In this short story, Sitharaam Jayakumar shares a compelling tale of love and deceit woven around double murders.
Meena Jennifer looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was smooth except for the two small scars on her right temple. How she wished she could get rid of those! Her memory stirred and she hurriedly put the scars out of her mind. She did not want to remember all that again. She had maintained her body well for her forty-five years. She went to the gym regularly. She was one of the top directors of parallel cinema in Kollywood. She had avoided men for a long time. But of late she found she was getting attracted to Siddarth. No… She shook her head! He was twelve years her junior. Why was she attracted to him? She shrugged her shoulders. She knew it could destroy the clean reputation she had built in the industry.
She gave her face the final touches, picked up her handbag, and left her apartment. She drove steadily along Chennai’s beach road. She soon reached the shooting venue on the shores of the Adyar beach. Assistant director Praveen walked up to her and said, ‘Good morning, Meena.’ He gave her the once-over from head to toe as usual. Meena could barely tolerate Praveen. She knew he was a pervert.
‘Good morning, Praveen.’ Meena said brusquely. The only reason Meena tolerated Praveen was because he was extremely good at his work. He always knew how to add those little touches to Meena’s scenes, making them what they were. He knew everything essential about film direction. Meena knew, her movies would not be appreciated by the critics so much if it were not for Praveen’s sensitive touches.
She turned around and accosted the spot boy and asked him, ‘Has Siddarth arrived? And what about Nithya?’
‘They are both in Sid sir’s van Mam.’
A pang of jealousy shot through Meena suddenly like a deep arrow piercing her heart. Without any more ado, she walked over to Siddarth’s van and flung open the door. She looked inside and found Nithya in Sid’s arms and they were enveloped in a warm embrace.
Meena shouted, ‘What is all this going on in my sets? I have told you before that everyone has to be on their toes when I am around. If you want to spend time smooching, find someplace else.’
Very few people had arrived at the sets as it was early. Only the two stuntmen, Sid’s body double Vikram, Praveen and the spot boy were present. Everyone looked completely nonplussed at the usually calm and composed Meena’s outburst. Sid and Nithya looked sheepish. Sid said awkwardly, ‘Sorry Mam.’
Nithya looked frightened and said, ‘My apologies, Mam.’
The rest of the day went smoothly. They wound up late in the night at nearly 11 PM completing all the scenes meant to be shot at the shores of the Bay of Bengal.
Inspector Raghunath was woken up by the ringing of his phone at 6 AM. He picked it up and saw the words ‘Mani calling’ flashing on the screen. He put the phone to his ears and said, ‘What is it, Mani?’
‘Wake up chief! Heard of Meena Jennifer, the director? Her body has been found with her throat slit. She was found in her car at the Marina Beach car park. I was informed by the attendant who came in this morning. I have cordoned off the entire area.’
Raghu swore under his breath and looked at his wife lying by his side. He gently moved over to her side, kissed her on the cheeks and said, ‘I must go immediately. Something has come up.’
His wife groaned and looked up at him. She said, ‘Yes, I heard you speaking.’
Raghunath was 39 years old and had already learnt a lot about the workings of the police force. He would have to be careful how he handled this. He knew he would be under a lot of pressure.
He was at the crime scene soon and was met by his assistant Mani. The whole place was crowded with media representatives. A few young men and women with mikes rushed up to him and asked in a chorus, ‘What do you have to say, inspector?’
Raghunath replied tersely, ‘We are investigating. I assure you we will get to the bottom of it soon.’ With that, Raghunath turned away and walked over to Mani.
He saw that his efficient assistant had arranged for everything, and men were dusting the car all over for fingerprints. He walked over to Mani and asked, ‘Has the body been sent to the forensic lab for the autopsy?’
‘What do you make of it?’ Raghu asked.
‘She does not have any living relative at all. When I tried to find the next of kin to report the matter, there did not seem to be anyone around. Looks like she kept pretty much to herself. The first thing we need to do is to talk to the night watchman. The chap who reported the crime to me had arrived at 4.30 AM and had relieved the night watchman. It was when he was doing his rounds that he discovered her in the car.’
‘Okay. Let us get him once these people finish.’
Raghu and Mani sat in the small room where the night watchman Gary lived. Gary looked extremely frightened. Raghu looked at him speculatively and said, ‘Tell us the truth and nothing will happen to you. If you lie and we catch you at it, then you will be in big trouble.’
‘I will tell you the truth, Anna.’ Gary said trembling. ‘By around 1 AM, a car with two people drove into the parking lot. I was just about to go up to them, when the front door opened, and a man walked up to me. He handed me a 500 rupee note and told me that they would be there for some time and asked me not to take any notice. I am a poor man, Anna. I took the money. I watched the car for some time. Around twenty minutes later the man got out and walked away. I thought he was going to get some cigarettes from the nearby shop. He came back after some time. I had not slept well the previous day and I drifted off into sleep after that. You see how it is Anna…’
‘Enough, enough, can you identify the man?’
‘Yes, Anna.’ Gary almost whined.
‘Did you take down the registration number?’
Gary looked helplessly at Raghu. Raghu realised that the man was telling him the truth and had completely forgotten to do anything he was supposed to do, the minute he saw the 500 Rs.
The two policemen came out of Gary’s room and Raghu instructed Mani, ‘Get the low down on everything that happened the day before and dig into the dead woman’s life and report to me.’
Raghu and Mani sat together at the Police station two days later.
‘So, what have you found out, Mani?’ Raghu asked.
‘There seems to have been a showdown at the site they were shooting the day before. It seems Meena was annoyed at the hero Siddarth and the female lead Nithya. Looks like she caught the two of them in each other’s arms in Siddarth’s van. She blew her lid off. It came as a big surprise to all the people there. The only other people present were the assistant director Praveen, the two stuntmen, Sid’s body double Vikram, and the spot boy.’
‘Think Meena was sweet on Siddarth?’
‘Could be. From everything I hear, she keeps a tight rein on her emotions. The autopsy surgeon says her throat was slit open with a sharp knife. The wound was deep. Now to the most important piece of evidence. That fellow Gary says it was Siddarth who handed him over the 500 Rupee note that night.’
‘What does Siddarth have to say about that?’
‘That is the damning part. Siddarth admits it. He says that after the shooting was complete that night, Meena had asked him to come over to her apartment at midnight. She told him to come by cab and not in his car. He admits he went to her apartment, and she poured out her feelings for him. They ended up making love and then decided to drive over to Marina Beach in her car to talk things over. And he did hand over the 500 rupees to Gary. He says that after some talking, Meena became very agitated and told him to go away in no uncertain terms. She told him to leave that very moment. Siddarth says he got scared and left her car. He caught a cab and went back home. But Gary is pretty sure he saw Siddarth come back to the car and get in again.’
‘Well, all this is pretty damning for Siddarth. What do you think? Do you think he would be stupid enough to tell a story like that if he was guilty?’
‘I am not sure. He appears to be a straightforward young man.’
‘What did you find out about Meena?’
‘There are two things that puzzle me about her. The autopsy surgeon says that there are two scars on her right temple. He told me she has had several face reconstruction surgeries done. As far as her life is concerned, she was born into a Tamilian family. She grew up in Mumbai and she did a course in Film Direction at the Kalaivani Institute of Film Technology. She never married. She had a few flings with men but nothing noteworthy. But here is something puzzling. I am unable to trace her life between the time she was 32 and 34 years old. She simply seems to have vanished from the face of the earth during those years. No one knows where she went.’
‘Are you holding Siddarth in custody?’
‘Yes, we are questioning him. The case against him looks black. But I have not charged him with anything.’
‘All right. Don’t charge him yet. I have an idea. I will tell you what it is. We don’t have any proof. But we can get it. You will need to check hospital records.’
The two men chatted for some more time and finally, Mani left.
Raghu, Mani, and a third man sat together at the police station. Raghu looked at the man and said, ‘Listen, you are a well-known surgeon, Varun. You have a reputation to keep. So, you better tell us about your relationship with Meena.’
‘All right, all I have done is to perform a face reconstruction surgery on her. She did not want anyone to know about it. I have kept all the hospital records intact that have enabled you to find me. If I had anything to hide, I would have destroyed the records.’
‘Look, I believe you.’ Raghu said. ‘Was it an acid attack?’
‘Yes, it was. She was my friend. We had a platonic relationship. She did not want to contact the police. She was coming to meet me that night. She suddenly came rushing into my apartment covering her face. I called the ambulance, and we rushed her to the emergency ward of my hospital. After that, I performed several surgical procedures on her face. Finally, I was able to give her a good face except for those scars.’
‘Did she tell you who attacked her?
‘She said it was someone whose advances she had spurned at the Institute where she studied film technology.’
‘Do you have a name?’
‘It was a Vinayak Parashuram. She told me because we were good friends and knew each other well. And she was also very angry.’
‘Thank you for helping us, doctor. You may leave now. We may call you later for some more questioning.’
Varun left the police station.
‘Mani, dig up all the dirt on Vinayak Parashuram. I want to know everything about him. He is most probably our killer. And make a list of all the cabs that picked up anyone from the Marina beach that night. We are getting close.’
That afternoon Raghu’s phone rang. He picked it up urgently. ‘Found out anything, Mani?’
‘Chief, Vinayak Parashuram is dead. He was murdered. It was a hit-and-run case, and it is unsolved. And a cab did pick up Siddarth around 1.50 AM.’
Raghu scratched his head baffled. Suddenly an idea struck him. He said, ‘Can you find out if Vinayak had any family?’
‘Yes, he did.’
‘Who is it?’
‘I was told he had a brother who was much older than him, but I need some time to track him. His name is Karunakaran Parashuram, but I am just not able to find him.’
Raghu said, ‘I have an idea. Gary mentioned a cigarette shop near the place where the murder took place. It was open that night. Find out if the shopkeeper there saw a car parked near his shop. Find out if he saw anyone in the car and if he can identify the person. Join me at 4 PM with all the details.’
Raghu, Mani, and two constables knocked on the front door of a small villa on Lakeshore Road. The door was opened by assistant director Praveen. Raghu said, ‘Praveen Manikkam, we have a warrant for your arrest for the murder of Meena Jennifer Mahendran. Anything you say may be used against you. You have a right to remain silent. You have a right to a lawyer.’
‘So, you found out. That crazy b****h. I am happy I slit her throat.’ Praveen said.
Raghu slipped the handcuffs on Praveen’s wrists and led him to the Police Jeep.
Raghu, Mani, and Police Commissioner Deepan of the Chennai police sat in the Marina Beach police station. ‘Congratulations guys! Tell me all about it,’ invited Deepan.
Raghu said, ‘Karunakaran Parashuram was Vinayak’s elder brother. Vinayak and Meena were classmates at the film institute where they studied. Vinayak had been making spurious advances towards Meena throughout the time they were there. She humiliated him publicly at the institute a couple of times.
She had never laid eyes on Karunakaran. Karunakaran had tried his best to convince Vinayak to forget Meena. But Vinayak was obsessed with her. He kept checks on her. Then he found out about Dr Varun and how she was getting close to him. Varun might say it was platonic, but Vinayak was in a rage with jealousy. One night when she was just about to enter Varun’s apartment, he threw acid on her face. And we know what happened after that from Varun’s testimony.
What Vinayak did not realise was that Meena was not the woman to take a thing like that lying down. She hunted him down and killed him by running over him in a dark alley. She got her revenge. Karunakaran guessed who had killed his brother. Vinayak had told him what he had done.
Vinayak was brought up by Karunakaran. Karunakaran was both mother and father rolled into one for Vinayak. Karunakaran did his best to bear the loss, but the thirst for revenge got the better of him. So, Karunakaran Parashuram changed his name to Praveen Manikkam. He took up film direction and finally landed himself the position of assistant director to Meena. All to kill her and avenge his brother’s death.
Coming to the actual night of the murder, Praveen aka Karunakaran overheard Meena giving instructions to Siddarth to meet her at her apartment at midnight. It was already 11 PM. Praveen followed Meena to her apartment with a vague idea of killing her and somehow framing Siddarth. He parked his car near Meena’s apartment and waited for Siddarth to arrive.
Siddarth arrived in a cab at midnight as planned and after half an hour they took off to the Marina Beach. Praveen followed them. He parked near the cigarette shop completely oblivious to the fact that he was leaving a broad trail. He crept near Meena’s car and hid.
After some time, he could hear her telling Siddarth to get out. Praveen then walked to the car a little later and knocked on the window. Meena, thinking it was Siddarth, reached out and opened the door. Praveen immediately got into the car and neatly slit her throat. She did not even have time to scream. Finally, Praveen left her car and drove back to his house.’
Deepan asked, ‘How come Gary never noticed that the two were different men?’
‘Sir, both men were of the same build, and it was dark. Gary was half asleep. So, he thought they were the same men. But fortunately for us, Praveen’s thirst for revenge was so great that he did not take the obvious precautions. The man at the cigarette shop noticed Praveen’s car and is willing to swear it was Praveen that he saw. We have the time element pretty much fixed because we managed to locate the cab Siddarth took at 1.50 AM. Praveen left after two and the man at the cigarette shop saw him leaving.’
‘Just one last question. When did you realise it was certainly Praveen?’
‘It occurred to me very early that the man who walked to the car the second time may not have been Siddarth. I suspected Vikram who is Siddarth’s body double at first. Then we had the cigarette shopkeeper’s identification. The rest was all straightforward detective work.’
‘You guys deserve all the accolades coming your way. The press is waiting outside. Go and shine.’ Deepan said.
Sitharaam Jayakumar graduated from IIT-BHU, Varanasi, as a Metallurgical Engineer. After graduation, he embarked on a career in Information Technology. He began his career as a writer by penning poetry on his blog. From poetry, he moved on to other things. His repertoire includes articles on social issues like gender equality, sports, technology, and several other topics.
After his first year of blogging, he wrote many short stories and flash fiction. He is a published poet. He has written two novellas in the suspense thriller genre, which received rave reviews. He has also contributed to an anthology. His first full-length novel has just come out on Amazon.