The past grows gradually around one, like a placenta for dying – John Berger

 So Josh proceeded to tell her and Inspector Goel all about himself. His was a regular story of Indians who went to college in the 90s. Regular in how amazing it was. His parents were modest government employees who had invested in their children’s education and upbringing. The education dividend had never been higher in India than in the second half of the 90s. Going to a top-20 engineering college had ensured he would draw a salary comparable or higher than what his dad earned after a career of distinguished service. Going to the hallowed institution of IIM-Ahmedabad had ensured it tripled from there. The entire country wondered why inexperienced kids out of college were paid these fortunes by corporates who wanted them to sell everything from tea, soft-drinks, stocks, luxury watches and software. Then, believe it or not, things became even crazier in the 2000s. A decade when the world discovered India and foreign investors came to the country in hordes. Qualified talent was in such short supply that salaries began to double every year. By 2008, Josh had already hit every savings target he had ever dreamed off. As the global crisis had its impact on India and workplaces became tough and demanding again, Josh found himself lacking in drive and motivation. A decade and a half of the rat-race had tired him out.  Bored him more than tired him to be honest. His bank account had no problems maintaining his modest lifestyle. Unlike the kids who now joined his company and reported in to him, Josh had not let the wealth and good times affect him or change him. He still travelled by local trains and preferred the local chai stalls to the Coffee Day and Starbucks outlets where people regularly went to buy the world’s finest (and most expensive) coffee. More importantly, unlike most middle-class Indians, Josh had avoided getting into the EMI (Equated Monthly Installments) trap and was debt free. Finally, last year, he had had enough. So he had walked up to his boss, told him he needed a break and was quitting. He had enough goodwill at the firm that the door would always be open for him if he ever wanted to go back. He had called his parents and told them he was coming home. A week later, he was enjoying his mom’s cooking in Dehradun and going for early morning walks. It was a freedom he had not felt for over 10 years. No counting days of holidays, no shortage of time to do whatever he felt like, no accountability. His mom wanted him to meet girls and get married. Previously, he had no way to avoid these meetings and would suffer them till he was able to run back to Mumbai and lose himself in his work. Now he was able to postpone it easily because he told his mom there was no hurry at all. He was going to be around for a bit.  He would simply book train tickets and go to visit whichever friend he wanted to whenever he felt like it. He had attended his best friends’ daughter’s birthday party in Pune, he had gone to visit his schoolmate when he became commanding officer of a regiment in Lucknow, he had even gone and stayed with the family of a girl from his school who he had once had a crush on. The husband turned out to be a rambunctious fellow and they had both hit it off wonderfully. He ended up staying 3 days with them on impulse. It was amazing to be able to do whatever he felt like.

“So where were you on August 3rd last year?  With your parents in Dehradun taking long walks in the forest?” the lady interrupted him. He had got carried away and almost forgotten that he was being interrogated. This lady was clearly one of those who heeded to the old maxim that God had given us two ears and only one mouth. And a whole lot better at this interrogation thing than the monkey with the hammer. The easiest way to catch deception was to interrupt the chronological flow of a liar and ask him about random dates or in reverse sequence. If Josh was lying, he would struggle to keep a story going for too long if he was cross-questioned in random sequence.

“August 3rd, 2013. Well luckily that is one of the days that I can account for very well. I was in Pune. My friend’s daughter, Aruna, had her birthday on the 2nd of August last year but they celebrated it on August 3rd because it was a Saturday. I was with around 20 people and 40 kids playing the clown at a kiddie birthday party. And that is not just a figure of speech. I was really playing the clown with the funny red nose and costume. I even juggled some balls, though not very well to be honest.”

Facebook Status Update “JLo is playing the clown for a bunch of giggly 5-year old girls and loving it” Along with a picture of Josh with a funny red nose. 183 likes. 57 comments. August 3rd, 2013. The story matched perfectly so far. Almost verbatim.

“Go on” she said “Why did you come back to Mumbai. And where were you last night ?”

“Well I received a call from a headhunter who was an old friend of mine. Said he needed a big favour. He had a client that was looking to hire at Managing Director level in a bulge-bracket investment bank and he had not been able to get them any candidates. He wanted me to come here and interview with them. To-and-fro airfare paid by the client.”

“So you plan to start working again? You’re shifting back to Mumbai?”

“I never said that and I don’t intend to. I just owed this guy too many favors to be able to say no to him. And I had no pressing engagements either as I told you. And it had been a long time since I had come to Mumbai. So I agreed. And so I was here last Saturday. Met his clients on Monday too. Without so much as a proper suit for the interview. But that’s how my friend had put it to them. He had told them I was not particularly keen but open to looking and worth the pitching. I guess the job market must be heating up again” Josh smiled.

“You mind telling us the name of this friend?”

“Sure. Nothing in the headhunting agreement that requires clients to guarantee confidentiality to the headhunter, is there ? You’ll find his number in my mobile. Sameer Gaitonde. Probably in the recent call list too since we have been speaking continuously. Apparently his clients loved the fake interview meeting and now Sameer is trying to hustle me into joining them. Saying why don’t I try it out. He’s a great headhunter I tell you. Almost made me think.” Josh was almost feeling relaxed and back to his jocular self now. This lady was listening to him.

“And what about last night ? Where were you staying ? Who did you meet ? What did you do between 9pm yesterday and 7 am today? This is important. You better remember this well”

“Last night? Well that’s an easy one. Sameer picked me up for drinks. We went to an old favourite of mine – the Hawaiian Shack in Bandra. Used to be the hottest place in Bandra once upon a time but the fickle crowd has clearly turned its attention elsewhere now. We even got a place to sit within 15 minutes. We were drinking till the place shut down. I think Sameer was in much worse shape than I was afterwards. I drank only beer and was fine. He was mixing it up and had all kinds of cocktails. He also met a couple of other guys and bought them drinks. Said the job market was going to explode and he needed to have enough raw material to take advantage. Or maybe he just got carried away. Anyways, he settled the bill at 2 o’clock and we took a cab and went back. He dropped me to my hotel in Worli at about 3am and then continued home in the same taxi. I guess I probably owe him some money since I paid nothing at all last night.”

“Don’t worry about paying him back now. Sameer is dead. So is the taxi driver. And in case you haven’t figured it out yet, that is why you are here today. Well, one of the reasons at least” said the lady as she looked closely to observe Josh’s reaction.

Josh had never been prone to much emotion. Even as a child, he had rarely reacted to developments without considering the pros and cons. The more stressful the situation he was exposed to, the calmer and more logical he became. It was one of the reasons he was a superstar trader in his previous avatar at an investment bank. Extreme moments of market madness could best be exploited by men who could keep their wits about them and continue to function perfectly logically. Josh’s ability to dissect situations calmly and act fearlessly was legendary on the trading floor. His poker faced manner brought a sense of calm to those under stress and had helped him become a leader of men on the trading floor. The calmness was also why he had found it difficult to stay in relationships. Women liked men who expressed themselves and acted impulsively. Josh did not, as a rule, express himself overtly or act impulsively. Josh was proud of his ability to stay calm and analyse the situation under pressure. In the present moment however, this ability was making it very difficult for the detective to decipher his reactions. She was looking for signs of shock, surprise, guilt, deception and other such expressions. She had trained on microexpressions and eye movements and giveaway tells. But her training had taught her to read regular people, petty criminals, lying wives and deceptive accountants. Josh’s face revealed nothing. It was almost as if he had not heard her at all.

“Did he have his mobile on him ?” Josh asked her calmly.

“Whaat? Did who have his mobile?”  She was clearly taken aback. She had certainly not been expecting any questions back.

“Sameer. Did he have his mobile on him ?” repeated Josh.

“Why ? I don’t know. I wasn’t the officer on that scene. I’m sure it would be there if he did. Why ?”

“LifeLogger”

“What’s a LifeLogger ?” the lady clearly had no clue what Josh was talking about.

“The LifeLogger App. One of the hottest mobile apps currently. Automatically takes a picture and records 15 seconds of sound around it. Sameer showed it to me yesterday. Said he was sold on being a committed LifeLogger now. One of his new year resolutions. Apparently helps you to understand yourself  better. Quantifying life, I think was the term he had used. Load of nonsense if you ask me but I’m not the kind of person people ask. Luckily for most app developers. But anyways, if we get our hands on his mobile, we could solve this case”

“We ? What do you mean we ? You’re still prime suspect on this case. The staff at the Hawaiian Shack clearly places you two there. Your fingerprints are all over the taxi…..”

“I JUST told you we spent last night drinking together. Obviously the staff would see us there and obviously my fingerprints are over the taxi.” This prime suspect stuff was clearly getting exasperating.”First, your monkey breaks my legs. Then you come in and play good cop with me. I tell you everything including public evidence of where I was on August 2nd last year and you still pull this prime suspect shit on me ? You have to be joking”

“Mr. Josh Lohia. You were in Pune on August 2nd and 3rd. But your hosts  were only there with you in the evening. The murder happened on the morning of August 3rd. Enough time for you to do a quick in-out to Mumbai and get back to maintain your alibi. As for yesterday night, the fact that you have a cogent explanation for it does not change the fact that you are still the prime accused. You need to treat this a little seriously.

“The LifeLogger App. Please check his phone. Stop this madness. Please.” Josh was really pleading with her now. Surely, she could sense that he was innocent. He could see doubt in her eyes now despite the party line she was spouting.

“I will do that immediately. Inspector Goel, please put Mr. Lohia in the holding cell meanwhile. We will resume the interrogation in a couple of hours.”

Inspector Goel was more than happy to prove his usefulness and sprang to attention. He called in the constables and they assisted him in transferring Josh to the holding cell on the stretcher he was laying in. The lady followed them in and then asked them to leave. It was just the two of them now.

“Josh. Off the record, I believe you. I think you’re innocent. But believe me, that’s not what it looks like at this point. You’re in serious trouble.”

“One question ?”

“Sure”

“What’s your name and are you single ?”

She threw her head back and laughed. “Hahahaha, that’s two questions. I’ll only answer the first. I’m Detective Mahima Bajaj”. She had perfect teeth and Josh felt her smile light up the dingy holding cell. “And I sure hope this LifeLogger App has some evidence that helps you get out of here. For your sake.”

“It will” Josh was confident. ”See you soon.”

He was no detective but he could deduce the answer to his second question from the total absence of rings on her hands and the lack of tell-tale sindoor in her hair. He closed his eyes and went to sleep with audio video replays of her smile playing in his mind. Maybe this very dark cloud would have a silver lining after all.

Click here to go back to Chapter 2:To Err is Human

Go to Chapter 4: A Question of Survival

Are you already in love with Detective Mahima Bajaj ? Wanna read about the budding love story between Josh and Mahima. You could show your support for Josh by directly buying the book – enough with the samples. Click here to buy the full book today itself.

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