A Will to Kill - RV Raman

A Will to Kill
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Название: A Will to Kill
Автор: RV Raman
Добавлено: 22 сентябрь 2022
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A WILL TO KILL

RV Raman

The following is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in an entirely fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2020 by RV Raman

Cover and jacket design by Georgia Morrissey

ISBN: 978-1-951709-07-5

eISBN: 978-1-951709-34-1

Library of Congress Control Number: tk

First published in 2019 by HarperCollins India

First hardcover edition published in October 2020

by Polis Books, LLC

www.PolisBooks.com

44 Brookview Lane

Aberdeen, NJ 07747

Chapter 1

The visitor was ill at ease, fidgeting with his watch’s metal strap, locking and releasing the clasp repeatedly. He had made two attempts to convey the message he was carrying, and had pulled up short both times. Across the table at Chennai’s New Woodlands Hotel, Harith Athreya waited, studying the willowy young man who had given his name as Manu Fernandez. The sealed envelope Manu had brought remained unopened on the table, beside a steaming tumbler of filter coffee.

Manu had just invited Athreya to his family mansion in the Nilgiris on his father’s behalf, and was ineffectively trying to pass along the rest of the message. When he made little headway the third time, Athreya stepped in to encourage him.

“You are only the messenger, not the author of the message,” he said quietly. “Don’t feel awkward about it.”

Manu nodded and seemed to take a mental plunge.

“You see, Mr. Athreya, Dad has written two wills,” he blurted. “Both are dated the same, and Dad has gone to the extent of writing the exact same time on both. He has also got witnesses to sign the wills simultaneously, in the presence of a lawyer. Neither of the two wills can be said to supersede the other.”

“In that case,” Athreya asked, “both would be considered equally valid, wouldn’t they?”

‘Yes.’

‘Then which one will take effect when your father … er … passes away?’

‘That would depend on the manner in which he dies.’

Athreya’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

‘I’m afraid you lost me there,’ he said.

‘It…it’s like this…’ Manu stuttered. ‘If he dies of natural causes, one will takes effect. But if he dies…unnaturally, the other one comes into force.’

‘By “natural causes”, you mean–’

‘Old age or a naturally contracted illness,’ the younger man explained.

‘But if he dies as a result of anything else, the other will takes effect?’

‘Yes. That includes death by accident as well.’

‘I see,’ Athreya murmured, frowning as his right index finger traced invisible figures and words on the tabletop.

‘Does your father expect to die … er … unnaturally?’

‘That is a question you should ask him.’

‘I can’t, since he is not here. But you are, so tell me what you know.’

After an uncertain pause, Manu’s face suddenly broke into an apologetic smile.

‘Some say that a curse hovers over Greybrooke Manor, our family mansion. According to legend, every past owner of the house has died a violent death, and every future owner will die violently too. I don’t know if it is true, but I remember my grandfather laughing it off when I was a kid. My grandmother was furious that he had talked about this dark legend with us kids.’

‘How did your grandfather die?’ Athreya asked softly.

‘In an accident. He was standing by the open door of a running train, smoking his pipe, when he slipped and fell out. His head was crushed when he hit a rock. Death must have been instantaneous.’

Athreya sat back and gazed at the younger man for a long moment, stroking his fine-haired beard, which had a patch of silver at the chin.

‘An accident, no doubt?’ he asked.

‘Of course. No reason to believe otherwise. He had been drinking heavily on the train.’

‘And who had owned the mansion before your grandfather?’

‘A string of Britishers. I don’t know much about them, except the last one, whose heir sold the estate to my grandfather. This was after the heir’s father had died.’

‘And how did that Englishman die? Do you know?

‘Had his throat slit when he was asleep in bed. He was said to have molested a local girl the day before. The girl’s father slipped into the mansion at night and killed him.’

‘I see…am I to assume that your father wrote two wills on account of this legend?’

‘It could be the legend, or it could be his fascination with crime fiction. He absolutely devours those books. Sometimes I feel that he lives in a world of his own–part fictional, part real. I really can’t think of any other reason. As I said, this is a question that is best put to him directly.’

‘Tell me,’ Athreya asked softly as he stirred his coffee, ‘who benefits from your father’s death?’

Manu squirmed in his chair. It was apparent that he had hoped Athreya wouldn’t ask this question. But he answered it nevertheless, presumably due to his father’s instructions.

‘That depends on which of the two wills comes into force. The contents of one will–let’s call it the first will– are common knowledge. This is the one that takes effect if he dies of natural causes. But the contents of the second will are a secret known only to Dad.’

‘Okay. Who are the beneficiaries in the first will?’

‘Several of us, but I benefit the most. As his only child, I inherit the lion’s share of the estate, including Greybrooke Manor.’

‘And who are the other beneficiaries?’

‘My cousins and some neighbours. What they will receive isn’t trivial by any yardstick. The pieces of the estate due to them are pretty valuable at today’s prices.’

‘Not trivial, eh? Your father seems to believe that the chances of his dying unnaturally aren’t trivial either.’

Athreya took a sip of his coffee and studied Manu over the rim of his tumbler. He was beginning to understand why Manu’s father, Bhaskar Fernandez, had invited him to Greybrooke Manor.

‘One practical way of looking at it,’ Athreya went on when Manu didn’t respond, ‘is that some people have a reason to kill your father. But if they do, they will not inherit their share. It’s a stalemate

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