Today's Reading

'Suspicion fell on the husband, Mantosh Singh,' said Mummy.

'No charges could be brought.'

'He murdered her, rest assured. Just some proofs were absent.'

'By proofs you're referring to the woman's body itself, I suppose?'

'Come, Chubby, a body is not everything,' she said.

Puri felt his head swimming. How had he allowed himself to be drawn into this ridiculous argument? What was she getting at, anyway? And where was his chai?

He glanced over at his blood pressure machine. It was the briefest of glances, but his blunder didn't go unnoticed by his mother.

'Chubby, what is that?' she asked, squinting at the apparatus.

'What is what?' he asked, playing dumb.

'It is for measuring blood pressure, na?'

'Yes, Mummy-ji, if you must know, my blood pressure has been somewhat elevated of late. And speaking frankly, the last five minutes have not improved matters.'

'Chubby, how many times I'm telling you, diet is required? Obesity is there.'

'And how many times I've told you that detective work is not for mummies?' Puri shot back.

She was silent for a moment before answering. 'Many times you've told me, if you must know. Never mind that I've offered valuable assistance in times past, to you and Om Chander Puri. You've forgotten the Butter Chicken murder case, for example?' 

A knock on the door left Mummy's question hanging in the air.

Puri bawled a gruff, 'Enter!' and the office 'boy' (who was in fact a grown man of twenty-six) came in bearing the tea.

The crockery on his tray rattled in the stony silence as he crossed the room and approached the desk.

He had brought two cups. The first he placed on the desk in front of Mummy, the second in front of Puri, along with a plate of custard-cream biscuits.

Once he was gone—backing out of the door like a courtier in a throne room—Puri picked up his cup and sipped zealously at the hot, milky chai. A quick glance up at the clock on the wall between a prominently displayed selection of framed awards and accolades and photographs of him with various personalities (including a beaming Dalai Lama and faintly perturbed-looking Amitabh Bachchan) told him that ideally he should be on his way in five minutes.

'I'm due at Patiala House, then a meeting with a client,' he said. 'What is this all about, Mummy-ji? Why rake over the past? Nothing is to be gained. It is a cold case, as cold as...I don't know...a fridge!'

'What if I told you some crucial new evidence has come to light?'

'What evidence?'

'I'll tell you in due course. First thing is first. To solve the case, the Riya Kaur file is required.'

'The official file?'

'Precisely.'

'From the police department's archives?'

'Correct.'

'You wish me to enter the building and simply ask for the official file to be handed over, is it?'

'Such a small thing for a great detective, na?'

Puri almost smiled at her gall. 'Flattery will get you nowhere, Mummy-ji,' he said. 'Now...I suggest you tell me what all this new evidence is you think you've discovered.'

'First, you must promise to get hold the file, Chubby. For solving the case once and for all, it will be indispensable. My memory is not what it was.'

Puri tried to explain that it was no small thing to get hold of such a file. It would be risky—an offence under God knows how many acts. If caught, he could face prosecution. The police chief would lock him up and throw the key in the Yamuna.

But it did no good—Mummy was relentless, and it wasn't long before Puri found himself agreeing to do 'his best' and 'try' to get her what she wanted.

With this, she stood and began to leave.

'Aren't you forgetting something?' he asked.

She looked puzzled.
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