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20th October 9 AM Hyderabad
Inspector Prakash Malhotra, Detective Mayur Varma, and his junior Aisha Mishra entered a bedroom where the dead body of a software engineer, Priya Bedi, was lying flat on the floor. Her throat was soaked in blackish-red blood. The floor was covered with the dried blood; Priya's eyes were wide open in terror; her face was swollen and her well-groomed boy hair cut was messy. She wore a pale pink night suit. There was no weapon near her.
The room had a single cot and the bedspread on the mattress was messed up. A pillow was lying on the floor, away from the victim. The bed lamp was on and the window and the balcony doors were closed. A flower vase was lying beside the door. The clock of a music system showed 13:45. It was blinking.
Prakash had told Mayur he had visited the crime scene before seven o'clock in the morning.
"Was Priya staying alone here when the murder took place?" Mayur asked, looking at Prakash.
"Her colleague, Julia, shared the flat with her but Julia had gone to Mumbai to meet her parents and hadn't returned to Hyderabad," Prakash said. "Priya was alone on the weekend."
"How long did they stay in the flat?"
"They stayed together for four months."
"Do you suspect any motive behind the murder?" Mayur asked.
"Robbery," Prakash said. "There are some valuables missing and according to the security guard, Priya always wore a gold chain and diamond earrings, which are missing. Also, the perpetrator had searched for valuables in the closet as its contents were strewn around the room."
Mayur remained silent, contemplating. The murderer had struck when Priya was alone in the flat. Was it a coincidence that Priya's roommate, Julia, was out of the station? Or did the perpetrator know that Priya would be alone?
"Did you find the victim's cell phone with her?" Aisha asked.
"No," said Prakash. "That's one of the reasons why I believe robbery is the motive. And the murder methods are quite different from those of two previous robbery cases. Priya's throat had been slit open whereas the landlady was strangled. And a case before that, the victim was suffocated with a pillow."
"I have noticed Priya had protested before she succumbed," Mayur said.
"I too think so, but we can reach our conclusions about it only after Dr. Sunil conducts an autopsy," Prakash said.
Mayur turned to the apartment security guard. "Were you on duty last night when the murder took place?"
"No, Sir. Hemant worked in the night until this morning at six o'clock. I worked from six in the morning until five o'clock, sir."
"Would you like to share any information about Priya?"
"Well," said the guard. "I'd seen Priya outside her flat with her roommate and her colleague, Julia. She maintained a low profile and never came out of her flat alone in the evenings. She had been quite cheerful and happy whenever I'd seen her."
Priya might not have had any enemies in her life. And perhaps, she came from an orthodox family background as she never went outside alone.
"Had she been upset lately for any reason?" Aisha asked.
"I don't think so, Madam. I have seen her cheerful while she went to her office along with Julia."
Mayur walked back to the main hall of the flat along with Aisha. They sat on a sofa. The room was spacious enough and well-furnished with plush leather sofas and flat-screen television. Two flower pots - medium-sized with crotons in them - sat at the corners of the room. The walls were painted with cream and purple. An intricate chandelier hung from the ceiling and the hall was lit with yellow lamps embedded within the chandelier.
Mayur glanced outside the main entrance. The main door of the guesthouse and the surrounding area was cordoned off with yellow tape. The forensic lab technicians who wore light green masks and gloves were busy analyzing the scene.
Mayur's glance shifted towards Aisha. In her pink sari with a purple border and a matching blouse, Aisha looked beautiful. Her not so round but slightly oblong, the fair face was lit with a smile. Her golden chain around her neck and diamond earrings shone in the fluorescent light.
"Did you perform some special pooja at home?"
Aisha widened her eyes. She was seemingly surprised at how he found out about the pooja. "Yes. Today was my aunt's marriage anniversary. But how do you know about it?"
He winked at her. "The sandalwood paste on your neck is still fresh."
She touched her neck. "Oh, that's correct. You made a keen observation."
"How did the commemoration go?"
"It went well," she said. "It was a private function and only my brother and a few relatives attended it." She paused, staring down for a few moments. "What about you? How did you spend your weekend?"
"Well, I worked at the office."
"You worked?" Aisha sounded surprised.
"Yes. You know we ended the 'Murder of the Land Lady' case last week. I compiled all the papers relevant to it and closed it."
"So, you logically ended the case, then."
"I hope inspector Prakash is quite happy with you for the achievement," she said.
"Yes, he is. And he is going to host a party to celebrate the success this week."
"Oh, it sounds interesting."
Prakash arrived along with the security guard. "I attended a meeting with my boss." He looked at Mayur. "He wants us to close this case early as the victim worked for an IT giant. We will have pressure from the company if the case is delayed."