The Blood-Stained Sapphire

(A few gemstones have been stolen from the collection of a scion of a royal family. Among the stolen gemstones is a blue sapphire, the precious stone of Saturn (Shani). Blue sapphires are said to change the fortune of its possessor - it can either bring good luck or it can bring misfortune.

The thief is caught; the gemstones are recovered from him, but he does not surrender the blue sapphire. The thief does not reveal where he has hidden it.

In this story by Saradindu Bandopadhyay, detective Byomkesh Bakshi finds the blue sapphire. It was hidden all these years in... Oh no! Can't tell you that; it is what the story is all about. But, honestly, the hiding place seemed to me as most improbable.

After reading the story, I read about pharyngeal diverticula on the Web. An article entitled "Self-Induced Lateral Pharyngeal Diverticula" on was particularly interesting. I suggest that the reader also read this article and also look up pharyngeal diverticula, but only after reading the story.)

Byomkesh sat with his feet on the table and was shaking them restlessly. An open newspaper lay spread on his lap. We were spending yet another idle day at home on this rainy morning just like we had done over the last four days. I was feeling depressed that another day should pass off uneventfully.

Byomkesh was engrossed in the newspaper; his feet continued to dance as if they had a mind of their own. I was smoking away silently; none of us spoke.

But how long can you remain silent?

"Any news?" I asked, just for the sake of saying something.

Without lifting his eyes from the newspaper, Byomkesh said, "There is some serious news. A notorious criminal has completed his term and has been released from jail."

"Who is he?" I asked.

"His name is Ramanath Niyogi; he has been released from the Alipore jail. It is ten-day-old news and the newspaper has felt it appropriate to inform its readers only today," Byomkesh replied. He threw aside the newspaper, shrugged his shoulders, and stood up.

I realized that the lack of news had disappointed him. "Who is Ramanath Niyogi? I asked him.

Byomkesh paced the room listlessly for a little while and, then, stood looking out of the window at the clouded skies. "Mr. Niyogi is not an unknown person. His name had figured prominently in the newspapers a few years back. But the reader is unlikely to remember what happened ten years ago."

"That is right, but you have not replied to my question. Who is he?"

"He is a thief...but, not a petty thief. He has high standards and sets his sights on bigger things and not on your pots and pans. He is intelligent and very courageous." Byomkesh heaved a sigh of regret, "You don't encounter thieves like him nowadays."

"It is certainly a misfortune for the country," I said with a sneer. "But why did his name appear in bold a few years ago?"

"That is because he was, finally, arrested and tried in court." Byomkesh removed a cigarette from the case and lighted it carefully. "It all happened ten years ago, but I still remember the events as if they had occurred yesterday. I had just started my career as a private detective...It was long before I met you."

"Let me hear the entire story," I prodded him.

"There is not much of a story, but it is a mystery to me that although the police had worked very hard, they could not recover the real thing."

"What is that real thing?"

"Okay, let me tell you from the beginning. At that time, there was a spate of jewellery thefts in Kolkata. One day there would be a burglary at one jeweller's and the next day another jeweller would be the victim - such was the case. Within a matter of 15 days, burglars struck at five big stores and made away with lakhs worth of jewellery. The police began their investigations in the right earnest.

"Then the jewel thieves struck at the home of Ramendra Singh - a very rich and religious person and scion of a royal family. You don't get to see benevolent people like him these days. He is in some kind of trouble now, but let's not talk about that. It was his hobby to collect gemstones, and these were kept in a glass showcase in a room on the upper floor of his house. The jewels were well guarded round-the-clock. Despite this, thieves struck at his home and fled with a few valuable gemstones after attacking two guards who were found lying unconscious.

"Among the gemstones the thieves stole was a blue sapphire. It was Singh's favourite; he believed that the sapphire was lucky for him. He always wore it in a ring. But a few days ago, the sapphire had come loose from the ring and was kept with the other gemstones. Singh had wanted to wear the ring again after repairing it, but thieves took away the sapphire before he could do that.

"I don't know whether you have any knowledge of sapphires, but blue sapphires have occult value. It is said that some people have become millionaires and some have been reduced to paupers after wearing blue sapphires - sapphires sometimes bring good luck and sometimes bad luck to the wearer. The same sapphire that has brought bad luck to somebody could bring good luck to somebody else.

"Singh raised a hue and cry after losing the sapphire; the thieves had taken away around Rs. 30,000 worth of gemstones, but the loss of the sapphire was the most terrible loss for him. Singh announced a reward of Rs. 2,000 to anyone who could bring it back, regardless of whether the thief was caught or not. Police tried their best and police inspector Nirmalbabu - the best police detective in town - took up the case. Nirmalbabu has since retired. Ramanath Niyogi was arrested within a few days and the police recovered all the stolen goods, except for the sapphire, from his home. Ramanath was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment but he never opened his mouth about the stone.

"Nirmalbabu received information that the sapphire was with Ramanath; a few prisoners had seen it. Nirmalbabu searched Ramanth's cell, but the sapphire was not found."

Just then we heard the sound of footsteps; someone was climbing up the stairs. "Someone is coming, could be a client," I said.

Byomkesh listened to the footsteps attentively and declared, "Old man; costly shoes; probably moves around in a car and, so, is wealthy; walks with a limp." Suddenly, sounding rather agitated, Byomkesh said, "Ajit, look out of the window and see whether there is a Rolls Royce outside. It is there! Good. It is a remarkable coincidence but our visitor is Ramendra Singh. Can you guess why he is visiting us?"

"I read in the newspaper that his secretary Haripada Rakshit has been murdered; maybe that's the reason," I said.

There was a knock at the door.

Byomkesh opened the door and welcomed the visitor. I had seen his photographs in the newspapers, but this was the first time I was seeing Singh in person. He was past 60, had a slight defect in the leg that caused him to limp, and appeared simple. Although simple-looking, there was a natural grace about him.

Singh looked at Byomkesh and smiled. "From your manner, it seems you were expecting me. Is that so?" he asked.

"Not exactly. But when the police could not make any progress in the matter of your secretary's death, I was hoping you would approach me," Byomkesh replied.

"That is true. It has been five days now, but the police have not made any headway. I thought you could help. I had developed a kind of affection for Haripada - besides his death was so gruesome," Singh paused for a while and continued, "he was, of course, not a saint. But you know it is a passion for me to bring people like him on the right path. Then, Haripada was very efficient and he was grateful to me."

Byomkesh said, "Excuse me, but I did not know that Haripada wasn't a blameless person. What wrong had he done?"

"He had a long record of crime and had served several terms in the jail. The last time he was released..."

"Please tell me from the beginning. I have read a few things in the newspapers, but if I get a first-person account from you, it will clear up a lot of things," Byomkesh said.

"All right, I will tell you everything. It was six months ago that Haripada was released from jail. He came to me the very next day he was released and told me all about his life. He did not hold back anything... Haripada told me that if I provided him with an opportunity to walk the straight path, he will never take to crime again. I felt pity for him. He was under 40 years of age but had already served four jail terms. The last sentence was quite a long one because he had been held guilty for several serious offences like theft and forgery. I saw that he was repentant.

"Haripada told me he had learnt typing and shorthand through his own efforts, and if I employed him, he would not let me down.

"I had developed a soft corner for Haripada the very first time I saw him. So, even though I did not require a typist, I employed him. He had no relatives; he rented a small house nearby.

"Within a few days, I realized that Haripada is intelligent and devoted to his work. He became quite indispensable to me. I made him my secretary after Abinashbabu's death, my former long-time secretary.

"Of course, the stigma of his past could not be erased. But it was certain that he had changed for the better. I think he had taken to crime owing to poverty; with poverty now removed, he no longer had criminal tendencies. There are countless people like him in our jails.

"Anyway, what happened last Tuesday is unimaginable. In the morning I learnt that Haripada had been murdered. I informed the police and went to Haripada's house. Haripada was lying dead on the floor in a pool of blood. The murderer had slit his throat in a barbaric manner and what was most horrible was that the esophagus was pulled out and chopped to pieces. You have certainly visited several murder scenes, but I am sure you would not have come across a more gruesome sight."

Singh paused at this point and shut his eyes. A shiver ran through his body when he recalled the scene.

"Were there injuries on any other part of the body?" Byomkesh asked.

"Yes, he was stabbed on the chest with a knife. The doctor said the death resulted from this injury. The murderer had slit the throat later. Oh, what cruelty! How can a man turn into such a brute?"


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