“But I did not…” Ay began to say. Purna shushed her quickly. Krish was waiting to speak; he did not like being interrupted. “So the ringing of the doorbell was a warning,” Krish said. “But for what? And equally important, who was it giving the warning to?” He paused, shot a glance at his watch, then went on, “I requested the members of SASSS to conduct an investigation into certain aspects of the case that assumed importance for me. The extremely diligent and able members of the society provided me vital clues. One: the ringing of the doorbell could be heard only in the apartment where it was rung, and in the next apartment but only if this was immediately adjoining, that is, if there was a common wall between the two flats. Two: the investigation also revealed that wherever the doorbell was rung, in all instances, the flat immediately adjacent, was empty, the residents were away.”
There was a buzz of excitement in the crowd. Krish waited for it to fade, then continued. “The motive was now obvious,” he said. “It was attempted burglary. In each case, the residents had been away for more than a week. Their neighbours and friends would have lowered their guard by then. But, very importantly, the potential burglars seemed to have accurate information about how long the residents would be away.”
“How do you know that? asked the fiery Mrs Das from among the crowd. “What is your evidence?”
Krish gave her a dazzling smile. “That is a very pertinent question, Ma’am,” he said. “Mine is only an assumption. As I said, all the burglaries were attempted more than a week after the residents had gone and about two weeks before they were to return. The potential burglars were in no hurry; they had a well thought out strategy.”
“Very, very good!” said Mrs Das with a beaming face. “Very good legal mind you have, boy!”
Purna whispered to Ay that mollifying Mrs Das was quite an achievement. “It was the smile,” Ay whispered back. Har turned to glare at them; Krish had resumed speaking. Actually he was asking a question.
“Who would be one of the first people to be told of a family’s going away plan?” he asked.
“The milkman,” said Ay, Purna and Har all together.
“Yes,” Krish said. “Gopal the milkman.”
Gopal burst into speech, his voice trembling a little. “Very bad men they are,” he said. “They made me to say who who going when. They showed me big knife. Near my face they put it.”
Gopal’s mother pulled him towards her. “Now all finished,” she told him. “Bad man in police station. Now don’t think all such things.”
Krish cleared his throat and the crowd turned back to him. “The unfortunate Gopal was threatened and intimidated. He knew what the men were planning. But what was he to do. He was then struck with a brilliant idea. He would rouse the neighbours by ringing their doorbell. So that is what he did.”
There was a gasp from the crowd.
“Unfortunately,” Krish went on, “he could only ring one doorbell at a time. He had to sneak up by the stairs while the men were about to get into the lift. He had to disappear before they saw him. But he did it.” There was a sunburst of applause. Gopal stood up, tears in his eyes. “Thanks very much,” he mumbled. “Tomorrow all milk will come correct time. Today please to excuse.”
In the middle of the second round of clapping, Purna nudged Har. “Where did you find Gopal?” she asked in a whisper.
“In the storeroom where the cricket kits are kept,” said Har as softly as he could. “Gopal is in charge of the key. Only Krish and I knew that. He was hiding there.”
The ladies of the shloka class held a special Friday meeting to thank the members of SASSS. But Krish was unable to attend the meeting and eat all the snacks that were made so specially for them. He said he needed to finish a musical composition on his water glasses. In his message, brought across by Har, Krish had also said that he intended to call it, Milk Melody.
■ The end
Extracted from Bad Moon Rising – The Puffin Book of Mystery Stories;