The Gilbert Jessop Mystery... Part 9

 

 

The Gilbert Jessop Mystery is a tale of detection etched on a vast canvas. A cricket historian plays the role of an expert hired to solve an intriguing problem involving old scoring sheets, fast hundreds, modern-art masterpieces, antique wagon wheels and old Victorian letters.

 

As he puts together pieces of the puzzle, he gets entangled in a bizarre mystery which spans across a century in time encompassing subjects as varied as Victorian England, the last days of British Raj, Scientific influence on Art and the Internet.

 

This novella is available in the volume Bowled Over – Stories Between the Covers by Arunabha Sengupta.

 

 

Five and a half years later…

 

The Criterion is one of the oldest theatres in London,” Professor Bolton walked along Regent Street, jostling past the evening crowd. “But, I guess you know all there is to know about old landmarks. You’ll probably be able to tell me the exact date when it was established …”

 

I smiled modestly. “You overestimate me, Mark.”

 

The sociologist bounded along in his endearing way and winked at me. “You know, it was in the bar of the Criterion that Holmes was introduced to Watson for the first time.”

 

I laughed. The little man had prattled nonstop ever since the end of the conference that afternoon. He was indeed entertaining company, as long as his chatter did not continue during the show.

 

“Just beside The Criterion is Lilywhites. The biggest sports retailer in London,” he looked at me conspiratorially.  “I guess you know all about the Lilywhite family as well.”

 

I started. “No, not exactly.”

 

“No? I’m surprised. The family of leading cricketers who went on the 1859 cricket tour to North America – the first overseas tour by an English cricket team. Professor Anand, I have heard you had been a leading cricket historian as well …”

 

lost him in the Picadilly Circus crowd. It was not too difficult. I crossed the street and walked briskly towards the Charing Cross as he was expounding on the different floors of the huge sports shop.

 

I was not ready to discuss cricket yet, especially its history. After a blood-curdling murder and the infernal harassment combined with bureaucracy of the Indian law enforcement system, the memories were too painful for me to retain the enthusiasm that I once had for the noble game.

 

The sight of a bat or the touch of a ball or even the glimpse of a cricket pitch reminded me of the hours and hours of grilling by the police, and, how, after all that, absolutely no attempt was made to initiate an international enquiry. The case was stalled, forgotten, closed due to lack of sufficient evidence. Incompetence and callousness ruled the day.

 

I had just returned to my Russel Square hotel room when there was a knock on my door. Since there had been no lecture that day, I was not feeling that tired. However, I did want a nice hot bath followed by a quiet evening with a good book. So, it was with some apprehension that I went to the door.

 

A tall elderly man in a brown suit stood outside the door. He seemed to be in his seventies, but was still ramrod straight. He was of Indian origin, although something about him told me that he had spent most of his life in this country. In his left hand he carried a package.

 

“Professor Anand?” he asked.

 

“Yes.”

 

He lowered the package and offered me his hand. It was then that I noticed the empty suit arm dangling on his right. I stiffened.

 

He noticed my reaction and smiled.

 

“I don’t think I need to introduce myself,” he said.

 

I looked at him in amazement.

 

“Vipul Pratap Sareen?”

 

He nodded. “Only, strangely enough, people here still don’t get the full thing. So I am called Vip or Vips. Well, I guess it’s nothing new. Having parts of me cut short. May I come in?” The accent was fluent and British.

 

He picked up the package again as I stood, confused.

 

“I’m not too sure,” I replied. “I mean, to me you are a killer. Maybe you haven’t done the actual act …”

 

“But had a hand in it?” he laughed. I had moved away from the door and he walked in.

 

“Professor, you have intrigued me for long. For very long. I still don’t know how you got onto my son and daughter-in-law.”

 

I tried to decide how to react to this.

 

“The way you talk about them, I guess they are safe. Home and dry,” I said bitterly.

 

Vipul Pratap Sareen smiled.

 

“Oh yes, they are quite safe,” he replied. This man used to bowl like Alec Bedser. And then … I did not know whether to hate him or feel sorry for him. Why had he come to meet me?

 

“I hope you realise that I can inform the police about you,” I said.

 

The erstwhile medium-pacer of some bygone era looked at me with some amusement.

 

“Would you? Harass an old father because of something done by his son?”

 

My reply was bitter and sharp. “You did punish the son because of something done by his father.”

 

He thought about this.

 

“Professor, how much do you know about me?”

 

I still stood near the door, unsure about the whole thing. It was as if the nightmarish past had come back to haunt me. The whole thing felt unreal.

 

“Vipul Pratap Sareen. Two first-class matches. Nine wickets at an average of 18. Bowled medium-pace. Both matches were played in 1946, just after the War. Apart from that, in an exhibition match, skittled out a foreign side containing six first-class cricketers. Some keen follower of the game thought you bowled like Alec Bedser…”

 

“Sarah did tell us about your photographic memory,” Sareen observed. He looked calm and collected as he sat in the armchair, making himself at home.

 

“You got carried away by your great feat. When Ajaysingh called you up to bowl some dollies which he could hit for boundaries and impress his foreign guests, you bowled some tricky stuff, although at half your regular pace. Ajaysingh was bowled twice off your bowling. He took severe offence as no one was allowed to get him out….”

 

I could see Vipul Pratap Sareen lose some of his cool. The lines of his jaw became more prominent and his eyes turned stony.

 

“…He had you captured, beaten, and damaged your right arm. Probably left you for dead, but you escaped. You somehow made it toEngland. Your son was born at a late age and went to Oxford. He was a cricket blue. Scored a century against Cambridge. He got engaged to a Sarah Palmer, an art history major. Sarah Palmer was researching about the influence of geometry on twentieth century art. In the course of her research, she got hold of this rare volume of letters by Paul Hackensmith to his niece Elizabeth. This volume happened to contain the name of your old foe, Ajaysingh. Vengeful feelings were rekindled. Ajaysingh was dead for about a quarter of a century. But, his son was still alive. Why not satisfy your thirst for revenge on him? Sarah Palmer changed her name to Sylvie Pemberton. She came to India and tracked down Mangalsingh. Got the help of a cricket historian to locate a precious painting. Got the historian drunk and accompanied Mangalsingh to Jaipur and got him into the old hiding place built by his father. And there, either she alone or along with Jay Sareen or all the three of you together punished the son, made him pay for the mistake of his father, broke his right arm, killed him or left him for dead. And you also made off with an immensely valuable painting.”

 

I paused. Sareen was looking at me with genuine admiration. He waited a few moments for me to continue and when I did not, he spoke slowly in measured tones.

 

“Professor, I sincerely believe you should have been in the police. The powers of deduction you have shown are tremendous. There are mistakes and gaps in your version of the story, but you could not have helped it. I’d really like to know how you got onto us. As far as I know, you had seen only Sylvie Pemberton and there was no way you could have linked her to any of us.”

 

I wondered whether I should tell him the details. Would it be advisable? However, somehow it did seem that this could only end with us swapping stories. And there were still a few loose ends I would like tie together about the murder, if only to answer some questions that had plagued me all these years.

 

“I must admit that it was more by chance than by my deductive logic,” I confessed. “I searched the web for your references. I got your stats and date of birth from Cricinfo. I continued the search with ‘Sareen’ and ‘cricket’ as keywords, and suddenly found an article on Jay Sareen’s hundred for Oxford against Cambridge. This article described a father with one arm and a fiancée who was an art major and had the same initials as Sylvie Pemberton.”

 

Sareen waited for more, but I was done. After a pause, he exclaimed, “And you deduced the entire story from that?”

 

I shook my head. “I ran additional searches. I searched for Jay Sareen and got the details of his admission to Oxford. I came to know that he was from London. Nothing more. Next, I ran searches on Sylvie Pemberton and Sarah Palmer. There was no Sylvie Pemberton on the web with the art background that Sarah had spoken of. However, Sarah Palmer appeared in several websites related to Mondrian, Escher, Dali’s Hypercube Crucifix and even Mandalas. I Also, she had set several records in school and college athletics, especially in Heptathlon. She looked like an athlete and the way she half carried me to the room after she had got me drunk, she did seem to be unusually strong and confident. Everything fitted without loose ends.”

 

Vipul Pratap Sareen sighed. “The Internet is really a gateway to the most intimate details of a person. However, let me set the record straight by filling in some gaps. May I, professor?”

 

I shrugged. Actually, I was dying to hear it.

 

“You are right on most counts,” Sareen began. “However, there was no rekindling of old vengeance. I had never told my son about the details of my missing arm apart from it being an old accident. Sarah was on the verge of going to India to pursue her study on Mandalas when she got hold of this book by Hackensmith. She had become interested and had been thinking of doing some additional research on this John Hackensmith. Due to the Indian and cricketing connections, she had related the story to Jay. He had also been fascinated by the facts. He was a cricket freak too, and loved the history of the game. Jay and Sarah told me about the letters together during lunch one afternoon. Inadvertently, they mentioned Ajaysingh and I was sick. I think I had a minor stroke. That was the day when I spoke about how I lost my arm for the first time. Jay was stunned. The reaction he had was very, very strong. He went into a sort of trance himself, so much so that Sarah thought of calling a doctor. He is my son of a very late age. I was forty six when he was born. We share a strange bond.”

 

He paused. I was listening with rapt attention.

 

“They never let me in on what they were planning. Jay kept tapping information out of me. About Mangalsingh, about RRCC, about Jaipur. Sarah went on the Indian trip. Jay followed a few days later. They tracked down Mangalsingh. He was almost cornered. As far as I have heard from them, Sarah was almost on the verge of killing him herself. She had all the opportunity and, you were right about her sporting background, she also nerves of steel. But, Jay had other ideas. He wanted Mangalsingh to suffer. They could have done it in Calcutta, but then you came into the picture.

 

“At the same time, there was this hunt for the painting. Sarah wanted it for her research, Jay out of his respect for cricket. But, the main reason for their wanting to take the painting back with them is something else which will be clear to you once you know everything.

 

“When you came up with the answer to the riddle on the painting’s hiding place, Sarah hatched a marvellous plan all on her own, during the dinner that you were having together.”

 

“She made me drunk,” I said, fuming at the memory of humiliation.

 

“Yes,” Sareen chuckled. “She made you drunk. She switched your rooms, so Mangalsingh was not able to reach you when he called in the morning from the hotel lobby. She informed Mangalsingh that you had left already and would be meeting them at the airport. When you did not turn up, they continued on the journey without you. On landing in Jaipur, they made it to the RRCC. Jay was on the same flight as them. The groundsman was bribed and sent away with a few crisp pound notes. As for the combination to the lock, I had it for them. They had emailed me the story the previous night, and it was only after reading the mail that I came to know of their plan. Actually I deduced it, they were not very forthcoming about it. However, I knew that they could not be stopped. I provided them with the combination. When they got to RRCC, Jay was waiting for them. You know the rest.”

 

“How did you know the combination?” I asked. A lot of things were still not making sense.

 

Sareen smiled in response.

 

“I had it from the man who let me out of that dungeon and saved my life.”

 

This novella is available at John McKenzie Cricket Bookshop 

 

(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but cleanses the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two. His author site is at http://www.senantix.com and his cricket blogs at http:/senantixtwentytwoyards.blogspot.com)

 

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