Avanika knew something was wrong the second she spied his name flash on the screen. It was tempting to ignore the call, but instincts told her she should at least listen to what he has to say.
“Yes?” Her voice was even.
“I need your help, Avni. Come immediately, please.”
“The name is Avanika. What happened?” Judging the desperation in his tone, it was something on the lines she specialized.
“Sorry… Avanika. Please help me. There is a dead body in my house.”
“Whose?” She asked without a change in her tone. She should have been surprised, but she wasn’t.
“I don’t know. I mean, I do. But…”
“But what, Ransh?” She snapped. Despite the situation, Avanika was in no mood to forget and forgive his past mistakes.
He audibly swallowed, “Her face is familiar. I think I saw her two days ago.” Then he added. “At the club.”
Avanika suppressed a curse. It was hardly surprising. He wasn’t the killer type, but anybody could kill when pushed into a corner. And, Ransh was mercurial enough to become a prime suspect.
“Call the police.” She ordered.
“They’ll arrest me! Avanika, I didn’t do anything. Trust me, please. I wasn’t home all night.” He panicked.
Pinching the bridge of her nose, Avanika counted until five. “Ransh, you will need to call the police. Now.”
She picked up the keys from her table and walked to the door. “I’m on my way. If you don’t call them, I’ll have to do it myself.”
After a pause, he mumbled he would do it.
“Good. Don’t touch anything until I come.”
Ransh sighed into the phone, relieved. “Avanika, I’m glad you chose your profession over me.”
She snorted. Becoming a P.I was her only ambition. After years of persistence, Avanika was successful.
And how! Her detractor was relying on her to rescue him from this mess. Avanika smiled smugly as she drove towards his flat in the suburbs. She had a long day ahead apparently.
Ransh was her step-brother. After her mother’s untimely demise in an accident , her father had married again. Ransh, a lanky teenager had accompanied his mother rather unwillingly. Though he never made an attempt to hide his dislike for his new ‘sister’ yet they learnt to tolerate each other over time.
A police jeep raced past her, hooting the siren. So Ransh had listened to her advice, for a change. If only he had been so obedient then also…Avanika shrugged as she parked the car beside the police cars and strode past the melee of curious residents of the upscale Malibu Towne housing society.
The constables busily went around flat 406, looking for clues. The forensic team was yet to arrive. This was just the right time for Avanika to get to work though she badly wanted to get a word with Ransh first. He was sitting on the sofa, staring vacantly at the opposite wall, too dazed to respond properly to the police officer questioning him about the woman. Inspector Abhay looked up and nodded to her.
Avanika Suri needed no introduction. She was the daughter of the much respected ACP Raman Suri who had been ruthlessly killed by drug mafia when he was on the verge of busting the gang. His wife Rajni also killed in the pitched gun battle. Avanika who was then studying to become a lawyer had vowed to root the criminals out. Her ambition to become a private investigator became even more ardent now.
Her trained, experienced eye scanned the room. And the body. She noticed the weird angle her arms and legs flared out in. And how her tube top was pinched and crushed at the side. The popping eyes meant she had been smothered but there were no visible signs of a fight back. The bed was as well made as could be. It could mean only one thing. She had been killed somewhere else and planted here. And that closed fist! Did it hold a vital clue? She had just touched the body when the forensic experts restrained her.
She spoke to the team as they went about their work. They cooperated with her; they admired her detective skills even if grudgingly. Not getting any new information out of Ransh, they instructed him to not leave the city without their permission.
The body was taken for postmortem.
Finally she could ask questions she had been itching to, for hours.
”Come on, tell me everything now”, she spoke through clenched teeth. Her voice didn’t give away anything about her state of mind.
”I have already told the police everything I know, Avanika. I was out for some work the whole night and when I returned in the morning I found her here”, he mumbled.
”Out for work the whole night? Do you have an alibi?”
Ransh shifted in his seat.
”Look Ransh, you have to come out clean if you want me to help you otherwise forget I was here”, Avanika was in no mood for falsehoods.
”I was at a rave party at a farmhouse, sister!” he blurted.
”Proof or you are lying.”
He handed her his phone. Trust the policemen to not confiscate it already!
”What’s this, Ransh?” she was losing her cool now, ”Wish you were more sensible than clicking yourself snorting, you fool. Any policewala worth his uniform would arrest you the moment he sees these pictures”. She scrolled through the pics. ”Wait a minute! Who is this in the background?” Avanika zoomed in the photo she had been peering at. ”Isn’t this the same girl?”
Ransh was also startled to see her in the selfie he had clicked at the club. She was having dinner with a foreigner. His face changed colors many times within those few seconds. It didn’t escape Avanika’s hawk eyes.
Avanika seethed with anger at his stupidity and lies. She didn’t trust him one bit after how he had abused and threatened her seven years ago. He wanted her to get married and sign away the father’s property to him and when she refused, he had simply forged the papers. She hadn’t forgiven him for the deception. If it wasn’t for Rajni aunty she would have given up on him long ago…she had been the second mother Avanika so longed for and this was the chance she could repay her debt.
But did he deserve any sympathy? She shrugged nonchalantly.
”Transfer all these to my hard drive and delete them from your phone immediately”, she ordered. ”Do you remember anything unusual in the past few days…any strangers you met, any phone calls, fights, threats?
Ransh shook his head, eyes averted.
”I will be back, Ransh”. The iciness in her steely voice scared him.
Avanika rested her head on the steering wheel. Ransh was certainly hiding something but what? She knew about his misdemeanors, she knew he could do anything for money but he couldn’t go to the extent of killing someone.
His mercurial temper had stabilized after he set up a gym in a prominent shopping arcade. With many film stars and celebrities as his patrons, the gym had flourished in no time. Ransh had contacts in all the right places now. Aspirational youth followed him to access those connections.
She sighed. She was sure he was not lying about his innocence this time. Her investigator’s instinct had never gone wrong. But a woman was killed. And Ransh had been framed. Who was the murderer? And how was Ransh involved in it?
Next Day. Police Station
Avanika knew how to get the policemen to work for her. She promised them leads in exchange for information on the girl’s background. She had already gathered from her sources that the girl was from a small town and worked as a model and small time actor, so the information that she also operated as an escort didn’t really surprise her. But that did explain the foreigner in that photo! Or did it? She sat up with a start as she read the postmortem report.
”Hold it here”, Avanika asked the supervisor to pause the CCTV video. A tall man wearing a large cap had just entered the society with a giant bag he could barely carry. ”Who is this man? Which flat did he go to?” she barked at the society guard.
”407, madam. He said he was delivering clothes from the laundry on urgent requirement,” he quivered before the authoritative woman.
”Show me the footage of 4th floor again”, she ordered the supervisor.
Avanika stared at the visual. She knew it!
”Did he really think we’re fools!”, she muttered.
”See this, Inspector. And read the forensic report again. You get the drift now?”
”Stop lying at least now Ransh, for God’s sake! Why didn’t you identify him in the photo that day? Why are you scared of him?” Avanika was exasperated now.
”Come out with everything, Ransh or you are screwed forever”, the inspector warned.
Ransh started speaking slowly, ”I was approached by Danny Callaghan a couple of weeks ago. He had started coming to my gym four months ago and asked me out for drinks a few times…we had become ‘friends’ you can say. That day we were already two drinks down when he popped the question, ‘You are an excellent trainer, how about expanding your gym into a chain across the city?’
‘I would love to Dan, but where’s the money? I am yet to pay off the bank loans’.
He offered to help me with funds but put a condition. A senior defense ministry official had joined the gym recently. He wanted me to befriend the official and get secret information from him about the proposed arms deal with France. I won’t lie Avanika, I was honestly tempted. But I didn’t give in to it. I may not be the most morally upright man but I am not a traitor. When I refused to do his bidding, he left asking me to reconsider the offer.
”Then?” Avanika prodded him.
He came to the gym a week later. I refused to meet him. Then I got the call. Do as we say or you are doomed. I was scared as hell. Didn’t know what to do. I wanted to tell you but I wasn’t sure you would trust me after what I did to you years ago. I didn’t take his calls. Then this dead body landed in my flat.
Avanika, Inspector, believe me I don’t know who the girl was, I never met him personally”, Ransh pleaded with them, fear and hope writ large on his ashen face.
”Major spy racket busted”…screamed lusty media reports the next day.
”The forensic report mentioned a broken button in the dead girl’s fist, Your Honor. And a tiny clump of blonde hair stuck in her finger ring. The hair took us immediately to the foreigner in this picture”, Avanika continued her witness.
The photograph was handed over to the judge by a court official.
”It was a bit difficult to find out the owner of the shirt with only a button in hand. I made enquiries from a shirt manufacturer who also exports them abroad. Our investigations lead us to a high end brand showroom. The list of their clients pointed towards a certain Mr Danny Callaghan. Also when I was checking the footage again, I noticed something we had overlooked till then. The man with the huge bag had mentioned the flat he was visiting as 407 but in the video he is seen as entering 406, the flat belonging to Ransh.
The video was played out in the courtroom.
”But where does the girl stand in the sequence of events here, Ms Suri?” the judge asked.
”A detailed analysis of their phone records and even Danny himself has confirmed that she had never been in contact with Ransh. She was used as honeytrap for govt officials, when she started acting pricey and threatened to blow up his secrets, Danny eliminated her. He aimed to kill two birds with a stone but made stupid mistakes, Your Honor.”
Two months later
Danny Callaghan was sentenced to five years in jail despite his country’s government putting up a stiff protest. His moles in govt departments were also hounded out and thrown behind bars.
”I can’t thank you enough, Avani”, Ransh held her hand gratefully, eyes glistening with unshed tears.
‘The name is Avanika, Ransh”, she disengaged her hand gently and walked away.
More criminals awaited her.
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