Today's Reading

"Examine the evidence methodically, put it together. I'm not sure what I'll find, but I think it can be done."

"You'd like to be...Sherlock Holmes," Adi said.

So, he was conversant with Conan Doyle's work. It did not surprise me. "To use his methods, sir," I hurried to explain. "To investigate what the police...might have missed."

He frowned. "You decided you'd had enough of the army? After reading about the trial, and seeing my letter?"

"I'd had enough before that. Your letter caught my attention."

"Hm. You're Anglo-Indian?"

"Yes." My parentage was obvious in my coloring and size. Most Indians are smaller.

"Agnihotri is an Indian name. Your father was Indian?"

So here it was, the fact that dogged my footsteps. "No, sir. Agnihotri is my mother's name. I never knew my father."

I was a bastard. My English father had not stayed long enough to give me his name.

"I see." Adi's face bore no judgement. That was unusual.

I had "grown up army," running errands for soldiers. When I was tall enough, I enlisted and was sent straight to the Northern Frontier. He'd not want to hear about that. Instead I spoke about a case I'd investigated in Madras, involving an officer and the death of a washerman.

"Over several days I observed a Subaltern whose clothes simply didn't fit. His quarters were searched, and evidence found. I wrote a report, and the General was somewhat impressed. So, I considered writing, for the papers."

I'd said more than enough, so I waited.

His gaze did not waver, nor did he seem to find my story trifling. He asked some questions and appeared to reach a decision. "I want to know what happened to Bacha and Pilloo. One way or another. How long do you think it would take?"

I considered. "Six months? If I can't get to the bottom of it, well, I'd be surprised."

He blinked. "What do they pay you, at the Chronicle, Captain Agnihotri?"

I looked at him, astonished. He did not explain, but his face was gentle. "Thirty rupees, sir. Per week." My face warmed. It wasn't much, but enough for a bachelor of modest habits. I remained at "parade rest," face front, shoulders square.

"Work for me instead," he said, "at forty rupees a week."

"For you?"

He nodded.

"What...would you have me do?"

He smiled then, and I could not imagine why I had thought him stiff or aristocratic. He was a full decade younger than I. Injured and still shocked from the whole thing, he'd been waiting for some way to drive this mystery to a close. Here was a chance—me.

"Do? Just what you planned to do. Investigate my wife's...death." His voice shook with suppressed emotion. "It was no suicide, Captain. Find out what happened, and why. But I don't want anything in the papers. She's had enough of that, poor child. Let her rest."

That's how I became a private investigator.

The Facts

Sitting there with Adi Framji, I held back my excitement. I'd set my feet upon a new path. Very well, then. I would play the sleuth, and aid this bereaved husband, this pale young man who'd taken fate's blows with such grim composure.

I pulled out a notebook. "Well, sir, shall we start with the facts."

My client straightened up. I watched him take three breaths. I was to learn that this habit came from his legal training. He was apprenticed to Brown and Batliwala solicitors, and sometimes tasked with taking legal depositions. Thoughtfulness and caution were already his way of life.

Adi said, "Bacha and I wed in 1890, when she was eighteen years old and I twenty. I had just returned from university in England where I'd studied law. We were happy."

That was only two years past. By his distant tone and manner, it seemed very long ago.

"My sisters Pilloo and Diana are younger, and we have three other siblings under the age of ten. So, I'm the oldest of six. Five, now, with Pilloo gone."

Five siblings! I envied him. I wrote quickly. "Who lives here, at the house?"

"My parents and siblings, all but Diana—she'll soon be back from England.... We have a staff of eight. Two Gurkha watchmen tend the horses and drive the carriage. Jiji-bai, with her son and daughter, cooks the meals. They attend Mama and the girls, so we have no maids. Three bearers valet us and run errands."

This was a large Indian household, often called a "joint family." Adi and his bride had lived here too.

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