25th October 4 PM - Hyderabad
Prakash slid behind the wheel of his Jeep. Mayur sat in the passenger's seat while Aisha sat in the back. He eased his Jeep out of the parking lot and headed down the main street.
The afternoon sun was bright, but the winter breeze, cold and soothing, was comforting. The street was crowded with cars and motorbikes. An occasional honking of red and green city buses filled the surroundings. A traffic inspector in white-khaki uniform struggled to clear the congestion.
"What do you think the Pizza Hut owner has to tell us?" Mayur asked.
"I too am curious. No doubt, he has some important information."
"Maybe," said Aisha, "they've found a record saying Priya had ordered pizza on that night."
"But why didn't they find it earlier?" Mayur asked. He waited for Prakash or Aisha to respond. When they remained silent, he said, "I am thinking of a new theory at this stage."
Prakash looked at him for a moment. "What?"
"I'm thinking about the Pizza Hut cap. I suspect that a delivery boy had helped one of the suspects with his Pizza Hut uniform."
"It is a possibility." Prakash passed a heavy vehicle. "The owner has called us after noticing one of his employees behaving suspiciously."
"There can be many possibilities," Aisha said. "It will be clear only after we meet the owner."
"But why should a delivery boy help a suspect with his uniform?" asked Prakash. "I believe he is the one who committed the crime and our suspects are innocents."
"If that's the case," said Aisha, "what's his motive?"
"Robbery," said Prakash. "What do you say, Mayur?"
"Well, I can talk about it only after meeting the owner."
Prakash parked his vehicle in the parking lot. They walked towards the main entrance of the outlet. A young boy wearing a uniform opened the glass door. They all entered.
A dozen tables sat in a large-sized hall and space was occupied by the patrons. The area was lit with fluorescent lights. The waiters in red uniforms were busy taking orders from the customers. The smell of spicy pizza wafted in the air.
The owner of the outlet smiled and ushered them to empty seats. They all sat with their forehead creased.
The owner introduced himself as Ankit Tiwari. "Mr. Prakash, you wanted me to tell you if I noticed something suspicious." He darted his gaze between Mayur and Prakash. "One of our delivery boys hasn't been to work since the 20th of October."
"What is his name?" Mayur asked.
"Parthiv Saha," Ankit said.
"Why didn’t you tell us before?" Prakash asked.
"Well, I was hoping he would return soon. He is not even answering my phone calls."
"Is his phone turned off?" Mayur asked.
"Yes." Ankit nodded.
"How long had he been with you?"
"For two years."
"Did he behave suspiciously during his tenure?"
"No," Ankit said. "He behaved as normal as anybody else."
"What's your opinion of him?"
"He was quite friendly with everyone and was loyal to me. He was a hard worker, too."
"Is he from Hyderabad?"
"No. He comes from one of the districts in north Karnataka. He came to Hyderabad to work and earn money."
"Ah," said Mayur. "Can we have his telephone number and address?"
"Sure," Ankit said. He took his phone out of his shirt pocket and looked at its screen. He read out the details while Aisha jotted the information on her notepad.
"How old is he?" Prakash asked.
"Around thirty years old."
"Did Parthiv deliver pizza to any of the residents of Majestic Apartments on the 19th of October?" Mayur asked.
"I have already told you about it. He didn't."
"And did he work on that night?" Mayur asked.
"Yes, he worked and delivered pizzas to other locations."
"What's your gut feeling?" asked Mayur. "Do you think he is involved in the crime?"
Ankit widened his eyes, seemingly not wanting to comment.
"You need to answer me."
"I don't think he did it," said Ankit. "But I'm not sure."
Mayur's chest lightened. "Thank you, Mr. Tiwari, for cooperating with us in the investigation." He paused. "Prakash, I want your men to check if Parthiv is still staying at this address. I also want his telephone records and credit card history for the past two months."
Prakash nodded. "Sure."
They all bade Ankit goodbye and walked out.
"What do you think of Parthiv?" Prakash asked while he steered his jeep towards the main street.
"He left his job without informing Mr. Tiwari. That is suspicious."
"I'll inform my constable to visit his house place soon," Prakash said. "Do you expect anything untoward happening?"
"If he is involved in the crime, directly or indirectly, he had put himself in danger," Mayur said. "We need to act sooner to catch him alive."
"I think there is a reason why he left his job without informing his employer," Aisha said. "He was scared that his missing Pizza Hut cap and uniform shirt button might get him in trouble."
"Yes, I agree with you," said Mayur.
"If the cap and button belonged to him, the hair found in the cap should also belong to Parthiv," Prakash said. "The DNA of the hair should match with Parthiv's."
"There can be two possibilities," said Mayur. "First, he himself committed the crime. Second, he had helped someone who held a grudge against Priya."
"The first possibility makes more sense," Prakash said.
Mayur inhaled a deep breath. "I still believe Parthiv may not be directly involved."
Prakash nosed his Jeep to the police station gate and parked the vehicle. Inside his office, he told a constable to go and inquire about Parthiv at the address given by Ankit Tiwari. He made a couple of calls to the crime branch asking for Parthiv's phone and credit card history.