The man in the dark hoodie was waiting in the shadows. It was nearly dawn – the sunlight was subtly shining through the cloud, an indication of the clear day to come. It was peaceful and calm, but he was hardly aware of it. He was seething with a violent inner excitement, anticipating his next move. He saw the elderly, slight woman in her late fifties, clad in a saree and wearing Nike trainers walking briskly towards the steps leading from the Begumpet station parking lot to the Greenland’s flyover. Seeing her, he grinned and moved swiftly yet stealthily towards her. As he was bringing the cosh down on her head she heard him and turned her head around. She let out a stifled scream as he hit her and groaning she crumpled and rolled down the steps. A long distance train roaring past the station masked the sound that she made. He hit her repeatedly as she tried to get up giggling softly to himself till she lay inert. Blood started pooling round her head where she lay. He suddenly felt tired and sleepy, yet highly gratified. This was way better than any drugs. He took out the camera and took some photos. He looked around furtively to check if anyone was watching. Luckily the place was quite dark and the parking lot was deserted. But there was a lot more work to do – he must hurry or he might be caught.
The dead body of the victim was discovered the same day, i.e., on 15th April, around 6:30 am in the morning by an auto driver who had come to drop a few passengers to the station. The police quickly barricaded the crime scene and informed the Begumpet police station head, Inspector Satish Rao, who in turn called Gopi Reddy. The auto driver, who had found the body, hung around looking nervous.
When Inspector Satish Rao arrived at the crime scene, he found a crowd of people surrounding the dead body. The auto driver was trying to ensure that nobody touched the body. The victim was identified by the local people as Dr. Renuka Reddy who stayed in an apartment in Brahmanwadi, very close to the station. She was a gynaecologist and had her own nursing home in Begumpet. Her daughter-in-law had been informed by some locals and she was already present along with another woman when Inspector Satish Rao arrived at the crime scene. When she introduced herself, Inspector Rao asked her to wait till he finished talking to the auto driver.
Satish Rao now looked around him and enquired, ‘I hope nobody has touched the dead body?’
The auto driver came forward to say, ‘Sir, I had informed the police and I have not allowed anybody to touch the body since I discovered it. My brother-in-law is a constable in the Police force. Also I have seen enough movies. So I know a bit about police procedures,’ he added proudly
The auto driver was an intelligent and reliable looking middle aged man. Right now he looked visibly shaken. Satish Rao asked, ‘What is your name?’
He replied, ‘Srinivas Goud, Sir. This is the first time I seeing something like this. I never want to experience it again. This is horrible.’
Satish Rao made a commiserating sound, ‘I know how you feel. But the investigation has to proceed. Tell me, how did you notice the body?’
‘Sir I had dropped a few passengers who were taking the Faluknama Gulbarga express at 6:08 in Begumpet Station. They were already delayed. I was curious to see if they caught the train as I know them.’
‘How do you know them?’
‘Sir they stay in Kamalapuri Colony. I also stay nearby. They use my services quite often.’
‘Okay so you were curious to see whether they caught the train. What happened then?’
‘I waited at the entrance near the ticket counter from where I can see the platform number two. As the Faluknama Gulbarga Express was delayed by 15 minutes, they were able to catch the train. Then I turned around went back to my auto and was lighting a cigarette when I noticed the body. I called my brother-in-law who then informed the Begumpet Police,’ Srinivas explained.
He was clearly becoming more and more nervous on being asked so many questions. To put him at ease, Satish Rao said, ‘Well done. Give your name and address to Constable Sumon there and then you can leave.’
Looking proud for himself, Srinivas Goud strutted towards Constable Sumon.
While Satish Rao was questioning the auto driver, he had noticed that Renuka’s daughter-in-law was getting impatient and was angrily trying to draw his attention.
As he turned towards her, ACP Reddy arrived with his team. She barged her way towards Satish and Reddy and began shouting, ‘Look at what happened to my mum. What steps are you taking to nab the killer? I thought that Hyderabad was a safe city to stay. How can a respectable citizen like my mother be murdered in a public place like this? And you are not even talking to me.’ Tears of anger and frustration were running down her face.
Constable Sumon, who was a local of that area, whispered into ACP Reddy’s ears, ‘This is Dr. Priya Reddy, the victim, Dr. Renuka’s daughter-in-law. The other one is Dr. Renuka’s long-time friend Barkha Bisht.’
Dr. Priya’s eyes were red from recent weeping. As soon as she heard the news, she had just put on a mismatched salwar suit and ran down from her home. Her hair was undone and she looked half mad with grief. She was obviously very fond of her mother-in-law. Barkha had also been crying, but she was now more composed. She was trying to soothe Dr. Priya.
ACP Reddy said curtly, ‘It’s also Dr. Renuka’s fault. There is a dangerous killer on the loose. She shouldn’t have come out alone this early in the morning. Anyway, what was she doing here?’
‘Every morning she goes for a swim in the country club. She takes this shortcut from our apartment to the club though the station. The steps at the end of the parking lot lead to the Greenland flyover and from there it is a few minutes to the club. She has done this for 5 years and nothing had happened. We have been staying in this locality for fifteen years and everyone knows us.’ Dr. Priya spat out.
‘That doesn’t mean that a sociopathic killer won’t attack her in a lonely spot. We’ll need to take the body away for autopsy. I suggest that you go home and try to take some rest. Come, let me drop both of you back to your apartment.’
‘Oh, it is only a short distance. We can walk back.’ Barkha said now.
‘No, it’s alright. I am anyway going to that direction, I will drop you.’ ACP Reddy gently guided them towards his car after requesting Satish Rao to make arrangements to shift the body.
During the drive back, Dr. Priya said, ‘Generally she would start for the club around 5:30 am walk for an hour around the Kundanbagh area and then swim for 30 minutes, but as she had a delivery scheduled around 9 am, she must have decided to go to the club a bit earlier than normal. I am a light sleeper, so I heard her close the front door of our apartment around 5 am. It was still dark when she went out. It would have been dawn by 5:30 am and she would not have been killed.’ She was gibbering, talking feverishly, more to herself that the ACP. She looked dazed and traumatised and tears were falling freely from her eyes.
Barkha said sharply, ‘Priya – please try to calm down. You will fall sick if you do not pull yourself together.’ Priya ignored her.
‘You stayed with your mother-in-law?’ Reddy asked Dr. Priya.
‘Yes. I am a widow and as my husband was her only child, I became like her daughter. Oh, why do I always lose the people I love?’ she wailed hysterically.
Gopi Reddy felt a twinge of compassion for her. But he said sharply, ‘Pull yourself up. Going into hysteria won’t help anybody. Try to compose yourself and think about whether Dr. Renuka might have known the killer. Maybe the killer had a grudge against her and singled her out. Think about it. If you can recall any unsavoury incidences let us know.’
Then in a more gentle tone he continued, ‘I understand that this is a very traumatic time for you. You take some rest. We might need to question you again, but we’ll do so a few days later. Right now I have most of the information I need.’
A large number of neighbours and acquaintances had already come over and after handing over the weeping and hysterical Dr. Priya to one of the elder relatives, ACP Reddy walked next door to Vikram Rana’s home. He wondered what his ex-colleague and close friend Vikram was doing and whether the news of the murder had reached him as yet. It was almost 8 am and as he knew that as Vikram was an early riser, he would not mind a visit from Reddy. He would also like to hear the news of the murder directly from him. Reddy was also not ashamed to admit to himself, that Vikram, being Dr. Renuka Reddy’s neighbour, might be able to provide some more information about the family.
Vikram was tall and had been athletic. But due to his hectic work schedules, he had lately been unable to exercise and like Reddy, being a big time foodie, had put on weight. He had been put under strict diet by his health freak wife Veena. So he had been pushed out of his bed by 6:30 am and had been forced to run on the treadmill that she had gifted him. Though Vikram was tough with criminals, he was prudent enough not to get on the wrong side of his wife. She was the undisputed boss in the Rana household.
After jogging for an hour he had been hoping for a hearty breakfast of aloo parathas and yoghurt, but instead was given oats and soya milk.
Looking at the bowl of oats he said in an outraged voice, ‘What’s this?’
‘This is a bowl of oats. You are approaching middle age Vikram and you should eat more healthy food.’ Veena said sternly.
‘But this tastes like sand.’
‘What nonsense. This is organic steel cut oats. Extremely good for your health. I have added soya milk. That is why it tastes a bit funny. But you will get used to it soon!’
Vikram put a spoon of the oats gingerly in his mouth. He nearly gagged at the taste. ‘It has no sugar! It tastes horrible,’ he protested, thumping the table so loudly that the newspaper nearly flew off the table.
Veena looked at him even more sternly. ‘Sugar is bad for your health. I will add some honey okay? And try not to make such stupid noises so early in the morning. The neighbours will complain!’
Vikram went purple in the face, but knowing that it was no use trying to argue with his wife, he manfully swallowed another spoonful of the oats when the doorbell rang.
Thankfully abandoning his breakfast, he opened the door to find Gopi Reddy standing outside.
Vikram raised his eyebrows in surprise on seeing Reddy so early at the door. ‘What happened?’
‘The second murder happened right here near the Begumpet Railway Station.’ ACP Reddy said rather baldly.
‘What! Right under my nose? Who was the victim?’