Nuts About You Part II

The secret is out. Murder victim Shantanu Shukla tried his best during his life to protect this secret. Unearthing this secret has brought detectives Supriya & Rahul one step closer to solve the mystery. Now they need to figure out who stood to gain or lose the most because of this revelation.

This is part II of the story. To read part I, click here Nuts About You Part I

Chapter 5: Till death do us part 

“Ms. Manasi, we’re very sorry for your loss. Are you ready to answer some questions?”. On Manasi’s reluctant nod, Supriya continued, “How would you describe your relationship with your husband, Shantanu Shukla?”. “We had a very nurturing relationship. Shantanu was a kind and affectionate partner. When he was at home, he left his office-fuelled-aggression at the door, and when he stepped over the threshold, he was a different man. Very loving, very generous, very funny, always ready to do something for either me or Shivam.”. “How about his behaviour with his son?”. “Shivam was Shantanu’s adopted son. Shantanu and I were college friends. I had a boyfriend during those days, Ritwick, and we were very close. When I fell pregnant, Ritwick dumped me. My parents were furious; I was pregnant, a few months short of graduation. I was under severe emotional stress as you can imagine. One day I bumped into Shantanu before our Economics class, I was feeling, especially, very emotional on that day. He took me to a café, where I spilled the beans about my pregnancy, my parents’ lack of support, and my brush with the idea of committing suicide. Shantanu was very sympathetic, lending me his shoulder to cry. Slowly, and slowly we became very good friends. And, then one day, Shantanu over coffee, proposed a mutually beneficial arrangement. He asked me to marry him, and I agreed. He promised me he would give a name, his name, to my unborn child, and raise it as his own. My parents were over the moon and couldn’t get rid of me any sooner.” How about Shantanu’s parents?”. “Shantanu’s parents were duplicate copies of him, they welcomed me with open arms and had no issues with me being four months pregnant with another man’s child. Till the day they died, their love for Shivam was unconditional. They asked me no questions, nor did they judge me. They were happy that Shantanu was happy, and I thanked god each day for their unwavering support, and my husband’s immense love for us.”. “Ma’am in our investigations, we need to ask some delicate questions, questions that may anger or embarrass you. Please try to provide as many details as you can. Did you and Shantanu have a normal marriage, in every aspect?”. “What do you mean, Supriya?”.” During Shantanu’s autopsy, it was revealed that he had regular sexual encounters with men. Were you aware of it?”.  Manasi closed her eyes, and pressed her fingers over them. “Please try and keep this information contained, as much as possible. Shantanu during college realized he was a homosexual, and he didn’t want to come out of the closet as it was cause some embarrassment for his father, and may dent their companies’ image, it was a different time, then. When we became good friends, we realised that we could have a mutually beneficial marriage, I could provide him with a heterosexual facade, and he could give my child a name. After my son was born coupled with my episode with Ritwick, my libido had all but died, I didn’t mind the situation.”. “So your marriage was a cover for his sexual preferences?”. “Yes. We had an open marriage.”. “Were you aware or knew any of his partners?”. “No, not really. I didn’t interfere in that aspect of his relationship, and nor did he inform me about his lovers. I knew he visited gay bars, but he was very discreet. I’m confident that no one else suspected his orientation.”. “Ma’am would you be willing to release the names of the bars he visited?”. “I would if I knew, but I don’t know, inspectors. But Aashna would be able to throw more light on that. She arranged the meals.”. “Oh, was Ms. Aashna aware of his sexual orientation?”. “Yes, we were all college friends, and Aashna was aware of the truth, about our marriage. But she’s very loyal, and she wouldn’t reveal it, unless I request her to do that.”

Chapter 6: Sshh…all about partners outside of a marriage  

“Ms. Aashna, why didn’t you inform us about this situation earlier?”. “Inspectors, I didn’t think this would have any bearing on the case, as I thought Shananu had drowned. Which is why, I asked you the question about treating his death as a homicide.”. “What can you tell us? Please make sure you give us all the details.”. “Of course, inspectors. Manasi and Shantanu had the sort of marriage that was perfect, except in the sense that both partners sought for different things, but they found their comfort in each other. Shantanu preferred the ‘Down a notch’ gay bar by the seaside. It was a very discreet bar, with tight security. I would be in constant touch with them as I had to ensure the meals served to Shantanu and his err…partner wouldn’t contain any peanuts. Several times, I had to personally check the food as not all restaurants take food allergies seriously, callously disregarding warnings. But the management at ‘Down a notch’ was very sincere, and they would send the menu in advance, and were very particular about catering to Shantanu’s allergies.”. “Did Shantanu have a regular partner?”. “He did. He was seeing someone, and would meet him at the club for dinner.”. “Did you know who it was, Ms. Aashna?”. “No, I didn’t know who he was or his name. I managed the menu-related aspect of their meetings, I never attended any of Shantanu’s dinners with him and his partner. But the management at the club would definitely be aware of it. And Shantanu and I never discussed it, either. He was very private about his dalliances.”.

“Quite a snazzy place, eh Supriya? This line of work does show us some spectacular places, places we could never afford on our police salaries.”. “Yea, that’s true. Let’s talk to the manager, Mr. Kohli.”. “Yes, I knew Mr. Shantanu Shukla quite well, inspectors. He dined at our restaurant fairly often.  He had a standing reservation for our private rooms. We rent out our rooms by the week or month. Shantanu usually paid for a year, much like a residential agreement.”.” Did he have a regular partner and would you know his partner’s name?”. “Not completely, sir. Shantanu sir dated a Mr. Pradeep Jha for a few years but that relationship ended a few months back. He was currently dating someone but I didn’t catch his name.”. “Would you know why his relationship with Mr. Pradeep Jha ended?”. “I wouldn’t know the entire details but I do know that it may have ended on an amicable note, as he and Mr. Jha would bump into each other at the club, quite often. And they always addressed each other warmly, in fact at one time, Shantanu sir even joined Mr. Pradeep and his companion for drinks.”. “Can you describe Shantanu’s current partner?”. “Yes, sir. He was of an average height and weight, and was clean shaven. He had dark brown hair, cut short and brown eyes.”. “Mr. Kohli, can you be more specific? Your description fits almost every ordinary Indian.”. Mr. Kohli smiled sheepishly, “Yes, but sir that’s how he looked. How can I add any attributes to his looks?”. “Did he have any scars on his face, hands, etc.?”. “No sir. None. Only one thing, I observed he would appear uncomfortable in the club.”. “Uncomfortable in what sense?”. “I’m not being judgemental, but I bet he was from a lower economic background, and had never been to opulent clubs like ours. He seemed a little unsure about how to go about, especially table etiquettes. He appeared a little lost in our club, and needless to say it was Shantanu sir who always paid the bill. His companion was once shocked to see the prices in our menu, but gradually he relaxed to some extent.”.” Can you give us Pradeep Jha’s contact information, please?”.           

* * *

“Mr. Jha were you in a relationship with Mr. Shantanu Shukla?”. “Yes. We were in a relationship for over a year. But we broke it off a few months back, both Shantanu and I felt we had fallen out of love with each other. And we didn’t want to continue being together, but we parted on good terms. Shantanu even joined my date and I for drinks, a few weeks back.”. “Would you know his current partner?”. “Not by name, no. But he was this young fellow – he looked like a blue-collar worker. Rather surprising for Shantanu.”. “Would you know where Shantanu met him?”. “If I’m not mistaken, he met him in some club he used to visit – the guy worked there. That’s the only way he could gain entry in the club. But I think Shantanu was breaking off with him. A couple of times, Shantanu appeared harassed when I met him in the club.”.” When did this happen?”. “Sometime in the last ten days or so. Let me think, last to last Sunday, yeah. I met Shantanu in ‘Down a notch’, and we were having drinks together. Shantanu opened up to me. He said his current relationship was a rebound one. And he shouldn’t have got involved and was going to end it. We had a lot to drink and got sloshed, one thing led to another, and we ended up in bed, again. Shantanu realised, as did I, that we still possessed strong feelings for each other, and he told me that he was going to break it off with the boy. We just met once after that, as Shantanu wanted to make an official break before we resumed our relationship. It’s been emotionally very upsetting to realise I’m never going to see Shantanu again. I am completely heartbroken.”. “We’re so sorry for your loss, sir. Sorry to ask you, but could you give us any more information about Shantanu’s previous partner?”.” Oh I think he worked in the club that Shantanu frequented for swimming.”.

Chapter 7: A full circle.  

“So a full circle eh? Shantanu met his lover in the club, and he died – either by accident or intention in the club. We know that sometime while leaving his office till he dived in the pool, someone managed to get peanuts on Shantanu. The fact that mint was used makes me believe this was a planned act. “. Why? How does presence of mint solidify the murder theory for you?”. “Peanuts – in oil or raw form have a characteristic smell, and Shantanu would have easily smelt it, knowing how finicky he was, and would have avoided the touch or ensured he washed it off. The fact that a person who is as fastidious about his food allergies like Shantanu could be fooled into coming into contact with it, means that it was intentional. Mint’s aroma is stronger than that of peanuts, and it can camouflage a lot of odours, and I think that is why it was used – to suppress the peanut smell, so Shantanu could get it on his person.”. “Makes sense, but how was it found in his eyes?”. “I think the killer took a very calculated risk – say, he or she managed to get it on Shantanu’s hands, and when he took a shower, before putting on his goggles, he did what all of us do – wipe the water off our eyes. That act of wiping his eyes, made sure the peanut – powder, possibly, got into his eyes and the rest is history.” “But it was a huge risk. What if he had used soap during his shower and or didn’t rub his eyes? “.”True, it could have gone that way. But knowing that Shantanu was a creature of habit it would have been easy to predict his moves. Also as a thumb rule, people just take a water shower before they get into a pool. The soap factor comes into play after they are done – to wash away the chlorine. Also, if it were peanut powder mixed in mint oil, the oil will not be washed away by water – it needs soap to be taken off. The murderer took into account Shantanu’s daily routine and used it against him. It was a well thought of a plan, and now we need to find the person who did it.”. “Yea, let us go to the club to find the lover boy!”. 

* * *

“Mr. Mahesh, can you please provide us a list of all the employees of the club, and please mark the ones who’ve had any interaction with Mr. Shantanu Shukla.”. “Why Inspector Rahul? Has there been any developments that point towards the club?”. “No, Mr. Mahesh. We routinely verify everyone who was in contact with Mr. Shukla, to build a more accurate picture of his movements and interactions. By when can we expect the report?”.

* * *

“So, going by the report submitted, there are four candidates in the right age group who have had interactions with Shantanu. Jayesh Patil, Binoy Dutta, Sougat Singh, and Philip Mathew. We need to talk to all of them to understand which of these men was Shantanu’s last partner.”.

Chapter 8: May-December romance.  

“Binoy, were you in a relationship with Mr. Shantanu?”. “Huh Me? No, I have joined the club a few months back and my flag doesn’t fly in that direction, I’m heterosexual.  I didn’t have all that many interactions with Mr. Shantanu as I was a waiter in the club’s restaurant. I was almost invisible – who notices waiters, though Mr. Shantanu was never rude, but he barely ever spoke to me.”. “Thank you Binoy.”

“One down, three to go, Supriya.”. “Yeah, let’s talk to the others before we break for samosas.”.  

“Jayesh, we have witnesses that prove that you had a relationship with Mr. Shantanu Shukla. What do you want to say?”, Rahul bluffed. Jayesh Patil started sweating, “No, sir. I hardly ever spoke to Shantanu sir, I was just the pool attendant, and he would barely cast a glance at me. I’m in love with Meena, the cleaning lady. You can quiz her about it. We’ve been having an affair for the last one year but we can’t disclose it as Mahesh sir is very strict. He claims he can sniff out relationships anywhere, but he failed to catch his own son, licking the heels of rich guys. Hah, stopping me from loving Meena!”. Supriya and Rahul shared a quick meaningful look, “What do you mean about Mahesh’s son?”. Jayesh looked nervously around him, “Sir, don’t take my name, please. Mahesh’s sir son swings both ways, I think. He’s always lapping around the rich dudes at the club, ingratiating himself, and Mahesh sir turns a blind eye towards it. I think he was genuinely not aware that Gautam was Shantanu’s new toy boy!”. 

“Well, well, well. Right under our noses. A talk is certainly overdue with Mr. Gautam!”. 

* * *

“Mr. Gautam, please tell us about your connection with Mr. Shukla.”. “What connection? I knew him as a member of the club where my father works, and I occasionally visit. I don’t have any relationship with him.”. “Ah! Mr Kohli at the ‘Down a notch’ club sings a different tune.  He confirmed it was you via your photograph, and that you’ve been dining with Mr. Shantanu in the club, and using the rooming facilities.”. “Oh! Yes, yes, I used to have dinner with Shantanu in the club. And we would retire to the rooms and we used to talk.”. Rahul raised an eyebrow at that statement. “Okay. Okay. We were lovers – Shantanu and I. We met at the club, and Shantanu took a liking to me and expressed his interest. It was through him that I could explore so much in life, see so many new places, have varied experiences. Shantanu was a kind, gentle man, he was very generous in all aspects. He was clear, and upfront from the very beginning, this wasn’t a relationship that would culminate in anything. It was an in-between kind of an affair. I learnt a lot about myself from him, and even though we were a May-December romance, we had genuine feelings for each other.”. “If you had so much of love and respect for Shantanu, why did you kill him?”. “What rubbish? Why would I kill him?”. “Clear motive, revenge. Shantanu jilted you and you sought revenge. You wanted to punish him for dropping you like a hot potato. That’s why, in cold blood, you killed him – by poisoning him with peanuts.”. Gautam looked at the two inspectors with an incredulous expression, “That’s sheer nonsense. Yes, Shantanu and I spoke about ending our relationship a week or so back, as he still loved Pradeep. It was because of him, I became aware of my sexuality and didn’t fear it anymore. We, each got what we wanted from the relationship – there were no hard feelings between us.  And he was sponsoring my college fees. This Sunday, we had our first college picnic, and I was so excited to show the pictures to Shantanu, when I heard about his death from my father. It crushed me, I lost my mentor.”  

Chapter 9: A fourth angle in the triangle.  

“It’s back to square one, Supriya. I checked Gautam’s alibi and he and some 200 other college kids were together in Harihareshwar, there’s no way he could have made it back in time to murder Shantanu, unless he outsourced it, but that idea seems rather farfetched.”. “I agree. We need to strip our minds of everything, and take a look at the murder book with fresh eyes. Something’s bound to pop up. But first stop, the corner shop. Let’s get some soul food.”. “Colour me shocked! You’re getting your own samosas and tea?”. “Oh shush! Rahul, come on, my treat today.”    

* * *

“So, till Shantanu left his office, he hadn’t ingested peanuts in any form. As per Dr. Suresh’s report, keeping in mind Shantanu’s level of allergy and its response time, the only place where he could have been infected is the club. Let’s talk to the manager and receptionists, again.”. 

* * *

“Ms. Anagha, can you tell us what happened on 1st January when Mr. Shantanu came for a swim and where were you at that time?”. “Yes, ma’am. I was manning the front desk when sir came in by 3.00 pm. Mahesh sir informed him about the lifeguard’s unavailability and spoke to him about his membership renewal with the club. Shantanu sir signed the form after reading it, and then he and Mahesh sir shook hands. Shantanu sir hesitated for a brief second before he shook Mahesh sir’s hand. It was a little weird.”. “Why was it strange?”. “Usually, the renewal related issues are handled by Shantanu sir’s assistant, Ms. Aashna. In all my four years, this was the first time I saw Mahesh sir ask him about it. Shantanu sir was irritated about the delay, as he was eager to swim. Before his handshake with Mahesh sir, he looked at him with a strange expression but eventually did shake Mahesh sir’s hand before going into the pool.”. “What made this incident different from their usual encounters?”.” I didn’t initially think too much about it as I was under the impression that Shantanu sir had drowned in the pool. But while talking to you, I realized that Shantanu sir appeared a little put off with Mahesh, and it made me feel – I feel stupid saying it – as Mahesh sir wanted to shake hands with Shantanu sir. There was an unspoken tension between them, and it appeared to me that there was a fleeting expression of annoyance on Shantanu’s sir face. I don’t really know, sir.  I could be wrong about it, too.”.

“Rahul, the other receptionist has corroborated Anagha’s reading of the situation There was something between Shantanu and Mahesh. Could it be about his son having an affair with Shantanu and Mahesh had just learnt of it? Let’s talk to Mahesh, again.”.

“Mr. Mahesh, we have spoken to several employees, and they all seem to agree on two details – One, Shantanu Shukla appeared miffed with you. And, two, you seemed eager to shake hands with him. Why was that?”. “This is quite a silly line of questioning, inspector. I am the manager of the club, it’s my duty to meet and greet the guests.”. “Fair enough. What made you bypass the usual membership renewal procedure and talk to Shantanu about it?”. “Again, it’s my job to ensure these administrative tasks are performed. We have to generate cash flows, madam.”. “Why was it important that you perform this renewal, personally?”. “Nothing special. I do it for all our guests.” “Do you personally speak to all your guests about renewal of their memberships? Is it a normal course of action for you?”. Mahesh got flustered, “Yes. No. I don’t always do it myself, as we have an administrative division that handles this, since Mr. Shantanu was an old client, I thought he may be pleased with the personalized attention.”. Rahul changed tracks, “Did you know your son, Gautam was having an affair with Shantanu? That they dated and stayed over at the Down a notch club? That they were lovers?”. Mahesh’s face darkened with anger, “Yes. I was recently made aware of it.”. “Who informed you?”. “My employee, Jayesh. I confronted my son about it, and he openly admitted to it. He said that Shantanu had opened up avenues for him, initiated him into new experiences.”, he spat on the floor, “What the man did was sheer seduction of my son, and turned him into a homosexual. My son, before he met Shantanu Shukla, was a normal boy. Now he has stars in his eyes, and he talks down to me – as if he’s superior to me. His mother has been crying her eyes out when Gautam told her that he doesn’t plan to get married to a girl and that he…he wants to date other men. I was so disgusted by him and his statements, and it is all the fault of that Shantanu. He led my son astray – he made him gay. In our family, no one has ever been gay.”. “You must be really angry with him, right? For deceiving you and your son?”. “Darn right. I was enraged – full of anger. He morally corrupted my son, filled his head with nonsense. And the icing on the cake was Shantanu was even paying for his hoity-toity college. As if I am incapable of fending for my family.”.” You must’ve hated him, right?”.” Oh yes, I wanted to kill him. He, a cradle robber, when I confronted him, laughed in my face. He laughed! He said he was already through with my son, and that he had added value to Gautam’s life. According to him, my middle-class values were strangling the freedom of my child – my own child! That my limited capacity was obstructing my son from fulfilling his destiny, of spreading his wings, and he, Shantanu had shown him the path to success. I couldn’t stand there and let it unfold. I couldn’t let my son turn into a faggot. He had to be saved, Gautam had to be brought back to his senses. And to save him, to give him a chance to live, Shantanu, the spawn of the devil, had to die.”. “What did you do?”. “Oh I planned. I used my limited capacity to good use. I carefully rubbed my fingers in the mixture of peanut powder and mint oil, several times before Shantanu arrived. Then I patted my hands dry with my handkerchief. I ensured that the joints of my fingers had some residual mixture left on them. I used the renewal opportunity to make Shantanu sign the form and force him into shaking my hand. I knew he couldn’t resist; it was his way of one-upmanship. And if the cretin had not rubbed his eyes on that day, I would have tried something different but he had to pay the price for his behaviour. The morally depraved man had to pay for his sins. And he did. My plan was a success, till you people interfered.”.

*  *  *

“Bigotry strikes again, Rahul. A good man’s life was snuffed out to avenge his sexual orientation, as a penance. When has human sacrifice ever been the solution?”. “Supriya, we are taught as a society, it’s acceptable to see a man’s hand curled into a fist, but not embrace the idea, that the same hand can lovingly clasp another man’s hand.”

Natasha Sharma

See detectives Supriya & Rahul in action in the stories below

https://thefictionproject.com/as-you-reap-you-shall-sow/
https://thefictionproject.com/girl-in-the-mirror/

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