Imtiaz Raza seemed to be in his mid-forties. He was dressed in a white Peshawari kurta-pyjama, and was of medium build, with a head full of thick, curly hair. His entire torso had lurched forward, looking like a horizontally inverted “C”, with his head hanging backwards from over his shoulders. His hands were outstretched and tied to two poles at opposite ends.
Rathod never knew that a human being’s back could bend backwards to such an extent. It was obvious that the victim’s backbone had broken. His feet were tied together and fixed on to a short peg driven into the floor near his legs. Rathod didn’t dare to imagine what an incredible amount of pain the man must have gone through while he was being clubbed to death.
The voice startled Rathod. He hadn’t realised that someone was standing behind him. He looked around to find a uniformed police officer leaning against a pillar a few metres away and smiling softly. He was a young man, impeccably dressed in a clean, well-ironed uniform, roughly the same height as Rathod, with a serene face and lean build. His hair was gelled and drawn back neatly, his shoes were shiny and he looked smart and dapper. His eyes, although calm, had a twinkle of intelligence in them.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, sir!” the officer said. “I’m a great admirer of your work.”
Rathod nodded politely but did not answer. He was very tired. The forensic officers packed their kits and went past them with a smile. Rathod smiled back briefly. He took a few steps towards the body and closely examined the area around the corpse.
The entire floor was covered with a thick layer of dust. Wherever Rathod stepped, he left his footprints. The factory must have been shut down for decades, he thought.
“I’ve followed all your cases closely,” the officer said enthusiastically, following him. “Especially the Professor one...I personally think that was your greatest feat, sir...but there is...”
“Officer,” Rathod interrupted him. “If you don’t mind, I’m working.”
“Of course...I’m sorry, sir,” the officer apologised sincerely.
Rathod hadn’t meant to be so curt with him but something had caught his attention. There was a broad pattern on the floor, almost like a conical shape, that had started from behind the body and expanded uniformly as it moved away from it. Rathod knelt down to examine the pattern more closely.
“Looks like someone swept out the dust from that area, doesn’t it, sir?” the officer asked.
Rathod was irritated at being disturbed again, but he realised that the officer was right. Indeed, the floor seemed to have been swept clean. There was not a speck of dust in that conical area. The entire thing seemed quite strange to Rathod.
From the corner of his eye, he noticed that the officer had walked up to him and was itching to say something. Rathod abhorred such people, who considered speaking more important than thinking. He rose to his feet and tried to walk away, focussing on the possible reasons why someone would sweep the floor, that too only a part of it.
“I was wondering why someone would leave such a pattern under the victim’s feet, that too with such precision,” the officer said hesitantly.
Rathod was surprised to see that he was right once again. The floor had indeed been swept clean with almost geometric precision. As was his habit, Rathod started walking from one point of the crime scene to another, stopping and kneeling down several times to look at the floor, keeping his eyes and ears open, observing everything, soaking in the environment.
Then, suddenly, he stopped. A thin flicker of light in the distance had caught his eye. What was that? He strained his eyes to catch the flicker from behind a mesh of machinery.
“What’s your name?” he swivelled around and asked the officer.
“Aditya, sir. Inspector Aditya Mathur. I’m investigating this murder.”
“Does this place have electricity?”
“I think so...wait, let me check...”
Aditya sprung into action. He rushed to a wall that had a huge switchboard on it and turned on a couple of switches. Nothing happened.
“Try the mains,” Rathod called out.
Aditya clutched a large lever and tugged at it. With a loud metallic clang that echoed through the abandoned building, the lever came snapping down and one by one, a series of lights shone brightly. In the bright light, the dark alcove-like area on the wall behind Imtiaz Raza’s corpse was now illuminated, revealing a huge industrial cooling fan, almost 20 feet in diameter. Rathod and Aditya looked at it with a sense of awe and wonder. Raza’s body – in fact, their own bodies – seemed tiny in front of the monster fan.
“My god! Look at the size of that fan!” Aditya murmured and looked at Rathod.
Rathod didn’t comment. Instead, he walked towards the fan and stood at the edge of the floor. The giant blades were a good ten feet away from his position. He turned around to look at the scene of the crime again.
“It was this fan that swept the dust off the floor,” he remarked, thinking aloud.
“But why switch on the fan?” Aditya asked.
“Well, obviously to kill the victim.”
“You mean the victim was alive when he was brought here?”
“Yes...that makes sense...why else would he be tied up?’
“He was alive. He was tied to the poles and then the fan was switched on. Look at that sign over there.”
Aditya followed the direction Rathod had gestured towards and saw a rusty control panel on a raised platform at least 50 feet above the ground on the far wall. A huge sign right next to the control panel screamed, “DANGER! CLEAR FLOOR BEFORE OPERATING COOLING UNIT”.
“My god! You don’t mean...” Aditya whispered, looking horrified.
“That’s exactly what I mean...the killer switched on the high-speed cooling fan after tying up the man. This fan is used to rapidly cool red-hot malleable steel plates and girders down to manageable temperatures. Last night, it was used to kill this man. It produced a focused, high-velocity stream of air current and the poor man was caught in it. Look at the bruises on his hands and feet. They are from the chains that bind him.”
“But that would mean that his body would have been under high tension...” Aditya began.
“...for several minutes, yes! If my guess is correct, the killer was watching the show all along – watching, as the victim suffered. I think he was watching...” Rathod pointed to the control panel once again “...from up there.”
“And the victim’s back...it must have...”
“Snapped. Right across the spine.”
“My goodness, this is ghastly! Who could have done such a thing? Certainly not contract killers!”
Rathod didn’t respond. Instead, he gradually circled the body, maintaining a distance from it. His heart was racing as he slowly realised that his worst fears were turning out to be true. When he came directly in line between the body and the fan, he stopped and faced the body. His head continued to pound, and everything around him seemed too bright, too loud.
A faint outline of Imtiaz Raza’s body began to appear before his eyes – the outstretched hands, the feet tied together, the head hanging backwards...forming the outline of a kite.
“Are you all right, sir?” A voice rung out within the factory and echoed from wall to wall, but it wasn’t Aditya’s...whose voice was it? Ah! Rathod remembered...it was Nihari’s, the crane operator at Saran’s construction site. He clutched his head.
“Are you all right, sir?” Aditya asked once again.
Rathod suddenly became aware of his surroundings. This wretched headache!
“Yes, yes...I’m fine,” he said, gasping.
Aditya blabbered on. “I had only heard about you so far, sir! Now I know what they say about you is all true! It’s...it’s such a pleasure to meet you!”
Rathod didn’t pay any attention to the flattering words. There was only one question in his mind right now: How was this possible? Tony Matthew was in jail. Rathod knew that for sure, because he had put him there. So how had he killed again? How?
Excerpted with permission from Patang, Bhaskar Chattopadhyay, Hachette.