“What is this, Aunty?” asked Radhi, alarmed. She turned the envelope over and checked it for a name or address. It had neither. She turned the card over. It had a fine geometrical pattern across the back in gold. She dropped the card on the table and checked inside the envelope again. A thin strip of white paper was stuck to its side. Radhi removed it and read the typed words out loud: “All good things come to an end.”

Sarla, who had been sitting with one hand clutching her head, took the note from Radhi and read it before crumpling it and letting it fall to the desk. “I don’t get it,” she said, more to herself than to Radhi. “Who’s doing this?” She picked up the phone. “Juhi, can you ask Hansa to come see me.”

Then, in response to Juhi’s reply, “I see…okay, ask her by when she’ll be in office.”

She hung up the phone and turned her attention back to the card. “This is the fourth one so far,” she told Radhi. “The other three were equally terrible.”

“They seem like they are part of a deck. Do you have the other three here?”

Sarla nodded. “They are tarot cards.” She rifled within her drawer and brought out three similar red envelopes.

Radhi removed the cards and notes from the envelopes. One card showed a tall tower on fire. It had been struck by lightning and people were jumping out of the windows to save themselves. The accompanying note read: “The higher you climb, the harder you fall.” The second card had a blindfolded woman clad in white sitting on a beach with her back to the sea. In her hands, she held two heavy swords crossed against each other. The note read: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” The third card depicted a swollen red heart pierced with three swords against a stormy background of grey clouds and needle-like rain. Radhi looked in the envelope for the note but couldn’t find one.

“That was the first one. I didn’t think to keep the note then.” Sarla looked distressed. “It said something like ‘Every action has a reaction’. I can’t remember perfectly, but that was the gist.”

Radhi studied the cards briefly before handing them back to Sarla. ‘When did these come?’

“Well, the first one arrived more than two months ago. Then the second one came two weeks after that. And the third and fourth have followed since.”

“What happened two months ago? Can you think of anything significant?”

“No! Nothing. I have racked my head about it!”

“But who in the world do you think it could be?”

“I don’t kn –” The door burst open and a tiny, bespectacled woman in a yellow organza sari rushed in. She was skinny and extremely fair; her scalp showed through her thin, scanty hair, which was tied in a squiggle-shaped ponytail.

“Did you – have you also –” She spluttered to a stop when she saw that Sarla was not alone.

“Yes,” said Sarla looking at her unhappily. “Yes, I did. Come in and shut the door behind you, for heaven’s sake!”

The woman closed the door but continued standing awkwardly, conscious of Radhi’s presence.

“Sit, Kiran, don’t mind her. She’s Radhika, the daughter of an old friend.” To Radhi she said, “Radhi, this is Kiran, my partner at Soul Harmony.”

Radhi smiled politely at Kiran. She hadn’t known that Sarla had a partner.

Kiran was clutching a similar red envelope. She handed it to Sarla and sank into the seat beside Radhi. Her hands immediately began fidgeting with the things on the desk.

“It was on my table this morning,” she said, picking up the little marble idols of Ganesh, Laxmi, the Buddha and Lord Mahavir on Sarla’s desk with the pallu of her sari and rearranging them in a straight line.

Sarla opened the envelope and removed the card. It showed a person lying by a waterfront in the dead of night. Face down, naked body half covered by a red sheet, he had ten swords sticking out of his back. The note inside this one too said, “All good things come to an end.” Radhi heard a quick intake of breath, but other than that Sarla’s face betrayed no emotion.

“This is a joke,” she declared, “some horrid, elaborate prank someone’s playing on us, Kiran. Don’t bother yourself about it.”

“Prank?” Kiran’s eyes widened. “I don’t believe that for a second, Sarla!” She turned to Radhi. “Would you call this a prank?” she asked, then without waiting for an answer she turned back to Sarla. “This has gone on long enough now! What I don’t understand is why you aren’t taking it seriously.”

“Who said I’m not?” asked Sarla.

“Well, what are you doing about it? Can we at least visit a tarot card reader and see what these cards mean?!”

“I’ve asked Hansa to look into it,” said Sarla.

“You have?” Kiran blinked. “Good.”

Sarla nodded. “Let’s wait to see what she comes up with. In the interim, don’t worry about it. It’s just a silly distraction.”

Before Kiran could protest, Radhi asked, “Were your cards different from Sarla Aunty’s?”

“Different cards. But same message.” Kiran was now pacing the floor. Just then there was a knock at the door and a young woman entered the room. She looked like Kiran in every way except that she had thicker hair and was wearing a summer dress with very high heels. “Ma, that Bhavana ben is asking for you again. She’s creating a fuss –” She halted mid-sentence, noticing the sombre expressions on Kiran’s and Sarla’s faces. “What is it?” she asked, looking from one to the other.

Kiran pointed to the red envelope and the tarot card lying face down on the desk.

“Oh, again?” The young woman snatched it and gasped when she saw the impaled man. “How ghastly! I am positive this is from that dreadful woman downstairs!”

“Come now, Zarna,” cautioned Sarla, “let’s not make accusations on the fly. Let’s think this through.”

“I have thought about this! It makes perfect sense! That woman opens her pseudo matrimonial bureau downstairs and a few months later we start receiving these!” Zarna waved the card and envelope in front of them. “She’s clearly trying to spook us out!”

Excerpted with permission from A Matrimonial Murder, Meeti Shroff Shah, Bloomsbury India.