“How long Prabhu has been missing?” asked Suresh, the police inspector.
“For more than 10 days, sir. Initially I thought he had fallen sick, but when I found out he was not at his place here, I presumed he might have gone to his village” said Kandaswamy.
“How long has he been working in your cycle shop? How old is he?”
“Three years. He would be around 19 or 20.A hard worker and a good chap. He had no vices. He knew the job and took care of repairs while I went out to buy spares and parts.”
“What do his parents say? Why did you come to police? Do you suspect any mischief?”
“I don’t think so. I do not know where his parents live. He only said he belonged to a village near Kanchipuram.Since it was more than 10 days, I thought it proper to inform police.”
“Did he have any enemies? May be someone attacked him.”
“I don’t think so.so. Prabhu is a tall and well built fellow. He can handle anyone.”
“Who are all living in this house? Any children or elderly people?”
“No one else except my wife Kavita. We have no children.”
“Where is your wife?”
“She has gone to her parents’ place about a week back to attend some festival in the village temple”
The inspector collected the details of her village and her parents casually during the conversation and asked for the photo of Prabhu if he had any for circulating in missing list.
“OK, I will call you when I get any information. Make sure you do not go out of this town. I may need your help. Can I have a glass of water?
When Kandaswamy went in, Suresh followed him, and had a quick look of the place.
Two days later, Suresh was at Kavita’s house at the village. An old man outside the house literally trembled when he saw Suresh in uniform.
“Can I meet Kavita for a few minutes?” asked Suresh
“She is actually not well. She got her leg fractured and hurt in her hand. She is under bandage lying in the bed” said the old man, her father.
“Oh, oh.I never knew as otherwise I would not have disturbed you people. Did she get hurt here?”
“No, she fell down at her place. Her husband sent her by taxi for us to take care of her as he has the shop to look after.”
“Ok, let me see her for a minute before I return. I will come later, if needed. Any festival in temple?” he asked
“No festival this month. It will come only in Chitra month during summer” replied the old man
Suresh saw Kavita reclined in the bed with a big plaster from thigh to foot on one leg and bandage in her hand. He saw some bruises on her face and arm. She must be around 30 but looked younger, slim and quite attractive. What a mismatch, thought Suresh, to the short, fat and ugly Kandaswamy.
“I am sorry to see you in this state. You are very much hurt. I heard it was from a fall but there are bruises in hand and face.”
“I don’t know how but I got hurt all over.”
“Your husband complained about Prabhu not coming to work for a fortnight or so. We are trying to trace him and circulated his picture to many police stations. I came to Kanchipuram and thought of meeting you as it is on the way. How is Prabhu? Is he a good chap?”
“Prabhu is a very good person. I know him very well as he has been coming to my house daily to carry lunch box for my husband. He is a very shy fellow and will not talk much. But he seemed very happy to learn work from my husband. Is he not coming to work and gone away? He was virtually managing the shop.”
“Did you not know that he was not coming for work when you left your place?
“I remember my husband telling that Prabhu was not attending the shop may be due to illness. I did not check thereafter.”
Suresh did not ask about who carried lunch.
“Is nobody there in the cycle shop owner’s house? It is locked,” asked Suresh in disguise to an old woman standing adjacent to Kandaswamy’s house.
“That useless fat fellow would have gone to the shop.”
“Is there no one else?”
“He threw that wretched woman out about two weeks back. God knows where she is roaming around,” said the old woman
“Why do you talk like this about your neighbour? What did she do to you?”
“What do you know of her? I am here seeing all the atrocious things happening, and you dare doubt me. Who have you come to meet? Kandaswamy or that woman?"
"I came to see him. I don’t know about her,” replied Suresh
“Good, come near, I will tell you” she replied, and added after looking around ”That woman is not good. Daily that boy from shop will come in the afternoon to take lunch for Kandaswamy, and they would often be seen laughing together. He would linger inside for long time. Her useless husband does not know how to keep her happy, and I think he was blind to the happenings under his roof. About a fortnight back he came home unexpectedly during lunch. May be he suspected something. I heard her wailing as he beat her blue and kicked her out. I have not seen her or that boy thereafter. May be they had eloped,” she whispered
“Oh oh, is any repair going on here? I see some remnants of broken bricks and sand opposite his house” asked Suresh.
“I have no idea. Why don’t you ask Kandaswamy?”
The same day, in the presence of a shaken Kandaswamy, workmen were seen breaking open the floor of the rear room under the watchful eyes of Suresh.