20th October 9 AM - Hyderabad
Detective Mayur Varma entered the bedroom of Majestic Apartments. He fiddled with his car keychain. Priya Bedi's body lay in a pool of blood on the floor.
Mayur turned to Inspector Prakash Malhotra, who brought him there for an inspection. "You said you were already here this morning at seven."
The inspector nodded.
The blackish-red blood soaked Priya's sliced neck, and it covered the carpet.
"Did you find the weapon?"
"No, the weapon is missing. The perpetrator might've taken it with him."
Priya lay flat on her back with her fair, square face tilted towards the right. The bed lamp lit the room and the window and the balcony doors remained bolted.
Prakash had told Mayur the security guard had registered the complaint at around 7:00 AM.
"Did you interview the security guard?" Mayur asked Prakash.
"Yes, and he is the one who ushered me here in the morning."
"Was Priya staying alone here when the murder took place?" The junior detective Aisha Mishra asked.
"Her colleague, Julia, shared the flat with her," Prakash said. "But Julia had gone to Mumbai to meet her parents for two days. She is now traveling back to Hyderabad." He paused and then said, "Priya was alone on the weekend."
"How long did they stay in the flat?" Mayur asked.
"They stayed together for four months."
In her pale pink night suit, Priya appeared to be in her early twenties. Her wide-opened eyes and her swollen face added to the gruesomeness of the scene.
"Do you suspect any motive behind the murder?"
"Robbery," Prakash said. "There are some valuables missing. Priya always wore a gold chain and diamond earrings, which are missing. The contents of the closet were strewn around the room. It shows the perpetrator had searched for valuables."
Mayur considered. The murderers had struck when Priya was alone in the flat. Was it a coincidence that Priya's roommate, Julia, was away? Or did the perpetrators know that Priya would be alone?
The room had a single cot with the bedspread on the mattress messed up. A pillow lay on the floor, away from the victim.
"Did you find the victim's cell phone with her?" Aisha asked.
"No," said Prakash. "That's one of the reasons why the robbery is the motive."
The bruises on Priya's forearms caught Mayur's attention. "Priya had protested before she succumbed."
"I too think so. But we can reach our conclusions only after Dr. Sunil Hegde conducts an autopsy," Prakash said.
The apartment security guard entered, breathing faster. He bowed to Prakash and his colleagues.
Mayur turned to the guard. "Were you on duty last night when the murder took place?"
"No, sir. Hemant Rathod worked in the night until this morning at six o'clock. I worked from six in the morning until five o'clock, sir."
"Would you like to share any information about Priya?"
"Well," said the guard. "I'd seen Priya outside her flat with her roommate and her colleague, Julia. She maintained a low profile and never came out of her flat alone in the evenings. She had been quite cheerful and happy whenever I'd seen her."
Priya might not have had any enemies in her life, Mayur thought. And she came from an orthodox family background as she never went outside alone.
"Was she upset lately for any reason?" Aisha asked.
"No, Madam. I have seen her cheerful while she went to her office along with Julia."
Mayur walked back to the main hall of the flat along with Aisha. They sat on a plush leather sofa. The room was spacious enough and well-furnished. A flat-screen television stood near the wall, opposite the seats.
Mayur glanced outside the main entrance. The yellow tapes cordoned off the main door of the guesthouse and the surrounding area. The forensic lab technicians were busy analyzing the scene. They wore light green masks and gloves.
Mayur's glance shifted towards Aisha. Her pink sari with a purple blouse contrasted with the yellow light from the chandelier. Her not-so-round but oblong, fair face matched her petite figure.
"Did you perform some special pooja at home?"
Aisha widened her eyes. "Yes. Today was my aunt's marriage anniversary. But how do you know about it?"
He winked at her. "The sandalwood paste on your neck is still fresh."
She touched her neck. "Oh, that's correct."
Prakash arrived along with the security guard and they sat on chairs. "I spoke with my boss this morning and told him about the case." He looked at Mayur. "He wants us to close this case early as the victim worked for an IT giant. We will have pressure from the company if we delay finding the perpetrator."
Mayur straightened his back. "Let's hope we will achieve some breakthrough soon." He forced a smile.
A couple of forensic experts approached, holding magnifying glasses. They wore white and green uniforms. Mayur and his colleagues exchanged greetings with them. The technicians continued to look for any shreds of evidence using their tools.
"Did you guys find anything significant?" Prakash asked.
One of the technicians turned to Prakash. "We've collected four important clues, sir." He paused for a moment and said, "A Pizza Hut cap, a shirt button of the Pizza Hut uniform, a cigarette butt, and footprints."
"Well," said Prakash, "that's a start."
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