Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kane and the Bloody Bullet

(This is a fiction/mystery piece that I wrote in the twelfth standard. I unearthed it recently and.. suffice to say, edited it slightly. The Ajay Kane angle is one that intrigued me greatly, and especially due to my enthusiasm for detective novels at the time. Needless to say, Ajay Kane, Justice Raman, Smeet Deshmukh, K. Mohammed, Arpita Lade (La-de, hindi) and Jaykishan Malhotra are my own creations, and so on and so forth. Lastly, "Kane" is pronounced Cain, not Ka-ne.)

The bright morning dulled his mood. His cold coffee dulled his mood. Everything dulled his mood.
"Why is the coffee cold?" he asked, in his reedy, sepulchral voice. His girlfriend strode in, lighting his cigarette. "Because you overslept. It's been sitting there for hours now." 
Ajay rose, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Twenty-nine years had taken their effect on him. From the college hothead to the grieving, melancholy adult, the years had not been kind. First the parents, then his sister. They had all nearly died. But then they had recovered well, and slammed the door on any chance of his inheriting the four-crore family estate when his sister had remarried.
"And here I am, owner of a supermart chain with nothing to show for it." Ajay went off to brush his hair. Long, thick and utterly unkempt, like the body it was attached to.
The phone began ringing, and Arpita went off to answer it. After a few moments of nodding her head she turned to him. "The manager," she said dryly, holding it out.
"What's that old geezer want now?" Ajay pondered, and took the proffered phone, leaning against the wall. Arpita leaned against him, more to get the cigarette out of his mouth than any amorous intentions. He held her close anyway while trying to calm the sixty-five year old schizophrenic epileptic at the other end of the line.
"You've got to come here fast. There's been a murder. The police are demanding your presence."
"I didn't do it," Ajay said, trying to wonder which loser would want to shoot another loser in his supermart at twelve in the afternoon. Didn't they have offices to go to?
"Just come here," Jaykishan Malhotra ordered. "Give the phone to Arpita." Ajay held it out and she began to nod again, with occasional "yes"s and "no"s. Then she hung up and glared at him for a full minute, her eyes set with that gleam of determination that said, "You're getting out of the house if I have to drag you in your underwear." Ajay's chiselled, baggy face twisted in a wry smile and he meekly allowed himself to be taken to the closet.

Ten minutes later they were both on his bike, and Ajay was already wondering why he woke up this morning. Not a cloud in the sky in the middle of July, and the sun shone brightly. His gaze went to a couple of college girls snacking at a roadside dhaba. One was pretty, and he examined her studiously, slowing the bike. Arpita shoved a pen into his back reminding him where he was. He had been quite the romeo in his college days, when he had been sure that the estate and business would go to him, and he'd indulged in every fantasy money could pay. Then, his parents' recovery from their four-year illness and his sister's remarriage had been enough, coupled with the fact that his academic record was almost non-existent, the single chance of a rich, fat life had been taken away.

The supermart was in the centre of town. Amravati was an up and coming town, with all the multiplex craze and the multitude of colleges. The roads were jammed, and it would have posed a problem for his car, but not for the nimbler bike. And so in his self-confidence he rammed it up an SUV.
"Accelerate, you moron!" Arpita nearly yelled in his ear, and he obeyed. They reached the supermart five minutes faster, only to be stopped by the police.
"Vahane tithe theva," the cop instructed in fluent marathi.
"You fucking asshole," Ajay replied in a crisp english accent, and the cop nodded, not a trace of comprehension on that dark face. Arpita stifled a giggle. They were saved from a minute of arguing when Malhotra came over to help.
"What's this problem?"
"A clerk and a woman died here in the line."
"The CCTV out of whack?" Ajay asked, striding into the supermart like he owned it. Which he did. Many would have trouble keeping up with his six-six frame, but Malhotra was a buzzing bee. He was everywhere and nowhere, like Schrodinger's cat. Justice Raman was waiting in by a stand, devouring a pack of Kurkure. The benign, smiling judge was any criminal's nightmare, his nonsense of humour coupled with his huge belly and sharp eyes. Raman glared at the scene. He glared at the officers. He glared at Malhotra. And he reserved his best glare for Ajay. The forty-nine year-old judge was an authority on murders and made a hobby out of criminal psychology. But he was a good friend of Ramnathan Kane, Ajay's father, and almost like an uncle to him.
"Ajay, why in God's name are the cameras not working? Ajay, why are you late?" And he was also ten times the nag Arpita could never be.
"Why drag God into all this? Poor guy has enough on his plate." The hon. Justice glared again. "The central system is down, not the cameras. They were still recording, but it'll take time to get the footage. J.K., please get the technician." Malhotra scowled; he hated being called J.K., which was why Ajay did it. He pottered off, punching in a number on his cellphone. "Do we have any evidence? This is my supermart. Where's the officer in charge?"
"Out for a smoke."
"We found this. All that we need is the footage from the cameras to identify who did it." The judge held out a packet with a bullet inside it, stained with blood. It was a small metal ball, not the usual nine-millimetre or the revolver round, both of which were common in the Amravati Underground.
"This looks like one of the war-time guns... lead shot. That's stupid; who the hell would use something like that when other guns are so much cheaper and easier?" Raman queried. Ajay took the packet under close supervision of the remaining havaldars.
"Odd," he remarked. The bullet sparked something in his memory- it should, his father loved guns and particularly hunting rifles. But this couldn't have come from that. Too small. "Somebody's got an odd gun."
The technician had managed to sneak in at that point, and removed the data from the camera. Now Malhotra sat at a terminal trying to get the picture.
"How's the camera footage?" Arpita asked, going over to look.
"No sound," Malhotra grumbled. The screen showed a man alongside two others. "He took a packet of chips and another of soup. Then he waited. And then-" The man sprang into action, jumping over the corpse of the woman just before him. From the angle the camera had been placed- behind- nothing could be seen. Now the man jumped over the counter, and stood once more with his back to the camera. The clerk raised his hands up in defense, but he collapsed as well.
"That gun couldn't have been a good one if it needed close range."
"The victims were killed by a knife," Raman calmly explained, surprising Ajay and Arpita, and even the technician.
"So what's the bullet doing here?"
"Good question. One that everyone's asking. Who's is it, where did it come from, and why is it here?" Arpita summarized, while Raman, oddly enough, chuckled. Malhotra looked flabbergasted.
"What about the suspect. Can you recognise him?" Ajay asked.
"Smeet Deshmukh. He's wanted for a dozen other crimes, including pickpocketing, chain-snatching, theft, arson.. you name it. The guy's not so clever as he is crazy."
"And where is he?"
At that moment the inspector entered, with a stride as long as his ego. K. Mohammed, was what Ajay called him. His name was Iqbal Khan Raheem Khan Ahmad Khan Mohammed. Ajay had long ago renamed him as "K. Uncle" when the man visited and drank with his father.
"Smeet Deskhmukh has escaped. Again. He knocked out the two guards who were escorting him, hit a biker, took the bike, and I'm pretty sure he's halfway to Akola by now."
"He didn't pay for the damn chips and soup. His bill came to Eighty rupees fifty paise." Malhotra, the human computer, Ajay thought. He then thought, Dad, why did you send him to me?
"He did, incidentally. He didn't take the bill, but left the money on the counter, next to the murdered clerk. With someone else, I'd say he dropped it. But in his case, crazy as he is, he's left exactly eighty rupees fifty paise."
"Now comes the mystery of the bullet. Why in God's name would someone leave a bullet? And more to the point, who the hell used it?" Arpita asked, taking the packet from a havaldar, glaring at him for pocketing a pack of cigarettes.
Ajay studied the bullet. Something about it pricked at his memory. Something... something... Ignoring the havaldar's protests, he opened the packet and took it out. The small metal ball sat in his hand, trailing blood. Odd-smelling blood. He tasted it and received a poke in the ribs for his trouble.
"Disgusting, don't do that, Ajay," Arpita complained, the pen she kept especially to poke him going back into her handbag.
Ajay went off to a nearby stand, where the sauces were kept, and ignoring Malhotra, opened and tasted one.
"The same taste. Chilli sauce, from Akola. Home-made, you could say. This bullet came from there, then. Come on, Arpita, let's go!"
They ran off to the bike, leaving the others to ponder. Ajay waved at his father as he entered, not stopping for a hello, letting him enter the supermart.
"Raman, Iqbal, did you catch him?" The inspector shook his head.
"Too bad. My son- my other son- came here yesterday to buy some of that pickle. He was delivering a special gun from Dubai, and seeing as the supermart is near the highway, stopped by for my daughter. At that moment, his old, aging briefcase- it was an heirloom from his uncle, a smelly thing- split apart, and he dropped both the briefcase and the sauce he was holding.
"I thought I'd come by, because the gun's missing two bullets. One I found in the ruins of his briefcase, the other should be around here."