-Written By Vartika Sharma Lekhak
(Reading Time: 32 min Approx)
Mr. D’Souza ran after his son, followed by his wife.
‘Jimmy, Jimmy what happened? Have you got mixed up in some funny stuff again?’
Jimmy rushed into his room and collapsed on the bed. To the utmost horror of his father and mother, he broke into a horrible cry.
‘What…what happened? Is everything all right?’ Mrs. D’Souza spoke with a mixture of compassion and fear.
‘She is dead, this time actually dead…now be happy,’ Jimmy blurted out with a groan.
It took ten minutes for Mr. and Mrs. D’Souza to realize what was he saying. And then in a swift motion, Mrs. D’Souza too slumped on the bed. Her petite frame quivered in a gentle rhythm as her sobs filled the room.
Ten years had passed when Sophie, Jimmy’s sister, had vanished from the lives of D’Souza’s. Though her disappearance had affected mainly Jimmy. When their parents went on their social and pleasure trips, which were quite often, it was Sophie who looked after her brother. From attending his school meetings to arranging surprise birthday parties for him, she had played her role more as his mother than a sister.
But one day she left the house and never returned. It was a week after their parents were back from the Europe trip. In his slam book, Jimmy had found that note, addressed to no one in particular, in which his darling sister had declared her ambition to become a model and thus this bold step to leave home and pursue her dream.
‘Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.’
She had ended the note with a quote from her favourite icon Elvis Presley.
Jimmy, who was just eleven at that time, was all heartbroken. He felt betrayed. He hated his sister for deserting him like this. Why she never told him her dreams, he wondered. Even though she was seven years older than him, but still she was too young to be on her own.
He remembered the night before her disappearance. She had tucked him in the bed and gone for a walk in the lawn.
‘Let me also come, I don’t feel sleepy,’ he had insisted.
‘No, I need to be alone,’ she suddenly snapped at him which was so unlike her. And then sensing his downcast face, she quickly patted him on the cheek and gave one of her bright smiles. She waited there until he fell asleep. In his subconscious, he heard the voices from down the hall, the raised voices of anger, anguish and then banging of the door. Was he dreaming all this, later he wondered? Next day Sophie didn’t come down for breakfast. She was sleeping late, the housekeeper said. He wanted to go to her room check on her but Papa said not to disturb her. When he came back from school, he found her gone. And with her was gone the warmth of the house.
From that day on wards, Mama and Papa started sleeping in separate bedrooms. And one day Papa said that she was dead for them. All these years he kept waiting for her to come back. Or she could have phoned him. But the only news or rather pictures he got of her were on the covers of fashion magazines. And now this phone call.
A knock appeared on the door. Their maid announced the visitor – a Detective.
D’Souza’s came down, followed by badly shaken Jimmy.
‘I am Detective Shaun,’ he spoke without a preamble.
‘It was you on the phone?’ he gestured towards Jimmy, then he turned towards Mr. D’Souza and said, ‘Though an autopsy will confirm the fact, we are certain that your daughter was strangulated, we found her body in room number 102 of Hotel Sunflower.’
A loud gasp escaped Mrs. D’Souza’s lips and before her body could touch the floor, Detective Shaun leaped forward and caught her in arms.
Jimmy was too shocked to react. Her sister died not in some faraway place but in close vicinity. Was that a business trip or she had come finally to meet them all?
She was found dead, strangulated in cold blood on her bed, her luggage lying open, jewellery intact. So, robbery was not the motive. One by one Shaun was crossing out options from his notepad.
Hotel receptionist had informed that there were no messages, no visitors for Miss D’Souza. Her cell phone was clear of any messages except her modelling assignment and few from her friends. He had called up all the numbers but there was no breakthrough. She was quite popular in her field; her success must have become an eyesore for many. The Detective tried to imagine all the scenarios while silently scrutinizing his attendance. He noticed the glance the old man gave to his son. And then his eyes fell on the lady who was watching her husband in a cold, seething way. There were hatred and fear clearly written on her face. Was that a case of some obsessed lover or an illegitimate affair? The bellboy had seen a lanky guy having auburn hair loitering in the gallery. Maybe he was some fan desperate to get a lucky peek.
The D’Souza’s were definitely hiding something. That boy was distraught by the tragedy but father looked all composed and calm, unlike a father who has just got news that his only daughter is murdered in a cold blood. Maybe he is a tough guy. The news came as a shock for mother, more a shock than a grief. There was something fishy here. And why Sophie was staying in a hotel and not in her luxurious home and why nobody knew in her family that she was in town. Were they really unaware?
Is there more to this story which he is missing? He will need to dig into everyone, and this was going to take a hell lot of time. But he was never a man to do the things in a hurry. The department owed me a vacation from quite some time, he thought wistfully as a sly smile formed on his lips.
Jimmy looked at his mother who was sitting on a couch with an old teddy of Sophie. It seems she had aged by ten years in one night. Outside on the lawn, Mr. D’Souza was giving instructions to the staff for the funeral in his usual crisp and solemn manner.
Strict instructions were given to the staff to follow utmost secrecy about the matter. But for this otherwise sleepy town, such tragedy was not only a shock but also a source of gossip, especially when the family involved was one of the prominent ones. The funeral was swarmed with the press and curious onlookers.
Detective Shaun’s eyes narrowed on a man, in his mid-20s, approaching Mr. D’Souza. He noticed the old man’s furrow between the brow deepening into a frown. Then something clicked in his head and he called up the hotel. His suspicion was right. The man matched with the description of that lanky youth outside Sophie’s room on the night of the murder.
Mr. D’Souza turned towards the Detective before he had a chance to surprise them.
‘This is Patrick, Sophie’s fiancé, and Patrick, meet Detective Shaun.’
‘Fiancé? Strange! Why this news was missed out by the Press, who were aware of even the details of Sophie’s first birthday party,’ Shaun asked.
‘Because Sophie always hated paparazzi. She wanted our affair to remain clandestine until we had received blessings from her parents,’ said Patrick. ‘It was only for this purpose we had come to the town. She wanted to surprise her family. The room was booked in her name. I was supposed to join her later.’ Shaun noticed the little tremble in his voice. Was that pain or nervousness?
‘And you reached today?’
‘No…no… I was supposed to reach today but had arrived a day earlier. Actually, I had an important assignment, which had delayed our plans. But it got over early and I thought why not surprise her. I knew where she was staying. So, I went straight to the hotel but she was not in the room. Then I went to the market to buy something, in hurry, I had not got anything for her family. But before I could do anything, all this happened.’
The Detective looked at Mr. D’Souza’s face, there was a flash of loathing in his eyes. Clearly, he didn’t approve of his daughter’s choice. He looked at Patrick, whose gaze was fixed on a wreath in a forlorn manner.
‘Detective, for the world she may be a glamor doll, but I knew how simple….,’ he broke down before he could finish the sentence.
So, the bellboy was right, thought the Detective, Patrick or whatever his real name is, had gone to the hotel. But is he telling the truth that he couldn’t meet Sophie?
Three days had passed without any breakthrough. Newspapers were full of more sensationalized versions of the murder.
Detective Shaun was picking at his brain. That girl was found strangulated. At five feet eleven, she must not have been easy to pin down unless there were two killers or someone of strong built. Now this fiancé. Why had nobody heard of him before? How can it be possible for such a popular girl to have a secret lover?
A knock disturbed his chain of thought.
It was Mrs. D’Souza. Shaun had requested her to see him privately.
‘I am sorry ma’am for disturbing you in such circumstances,’ he said gesturing her towards a seat.
‘I understand Detective’
Even the shades of deep mourning were adding colour to Mrs. D’Souza’s gentle features. Shaun noticed her delicate figure with an admiration. She must have broken many hearts in her younger days, a combination of beauty and wealth. He had learned from town gossip that Mrs. D’Souza was the only child and heiress of her billionaire father. Mr. Dsouza or Ramon was the son of her father’s old pal, who had gone bankrupt. They got married in a simple ceremony. And though it was Mr. D’Souza who ran all the business and had the credit of multiplying it, all the shares and stocks were in his wife’s name.
‘Why you went to see your daughter?’ asked Shaun.
‘Excuse me?’ The colour drained out of her face.
‘You lied, didn’t you?’
Her voice was almost a whisper, ‘How did you know? It must be that thief!’
He picked up the glass of water, ‘Take this. Mrs. D’Souza it is time that you unburden yourself.’
She took a sip from the glass and clasped her fingers around it as if the glass was giving her some kind of strength to go on. She began.
‘I was never in love with Ramon, my husband. He has also known that. I had always wanted to get married to David but when I told my father about it he refused. Ramon was his first choice, some silly promise he had made to his friend and I was that goat to be sacrificed for the sake of his selfish vow,’ she sneered at the bitter memory.
‘He threatened to put David in jail, he had power.’ Shaun stared at her with amusement. She was not making any attempt to hide the contempt for her father. So much was boiling beneath her gentle manners.
‘In spite of all my pleading and revolt, I was married off in a hush-hush ceremony. But I had won in my own way. I was pregnant with Sophie, David’s child.’
‘Ha…Ha,’ she laughed like a wild woman, ‘and everybody thought that it was Ramon’s child.’
She took another sip and continued, ‘It was the day after we were back from a trip. For the sake of children, we had kept a pretence of the happy family. But that day I could hold it no longer. I had come to know from a friend that Ramon was cheating on me. There was not one, but many women. In a fit of rage, I told that scoundrel the truth, that he is not her father. And he said that he always had this suspicion but now that he knows the truth, he cannot live with Sophie in the same house. I told him to leave instead.’
‘Little did I know that Sophie was listening to our conversation. For my sins, my poor child had paid the price. Hurt and dejected, she left the house that very night. After that, I tried to bring her back, but Ramon blackmailed me that he will take Jimmy away from me.’
‘For ten years I had kept a heavy stone over my heart but then I decided that I wouldn’t let my past ruin my daughter’s future. So, I had phoned her a week back and asked her to come and see me for something important. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I had secretly transferred fifty percent share of my property in her name and I went to the hotel to give her that share.
I waited outside the hotel for an opportune moment. There was no one at the reception and then I saw a man coming out of the hotel. For a moment I thought he was Ramon, but he had auburn hair and a beard. I was terrified and I had almost given up. But I waited for five more minutes and went inside when no one was around. I knocked on Sophie’s door but there was no reply. I had forgotten to bring my mobile and I didn’t want to call up from reception because it’s a small town and everybody knows us here and any gossip might create a scandal. I thought she must have fallen to sleep, so I returned.’
‘You saw a man?’
‘Yes, I couldn’t see his face clearly…’
‘Do you remember, what time it was?’
‘Somewhere around 9.15.’
‘…And Sophie was killed between 9 to 10.’
So, was that the killer whom Mrs. D’Souza saw in the lobby?
It was going to be a long night, thought Shaun. Three hours had passed and still no sign of his prey. It was not hard to trace Patrick’s history. A failure in career, business, and family. Patrick lived off courtesy his lady admirers. A risky choice for an established woman who could have had hundreds of accomplished guys lined up for her. Then why him, what did she find irresistible in this man who had nothing to offer but a handsome face and body.
He woke up from these thoughts by the sound of the car engine. Patrick climbed out of a shining BMW and a leggy beauty came out from the co-driver side. Shaun was wondering how come Mrs. D’Souza mistook his well-cut body with her husband’s rather slack appearance.
‘Isn’t it too early for a man to find another love interest when he should be ideally bereaving the death of his loved one’, Shaun said blocking Patrick’s way.
‘Who the… Oh, you!’ His voice shook for a moment and then he recovered. ‘Well everyone has their own way of dealing with their sorrows and what is the better way’, he gestured towards his companion with a wink, ‘than this.’
‘Nice car. I can see you have a taste in things,’ Shaun said without taking his eyes off Patrick’s face.
‘It’s …it is borrowed from a friend.’ A note of nervousness was unmistakable in his voice.
There was something he had missed. Shaun was sitting in his office staring at the pictures of the crime scene. There was something odd there, something not fitting in the story.
There is a mother who wants to transfer half her property in her love child’s name.
A father who is rich but not rich, a father who is actually not the father!
A fiancé who is so secretive and yet so flamboyant.
He checked the cell phone of Sophie once again. No clue, no message there. None of her friends knew anything about her engagement.
‘Yes, that’s what it is,’ Shaun jumped out of his chair.
In ten minutes, he was in Patrick’s room in hotel Sunflower. As he was one of the suspects, he was told not to leave the town till the time investigation is not over.
Shaun was not surprised to see his packed bags.
Bird to flee, he thought, drawing out his revolver.
Patrick emerged from the bathroom and froze at the sight of the Detective.
‘I didn’t do anything, I swear’
‘How much money you have received’, said Shaun, ‘It is in your best interest that you start talking right now or I will arrest you for misleading the police and murder’
Then the story came out and Shaun was not surprised.
Next day tabloids had the feast of their life. Town’s wealthiest man arrested in charge of murdering his daughter along with the alleged fiancé as the partner in crime
Detective Shaun was having a cup of coffee at D’Souza’s.
Mrs. Dsouza was sitting in an armchair. The strain of past weeks turbulence was showing on her face. She had requested him to join her for a cup of coffee.
‘I first got suspicious when I found no messages, no phone number or some photo in Sophie’s purse,’ began Shaun. ‘Aren’t girls excited and mooned over to keep at least some symbol of their beau, however, clandestine the affair may be.’
‘Bellboy had given me the description of a man with auburn hair and a beard. It fits with Patrick’s profile and then he also admitted going to the hotel at precisely the same hour.’
‘Then you told me that you mistook this auburn-haired man with your husband for a moment. I thought about it, your husband and Patrick have completely different body shape, so if you had seen real Patrick you wouldn’t have ever mistaken him to be Ramon. And if you had seen real Patrick that day coming out of Hotel then you should have recognized him at the funeral too.’
‘But none of these things happened, that means there was some mix-up’
‘You saw your husband that day, wearing a wig and a beard and if he was there then why did Patrick lie?’
‘We have coerced confession out of him. He told that your husband had given him money to give that statement. And the lie that he was Sophie’s fiancé bought him an excuse to be in the hotel. But what they missed was planting some sign of an affair.’
‘This is what I wondered too that why Sophie never told me about this engagement, I thought she didn’t tell me because she was still angry with me,’ exclaimed Mrs. D’Souza.
‘Your husband had learned about your intentions to transfer the property in your daughter’s name and he had been keeping a close eye on you. When you had phoned Sophie, he eavesdropped you on the intercom.’
‘And he murdered her in cold-blood so that there is no illegitimate claimant to the property. But he had the bad luck of running into a bellboy in the lobby. And to justify his presence he brought this guy Patrick into the picture in last minute.’
“Oh my god, I never loved him but I had never imagined that he was capable for such thing!’, wailed Mrs. D’Souza, ‘Poor Sophie, she suffered so much just because of me!’