by S. Chandra Shekar
“Hi Gautam, how are you? I have just finished work and am on my way to the Metro station. I should be home in half an hour and we’ll go out for dinner as soon as I have freshened up” said Usha as she packed her briefcase and started walking to the station. On the way, she made another call to one of her colleagues and said, “Rani, I’ll finish the Ajax report on Monday and give it to you for dispatch to the Bank. Have a nice weekend and relax. Bye for now”
Usha worked for a management consultancy company in Bangalore and was a senior partner in the company. She was in charge of studying loan applications and giving opinions on project viability and feasibility. Her reports were reliable and the Banks valued her recommendations. She was recently promoted and held simultaneous charge of monitoring Non Performing Assets and investigating reasons for default and failure by borrowers. It was a challenging assignment and kept Gautam, her husband, worried about her safety and security. What if a disgruntled client took it out on her for denying him further loans? The Banks had become strict about defaulters and were calling back loans and in some cases closing down accounts and auctioning securities given by borrowers.
Usha briskly took the escalator and waited on the platform for her train. Soon she was seated in the compartment. There were only five other persons in the compartment. She observed that one person who had a newspaper in his hand kept looking at her occasionally. She didn’t give importance to this and kept looking at her mobile phone.
Just as the train drew up at her station, the phone rang. The call was from Gautam.
“Hi Usha, where are you now?”
“I’m just getting down at the station and I’ll walk quickly to reach home soon” said Usha
“You know what I’ll do. I’ll take a walk and meet you half way in the park near the station exit gate. Okay, see you soon,” said Gautam
Usha kept her phone in her bag and moved towards the exit gate. When she came out of the gate and entered the park walkway, she suddenly realized that she was being followed. She increased her walking pace and movement. She started perspiring and kept looking back to see if someone was there following her.
And then it happened. The hit.
Usha fell to the ground, her handbag opened and everything in it fell in disarray. A strong hand held her down. She saw a flash of steel and the next moment she had a searing pain in her abdomen.
“That’ll teach you to mind your own business”, said a gruff deep voice.
Usha lost consciousness and lay on the ground bleeding. For a few seconds, she was alone since the man who attacked her had gone away.
Gautam reached her soon and was shocked to see her condition. He called the Ambulance on his mobile phone and took off his jacket and wrapped her. In minutes the ambulance came, the paramedics loaded her onto the vehicle and put her on a drip. One paramedic applied an abdominal bandage around her waist to reduce blood loss. It did’nt helps much.
The Ambulance drove fast with sirens blaring and reached the nearest hospital. Usha was taken into the Emergency Ward and the doctors swung into action. They cleaned the stab wound and put on a dressing. Usha was breathing slowly and her pulse and BP were stabilizing. The doctors moved her to the Operation theatre and conducted an emergency operation to repair the wound, stitch it up and dress. They gave her a quick blood transfusion to balance the blood loss. Usha was moved to a ward and monitored by a nurse.
All this happened till late in the night and Gautam just sat on a chair outside the ward and kept thinking of the incident.
Next morning saw Gautam heading to his home for a quick shower and coffee. The doctor had told him that Usha was stable and conscious now. He advised Gautam to take a break and get refreshed. Gautam’s mind was full of the incident and an urge to catch the culprit who had attacked Usha. He thought vigorously and at last, an idea flashed in his mind. He had heard and read about a private detective called Lobo in Bangalore.
“How can I trace him?” thought Gautam. Last night a police complaint had been lodged by him and they will start investigating. “I will certainly help the Police. But why not simultaneously investigate myself with the help of Lobo?”.
In a short while, he had located the address and phone number of Lobo from the Internet and he was on the phone to talk to him.
“Is that Mr. Lobo?” asked Gautam
“Yes, you are right. What can I do for you?”
Gautam explained briefly the details of the incident and requested Lobo to take up the case.
“The Police will not object or interfere, Mr Lobo. I’ll ensure that. You can have a free hand. Everything will be fine as long as we don’t clash with the Police and upset them”.
Lobo said “OK I’m with you. Let’s get going. It’s a challenging case and I will do my best”.
Gautam met Lobo the next morning and gave him an advance payment of Rs 5,000/- to cover expenses.
Cajetan Lobo now took up the case. He started the process of detection. Over the years he had solved many cases and he had developed a systematic technique of investigation.
Lobo made a checklist of points to be investigated
1. Date and time of the incident
2. Metro station records and details of smart cards used around that time
3. Likely suspects from company reports and Bank data
4. Likely motive of the attacker
5. Interrogate Usha’s colleagues and employer
6. Question Gautam and Usha
7. Search for informants from likely friends or victims of the attacker
8. Look for clues at the scene of the crime
Lobo made his first visit to the metro station and looked around. Usha had been attacked at around 7 pm. Lobo went through the train timings chart and found that there was a train everyday on Usha’s route leaving at 6.20 pm. This seemed correct. He then went to the Station master’s office and after identifying himself he went through the data sheets related to ticket entries for the 6.20 pm train. Two persons had boarded the train.
“That’s alright for now”, thought Lobo.”I must find out if the compartment was crowded or not. I can get this information from Usha after she recovers and is able to speak”
In the afternoon, Lobo decided to visit Usha’s office. The office was in a crowded area of the city. It was in the seventh floor of a large office complex. Lobo walked into the lobby and told the receptionist “I am Lobo, a private detective investigating the attack on your Partner, Usha. Can I meet her colleague or manager for a discussion?”
The girl attending the reception counter looked surprised.
“One minute, I’ll check with our manager”
In a few minutes, she said “Please go through the main door and go to the last cabin on the right side”
“Thank you”, said Lobo and walked on
As he entered the cabin, a tall man stood up and shook his hand
“My name is Rajan and I am Usha’s senior colleague. We are all shocked by what happened and I am glad her husband has engaged you to investigate. The police have already come and questioned us yesterday. What can I do for you?”
Lobo requested him to narrate the details of the incident from his point of view.
“Who do you think could have done this, Mr Rajan?”
“I haven’t a clue Mr Lobo. Usha is highly respected in her profession in the banking and industrial circles. She is thorough and methodical in her work and her reports are accurate and very professional”
“Can you think of any suspects? Anybody who had a grouse on her?. Anyone angry with her? Did she have any enemies?
“I can’t think of anyone right away. She is generally well liked and friendly”.
After covering many different angles, Lobo said thank you to Rajan and told him that he will keep in touch with him
That evening, Lobo had a detailed chat with Gautam.
“Lobo, as Usha was working on her recent report to the bank, I had a lurking fear that some disgruntled person may threaten her. My fear came true when she was attacked on Friday.
She hinted to me that the report she was finalizing was controversial. Normally, after she finishes her reports, she gives it to Rani, her colleague in the legal department. Maybe she can throw some light”.
Next day, Lobo went to Usha’s office again and requested Rajan to allow him to talk to Rani.
Rani was a smart girl and very sharp. She said that Usha was supposed to hand over the report to her on Monday morning, but she was injured on Friday. She thought the report could be in Usha’s cupboard in her cabin.
“Let’s have a look, Mr Lobo. It has to be there”.
Rani and Lobo went to Usha’s cabin and opened the cupboard. They searched everywhere, but there was no report. On the way out of the cabin, Rani asked Usha’s secretary if she knew where the report could be.
“It’s here, Madam”, said the secretary.
“How did you get it?” asked Rani. “ It’s a confidential document”.
Madam Usha gave it to me to do some corrections in typing and give it back to her on Monday.
Rani felt it was strange for Usha to leave this report with her junior secretary, that too over the weekend. “OK please give it to me now” she said
Lobo and Rani quickly went through the report. Lobo made brief notes in his diary. Some pages were creased and edges bent. It looked as if it had been handled by someone.
Rani said “Usha was fussy about neatness and surely her report would not look like this”. Lobo looked at Rani and said “Maybe some pages were Xeroxed”
Lobo thought to himself “I have one suspect now, the secretary girl. She must be helping someone in collecting information”
Lobo went through the report completely using his speed reading technique. He made short notes in his diary at various places.
That evening, Lobo went for a walk and analysed the situation.
His observations were as follows after he went through his diary.
Usha had made a report on the poor loan repayment performance of the Ajax Trading Company.
The bank involved in the loan disbursal was the KZM Bank. The officer handling the account was one Mr Gopalan. The Chief Executive of the Ajax Trading company was one Mr Crasto.
The next day Lobo contacted Mr Crasto and found out from him the details of his relationship with the bank.
“The bank is very good. Normally all banks ask for double the value of the loan amount as security. I appealed to the bank that in these days of the downturn in the economy, they should give me some concession. I have a clean and good track record over the years and I assured them I will service the loan efficiently. Mr. Gopalan was the officer in charge and he submitted a proposal to the Bank Head Office on my behalf. After considerable delay, it was sanctioned. Mr. Gopalan was such a help”
Lobo thanked Crasto for his cooperation and took a taxi to the Bank which was in another crowded part of the city. He walked in and after introductions, he reached Mr. Gopalan’s desk.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Gopalan, my name is Cajetan Lobo. I think Mr. Rajan would have told you about me”
“Oh, yes Mr. Lobo. I do know about you. How shocking and sad that Ms Usha was attacked. Thank God she survived and is now recovering in hospital”, said Gopalan in his gruff and deep voice.
Lobo thought to himself “This man has a great voice. He’ll be very good as an anchor on television”
Tell me, Mr. Lobo, what would you like to know?”
At Lobo’s request, Gopalan narrated the details of Crasto’s account and case.
“Isn’t it unusual for your bank to ask for such a low security cover for a large loan” asked Lobo
“Well, in this case we made an exception because of Crasto’s reliable reputation and the prevailing economic situation”
“But now, I hear from Mr. Rajan that Mr. Crasto’s performance has been unsatisfactory and the Consultancy company has recommended calling back his loan and short closing it”.
“Yes, that’s very unfortunate. We have asked the consultants to give Ajax company a sick status and recommend a nursing programme”.
“Have they done it?” asked Lobo
In his gruff voice, Gopalan grumbled and complained about the Consultants.
“These people think they know everything and think that businesses run smoothly all the time. We are a development bank and our Chairman Mr Talwar is a pioneer in development banking in India. If a business becomes sick, you can’t just close it down and call back the loan. We have given term loan and working capital to Ajax. How will they survive if I short close the loans? My Senior Manager is very upset. Look at this Consultant! They recommend strongly closing down the Ajax account. Is it fair”.
Lobo prodded Gopalan more. “I see your point. Has the Consultant really used such strong language?”
Gopalan raised his gruff voice and said “I know their mind and what they have recommended. All consultants are the same. They have nothing to lose. Only the business loses its work and income and the bank loses its clients, goodwill, and income. What does the Consultant lose? Nothing”.
Gopalan became agitated. He called his assistant and said,” Ram, please get us 2 cups of tea and some biscuits from the canteen. My throat has gone dry”. Gopalan’s gruff and deep voice sounded strained. He coughed a few times.
“Sorry, Mr. Lobo, I got carried away. These things upset me. I want to help business people and clients; not harass them, the way these consultants do”.
Lobo and Gopalan had their cup of tea and Gopalan looked a little refreshed.
“Thank you Mr. Gopalan for your assistance. I have learned a lot today and thanks to you I am confident I will find a solution”.
Lobo sat down in his chair in his flat. He took out a sheet of paper and noted down some points.
Before he got up from his chair to go out for dinner, he said to himself “I think I am nearing the solution, but tomorrow I must have a talk with Usha. I hope the doctor will permit this. I’ll ask Gautam to arrange the meeting” So saying, he picked up his phone and requested Gautam to ensure that he can talk briefly to Usha, doctor willing.
It was one week now since Usha was attacked. Lobo met Gautam for a chat at a café in the central business area. Gautam took time off for a short while from work to meet him. They had a coffee and Lobo enquired about Usha’s welfare. Gautam said “She’s improving, Lobo and slowly gaining strength”
“Can she talk to me for a few minutes whenever she can? What does the doctor say?”
Gautam replied that Lobo could meet her on Sunday morning. It has to be very brief.
Lobo and Gautam finished their chat in the café and walked out. As they came out they saw Crasto, Gopalan, and another elderly man walking in front of them.
“Look at that, Gautam. They seem to have had a meeting. Can’t be official. A banker and his client walking together in the open street”.
The next day was Saturday and the bank would work only half a day. Lobo gave a ring to the bank and asked for Gopalan.
“Sorry sir”, said the receptionist “ Mr. Gopalan has been on leave for personal reasons. He is expected back in the bank next week”
“That’s interesting”, thought Lobo “I’ll meet him next week for a chat”
Lobo got up early the next day. It was an important day since he was going to meet Usha. Promptly at 10 am he entered the hospital. Gautam had also come. They went up to Usha’s room in the special ward. A nurse told them to wait. She recognized Gautam as Usha’s husband.
In a short while, the doctor came on his rounds. He nodded his head at Gautam. He went in, examined Usha, and gave instructions to the nurse. The doctor and nurse went away. The nurse said a few words to Gautam as she was going. Gautam told Lobo that they should go to the waiting room down the corridor and sit down for some time. The nurse will call them when it was time for them to look up Usha. They sat down in the sofas and thumbed through some magazines.
In about 20 minutes the nurse came and told them that they can go to Usha’s room.
“I am going to my nurse’s station to write a brief report whilst you are with Usha. Please be brief in your talk and don’t speak loudly. Only one of you must go in at a time”, she said
Gautam stood outside the door of Usha’s room and Lobo went in. The moment he entered he saw a man leaning over Usha’s bed and trying to do something. Lobo moved quickly and stood next to the man, who wore a black Covid 19 mask.
The man grunted as he saw Lobo and he uttered a gruff swear word
Lobo saw that the man had a pillow in his hand and obviously he was trying to smother Usha and block her nose to stop breathing. Lobo pushed the man aside and grappled with him. Just then another man, slightly elderly came out of the bathroom and tried to grab Lobo.
Lobo was adept and agile and he tackled both the men. He shouted, “Gautam, come here”.
Gautam rushed in and both of them pushed the two men on the ground and held them. Lobo shouted again, “Nurse, nurse where are you? Call the security people”.
Nurse Jessy was at the nurse’s station just completing her report. She heard the loud voice and rushed to Usha’s room. She saw what had happened. Lobo and Gautam holding two men on the ground. She ran to the nearest emergency phone and called the Security people and the duty doctor.
The Security men came quickly on the double and grabbed hold of the two men. They
tied the men’s hands behind their backs using some bandages and scarves. The duty doctor came in and checked Usha. “So far so good”, he said.
Very soon, the Chief Medical Officer came and took charge. Gautam summoned the Police and lodged a complaint.
Lobo quickly removed the masks from both the men.
“Mr. Gopalan, what are you doing here and who is the other man?”
Gopalan, in his gruff voice, said” That’s my boss, Mr. Gupta”
In the next few days, the police procedures took place, and Gopalan and Gupta were remanded to judicial custody.
After a few days, Lobo and Gautam sought permission from the Police and the court and made a visit to Gopalan in the jail.
“Tell me, Mr. Gopalan, why did you do this? Two attacks on Usha. She survived the first attack but your second attack would have killed her” asked Lobo.
Gopalan looked morose and said “I had to do it. There was no other way. Usha had made a damning report on Crasto and our bank. How can I allow that.”
“How did you know what the report said even before it was submitted?” asked Lobo
“I read the important chapters and the recommendations”
“How did you do that?”
“I got Usha’s secretary to Xerox important pages for me. Usha had put the report in her cupboard in her cabin and had forgotten to lock it. The secretary took it out and copied pages for me. I paid her for her services” said Gopalan.
“Good lord, how could you do that”, said Lobo
“I did it”
“Mr. Gopalan, was your motivation only to safeguard the reputation of your bank and that of Crasto? Was there any other motive behind your actions? Please answer me directly. I will spare you the grilling the lawyer will do in court”
“I have worked hard for my bank for many years. I have large financial commitments at home. My family is very demanding and my expenses are high. When Crasto applied for the loan his case was weak. I liked Crasto and he promised to take care of my interests. All these years he has kept his word and paid me promptly. I built up his case to become viable and bankable. I had a long discussion with my boss, Mr Gupta and involved him in the project. He readily agreed. I worked out a formula for Crasto to cover me and Mr Gupta in the transactions. Every quarter Crasto paid us a substantial sum of money to cover our efforts to manage his accounts and give him funds whenever he needed it. Everything went on smoothly. This Covid 19 scare and crisis brought in a downturn in the business. Revenue and profits went down. Debts could not be collected and creditors’ payments could not be released promptly. Raw material supplies dwindled and workers started absenting themselves. Hard times came. I managed very well in spite of all this. I safeguarded the bank’s and Crasto’s interests.
And one day an audit team came from Head Office and asked the Consultants to review the accounts of Crasto and give a report. Usha was put in charge. She was efficient but ruthless. She went deep into the issue and never discussed or involved me. I tried to intervene and tell her to be considerate to Crasto, as he was a valuable and long-standing customer of the bank. Of course, I had my own special interest in Crasto as he funded Mr. Gupta and me regularly. How could I allow my supply source to be destroyed by a consultant’s report?
I had to put a stop to this. I can’t block or destroy the consultant’s report. There will always be a copy and it can come out again. I grew angry. I wanted to teach Usha a lesson to mind her own business and not destroy our business. I grew frustrated and agitated. I had to act immediately. In my rage, I attacked her in the park that Friday evening near the metro station.
Last week I received an e mail from Head Office to appear before an inquiry committee. I knew that my job was at stake. I flew into a rage again. I calmed myself a little, took leave for a week, and consulted Crasto and Mr. Gupta.
Mr. Gupta was upset. He knew that if I was punished he will also be involved. I became agitated.
I told myself,” If I have to lose my job and get punished by my bank, it would be because of Usha. I have to teach her a final lesson. Let consultants know that they can’t play with other people’s lives. Let them do their jobs and earn their incomes, not destroy others by their harsh reports. Live and let live. Nobody is perfect. Some people like Usha are lucky with good jobs and salaries. Others like me work hard and struggle to make a living. Usha has no family, only a husband. He also has a good job and a good salary. What do they care about people like me? I have a large family. I look after 8 people at home. How can I manage my salary? The extra money Crasto paid me was very helpful. Can I lose it? People call this corruption! In my case, it is not corruption. It’s a way to make both ends meet. I couldn’t control my anger and I made another attempt to finish off Usha! It didn’t work because you came and spoilt everything.
I had pluck but no luck”.
It was a week after Lobo’s talk with Gopalan. The due process of law was taking care of Gopalan. His lawyer had moved a bail application and it was under consideration.
Gautam dropped in at Lobo’s flat and said to him “Thank you for all your help. You handled the case extremely well and I can only say ‘All’s well that ends well’. Usha is slowly recovering from her wounds and mental shock. I hope she will be discharged soon”
“That’s good Gautam. What an interesting case. It has brought out the economic frustrations of middle-class people and the strain of inflation, high cost of living, and family pressures. I feel sorry for Gopalan, but he behaved in the wrong way. He could have analysed his problems in a reasonable way, discussed with people and well-wishers, and found solutions to his financial difficulties in a better way. He need not have flown into a rage and let emotion and anger take control of him. It’s a pity that his career will be cut short with the bank. After he comes out of jail, I have told him that I will introduce him to some counsellors who can turn him around and help him start a new job, based on his long banking experience. I have told him that his behavior must change and that in the future, the reason should take charge of his thoughts and not emotion”
“Thank you again, Lobo. It was nice knowing you. I appreciate your resourcefulness and hard work. I’ll keep in touch with you and hopefully one of these days after Usha returns home I’ll invite you for dinner at our place. Until then goodbye and the best of luck in all your assignments”. With these words, Gautam shook Lobo’s hand and walked out with a smile.
About the Author:
Chandrashekar Sundara Rajan is a retired engineer with nearly 50+ years of experience in engineering projects all over India. He is well-traveled and has worked in various countries around the world. He is an avid Writer of both Short Stories and Articles of public interest.