BOOK EXCERPT

What can we expect from a novel by a former newspaper editor about the murder of the CEO?

It’s a whodunit, but is there also a game of spot the original?

Theresa Pereira – washed and dried, devout and scowling, fleshy in arm and leg – reached office moments before nine on Tuesday morning and not earlier because she missed the last of a dozen elevators at India Bullocks Financial Centre’s Tower #3. It had not waited, the doors closing even though she ran across the lobby shouting “hold-hold” to the poker-faced operator; so she waited several minutes as the lifts returned from their interminable journey up thirty-one floors and back before she could step into one and finally reach her thirteenth floor office.

She needed the time to prepare herself a coffee, fix her desk, and get ready for the arrival of her boss, Buster Das, the Chief Executive Officer of Morning Analysis, Mumbai’s fourth-largest circulating English-language newspaper. Running for the lift had given her a slight wedgie in her slacks, but what to do, a skirt would make her look older than the other girls in administration nipping at her heels and ready to take her place as executive assistant even though they had no experience managing a CEO’s office.

She dared not pull the fabric out while in the lift though she was sure that those louts from Deloitte upstairs had probably noticed and sniggered silently amongst themselves. Must be Delhiwallas, she consoled herself, but as soon as she reached her floor and swiped her card on the spooky electronic box on the wall just inside the sliding plate-glass entrance, she went behind her desk and discreetly tugged the wedgie out.

She looked at the daily planner. Mr Das had meetings lined up all day, starting with a presentation by the head of Human Resources, Mr Himangshu Roychowdhury, and the Chief Financial Officer, Mr Tilak Raj Tijori, at ten. Mr Das needed a cup of black coffee as soon as he sat down to help digest the several sheets of data from the night before: newsprint consumption by the tonne, production timings and delays in minutes, and daily revenue in rupees (lakhs). Theresa went into the dry kitchen that was a little more than a cluttered alcove located on the other side of the reception, and set the coffee machine in motion.

Theresa phoned the security guard to unlock Mr Das’s door. Then she picked up the papers deposited on her desk during the night and arranged them in an intelligible order. When the security guard arrived, jangling his keys, she waited in front of the door to the CEO’s room for the guard to unlock it. Then she turned the handle, pushed the door open, and screamed.

Buster Das sat in his chair, dead.

His head drooped forward, chin on chest, and for a minute he seemed to be dementedly grinning at her. But he was not. His skull had been smashed in and his white hair had turned brown, as if he had been preparing to dye his hair with glops of henna just before he was killed. It was not henna, however; it was dried blood which had streaked downwards in every direction. His hands hung limply by his hips. No, he did not look alive.

The door opened and in rushed the peon, Deepak Rathi, a squat, wheatish-complexioned man with bulging eyes whose premature greying was camouflaged by cheap dye, and who wore a regulation powder-blue shirt and navy blue trousers, machine-stitched from industrial polyester. In his stubby fingers he held Buster’s cup of coffee. Rathi took one look at his boss and his eyes almost escaped their sockets; he swore under his breath in Marathi. He set the cup down on a coaster on Das’s desk. “Who done this?” he asked. To the office gentry he refused to speak in the vernacular, no matter how much the executives tried Hindi or Marathi in their misplaced belief that it might put him at ease.

“Not me,” Theresa said.

The security guard was the next to come in, followed by others in the office who had heard Theresa’s scream and could not believe their luck – a spectacle so early in the morning, that too, on a Tuesday. Rathi herded them back out. “No one come before police,” he declared.

Theresa called the police control room.

Then she called the Editor, Rocky Borkotoky, who accused her of sensationalising the news, and the chief city reporter, Pearl Pandey. Both would arrive as quickly as Mumbai’s traffic would allow.

Then she returned to Mr Das’s room. Rathi stood still near the door, staring at his former boss. Theresa stood beside him and also stared at the grisly cauliflower that was once Mr Das’s head.

“Room is smelling,” Rathi said.

“Don’t open the windows till the police come and allow it,” Theresa said.

Das hadn’t been a particularly wonderful boss. He hadn’t even been a particularly wonderful CEO. There was so much that happened at a newspaper office, which was not surprising since about 500 people worked out of here. Theresa wondered how much she needed to tell the police as she waited for them to arrive.

Inspector Sandesh Solvekar scrutinised the trophy thrust in front of his face by Sub-Inspector Mona Ramteke. It was cheap and virtually meaningless till the moment it was used to bludgeon Buster Das to death. Das’s blood caked the edges of the trophy’s wooden base. The murderer had held it by the shiny brass plate. They would check for fingerprints, though the murderer might have wiped it clean or used surgical gloves like Ramteke’s.

“What a nonsense trophy,” Sandesh said.

“Yes, sir, it’s a wonder it didn’t fall apart on the victim’s head,” Ramteke said. “Or in the murderer’s hand.”

The plaque grandiosely announced that it had been presented a year back by the newspaper’s parent media company, Jeeyo News. “Special Award to Jury Member Buster Das,” it said. Sandesh snorted. What a piece-of-shit award. No wonder they called it Jee Huzoor News. What a stingy company. It couldn’t even spend the extra rupee to reach a minimal standard of classiness. This was clearly a Crawford Market knock-off.

And the dumb murderer also had to choose this plasticky trophy. He could have at least used the shiny, smart, silvery trophy that stood on the side desk next to Das’s laptop, the trophy from the victim’s previous newspaper company, News of India. Maybe the use of the Jeeyo News trophy was deliberate. Perhaps it was a clue.

Excerpted with permission from The CEO Who Lost His Head, Aditya Sinha, Pan Macmillan.

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