It was the worst Pandey would witness. On a cold winter morning, he was returning home after his regular dip in the Ganges when he heard the sound of a child crying. Originating from the altar at the base of the giant banyan tree, the noise pierced the otherwise quiet winter morning. Pandey followed the noise, cursing the parents for their callousness.
As he walked around the altar to the other side, in the haziness of the foggy dawn he saw a child of about six months on the altar crying. The child was cold and hungry. The mother sat beside the child her back resting on the tree trunk eyes closed. Pandey became angry at the careless of the mother and cried, "Can't you hear your child's cry? Are you deaf?"
There was nobody around to help and the mother did not respond to his repeated calls. Pandey reached over and shook the woman in the hope it would wake her up. When he shook her, her body slid flat on the altar, her body cold and still. Pandey screamed for help from the neighbors.
Pandey, in his sixties, had been a man who strictly practiced his faith. He had never smoked a cigarette or drank a glass of wine. As the chief priest of the Shiva temple, people respected Pandey and when he knocked at their door even reluctant people came out braving the morning chill and gathered at the riverside. Someone in the crowd called the police.
The fog dispersed with the rising sun and it was brighter when the police arrived. Nobody in the crowd knew the woman. It was unusual she was wearing an expensive red saree that women wear when they get married yet she had no jewelry, purse or mobile phone with her. Police thought it could have been a burglary gone wrong, but there were no signs of any injury.
"Who found the woman?" Inspector Jacob asked.
When in school he decided he would become a cop and always remained focused in his goal. He went to the gym regularly to stay fit and be a better cop. His colleagues knew about his strong determination to solve mysteries.
"Attracted by the cry of the child I found her here," Pandey said, then he narrated the total happenings to Jacob.
"Do you know her?"
"I do not know her, but I have seen her before. She came to the temple two days ago and complained her husband was a drunk and cheating on her. I assured her I will pray to Lord Shiva to get rid of her problems. I also advised her to go to the police if needed. "
"Anybody else know her?"
All were silent and shook their head, one man in the crowd said, "Sir, hundreds of devotees from near and far come here, and it’s very difficult to recognize one of them. We can remember followers who come here regularly."
As the police were removing her body from the altar a woman shouted, "Wait, I know her! She is a neighbor of my sister who lives in the town 30 miles away. Her husband is a criminal and tortured her. Maybe he has murdered her and left her body here."
"Do you know her address?" Jacob said.
"No, but I can give you my sisters." she replied.
Manoj, the dead woman's husband, was scared to see the police at his door.
"Why are you so scared to see us here?" Jacob asked.
Manoj kept quiet.
"Where are your wife and child?"
"I don't know sir."
"When did you last see them?"
"Your wife and child have been missing all night, did you report that to the police?”
"No sir, I thought she was visiting her aunt." A frightened Manoj said.
"Did you try to find out where she was?" They asked as they entered the house.
In Manoj's bedroom police found another woman.
"You murdered your wife so you can be with this woman?"
"I loved Nita, two years ago my parents made me marry her."
"You both will have to come with us to the police station."
"I am innocent, I have done nothing," he pleaded.
The police arrested them both on suspicion of murder.
The autopsy reported the death was due to cyanide poisoning that happened around midnight.
Police on searching Manoj's house found he had recently purchased a substantial insurance policy in his wife's name. They thought Manoj had enough motive to murder his wife and they intensified their questioning. Neither Manoj nor Nita was talking. The night of his wife's death, Manoj and Nita were at Manoj's house. Police could not trace any avenue from which Manoj, a clerk in an accountant's office could get cyanide. Short on evidence, the police had to release Manoj and Nita after a few days but kept a close watch on their activities.
Few months passed by and with no developments the case lost importance. One morning a small newspaper article caught Jacob's attention. In another town, a hundred miles away a woman was found dead near a temple in her marriage dress. No wound or ornaments were found on her body. The autopsy said cyanide poisoning.
Jacob found similarities in the two cases, women in marriage dress, no ornaments, cyanide, near a temple. Jacob called up the investigation officer and explained his similar case.
"My suspicion was on the husband, but we found nothing against him," Jacob said
"Some people here saw a woman in saffron speaking to her not long before she died," the voice of the investigating officer on the other side replied.
"You mean a woman disciple?"
"Our artist is working on preparing her sketch."
"Will you send it to me when it is finished?"
A couple of days later the sketch of a middle-aged woman arrived. Jacob went back to the temple and showed it to Pandey who after a close look said, "I have seen this woman near the temple twice, but she never returned after the murder."
"Why didn't you tell us that?"
"I thought she was a disciple. They come and go all the time."
"Bingo!" Jacob murmured.