Monday, July 17, 2017

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1st October 2014; 9:00 am
   An uncontrollable crowd gathered, blocking the main entrance of the eleven storey KT Tower, an office building. They buzzed like a swarm of flies. They were not let into their own company by the police constables. The siren of a police car, at a distance, silenced the crowd. The car came to a screeching halt in front of the KT Tower. Everyone's eyes got fixed to the car door that opened.  Kushal, a cop, rose to 6 feet above the ground, on his booted heel. He placed his inspector cap over his head and gave the crowd a terrifying look.

   The constable, at the gate, saluted him as Kushal strode in, to receive a nod back. He walked into the building. At the ground floor, he gave the cross mark, stuck over the closed elevator, a weird look and twisted his lips. He, swiftly, took the stairs to reach the sixth floor, which was filled to capacity by the employees of KT Infotech. Kushal instructed the constables to clear the crowd retaining just the people, who were in the building while the crime took place. The employees marched down the stairs without much of a fuss, but the press people had to be specially handled by Kushal. He promised to give them the full case details once he was out of the crime scene. The group, which was present in the building during the crime, was taken to a waiting room to the right of the elevator.

   Finally, after clearing the mess at floor six, a female's cry grabbed his attention. She stood at the entrance of the elevator that was kept open. She was held by a lady constable, holding her back from getting into the lift.  She was short, fair with clear skin, had a sharp nose that went perfectly well with the oval shape of her face and her prominent cheekbone, her brows were neatly trimmed, nails perfectly done and a figure that made her look like a magazine model. Another female, who stood next to her, was seen crying, silently.
   Kushal walked ahead to have a look into the lift that was kept open. The moment his sight fell on Vicky, the CEO, and owner of KT Towers, lying dead in a pool of blood, he took his cap off.
'What's the case?' asked Kushal.
   'Vicky, the CEO, was found inside the elevator, stopped at the sixth floor,’ said Diya, who stood along with the cops.
'Who else was there with him in the lift?' quizzed Kushal without looking at Diya.
   'Only the secretary. So, the primary suspect is the secretary, Geeth. The lady crying over there is Vicky's wife Lara,’ said Diya.
   Kushal turned to look at the overtly-smart cop, who tried to tell him confidently about who should be the suspects without thinking much about his superiority. There stood a girl, who should have been in her twenties, five-foot-tall, hoisting a nerdy glass on her sharp nose. She wore a track pant and a sleeveless white T-Shirt. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail and she seemed restless. Looking at Diya Kushal's expression changed. 
'Why aren't you in uniform?' Kushal asked, angrily.
'Why should I be in uniform?' quizzed Diya, blinking more often than human'
   'What do you mean? Haven't you been instructed to be dressed in uniform when you are on duty?' he asked.
   'Sir, this is DSP sir's daughter Diya Rohan. Her dad has personally written a letter to you to have her throughout a few cases of her choice,' Ram, the head constable, said.
   'For what is she asked to shadow me in crime scenes?' Kushal asked him with an agitated tone, giving Diya a disturbing look.
   ‘Let me answer that,' Diya interrupted Ram before he could utter a word. 'I want to become a crime writer for which I need to observe real crime investigations. That will help me acquire a reputation as a writer of promise,’ she said, excitedly.
'Wonderful!' Kushal said with sarcasm masking his face.
   Before Kushal could continue talking, Diya handed over a letter from her dad to him. An already nettled Kushal read it with agitation multiplying with each word he read.
'Fine,’ he said. 'You can shadow me on one condition,’
'Anything for a good story,' Diya said.
'You should never talk when you are at the crime scene,’ he snubbed.
'But...,’ Diya reluctantly asked '...if I have doubts, how will I clear them?'
'Note it down and we can discuss it later,’ he said.
After a moment of silence, 'Now, please allow me to perform my duty,’ said an irritable Kushal.
   Rohan, my dad, and this stupid Kushal are the same kind of cops. Strict or rather say they are stiff, she said to herself.

'Has the forensic team been called for? What about the ambulance?'
   'Everyone is on their way, sir. We came here five minutes after the crime had happened. He was dead on the spot; Doctors confirmed this,' Ram said. 
   'Okay, let me look at the evidences. Don't let anyone, who was in the building while the crime happened, go out. I also would like to have a look at the CCTV footage,’ he instructed.
'They are all gathered in the waiting room, here,' Ram said, pointing at the door to his left.
'Fine,’ said Kushal.
   As Kushal was about to leave for the conference room, Diya asked him 'Can I also come into the conference room to listen to the interrogation?'
   Looking at a denial in his expression, Diya continued without letting him speak. 'Being with you throughout the case means observing all the interrogation, every single detail of the case being discussed with me. That's what my father meant by "Shadowing" in his letter,’

   His answer was a hesitant 'Yes'. He found it extremely hard to counter the girl, who is shadowing him in cases just because her dad was DSP, with politeness. Kushal held high respect for DSP Rohan and saw a role model in him. He did not expect him to recommend a personal favour using his authority and power.

   He entered the waiting room filled with the targeted group. She followed him like a child, who fought with parents to be taken into a theme park and succeeded. The group was accompanied by a male and a female constable. Kushal instructed one of the constables to send the secretary inside and got into the conference room. Diya rushed into the room behind him.

   Kushal got behind the door that opened into an elegant meeting room with a low ceiling and a designed black and white wall panel, and the room was furnished with a huge twenty-seater, rectangular, wooden table with ten executive chairs on either side. Across the room was a ceiling to floor size glass panel that had a view of a nearby beach. The interior decor was tasteful. Diya walked past him and stood close to the hosting corner of the table.
   'I have always had a dream to host meetings in such a big conference room,’ she stretched her arms, looking at the chair for the meeting host.
Kushal gave her a disgusted look and lowered himself onto the first chair to her right.
'Thank you,’ she said and an excited smile graced her face.
   She dug into her bag, picked a small laptop and switched it on. She set the laptop ready with a word document opened and titled it, "Case Vicky".
   A short and stout guy strolled into the room. He did not lift his head to look at Kushal and Diya. He was drenched with sweat and shuddered.
'Hello, I am Kushal, a cop,' Kushal introduced himself.
   I shouldn't have reached office on time, thought the guy, as a frown clouded his face. 'I am Arjun. I work with KT Infotech. I have never seen our CEO in person ever before. The first time I saw him so close was in that state,’ he said in one breath.
Arjun gasped.
'When did you reach office this morning?' asked Kushal.
   'I checked in at 7:45 am. I know that sounds a little unusual for a guy like me if you must dig my records at work. But I had a project deadline, today, so I decided to come early and work on it,’ he said.
   'Where were you at the time in question, 8:10 am?' asked Kushal referring to the time the lift opened with Vicky lying dead.
   'I was waiting for the lift in the 6th floor. That's the floor I work in. I wanted to go to the canteen at the ground floor as I came to office without finishing my breakfast,’ said Arjun.
   'What happened? Can you be more specific?' asked Kushal. Diya observed every word uttered carefully and made a note of it in her document. Kushal gave her a can-you-stop-it look as her typing into the laptop at a great speed created a lot of distraction for him. She stopped for a bit.
   'I attended an official call with a person in the testing team. Since I had some time before they gave me the test results I decided to have my breakfast in the office. I walked up to the elevator, pressed the button and waited for the lift to reach my floor. There was a power cut. Then I heard someone screaming. After the power resumed a lady screamed. Before I could comprehend what was happening, I heard the cling and the lift door opened. I saw a man lying down in a pool of blood. It happened to be our CEO,’ Arjun said.
   'Okay, you may please wait outside,' Kushal said indicating the door to exit. Arjun, still avoiding eye contact with the two, quickly left the room, shutting the door behind.
'What do you think?' asked Diya.
'It's too soon to think. We don't have all the facts yet,' Kushal said, flatly.
   'So, this guy isn't a suspect but a witness, right?' asked Diya still holding the smile that she put up long back.
   'Not exactly. We are just collecting facts from different eyes and ears. We need to validate them before we start segregating people as suspects and witnesses,’ he said.
   'Okay, so remaining silent when these people speak doesn't mean you agree with their statements. You are just blindly collecting the facts. Am I right?' she asked, curiously.
'Precisely,’ he said and smiled at her for the first time.
She seemed to be a smart girl to hi. She didn't do what he asked her not to do; be it typing or talking; not a crackpot as I had assumed earlier, he thought.
   A knock at the door shrunk the smile in his face and broke the first eye contact established between the two. She was happy that he spoke to her and understood her desire to learn.
'Come in,’ said Kushal.
   A guy who was of medium height, athletic built, fair and partially grey hair came in. He looked confident enough, walked with his chin up in the air and smiled at Kushal at the first look. He seemed to be in mid-thirties. The aroma of his perfume filled the room.
   'Hello. I am Kushal, a cop,' Kushal introduced himself and shook the guy's hands.  'And this is my intern assistant Diya,’ he said that as he smiled at her. Diya rose to shake hands with the guy.
   'I am Gautham. I work here as a project manager and I have been associated with this company for the past ten years, since 2004,’ said Gautham. 'That's from a few days after the company was started by - by Mr. Vicky.', his voice broke. Diya observed every micro-expression on his face, word after word, and made a note of it.

'Where were you at the time of question, ten past eight?' asked Kushal.
   'I swiped in at 8:05 and at 8:10, I guess, I was at the pantry fetching my coffee from the machine,’ he said.
'You guess?'
   'Yes. I am not certain about it because I went to my desk after I swiped in, switched on my laptop, logged in and then went to the pantry. These would have roughly eaten up five minutes so I said I guess,’ said Gautham, rolling his eyes at Diya.
'So, how did you get to know that the CEO was dead?' asked Kushal.
   'I heard people screaming and I wanted to know why. Out of curiosity, I came out to the lobby in my floor to see a few people standing, tensed. Vicky's wife, Lara, came running through the stairs. Then I looked into the lift and was taken aback. Vicky was lying in the blood pool,’ said Gautham not getting too emotional.
'Who were all there, when you came to the spot?' asked Kushal.
   'Arjun, an employee from my floor but a different project, the watchman, and the electrical room guy. As I said, Lara came just after me to the spot,’ he said.
'You were the one, who called the cops right?' asked Kushal.
'Yes. I called the cops five minutes after I saw him lying there,’ he said.
   'Why did you call the cop and why didn't you call an ambulance?', asked Diya, curiously. Kushal did not give her a stop-it look but just played along.
   'Yes, why didn't you call the ambulance? In fact, the cops called the ambulance after they were here,’ said Kushal.
'We were all tensed to think of anything sensible. We should have,’ he said, coolly.
   Diya looked at Kushal and he looked a bit convinced with the answer. Diya took a hint that Kushal was going to close the conversation with Gautham.
'Thanks...,’ Kushal started his sentence which was overlapped by Diya's 'Then how...'
   She, intentionally, interrupted before Kushal could utter a word.  She had no idea about what she was going to ask Gautham, till she apologized for interrupting.
'Go ahead,’ said Kushal.
   'Thanks,’ said Diya and a candid question emerged from her, 'Then, how did calling cops, which was sensible enough, cross your mind?'
   'It didn't. Lara mam came running, then she saw her husband dead and started to cry. Geeth was still standing stiff inside the lift, next to Vicky. Looking at Geeth standing next to her dead husband, Lara yelled degradingly at her. Geeth did not react. Lara, immediately, looked at me and asked me to call the cop. She also challenged Geeth that she will make sure she would be hung for killing Vicky. That's why I had called the cop and not the ambulance, mam,’ said Gautham stressing the last word intentionally, with a sarcastic smile spread on his face, looking at Diya.
   Diya did not know how to react. She was wondering why he was trying to be sarcastic with her. Kushal interrupted the undeclared cold war between the two by asking Gautham to leave. Gautham gave Diya an I-am-not-a-killer look and left the room, angrily.
'What did I do?' asked Diya.
'People have a problem being questioned sensibly,’ he said and smiled encouragingly.
'You liked my questions?'
   'Yes, I did. In fact, I was about to ask why he hadn't called the ambulance and called the cops instead. But making him talk more about that didn't strike. It, in fact, gave us some good insights,' Kushal said with a tone less firm than ever before, with Diya.
'What are those?'
'We will discuss that at the end, in the station,’ he said.
'Does that mean you will take me to the station along with you, willingly?' she said.
   Not wanting to give up on his stiffness with her and to prevent her from taking advantage of it, he said 'Do I have a choice?'
'Fine. Anyway, I am not complaining as I am getting what I want,’ she said.
   Their conversation was interrupted by the watchman entering the conference hall without knocking the door.
   The watchman, a man in his mid-fifties, dressed in his uniform, came into the room. He looked tensed. He saluted Kushal and joined his hands to greet Diya.
'I am Kushal, a cop,’ said Kushal. ‘…this is my assistant investigator,’ he pointed at Diya.
'Namaste, Madam,’ the watchman said.
'What is your name?' asked Diya in a language he understood.
'I am Babu, Madam,’ the watchman said.
'Where were you at 8:10 am?' Kushal asked.
   'Sir, I was walking up the stairs when I heard someone scream. Then, someone else screamed. I kept walking up the stairs. As I was heading to the sixth floor, I saw Lara mam running down. I got curious and understood something was wrong. Also, an employee was standing, terrified at the entrance of the lift. I walked up to the lift to see our CEO sir lying dead. I froze out of fear and shock,’ his voice trailed off towards the end. Tears flooded his face.

'Okay, you may go now,' Kushal said and looked at him till he disappeared behind the door.
'Did you notice?' Kushal asked Diya, raising his eyebrows.
   'Yes. Gautham said that the watchman was already there when he came out of his cabin. He also said he saw Lara coming after that. But the watchman says that he saw her coming down and then he walked into the floor. Something is,’ she said, twisting her lips.
   'Something is not right,’ he completed her sentence and continued, 'I am not getting a complete circle,’ he said.
'We just have to hear out the secretary. She is the prime suspect,’ Diya said.
   A tall female with honey-coloured skin, who was thin enough to rest herself on the slim tip of her shoe heel, came into the room. She walked to the corner, where the two were seated, with the clanking of her shoes with each step. Her eyes were dried and her face did not have a trace of grief, it was rather an expression of shock and fear.
'I am Kushal, a cop,’ Kushal introduced himself, rising.
   'I am Geeth, the personal secretary of Vicky,’ she said without any expression uttering the dead boss's name.
   Geeth looked at Diya, who was still sitting in the host spot. Diya peered up at them above her glasses.
   'I am Diya...,’ she started to rise but Kushal placed his arm over her shoulder and pinned her to her chair.
'She is a student investigator. Special duty,’ he said.
'Let's get right into the case,' Kushal said as he opened the voice recorder in his smartphone.
'Miss. Geeth’ he rested his arms on the table and went forward and continued, ‘am I right? Are you married yet?' he asked.
'No,’ she said without any expression.
'How long have you been working here?' he asked.
'I am completing one year in another one month,’ she said.
'Did you start as a PA to CEO?' Diya asked. Kushal gave her a stare to keep her shut.
'Yes, I did,' Geeth said.
'What exactly happened a few hours ago, inside the lift?' Kushal asked.
   'I was inside the lift with our CEO, Mr. Vicky. Suddenly, there was a power cut and the lift jerked and stopped. It was dark inside. I heard him scream at the top of his voice. I was so close that the scream sent a shiver into my nerves. I kept asking if he was okay to receive nothing in response. The power resumed. He was lying down with his forehead meeting the ground. I bent down and tapped his shoulder, calling him out. Within a brief minute, blood started oozing out from under him. I was terrified,’ her voice shivered.
   Diya picked the lid from over a glass of water, placed on each of the spots in the meeting table. She handed over the glass to Geeth.
'Relax. Have some water,’ she said, caringly.
Geeth took a few sips and placed it back on the table.
'Did you then scream out of fear?' asked Kushal, to reinitiate the conversation.
   'Yes, I did,' Geeth answered to the point, which disappointed Kushal. He was desperate for more information.
   Understanding Kushal's expression, Diya tried to keep the conversation on fire by asking 'Which floor did you guys take the lift from and where were you heading?'
   'We got into the lift in the eleventh floor, which is his temp-stay home. We were heading to the second floor as he wanted to see some project reports,’ she said. 
   'Alright, Miss. As the circumstances make us tag you as the prime suspect in this case, we need to take you into our custody till we are done with our investigation,’ Kushal said.
   'Trust me. I did not do anything,’ Geeth cried and got up. Tears flooded her eyes, her hands shaking and lips froze as it uttered the sentence.
   Kushal, involuntarily, admired Geeth's well-maintained structure filled with erotic promises. Diya noted this and she cleared her throat to bring him back to the case. Kushal, feeling embarrassed for checking out a suspect, smiled sheepishly at Diya.
   'I am sorry. I can't help you much with this. It's a procedure to take suspects under our custody. Since you were inside the lift with him and he was found dead inside the lift, we have a lot more to question you. So please co-operate, Miss, Geeth,’ he looked at the movement of her earring, as he said that. Then his vision dropped below her neck.

   Kushal got up and called the lady constable 'Meera,’ Meera came in and held Geeth's hand. Geeth was walked by the constable to the jeep. Kushal and Diya came out of the conference room. The rest of the target group were seated at the waiting room, still. They were accompanied by the head constable Ram.
   'You can all leave now, but you need to be present at the station when required. Please co-operate with us. None of you can leave the city till we notify that you are free to do so,’ Kushal said and walked out of the room.
   'I have not brought my bike today. It has been given for service. Can you please take me to the station in your car?' Diya asked as they set off toward the stairs.
'Take an auto,’ Kushal suggested.
   He has again gone back into the strict-cop role, she thought. 'I didn't bring my purse in a hurry,’ she said.
'How did you reach here then?'
   'I came asking a lift from some stupid guy, who helped me because I looked good enough for him,’ she said and winked.
'Crap!' he sighed. 'Okay,’
   'Does that mean you are taking me to the station in your car?' she asked, doubtfully. They reached ground floor.
'Whatever,’ he said and walked out of the building.

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