‘There’s nothing supernatural about this matter, Sunderbabu’, said Jayanta briskly. ‘There might be such things as lost souls, but they don’t break into homes and steal.’
‘No, of course not’, said Sunderbabu hurriedly. ‘Of course not. But you’ll notice, whoever killed Niradbabu – and I’m not saying it was ghosts – didn’t actually steal anything. They merely tried to open a locked strongbox.’
Jayanta looked thoughtful. “And you say it was the same in the two previous cases?”
“Yes!” said Sunderbabu. “In each previous instance they managed to open the almirah and strongboxes, but didn’t actually take anything. Not money, not jewellery… nothing.”
“So clearly the murderers were looking for something else”, mused Jayanta. “There must be something else, otherwise nothing makes sense.”
Sunderbabu cleared his throat. “Well…there was something in the locked strongbox. Nothing important or valuable, just this silly little doll.” His hand dipped into his pocket and brought out a small porcelain figurine. An old Chinaman was sitting on a ram, looking quite satisfied with himself. The entire statute was about six inches high.
Jayanta plucked it out of Sunderbabu’s fist and peered at the design. “This is very old porcelain, and the craftsmanship is excellent. I’d say it probably comes from China’s more glorious times – a representation of the country’s rich artistic heritage. Sunderbabu, it might be news to you, but old Chinese porcelain is as rare and valuable as snakestone. That must’ve been why Niradbabu kept this ‘silly doll’ locked in a strongbox. Is this what the murderers were looking for?”
‘Could be’, said Jayanta, ‘but what about the other two victims? What were the murderers looking for in their homes? We haven’t found Chinese porcelain there.’
‘Lao Tzu!’, said Sunderbabu suddenly.
Jayanta and Manik stared at him.
‘Those two men!’, Sunderbabu exclaimed. ‘I knew I should have held onto them. Annoying twerps. I bet they know about the other two deaths. Hah!’
Jayanta brows crinkled. ‘What “two men”’?
‘Young upstarts’, snorted Sunderbabu. ‘Came along to the last crime scene, poking about and asking questions. I knew straightaway they were trouble. “Who are you?” I asked, “What d’you want?” They laughed and said they were looking for an adventure. Adventure! Imagine! Cheeky fools.
“How would like the prodding of a copper’s rule instead?” I asked, but they just laughed. “If the police prods us, we’ll prod right back. Prodding the police definitely counts as an adventure in our books!” Can you believe that? I was about to have these nuts thrown out when one of them saw this doll. “Lao Tzu!”, he shouted, “Look, Lao Tzu!”
Now, you know I don’t stand for that sort of tomfoolery, Jayanta. So I got right in their face and bellowed, “Get out! Get out of my sight right now!” My shouting voice is usually a force to be reckoned with, but these two were not fazed at all! They sauntered out, holding hands and laughing. Hoom!’
‘Did you get their names?’ asked Jayanta.
‘Bimal, Kumar… something like that.’
Manik sat up in his chair. ‘Bimal? Kumar? Sunderbabu, you don’t mean… could these be the famous adventurers Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu?’
Sunderbabu waved a dismissive hand in front of his face. ‘Who cares? I don’t. Adventurers indeed! What they are is a precious pair, just like the two of you. They spout gibberish just like you, and just like you, they’re barking mad. ‘Lao Tzu!’ Honestly! What does that even mean? Anyway, I’m off now. Lots to do’.
And so, with his mood apparently restored, Sunderbabu left.
Jayanta broke the silence first. ’I’ve heard of Bimalbabu and Kumarbabu too, Manik’, he said softly. ‘Amazingly strong, wonderfully smart, appearing when anything strange happens. If they’ve visited Niradbabu’s home, then something about his murder must have struck them as odd… which means they know more about it than we do.’
‘What about Lao Tzu though?’ asked Manik. ‘That’s what confounds me. What is it?’
‘Never heard it myself. Tell you what, let’s look it up in the encyclopaedia. Would you get the volume down?’
Manik not only got the encyclopaedia down, he started looking for mentions of Lao Tzu himself.
‘Here it is!’ he exclaimed after a few minutes. ‘Jayanta, listen to this! Lao Tzu is a person. He was a Chinese philosopher, born in 604 AD, and considered the founder of Taoism, an eastern religion.’
‘Hmm, so then the statue we saw must have been Lao Tzu’s’, Jayanta said almost to himself. ‘But what does a man living in China nearly three thousand years ago have to do with the death of a Bengali clerk in twentieth century Calcutta?’
Silence descended on the room.