The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 15]

 


Chapter 15


Over a cup of tea, I told Mrs Saxena what I knew about the case so far, leaving out Saxena’s antics towards Zara for the time being.

‘And that is why we are here. To talk to everyone who knew Zara. Until we find the real killer, the police won’t let the innocent watchman go,’ I said.

‘But why talk to me?’ said Mrs Saxena in a bewildered way. ‘I hardly met her. Maybe once or twice when I visited Prof. Saxena in office. She seemed like a nice girl.’

‘Was Prof. Saxena friendly with his students?’ Saurabh said.

Mrs Saxena looked taken aback.

‘Not particularly. He’s so lost in his work. He’s not a friendly person in general. A bit grumpy always, if you ask me,’ Mrs Saxena said.

‘Did he ever go meet his PhD students in their hostels?’

‘Never. He’s the dean and their guide, why would he?’ Mrs Saxena said, somewhat offended by my question.

‘Mrs Saxena, sir went to meet Zara eight times in her hostel in the last three months,’ Saurabh said.

‘What?’

‘It’s in the hostel register,’ I said. ‘I am sorry to tell you this, Mrs Saxena, but I think sir had an extra interest in Zara.’

‘Extra?’ she said, confused. At forty, Mrs Saxena had probably led a shielded campus life. Her idea of a controversy or scandal would be if the maid skipped work two days in a row.

‘He wanted a relationship with Zara,’ I said calmly. ‘He propositioned her several times.’

‘What?’ Mrs Saxena gasped. The whistle of a pressure cooker in the kitchen disrupted our conversation.

‘Black daal in the pressure cooker?’ Saurabh said, sniffing in the direction of the kitchen. I glared at him.

Mrs Saxena exploded. ‘Are you insane? My husband? One of the world’s best researchers in his field?’

Then the cooker whistled again.

Saurabh jumped up from the sofa.

‘I’ll go turn the gas off, Mrs Saxena,’ he said. ‘Two whistles are enough for black daal, right?’

She nodded grimly.

‘I am sorry to be the one to tell you, Mrs Saxena,’ I said smoothly.

‘This is hundred per cent nonsense. Hundred and one per cent. Is there any proof?’ she said.

‘If the news made you uncomfortable, the proof will make you even more so.’

‘What is the proof?’

I held out my phone to her. She read the email quickly and returned my phone. Saurabh came back from the kitchen. All of us sat in awkward silence for a few seconds.

‘I am not here to spoil your marriage,’ I said.

‘Too late for that,’ she said. She picked up her phone and called her husband.

‘Come home,’ Mrs Saxena said when he answered. ‘No, right now. I said come home now. I don’t care about the senate meeting. You come home now, Vineet.’

She turned to me.

‘What do you want?’ she said.

‘Your help. In finding out the truth,’ I said.

‘What truth? You have proof. You have ruined my life already.’

I wanted to tell her that it was the professor who had ruined things, not me. However, I decided to stick to the agenda.

‘Your husband might have killed Zara Lone.’

‘What? Vineet? What is wrong with you guys? My husband was trying to have an affair? Is a murderer?’

‘Please be calm, Mrs Saxena,’ Saurabh said, ‘and listen to Keshav.’

‘Ma’am, he had a clear motive. Zara could have exposed him once she received her PhD degree. He had the opportunity. He lives on campus. He could have stepped out from home at night and walked to Himadri. He could enter Zara’s room through the window, kill her and leave. Before anybody found out, he could have been back in his bed,’ I said.

‘You mean our bed?’ Mrs Saxena said.

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘It is Vineet we are talking about. He went to IIT and Stanford. You really think he could do such a thing?’ Mrs Saxena said.

‘Did you really think your husband could be sexually harassing a PhD student?’ Saurabh said. Mrs Saxena fell silent.

‘Ma’am, this may be too much for you. But we need to know the truth,’

I said.

‘What?’

‘Did your husband leave home that night?’ I said.

Before she could answer, the doorbell rang. Mrs Saxena got up and opened the door. Prof. Saxena walked in almost in slow motion as he had a slight limp in his left leg.

‘What the…’ he screamed when he saw Saurabh and me in his house.

‘What the hell are you doing here? How dare you come to my house?’

Mrs Saxena went up to Prof. Saxena. Before he could react, she hit him across his ear.

‘Pammi!’ Prof. Saxena said, hand on ear.

Mrs Saxena deposited two more slaps in response. Hell hath no fury like a Punjabi woman scorned.

‘They are lying, Pammi,’ Prof. Saxena said, almost in tears.

‘I know they are not,’ Mrs Saxena said.

Saurabh and I stood up to leave.

‘We just had a few more questions for Mrs Saxena. We can come back later,’ I said politely.

‘No, wait,’ Mrs Saxena said, ‘ask me now. Vineet should be here.’

We sat down again. Prof. Saxena continued to stand, hand on ear.

‘Mrs Saxena, where was your husband on the night of February 8th?’

‘What does a stupid wife like me know? He could have left for an hour while I was asleep.’

‘No, Pammi. I didn’t.’

‘I gave up my career in California for you, Vineet, you slime ball. I was a senior consultant. All for your desh bhakti and research obsession. And this is what you do to me?’

‘Pammi, nothing happened!’

‘Because she didn’t let anything happen!’ Mrs Saxena said shrewdly, taking a step towards him with her hand raised.

Prof. Saxena took a step back. ‘Please don’t hit me.’

‘I will ruin you. You bloody creep.’ She turned to me. ‘What do I have to do? Should I sign a document saying my husband was missing that night?’

‘No,’ Prof. Saxena screamed and fell at his wife’s feet.

‘That would do it, right? Enough proof to put him away for life?’ Mrs Saxena said.

I shrugged. I had no idea.

‘Whatever you give us we will submit to the police,’ I said.

Prof. Saxena continued to kneel on the floor.

‘I beg you. Yes, I liked her. She was beautiful and smart. I became weak. But nothing happened. And I swear on you, I didn’t kill her.’

‘So, who did?’ I said, even as his wife shrieked, ‘Not on me. Don’t swear on me, you dirty man.’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Boys, go to the police,’ Mrs Saxena said furiously.

‘Did anyone see me go to the hostel that night? Or leave my home?’

‘I will say I did,’ Mrs Saxena said.

‘Ma’am, you are angry now. We want to know the truth more than anything else,’ I said. ‘Can you please think in a calm manner and let us—’

Mrs Saxena interrupted me.

‘How can I be calm? I left a two hundred thousand dollar-a-year job for this idiot. All for his “principles”.’

I stood up to leave.

‘We will give you some privacy. Let’s go, Saurabh.’

‘Sure, and ma’am, just one more thing,’ Saurabh said at the door.

‘What?’ Mrs Saxena said.

‘Don’t leave the pressure cooker closed. The black daal will get overcooked.’

‘Dean Saxena?’ Rana said, almost choking on his extra-hot, full-cream eight per cent-fat milk and hundred per cent-free latte at the Hauz Khas Starbucks.

Saurabh and I sat across from him.

Inspector Rana put his cup down. He gave out a loud, Raavan-like laugh.

‘Yes,’ I said, in a steady voice. ‘And you will agree there is enough evidence.’

‘Yes,’ Rana said and continued to laugh.

‘So, why are you laughing, sir,’ Saurabh said, still a bit afraid whenever he spoke to Rana.

‘I’m not laughing at you. The whole situation is so funny. That ass was being so righteous. Not letting me come to campus. Turns out he’s just a tharki prof,’ Rana said and laughed again.

I stared at my cup of milk and waited for the inspector to finish giggling.

He spoke again.

‘From the watchman to the dean of IIT. Wow, just look at the class jump. The media will have so much fun with this.’

‘So, we arrest him now?’ I said. ‘How does it work?’

‘Not so simple. We definitely need the wife’s testimony that her husband was out that night. Otherwise, I am not sure.’

‘Not sure?’

‘It’s a masala media story, definitely. But releasing the watchman to arrest the dean? If we get this wrong, Delhi Police will be lynched.’

‘So you won’t arrest him?’

‘Get me the wife’s testimony,’ Rana said. He checked his watch. ‘I have to go. I have to get a haircut.’

We saw Inspector Rana to his Gypsy.

‘What about Zara’s email?’ I said.

‘Only shows the prof was a pervert. I can’t book him for murder for that.’

I nodded. The inspector patted my back.

‘Not bad though. Good work.’

‘Maggi? Again? The maid has cooked gobi aloo and chapatis.’

‘I am bored of the maid’s food,’ I said.

  We stood in the tiny kitchen of our apartment. I stir-fried peas, carrot and capsicum in a kadhai. I added garam masala to the vegetables and tossed them around with a ladle. On the other burner, I boiled three packets of Maggi noodles. Saurabh saw the quantity in the vessel and added two more packets.

I served out my improvised, value-added Maggi noodles in two bowls.

We moved to the dining table and ate our one-dish dinner.

‘So, Mrs Saxena declined, eh?’ Saurabh said, slurping a long noodle into his mouth.

‘Yeah. She had said it in anger. Later on, she must have reflected. Her husband might be a jerk, but she doesn’t want him in jail for murder.’

‘So no wife testimony.’

‘Yes,’ I said and refilled my bowl. ‘If we have to get the prof, we need more solid evidence.’

‘The noodles are superb, by the way,’ Saurabh said.

‘Thanks.’ I blinked. ‘You think Saxena could have done it?’

‘If Zara could destroy his life’s work, yes,’ Saurabh said.

‘He didn’t show up in the CCTV footage of the hostel entrance. The only other way to come up is the mango tree,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ Saurabh said, ‘and since the window was open, it means Zara opened it.’

‘Yeah, she could have. She thinks, this idiot pervert has come up the tree to wish me. Fine, a few more weeks and I am free. She opens the window.’

‘Then?’ Saurabh said.

‘He enters. Kills her. Leaves. Back in bed. Cuddles up to his Pammi.

End of story. Yeah? Totally adds up, right?’ I said.

Saurabh thought for a few seconds and then shook his head.

‘What?’

‘No. Not possible,’ Saurabh said.

‘What’s not possible?’

‘Limp. He has a limp,’ Saurabh said.

‘What?’

‘Did you see, he walked in so slowly into his house. Didn’t he have a slight limp?’

‘Did he get hurt recently?’

‘Not sure. Open your laptop,’ Saurabh said.

  We searched YouTube videos of Prof. Saxena. Most of them were mega-boring talks at engineering conferences that could also double up as videos to cure insomnia. In one, from a few months back, we could see him walking up to the stage.

‘It wasn’t just that day. He has a proper limp,’ I said.

Saurabh kept quiet as he browsed through a few more videos.

‘He couldn’t have climbed the mango tree,’ I said after a few minutes.

‘Yeah,’ Saurabh said. ‘It was so tough for me. If one of your legs isn’t okay, impossible.’

‘It’s not Saxena,’ I said and slammed the laptop shut. ‘I better tell Rana.’

I stepped away to call the inspector. Saurabh waited till I ended the call and came back to the dining table.

‘What did he say?’

‘That we are idiots. We would have made him look so bad if he had arrested the dean.’

‘True. Anything else?’

‘Just that. And a few affectionate Delhi abuses,’ I said.





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