X : Khoj Shuru - 4 - ESP books and stories free download online pdf in English

X : Khoj Shuru - 4 - ESP

Chapter 4: ESP

One morning found Payal at Virat's apartment. She had come to borrow milk, and seeing the burnt toast that Aditya was bravely trying to bite into, had taken pity on the two and was preparing a proper breakfast.

“So, what did you two think of my article on The Selfie Killer case?” She asked.

“I liked it,” Aditya said. “Not too sensational. Sober enough with the facts. And thanks for keeping my name out of the report.”

“I really didn't want to,” Payal said. “But because you insisted, I only took Virat's name, since he was technically the one who caught Abhimanyu.”

“Publicity is bad for Aditya right now,” Virat said. “Which means I get all the credit for a case I didn't solve.” He looked at Aditya with a degree of guilt.

“Don't worry about it,” Aditya said lightly. “You know I'd rather not have my pictures in the news at the moment.”

“Why not?” Sheetal asked with a perplexed frown. “You know, you never actually gave me a reason.”

“He's shy,” Virat said. “And he thinks he never gives a good picture. Vanity issues.”

Aditya grinned. “That's exactly it.” Payal was silent for a moment while she busied herself with the stove. She was aware that Aditya was not being completely honest. As frank and open as he was in general, there was an element of smiling reserve he maintained about certain parts of his life that no amount of questioning could get him to divulge. And Payal was a good enough friend to take the hint and leave the matter well enough alone.

“Well, this breakfast is my way of thanking you both for the scoop of a lifetime.” She said, taking out a stack of bread loaves as she prepared to make French toast.

There was a knock on the door. Aditya went to open it. Outside stood a young woman. Even dressed simply in a green salwar, she managed to look striking. But her good looks were overcast by a worry that was evident by the lines creasing her forehead.

“Good morning.” She spoke in a low, pleasant voice that sounded slightly strained. “Is this where Inspector Virat Joshi lives?”

“Yes.” Aditya moved aside to let the girl in, and Virat rose to his feet. The newcomer was of the same age as them.

“I'm sorry for intruding on your private residence, inspector.” She spoke to Virat. “But I don't know where else to go. I don't think the police will believe my problem is real. My name is Diya Sharma, and I'm desperately in need of advice about my sister.” She looked beseechingly at Aditya as well as Virat, the cord of her handbag twisting nervously between her fingers.

Virat nodded. “I'm not in an official capacity at the moment, but I'd be happy to give you any advice you might think you need.”

“Have a seat on the sofa,” Aditya said. Their visitor lowered herself slowly onto the seat and glanced at Virat.

“I read about your work in finding the selfie killer.” The girl said as Virat pulled up a chair opposite her and Payal joined her on the sofa. Aditya sat on the beanbag chair. “I knew you lived nearby, and so I tracked down Inspector Joshi's address from Facebook.”

“I'm glad you found me,” Virat asked patiently. “So what exactly is the problem?”

“It's my sister,” Diya said. “I think... I think she's in danger.”

“What kind of a danger?” Virat asked.

“I'm not sure,” Diya said slowly. “Lately we've been getting some anonymous phone calls...” Her voice trailed off. Virat waited for her to continue, but she fell quiet, staring at the kitchen table.

“So you've been getting anonymous calls.” Aditya prompted. “Anything else?”

“It's not just that.” Diya hesitated, then looked up at Aditya. “Do you believe in ESP?”

Aditya gazed back at her dispassionately. “No, as a psychologist, I can't say I do.”

“What's ESP?” Virat asked, looking from Diya to Aditya.

“Extra-sensory perception,” Aditya spoke without taking his eyes off Diya. “The belief that you can sense something beyond what your five senses tell you. It's often associated with twins who share a strong bond.”

Diya nodded emphatically “Kavya and I have had that connection ever since we were children.” She said earnestly. “If she got sick, so would I. If she was sad, I could sense it, and then I'd be sad, too. The connection grew fainter as we got older, but I can still sense it when she's really disturbed.”

“So do you feel your sister is sick?” Virat asked.

“No.” Diya leaned forward, the lines of worry deepening on her forehead. “I think my sister is in danger. I'm afraid something bad is going to happen to her.”

“What kind of danger?” Aditya asked with a frown, struck by the anxiety evident in Diya's voice. Despite his personal opinions about ESP, he could see the young woman seemed to believe in what she was saying.

“I don't know what.” Diya looked at Aditya helplessly. “That's the problem. I just don't know anything definite. That's why I can't go to the police!” Her voice rose with every sentence.

“Okay, just relax.” Virat held up a reassuring hand. “We'll get to the bottom of this, but we need to talk about this calmly and reasonably.”

“I'm sorry, I'm just tired.” Diya massaged her temple, smoothing out the lines on her forehead as she bent her head. “I had to lie to Kavya about going to work early to come here. I've been working up to meeting with you all morning. I couldn't eat anything because I was so nervous. ”

“Well, we can fix that.” Aditya rose and went to the fridge. “An empty stomach doesn't help when you're under stress.” He opened the door of the fridge. It contained the leftover sabzi from three nights ago and a piece of pastry that had frozen solid, along with a carton of orange juice. “Of course, food poisoning doesn't help stress either.”

“Actually, could I have some juice?” Diya asked. Aditya filled a glass and handed it to her. He noticed her trembling fingers as she took the glass. “I'm just so glad you two aren't laughing at me. I was afraid you'd just tell me I was mad.” She drained the glass in three large gulps. Aditya refilled her glass and left the carton on the table next to her.

“We don't know enough about the case to form an opinion yet,” Virat said in a neutral tone. “As for the ESP thing, I have heard of similar cases before. Animals can sense earthquakes and flee before the tremors start. A mother knows her child is sick before any of the symptoms appear.”

“Or when you're thinking about someone and then immediately afterward you get a phone call from that person.” Payal supplied. “That's happened to me a few times.”

“You say you've always felt this connection?” Virat asked Diya.

“Ever since we were little.” Diya set down her glass and took out her mobile. She scrolled through the gallery and showed them a picture of two girls, both identical except that one was slimmer and rather more fashionable dressed than the other. “When we were children and she fell down a well, no one noticed she'd disappeared. But I could sense something was wrong, and I kept crying until they sent out a search party and rescued her from the well.”

“And when did you start getting the feeling she was in danger?” Aditya asked.

“A few weeks ago.” Diya laced her fingers together. “I thought I was just sick at first. But then I remembered that feeling from childhood. It's... it's like a sickness creeping deep inside your stomach. I didn't say anything to Kavya because she didn't seem to feel anything strange. But I told Suraj to keep an eye on her...”

“Suraj?” Virat inquired.

“Kavya's boyfriend. I met him at an expo a month ago and introduced him to Divya. They've been seeing each other ever since.”

“And Suraj hasn't noticed anything strange?” Aditya asked.

“No.” Diya shook her head slowly, but there was a hesitation in her voice. “At least... He doesn't say anything out loud. But I thought something about his manner seemed off lately. He'd often stare at Kavya when she wasn't looking. But not in a romantic way, more like he was thinking really hard about something. Also, in the past few days, we've had a couple of anonymous phone calls on the landline. Whenever we pick up the phone goes blank.”

“How many people live in your house?” Virat asked.

“Just me and my sister. Our parents died a few years ago and left us the house. A maid comes in the morning and evening, and sometimes the odd job man. We don't see a lot of people except Suraj.”

Diya finished her narrative and looked hopefully at Virat.

“I'm still not sure what you want us to do,” Virat said slowly. “Let's suppose you're right about your sister being in danger.” He glanced at Aditya, who shrugged slightly. “It's not nearly enough grounds to begin an investigation. And, if you don't mind me saying it, this sense of danger seems to be taking a greater toll on your health than your sister's.”

“You think I'm making it up.” Diya's gaze lowered to the table.

“I didn't say that,” Virat said quickly.

“So you think it's all in my head?” Diya turned to look beseechingly at Aditya.

“The only thing I think at this point is we need more data,” Aditya said, picking up the carton to refill her glass. “My suggestion would be to sit tight for a few days and keep a careful eye on your surroundings. There has to have been a trigger for your anxiety. Once we locate that trigger, we'll be a lot further on in this case.”

Diya nodded slowly, picking up the glass to take another drink. “I suppose that's all I can do at this point.” She sighed, setting the glass down. “And I want to thank you both for not laughing at-” She had placed the glass too near the edge of the table and it fell into her lap, soaking into her dress and splashing Payal and Aditya as well.

“No, no, no!” Payal cried in frustration. “I just bought this salwar. And I ruined your floor, too. I'm so sorry.” She sounded on the verge of tears.

“Relax, I'll clean it up with the wiper,” Virat assured her.

“Why don't you come to my room?” Payal offered, laying a soothing hand on Diya's shoulder. “You can wash the stain and borrow something from my closet.”

“Thank you.” She said gratefully. “I don't want to go to the office looking like this. And I'm really sorry about the floor, and for wasting your juice.”

“Don't worry about it,” Virat said. He already had the wiper in hand. “Just go get cleaned up.”

The two girls left. Virat looked at Aditya as he began to swab the floor. “So, what do you think?”

Aditya shook his head, moving Diya's mobile on the table away from the juice stains. “I'm more worried about Diya than her sister. She's clearly suffering from a great deal of mental strain because of her worries.”

“But you don't actually believe her fears are legitimate?” Virat asked.

“I doubt it,” Aditya said drily. “Every person at some point in their lives becomes convinced they can sense the supernatural. Some people think they can see ghosts, some see the future. There's a whole section of research on the phenomenon of Deja Vu. And some think they have ESP.”

“I have heard of similar cases before,” Virat observed. “My aunt believed she had the same kind of powers.” He sat back in his chair. “Let's go about this another way. If this girl came to you as a patient seeking advice from a psychologist, what would your diagnosis be?”

Aditya frowned thoughtfully. “That's an interesting question. When you put it that way... my guess would actually be something that to a layman would seem very much like ESP. Mental suggestion.”

“What's that?”

“One can never discount the power of suggestion on the human mind,” Aditya said. “Diya already thinks she has ESP. The sister gets anonymous phone calls, Diya becomes afraid for their safety, and she starts believing that the fear is due to her ESP and that it's a sign her twin is in danger. Often the promptings of the subconscious appear supernatural because in most cases people are not aware of the processes going on inside their mind at the deeper level. The blank phone calls to the sister's house. Some strange behavior on the part of other people who visit the house, maybe. Something that her conscious mind forgot, but her unconscious mind remembered, and issued a warning: your sister is in danger...”

Suddenly Diya's phone rang. Virat and Aditya looked at each other. They leaned over the screen of the mobile. The incoming call was from Kavya. The phone rang several times before stopping. Then immediately it started ringing again. Virat hesitated, then picked up the phone and put it on speaker.

“Diya? Where are you? For god's sake, where are you?” The whispered voice on the other end was slightly high-pitched. It was also deeply frightened.

“Kavya, this is Virat Joshi,” Virat spoke loudly into the phone. “I'm a police inspector. Your sister is with us. Is something wrong?”

“There's a man outside my house.” The voice broke on the phone. “Please help me. He's breaking down the window.”

“Kavya, we need you to stay calm and describe the attacker.” Aditya now spoke into the phone.

“He's... he's...” The voice paused. “I'm not sure. I'm so scared. Please...”

“Kavya, listen to me, you cannot panic right now. It is very important that you describe the attacker to us. You need to hide somewhere and tell us as much as you can. We're sending the police to your house.” Aditya was already on the phone talking to Shahid.

“He's... He's a tall man.” The voice spoke tremblingly. “Very dark. And he's wearing a gold chain. He's got a beard and a mustache. He's wearing a black kurta. He's got a scar down his neck.” There were sounds of a disturbance at the other end. A scraping, rustling noise, and something falling on the ground.

Virat and Aditya were frozen in place, unable to do anything but listen with helpless anxiety. The sound of a scream, quickly muffled. Then silence. “Kavya? Kavya, can you hear me?” Virat's voice grew louder and more urgent, but there was no response.

The two went to Payal's apartment and hammered on the door. Payal opened the door and looked startled when she saw the expression on their faces. “What's the matter?”

“Where's Diya?” Virat asked urgently as the two entered the room.

“She's washing the stain off in the basin. What happened?”

Virat was telling Payal about the phone call when Diya emerged from the bathroom holding her salwar. She noticed the look on the faces of the three and something of their worry appeared on her face. “What's the matter?”

“We need to get to your house at once,” Aditya said, holding out her purse and mobile.

“My house? Why? What's wrong?” The anxiety was evident in Diya's voice as she surveyed the two grim-faced men. She still had not moved, her eyes going from one to the other as the lines creased her forehead.

“We'll explain on the way,” Aditya said, taking her hand and steering her towards the door.

* * *

Virat took Diya on his bike, while Aditya followed them on a tempo. Virat had given Diya a brief description of what had occurred in their apartment after she had left. Diya now sat in dazed silence, holding tightly onto Virat as she stared unseeingly forward.

“Where now?” Virat asked as they rounded a corner to find themselves in Gupta Colony.

“The first left turn,” Diya said in a trembling voice. They took the turn, and Diya pointed to a large, well-maintained house to the left.

As they neared the house, Diya gave a choking cry. The window next to the doorway had been smashed, leaving a large hole in the middle. Diya got off the bike before Virat had fully stopped. She ran towards the door, fumbling in her purse for the keys. Aditya had arrived at the house as well. He handed the driver a fifty rupee note and sprinted after Virat and Diya inside the house.

“Kavya!” Diya's voice rang throughout the house, but there was no response. “Kavya, where are you?” She ran through the living room where broken glass lay scattered on the floor, calling for her sister. They entered the darkened bedroom, and suddenly Diya gave a choking cry and fell to the ground. Most of the room was in shadows, but they could make out a bed with a large cupboard next to it. Lying on the floor in front of Diya was a body. A dark liquid was seeping out onto the carpet from the body. Aditya took Diya by her shoulders and helped her get to her feet and sit on the bed. Virat had found the switch and flicked it on, bathing the room in light. He stepped towards the body. It was facing up, and he felt a chill crawl up his spine as he found himself staring at a blank, unblinking face, the same face that had come to them that morning asking for help.

“She's... she's...” Diya's voice was shaking uncontrollably, her eyes filled with tears as she gazed at her sister. Aditya was still holding her by her shoulders as Virat placed his fingers on Kavya's neck. The lock on the cupboard had been broken, and the door was partially open. Aditya spied a phone on the floor near them, a few feet from the crumpled body. He imagined the scene as it must have taken place. Kavya ran into the bedroom to hide, the phone still in her hand, with the attacker in pursuit. And then?

Virat rose and looked at Aditya, his face set. “We need to call the station. She's dead.” Diya's sobbing increased. Virat took out his mobile and dialed the police station's number.

* * *

In less than an hour, the room had transformed. The corpse had been placed in a body bag and carried out to the waiting police van. Constables male and female milled around the house. A photographer scanned the room taking pictures of the area from every angle. A crowd of neighbors and pedestrians had gathered outside the house.

Aditya and Virat stood with Inspector Shahid in the living room. Diya was sitting on a couch, her eyes blank and unresponsive as she stared at the ground.

“How many people live in this house, miss?” Shahid asked.

“Just me and my sister,” Diya said in a low, toneless voice. “Our parents left us the house.”

“Looks like a professional job,” Shahid muttered. He addressed Diya. “Must've taken a lot of planning to carry out the break-in without alerting any of the neighbors. Any idea what was taken from the cupboard?”

“Our jewelry is gone from the safe,” Diya said mechanically. “It was worth around a lakh, I think.”

Shahid nodded, staring around the room. “I noticed the iron bars outside the window had been removed.”

Diya's eyes turned slowly to focus on him. She nodded. “Yes, the bars had rusted and were breaking off. They'd been specially made and were of very good quality, so we sent the entire frame away to have them rewelded.”

“How long ago was that?” Shahid asked.

“I'm not sure.” Diya's eyes had become unfocused again. “Two weeks ago, I think. There might be a receipt. If you want me to look...”

“That's okay, I'll take your word for it for now,” Shahid said. He turned and muttered to Virat. “This might give us a window of time for when the murder was planned.”

Virat nodded in agreement. A constable appeared at the doorway of the room. “Sir.” He spoke to Shahid. “There's a boy outside. Says his name is Suraj and he was called to come here on the phone.”

“I called him,” Diya said, looking up quickly at Shahid. “He knew my sister and me. Please let him come in.”

Shahid nodded to the constable, and he left. A minute later, a young man entered the room, looking dazed. He was good-looking but with a slightly foolish face. There was a dazed look on his face as he stared at the officers in the room.

His eyes fell on Diya, and he made his way towards her. “Is... is it true? Is Kavya...?” Diya stared up at him and slowly nodded. He looked stunned. He sat near her and put an arm tentatively around her. She stared at him for another moment as her eyes filled with tears, and she buried her head in his shoulder.

Shahid stared at the scene dispassionately for a moment before turning to Aditya. “Good thing the boy got here. She'll need all the help she can get to make it through this. And we'll need all the information she can provide as quickly as possible if we want to get the murderer.”

Aditya nodded. What had started with a client seeking advice had turned into a full-blown investigation. This was where the real work began.

* * *

“I feel so sorry for Diya.” Payal sighed. “I feel like I should go to her house and try to console her, but then I think I don't know her well enough and it might feel like an intrusion.”

She was sitting with Aditya in Virat's apartment. Aditya and Virat had submitted their reports on the murder at the station. Vira was still working with Shahid on collecting data related to the case.

“Things are going to be tough for her for a bit,” Aditya said. “Terrible enough that her sister died. But she'll be completely tied up in the police proceedings for the next few days as well as the funeral arrangements. She's the only surviving family member.”

“Does the police have any idea who the killer could have been?” Payal asked.

“All we have to go on is the description of the attacker that Kavya gave us before she was murdered,” Aditya said. “Fortunately the description was pretty thorough. Tall, dark, with a scar down his neck. She didn't recognize the man. Neighbors haven't seen a man like that before either.”

There were sounds of footsteps outside, and Virat entered. He looked tired and immediately flopped onto the chair opposite Aditya, reaching for the water bottle.

“Any leads?” Aditya asked.

Virat shook his head, taking a deep draught of water. “Still too early to determine who the killer could have been. In cases like these, the first thing you look for is the financial angle. The sisters' parents had died, but they'd left both a tidy sum in terms of savings bonds. Thirty lakh for each girl. We've had a look through Kavya Rajan's financial records. And guess what? She'd written over checks to her boyfriend for upwards of fifty thousand rupees in the last month.”

“So you think the boyfriend was involved?” Payal asked.

“It had to be someone who was familiar with the house,” Virat said with a shrug. “Someone who knew the bars had been removed from the window. We've just started looking at the motives. It'll all become clearer once we can get witness statements from the maid and the neighbors.”

* * *

“And now, I'd like to know what exactly your part in this whole business is,” Shahid said as he lowered himself on the chair behind his desk at the station.

In front of him sat Aditya and Virat. It was a day after the murder. The preliminary investigations had been carried out. There was precious little to go on as far as possible leads were concerned. And so Shahid had called the two for a discussion.

Virat told Shahid about Diya Rajan's visit to their apartment, and everything that had occurred afterward, up until they found Kavya's body in the bedroom.

“ESP?” Shahid rubbed his chin dubiously. He glanced at Aditya. “Do you seriously believe that?”

Aditya paused, choosing his words with care. “Something similar to it. My theory involves something that to the layman would sound a lot like ESP. Mental suggestion.”

“What's that?”

Aditya related the theory of mental suggestion he had explained to Virat. Shahid looked unconvinced. He frowned, rubbing his eyes. “Be that as it may, that explanation doesn't take us any closer to finding the murderer. Neighbors saw and heard nothing. Which should be almost impossible, unless they all decided to sleep in late that morning.”

“What about the description of the killer?” Virat asked.

“I could point out fifty men on the street who match the description,” Shahid said bluntly. “All except the scar bit. Not a lot to go on.”

“And the forensic report?” Aditya asked.

“Very little of use. The victim was stabbed in the back with a sharp blade and bled to death after a lung was punctured. The call you got from the girl puts the time of death somewhere around nine fifty AM. No sign of the murder weapon or fingerprints of any kind so far.” Shahid shook his head, leaning back in his chair. “The actual crime doesn't tell us anything. If we have a hope of solving this case, we need to dig into the past two weeks and find out what happened then.”

* * *

Two days had passed since the murder with still no progress on the case when Aditya and Payal went to visit Diya at her house. She was pale and her eyes were reddened, but she looked composed. She thanked them quietly for coming and took them to the living room. A grey-haired woman was sweeping the floor of the room, and Diya introduced her as Laxmi, their maid of over three years.

“How are you holding up?” Payal inquired softly, sitting on the sofa beside Diya.

“Fine,” Diya said, with an attempt at a smile. “I'm dealing with it. Inspector Shahid's been very kind. Suraj has been coming over regularly. He's helping take care of the funeral.” Her eyes filled with tears again, and she abruptly stopped talking. Payal reached over and held her hand tightly.

The maid Laxmi was watching Diya, and there were tears in her eyes as well. Aditya motioned to her, and she followed him into the kitchen, wiping her tears with the edge of her sari.

“Has she been eating regularly?” He asked in a low voice.

“Very little, saabji.” Laxmi said, sniffing loudly. “She just sits in front of the tv or in her bedroom with the lights turned off. I wish she had a relative who could help her get through this terrible time. But all the family she had was her sister.”

“And you,” Aditya said. “I'm sure you're of tremendous help to her as well.”

“I do what I can.” She said with a watery smile. “They were like my own daughters. I can't believe Kavya madam is gone.” Her eyes filled with fresh tears.

“I wanted to ask you about that,” Aditya said. “Did you see anyone loitering around the house the past week or two?”

The maid shook her head. “This is a respectable colony. We don't have ruffians hanging around the streets.”

“And yet, one of them killed your madam,” Aditya said. “Where do you think he came from?”

“I don't know where he came from, but I know what really killed her,” Laxmi said. She wiped her eyes and stared up at Aditya with an ominous air. “It was the evil eye.”

“What do you mean?” Aditya asked.

Laxmi walked out of the kitchen to the main door, beckoning for Aditya to follow. Payal was still sitting with Diya in the living room. Laxmi brought him to stand next to the front gate, where a dark smudge was marked on the wall.

“There!” She pointed dramatically at the smudge. “A swami baba came to the house a week ago, saabji. He was on a holy pilgrimage to the mountains. He asked us for something to eat. I wanted to give him something from the fridge, but Kavya madam sent him away. She was very rude to him, and he cursed her. He put a mark on the wall to bring evil spirits here.” The woman's shoulders began to shake again. “I begged Madam to ask his forgiveness so he would remove the evil eye, but she just laughed at me. Now, look what has happened.”

“What did the man look like?” Aditya asked.

“He was old and had long grey hair,” Laxmi said. “He wore a tilak and had those black robes on that babas wear. Very dark.”

“Was he a large man?” Aditya asked, his eyes narrowing. “Did you happen to see a scar anywhere?”

“I'm sorry, saabji.” The maid shook her head. “I was too scared to notice. I told Diya madam about it, too. They had a big argument, but Kavya madam just wouldn't listen.”

“Was Diya worried about the tramp coming back?” Aditya asked. “Or did they argue often about these kinds of things?”

The maid shook her head. “They argued and they fought, yes. But which sisters don't? They could yell themselves hoarse at each other, but there was always love there, too. Look at her now. The poor dear refuses to step out of the house. She's wasting away right in front of me, pining for her sister.”

The maid again dissolved into tears, and Aditya led her back into the house. He made his way over to the dining room where Payal and Diya sat whispering to each other.

“Do you feel safe sleeping here alone at night?” He inquired, sitting in the chair opposite Diya.

“Mostly.” She said quietly. “Sometimes, I feel like I can still feel her here. Not in a scary way. More like she's... protecting me.” Diya shook her head and looked up at Aditya with a smile. “Don't worry, I won't bother you again with stories of how I can feel things. Suraj has offered to sleep on the sofa to make me feel safer.”

“Or you could come live with me for a few days.” Payal offered. But Diya shook her head.

“Thanks. But I still have to take care of so many things around the house. I have to stay. But I'm so grateful you came to check up on me.”

“We'll come again,” Payal said, getting up and hugging her warmly. “And you have my number. Call me if you need anything.”

Aditya rose to his feet as well. “Just one more thing before we leave. Do you remember a swami who came here a few days ago?”

“The man who put the mark outside the house?” Diya paused, then shrugged. “Yes, he seemed a bit mad. Kavya was very rude to him. She was always impatient with people she didn't like.”

“Did you see the man near the house again?”

Diya thought for a moment, then shook her head. “I don't think so.”

* * *

The next day, Aditya sat with Virat in an office at the station. They were waiting for Suraj. Aditya had told Virat about his visit to the Rajan house. Virat's eyebrows furrowed upon hearing the maid's story.

“Could the old swami be the guy, then?” He asked. “An old tramp who wanted revenge?”

“Could be.” Aditya mused. “Or maybe the swami thing was a disguise all along. Maybe he was scoping out the house before he planned to break in.”

Suraj entered the room. His mouth was again slightly open as he gazed at Aditya and Virat. He took the chair offered and sat on its edge, his hands lying slack on the armrest as he gazed up at the two.

“So how've you been?” Virat inquired with a smile.

“All right,” Suraj said. “A bit tired. The couch in Diya's house is really hard.”

“Well, that's a really nice gesture on your part, helping Diya out in her time of need,” Virat said.

Suraj nodded. “Yes.”

There was a pause. Virat waited, but Suraj seemed to have had his say.

“So, the murder.” Aditya began a few seconds later. “I imagine it must have come as a nasty shock.”

“It was.” Suraj nodded again, his manner becoming more animated. “I couldn't believe it when I got Diya's call.”

“You seem to be handling it pretty well,” Virat said.

“We weren't that close,” Suraj said quickly. “Everyone thinks Kavya and I were dating, but we were just friends.”

Virat wondered whether he should mention the money Suraj had borrowed from Kavya but decided against it.

“Any ideas as to who could've done the job?” He asked instead. “Did your sister have any person who had a grudge against her that you're aware of?”

“No.” He looked troubled. “But I was talking to Laxmi. She told me about a Swamiji who'd put the evil eye on the house.”

“She told us that, too,” Aditya said drily. “I don't suppose Kavya mentioned the incident to you?”

“No, but it made me remember something else,” Suraj said slowly.

“Remember what?” Virat asked quickly. “Have you seen the swami around here, too? Can you give us a description of him?”

But Suraj shook his head. “I never saw Swamiji. But Laxmi talking about the evil eye reminded me of an incident from some time back.” He gazed up at Aditya, his expression deadly serious. “I was walking Kavya back to her house a few days ago when a black cat crossed our path.”

There was another pause, longer than the first one. Virat and Aditya stared at Suraj. But again, he appeared to have said all he had to say.

“A black cat,” Virat repeated at last. Aditya had to make an almost superhuman effort to keep his face devoid of expression.

Suraj nodded vigorously. “You know what they say about black cats being bad luck. I wanted to retrace our steps and chant the Gayatri mantra, but Kavya just laughed at me. She was always so careless about these things. Now I'm thinking, maybe the cat crossing our path along with the Swamiji's curse made the thief pick this house to break into.”

He looked eagerly from Virat to Aditya.

“That's certainly an interesting theory,” Virat said at last. “We'll keep it in mind. Thanks for talking to us.” Suraj rose and left the room.

There was another silence after he had left the room. Finally, Aditya glanced over at Virat. “So. Want to start rounding up any suspicious-looking black cats in the area for interrogation?”

Virat burst out laughing.

“And I think he was actually being serious.” Aditya continued. “It didn't seem like he was deliberately bullshitting us. He really believed what he said.”

“How could a guy so dumb have landed a girl like Kavya?” Virat sighed. Aditya gave him a look. “What, like you haven't noticed both the sisters are knockouts? I saw you struggling not to say anything rude when Kavya was telling us about her ESP. And then you were jumping around offering her the last carton of juice in the fridge.”

“What about you?” Aditya countered. “You were pretty accomodating when she barged into the apartment without warning that morning. You think you would've been that polite if it had been a fat middle-aged guy with a toupee?”

“I think we can both agree the sisters are easy on the eyes,” Virat said, rising from his seat. “And Kavya's boyfriend isn't very bright. But that doesn't get us any closer to the murderer.”

The two made their way to the main office room, where Shahid sat waiting for them at his desk. “Are you done talking to the kid?” He asked. “Find out anything useful?”

“Nothing much,” Virat said. “He was trying to distance himself from the whole thing. Said he and Kavya were just friends. Doesn't know that we're aware of the money he borrowed from her.”

“Well, here's an interesting fact we dug up.” Shahid rifled among the documents lying on his desk and extracted a brief report from a file. “He was using the borrowed money to place bets on the IPL. Around sixty thousand rupees. And then he lost the money. All of it.” There was a short pause as he looked meaningfully at the other two.

“That gives us a pretty clear-cut motive,” Virat spoke up. “You think Suraj wanted Kavya silenced before she could go to the police?”

“You haven't heard it all yet,” Shahid said. “Guess who was the one who placed the bets for him? The maid Laxmi's husband, Biru.”

“Really?” Aditya leaned in. “So she isn't as innocent as she'd like to pretend. I thought she was crying a bit too much for it to be entirely genuine.”

“She could have been hiding something from you,” Virat said musingly. “Suraj might have warned her to keep her mouth shut.”

“I've seen cases like these before,” Shahid said. “The boy borrows money from his girlfriend. He puts it all on a bet and loses everything. The girlfriend keeps badgering him about the money and eventually threatens to call the police if he doesn't pay up. The boy can't let that happen. Neither can the maid let her husband get involved. She sees the window frame has been removed and makes a plan to take care of Kavya. Or it could have been the boy who came up with the plan”

“And the Swamiji who put the evil eye on the house?” Virat asked.

“A thick beard and a mustache can be a pretty effective disguise.” Shahid shrugged. “I'll tell you what, we're going to start looking for the maid's husband now. And when we do find him, I've got a feeling he's going to be tall and dark with a scar down his neck.”

* * *

Five days since the Rajan murder Aditya, Virat and Payal sat watching a film in Virat's apartment. The police had almost wrapped up the case. The hunt for the killer was still on, but the only hope lay in Diya recognizing the killer among a gallery of criminals. Without a narrowing down of the list of suspects, the whole procedure would take too long. The police were also looking into the anonymous phone calls the sisters had been receiving prior to the attack.

The maid's husband was also missing. Laxmi insisted he had gone to visit his family in the village, but Shahid thought it was most likely he had caught wind of the investigation and was staying away.

“How about changing the channel,” Payal said to Virat. “I've seen this movie twice already.”

“Lost the remote,” Virat said, lolling back in his chair. “You're welcome to get up and change it by hand.”

Payal sighed and leaned back. “That's the problem with cable these days.” She complained. “They'll buy one hit movie and then play it every day for a month. I've seen this film playing at some time or the other for weeks now. I used to like it before, but now I'm getting sick of it.”

Aditya said nothing because he wasn't really listening. His mind was still on the Rajan case. Was the one murder the end of the matter? Or was the remaining sister also a target? Was the danger still present over the Rajan house? Had the police learned anything new from the forensic report? All through this case, Aditya had been conscious of a feeling of helplessness. They seemed to be gliding through a morass of superstition and dead ends that made his usual tools of logic and reasoning inadequate. Sinister swamis, evil eyes, and roving black cats seemed to be prime suspects. Then there were the grounds on which they had been introduced to the case in the first place. A girl who was convinced she could sense when her sister was in danger. And then that danger had turned out not only to be real but fatal.

Virtually every person was convinced, at some point in their life, that they could see the future, a phenomenon known as Deja vu, which scientists still could not explain fully.

Such was the case with ESP. Although he would never admit it, Aditya was beginning to wonder if there was some truth in the claim, after all. He was aware of the extensive history of research that had gone into ESP, from experiments carried out by the government of the United States to seances held in The UK. And perhaps it really wasn't even ESP, after all. There was the explanation Aditya had considered earlier.

And again he felt a pang as he remembered Diya's corpse lying in a pool of blood. No matter what the explanation, they had already lost the case. The girl was dead, her sister was in shock, and the murderer lost in the mass of humanity teeming on the streets of Delhi.

The murderer now. Aditya frowned as his mind focussed on the other lead in the case. What of the murderer? The old swami who had come calling on the house, and who had perhaps later broken into the house and attacked her sister. The tall, dark man with the beard and mustache, and a gold chain and the scar down his neck. Someone so outlandishly evil, it seemed as though he had stepped out of a movie. In fact, the villain in the movie they were watching seemed to match the description. Tall, dark, scowling, and wearing a black kurta, daring the hero to come at him and his gang.

Aditya continued to stare at the screen, and now he was conscious of a sense of deja vu himself. The villain onscreen really was the man described by Kavya. Tall. Dark. Prominent scar. He fit the description perfectly. But what did that mean? A character from a movie had emerged into the real world to commit murder? How did this strange new piece of information fit into the already baffling jigsaw that was this case...

“What is it?”Virat asked, noticing the look on Aditya's face. He said nothing, but leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Virat knew that look. He had entered his buddhijeevi mode and would be deaf to the outside world for as long as his eyes were shut and his mind turned inwards.

Aditya's mind was racing furiously, facts tumbling one over the other in a barrage of impressions and inferences. Diya. Kavya. The tall, dark man with the gold chain. A voice crying on the phone. A black cat streaking across a path. Kavya. Diya. A swami baba. The servant Aarti. A little girl falling down a well. The broken glass on the living room floor. Diya. Kavya...

And suddenly the pictures stopped. The jigsaw untangled itself and fell neatly into place. A picture emerged that was as startling as it was undeniable.

“I am such an idiot!”.” He whispered, springing to his feet.

“What are you talking about?” Payal demanded.

“No time,” Aditya said. He turned to Virat. “Get the bike. It's time to close this case.”

* * *

The doorbell only rang once before Diya opened the front door of her house. Outside stood Aditya and Virat.

“Hey, can we come in?” Aditya asked.

“Of course.” Diya moved aside to let them in. “You said you'd received some new information about my sister's murder.”

“Yes, the police had been conducting some comprehensive investigations into the murder for the past few days,” Aditya said as the three made their way into the living room. Diya sat on a high-backed chair, while the other two sat on the couch. “We got one of those results back this morning.”

Diya's eyes widened. “About what? Do you know who the man with the scar is?”

“No,” Virat said. “But that's because there never was a man with a scar.”

“What?” The lines appeared again on Diya's forehead. “Then who killed my sister?”

“You did,” Aditya said.

The room fell silent. Diya's eyes did not leave Aditya's. He stared back without blinking as he continued to speak. “You'd never been close to your sister, and you wanted her dead. But you'd be the first suspect in case anything happened to her. I'm guessing the window grill being removed gave you the idea for this whole charade. It would give you an airtight alibi, and paint you in a sympathetic light. The bereaved sister who tried everything in her power to save Diya, and was sitting with an officer at the time that everyone thought the murder occurred.”

“Shall I tell you what really happened the day you came to us with your story?” Aditya asked. “You stabbed your sister in the bedroom when her back was turned. You disposed of the knife and took her mobile phone with you. Then you came to us and told us your story about being afraid for Kavya's safety. You spilled the juice on yourself and went to Kavya's bathroom after making sure to leave your own mobile with us. You called us from Diya's phone and pretended to be her about to be attacked. But then Virat asked you to describe the attacker. You weren't expecting the question but saw it as an opportunity to pin the blame on someone else. During an unexpected situation, our mind finds it difficult to create new ideas, and we fall back on our memories for inspiration, sometimes unconsciously. You described a villain you had seen in a movie a few days ago. And it worked. All that nonsense about a tall, villainous dark man breaking into your house made for an excellent red herring for the police to chase after.”

“After we got to your house and entered the bedroom you pretended to collapse on the ground in front of your sister's body and slipped Kanvya's mobile out of your pocket and onto the floor. Then all you had to do was play along while we fed the police the version of events that you had orchestrated for our benefit.”

“How could you say such terrible things?” Diya cried, her eyes welling with tears. Äditya could not help but admire her histrionic ability. “Why would I want to kill my own sister?”

“Well, the police is looking for a financial angle. Any money you'd inherit in case of your sister's death, things like that. But I've got a feeling it's something else.” Aditya leaned forward, watching her intently. “It's about Suraj, isn't it? The man who was your friend before he became Kavya's boyfriend, and who you've been keeping close by ever since her death. You liked him, didn't you? But Kavya took him away from you.” For the briefest moment the tears on Diya's face stopped, and her expression hardened into something dangerous. Then the mask of tears and the trembling lip was back in place. But Aditya had seen enough.

“You don't have any proof,” Diya spoke in a low voice. There was a pause, and then she added, “Because it isn't true.”

“Öh, we've already proved it,” Aditya said calmly. “Yesterday I asked the team in charge of the investigation to try something normally done in cases of kidnapping and extortion. Trace the calls made from Kavya's mobile.” Aditya paused as a hint of fear appeared on Diya's face for the first time. “The police did a scan of the last number dialed from it and narrowed down the location of the call to within a few yards of our apartment. They now know the phone was with you, and not with your sister.” The color drained from Diya's face even as her tears stopped. She no longer looked like a grieving woman but resembled a cornered animal, her eyes darting from Aditya to Virat. They met her gaze steadily. “That's why we were sent here. You're a murderer and a sociopath, Diya. A completely selfish person with no sense of right or wrong. If you ask me, Suraj made the right call when he chose your sister over you.”

“He didn't choose her,” Diya said. The change in her appearance was unsettling. There was sullen anger in her eyes that transformed her features so that the pretty, wide-eyed girl who had come to them that morning was suddenly replaced by a spoilt and petulant child, driven only by her own selfish passions. “She tricked him. She knew I liked him, and she flirted with him just to spite me. And then he fell for her, even though she didn't love him like I did. She was always taking my things. Ever since we were little. I'd warned her. I'd told her I'd teach her a lesson if she ever stole from me again.”

Aditya rose from his seat and turned to Virat. “I think it's time to call Shahid.” Virat nodded and rose as well, taking out his mobile.

The rest of their stay at the Rajan house was spent mostly in silence, with Aditya keeping an eye on Diya while Virat phoned Shahid. A police car came laden with constables to collect Diya Rajan and transport her to the police station, while Aditya and Virat prepared to follow them on their bike.

“At least we saved Shahid the trouble of hunting all over Delhi for a man with a scar,” Aditya commented. “Good thing Diya didn't realize the circumstantial evidence we had wasn't concrete enough for a conviction without her confession. Still, this case took a lot longer than it should have.”

“And the blame does lie with us, you know,” Virat remarked as he started the engine. “We should've been on our guard more. We shouldvé known from the start the girl was playing us.”

“There's a complex, psychological reason why we fell for her act that I've determined after much deliberation and inductive reasoning,” Aditya said, getting on the bike behind Virat.

“She was pretty?” Virat asked.

Aditya sighed and nodded as the bike moved onto the road after the police car. “So pretty. And both the sisters pining over a guy who thought a cat was a murder suspect...”