Private India City on Fire(2)
Author:James Patterson


    Mubeen was Private India’s full-time medical examiner. Time of death, cause of death, manner of death—death was his specialty. He’d arrive with Hari, Private’s technology geek, who’d be dusting for prints, scanning the cell phone that Santosh had spotted by the bed. Tech-wizard stuff.

    Santosh shifted his weight on his cane. The car accident had left him with a limp.

    “You do realize it’s psychosomatic, don’t you?” a doctor had told him.

    “I’m keeping the cane,” he’d replied.

    “Have it your own way.”

    He did. One of the few advantages of being Santosh Wagh was that he had things his own way. Plus it was useful to have a cane sometimes. On a morning like this, for example, when he felt as though it was the only thing keeping him upright.

    He palmed sweat from his forehead. “Okay, let’s not touch anything until we get the go-ahead from the police. There’s nothing to prevent us from observing though. And I’m especially interested in this …”

    With the tip of his cane he indicated the victim’s hands, both wrapped with string. A flower was bound to one, an ordinary fork to the other.

    “And this,” he said, motioning his cane at her foot. “What do you make of that?”

    Tied to one of the dead doctor’s toes was a small toy Viking helmet.

    Nisha bent down to take a closer look. “Could the killer be a nut job with a Viking fetish?” she asked.

    “Maybe. But if he was a genuine Viking enthusiast he’d know that real Viking helmets didn’t have horns,” said Santosh. “The bull horns are an artistic contrivance.”

    “Okay. So …?” said Nisha. You could almost see the cogs of his encyclopedic mind turn, she thought.

    “So—either our killer doesn’t know about the horns. Or he doesn’t care. Or the Viking bit isn’t significant but the horn bit is.”

    “Right …” she said, uncertainly. “And what about the flower on her hand? A lotus. And the fork? Maybe she snatched it to defend herself?”

    “No,” said Santosh, lost in thought. “They were tied to her hands to look as if she’s holding them.”

    Crouched down close to the body, Nisha noticed a black hair on the otherwise spotless tile floor. “There’s a hair here I’d like to bag, when we can,” she said. Santosh nodded.

    “When do you think she was killed?” asked Nisha.

    He glanced at her. “Look at the body. Consider the bed. The nightdress. When do you think she was killed?”

    “Last night?”

    “Exactly. Mubeen can tell us for sure, but yes—this happened last night. Did you check for signs of forced entry?”

    “The windows are hermetically sealed. There’s no sign the bedroom door was forced nor any indication of lock tampering,” replied Nisha, glancing at her notes.

    Santosh nodded. He looked from the body to Nisha with eyes that had seen too much pain. “This isn’t the last, Nisha,” he said. “Of that you can be certain.”





    Chapter 4





    “WE HAD RATHER hoped to avoid involving the police,” said the general manager, Mr. Singh—a nervous man who wanted nothing more than for the whole affair to go away. “After all, the hotel employs Private India for that very reason. Are you not the world’s biggest detective agency …?”

    Santosh found his eyes drawn to a bottle of whisky tucked away in a corner of the office but Singh was pouring coffee instead. Probably just as well.

    “We are indeed. But unfortunately we do not manage your internal CCTV system. Furthermore, this is a murder investigation, Mr. Singh,” he said regretfully. “There is no avoiding the police, I’m afraid. However, as your advisor may I suggest the call is better coming from you than from me.” He passed a card across the desk. “Ring this number, tell them there has been a suspected murder and that you have appointed the hotel’s detective agency—that’s us—to represent you in this matter.”

    Singh picked up the card. “ACP Rupesh Desai,” he read. “This is the policeman I should call?”

    Santosh nodded. “Rupesh is the Assistant Commissioner at the Mumbai Crime Branch. I can promise you his cooperation and discretion. We’re …”

    He stopped himself saying “old friends”; even just “friends.” Not since the accident that broke everything.

    “… we go back a long way. Now, tell me everything you can about Dr. Kanya Jaiyen.”

    “All we have is the information she gave us when she checked in,” explained Singh. He passed a paper folder to Santosh, who scanned it quickly. A copy of her passport, a printout of online booking data.

    “Excellent. You have a record of when the door was used?”

    “Yes. It’s on its way.”

    “And CCTV footage?”

    “Also coming,” said Singh.

    “Good,” said Santosh.

    “So what now?” said Singh. “Can we assume the hotel will be kept out of any … unpleasantness?”

    Santosh opened his mouth, then remembered that the Marine Bay Plaza Hotel was a client of Private India, and as the head of Private India he had to kiss ass every now and then.

    “You can rest easy, Mr. Singh,” he said with what he hoped would be an ingratiating smile. “Leave it to us.”





    Chapter 5





    “WHAT’S PRIVATE INDIA’S interest in this case?” asked Rupesh bluntly, his hands pushed into his pockets.

    He and Santosh stood in the corridor outside room 1121, now an official crime scene. For the moment Santosh had conveniently forgotten to mention the hair Nisha had recovered from the bathroom. And hopefully, if all went to plan, things would stay that way.

    “The hotel chain employs Private globally,” replied Santosh. “If it isn’t a bother, Rupesh, we’d like to manage the investigation.”

    Rupesh looked him up and down with disdain, as though Santosh were wearing an expensive, tailored suit rather than the same shabby beige two-piece he’d worn for years. “Private India,” he sneered. “You certainly landed on your feet there, didn’t you, Jack Morgan’s little favorite? Just think, without those train bombings you two might never have met. They were the best thing that ever happened to you, weren’t they?”

    Santosh tried to remember that he wanted Private India to handle this case. And for that, he needed Rupesh onside. So instead of sweeping the cop’s feet from beneath him and ramming the point of his cane down his throat, he merely gave a thin smile. “To business, Rupesh, please.”

    Rupesh avoided his eye as he pondered the matter for a moment. “Wait here,” he said. “I need to make a call. See what the Commissioner says.”

    He moved out of earshot, his back turned and his phone to his ear as he made the call. Moments later he returned with a smile that went nowhere near his eyes. “The Commissioner is fine with it.”

    “And you?”

    Rupesh shrugged. “The Police Forensic Science Lab at Kalina has a six-month case backlog and half my men are on VIP duty. I’m happy to offload this case onto you.”

    He reached into his pocket and withdrew a pouch of chewing tobacco, placing a pinch of it in a corner of his mouth. Mumbai had long since banned the sale of all processed tobacco products. Not that the ban applied to Rupesh, apparently.

    Just how deep are you getting, old friend? wondered Santosh.

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