A Spy in McLeod Ganj
by Sameer Kulkarni
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
‘So, Doctor, what do you think of it all? Did you get a report from the pathologist?’ Major asked.
‘I did, I did. You know, this is an extremely bizarre case. I haven’t seen anything like this before.’
‘What is it?’
‘Well, I talked to Tara earlier this evening. She had only finished a preliminary analysis, but she said that our man must have suddenly started feeling a false sense of motion.’
‘You mean like vertigo?’
‘Yes! Only that it was induced externally.’
‘You mean someone injected something into him? How is that possible? He was right in front of me, and I didn’t see any foul play.’
‘Well, wait for it. Tara found an answer to that. It was done through the ears.’
‘Tara found some sort of paste behind his right ear, all dry of course. But she said that paste must have had some ingredient that caused damage to the vestibulocochlear nerve.’
‘And that’s why he fell down?’
‘But, Doctor, I hope you don’t mind me saying so, were you thorough when you checked him? You were sure that he was alive?’
‘Oh, yes! He was breathing fine, his chest was going up and down like a frog’s chin!’
‘But he couldn’t have died in the time you were gone and the paramedics showed up.’
‘That is just what happened. We don’t know how yet. Tara hasn’t finished doing a full autopsy.’
‘Is she still at the hospital?’
‘No... Major, she has a family! First thing in the morning, she said. But why are you interested in this? You closed the detective agency a long time back.’
‘Because of that woman! She had this mysterious way of disappearing every time they came in. That reminds me; did she come and visit the man?’
‘No, she never showed up.’
‘I am telling you she is knee-deep in this.’
‘So what are you going to do?’
‘Think, of course. Remorse always heralds out of a thoughtless action.’
* * *
Next morning, seeing that only the ‘regulars’ were in the lounge, Major asked Bahadur to hold the fort for an hour while he ventured towards the hospital.
When he reached the hospital, Dr. Tara was just entering the anatomy room and, seeing Major Menon, she stopped.
‘Tara! Do you have a minute?’
‘Sure. Let’s go inside.’
As they sat at her table, Major noticed all the anatomy diagrams on the wall. The last time he had been in a hospital was during the Kargil war when half of his battalion had gotten injured. No matter how much he tried, seeing those green aprons reminded him of that war.
‘I talked to Dr. Verma last night. He told me about the dry residue of a paste that you found behind the victim’s ears.’
‘Oh, yes! I have sent a sample to the lab to determine the chemical composition, but my initial guess is that it was some sort of mild neurotoxin, an exotic one. Well, if you would like to know how he died, it was a heart attack.’
‘Did Dr. Verma give you any details around the timing of his death?’ Major asked, nodding with the side of his head towards the table where their guy’s body was lying.
‘No. How do you mean?’
‘Well, when Dr. Verma left that man was still alive. But between the time he left and the paramedics arrived, and I tell you it was a matter of minutes, because I went inside the kitchen only for a minute...’
And Major Menon just froze, leaving the sentence hanging mid-air.
‘And?’ Tara prompted him, but she had already lost Major.
‘Major? Major?!’ she said, flicking her fingers in front of his face.
‘Of course, of course! I mean there is no other possibility.’ He stood up and started walking around. He was perambulating.
‘Can’t be that, but then...’ Major’s soliloquy continued, and seeing that the only way to get him to share what he was thinking was to prod him gently, Tara, with a smile on her face said, ‘Want to share it with me?’
‘That woman, Tara, that woman. She killed him.’
‘You see when Dr. Verma left, that woman left, too, and she said she would go around to the hospital later, but she never did.’
‘But if she left with Dr. Verma, how did she kill him?’
‘I don’t know exactly how, but the only window anyone had was between the time Dr. Verma finished checking the man and my leaving for the kitchen.’
‘So it could have been anyone then?’
‘Well, technically, yes! It could have been anyone.’
‘That woman was standing on the other side while Dr. Verma was checking the man. And when I accompanied Dr. Verma to the door, that woman joined us a few seconds later.’
‘And you think that is when she killed him?’
‘Of course! Think about it. There was no one else around. All the tables were empty.’
‘How did she kill him?’
‘Well, you will have to tell me that. You haven’t finished the full autopsy yet, have you? Shall I stop by 4?’
‘I will try my best.’
* * *
Most of Major’s afternoon was uneventful except for a good discussion on Satori with the ‘regulars.’ As he approached the hospital, he realized that Dr. Tara was in the balcony, drinking a cup of tea. He waved to her, and asked if it was all right for him to come over. She pointed to her cup and asked if he wanted some. A properly raised Indian never denies a cup of tea, at least a well-made cup of tea.
‘Well, you seem to have wrapped all the work,’ Major Menon said as he entered Tara’s office.
‘Oh, yes!’ she said, and returned back to the balcony, drinking in the Himalayas.
‘You were right. He was murdered.’
‘Well, very smartly. You know I had almost given up, because I couldn’t find anything aberrant; he was in excellent health. He had an athletic build, in tip-top shape. Almost like he was a military personnel.’
‘So you realized the heart attack wasn’t natural after you inspected him?’
‘Yes, but then I found traces of Bupivacaine in his liver. It’s used as a local anaesthetic, but it is also cardiotoxic and an overdose can result in a cardiac arrest.’
‘So it was injected into him? How?’
‘Through his left foot. I found a small needle mark in his left foot, he must have lost the sensation in his left foot, poor fellow! Of course, it was useless. He died within a few minutes.’
‘Okay, that’s good; we at least know how he died.’
‘What are you going to do now?’
‘As you know, we don’t have an active police force right now. So we can’t send people after the woman to find her. But I have a feeling, she has a bigger agenda. Something else is cooking, I can smell it.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘See, the man she killed was her partner, an accomplice, if one wants to categorize their operation as a criminal activity. Who knows if there are more people involved?’
‘Even if there are, what can we do?’
‘Think, of course. But I don’t want you to tell anyone that this was an unnatural death. Let everyone think that he just died of a heart attack.’
‘Not even Dr. Verma?’
‘Not even Dr. Verma.’
‘But why? Meaning, what is secrecy going to buy you?’
‘Time. It will buy me time. I need to arrange a few things first. Is the tea ready?’
When Major returned to the Tea House, he realized that his primary suspect was waiting for him at one of the tables. Realizing how important it was to play the devil’s tune, Major, completely composed, gave her a smile and went inside the kitchen to talk to Bahadur. Shortly, he returned to the cashier’s desk.
As he was tuning the radio, the woman walked towards the desk.
‘Is there any place where we can talk privately?’
‘We can sit at the corner table,’ he said, pointing to a table that was completely hidden from the street, ‘I am afraid that is as private as it gets.’
When they sat at the table, the woman said, ‘I want to confess something.’
‘Confess? What is it?’
‘The man who died here in your restaurant two days ago, I killed him.’
‘But Dr. Verma said he died of a heart failure.’
‘Well, that is true. But it was because of what I injected into him.’
‘And that’s what killed him?’
‘Yes, it was an overdose of Bupivacaine.’
‘I don’t know what I am supposed to do with this information. I am not the legal authority, you know.’
‘Yes, but I want to turn myself in. The guilt is too overwhelming. I want you to take me to the right authorities.’
The only problem was that McLeod Ganj had no police force, it was a military town. The borders were so close that there were always some units around. Additionally, since the Tibetan Government in exile was established, there was only an added population of Buddhist monks, and more monasteries were built instead of law enforcement offices.
Major Menon, not knowing what to do in a case where one had to deposit a criminal, decided that the best way to know was to go to Viceroy House and talk to someone there.
‘All right, I guess there must be someone at Viceroy House who would know what to do.’
Viceroy House hosted the Mayor’s office along with many other government offices, including a judge’s chambers. Major Menon asked the woman to sit outside while he went and talked to the Mayor. Realizing that this was something a judge should reside in, the Mayor asked Major Menon to confide with the judge next door. The judge thought it would be better if he could get a confession from the woman herself, and hence invited the woman in.
While he was waiting outside, Major kept thinking about what the woman had done. Why would anyone confess to a murder and get locked up, he thought, especially when one was in a foreign country and had very little information about the criminal laws there? It didn’t make any sense to him.
The judge came outside after ten minutes or so, and confirmed that the woman had confessed to him as well. He also revealed that her name was Jin. When Major Menon asked what he had decided to do with her, he said that it was a tricky situation, but the least they could do was to lock her up for the night and then talk with the military police tomorrow for a handover.
A security guard was soon summoned and he stripped a room down the hall of all the furniture and kept a single chair, a table and a few sheets of foolscap paper with a pen. The woman was asked to wait inside and stay in there until further instructions. A note with “Do not enter without permission” was stuck on the door, and everyone left soon after.
Seeing that there was nothing left for him to do, Major returned to the Tea House still stumped with the same question: why get locked up? He just nodded when Bahadur told him something and ran out of the door, but so lost was he that he had no idea what he had said.
Twenty minutes later Bahadur came in, wiping his forehead on a handkerchief.
‘Everything all right, Bahadur?’ Major asked, putting the crossword down.
‘Yes! Listen to this. I got an anonymous phone call when you were gone, asking me to stop by the north entrance of the cricket ground. When I asked why, the caller just said it was important and he would tell me once I went there. So I ran there... and there was no one around at the entrance, but then I saw that my boy was batting for the school and was about to score a half-century.’
‘Well, don’t you see it? It was his trick!’
‘What? He asked someone to call you so that you could watch him play?’
‘Yeah! He keeps trying to convince me to send him to summer camp,’
‘So he wanted you to go and watch him so that you would be convinced?’
‘Well, Bahadur, I don’t want to side with him, but the boy has talent. I have seen him play. He reminds me of Tendulkar.’
Bahadur said something about money and then went back inside, and Major got back to his crossword. Five across didn’t fit anymore, he realized, and turned around to get an eraser from the cupboard, when it suddenly clicked for him. In the same way Bahadur’s boy wanted his father to come watch him play and be convinced of his talent, Jin wanted to get locked up in Viceroy House so that she could...
It made a little sense to him now, but he hadn’t a clue about her motivation. What was happening at the Viceroy House that she had to be there?
Instead of scratching his brain, Major decided to see if there was any ground to his theory and crossed the road to the Viceroy House. Down on the steps, one of the guards was smoking a cigarette.
‘Everything good, Pandey-ji?’
‘All good, Sahib, with your blessings!’
‘Good, good! You look like you haven’t had too much sleep.’
‘Sahib, that big deal is happening in next two days. So we have been asked to be extra careful.’
‘The highway contract.’
‘Oh, the highway contract! Right, right. I won’t keep you any more. I see your cigarette awaits. Carry on, Pandey-ji!’
The guard bid him goodbye and got back to his cigarette while Major Menon came inside to see if the Mayor was free. Luckily, he was.
‘Mr. Mayor! Sorry to bother you again. Do you have a minute, sir?’
‘Come in, Major, come in.’
‘Are those McCormick & Henley Associates people in the building today?’
‘Oh, yes! They are here. They have a meeting later to iron out a few additional details.’
‘How many people do they have in the building?’
‘Just two: the CEO and the architect.’
‘I wanted to have a quick word with the CEO. Totally trivial, you needn’t be bothered.’
‘Oh, yes, go ahead. He is seated two offices down from here.’
‘Thank you, sir!
When Major Menon approached a door that had a note of “McCormick & Henley Associates” stuck on the door, he knocked and waited for a response. When a voice said, ‘Come in,’ he hesitated for a second on how to best proceed with the details but then, not thinking too much about it, opened the door.
‘Hello! My name is Major Menon. I am the owner of Tea House, the bistro just on the opposite side of the road.’
‘Hello! Nice to meet you, Major Menon. I am John McCormick. How may I help you, Major?’
‘There was a small matter I wanted to discuss, about your associate actually, who doesn’t seem to be around.’
‘Oh, yes! Mark has gone to look at the museum this afternoon; he found some spare time before the evening meeting.’
‘Excellent! That makes it easier for me. I have to ask you a few things.’
Major Menon then explained the whole situation to him.
‘Good Lord! Are you sure? Mark is our lead architect, and more importantly, a good friend. I don’t know, Major. The last thing I want to do is accuse someone of such a serious offense. Are you sure?’
‘Unless you confess yourself!’
‘I am quite sure. But, I understand your point and I am not going to ask for any action. We don’t have any proof, and I could be totally wrong. But it’s really important that you don’t express anything, Mr. McCormick, to Mark!’
‘Call me John, please! If what you are insinuating is true, you are going to save us from a major catastrophe. But—’
‘I hope so. Now, here is what I want you to do so that we are prepared for his move.’
Major explained his plan to him.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Sameer Kulkarni