November: the month when Bombay breeze turns cool and longing has narcotic ripples. From the sliding window of my fourth floor apartment, I see a big grey cloud hanging in the evening sky. I hear traffic gurgling sporadically on the road below. The crime begins a conversation with me. A dead man with a bullet pit in his head, his brain splayed on the writing desk inside the bedroom of his twelfth floor apartment. The man had been writing before being shot. The murderer, it can be deduced, was known to him. There were no signs of forced entry. It is even possible that the murderer had a spare key to the apartment and entered on his/her own. I confess that the element of trust in this shared key hypothesis, and its dramatic betrayal, is alluring to me. The victim was shot in the temple, not in the forehead. I wonder if he was shot in the exact moment when he was poring over the text that he had been writing, oblivious to the intentions/passions of the armed man/woman standing next to him.
Earlier in the day I had gone to the supermarket. I had to buy kitchen knives, underwear, a tiffin box, some cereals, some dahl. After I paid, a saleswoman approached me and tried to sell me a credit card. I stared into her eyes and lifted the polybag in my hand and twist-tied it. She rightly decoded my single-handed gesture as one of aggression: cold vehemence in her eyes. This pleased me as I walked out of the supermarket’s deathly light and into the afternoon. If I were a writer I would have said the sunflower of the afternoon. There was an array of autorickshaws at the exit and I got myself into one. My autowallah was talkative. He ranted about how the young ones knew no shame these days. He told me of a guy and a girl who entered his auto at Powai and started fondling each other; then the guy got off at Andheri, where another guy got into the auto; the girl then made out with the new guy before dropping him off at Goregaon. ‘Her mind wasn’t in the right place,’ the autowallah said. ‘She was wearing such a tiny thing. It was really troubling me.’ He said that after he dropped the girl in Kandivali, he had to interrupt his shift and go to his wife. ‘I couldn’t control myself, I needed some fucking.’ He used the word chudai for fucking. He complained about how it was sometimes difficult to drive an auto in Bandra in the night, ‘when every girl looks like a model.’ By the time we neared my locality, he had peppered a couple more stories about girls without morals. I didn’t like his tone but I sort of agreed with what he was referring to. I, too, dislike looseness in women.
Life doesn’t edit itself only to moments of significance: a detective lives a whole life, eats, shits, fucks, reads, runs, types, paints, buys, sells, etc. The crime-solving obsession we detectives are routinely portrayed with, that consuming angst, those high-nicotine late-nighters, those photos and maps and bank statements pinned to boards, clues prepared to slug it out – all that stuff almost never happens. Truth be told, I have never felt too strongly pulled by the other side of a mystery. If a case seems unsolvable, or if its solving becomes irrelevant, I am always keen to let it go, or to let an easier solution fit. This is, of course, not what happens in detective novels or movies. Most of these show us detectives in the heat of problem-solving, almost erotically charged by the elusive heart of the mystery, as excited about finding the real murderer as the audience watching us is. In life, there is no audience, and finding the murderer is a predominantly bureaucratic exercise. For me, murderers, after they are found, generally fit a type; their face usually becomes insipid; in fact, all actual murderers I have seen till date had a dumb opaqueness about them, an aura of inapproachability that at times convinced me of the notion that they belonged to a world where life did indeed edit itself to moments of significance, and that I, their revealer, the one who would or already had condemned them to the vagaries of our justice system, would always be removed from the final reels of their personal narratives.
Think of it: the successful solving of a case is nothing more than the detective’s artful imposition of a narrative on what really happened. For a detective, this fiction is the solution; the identity of the murderer is merely the remainder of the fictionalizing process. For a murderer, however, there is no fictionalizing. What happened is hard reality, and the detective is nothing but an irritant that will never quite get all of it.
Also, in all honesty, between committing a murder and finding a murderer, the first is more operatic, more visceral, ever more efficient at removing boredom from life. The latter might be a minor thrill that persists for a few days, till a new case is at hand and the monotony of investigation begins anew.
This is the last text the victim wrote, hand-written on a sheet of paper on which some parts of his brain had come to rest:
The nuances in an ending are many.
There is the problem of agency. Just who shall bring about the end to a story? And how should this agency contrast with the agency that propelled the middle of the story? Or the agency that began the story?
There is also the problem of inclination. Mathematically speaking, if the mood of the story was a function, then in which direction is this function differentiated at the end. Does the ending spike the mood in one direction, or does it do so in the reverse? How big is the spike?
And sticking to mathematics, we might as well pose the question: When does an ending begin? Is it the last sentence? The last para? The last third? When does a part that is not the story’s end end, and when does the end end begin? The ending of the pre-end is also an end, and so on and so on, till one reaches the beginning of the story.
A subordinate of mine focused on the ridiculousness of this text and suggested that the murderer had read it and had no option left but to shoot this guy in the head, saying something like, This is the end. I had to feign laughter, but I sensed there could be some grain of plausibility in the murderer having read this text before pressing the trigger. The text is complete. Wouldn’t chance instead demand that the text be broken off, that the last sentence not be fully available, that it be cut in the middle, as something that hints at a violent severing, a bullet unloaded into a brain while it was still thinking of phrases for a sentence? But that wasn’t the case. The murderer entered the scene only after this coherent stream of questions had been put down on paper by the victim. It is even possible that the text was completed in the murderer’s presence, that the murderer, for sake of form, had allowed the victim to finish the text. And yes, it is possible that the murderer even discussed the text with the victim.
So, what if the murderer hadn’t liked the text? Did the murderer’s views on endings differ?
Or what if the murderer hadn’t liked the fact there was a text at all, that the victim was a writer?
After I came back from the supermarket I prepared a chillum and took relaxed drags while lying on my bed. I thought of Ankita, of how she fucked. Eveready, that’s what she was. Which I came to know much later as a bad thing, for she was ready for it with others as well.
Her latest novel lies dog-eared on a bed-side table. I have a friend in Amazon who tells me that the sales aren’t what one would call spectacular. I’m not surprised. I was somewhat glad to know that the two newspapers that reviewed the novel both called it trash.
The novel is about a young woman who, tired of disappointments with men, has decided to use her savings on a trip to Europe. The European incidents are banal, the final redemption phony. The novel makes me angry because it is loaded with strange feminist pride that seems quite militant and pointless. She seems to be addressing her female readers as: So what if we fuck around; these men have been doing it for centuries. That’s so silly.
But it is this silly conviction that I always liked in Ankita. And I still like it. For me, our adventure has not ended.
One of the follies during an investigation is to go too deep into the details. The detective, in his desire to construct the perfect narrative, cannot quite know what parts are relevant and what not. Because as long as the center of the mystery is hidden, every point is a contender for dilation, everything seems deserving of attention. But this is where instinct comes into play. One cannot follow every point, one cannot have too many hypotheses; one needs to choose the right one.
Whether the text was completed in front the murderer or not isn’t really that important to know. What is important is that the murderer may have had knowledge of the text at the moment of committing the crime. Which gives rise to the possibility that the murderer may have been privy to other texts that that the victim had written, if there were other texts. The murderer may have known the victim as a writer. The murderer may have been a writer himself/herself.
Video footage from CCTV cameras on the ground floor lobby shows one hundred fifty-seven people entering the building in the twelve hour time window before and after the murder, and one hundred forty-nine people exiting the building in the same window. Out of the one hundred fifty-seven who entered, ninety-four have been classified as residents in the building (forty-four of them are children). Out of the remaining sixty-three, forty-three are regular or irregular visitors deemed outside the first circle of suspicion. These are maids, food delivery boys, electricians, plumbers, massage boys, a prostitute, etc.
The victim’s parents, who are from Delhi, cannot come up with any possible suspect. They don’t know any of the twenty faces who are possible suspects.
Now to the writing business. I contacted some friends of the victim, identified either through his parents or through his Facebook friend list. Some agreed that the victim had writing ambitions, and had even published some short stories in obscure online journals. Fourteen of the victim’s friends were writers themselves. Of these fourteen, one had entered and exited the building in the appropriate time window.
The sky above is a vineyard, the roads below the arteries of my desire, and all the roads lead to her. Ankita is the prime suspect, but the evidence is only circumstantial, based entirely on the premise of a flimsy hypothesis. I know I could have her questioned by one of my subordinates right now, but I am lazy, and the effect of the chillum has yet not receded. This case, from where I look at it, could be open and shut. I like it when cases are open and shut, and when the shutting is done slowly. The end should be flawless.
The victim and Ankita were in a sexual relationship. She would visit him almost every other day, presumably to fuck, presumably to listen to him read his texts to her and fuck, presumably to have him fuck her while reading those texts. Very few of the victim’s friends knew about this relationship. The secrecy had obvious reasons: Ankita was cheating on her husband. Her infidelity had been going on for many years, with multiple partners. She never kept one lover for long, and so maybe she was beginning to distance herself from the victim as well. Things must have gotten ugly; there must have remained no other option.
Classically speaking, Ankita’s husband should be the prime suspect. Rage and jealousy are the judges’ favorites. Of the people who entered the building that day, there are at least half a dozen unidentified men, three of them wearing caps or hats of some sort that make the footage inconclusive regarding their identities. It wouldn’t be impossible to argue that Ankita’s husband had been one of those six. One could even make a story which says that he followed Ankita into the building and found her and her lover in a compromising position. But then the judge would say that the victim was found fully clothed, that Ankita’s husband wouldn’t have been allowed to enter the building in the first place, et cetera. This story would be difficult to prove unless lent credence by a testimony. The testimony could only come from Ankita.
I have known for some time that Ankita’s husband, Raman Tewary, employed in a middle-management role in an insurance company, has a M1911 semi-automatic licensed to his name. The .45 caliber is the same that bore through the victim’s head from contact distance. This fact, if combined to Ankita’s testimony, could put Mr. Tewary in some serious circumstantial soup. Since the time of the shooting cannot be known precisely, the differences in time between Ankita’s entry and exit and Mr. Tewary’s entry and exit and the moment of the crime itself are not relevant beyond a point. From the video footage, one can see at least one unidentified man, face unclear but physicality eerily similar to Raman’s, enter the building after Ankita’s entry. He can be proven to be Raman. That there was entry, that there was exit, that there was a weapon, that there was a situation, that Raman is a cuckold and Ankita is a deviant wife – all of that points to Raman as the murderer. The only hiccup to this theory could come if someone cited the ground floor security’s SOP of calling the intercom for an apartment whenever an unknown visitor came. This is where Ankita’s testimony assumes greater importance. She could declare that it was she who had asked her lover to let her husband in, to amicably discuss getting into an adult’s agreement, or even to discuss a divorce and a subsequent remarriage.
Raman, as far as I am aware, would have no alibi for that hour. It was a Saturday, a holiday at his insurance company, and he was in Bombay at the time of the murder. At their house Raman and Ankita do not have a landline phone, and so there could have been no answered calls which could have pinned Raman’s location to his house during the two hour window in which the crime has been placed by my subordinate.
I was content and dizzy before going to sleep last night. I slept for nine hours, the longest I have slept since I and Ankita split eight months ago. In my sleep I dreamt of the victim’s text, his text about the beginning of ends, and the text swirled around till it exhausted and I saw an image of a murderer on a motorbike. I somehow identified of the man on the motorbike as a murderer. Dreams can convey such information; they are both cinematic and novelistic. The murderer was riding his motorbike on a mountain road. The frame of the dream was set behind the murderer’s back, and he was moving away from it. Far in the background, set against the blue-gray sky, there was a giant cement structure that had no shape for a while. But after a bit of visual trickery, that jumbling and reconstruction peculiar to dreams, the structure came to resemble a half-built bridge. It seemed the road would eventually lead the murderer there, to the edge of the half-built bridge, and after that there would be nowhere to go but below, down to the depths of the ravine.
Today I will have a subordinate get in touch with Ankita, to tell her simply that she is the prime suspect. This, I am certain, will terrify her. My subordinate will warn Ankita not to leave Bombay at any rate, for that would be damning. Then, just before letting her go, he will convey, nonchalantly, that I am the head of investigation for this case. Ankita will contact me, and then I will tell her that my subordinate probably made a mistake. That it is not she but her husband who is the prime suspect, that the evidence against him is strong and that all it will really need is a testimony from her, doing nothing more than tying the story’s loose ends. As to her failure to contact the police about the crime immediately, it will be attributed to her shock and her love for her husband. The judge will take a benign view: she will probably go to jail for a few months, if at all, after which she will find me waiting for her.
Needless to say, if Ankita is not the murderer, she might even find it plausible that her husband committed the murder. A confused witness is the most easily convinced.
Imagine the dourness of the procedures involved even in this open and shut case. Twelve hours of CCTV footage had to be carefully seen and documented; scores of people had to be interviewed; the gun licensing records of all these people had to be checked; the neighbors had to be asked did they really miss the report of the gunshot; the published stories of the victim had to be read; Google and Facebook had to be requested to allow some access to the victim’s accounts; and much more…
After two hours of convincing, Ankita agreed to testify against her husband. I told her that to make the story even more plausible, she had to find access to the weapon and hand it over to me. I told her I needed to check if the shot had been fired from the same gun. But, truth be told, our story would be more believable if the gun was not found at all. I might dispose of the gun, I told her. ‘And we could claim that Raman had disposed of it immediately after the murder,’ I said. She agreed.
Even for detectives, it is better not to leave trails behind, which is why I prefer public transport to the official vehicle. As of now I am in a taxi going towards Bandra, where I live, from over the Sea Link. An hour back I was with Ankita at a restaurant in South Bombay, where she handed me a packet with the pistol and all the bullets. To assure her I held her hand in mine, and she smiled nervously. Her top showed her cleavage.
On the Sea Link, I ask the taxi driver to take the car to the leftmost lane, close to the side of the bridge. I throw the packet over the bridge as hard as I can. The packet flies; I see only the first part of it parabolic descent. The taxi driver, curious, asks me what it was. I tell him that it was an article that belonged to and reminded me of a dead friend of mine. The driver nods. Rid of the packet, I suddenly realize that I am in the mood to talk, and so I tell the taxi driver that I had only come to know my friend a few days before his death, and that we had become very close very soon. I tell him that my friend was trying to be a writer. At this, the taxi driver interjects me and launches into a monologue about a Hindi detective novel that he read recently and enjoyed a lot. He is intent on telling me the plot of this novel. I want to tell him just how I befriended my now-deceased friend, how I loved the stories he wrote, how we came to spend time together, how he was kind enough to invite me to his house sometimes, how he would read his stories aloud to me. But the driver does not let me say any of that. He goes on with his plot, with his twists and turns. His is a murder mystery, and I don’t really care. Soon I stop listening to him, allowing my mind to go to the last text of the victim. Could it be that the murderer had dictated the text to the victim, forced him to write it at gun point? The handwriting expert did say that the victim seemed to have written that text slowly and disjointedly, apparently from a terrified state.
But that doesn’t say anything. So I let the thought pass and look outside the window. I feel the speed of the taxi.