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Vikram Rana Investigates: Tales of Murder and Deception in Hyderabad, page 1

 

Vikram Rana Investigates: Tales of Murder and Deception in Hyderabad
 


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Vikram Rana Investigates: Tales of Murder and Deception in Hyderabad


  VIKRAM RANA INVESTIGATES

  A Novel by

  Sharmishtha Shenoy

  The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright ©2016 by Sharmishtha Shenoy

  All rights reserved, including rights to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  First edition May 2016.

  Second edition April 2017

  Dedicated to Sanjiv Shenoy –

  my biggest supporter, my inspiration, and my life.

  Acknowledgements

  Profound and heartfelt thanks to Mr Ruskin Bond who inspired me to write this book. He taught me that if you believe in yourself, you will succeed one day or other.

  I would also like to thank Manoj Vijayan for producing such a lovely cover design.

  Equally important contributor to this book is Patricia B Smith, my editor who encouraged and guided this first time author so well. I would have given up without her support.

  I would also like to thank my beta readers Vrinda Baliga, Sushma Chepuri, Monidipa Sinha Chowdhury and Sudarshan Sanyal, for suffering through my first drafts and still encouraging me. I would also like to thank Rahul Basu and other friends in Bengalis in Hyderabad like Abhisek Dhar, Soumalya Chakraborty and many others who have helped me, supported me and guided me every step of the way. Thanks, Mousumi Sharma for believing in me.

  This acknowledgement would be incomplete without thanking my mother Sabita Rai Choudhury and my husband Subraya, who sincerely believe that I am the greatest writer in the whole world.

  Last but not the least, I would like to thank fellow author Neil D’Silva for helping, guiding, and supporting me in publishing this book.

  Contents

  ~ Episode 1 ~

  The Mysterious Affair at the Lohia Mansion

  Prologue

  Introduction

  Vikram Rana

  Kiara Lohia

  Rohan Lohia

  Vikram Interviews Lakshmi

  A Meeting with the Governess

  Discussion with Rohan

  Gaurav Lohia and the Kids

  Another Meeting with Juhi

  Kinshuk Lohia

  A Meeting with the Suranas and Dr Shetty

  Rohan Lohia

  Vikram Introspects

  Another Meeting with Lakshmi

  Juhi

  Lakshmi Talks to Gaurav

  Epilogue

  ~ Episode 2 ~

  The Sonia Sinha Case

  Prologue

  Krishna Mohan Dhavala

  Pavel Raju

  Mrs Kamini Dhavala

  Bilas, the Driver

  Sonia Sinha and a List of Suspects

  NIT Warangal

  Mrs Janaki Papula

  Ms Khushi Papula and another Meeting with Kamini

  A Black Alto

  A Confrontation

  TLC for Vikram

  To my Readers…

  About the author

  A Season for Dying(excerpt)

  ~ Episode 1 ~

  The Mysterious Affair at the Lohia Mansion

  Prologue

  In the middle of the night, Kinshuk Lohia was shaken awake by his uncle, Rohan Lohia. The agitation on his face at once told Kinshuk that something was seriously wrong.

  ‘What’s the matter?’ Kinshuk asked, sitting up in bed, and trying to collect his scattered thoughts.

  ‘Your mother is very ill. She seems to be having some kind of fit. Unfortunately, she has locked herself in.’

  ‘I will come at once.’

  Kinshuk sprang out of bed and followed his uncle, Rohan along the passage to his mother Richa’s bedroom.

  Rohan’s wife, Kiara joined them along with Richa’s personal maid Lakshmi and two more servants. Everyone seemed to be in a state of awestricken fear.

  Kinshuk turned to his uncle, ‘What should we do? Father is not here.’

  Never had Kinshuk’s weak nature been more apparent, Rohan thought in distaste. Rohan rattled the handle of his sister-in-law Richa’s door violently, but with no effect. The whole household was aroused by now. The most alarming sounds were audible from the interior of the locked bedroom. Clearly something must be done.

  ‘Try going through Gaurav bhaiya’s bedroom,’ cried Lakshmi. ‘Oh, poor Richa didi.’

  They went through her husband Gaurav’s room to the connecting door. That was also locked from inside. What was to be done?

  ‘Hey, Bhagwan,’ Lakshmi started crying loudly, wringing her hands, ‘What shall we do?’

  ‘We must break the door open, I suppose,’ Rohan turned towards Kiara and continued, ‘Why don’t you call Dr. Agnihotri?’

  Rohan and Kinshuk heaved together. The door was solid. For a long time it resisted their efforts but at last, with a resounding crash, it burst open.

  They stumbled in together. Mrs Richa Lohia was lying in her bed, having seizures. In her agony, she must have overturned her bedside table. As they entered, her limbs relaxed and she fell back on her pillow. The violence of the seizure seemed to be passing. She was able to speak in short gasps.

  ‘I cannot see properly,’ she complained. Rohan and Kinshuk looked at each other helplessly.

  A strangled cry from the bed startled them. A fresh bout of pain had seized Richa. The seizures were terrible to behold. At that moment Dr Agnihotri, who lived nearby, pushed his way into the room authoritatively. At the same instant, Richa cried, ‘Rohan… Rohan...’. Then she fell back motionless on the pillows.

  The doctor seized her arms and worked them energetically, applying artificial respiration. He issued a sharp order for an ambulance to be called immediately, but the expression on his face told them that he had little hope of the patient surviving.

  1

  Introduction

  It was 8 o’clock in the morning. Vikram Rana, an ex-cop turned private investigator, was waiting for his wife Veena to give him some breakfast. He was wearing a dressing gown over his pyjamas, and picked up the newspaper which the paperboy had thrown into the balcony.

  Vikram was in his late thirties. He had been born and brought up in Hyderabad. Over six feet tall, he had an athletic build. He swam for at least an hour three times a week and jogged for forty-five minutes every day. He was also a yoga addict. All this helped keep him trim and healthy. With his macho good looks, Vikram had been quite a lady-killer before his marriage. Like George Clooney, he was becoming more and more handsome with age. After leaving the police force, he opened his own detective agency, but was still waiting for his first case. He had converted a ground floor room in his home into an office.

  He picked up the newspaper and was shocked to read the headlines blaring the news of noted socialite Richa Lohia’s death.

  Vikram was highly interested in this news, as the victim was the sister-in-law of Rohan Lohia, his childhood friend. He had attended the same school as Rohan and Gaurav Lohia. Rohan, Gaurav’s younger brother, had been his classmate while Gaurav had been his senior by three years.

  In fact, Rohan and Vikram still met occasionally at the Secunderabad Club where both men were members. Though he was not familiar with the other Lohia family members, his friendship with Rohan was an enduring one. He was pondering whether he should call Rohan to find out more when his cell phone rang. It was Rohan.

  ‘Hi Rohan. I just saw the news and was about to call yo
u. What happened?’

  ‘I do not want to talk over the phone. Why don’t you come over?’

  Vikram reviewed what he knew about his friend’s family. Rahul Lohia, the noted steel magnate and Gaurav’s and Rohan’s father, was a self-made man who had built the business empire his sons were now helming after his death. Like many first-born sons of wealthy families, Gaurav had been born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. After completing his MBA from the London School of Economics, he had taken over from his father in a completely efficient manner. He had been married to Richa Bajaj, daughter of the noted minister, Chetan Bajaj. Everyone knew it was more of a business deal cemented cynically by marriage between the two families. Whatever the reason for the marriage, Gaurav and Richa appeared to be happily married and had three children, two sons and a daughter, thus ensuring the continuity of the family business.

  Richa was known to be an excellent hostess. She and Gaurav gave regular parties, which were very exclusive; only the rich and the famous were invited. The papers were always lyrical about the special relationship shared by husband and wife, and revelled in how their marriage only got better with age, which was so rare in high society. Richa, the lady who had been found dead, was beautiful and smart. She had been very popular in elite social circles and played an active role in Gaurav’s business ventures.

  All this went through Vikram’s mind as he dressed and then got into his car to drive down to the Lohia house in Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad. It was an address of the rich and famous… movie stars, politicians, celebrity cricketers and tennis players. But the 14-year-old car, which had been his father’s, refused to start. Feeling outraged at this betrayal by his trusted car, he walked out of the gate of his house and flagged an auto. The auto refused to even stop. Feeling angrier by the minute, he walked for the next ten minutes before he could find another auto. This auto stopped, but when he asked whether it would take him to Jubilee Hills, the auto driver asked for Rs. 500. Vikram spluttered and asked, ‘Do you know that I was a cop?’

  The auto driver sneered and said, ‘Well, you are an ex-cop so you probably cannot afford to shell out Rs 500,’ and drove off in a cloud of toxic fumes. Coughing, Vikram wished he had the presence of mind to note down the registration number of the auto. But it was too late. Finally, after walking for another fifteen minutes he found an honest auto driver who agreed to take him to Jubilee hills as per the meter. He got in thankfully and soon reached the Lohia estate.

  The paparazzi were gathered in front of the huge gate. Security was having a tough time controlling the crowd. Rohan must have informed Security he was coming because after he produced his visiting card, Vikram was quickly allowed inside the house.

  The Lohia estate was a paradise that embraced terraced lawns, formal gardens, and a swimming pool. Vikram did not like such ostentatiousness. Whenever he came across one of these gold-plated billionaire’s playgrounds, Vikram’s pitiful bank balance poked its head up and jeered at him. The drive up to the house was a winding avenue of trees, and on the way, he could see flowerbeds packed with bright coloured flowers. The avenue opened out onto a stretch of open area on which were parked five or six cars. The smallest of them was a yellow Porsche. Two chauffeurs were washing a Bentley as if their lives depended on it.

  To the right of the parking lot was the house, a majestic affair of about twelve bedrooms. The main house was comprised of two storeys. One could easily drive a ten-ton truck though its front door.

  On ringing the bell, Vikram was shown into the drawing room by a maid. Rohan was sitting with Inspector Gopi Reddy. Vikram Rana had worked closely with Gopi Reddy while on the police force and they knew each other very well.

  Vikram looked at Rohan with compassion. Rohan looked exhausted and dishevelled. ‘I am sorry to hear about Richa,’ he commiserated. Rohan gave him a wan smile and said, ‘Yes, it was tough to see her in so much pain. And Gaurav not being here did not help matters.’

  Inspector Reddy shook his hand and asked him to take a seat.

  Vikram asked, ‘Has Gaurav been informed?’

  ‘He has been informed. He has chartered a flight and will come as soon as possible.’

  Rohan then looked at the other person sitting by his side and introduced him as Mr. Kiran Dalal, the family lawyer.

  The Inspector said, ‘Rohan told us that you will help with the investigation. Let us cooperate with each other and solve this at the earliest. I am so glad that you are here to help us. Rohan was just about to describe what happened.’

  He turned towards Rohan and asked him to begin. The lawyer, Mr. Dalal, cleared his voice as if to make his presence felt and nodded his head to assure Rohan that he was there to support and warn him in case he said something out of turn.

  Rohan said, ‘Our apartment is in the ground floor while Gaurav and his family occupy the first floor. I was sleeping in our ground floor bedroom when we heard Richa screaming as if she was in great agony. I rushed up the stairs to Gaurav’s apartment. They have two servants, Lakshmi and Mala, staying in the servant’s quarters on the first floor. Mala was already coming down to fetch me and we met on the stairs and rushed back up to Richa’s bedroom door. Gaurav had gone to London along with his younger son and daughter. I woke up Kinshuk, who had slept through the noise.

  Anyway the door was locked from inside. So we went to Gaurav’s room as there is a connecting door between Gaurav’s and Richa’s bedrooms. But that door was locked as well. We forcibly broke down her bedroom door. When we entered, she seemed to be having some kind of seizure. She also complained of blurred vision. We called our family physician Dr Agnihotri, but by the time he arrived, she had lost consciousness. The doctor examined Richa and said she had high blood pressure and had suffered a stroke. By the time we rushed her to Apollo Hospital she was dead. Then we learned that the doctors at the hospital suspected that she had been poisoned.’

  Vikram asked, ‘When did Gaurav leave for London?’

  Rohan replied that his brother had left for London just a day earlier.

  Vikram’s next question was about the time of death and this Inspector Gopi Reddy was able to answer.

  ‘She died around 3 a.m. last night. Her body has been sent to the forensic expert for autopsy.’

  Inspector Reddy wanted to inspect the bedroom where the tragedy had taken place. They all trooped upstairs. Mala met them and took them to Richa’s bedroom.

  The bedroom was in a messy condition. Richa must have overturned a bedside table in her agony and all the contents of the table were lying around scattered everywhere. It seemed the table had contained some of her medicines, her spectacles, a jug of water and an idol of Lord Ganesha. The carpet was soaking wet around the area where the water jug had fallen. Fortunately, it had not broken. Vikram bent down and picked up an empty bottle of Nyquil. He looked at Mala and asked, ‘Can you call Richa madam’s personal maid?’

  Mala called the maid, Lakshmi. Vikram noted that Lakshmi was thick at the waist, somewhat hairy of the forearm. She would have crossed sixty but was still physically fit and active.

  Vikram turned to Lakshmi, gave her a disarming smile and asked, ‘Was Madam suffering from a cold?’

  Lakshmi said, ‘Yes Sir. Richa didi was prone to colds and used to take cold relief medicine at night whenever she had a cold. In fact, before she went to her bedroom she asked me to take out a new bottle of Nyquil from the storeroom, but as it was already quite late, she said she had enough for the night and asked me to get the new bottle the next day.’

  With tears in her eyes, Lakshmi continued, ‘Didi was always so considerate.’

  ‘Was Madam in a good mood last night?’ Vikram asked.

  ‘Richa didi was not feeling well initially – possibly because she had the cold. At around 8 pm, after dinner, she took the cold medication. After that she was probably feeling better because she looked quite happy and joked and laughed a lot with the family. After watching television for around an hour, she went to bed.’

 
What did she have for dinner?’

  ‘The entire family always has dinner together. Kinshuk baba and his mother, Rohan Sir and his wife, were all gathered together in the family dining room in the ground floor. They had rice, dal, chicken curry and a salad.’

  ‘What did Richa madam drink with her meal?’ Vikram asked.

  ‘As she had a cold, she had warm water. It was given to her in a jug. As Kinshuk bhai was also not feeling well, he too had the same warm water from the jug with his meal. The rest had cold water from the fridge.’

  ‘What did the servants eat?’

  ‘Sir, there is the cook and two more maids and live-in drivers. They all stay in the separate servants’ quarters on the ground floor. Only Mala and I stay in the first floor servant’s quarters. All of us eat together. We ate the same thing. The general rule is that whatever is cooked is sent to the dining table. Whatever is left over we manage with that.’

  Inspector Reddy looked at Lakshmi. ‘Did Richa Madam regularly take any other medication?’

  Lakshmi said, ‘Other than an occasional cold, she was in good health and at most took a saridon or an antacid, and that too very rarely.’

  Vikram asked, ‘How long you have been working here?’

  ‘Sir, both Mala and I have worked here for more than twenty years. They have taken care of us really well. Arre baba, we are ready to die for them. I became a widow at quite a young age. Richa didi’s mother gave shelter to me and my young son. I worked in Richa didi’s father’s house. Uncleji is a living God.’

  ‘Who is Uncleji?’

  ‘Why Uncleji is Richa didi’s father. Arre, he is a very famous person. Everybody respects him a lot. He is always being shown on television. Uncleji has taken care of my son’s education. I can never repay his debt. I have looked after Richa didi since she was a slip of a girl and I came along with her here to this house after her marriage. But I could not save her life. Hey Bhagavan, why did you not take my life instead?’ Slapping her forehead, she buried her face in the pallu of her saree and started crying softly.

 
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