A 16 years old murder case. Withered witness and disappeared suspects. An impossible case. Can ace detective duo – Supriya & Rahul crack this case?
Natasha Sharma is a software engineer by profession and moonlights as a writer. She has created the detective duo Supriya & Rahul, two homicide detectives who solves complex murder cases with their wit and razor sharp observations.
Chapter 1: Feeling a cold case coming along.
Inspectors Rahul and Supriya, partners, were assigned to the cold-case unit on loan. They were well-settled in their routine, comfortable, trusted each other with their lives. Supriya earned her grey hair, dyed a boring brown, and seniority, in the homicide department, whereas Rahul achieved his name, and scars in narcotics. They were partnered together when Rahul moved to homicide.
Early Monday morning, Captain Verma greeted them in his office. “Welcome to the cold-case unit. Here, there’ll be no heart-stopping chases, no thrill of fresh blood, but pure, unadulterated legwork. More often than not, the suspects maybe dead, or dying, memories may’ve faded. Having said that, justice delayed is justice denied. It’s our moral, legal duty to attempt to solve the murders to the best of our abilities. I’m assigning a cold case, it’s a drug dealer’s murder in the 80s. Here’s the case number.”, handing over a paper to Supriya, “All the best, Supriya and Rahul. I’m eager to see the results, I’m quite sure you’ll bring fresh energy here.”.
They were dismissed as he went back to bombarding his keyboard with his short stubby fingers.
Supriya and Rahul headed for the first floor, the evidence department. Rahul greeted Vivek, the custodian of the records, “Vivek! How’re you, man? Long-time, no-see!”.
Supriya raised her hand in greeting, interjected, “We met on Friday.”.
“Yeah, but then we were in homicide, now we’re in cold-cases. So it’s different! Can we have the case files for this case?”, handing over the paper.
“Hello Cold-ers? Cold-ites?”, Vivek guffawed, Supriya rolled her eyes,” I’ll fetch the box for you guys.”. He disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a medium-sized carton with the matching case sticker,” Here you go, please sign the register while I scan your IDs for the allocation”, said accepting their IDs.
“Done!”, said Rahul, signing the register under the 21/09/2001 section, collecting the box. On picking it, Rahul exclaimed,” It’s so light, hardly anything inside. Are you sure it’s the right box?”.
“Of course, I don’t make mistakes, Rahul. Please verify the case number against the sticker. I’m not responsible for the contents, only its safekeeping”, Vivek protested.
“Just surprised, man. Thanks later!”.
On reaching their desks, Rahul unboxed the carton to reveal the murder book and few pieces of evidence. Supriya picked up the murder-book, “Why don’t you get two cuttings while I start here?”, pointing to it.
“Always the server? Do you want some samosas to go with it?”, Rahul joked.
Supriya retorted, “Yes, and don’t forget the fried green-chillies and the pavs.”, she turned her attention to the book.
After their breakfast, Supriya updated Rahul with the information. “On 21/11/1985, Chote Bhai was exiting his car, in front of his house, when he was hit with a Glock-19 pistol, on an empty street, at 7.00 pm. Two shots were fired, one hitting him in the neck, and the other his chest. The chest bullet exited from the back, the casing for it was recovered. The neck shot was fatal as it hit the jugular vein, but forensics determined it to be a lucky shot. It was aimed at the head but as Chote was getting out when the bullet was discharged, it ended up hitting the neck. It was the shooter’s luck it hit the vein, and Chote bled out. There were no eyewitnesses, no surprise there. Since it was the 80s, there was no CCTV and limited forensics capabilities. No one noticed anyone or anything strange on the road. Being winter, it was already dark and people were inside their houses. Police were called by Chote’s wife, Mamta Dubey, when she saw him slumped in the car. On hearing the gunshot, she came out running and saw a motorbike drive away with its headlights off. Her attention was obviously on her dying husband, she didn’t notice anything about the bike, neither its licence number nor the shooter’s physical description. She had to return to the house to call the ambulance from their landline, by the time it arrived, Chote Bhai had died. And yeah, no fingerprints were found on the bullet casings. So no gun, no witnesses, no CCTV, a dead drug-dealer, and no incentive from the investigating officers, either”, consulting her notes, “an Inspector Chaudhary. He wasn’t very driven to solve the case. It’s evident from the slim murder book, he maintained.”.
“Where do we start, Supriya?”.
“Let’s start from the horse’s mouth, Mamta Dubey’s still alive. Maybe something may jog her memory. She stays at the same address, let’s go.”.
Chapter 2: Blast from the furnace.
“Ma’am, Inspectors Supriya and Rahul from the cold-case division We’re re-investigating the murder of your husband, Chote Bhai…”.
“His name was Bhavan Kumar Dubey. This Chote Bhai nonsense was started by the police. Please call him by his real name. And its high time you solved his murder. I hope you can solve it before my funeral pyre is lit.”, Mamta interrupted, her anger bubbling over.
“Of course, Ma’am. We’re sorry. When Chote…er…Bhavan was shot, where were you, what were you doing?”.
“I was cooking at that time. My son had come 1st in an elocution competition, and I was making his favourite lentil-stuffed poori. The mixer was on as I was grinding the lentils, and I didn’t hear the first gunshot. By the time the second bullet was fired, I had finished the grinding. As soon as I heard the gunshot, I left the mixer and ran outside. I saw a motorbike speed away, it was dark outside, no moon that night, it spread its darkness in my life. Bhavan-ji was slumped in the driver seat, his right leg outside, his briefcase fallen by his side. I ran to him, screaming at him to get up, he opened his eyes, and tried to speak but blood just gurgled out of his mouth. I couldn’t make out what he was trying to say, I came inside to call the ambulance and police.”.
“Where was his usual driver? He always used a driver, right?”, Rahul asked, jotting the information in his notebook.
“Yes, Banke was his driver, he had gone to his village for 14 days, Bhavan-ji didn’t want to vet a new driver for 2 weeks. Before you ask, I didn’t allow his bodyguard, Manmohan to enter our lane. He was from a low-caste, and I didn’t want his shadow to fall on my house. So I asked Bhavan-ji to drop him at the society gate, not letting him enter. Maybe, if I wasn’t that foolish, Bhavan-ji may still be alive.”, she said, drying her eyes.
“How many people were aware of Manmohan not entering the lane?”.
“Everyone. Since I’m a devout Kanyakubj–Brahmin, everyone knew I’m against the dalits coming near my house, it was common knowledge.”, Mamta replied.
“How old was your son then, ma’am?”.
“Krishna turned 7 in August that year. For his first elocution, he spoke about ‘Good over Evil’. He was good on that day…”, Mamta reminisced.
Supriya and Rahul exchanged a smile, the irony of a drug dealer’s son talking about good over evil, but the child isn’t to be blamed for the sins of the father.
“Where’s Krishna nowadays, ma’am?”.
“Why? Why do you want to know? He doesn’t do all the drug things his father did. He’s a doctor in the UK.”, she replied in a huff.
“Of course ma’am, we aren’t implying anything. As someone who’s closely connected to the victim, we’d like to speak to him.”.
“Why do you want to talk to him? He was only 7 – what can a baby observe? He was in his room, studying and he didn’t see anything. And it’s a good thing he didn’t see anything, imagine if he saw his father being killed, he’d be in shock. I didn’t let other inspector speak to him, either.”, she responded.
“Ma’am, can we have his contact details? We would, as part of our investigation, talk to him, maybe he saw something before the murder occurred.”.
“Okay. I’ll give his email You may send an email but don’t disturb him, he’s a busy man, an important man. He saves people’s lives unlike the police. “, Mamta replied.
Chapter 3: Roads that diverge.
“That was fun!”, quipped Rahul, when they got out, “My ear’s hurting with all her talk. My son, the doctor, so important!”, he imitated Mamta.
Supriya laughed, “Yeah. But we did get some leads, his driver Banke who was on a two weeks’ vacation just before Chote-Bhai was shot, and Manmohan his bodyguard, who wasn’t permitted to enter the society. Rahul, can you stop the car at the entry gate? I want to verify if Manmohan could’ve spotted something from the main gate. Surely, he must be waiting till Chote Bhai entered home as his bodyguard.”.
The guard’s cabin, where Manmohan disembarked from the car, the house wasn’t visible at all. In fact, with the exception of the adjoining garden, not much was visible.
“Manmohan may not have seen the murder happen but he should’ve heard the gunshots and seen the motorcycle leave. Let’s talk to the watchman, we can figure out the exit gates of this society.”.
They approached the cabin, speaking to the on-duty guard, who said, “There were two gates, one after Dubey sahib’s house, one at the other side of the lane. After the murder, all the other gates, except this one, were locked.”.
“Maybe Manmohan didn’t see the shooter, who used the other gate to escape. I want to return to ask Mamta about the direction of the motorcyclist.”, said Supriya.
“He went in the other direction, opposite to the main gate. Now leave, let me watch my television in peace. Useless people, always coming to interrupt, just when the murderer was going to be caught in C.I.D.”, Mamta said, slamming the door on their faces.
“Lost again to A.C.P. Pradyunam. Maybe I’ll join the C.I.D.”, quipped Rahul.
“So the shooter was aware of the second gate, that meant he’d done the recce. Let’s talk to the neighbours to see if anyone saw anyone loitering few weeks before the murder. Also we need to locate Banke and Manmohan”, said Supriya, ignoring Rahul’s remarks.
Back at the office, they continued, “So no one – surprise – saw anything or anyone weeks before the murder. Could it be gang related?”, Rahul asked.
“I don’t think so, the forensic report did mention it was a lucky shot, any professional shooter worth his salt would be aware head shots are notoriously difficult, especially in fading light. He’d have gone for the heart, a fatal shot. It doesn’t smell like a professional hit to me. Chote wasn’t a very big fish in the crime sea either, he was, at best, mid-level fish. And there were no disputes with the adjoining areas for expansion. Why would someone shoot him, knowing his bodyguard was just a few steps away. And more importantly, why didn’t Manmohan run towards him, on hearing the gunshots. We’ll never know the answers, unless we’ve a direct line to hell, Manmohan died in prison, 15 years back.”.
“Do you think his death was connected?”.
“No. He died of pneumonia. And taking all the secrets with him.”.
“Another dead-end, Supriya. Now we must find Banke, I have sent an email to Dr. Krishna Dubey, asking the mini-godman if we can talk. I just hope the ISD around here is free.”.
Chapter 4: Gift horse.
Supriya located Banke, who had relocated to his village in the Bundwara district, Uttar Pradesh. “I’ve spoken to Banke. He couldn’t recall much; he’d gone for his sister’s wedding during the murder time frame. He’s senile, not much there. But, I’ve just received a response from Krishna, he’s talking to us in 10 minutes. I hope he has some relevant information.”, said Supriya.
Krishna, the bearer of good news, said,” Of course, I remember that day. I was playing outside that evening around 6.30pm, and I spotted a black motorcycle. What caught my attention was the licence plate was my birthdate and initials – MH02 KD 0608. Sadly, I saw nothing else before going to my room to study”.
Supriya and Rahul couldn’t believe it, this was their lucky break! By denying the previous inspectors access to her son, Mamta had derailed the investigation. They quickly contacted the R.T.O. office to inquire about the details of the motorcycle owner. When they received it, they visited the address.
A man opened the door, Rahul asked, “I’m Inspector Rahul. Does Mohan Chauhan stay here?”.
“No, sir. They moved away from here ages back. I have their address since I bought this house from them. I’ll get it for you.”, the man replied.
Supriya and Rahul went to the new address, and when they rang the doorbell, a young man opened the door. “Is Mohan Chauhan at home?”, Rahul asked.
The young man didn’t respond, and an older lady emerged, “Who are you and what do you want?”.
“Inspectors Supriya and Rahul from the cold case division, we’re investigating the murder of Bhavan Kumar Dubey alias Chote Bhai. What’s your name ma’am?”.
On hearing Chote Bhai’s name, her face filled with anger,” I’m Nandini Chauhan. That cretin, Chote deserved to die, I hope he suffered, gasping for every breath as his evil soul departed his body, may he never get peace.”.
“Where’s Mohan Chauhan, ma’am?”.
She kept quiet for a while,” He left the house after the murder and he never came back.”.
“Where did he go? And what’s your beef with Chote-Bhai?”, Supriya asked.
“Chote got my father killed, a Narcotics officer, who was undercover. My father was backstabbed by his cheating partner, who revealed his identity to the gang. On hearing about his death, my mother collapsed, and died of a broken heart. My younger brother Mohan was filled with rage and he decided to seek revenge. He was 18, and he took up a courier boy’s job and started visiting their society as Chote Bhai used to courier several parcels. He befriended the watchmen and learnt about Mamta’s dislike for Manmohan. As a courier guy, he was aware of all the exits and was almost invisible. Who notices courier boys, anyway? He realized Banke had gone to his village, and he observed that Chote-Bhai didn’t use any other driver. One day he bided his time, waiting for an opportunity. When Chote exited the car, Mohan shot him two times.”, Nandini said, crying, “He fulfilled his promise to my mother, he avenged my father. But after the murder, Mohan got scared and he never returned. Chote robbed me of my entire family, my father, mother and even, my brother. I don’t know where he went or where he’s now.”.
“What was the courier company’s name?”.
“It was Hanuman Couriers, I think.”.
“Was it your son, who opened the door?”, Supriya asked.
Flash of fear appeared on her face, “Yes. He’s my son.”.
“Can we see a photograph of your family?”.
“Yes. Let me fetch it.”.
On observing the photograph, Rahul commented, “Mohan looks younger than you.”.
“Yes, there was a 10 years gap between us.”, said Nandini.
“Do you have a recent photograph?”.
“No. This is the only one.”.
“Can we keep this? We’ll make a copy and return it to you”, said Rahul.
When they left, “Did you notice, her son strongly resembled Mohan. And his sister, Nandini, she’s definitely hiding something.”, noted Supriya.
On contacting Hanuman couriers, they were disappointed to learn the company stored records only for 10 years. But it was their luck that the receptionist’s mother also worked here in the 80s. When they called her up, she remembered Mohan, saying, “He was a very polite boy, and was fairly young. We didn’t interact much. But if you ask me, I think he wore a fake moustache. Wait, he had six fingers, I remember!”.
Chapter 5: One…two…three…four…five…six fingers!
Supriya and Rahul tried to locate fake-moustache-wearing-six-fingered Mohan everywhere, but no luck. He possessed no credit cards, no bank accounts, even his learner’s licence remained as it were, there were no recent photographs of him, either. They visited Nandini again, her son opened the door. Supriya observed him closely, something in her gut began to whirr, he appeared in his early 20s, on seeing them, he quickly put his hands in his pocket, and fetched his mother.
“What do you want to know, now?”.
“Where’s your son’s father, ma’am?”.
“He…he doesn’t stay with us.”.
“We weren’t married that’s why.”.
“Your son, what’s his name? He looks a lot like his uncle, Mohan.”.
“His name’s Shankar. Obviously they resemble each other, they’re related.”.
“Ma’am, we’d like you to come to the station for further investigations.”.
“Why? I haven’t committed any crime.”.”
“Ma’am, you were aware of a crime for years but you never reported it.”.
Nandini was booked at the station, and her son, Shankar accompanied her. With no legal reason, they couldn’t access Shankar’s DNA sample. Rahul, sneakily, on the pretext of patting Shankar’s head, snared a few hair strands. They sent them to the forensics laboratory. Nandini was released on bail, being booked for a minor offense.
“What’re you expecting from the DNA results, Supriya?”.
“I’ve asked them to run some tests. It’s just a gut feeling. Did you notice Nandini’s son Shankar also has six fingers like Mohan?”.
“Yea, something’s amiss, Rahul. We are missing something.”.
Chapter 6: Err…game’s up?
They visited Dr. More, the forensic expert with the report, who explained, “Shankar and Nandini have the same father – they’re siblings.”.
“So Shankar is Mohan?”, asked Rahul.
“Yes, Mohan suffers from an untreated form of Kallmann Syndrome, that causes delayed or arrested puberty. People suffering from this disease, don’t grow facial hair, have a baby face, and they age slower, till about 20, or earlier if they take hormone injections. They suffer from low testosterone, and their voices don’t break. In Mohan’s case, he never hit puberty. He’s younger than his sister but can easily pass off as her son. Mohan’s around 30 or so, his sister’s close to 50, but he looks in his 20s! That’s why it confused you guys!”.
Shocked, they exited the office, Supriya’s gut instincts were spot-on, she’d pulled a rabbit out of a hat.
“How’d you guess?”, asked Rahul.
“I had once read a book, where the hero was suffering from a rare, congenital disease, delaying aging. When I saw Shankar, it got me thinking. After Googling for the possible causes, I asked the laboratory to test for the syndrome, and also a paternity test.”.
“Why the paternity test?”.
“Mohan’s disappearance, Nandini’s lies, Shankar’s resemblance to Mohan, the fake moustache and the six fingers! They all seem connected, somehow. Almost the perfect crime, eh? Imagine, Mohan opened the door for us each time! The man we’ve been tracing for ages was right under our noses. They have gotten away with it for so long! Let’s talk to Capt. Verma to update him.”.
“Congratulations on closing your first case. I had a good feeling about the you guys. Right, wasn’t I?”, exclaimed Capt. Verma.
Check out 2 more stories featuring detectives Supriya & Rahul in action.