1 February

I am working late, reading the report of a new case. I have not met Comma all day, but I have had no time to even make her a friendly call. I dare not text her, because Comma can drive you mad with a SMS a minute, if she gets into the messaging loop. It takes less time and money to talk to her.

Zaiba comes over to tell me that Neempatta wants to see me before I leave. I sit there for a while after Zaiba has gone, the silence of the empty office makes me feel happy for some reason. I make some coffee and take the mugs over to Neempatta’s office. She looks up from her papers and smiles at me. We sit there for a few minutes, drinking our coffee, both of us silent. After a while,

Neempatta says: “Appi, what’s happening on the High BP case?”

I tell her about Pallo disappearing just before the first hearing.

Neempatta: “Not surprised. Did her lawyer disappear too?”

Me: “No. In fact, he seemed as shocked as us that she had disappeared. I don’t think he was expecting it.”

Neempatta: “Rusty, isn’t it? He’s fighting for her, right? Yes, Rusty wouldn’t have advised her to do something like that. He’s pompous like his uncle, but hasn’t become that hardboiled yet.”

Me: “So you think Pallo just went off on her own? She seemed so poised, such a cold person, really. Not the sort who would get overwhelmed by a court hearing.”

Neempatta: “You should talk to High BP about hiring a private detective.”

Me: “What? That’s so …”

I want to say ‘sleazy’ but can’t say it, out of respect for Neempatta.

But Neempatta doesn’t seem to notice my distaste. She is absorbed in her own thoughts.

Neempatta: “Obviously Pallo is hiding something. And I have a feeling that that something has nothing to do with High BP, at all.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Neempatta: “There’s no rationale to this case. The whole situation is bizarre. But most important, it’s Pallo who’s designed it to happen this way. From the first day onwards. The question is why would she do something like this? She doesn’t need the money. And though it might seem so, she hasn’t really done all this to get her back on High BP for some obscure grievance. If it was like that, she would have stayed married to him, and devised more humiliating situations for him than this.”

Neempatta is mumbling to herself, speculating on Pallo’s motives. She doesn’t often think about cases once she has handed them over to us, unless we go to her for some advice. But once in a while, a case will intrigue her, and then she will put aside legalese and get interested in unraveling the human stories behind the lawsuits. Much as if she were a private detective herself.

I cannot quite catch all that she is saying, but after a few moments, she says decisively: “Yes, Appi. You must ask High BP to get a private detective, to find out more about Pallo. It will save a lot of time. I wonder he didn’t think of it himself. His family must use them all the time, to check up on business contacts.”

Me: “He’s never mentioned such an idea. And I don’t know if he would agree. He seems determined to see this out in court.”

Neempatta: “Some misguided sense of honour, no doubt. So, don’t put it to him as an option for winding up the case. Just tell him that it would be useful to you, to get some information on Pallo. I’m sure you know how to tactfully persuade him.”

She grins mischievously.

Neempatta: “It’s for his own good. Once he knows the truth, he can continue to fight the case, if that is what his heart desires so badly, right now. But perhaps, once he does know the truth, he will want something else.”

I’ve never known Neempatta to tease so. But I keep a straight face, refusing to rise to the bait.

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