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Crime Mystery

Ankita entered the pale white room with a folder and a bottle of water. The room was devoid of any ornamentation. The floor was lined with polished marble and the room was washed in white light. At the corners of the ceiling, cameras blinked at Ankita. She knew that there were many  cameras and microphones, hidden inconspicuously in the walls. A burnished wooden desk was placed in the centre with chairs on either end of the table.A young dark woman was sitting behind the desk. She looked up at Ankita with fearful eyes. Dressed in a very shabby blue tunic and black trouser, the young woman was biting her lips. 

Ankita introduced herself, “Hello Miss Banerjee. I am CBI Inspector Ankita Deshpande. I’ll be conducting this interview. Our conversations will be recorded and can be used in court if needed. Do you understand?

The young woman nodded. Ankita said, “You need to say that.”

The woman said in a low rasping voice, “I understand.”

Ankita sat on the opposite side of the desk and opened the folder. She offered the young woman the bottle which was promptly refused.

Ankita said, “State your name and age.”

The woman replied, “Tania Banerjee. I am twenty-two year old.”

“Occupation.”

“Housekeeping.”

“Do you know that you have been charged with voluntary manslaughter?”

“Yes.”

There was a calmness about this girl. She didn’t contradict or fight and answered clearly. But her eyes shone with fear. Clearing her throat, Ankita said, “You are not a resident of Mumbai. Your Voter ID card is from the State of West Bengal.”

Tania nodded, “I left Bengal for work.”

“Your friend Rita said that when you came to Mumbai five years ago, you went to her place, asking for help. She got you enrolled at the Jasmine Maid Agency. Is that true?”

Tania nodded again, “Yes.”

Turning the pages of her folder, Ankita said, “I have your academic record. You scored ninety percent in Tenth Standard. If you had continued studying, you could have gotten a scholarship and a chance at college. Why leave all of that and become a maid?” 

“There wasn’t enough money.”

“You were eligible for the State Sponsored Scholarship on account of your exemplary performance in Tenth Standard. All you had to do was stay put. But you didn’t do that - you fled your home and didn’t return for five years. Why?”

Tania’s lips trembled for a moment, “I...I couldn’t stay. I was becoming a nuisance for the family. There was this local goon who had his eyes on me. If I had stayed back, he would have abducted me and coerced me into a marriage.”

“According to your agency, you never took a vacation. Not even to visit your family.”

 “That man was waiting for my return. It was too dangerous.”

Ankita pulled out a page from her folder and said, “According to your statement, given at Pawai 

Police Station, you killed your employer Mr. Gujral while he slept beside his wife. You killed him because you loved him but he never reciprocated.”

Tania said calmly, “I killed him in anger. I should have never done it.”

“How long have you worked for the Gujrals?”

“Three years.”

“What kind of a man was Ranveer Gujral?”

“We didn’t talk much. He never bothered with his servants as long as our work was satisfactory. He hated tardiness and dirt. I took special care to keep the house as clean as possible.”

Yet you fell in love with him. The man barely said a word to you in your three years of employment. Why were you attracted to him?”

The question puzzled Tania and she frowned, “Attracted? I… I think it was because he was nice and good-looking.”

Ankita smirked, “Ranveer Gujral was fifty-five with a receding hairline. He was known for his miserly ways. He was neither nice nor good-looking. I think you had a better chance with the apartment guard who was a year older than you and was on friendlier terms with you.”

Tania remained silent but Ankita smirked, “Tell about your mistress, Mrs. Neha Gujral.”

“She was horrid. I hated her.”

“Then why did we find love poems dedicated to her beauty in your room?”

Ankita smiled while Tania frowned, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Ankita pulled out three photographs from her folder and showed it to Tania, “We found these in your room. Care to explain what the naked pictures of your mistress were doing in your room?”

Tania gulped, her face drawn, “It belonged to Mr. Gujral.”

“Are you saying that Mr. Gujral kept naked pictures of his young wife in his maid’s room? Why?”

Ankita was smiling as she continued, “Let’s move on to the day he was murdered. Start from the morning.”

Tania said calmly, “I woke up at four in the morning. After taking a bath, I cleaned the apartment  except the bedroom where they were sleeping. At six, I started the preparations for breakfast. At seven, the Apartment Guard rang the doorbell for the newspaper. I took the paper and arranged the breakfast table. At half-past seven, I heard Mr. Gujral taking a bath. At half-past eight, he arrived for his breakfast and he was dressed for work. Mrs. Gujral followed him in her nightgown. After breakfast, Mr. Gujral left while Mrs. Gujral went back to her room. At ten, Mrs. Gujral left the apartment. She told me that she was going to her club and won’t be back for lunch. I cleaned her room, did the dishes and started the preparation for lunch. They might say that they will be out for lunch. But it’s better to be prepared.”

“When did you have your breakfast?”

Tania frowned, “Breakfast and evening tea-time are for the masters and their families. For maids, there is only lunch and dinner.”

Ankita said grimly, “Go on.”

“She didn’t come back for lunch. I had mine at one in the afternoon. After lunch, I went back to my room and mended some of my clothes. At three in the afternoon, Mrs. Gujral returned, followed by her hairdresser and Mr. Gujral. They were going to attend a party and left the apartment at five.”

“According to the hairdresser, Mrs. Gujral was drunk. Did she seem drunk to you?”

“Mrs.Gujral is always drunk when she comes back from her club. She was a little tipsy.”  

“Go on.”

“They came back at ten. Mr. Gujral was furious and Mrs. Gujral was terribly drunk. They fought and Mr. Gujral threw a vase at her.”

“Mr. Gujral threw the vase - the vase which belonged to his late beloved mother - at his wife. Are you sure about that? Maybe you made a mistake and it was the other way round.”

“No. Mr. Gujral tried to hit his wife. Then, he felt sorry and made it up to his wife. I heard them making out in their bedroom. I waited till they were fast asleep. Then, I went to the kitchen, got the knife, sneaked into their bedroom and stabbed him to death.”

“What was the time?”

“I can’t be sure. I never checked the time.”

“What did you do after you killed him?”

“I went to bed and woke up to my mistress’s screams. She was crying and I told her what I had done. She cursed me and then called the police.”

“Why didn’t you kill both of them and flee the state?”

“I felt guilt and wanted to be punished for my crime.”

Ankita leaned back in her chair, “Let me get this right. You killed the man you loved and then went to bed instead of fleeing. Next morning, you confessed to your crime and you want punishment.”

Tania said, “Yes.”

“Where were you when they were fighting?”

“Hiding in my room. They could have ended up hurting me.”

“Then you never saw Ranveer Gujral hurling a vase at his wife.”

“He always liked to throw things”

“I heard Neha Gujral liked breaking things”

Tania remained silent, staring with dread filled eyes. Ankita smiled, “The Apartment Guard and many of the night shift employees noticed you sitting on a bench in the garden. They noticed that you were crying. The concierge at the reception desk saw you come down in the elevator and leave the building at half past twelve in the morning. Miss Banerjee, you didn’t go to bed after committing the crime. You went to the garden and you stayed there till half-past two.”

Tania said, “Yes. I forgot about it. I went outside for a bit of fresh air.”

“Murder can be stifling and the need for fresh air might arise at any moment. You said that you didn’t check the time when he was murdered. That is not a problem for us because we have got a coroner and he says that Ranveer Gujral died sometime between twelve to two in the morning. You said that you went down to the garden after committing the crime. The concierge saw you alighting from the elevator at half-past twelve. Thus it stands to reason that Mr. Gujral died somewhere between twelve to twelve-thirty in the morning. Am I right, Miss Banerjee?”

Tania said, “Yes.”

Ankita smirked, “Did you know that Gujral had a mistress? She worked in his bank and the night he was killed, he was texting her.”

Tania frowned, “I don’t understand.”

Ankita said, “He started the conversation after his wife fell asleep. He knew she was a heavy sleeper and it was the perfect time for him. The first message was from Mr. Gujral  and the time stamp on it is twelve- seventeen. Their conversation continued till quarter to one when, abruptly, he stopped answering her texts. So, my question is this - if you had killed him sometime between twelve and twelve-thirty, then how did he end up texting to his mistress at twelve-seventeen and continuing the conversation for twenty eight minutes?

The fear in Tania’s eyes rose, “You must be mistaken.”

Ankita said, “There is another thing. We came across a series of text messages, exchanged between you and your sister. You started the conversation saying that you were afraid of what was happening in the house. The time stamp on it was twelve in the morning. You continued talking to her till two - the Apartment Guards noticed that you were typing on your phone. My second question is how did you manage to stab your employer while texting your sister. The third question is - what were you afraid of?

Tania remained silent, her lips pressed in a thin line and her eyes shining with fear. Ankita leaned forward and said, “Look, I get it. You are a poor man’s daughter whereas the Gujrals have wealth and power. But you don’t know what is happening outside. There is a protest outside this building, demanding for your release. The ill-treatment meted out to you and previous maids at the hands of Ranveer Gujral is on National Television. Mrs. Gujral is known for beating her maids while Mr. Gujral forced the maids to work long hours with no break for food or bathroom. The Agency had been receiving complaints against them for ages. They sent you to their place because you were new and no other maid would work for them. Few months back, Ranveer Gujral was the face of one of the leading banks of the country and he was on his way to become the head of the central bank of our country; he was going to lead the economy of our country. Now, he is the most hated man in the country. There are charges of fraud and money laundering against him and his wife. They have cost millions their livelihood. The nation stands with you, Miss Banerjee. All you have to do is believe. Tell me the truth. What happened that night?

Tania remained silent for a long time before she spoke again, her voice breaking, “She knew that I...I liked women. She loved to torment others. She used me. She said she loved me and then...she humiliated me. Mr. Gujral treated me like a vermin. He used to say that I stank and I have a face that makes him want to throw up. If he ever found a speck of dust on the floor, he would make me wash the floors of the entire apartment. It didn’t matter to him that it was midnight and I was tired after the day’s work. He would drag me out of my bed by my hair and make me clean the floor.”

Tears trickled down her cheeks, “It was hell on earth. Every moment with them was a torture. That night, they fought viciously. Once I was caught up in the crossfire and Mrs. Gujral slapped me for no reason. After that incident, I stayed away from them during their fights. I don’t know who threw the vase. I remained hidden in my room and waited for the commotion to die out. I heard them make up to each other. It took some time for the commotion to die out. But once it did, I fled. I fled from the apartment and stayed in the garden for a long time. I was afraid of them. I was afraid that they might come to my room and hurt me. Mrs. Gujral loved causing pain and I was afraid of her.

“What happened after you returned?”

“Nothing. The house was eerily silent. I thought they were finally asleep and went back to my room. It was early in the morning when I woke up to Mrs. Gujral’s shriek. I ran into the bedroom and found him...dead. Mrs. Gujral was losing her mind, crying all over him when I said that I am calling the police. At that moment, she came to senses and stopped me. She came up with the idea that I’ll take the blame for the murder and in return, she’ll pay a huge sum to my poor family. I didn’t have a choice. My parents were poor with three more girls. They were starving and my sisters were losing their education. I decided to take up the offer and confessed to the crime.”

“Who do you think killed Mr. Gujral?”

Tania waited for a moment, trying to hold back her tears, “It has to be her. She is a violent woman. She might have done it in the heat of the moment. She is very passionate.

Ankita closed the folder and rose from her seat. Tania looked up to her with wide eyes, full of tears, but remained silent.

Ankita said, “Thank you for your time.” and left the room. 

After the interview, Ankita and Tania never spoke to each other. They met each other when Tania was released and during the trial. But neither of them spoke to each other. Ankita was busy building a strong case against Neha Gujral who came from a wealthy family while Tania was finally able to reunite with her family. In the end, Neha was convicted for murder. There was enough evidence against her, the fingerprints on the knife being the chief evidence. The knife had two sets of prints - Tania and Neha. As Tania was their cook, her fingerprints were accounted for. But Neha’s were unaccounted for - she never stepped in the kitchen and yet the knife bore her prints. 

It was a year after the trial ended when Tania met Ankita at the Mumbai Airport. Ankita was on her way to Delhi while Tania was leaving for Germany.

“The NGOs helped me with my education. I got a scholarship to study at one of the German Universities.” Tania said with a smile.

Ankita was pleased to see the changes in Tania. The withdrawn, frail young maid was replaced by a confident young student who was looking forward to her future.

Ankita smiled, “I am glad for you. You are a bright young woman and you deserve it, especially after the things you went through.”

“Thank you, Inspector Deshpande. For having faith in a maid. No one would have helped me. I was the perfect scapegoat. But you stuck with the investigation and delivered justice. I still think of that night; the fights, the crash of the vase, the loud lovemaking and the blood and gore that followed the next morning. I sometimes wonder about how Mrs. Gujral drove a knife into her husband’s heart and spleen while he slept beside her. .”

“Give yourself some time. It’ll pass. Time heals all wounds.”

At that moment, there was an announcement for Ankita’s flight. She wished Tania good luck and boarded her plane. While boarding, there was something nagging at the back of Ankita’s mind. Something was amiss but she couldn’t place her finger on it. It was hours later when the flight was about to land in Delhi that Ankita remembered with a sinking feeling in her heart - during the trial, no one mentioned about the spleen injury as it was a trivial one and didn’t contribute to the death. The only person who knew about the spleen injury was the coroner and Ankita herself. Tania was not supposed to be aware of this knowledge.

June 16, 2021 15:09

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2 comments

Elizabeth Maxson
13:33 Jun 24, 2021

Outstanding story! The interrogation was captivating and kept a good pace throughout. I also thought Tania's thoroughness during the investigation provided great foreshadowing for the twist at the end. I knew something was amiss, but I was totally hooked to keep reading until the end. My only suggestion would be to incorporate some deeper sensory imagery into the piece to draw the reader in even further. Are there smells, sounds, images, etc. you could imbed in the story to make readers feel like they are there with the characters? Overa...

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18:10 Jun 24, 2021

Thank you Elizabeth for the advise. I'll keep it in mind.

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