The weather that afternoon was delightful. White, fluffy clouds drifted across the sky, playing hide and seek with the sun. Raghav and Malti were in FC Lonavala, sipping their coffee in the balcony of the hotel they had checked in for their holiday. It offered a panoramic view of the lush green Sahyadri hills. Those hills enclosing the serene lake in their midst and spectacular waterfalls in their lap were a sight to behold. None of them spoke as they admired mother nature. A gust of wind blew through Malti’s hair and brought a tuft of it on her face. Raghav smiled at her lovingly, his gaze never leaving her face. He loved how she tucked the wandering loose strands of her hair behind her right ear with her index finger.
“This is the best news of this year, Malti.” Raghav came closer and sat near her feet. He touched her belly lovingly and blew a kiss towards their unborn baby.
“Tring tring”…Raghav’s phone acted as a spoilsport to their perfect moment.
“Yes, Detective Raghav here.” Raghav moved away to attend to the call.
Malti, whose face was beaming a few moments ago was crest fallen. She abhorred work related calls on their holidays as she knew her workaholic husband would drop everything and rush back if some case came up. Work hard but party harder was her mantra.
Malti had broken the news of her pregnancy to him just before this trip. Raghav had been away for a week before that for solving a murder mystery in Pune. He was so happy and excited that he decided to take a break and spend some quality time with Malti in Lonavala. Malti didn’t want their holiday to end before time.
Raghav was a private detective and a much sought after one at that. It was at the beginning of his career that he had first met Malti. It was love at first sight. For him. She was a beautiful, tall, modern, independent interior decorater. Her confidence drew him to her instantly.
“Will you marry me?” He had jumped straight to this question after meeting her a few times at his client’s place where she was the in-charge of the renovation work.
He couldn’t believe his luck when she said, “Yes.” She too had secretly admired him for the sincerity he dealt his work with and also enjoyed the attention she got from him. His career had grown leaps and bounds ever since she came into his life.
“You are my good luck charm.” He always told her.
“We will have to leave, love. Just now. You pack our bags while I talk to the manager to complete the check out formalities.” Raghav spoke, with cigarette between his lips, fumbling to find the lighter to light his cigarette. He fumbled whenever he was anxious.
“Why so soon? You had promised me this vacation.” Malti got up, stomping her foot and snatched the cigarette from Raghav. She pointed towards her tummy and gestured Raghav not to smoke by folding her hands in front of him.
“Cricketer Shubham is dead. In the Wankhede stadium, on the field. His assistant called me. He suspects a foul play.” Having said these words, Raghav plonked himself on the sofa, his head in his hands. This was a very bad news.
“What?” Malti bellowed. “No. No… You must be mistaken.”
Shubham was their favourite cricketer and the team captain. Both Raghav and Malti were huge fans.
“I cannot believe what I just heard. Pradeep, his assistant, said his wife wants me to take up this case.”
“Oh my God. They had got married recently. He was so young. So fit. Such an amicable personality. Why would someone kill him?” Malti started crying. “Maybe it was a heart attack. So many young stars dying of heart attack these days.” She continued.
“This one too, as per his assistant, prima facie looks like one but his wife insists that he got a full body checkup done a few days before and was declared completely fit.” Raghav answered.
Raghav had driven back to Mumbai immediately and reached the stadium after dropping Malti home. The radio, TV and social media were all buzzing with the breaking news. The news anchors were screaming their lungs out trying to be the first to give this sensational bit.
“Sir , this was the place Shubham collapsed. He was immediately attended by our team doctor but referred to City Hospital because the doctor could see the impending doom. He was declared brought dead by the doctors at the hospital. He had just walked out of the dressing room and was to bat first.” Pradeep briefed Raghav.
“Was his behaviour normal or was he anxious?” Raghav interrogated.
“Sir, to tell you the truth. He had been anxious for past few days. Like something was weighing on his chest.” Pradeep told.
“Any marital problems?” Raghav spoke softly, moving closer to Pradeep.
Pradeep looked around to double check if there was anyone who was in the listening range, although they were both alone there, “None that I know of, Sir. Khyati is a very good person. She was always supportive and took very good care of Shubham.”
Raghav thought for a moment, his mind thinking of all possible culprits but it was too soon to point fingers at anyone. Especially when the doctors had called it a heart attack.
“I would like to check his mobile and meet Khyati. On second thoughts, let’s first go to the dressing room and see if there are any clues there.”
The duo entered the dressing room. Raghav looked around in admiration at the various lockers and other paraphernalia. He had always wanted to visit a cricket stadium but not this way. He, an avid fan of the game of cricket had wanted to see all his favorite players having fun there. He had also mentioned this desire of his in an essay in childhood, “If I was invisible for a day.”
Shubham’s bag still lay there along with his water bottle. Raghav put on a pair of gloves before he touched the bag to look at the contents. There was a tracksuit and a few chewing gums. Shubham was a simpleton. No frills, no fancy stuff.
Raghav closed the bag and looked out in the ground. A few men were there, cleaning the stands. Raghav imagined his favorite men in blue playing there with Shubham ready to bat, hitting his trademark sixes and fours.
“Sir, should we go?” Pradeep asked him, bringing him out of his reverie.
“Oh yes, we must. Has the dressing room been cleaned after the incident?”
“No sir. The manager here had it locked after everyone left and I called him before coming here to get it opened.”
“Hmm, let’s look around a little more.” Raghav moved the stuff around but found nothing. He opened the dustbin but there were just empty juice cartons.
They were about to leave when he saw a plastic thing peeping from below one of the lockers. It looked like a syringe. And indeed it was. An insulin syringe. Empty but the little droplets on the inside confirmed that it had been used. Raghav picked it up and put it in a bag. He was going to get it tested for its contents.
“Any cricketer who is a diabetic?” Raghav asked Pradeep, who was looking into his phone. Raghav thought he saw the colour disappear from his face for a few seconds
“Beg your pardon, Sir.” He said, obviously disturbed.
“All well? You look pale.” Raghav asked him.
“All well, Sir. Let’s go.”
“I asked if any of the cricketers was a diabetic?” Raghav repeated the question.
“None that I know of.” Pradeep shrugged his shoulders. He still seemed a little unnerved.
‘What is he hiding? What did he just see on his phone. Could he be involved with Shubham’s death? Suspect no. 1,’ Raghav made a mental note.
“Come, lets go to the hospital now. Has the autopsy report come?” Raghav beckoned Pradeep to follow as he left the room.
He jogged through the ground, going around the pitch, looking for any clues. Half way across he was panting.
I should start exercising regularly. I will need stamina to play with my child. And no cigarettes anymore.
COOPER HOSPITAL, MUMBAI
They reached the hospital just at the time when Shubham’s body was brought out of the autopsy room. He looked around and found Khyati standing in a corner signing the papers that the hospital staff asked her to. The usual formalities before handing over the body.
Raghav met the doctor and asked him for the autopsy report.
CAUSE OF DEATH – SUDDEN CARDIAC ARREST. VISCERA SENT FOR CHEMICAL EXAMINATION.
This didn’t add anything, he thought. He them moved to the first page and he started looking for any small points that could provide any clue. He suddenly remembered the syringe and his hand instantaneously moved to the outer pocket of his bag. It was there. He reminded himself to go to the forensic department.
Coming back to the report, he took pictures first in case someone came looking for it. It was then he saw something odd, INJECTION SITE ON DORSUM OF FOOT WITH A SMALL BLOOD CLOT OVER IT .
Was it a coincidence? Pradeep had said, he was brought dead to the hospital. The doctors usually look for veins in the upper limbs. Why an injection mark on the foot?
Raghav went into room no. 71, Forensics department and met Dr Anil, HOD.
“Good morning Dr Anil,” Raghav’s greetings made Dr Anil look up from his microscope.
“Hey Raghav, What brings you here today? A poisoning case in your kitty?” Dr Anil was always glad to see him and always enquired about the cases he was solving. Raghav had become friends with him because of his frequent handling of toxicology cases.
“Not in a position to say anything yet. Had to get the contents of this syringe tested. Will these droplets be enough? And anything out of place in Shubham’s autopsy report, kindly tell me. I am handling the case. I’ll take your leave now.” Raghav rushed outside.
Shubham’s funeral was attended by his family and friends, all cricketers, both his team and the opponent team. The police had a hard time controlling the fans outside. People were wailing. They just wanted to have a glimpse of their favourite cricketer.
Raghav waited to pay his condolences and used this time to look at people’s reactions. The whole team looked distraught. Since the death had taken place on the ground, he couldn’t rule out the possibility of someone from the team or the other team having a role in this. If there was some player involved, he was putting up a really good mask because Raghav couldn’t make out.
“Hitesh had an argument with Shubham a few days ago. He didn’t agree with many decisions Shubham took as a captain. Actually he thought he was more deserving to be in the captain’s position.” Pradeep told Raghav.
“Well, professional jealousy is everywhere but doesn’t seem like a reason to kill someone.” Raghav replied. Actually he liked Hitesh too, a lot and didn’t think he would do something like that. But in his mind he added him to the suspect’s list.
“Look at the coach. He is crying so much.” He heard someone talk behind his back.
“Of course, he was Shubham’s mentor, his teacher, his guardian. In fact the whole team is like his children. I heard Shubham gave him a lot of respect and never went against his guidance.” The other person replied.
Raghav started observing Mr Savarkar, the team’s coach. He looked very anxious. He stood away from everyone, taking support of the wall. He was crying and repeatedly wiping his tears with his sleeve. He nervously shifted his weight from one foot to another.
‘The coach? Could he be the one? What reason could he have?’ Raghav contemplated.
“Hello, Mr Raghav.” He was caught lost in the reverie when Khyati approached him.
Khyati stood before him with folded hands, swollen eyes and a sombre expression.
He couldn’t help but remember how different she looked from a few days ago when he saw her in the stadium stands on the television, cheering for Shubham.
“I need your help. Please find the murderer. They say it’s heart attack but it’s not. Something had been disturbing Shubham for past few days. He didn’t tell me but I think he was getting some sort of threats on the phone.” Khyati spoke softly, her voice choking at times.
“Threats? What threats? Can I see his phone?” Shubham was surprised at this revelation.
“Of course you can. You must. It’s at home. Should I send it over to you or will you come and take it?”
“I will come over. In fact I wanted to talk to you too regarding this case.” Raghav replied.
“Talk like in interrogate? You suspect me? I wouldn’t do such a heinous thing ever?” Khyati fumbled. There was a tone of hurt and anger in her voice.
“Not interrogate, Mrs Shubham. Just ask a few questions that could take us closer to the closure of the case.” Khyati’s behaviour surprised Raghav.
After Khyati left, Raghav went over to the other cricketers and chatted with them.
Everyone was talking about what a nice person he was and how sudden cardiac deaths had become so common but Raghav felt an underlying commotion in their persona. It was like each one of them was trying to hide something, overdoing the other one in offering his condolences.
‘Something’s fishy!’ Raghav thought of targeting his investigation around them.
He saw Mr Savarkar walking away and ran to catch up with him.
“Hello Sir, Could you tell me if you know something about Rishabh’s sudden demise. Was there any animosity in the team? Was there someone who could have wanted to kill him?”
“Kill? It was a case of heart attack. Wasn’t it? Why are you here? Are you from media? Why do you people want to complicate things always. Bring in a drugs angle? Or some enemies. He had no enemies. No one wanted to kill him. Leave me alone.” Mr Savarkar rushed towards his car leaving Raghav with some doubts and questions.
Shubham’s house was palatial. ‘Our country certainly treats our cricketers well.
Cricketers and movie stars.’ Raghav thought as he showed his ID at the entrance. The guards here too were jostling with the crowd gathered to pay obescience to their star who had now become a star himself.
‘Silly people, they know they will never be allowed in but still they are here, wasting their time. And then there was media, they wouldn’t let the family mourn in peace.’
‘Please come in,’ Pradeep greeted Raghav and led him to the living room. The room was opulent showcasing Shubham’s trophies and medals. He could hear the relatives talking in the other room. Some of them were worried for Khyati but there were some who talked about all the wealth that Khyati had inherited all of a sudden.
Khyati walked into the room and handed him Shubham’s mobile. “There is this unknown number he had been getting calls from which disturbed him but he never shared it with me.”
Shubham checked the call history. The calls had started a week ago. After checking the number on Truecaller, Raghav found the phone to be registered in some Bilal Bhai’s name.
“What could this guy Bilal want from Shubham? A case of extortion?”
“Does this phone record the calls?” He asked Khyati.
“I am afraid, No. I checked this out once when Shubham was very anxious after a call and wouldn’t tell me what the matter was. Now the secret has gone with him and maybe has become the reason of his death? Please help.”
Raghav’s phone rang at that very moment.
It was a call from Dr Anil.
“Raghav, Where did you find this syringe from? It showed the presence of Potassium ions.”
“Potassium ions? I am coming to you.”
Raghav rushed back to the hospital to meet Dr Anil. “Does it correlate somewhere with Shubham’s death? I found it in the dressing room.”
“You mean you suspect someone killed him? We actually found hyperkalemia, that is increased potassium levels in blood but that happens in cases of sudden cardiac deaths.” Dr Anil told him.
“What other good reason can we think of for a syringe with Potassium ions to be there in the dressing room. It has to be someone from the team then.” Raghav had found the murder weapon but not the murderer and the motive behind the crime. Bilal Bhai was another loose end in the investigation.
Raghav called Pradeep to arrange an emergency meeting with all the team members and the coach. He couldn’t wait to find the culprit.
They agreed to meet but it was to take another three hours. Raghav’s mind was racing to find reasons and the culprit. He was sure he was close to the closure.
It was almost seven in the evening when everyone got together in the stadium. Raghav was waiting in the dressing room for them along with Pradeep.
“Hello everyone. Sorry for calling you all back but trust me, it was urgent.
Do you guys know who Bilal Bhai is?”
Raghav’s eyes quickly moved from one face to another and they all had the same expression. None spoke but all of them had fear writ large in their faces at the mention of this name.
“The murderer used Potassium cyanide to kill Shubham and as they say left the proof in the dressing room itself.” Raghav continued, his eyes never failing to note their expressions. Surprise displaced fear from the players faces as they looked at each other with questioning eyes. I know who the culprit is and the police is on the way but I want the truth straight out of the horses mouth.” He tried his luck. Actually he had bluffed because for all he knew, the culprit could be any one of them.
“It was Potassium chloride, not cyanide.” The coach blurted out but immediately repented his action.
“Coach Sir, you? Shubham adored you.” The players spoke in unison. They were very angry.
“Mr Savarkar, do you care to explain your actions?”
“He was so stubborn. Bilal Bhai was paying us all a handsome amount for losing this match. I desperately need the money. Ask them, they had all agreed but Mr Virtuous just wouldn’t budge. Bilal Bhai first lured him, then threatened him. Finally, he asked me to do the needful. I pretended to trip over his bag and injected Potassium chloride into his foot after falling down there. I then pushed the syringe below the lockers but didn’t get time later to take it out.”
“It’s sad that money can buy much more than goods. It bought your loyalty, all of you sold yourself and Mr Savarkar sold his conscience too. I will let the cricket board handle you all but Mr Savarkar needs police too.
Raghav made the call to the police station. After the police had taken away the coach, Raghav asked Pradeep. “What message made you lose the colour from your face? I thought you were involved too.”
“No. No. I wasn’t. It was my wife threatening to leave me as I had forgotten our anniversary once again. It seems she hadn’t seen the news and I had forgotten to tell her.”
“Speaking of wife, mine is also angry with me for cutting short her vacation. Let’s get home and try to get things right.” Raghav quipped.
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