. Bakshi? Since you went through all that effort to save the killer, I am sure he… or she… knows you quite well.”
“You wouldn’t believe me, even if I told you.” Ritu broke in tears, shocked of getting caught.
“Now, don’t start with the Ranjan Bakshi thing again!” Kamath snapped at her. “I am sure if we analyzed phone records, we would find one of your ally making prank calls to him.”
“But, it was him, Ranjan Bakshi!” Ritu looked up from her wet handkerchief.
“Dead people don’t commit murders, Mrs. Bakshi!” Kamath was getting furious.
“Unless, they aren’t really dead.” Tamang looked up at the ceiling, trying to focus on the clues available.
“Come on! Now, you believe in this shit too?”
“I was doing some research yesterday night, Kamath sir.” Tamang closed his eyes. “Have you seen Ranjan Bakshi ever?”
“Ummm… no. I remember the news, but don’t remember any faces.” Kamath tried to think. “None of the brothers were so big to remember their faces. I wasn’t even aware that they were brothers until yesterday night.”
“Thought so.” Tamang unlocked his phone and gave it to Kamath. “There’s another piece of information Mrs. Bakshi hasn’t told us. Look at the pictures.”
“This is Ranjan Bakshi?” Kamath’s brows raised as he saw the photo. “He looks… so much like Dheeraj! Except the curly hair and beard.”
“That’s because he chose to groom himself differently from Dheeraj. Now look at the next one, when they were younger.”
“What!” Kamath’s eyes almost came out at the next picture. “They are identical twins! Where did you get this picture?”
“From their primary school. They had a big fallout after that and haven’t been living together since college. So, there are no pictures of them together since then.”
“Where are you going with this?”
“Have you had a chat with the forensic guys yet?” Tamang looked at him. “They have left a message, check it.”
“I don’t understand.” Kamath went through his phone bafflingly. “The fingerprints in the sofa are of Ranjan Bakshi?”
“Not just the sofa. Most prints from all over the house are his.” Tamang turned to Ritu smilingly. “In fact, there are no prints of Dheeraj there. But you already knew that, didn’t you!”
Kamath stared blankly at Tamang.
“Ranjan Bakshi was a failed businessman, mostly because of his attitude, unlike his friendly-mannered twin brother Dheeraj.” Tamang stood up. “They didn’t speak to each other and weren’t in contact for more than 15 years. Ranjan probably embezzled his own company fund, due to which there were talks of kicking him out. Meanwhile, Dheeraj was doing well in his own company.”
Ritu looked away at the glass window, not wanting to comment.
“Ranjan made a deadly plan. He had never lived as a twin of Dheeraj before, but for the first time he wanted to use that to his benefit. Ranjan invited his brother to his city for a patch-up, which probably made Dheeraj very happy. He took the first flight out, and went straight to Ranjan’s office, as planned. Only, that wasn’t the plan.”
Tamang took a brief pause to look at their expressions.
“The plan was to set VibraSoft on fire, at least the section surrounding Ranjan’s own cabin… with Dheeraj in it. When Dheeraj reached the place, employees greeted him as Ranjan, because Ranjan had started grooming himself just like Dheeraj since a few weeks.” Tamang showed another picture on his phone. “Like I said, I did my research yesterday.”
Kamath stared at the photograph.
“So when an ‘accident’ set the planned section of VibraSoft in fire, and terrible burnt corpses were found later, surviving employees bore witness to Ranjan’s death. Ranjan, now pretending to be Dheeraj, came here and started living as him. Ritu, although taken aback by Dheeraj’s changed behavior, couldn’t tell him apart. They started fighting, which spread to his new office as well. Ranjan, exasperated and guilt-ridden, took it out on everyone he could find. But then… something else happened.”
Tamang sat in a sofa and turned it towards Ritu.
“Dheeraj survived. Although I am assuming his body was damaged badly in the fire, he survived. He contacted Ritu, the only person who would trust him. After some deliberation, Ritu realized who was really who. And then they made their own plan.”
Ritu’s silent tears paced slowly down her gloomy cheeks.
“See, we did a major miscalculation. We were investigating Dheeraj’s murder, while it was really Ranjan who died.” Tamang rubbed his face wearily. “Ritu didn’t clean the fingerprints frantically because she wanted to save Ranjan, but because she wanted to save Dheeraj. It wasn’t Ranjan who made threat calls to Dheeraj, but the other way around. That’s why Ranjan’s dying face was frozen in fear… as if he had seen a ghost.”
“Wow! I just… I don’t quite…” Kamath mumbled, feeling overwhelmed. “So, we are looking for Dheeraj Bakshi?”
“Dheeraj officially died yesterday night, don’t you remember sir?” Tamang stood up and collected his hat. “And Ranjan… officially died last year, about 7 months ago in an office fire. Who will you look for?”
“What are you saying? It’s a murder case! We need a killer… we need to close the case!” Kamath stood up, unable to comprehend Tamang’s conclusion.
“Justice has been served, sir. There was no murder, no killer. A man who lost everything, his company, his identity, his right to be living as himself… has avenged himself. Case is closed sir.” Tamang headed towards the door. “But if you still want to catch a killer… be my guest.”
“Where are you going? We still need your help!”
“Well, I will always look forward to working with you… if you have something more interesting.” Tamang waved the hat and stepped outside. “Till then, good bye!”
Kamath kept staring at the closed door, still trying to process what just happened, while Ritu wiped her tears and stood up.
“Would you like some tea?” She tried to smile. “Officer?”