Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Curious Case of Akshat Verma

'Horizon Ltd. to announce their Q4 results' was the headline on the front page of The Indian Age.
Akshat was reading the newspaper slow and steady. It was going to be a big day in his life.10 years back, what had started as a passion for doing something new, had become one of the largest companies in India. It was a name that was growing in stature every single day. And today Akshat Verma was going to complete 5 years of going public. With a bang - it must be said! With breathtaking pace, the company had instilled a lot of trust in its shareholders and had expanded into a giant conglomerate and made all the right strategic moves to capture a lot of market across the country and beyond. Akshat had not thought this far, in spite of being a man with a phenomenal business sense and a risk appetite of a gambler, he was more than surprised to see this day.
            The Q4 results were to be announced at a Five Star hotel in Mumbai. A press conference was already scheduled which had the journalists from the media houses all excited. The previous quarter was already the best quarter in the last 2 years with a 40% growth since the last year. Horizon Ltd. shares were prized possessions and kept its investors very happy. After a scheduled meet with his Board of Directors, he had some time for a walk in his garden and then it was about time to get dressed for the event of the year.
           Akshat chose a dark brown striped suit emblazoned with a line of diamonds around the upper suit pocket, and the lapels. He knew it fit the occasion to the T. He put the Macbook in his leather bag and put his cell phones into his suit pocket. His driver was waiting, within minutes the BMW X7 revved up and started gliding on the roads. Akshat reached ahead of time. He always did.
            At the press conference, Akshat was flanked by his CFO, his board of directors and his Manager of Media and Public Relations. It appeared as though, he did not need support. He announced the results which were staggering and brought a lot of joy to the investors. He also fielded questions on the roadmap for the next fiscal with complete poise. There was a dinner hosted by Akshat to follow, and the party had just begun. Akshat moved to his suite and was to join the party in an hour. There was an excited chatter in the air with people bullish about the market and the position of Horizon Ltd.
             Sometime later, there was a lot of flutter in the conference room and around the lobby. There was also a loud scream heard. More people were seen running in circles. It took a few minutes for the news to trickle in. Akshat had been stabbed in his suite!!!  His wife and a few others started running towards the Royal suite. The door was slightly open, And Akshat was lying face down in a pool of blood. There was a doctor on duty in the hotel and he confirmed the worst. No pulse or heart beat could be felt. The empire was without the leader, Akshat had been murdered! The police had been called and the area was immediately sealed. The entire groups assembled were in a state of shock and fear. Akshat's wife Ahaana was uncontrollable. She had accompanied Akshat to the conference and was constantly with Akshat - well almost. More people from Akshat, Ahaana’s immediate family had been called to the hotel.
             There were tense faces all over - Most of them. The ones who were not tense were crying and shattered. Within 30 minutes, the police arrived, with the doctors and an ambulance. Everything around Akshat used to be big and would attract people - It was ironic to see his end signify the same spirit. Since this was a celebrity mishap, it was not just the police who were summoned. There was a crime detection unit who would also investigate. The police looked at the scene of crime and started doing some initial checks. The door was not forced open; He had been stabbed at the back of his neck. The area next to where he finally fell was smattered with blood and things did not look in their usual places. It looked as if; Akshat had seen the killer and had struggled to save himself. About an hour later, Detective Anu Roy walked in.
                  She was renowned for her astute brain and ice cool composure. She was the pride of the Crime Branch unit who had solved the most crooked, complex crimes and had reposed the faith in law and order. Just a couple of months back, she had helped apprehend a dreaded serial killer in Delhi. She walked in and was received by Inspector Anant Chandra. The sequence of events was told. Akshat had declared the Quarter results and retired to his room. 25 minutes later, the murder was discovered by the hotel attendant. His screams alerted the others of the crime. No weapons were found. Akshat had moved to the room with his wife who had moved out after 10 odd minutes. Anu walked to the scene of the crime. There was a window and a drop of about 10 feet to the ground. The curtains were drawn unevenly. One of the curtains was completely drawn open and the other was drawn closed. There were no drinks or food on the table. The bathrooms were almost untouched. Akshat's hands also were dipped in blood. And there were a few vases, and antiques around him broken. Detective Anu Roy had carefully begun constructing the bits and pieces. The curtains being uneven suggested that someone may have been hiding behind, since the symmetry was broken. No food or drinks on the table may mean that Akshat was not long alone in the room to think about refreshments. There was a definite sign of struggle for survival and Akshat's hands soaked in blood would mean that he would have had his hands on the clothes or face of the killer. Akshat's Tag Heuer watch, his diamond encrusted suit and his wallet all lay on his study table, untouched. Money did not seem to attract the killer. The door was open which was the only legitimate way to exit the room, and it would show in the cameras if someone moved in or out that time. Akshat was probably only just murdered when Housekeeping saw the body, since Ahaana was in for a while. Inspector Anant was impressed with the insight that Detective Anu Roy had quickly brought upon the case. The killer had been careful to take away the weapon that caused the crime. And Anant walked to Ahaana who looked completely broken. Ahaana told the Detective Anu Roy and the cop that she had accompanied Akshat to the room. He was very happy with the party and wanted to rest a bit, before changing into a relaxed wear to shake a leg. He liked letting his hair down and party hard. Ahaana had then left to join a couple of other women and share a few drinks. She also did not remember closing the door when she left. Her guess was that she left it open. Despite his enormous success, she did not feel he had any enemies. At least she had not been told of any. Inspector Anant made some notes. She also said that Akshat did not look disturbed or angry when she saw him for the last time. The last call on Akshat's personal cell was 15 minutes before the conference began. It was Ahaana's. She said she had wished him luck before he got busy with the last minute preparations. There were also 15 calls on his business phone in the last 30 minutes which was mostly attended by his executive assistant. By then the CCTV images had been scanned. There was no camera near the room but one at the other end of the corridor. It was difficult to determine who had entered or left the room. There were several people who were seen walking around that time. The media had left after the conference had ended. Some others had left as well. There was already a list of all attendees for the conference.
                  The murder had happened sometime between 7:45 and 8, Detective Anu Roy asked Inspector Anant to get the names of people who had left the party before that time. She kept thinking if the cameras have not captured anything important, where did the killer leave from. Sweat trickled down her neck, because the A.C had been switched off. She tried to see if the window was open and then realized a possible exit route. There was only one Window in the room and that was closed. She moved to the window and moved the curtain aside. There was about a 10 feet drop to a garden below. She pushed open the window and looked out. Someone could have jumped down! She asked the forensics team to collect the fingerprint samples off the sill. Both Detective Anu Roy and Anant moved to the garden below and started looking up at the window. If this was the exit route, it was a big jump, but not something impossible. The ground however did not look like it could support such a jump. It was muddy and hard. No one could have taken such a chance without injuring his/her feet. She also asked Inspector Anant to find out if anyone from the list of attendees, had reported a sprain or a fracture or purchased medications. It was already 10 in the night and they both decided to call it a day, and to reconvene early next morning.
               At 10AM next morning, Inspector Anant got a call on his cell. He had been expecting it, he had all the information Detective Anu Roy was looking for. No one seemed to have hurt their legs in the probable jump off Akshat's room. There were no fingerprints off the window sill and 27 people had left the party after the results were announced excluding the 95 people from the media who left immediately. No headways made, Anu started thinking how to proceed further. Somehow the killer had been careful to not leave any prints behind; maybe the killer was wearing hand gloves. Maybe there was no such jump. She went back to the CCTV images and studied the people who may have passed Akshat's room. The CFO Kartik Jayashankar was one prominent personality. There were 3 other hotel attendants apart from the one who actually saw the body and 3 members from the media contingent. The CFO was a blazing personality, with an IIM major in finance, he was the company financial guru for whom number crunching and profit projections came as easy as drinking a cold coffee. He had a 24% stake in the company largest share apart from Akshat who owned 60% of the company. He was known to be a very hot tempered guy who never minced words, even if it was Akshat at the other end. Anu's concentrated study of the images was broken by Inspector Anant who, excitedly wanted to point out something. He had seen a tuft of cotton on the ground below the window and again a few feet away. Anu came back to the spot and started looking above. Did someone use cotton to cushion the fall? Was it a mattress? Where was the mattress now? Did someone plant it before the murder?
         This was getting more and more interesting. Inspector Anant and team searched the entire area and found nothing. Was this a blind clue? Embarrassed at pulling along Anu for a non-existent trail, Anant started to accompany Anu back to the CCTV room when he saw a light from a partially closed door. It was from a small shack near the back entrance of the hotel. This was the guard's house. He called the guard outside and asked if he used a mattress. Indeed he did! On inspecting the mattress he found that it was torn at a couple of places and cotton could be seen from the inside. Whistling aloud he called back Anu and they both looked at the tufts of cotton and the mattress. It was a probability that this mattress was placed at the bottom of the window which the killer used to cushion the impact. It may have been dragged back to the room and lost some cotton on the way. The guard said that he was not in his room that time and everyone was deployed in the front for security and other checks.
         So someone was hiding in the room and murdered Akshat and jumped outside!! Anu and Anant looked at each other and smiled. This was a good lead. They now needed a few searches to get more evidence. Anu asked Anant to send teams to search Akshat's house and office first. She then went to Hotel owner and his Administration team to understand the room security. The administration team explained that the rooms have a card key which has the pass code for the room scanned into it. This card has an expiration time after which the same card cannot be used for the door. Anu wanted to know if there was a back up card in case of emergencies. She was told that the Master key card did exist but they can only be used if the guest approves. In this case, Akshat Verma did not want any unauthorized access.The hotel administration team confirmed that no one from the staff had opened the door. However, there was a second card key for the same room which was with Ahaana. The duplicate card key was inspected. And there was a surprise in store!  The code on the card was for a different room. A room not occupied for the last one week.
                     So was this a mistake from the administration team? It did not look like. The card keys were re-verified before being handed over. This could only mean one thing. The cards were switched !! Ahaana could not recollect when that could have happened or if she had her bag with her at all times. Meanwhile there were more developments. Inspector Anant's team and their sniffer dogs had searched Akshat's residence and office; A neatly sealed bag was found in a flower pot in Akshat's garden. It had a blood soaked knife! This was sent to the forensics and the results were startling! It had the CFO, Kartik Jayashankar's prints and Akshat's blood!
                          The next morning, Detective Anu and Inspector Anant reached the 12 storeyed office of Horizon Ltd. and moved to Kartik Jayashankar's office. His whiteboards were full of numbers and projections scribbled and it looked like a busy man's office. Kartik met the duo without a hint of what was to happen. He stood up with a shock when told that his fingerprint were on Akshat's murder weapon. He said this was absolutely baseless and said that the police could not touch him based on such loose evidence. He vehemently denied being any part of this crime. He also said that he was busy mulling over a possible merger with a new company. On being probed further, he said he had a set of kitchen knives which he regularly used - to cook. That was one way he would unwind, one of the very few interests he had outside of his crazy working life. They headed to his house and found that there were only 5 knives in his drawer block. Kartik was sure, the sixth knife was smuggled. Anu and Anant were not so sure. They left, but Kartik knew, that it was not for good.
                  The duo headed to Anu's office and grabbed a coffee each. The dots still did not connect. Kartik's knife was used for the murder. It had his prints. Someone had also switched the duplicate key to get entry into Akshat's room. But it did not look like Kartik made the jump. Since he was seen around that time in the CCTV images. Or was he so agile to make it back? Was Ahaana saying the truth when she said that she left after a while. Did she play a part in this? Why was the knife neatly packed and hidden in her house? Did Ahaana and Kartik team up? Did they have a common motive? Was the switched card key meant to be a dead-end? Kartik would definitely have a say in the running of the company in Akshat's absence. He owned a quarter of the company and would be the most suitable person to lead it further. Ahaana lost her husband, but was it part of her plan? Was Kartik intentionally present in the corridor to have an alibi? Anu asked Anant to do some background checks on Ahaana and proceeded to study Kartik's history. He had been a district level pole vaulter in school and college. But seemed to have given up sport completely after that. Conversations with his older acquaintances gave more references to his notorious anger. He would pick up fights very easily and no one close to him liked to see his dark side. But his brilliance by far offset his negativities. Some more conversations with the hotel staff revealed that he has seen in the main hotel lobby around 7:45PM. That may not be conclusive, or maybe it could be! From the circumstantial evidence, he did look in a spot of bother. He could however, always say that he was being set up with, so many things against him, and he did seem to have an alibi. Also, Was he setting himself up? The police wouldn't be foolish to assume he would be the butt of all the clues. And that could be his chance to be suspected, but not incriminated! There were so many tracks and all seemed to disappear in a distance.The phone in Anu's office rang and it was Anant. Anant mentioned that Ahaana had known Kartik in the early part of their careers. But there were no other leads from that. Couldn't say if this acquaintance was only a co-incidence.
                  Anu wanted to take another look at the garden below Akshat's room. The area had been sealed off to prevent any destruction of evidence. They carefully observed the area where the killer possibly jumped from. The mattress did look thick enough to cushion the fall and there were no shoe marks anywhere. No one from the staff or the invitees had seen any one with a mattress. The guard himself was surprised to see his mattress torn.They looked around the bushes and the path to the guard's shack. Midway to the shack, Anu noticed a visiting card in the mud, It also had some shoe marks - meaning that it was stamped upon. She picked it up and found it was no visiting card. It was a hotel card key!!  Anu and Anant instantly chuckled. They took the card carefully to the Hotel and it was the key to Akshat's room. Forensics were called and the card handed over. Anu and Inspector Anant were eagerly waiting for the results.
               A couple of hours later, they had the results. There were fingerprints on the card, and those were not of Akshat, Ahaana or Kartik. From the list of attendees, the prints were matched to a certain, Gaurang Jha an accountant with the company. It was already a very long day, however the progress on the case compensated for the fatigue. Gaurang was summoned to Anu's office and was asked to explain his whereabouts on the day and the people he was with. Meanwhile his mobile records were being scanned. And a search of his home and office was ordered  He said that he had left as soon as the results were announced. After a few pointed questions, his defense fell through. He had not been seen at the press conference. He then said that Kartik had instructed him to wait in Akshat's room to give a message and had given him a spare key. This also could not be proved. Meanwhile his cell records suggested that there were 10 phone conversations with one person between 7:10 and 7:52PM  and 25 conversations with the same person over the last one week. Some brute force by the police broke the burly man's resistance and the scene was set for an interesting end.
                         The next morning, The detective and the police summoned a certain Raghav Sen for questioning. He was a thin tall man in his late thirties. His looks suggested a much younger age though. He had been associated with Horizon Ltd. as a Finance Director for the last 3 years and had been a highly motivated individual who had expanded the business into the Asia Pacific regions. He was well-respected for his expertise and was known to have an amicable personality. He had a pleasing personality and answered all his questions comfortably. He had been at the conference and had been at the hotel until everyone were asked to leave late at night. He had been with colleagues and was seen in many photographs during the event. He did not blink an eye when asked how he knew Gaurang Jha. He said that Gaurang was part of his staff. And when asked about the mobile conversations he said that he had had a lot of instructions for Gaurang on the division he had been heading. It was always a busy day, whether it was a party or a press conference. He also said that at times, network connectivity may have been the cause of a missed call at 7:51 PM and 7:52 PM. He was then shown the blood soaked knife, the card key, the blood stained shirt worn by Gaurang and his overcoat which had some stains of blood on the inside. He was also shown the hand gloves and overcoat worn by Gaurang and duplicate receipts of the gloves, overcoat bought using Raghav's credit card from a apparel store 6 months back. There was also a statement signed by Gaurang detailing the crime and a report from the Network provider giving details on the calls made. Anu stared at Raghav's face waiting for an answer.
                Raghav smiled, he knew his time was up. He could plead innocence but it looked like all his shrewd planning had now come to naught. More evidence could now be stacked upon him and he did not see a way out now. He sighed and had his story to tell. Raghav had joined the company a few years back and had quickly risen through the ranks. There was a million dollar profit he ensured for the company through his thorough expertise in one instance and being the right person to be at the right place at the right time got him noticed. But his rise was not liked by the CFO Kartik Jayashankar. Kartik saw him as a threat and always tried to subdue him. They would have arguements where Kartik would warn Raghav of dire consequences if he did not toe the line drawn for him. His evil mind then thought of a plan to quench his thirst. His thirst to reach the top. If he could eliminate Akshat and frame Kartik for the crime. His path to the top would be clear. He got Gaurang into the plan and lured him with a better position to fit his ability. He also bought the gloves and stuff well in advance and knew that Akshat always choses the same room when he holds a press conference. He stole the knife from Kartik's place, switched card keys from Ahaana's bag, worked out the best way to kill would be a stab at the back of the neck. He also had the well built Gaurang practice stabs on a dummy for a better accuracy, since there would be a struggle for sure. Gaurang had slipped in with the key and had waited for instructions from time to time. Raghav had also had the mattress placed just where Gaurang would land. He thought this would also lead to Kartik due to his history with sports. Had Gaurang not dropped the card key while slipping on the overcoat to hide his bloodied shirt, and had the mattress not lost cotton while being dragged back to the shack, This would have been a different story.
                  Detective Anu Roy shook hands with Inspector Anant Chandra and thanked him for all the help. He in turn was grateful to be a part of this investigation, having learned a lot from the brilliant detective. It had been a long three odd days, but immensely satisfying for Anu Roy and team.

1 comment:

audi said...

Well written Nik...