Chapter 2. Cho, Ceaser and Cookie.

This is part 2 in a series. You may want to read part 1 first.

Prakash observed that the office was not big compared to the opulence and grandeur of the living room that he had just crossed. An impressive polished teak table was placed in the middle of the room. Behind it was a window overlooking the garden, it had lilac chiffon curtains on it. A shiny iMac on the table was facing that window. There was a pen stand that had immaculately sharpened pencils, sharpened ends facing up, in it. Next to the stand were loose sheets of paper, fluttering under the constant waft of air from the aircon vent write above it. They were held back by a figurine of Sheldon Cooper, the character from the TV series Big Bang Theory. It was a picture perfect setting for a writer. The writer could walk upto the desk any minute and start scribbling out his best seller. And then Prakash saw it, the typewriter, perched up on the other end of the table. And a sheet of paper hanging out of it. The paper had something typed on it. It also seemed to have crimson spats on it. From where Prakash was, the spats looked like dried blood stains.

The wall on the left had a floor to ceiling high bookshelf, filled meticulously with books, mostly on film, television, biographies and other such popular titles that people merely collect, to show off, and not read. The shelf was designed like that in libraries. Wooden shelves, spaced at regular distances, and without a glass door. On the other side of the table, along the right hand wall was a huge bright yellow couch, enough to become a makeshift bed if required. And placed between the table and the couch was a huge gramophone and an envious collection of vinyl records stacked as neatly and orderly as the books in the bookshelf were. Looked like Nidhi Kapoor had a fetish for all things retro. And she was orderly in her approach and everything was neatly stacked. Any amateur people-watcher could tell that she was at least a borderline case of obsessive compulsive disorder and Prakash was no amateur.

There was a oval rug on the floor between the door and the teak-wood desk. The rug occupied most of the empty space on the floor. Looked like an expensive piece of accessory but it had soaked in a lot of blood and had become messy. Renu, when she entered the room behind Prakash and Praveen in a hurry, had stepped on this rug. Renu was wearing her regular Kolhapuri chappals and if she wasnt numb with what she saw, she wouldve felt thick sticky liquid on her feet. Since she had stepped back to hold on to the frame of the door, she had left a distinct U shaped mark of her Kolhapuri chappal on the rug and at the entrance of the door. The red U mark pointing towards the story unfolding in front of her.

When Renu came in, on the rug, she saw lifeless bodies of two dogs and a cat. And not just lifeless but the murderer had used these poor animals as a canvas to show off his or her creativity on. A pug, that probably suffered the least when it was killed, had its neck twisted at an unnatural angle. The eyes were still open and were staring at the entrance. The brown skin had turned dark with all the blood that had dried. The jaw was open and the tongue was cut by its own teeth, probably, the pug was trying to breathe once its neck broke. The other dog, a bull dog, had suffered the worst fate. It had  multiple stab wounds on its body and one of the pencils from the desk was stuck into its face, right below one of the eyes. It was lying on its back and and a huge blot of blood clot was visible on its entire belly. One of the legs was amputated and the bone was sticking out of it. The cat had deep cut on its shoulders. The white fur had turned red and the head was split open to reveal pinkish mass beneath the white and grey lumps of hair.

Dead bodies of all these animals, or whatever remained of them, were stacked close to each other and they looked like a heap of flesh and bones, gathered carelessly in the middle of big puddles of blood on the rug. And Renu was probably so disturbed because she loved pets. She herself had a cat at home. The cat at home, she called it Felix, was her only companion in fact. There was no dearth of suitors, she was young, very attractive and on the fast track to being successful. But for some reason she kept everyone at bay. She did have a few people that she would get sloshed with and then get one of them back home for the night. She probably wanted a similar arrangement with Inspector Prakash, get him drunk and invite over to her apartment. But right now, she could not think of anything else. Her gaze was fixed onto the heap of dead bodies and she seemed to have lost her speech. Tambe, when he saw her slump had rushed to help her but Prakash had stopped him from going.

"Hmmm... When did you discover this?", Prakash asked no one in particular, but everyone knew that the question was addressed to Naveen Kapoor. Prakash was as composed as if he was in the familiar garden where he went for his morning yoga sessions.

Naveen was clearly uncomfortable in the room, made more uncomfortable by Prakash's indifference and Renu's trauma, he said, "I dont know Inspector. We found these today morning when Nidhi came into her office. Poor girl is still in shock. Cho, Ceaser and Cookie meant the world to her. She would take care of them as if they were her children".

Tambe stared long and hard at Naveen on the children remark. Prakash looked at Tambe and then turned back to Naveen and continued, "No one at the house saw or heard anything? The security guards? If someone had to kill these animals, they had to get access to the house. And dont dogs and cat make a lot of noise? There is no way someone maimed these animals and no one heard a thing". More than anything else, Prakash was talking to himself. Tambe knew it instantly, he and Prakash had been together since Tambe moved to Mumbai, from Satara, another district in Maharashtra. Tambe was a beat constable there and he had been promoted 4 years back.

Naveen said, "These were very friendly dogs. They did not bark even if you took their food away. They have been, had been, with us since Nidhi was in school and she had trained them well. Of course Nidhi's father, late Nishant Kapoor, was a famous actor in his days. He always had money and time for these things. And the guards, they are not allowed in the house. Their only job is to remain outside the gates and control the maddening crowds that throng our home incessantly".

"Mr. Kapoor, I asked if someone saw or heard something. I am not interested in the life and times of Kapoors", Prakash said curtly. He apparently had no time for vain indulgences of Kapoor. 

"Are there more dogs, cats or other pets in the house? Did you interrogate the guards?", Prakash was getting impatient and wanted to get over with the case as soon as possible.Even thought this looked like a petty crime where a few pets have been butchered but the way they were executed methodically, in cold blood, was making Prakash skeptic.

"No. No. I havent had time to ask anyone. Nidhi discovered this... mess and she's gone in shock. She is upstairs in her bedroom with her mother and her assistant Payal. I have been tending to her. It was only when Payal reminded me to call the police, I spoke to Raj Saab", replied Naveen.

Rajkiran Sharma was the commissioner of police and he had instructed his office to give this case to Prakash Mohile's station. Everyone knew that Prakash was a no - nonsense officer and was least likely to get influenced by the high profile nature of the case. He is also known to keep his distance from the media. So the unnecessary leaks could be kept in tab.

"Hmm.. ok. I would want to talk to every member of the house, including the servants. I want to spend some time here by myself. Please wait for me outside till then", Prakash said, while walking towards the table. He continued, "Tambe, take Renu Maam out of the room and get someone to get her some water". Both statements were more of orders, rather than requests. Tambe was used to these but Naveen Kapoor wasn't. He started to revolt but decided against it. He did not want to be in the room with dead bodies anyway. Naveen started to go out of the room, paused momentarily when he saw Renu on the door. Renu was still staring at the mangled bodies and seemed to be shivering.

Naveen said, "You know Inspector, this is exactly how I found Nidhi, right here on this door". And with this, without waiting for an answer, Naveen side-stepped Renu and walked out.

Moment he was out of sight, Tambe muttered, "Sir, something's wrong. Naveen is not as worried as he wants to appear. But who would kill these poor animals. They had a far far better life than most of us anyway. They live in air conditioned rooms with enough food to feed five families, and access to doctors that take more money per visit that we spend on medicines in our entire lives".

"And this is why someone killed them Tambe. Lets stop chitchatting and go through the crime scene. But first take care of Renu maam please", instructed Prakash.

Tambe headed towards the door to tend to Renu who looked visibly shaken. Before Tambe could help Renu, she realized what was happening around her. She got up by herself and walked out. Tambe followed her out. Prakash silently saw them depart and turned towards the table again.

Prakash liked to work like that on most of his cases. He'd take one long, hard, unbiased look at the crime scene to acquaint himself with it. Then he would talk to everyone who could have had anything to do with the victim or the crime scene. Finally he would just let everything simmer in his head and wait for dots to connect. Every new evidence added another layer of connection between the dots and he kept on breaking and making these connections. And finally he would get the answers. Answers to even seemingly impossible cases. His repertoire of successful cases included confiscation of a large stash of illicit drugs and the famous hit and run by son of a leading industrialist. In both these cases, they did not have a single clue. Only a crime scene and tyre marks on a dusty road and a grainy footage from a cctv in the other. And yet Prakash was able to close those cases.

He was always called in when there were cases that seemed too complex for the police force to handle. Of course nothing in his countenance gave that away. He was rather small, compared to other police officers. He would be about 5 feet 8, very fit and was almost bald. He kept his head shaved and no one could tell that he was 34. He came to Mumbai with his mother and sister when he was ten and the city was still called Bombay. His mother was a successful theater actress in Pune, some 160 KMs from Mumbai. His father, a school teacher and their's was a love marriage. But right after Prakash was born, the daily grind of the household got to the nerves of his parents and they had started quarreling occasionally at first and then almost everyday. His mother harbored the desire to be a film star and father liked the small town life on the outskirts of sleepy Pune. Differences became so much that Prakash's mother decided to move to Mumbai with the kids in tow. But reality hit harder and sooner than she had expected. Her only appearances on screen were a few sightings in the background scenery and a couple of side roles as character actress. She, like others, turned to alcohol, in attempt to find solutions and success. Even that dint help. And when Prakash was all of fifteen, his mother committed suicide, depressed about girls half her age getting meatier roles than her. Even in her death, she did not get any mention in the newspapers. By this time, Prakash's father had moved away from Pune and a young Prakash could not trace him. Prakash came back to Bombay and put all his energy and time into his and his sister's education.

In Nidhi Kapoor's office, despite all the other overpowering odors of excreta, animals, burnt flesh and air conditioning, there was a distinct whiff of some variety of lavender perfume in the room. Prakash made a mental note about the perfume and started to examine the room carefully. The first thing that he went to was the typewriter. On it was a sheet of paper that had some sort of typed letter on it. He carefully clicked the picture of the type writer and the sheet of paper hanging from it, with his phone and tore the sheet away. Prakash had a blatant disregard for protocol and yet he was careful enough with anything that he could use as evidence at a later date. Most other officers would wait for police photographer to arrive and take pictures of the venue before they start with the investigation. Not, Prakash. He liked to take action and swift action at that. He knew his technology and knew that pictures from an iPhone are as good as the one from official police cameras. And no one used the pictures anyway, except the newspaper hounds, when the pictures were leaked.

He started reading the letter, written in chaste English. It was apparently addressed to the deceased animals. Tambe was back by then and he saw Prakash reading the letter in rapt attention. Tambe guessed that the letter must contain something important, or else Prakash wasnt the kinds to put too much attention into reading. He dint even read the newspaper or the official reports.

"Whoever wrote this, definitely has a knack for writing good prose. Too bad, the letter is at the crime site, or the writer could have written a few films for Kapoor clan", said Prakash and handed over the letter to Tambe, who carefully sealed it in an evidence bag. Tambe really wanted to read the letter but he wasnt good with English and more importantly he knew that while Prakash goes through a crime scene, Prakash wants everyone on their toes.

Nothing else seemed out of place in the room. The window behind the table was shut tight. The lawn beyond the window had a small swimming pool in it. The water in the pool was clean and calm and the umbrella next to the lounge chair was folded. The entire periphery of the house was covered with high walls, barb-wired at the top. Tall Ashoka trees had been planted along the wall, to afford privacy.

Prakash thought out loud, "So whoever did this, had a lot of time to go about carving these animals. There is precision of a careful planner. Apart from the foot mark left by Renu, there is no other trace left by the killer. The killer has to be somebody who knows this house and this room well. Animals are never friendly to strangers and there are no signs of any struggle. There is no way all three could be killed at one time. We can atleast get an autopsy done to estimate the time of killing of these". Tambe was trying to think hard as well.

"Look Tambe!...", Prakash suddenly exclaimed with excitement.

Prakash had reached the other end of the room where the large gramophone was placed next to that yellow couch.. Prakash suddenly bent over the gramophone and had pulled something out from the pie of vinyl records.

"What is it sir? A vinyl record? I have seen many of those a Lamington Road market.", Tambe was trying to think hard and figure out the reason for Prakash's excitiment. May be the record had some finger prints or some blood spats or something that they had missed all this while.

"An original record for Pyasa, the Guru Dutt movie. I have always wanted to own one of these. It would fit in well with my collection of...", and Prakash paused in the middle of the sentence.

Tambe was thrown offguard for a minute when he heard the mention of Pyasa. He knew Prakash liked Guru Dutt but he could not make the connection between the crime scene and Prakash's evident excitement. Before he could say something, Prakassh had paused in mid sentence and had started to walk towards the book shelf on the other end of the room, his eyes fixed at a spot on the top shelf. Tambe, being an experienced policeman realized what was important and his gaze followed Prakash's. Prakash was staring at a point on the top corner of the book shelf.

Prakash side stepped the rug in the middle of the room and crossed the entrance to the room and reached the bookshelf. He said, "Looks like someone has borrowed a book from this shelf. And a fat book. There is no way the book shelf would have an empty spot like this when every inch of available space on the shelf is crammed with books. And I can bet no one here touches any books. These are meant for display only!".

Tambe replied, "How do you know sir that these are for display. And may be a book is missing. Or someone took it on loan. What does a missing book has to do with our case sir?". Tambe was amongst a handful of colleagues who could afford to question Prakash's judgement.

Prakash answered, "Look at the shelf. All books are lined neatly as if they were lined with a ruler. There is a thin layer of dust on the shelf. Probably the cleaner did not get time today. The spot on the top shelf however, is clean. Very clean. So clean that its out of place. Its as if there was a book there and someone dragged it out of there to make space. Also people who read a lot, read more than one book at a time. And they always leave the books they are reading at strange places. My sister does that. The house is full of books and bookmarks". Prakash paused to examine the titles on the shelf.

"And look at the gramophone there", Prakash pointed and said, "someone plays it regularly. There is not a speck of dust on it. The vinyls are stacked neatly as well but some of them are not in their jackets, like this Pyasa record, and some have been left right next to the player. Its odd that a room kept as meticulously as this would have an empty space in the bookshelf".

"You are right sir. And who wants to read only biographies and film books. Where are the magazines? And our staple evening newspaper, Maha Sakaal?", quipped Tambe. He continued, "Sir, which paper does Renu madam write for?"

Prakash replied carelessly, "I dont know that. Raj Saab hasnt told me that. Its some secret assignment for some international newspaper or magazine. All I know is that I am supposed to keep her in tow for a month. And that means we have to tolerate her for 15 more days".

Tambe began to laugh. He was the kinds that had infectious laughter. When he laughed, you could see all his teeth. And laugher sounded more like a roar.

"Whats so funny that you are laughing? And we are done here. I have seen what is there to be seen. We wont find anything of interest here. Ask someone to seal this room", Prakash instructed.

Tambe nodded and flipped out his walkie talkie to call for this colleagues.

"And lets go and talk to Nidhi Kapoor. You always wanted to meet her. Right? Here is your chance. But before you talk to her, there is something very important that I want to do. That letter that I gave you Tambe, I have to ask her something about it". Prakash said and he headed out of the room. He also threw the vinyl that he was so excited about, at Tambe, who caught it deftly. Tambe left the record on the yellow couch and rushed behind Prakash.

Renu was standing outside the room, facing the door, still looking at the mangled bodies on the rug. She was using the wall to support her back and her entire demeanor seemed resigned, but in control. She tried to collect herself when she saw Prakash come out. Prakash looked at her, paused and said, "Oh yes, you! I had almost forgotten about you. Are you alright? I want you to come with me when I talk to Nidhi Kapoor. Can you do it?"

Prakash rarely waited for answers. That was his way of working. His orders often came in guise of requests, and requests in guise of questions. This sounded like a question and Renu knew immediately that this was a request.

She said, "Yes I think I am ok now. I would come along. I need to catch whoever did this. Bloody butcher needs to be punished". This was the first time Renu had shown any kind of serious emotion. So far, in her two weeks with Prakash and Praveen, she hardly let her true emotions surface. She started following Prakash with hurried steps. Prakash was anyway always in hurry and now had Tambe and Renu in tow.

And they left the room, the way they found it. Only thing they had taken from the room was the letter from the typerwriter. And the only thing they had left behind was a pointed U mark from Renu's Kolhapuri chappal on the expensive rug.

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The Nidhi Kapoor Story

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