Private India City on Fire(6)
Author:James Patterson

    “I need to swab her eyes,” said Mubeen, pulling out two cotton buds from his satchel. Santosh snapped out of his trance and descended the ladder so that Mubeen could use it.

    He climbed up carefully and gently swabbed each of her eyes, placing the buds into specimen tubes. “Why the eye swab?” asked Rupesh, who had never seen any of his own police medical examiners do it.

    “Notice the room’s temperature?” replied Mubeen as he came down the ladder and packed away the specimen buds. “The air conditioning has been left running and it’s bloody freezing. I can’t depend on the body’s ambient temperature reading to estimate the time of death. A diagnostic machine in my lab can analyze potassium, urea, and hypoxanthine concentrations present in the vitreous humor of the eye. It provides a far more accurate estimate of time of death than basal body temperature.”

    “We saw the murderer on CCTV leaving Kanya Jaiyen’s hotel room at two minutes past nine last night,” said Santosh. “The cleaning lady discovered this victim at nine thirty this morning, leaving the murderer with a substantial window of around twelve and a half hours within which to kill a second time.” He paced the room carefully. “A window of twelve and a half hours.”

    “Unless this second murder had actually happened before the hotel incident,” argued Nisha.

    Crouching down, Nisha noticed a strand of hair on the floor exactly below the hanging corpse. She pointed it out to Mubeen, who immediately bent over to pick it up with forceps and bag it.

    “Hopefully a comparison with the first sample should tell us whether it comes from the same person,” he said to Santosh. But Santosh’s mind was elsewhere.

    “This murder scene is fresh,” he said softly, almost to himself. “Fresh, because the urine on her slacks is still wet, not dry, in spite of the air conditioning. This killing happened after the hotel murder, not before. And forget about the god-damned hair. It’s just another annoying prop!

    “Crap!” he hissed suddenly under his breath, thumping his cane on the floor and giving everyone else around him a start. What did the objects mean? What was the killer trying to tell him? Why the single strand of hair at both murder sites? Come out of your hiding place, bastard!

    “Unfortunately the CCTV system of the building was down owing to a technical glitch,” said Rupesh. “So we cannot get a visual of the murderer. No signs of forced entry either.”

    “Any idea regarding the firm that handles security surveillance of the estate?” asked Santosh.

    “Xilon Security Services,” replied Rupesh. “They were in the process of sending over an engineer to rectify the fault, but obviously it wasn’t soon enough.”

    “In all probability,” said Nisha, “the victim knew her killer and allowed the murderer access, given that there are no signs of forced entry.”

    Santosh pointed to Bhavna Choksi’s desk. “There’s a cell phone and a laptop. Get Hari to examine both of them. Let’s find out the last story that Bhavna Choksi worked on. Maybe she ruffled someone’s feathers?”

    Turning to Rupesh, Santosh asked, “Do I have your permission to take over the case, assuming that the two crimes are related?”

    “Why on earth would I have called you here if I didn’t think they were connected?” replied Rupesh, placing a rather generous pinch of premium black-market chewing tobacco in the corner of his mouth.

    Rupesh stared at the suspended body while chewing his tobacco. In his mind he saw a naked woman. Beaten black and blue, subsequently raped. Repeatedly humiliated and violated until she died. Death was a wonderful balm indeed … Rupesh snapped back into the present when he realized that Santosh was studying him curiously.

    “Good. It’s possible that someone may have seen the murderer enter or leave the premises. Let’s question the cooperative’s security guards, the neighbors as well as any nannies or children who may have been in the garden.”

    Chapter 12

    I CAN FEEL the smooth fabric of the garrote around my neck. I grasp both ends and gently pull. Oh, yes … I can feel the compression. A little more pressure and I’m gasping for breath. I’m about to black out as I release the garrote and allow myself to breathe once again, allowing myself back from the brink of darkness.

    How delicate is the fine line between life and death. At a given moment a person could be living, breathing, talking, and walking. At another moment she could be a cold, unmoving corpse. Of course, most people live like corpses in the humdrum grip of their prosaic and pathetic lives. Not much difference between life and death for the world’s living cadavers.

    I hold the yellow scarf in my hand and run it through my fingers lovingly. I bring it to my face and hold it under my nose. I breathe in the unique smell of death. There’s an almost orgasmic quality to asphyxiation, isn’t there? I could easily see myself getting addicted to the adrenalin rush.

    Life has no meaning without the presence of death. Life is simply the absence of death. The fools of this world labor to prevent death, unmindful of the fact that it is death that will set them free.

    I stand in front of the mirror and look at my naked body. I have shaved every inch of it. I run the scarf along my hairless arms. I feel the tingle of the fabric against my skin as I allow myself to lower the scarf to my thighs. The sensation is simply incredible.

    I pull away the scarf and hold it before me at face level. I quickly tie a knot in it and pull the ends with all my might until I see the knot morph into a tiny lump.

    Two down, but I have many more to go.

    Chapter 13

    THERE WAS A half-bottle of Scotch in his desk, but for the time being Santosh ignored its lure. He felt something. A sense that the tempo of the hunt was increasing. Give me one murder to solve and I’ll show you an enigma, he thought. Give me two, and I’ll show you a puzzle to solve. And he offered up a silent apology to the souls of the two women whose deaths made up the pieces in his puzzle, and promised to do his best to find the man responsible.

    Two women killed within twenty-four hours of each other, both with a yellow scarf, both with trinkets attached to them, one an Indian journalist, the other a Thai doctor. Discovering what connected them, that was the key.

    They had a call scheduled with Dr. Jaiyen’s boss, a Dr. Uwwano. “Nisha,” he called from his office.

    Sitting at her desk, her head bobbed up. “Yes, boss?”

    “What time is she expecting us?”

    She glanced at her watch. “Five minutes.”

    “Join me. And bring what you have on Dr. Jaiyen.”

    As she came into the office he stood and moved to a magnet board, wrote down the two names on record cards: Bhavna Choksi and Dr. Kanya Jaiyen, placed them beside each other. Added a question mark.

    “Bhavna we know,” he said. “A journalist working for the Afternoon Mirror. But what about Dr. Kanya Jaiyen? What do we know about her?”

    Nisha pulled a face. “That she lived in Bangkok. That she was a reconstructive surgeon. More than that I can’t say.”

    Santosh nodded. “Plastic surgeon covers a multitude of sins. Plenty of people might have reason to silence a plastic surgeon.”

    “Half of Bollywood,” tried Nisha, and was rewarded for her attempt at a joke with pursed lips from Santosh. She cleared her throat. “But it wasn’t really a ‘silencing’ sort of crime, was it? What we’ve seen is more considered and ritualistic. The work of a serial killer.”

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