A Ding dong bell excerpt
His eyes were cold and lifeless as he stared at me.
“You have no idea who I am, do you?”
“I spoke to you over the phone, just last week. Your boss, the Police Superintendent, spoke to you, too. I was right there. He gave you my full name and told you that I had the clearance to see all the files of the case. You assured him that you would give me your full co-operation. Yet, now that I’m here, all the way from Mumbai, you’re giving me all this crap.”
The fat man in the khaki uniform rolled his eyes.
“The case is closed, madam. Why do you want to know about it?”
I blew out a frustrated breath.
“I know it’s closed. I want to write a book about it. So, please, can I see the files?”
“The files are buried, madam. Don’t waste your time,” he said, with a dismissive nod.
This wasn’t working, and losing my cool with this…this…buffoon was not going to help. I should have known. The journey so far, had been very easy, too easy. Nothing in life is ever easy, nothing that truly matters. And this mattered. I had quit my job to write a book about a story that I’d heard about a million times from my best friend, Kriti Rathore – the serial killings in the erstwhile princely state of Rajgarh. There were five deaths, four in the palace itself, and one in the village. To this day, no one knew who the killer was.
Going through the files of this investigation was just the first step. It wasn’t enough to turn into a book, though. I had to speak to the royal family, and that was going to be a doozy. Apart from Kriti, I didn’t know anyone in the family, and God knows, ever since Kriti’s mother ran away with a penniless pilot, they had no reason to entertain anyone she recommended. These royals could really hold a grudge.
I took a deep breath and started over. I walked out of the cabin and fished out my phone, to call the Police Superintendent.
“Good morning Sir. This is Aisha Kulkarni. Yes, that’s right. I’m at the police station, actually. But, the Inspector doesn’t seem to remember the conversation you had with him. That would be great, Sir. I’ll just pass the phone to him. Thank you so much.”
I walked back in, and thrust the phone at the Inspector.
“Superintendent Sahab wants to talk to you,” I said, with a sweet smile.
He jumped up and grabbed the phone.
“Sir! Yessir! Yessir! Okay Sir!”
Whatever the Superintendent told him had obviously lit a fire under his bum. He ended the call and sheepishly handed the phone to me.
“Sorry madam, I didn’t realise…” he stammered.
It was my turn to roll my eyes.
“It’s okay, Inspector Soni. Can I see the files please?” I just wanted to get on with work. There wasn’t any point in rubbing it in, not if I wanted him to co-operate.
Now, he was eager to please.
“Yes madam. Please give me five minutes.”
He rang the bell and a minion appeared.
“Oi! Open the big cupboard in the file room and dig out the file about that serial murder case,” he ordered.
The minion gulped and looked from him to me and back again.
“Sahab, you mean the palace murders?”
“Yes, that one,” Inspector Soni replies, impatiently.
“But…sir… Rani Ma….” he hesitated.
My ears perked up. Inspector Soni was getting irritated.
“What about Rani Ma?”
The minion swallowed and tried again.
“Well sir, last time, after … well, Rani Ma said that the case was closed and they didn’t want to discuss it ever again. She ordered us to bury the files really deep, and, we buried the files at the bottom of the cupboard.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. You could abolish privy purses and take away official recognition of royal titles. But, the feudal mindset of the locals meant that local cops danced to the royal tune, even in a murder investigation. Cops who were born and bred in Rajgarh, still preferred to take their orders from the elderly Rani Ma.
Inspector Soni was red in the face.
“I know what Rani Ma said. But, Superintendent Sahab wants us to show the files to this madam. Just do as you’re told.”
He was shouting at his minion, to cover up the fact that his department had abandoned a murder investigation on the say-so of a local royal.
Inspector Soni was getting redder in the face, and the minion was getting paler. This was taking us nowhere.
“Please calm down, both of you,” I soothed.
I turned to the minion.
“Can you tell me exactly what happened?”
He shuffled from one foot to the other.
“It’s like this, madam, when Raja Sahab…well…after he died, Rani Ma was very upset.”
“I get that. Her husband had just died. But, why did she interfere in the investigation?”
Inspector Soni was calmer now, so, he took over the tale.
“Actually, madam, Raja Sahab died under mysterious circumstances.”
My eyes opened wide. There was no mention of this, either in the newspapers or on the internet. All I knew was that the last death occurred in 1980, and then, the trail went cold.
Inspector Soni leaned forward.
“Madam, this is something that the family wanted to hush up, so, please be discreet. Raja Sahab did not die of a heart attack.”
“Really? But, that’s the cause of death on his Wikipedia page,” I argued.
“Yes ma’am. But, the truth is, he shot himself…in the head.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes ma’am. I’ve seen the photos and read all about the case. There was a suicide note, where he confessed. And after that, there were no more murders. Obviously, Rani Ma didn’t want this to get out. The people of Rajgarh loved their Raja Sahab. She didn’t want to tarnish his memory. So, the investigating officer, who, by the way, was the son of one of the guards of the royal family, decided to close the case.”
I sat back, feeling dazed.
“So, you guys knew all along that the old Raja was a serial killer. But, his grand daughter doesn’t know that. How come?”
“Ma’am, they aren’t in contact with the family at all. Raja Sahab cut all ties with his daughter when she eloped with that pilot. Then, she died young, before the killings started. Maybe, that’s why they don’t know all this.”
I ran my fingers through my hair. So, my big career plans just went down the drain. I had come all the way for nothing. My mother’s words rang in my ear.
“Think before you act, Aisha! You’re so impulsive. What if this book doesn’t work out? Don’t give up your job yet. Can’t you work on this book in your free time? Then, if it takes off, you can think about writing full-time.”
Did I listen to her? As usual, no! If I had, I wouldn’t be in this sorry situation. Giving up my job to do a story on a series of murders, without knowing that the killer had already confessed.
Inspector Soni cleared his throat.
“Actually, ma’am, this is why I wasn’t very helpful, earlier. I didn’t want to rake it all up again. We still try to protect the image of our beloved royal family. Rani Ma does so much for our people. We don’t like to hurt her.”
“That’s okay, Inspector Sahab,” I replied wearily.
“If you don’t mind, can I still have a look at the files?”
He hesitated a bit, and then, nodded at his minion.
A few minutes later, the minion returned with an armful of red files, tied together. They hadn’t been opened for years, and when he set it down, a cloud of dust flew into my face. Once it settled, I picked up a paper that fell out. It was the suicide note, laminated, but, yellowed with age. I read the note.
I’m sorry. Something made me do it, but, I don’t want to keep doing it. This is the only way to protect my people.
“Umm… this is typewritten.”
“So, how can you be sure that Raja Sahab wrote this?”
“Madam, It has his signature and his seal,” he replied, like he was explaining this to a child.
I felt deflated. I was just grasping at straws, but, I knew when I had been licked. It was a shoddy investigation. But, how do you fight a confession like that, and why would you? The cops were just happy that the killings had stopped and that the killer confessed and shot himself, saving them the trouble of a full investigation . I picked up my bag and thanked them, before I walked out of the police station, dejected.
I had to call Kriti to tell her all this. The poor girl was shocked out of her mind.
“What the hell! How is this even possible, Aisha?”
“It’s true, babes. I saw the note.”
“But… I just can’t believe it. I never got to meet him, because Dad was really hurt at the way he treated Ma when she ran away with Dad. But, from what Ma told me, he was an awesome guy. He was like a local hero and his people loved him. How can such a man be a serial killer?”
“No idea, love. That’s how it was, though.”
“What will you do? Will you apply for your old job?”
“No way! My number-crunching days are over. Maybe I’ll write a book on how not to mess up your life by being impulsive,” I joked.
I dreaded going home empty-handed. There was a long line of people waiting to say, “I told you so”, starting with my old boss. On the sixteen hour train ride home, I fired up my laptop. Then, I deleted all the notes on the Rajgarh serial murders. There was no point in looking at this stuff again, so, I just gave up and went back home.
And then, the killings started all over again.
This is an excerpt from the Ding Dong Bell story. Do check out the prologue to this story.
I wrote this story for Writing Wednesday on The Frangipani Creative.