Anjuna is a quiet, laidback coastal village in Goa, and the police station does not have a busy schedule. The toughest cases they usually get to deal with are those of accidents and brawls resulting from too many drinks.
Inspector Pinto Da’ Cunha was the chief inspector at the Anjuna police station. His tall healthy physique and keen intelligent eyes belied his true age and made him look younger.
Pinto was contemplating if he had time for a quick cup of tea before he went home for the day. But he remembered that his wife was making prawn balchao for dinner and resisted the urge.
The sudden discordant jangling of the landline on his table shattered the peace. Even before he picked it up, he knew he was not going to eat the balchao hot from the stove.
His casual voice went tense and he continued to bark questions into the phone as he signaled to his assistant, Joki to get the jeep ready.
Joki was driving along the quiet lanes towards the coast as Pinto gave him the background and case details.
“Martin Alvares is a distant cousin of mine. He owned a small hotel called Paradise, selling seafood to tourists. He got lucky, his business boomed and he became very rich. He had this beautiful villa built in Anjuna, facing the beach. They named the villa, Paradise, and it was the talk of the town. His wife Dolly had been a rebellious girl who had run away from Mumbai, to marry Martin. They did not have any kids. So they legally adopted a boy and a girl and were living happily and the villa lived up to its name, Paradise. The kids, Caroline and Alex completed their family. But Martin passed away soon, after a massive heart attack.
Joki quipped “So, who has croaked now?”
Pinto gave him a dark look for his irreverence and replied, “Dolly is dead and their housekeeper thinks someone killed her.”
Joki took his eyes off from the road, turned to him, and asked, “Is Dolly the cranky, grouchy old lady who attends the St.Michael Church on Sundays and sits all alone?”
“Exactly!”, replied Pinto. “I heard that Dolly has become grumpy and quarrelsome these days. Her health too hasn’t been very good. She has had both her knees replaced by surgery. A few months back, she had called me up to complain about a tramp. Paradise villa has private access to the beach. It seems Dolly has this habit of watching the sunset daily, sitting on an easy chair that is placed strategically facing the beach. She hates it if anyone disturbs her during this time. The whole family knows this and avoids going anywhere near her. But this tramp would somehow get onto the beach and beg her for money and food. She had cautioned him a couple of times and had the gardener physically stop the tramp from coming in. But the tramp found some way of getting in and harassing her. She called me and asked if there was something I could do about it.”
“Did you talk to him? Do you think he could have killed her?”
Pinto thought about it before answering, “I don’t know. I had spoken to him but I think he is a harmless being and not very sound of mind. He is just an irritating guy who does not understand stuff like privacy or ownership.”
“What about the kids? Aren’t they at Paradise?”
“They live and study in Mumbai these days. Of course, Dolly looks after their expenses. I have learned from family gossip that she quarrels with the kids a lot, whenever they come to visit her. If her fight is with Caroline, the next day she gets the driver to take her all the way to her lawyer in Mapusa and alters the will to leave everything to Alex. Next, she quarrels with Alex and this results in changing of the will in favor of Caroline. There is a joke going around the family that it was a lottery-like situation and bad luck to the one who is not in Dolly’s good books when she dies.”
Joki said in a pensive voice “I wonder who does the will favor currently! It may give us a good clue about who killed Dolly.”
Pinto gave him a thoughtful look.
The car took the final turn and went through the neatly paved road that led towards the villa’s gate. The invigorating, salty smell of the sea tingled their noses. The sea was a dark expanse of water with the sounds of waves lapping the shore. Far away, some stationary pleasure cruises shimmered with lights that were reflected in the water.
The spacious villa was a pleasant white-walled structure with huge verandahs that let in the cool sea breeze.
Alex sat lounging in the verandah, his tall lanky frame draped over the arms of a chair. When he saw the inspector jump out of the jeep, he uncoiled himself and got up. The housekeeper, Lena, bustled out of the house.
Even before Pinto could open his mouth, Lena said “This way inspector” and led them into the house. The interior was cool with the sea breeze and bright white curtains fluttered at the windows. The living room was lit with strategically placed dim lights and a painting of ‘the last supper’ covered an entire wall.
Lena showed them into the large bedroom. Both of them took off their caps and stood looking at Dolly. She was lying face-up on one side of the huge bed. Her head was thrown back on the pillow with her chin jutting out at an unnatural angle. Another pillow lay next to her, all crumpled up.
Someone had smothered her with the pillow.
Pinto chose the vast dining area to conduct the interviews.
The forensics team and a doctor had come in and were busy in Dolly’s bedroom.
Pinto wanted to interview each of them privately and Lena was the first. Joki had taken down her name, phone number, and address.
Pinto started the interview. “Describe everything that happened today.”
“The day began like all other days. Caroline had come home from Mumbai, yesterday. After breakfast, I cleared away the table. Both of them continued talking, still sitting at the dining table. I went away into the kitchen to start lunch. I suddenly heard both of them yelling at each other in loud voices. It is a routine thing whenever the kids come. So I did not bother going and checking on them.”
Pinto asked, “So both Caroline and Alex quarrel with her every time they visit, is it?”
“Yes. It’s more like they ask her for money and she gets angry and starts yelling at them.”
“Do you know why they quarreled today?”
“I heard words like ‘you are only after my money, you don’t care for your mom, you will be happy if I die’ from Dolly. From what Caroline said, I could make out ‘I need the money very badly, what’s the use of you giving the money to me later when I need it now.'”
“What happened afterward?”
“Usually both of them keep sulking after a quarrel. But this time I don’t know what had happened, both were talking well and even laughing during lunch. They sat talking at the dining table for a few more minutes and later went to rest.”
“Did they rest in the same room?”
“No, no. They went to their own rooms. Caroline was leaving for Mumbai in the evening. She asked for some tea around 5. She directed me to bring it into Dolly’s room. They were in a very good mood, laughing together when I took it in. After 10 minutes, I went in to clear away the tea things. Dolly was very much alive and smiling then.” Sudden tears sprang up and Lena used a hanky to dab at her eyes.
“Caroline left soon after that.”
“Did you see her leave? Were they still friendly with each other when she left?”
“Oh yes. I saw her leave. She called out to Dolly from the door, telling her she would be back home the next week. I was in the kitchen making vindaloo paste. Of course, they were friendly when she left. I know that because I saw her go half the way to the gate and come back and talk to Dolly from the window. She told her that the weather was slightly cold and that she should use her shawl when she sat at the beach watching the sunset. Then she got on her two-wheeler and left.”
“Caroline uses the Kinetic Honda to reach Mapusa. She usually takes a bus from Mapusa to Mumbai. She leaves the honda at a friend’s place near the bus stop so she need not depend upon the sketchy bus service between Mapusa and Anjuna.”
“What happened after that?”
“Later, I saw from the window that Dolly was sitting on the beach in her usual place. I noticed with a smile that she had obeyed Caroline and was wrapped up in a shawl.”
“What time was it then?”
“I think it must have been a little after 6. Because some ten minutes later, Alex came and then the time was 6.15. He asked me Dolly’s whereabouts and I pointed to the beach. He observed her for a minute. I think he was debating if he should go up and talk to her and then decided against it. All of us knew how much Dolly hated it if someone disturbed her on her sunset watch.”
“When did she come in?”
“I am not sure. Alex and I sat chatting on the front verandah for a while. He wanted to borrow money from Dolly and I enlightened him about what happened with Caroline. Later, around 7, I went away to start dinner.”
“Did Alex continue to sit there?”
“I don’t know. I did not notice.” Lena continued. “Dinner is usually at 8.30. I found Alex on the dining table but not Dolly. Alex said he would fetch her and went. In a minute I heard him cry out and yell for me. I ran into Dolly’s bedroom and found her exactly like how you saw her.”
“How did Alex take it? Was he shocked?”
Lena looked at Pinto piercingly and said “Of course he was. When I reached Dolly’s room he was blabbering and crying.”
The doctor walked into the room and addressed Pinto. “I am giving you the quick information that will help you with the investigation. The detailed analysis and the post mortem report will come to you later. Death is the result of suffocation due to the pillow being pressed hard on her face. Before you ask, yes, it can be done easily by people with very little physical strength, as Dolly wasn’t in such good shape to put up a big fight. The Rigor Mortis has just begun to set in. So I am pegging the earliest time it could have happened at 4.30 and the latest by 7.30.”
Alex came in and sat before Pinto. He looked devastated and his eyes were red from crying.
Pinto said “Before we go into your version, I want to ask you this. Who does the will favor currently? You or Caroline?”
A ghost of a smile appeared on his lips before he quelled it and said, “I see that you know about how the will could keep changing. Right now, Caroline is the beneficiary.”
Pinto asked, “Now tell me everything that happened after you arrived.”
Alex looked thoughtful for a few seconds and then spoke without looking the inspector in the eye, “I think I’d better tell you that I am in huge debt. You will find out anyway. I got into gambling and I owe a famous casino some big money. The thugs are after me and I am very desperate. I had mainly made this trip to ask mom for some money. Up to 30 lakhs.”
Pinto raised his eyebrows at the mention of the amount.
Alex continued and what he said corroborated with what Lena had said.
“What were you doing between the time Lena went in and dinner time?”
Alex paused for a few seconds, and then answered “I think I just sat there in the verandah thinking about how to get the money before the thugs broke my hands and legs. I don’t remember much about it.”
“What did you see when you went in to check on Dolly at dinner time?”
“When I went into her room, I immediately saw that something was wrong. Her head lay on the pillow at a very unnatural angle. I could see that she was not breathing. I immediately called Lena.”
“Can you think of anyone who had a reason for killing Dolly?”
“No. Before you ask, I do need the money, but I don’t really have a motive, because the Will favors Caroline, and mom’s death right now means I am not going to get any. If I were to kill her, then it makes sense that I wait till Caroline fights with her next and the will is changed in my favor.”
It was the next day. Pinto and Joki were at the police station.
Pinto looked thoughtful. “Caroline has the motive for the murder but she also has an alibi. Alex has the opportunity but no motive.”
Joki replied “What if both of them are together in it and have made a secret pact to share the spoils? Caroline gets Alex to do the dirty work in exchange for half the estate?”
Pinto looked up in appreciation. “Good catch. Let us explore that angle too. Also, we cannot rule Caroline out completely. Maybe she has not left Anjuna at all. She waited somewhere, slipped into the house later, unseen by anyone, and committed it. Today she will walk in pretending to have come from Mumbai. Lena told me she is arriving today by flight. Please make sure she has really traveled from Mumbai.”
Joki replied. “Will do. Also, what about the tramp and the gardener?”
“You go to Mapusa and meet the lawyer. I will interview the gardener and the tramp at the police station. After that let us meet at Paradise to interview Caroline.”
The gardener was a middle-aged vociferous guy. He immediately launched on an angry tirade against the tramp. “Inspector, it’s definitely him. Madam had quarreled with him so many times. She once even threw a stone at him and hurt him. Most importantly he was loitering around the bungalow yesterday. When I left the bungalow after work, around 6, I saw him right in front of the gate.”
The tramp was dressed in rags with dirty teeth and shifty eyes.
His speech was slightly slurred as he explained “I not like lady. She not let me pick shells on beach. She shout at me, throw stones and hurt me.”
“Were you at the bungalow yesterday evening?”
His eyes shone with a native cunning. “Lady think I not see, but I see. I hide near the gate and see. She sitting on beach. Then she suddenly get up and come running towards me. I think she is seeing me and angry. She going to beat me. I runned away. I no see her after that.”
Pinto had got a text from Joki saying that the lawyer confirmed that the last will had been registered a month back and according to it, everything went to Caroline. Also, Caroline had conclusively traveled by flight from Mumbai and landed at Dabolim airport just then.
Pinto called Lena. “Hi, Lena. This is inspector Pinto. There is something very important I want you to do…. .“ Lena listened carefully.
As Pinto drove towards Paradise, he could see the beach. The midday sun was dazzling and the clump of coconut trees on the white sands looked like an oasis. The azure blue sky vaulted over the sea-green waters. The white frothy, seaspray lazily nuzzled at the shores.
Pinto wondered about how the sea had transitioned from the mysterious, unfathomable being of the night and assumed a sparkling, vivid personality by the day.
Pinto sat at the dining table and watched as Caroline entered. There was a repressed vitality about her. As if she was a wound spring waiting to jump out.
She more or less confirmed everything Lena had said.
Pinto asked “I heard that you immediately made up with Dolly after your quarrel yesterday. Lena says it’s not usual?”
Caroline’s smile was open and frank.“True inspector. I normally sulk. But I had decided to be grown up and mature. In retrospect, I see that it was a good decision. I would have hated myself if my last interaction with mom would have been a bitter and angry one.”
Pinto called everyone into the room
He took his place at the head of the table, cleared his throat, and started speaking. “I had been puzzled by the case. Dolly could easily have been killed by Alex. He had the opportunity. But he would not be getting the money and so he had no motive. Caroline could have killed her but people had seen Dolly sitting on the beach after she had left. But what had everyone actually seen? The scene of Dolly sitting on the beach had become so familiar to everyone that no one really paid any attention to check if it was definitely Dolly. What if it was Caroline covered in Dolly’s shawl? I think the whole idea occurred to her when she had quarreled with Dolly during breakfast. She realized that if Dolly were to die that day, she would be getting the entire wealth because she benefited from the current will. She put her plan into action by immediately swallowing her anger and becoming friends with Dolly. She made sure Lena saw them being chummy at lunch. Then by around five-thirty, after Lena cleared away the tea, she quickly put the pillow on the unsuspecting Dolly’s face and smothered her till she died. Caroline took her backpack in which she had secreted Dolly’s shawl and pretended to leave, making sure Lena saw and heard her. The extra touch of coming back to the window and asking Dolly to cover herself with a shawl was purely machiavellian. This made Lena think she was caring towards Dolly and also gave Caroline the excuse to cover herself fully while she created the impression that Dolly was on the beach when in reality, Dolly was lying dead in her room.”
There was a gasp from everyone and Caroline sprang up from her chair like an unwound spring. But Joki was beside her in a trice keeping his hand firmly on her shoulders.
Pinto continued “It would have been a perfect murder, except that when I spoke to the tramp he said that Dolly came running towards him. Dolly has had knee replacement surgery in both her knees and her limping gait could never be called ‘run’. So I started thinking on the lines, that it was a young person masquerading as Dolly. Then everything fell into place. I guess Caroline was in a hurry to leave the place when the coast was clear and so she had run out of the bungalow towards the clump of coconut trees where she had hidden her backpack and parked the Honda. She must have stuffed the shawl into the bag and rode fast to the bus stop. She would have had the time to take a bus to Mumbai, go straight to the airport from the bus stop, and take the flight back into Goa. I worked the time out.”
Caroline laughed and asked “Inspector, do you even have an ounce of proof for your ridiculous theory?”
“I knew this would come up. On your return, when you casually went into Dolly’s room, Lena was secretly following you and filmed your act on her mobile when you stealthily stowed Dolly’s shawl back into her cupboard. The shawl was incriminating evidence. Its absence from Dolly’s wardrobe would prove your guilt. Equally, it would be an admission of guilt, if it was found in your possession. So, I had expected you to replace it and directed Lena to film it on her mobile.”
The change in Caroline’s expression was startling. She yelled and kicked at Joki, trying to free herself.
Everyone looked on in shock as Joki handcuffed Caroline and shoved her towards the police jeep.
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