by Jash Sen

‘Mr. Rakshit has done it again,’ announced Somlata Chatterjee with smug satisfaction.

‘Eh?’ asked her husband, peering over the morning paper. His wife had talked incessantly over breakfast and Samaresh had lost himself in the morning news.

‘Lost his third labrador in the ravines of the Khoai,’ said Somlata, arching an eyebrow. She was known to be something of a beauty and never let anyone forget the fact.

Samaresh Chatterjee did not respond, finishing his third cup of tea in preoccupied silence. Then he picked up his sunshade and his trusty walking stick and set off for his post-prandial walk towards the Vice-Chancellor’s house.

‘You will rest in the afternoon for the moonlight picnic, won’t you?’ asked his wife as he left. ‘Subra will be there. And that young friend of his – what does Subra call him now – yes, Narasimha.’

Samaresh took his usual route past the Vice-Chancellor’s house and the artists’ colony, still thinking about the labradors. Animals had been going missing near the Khoai in the past month. Mostly poor people’s poultry, but also a few dogs. He looked around. Some of the bungalows in the artists’ colony were being sold off to the inartistic well off and bore the mark. Mr. Rakshit’s was one of them. He had imposed a grand, if incongruous, Spanish roof over the Santiniketan bungalow to announce his presence. Samaresh shuddered delicately.

He didn’t quite reach the bungalow. The queer young man living in artist R.N. Subramanian’s house stepped out of the gate and said ‘Hello,’ in his soft voice. His skin was porcelain smooth and luminous. His yellow sapphire eyes glinted in the sun, rooting Samaresh to his spot with their gaze. Samaresh swallowed his involuntary revulsion. There should be no room for homophobia in a magistrate’s mind.

To hide his discomfiture, he asked somewhat gruffly, ‘So, your three weeks are nearly up, aren’t they?’

‘Yes, I leave after the full moon,’ said the young man. ‘You have put on some weight,’ still staring closely at Samaresh with his intent yellow gaze.

‘We are not all, er, models,’ he replied, utterly taken aback. He noticed for the first time that the young man wore his nails long, manicured and sharpened into talons. ‘So how was your stay at Shantiniketan?’

‘It was comfortable,’ shrugged the young man. Food is very good here, especially the meat.’ He licked his lips, which were coral red.

‘I see Subra has taken a liking to you,’ said Samaresh, nodding at the handmade pendant at the young man’s throat. ‘He doesn’t gift those to everybody.’

‘I do not care to be anybody’s pet,’ said the boy with narrowed eyes and a smile that bared sharp yellow teeth. Then, with a swift spring, he sidestepped the magistrate and and loped on. Samaresh shivered for no reason. His nerves were on edge this past week.

Settling down in Mr. Rakshit’s verandah with a strong cup of black tea made Samaresh feel distinctly better. His new neighbour had questionable taste but unquestionable warmth. As he commiserated over the dogs, a vacant expression came over Mr. Rakshit’s face.

‘It isn’t just the dogs and the odd poultry, Mr. Chatterjee,’ he said. ‘My gardener’s brother lives out there and his little boy has gone missing without a trace. And when I lost Bongo, just this last time, I was there.’