THE LEGS THAT WALKED by HRF Keating (translated)

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HRF Keating (b.1926), known to his friends as Harry, is best known for his novels featuring the Bombay detective Ganesh Ghote. The very first of this series, The Perfect Murder (1964), which won an Edgar Award as that year's best first novel, included an impossible crime involving the disappearance of a one-rupee note, though Go West, Inspector Ghote (1981) set in Los Angeles, involves a much more gory impossible death. Keating is also a well-read student of crime fiction and has written several reference books about the genre, such asThe Bedside Companion to Crime (1989), and he knows his way around the impossible crime field. His books and stories have an irrepressible sense of humour, which is much evident in the following story, which I'd classify as a "locked-tent" mystery!
The Deputy Commissioner looked at Inspector Ghote standing at alert attention in front of his wide semi-circular desk with its piles of papers, each held down under the breeze of the overhead fan by a round silvery paperweight bearing his initials.
"You're a man who admires our Indian classical music, Ghote?" He said.
Ghote experienced a washing-over wave of absolute puzzlement.
"No, sir, no, not at all," he answered with the truth almost before he had gathered himself together.
The Deputy Commissioner continued to look at him, blank-faced.
"You are a first-class connoisseur of same, is not it?" He asked again, each word heavy with meaning.
And now Ghote ceased to be puzzled.
"Yes, sir, yes," he replied. "Yes, I am."
"Good man. Right, I am sending you to the Annual Festival of the Indian Music Society this evening, out at Chembur. Just keep an eye on things, yes? "
Puzzlement returned.
"Sir, what sort of things it is?"
The Deputy Commissioner frowned.
"Just go there, Ghote, and- And - And keep your eyes open."
"Yes, sir."
Should I leave now, Ghote asked himself. Should I just only click heels to Deputy Commissioner sahib, turn smartly and march from his cabin?
But, he thought then, if I am going out to this festival and fail to see whatever I am meant to be keeping my eye on, then that will be worse than seeming not to understand here and now.
"Sir," he said, "can you be telling anything more?"
The Deputy Commissioner brought his lips hard together in a puff of barely suppressed fury.
"Very well, very well," he snapped. "So, listen. It has just come to my attention - never mind how - that Gulshan Singh, our damned Number One ganglord, believes something which the police should take note of will happen out at the festival this evening. "

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"No, sir."
"No? Are you contradicting me, Ghote? To my face? "
"Sir, answer is simple. Sir, this spy was not strangled here in that dressing-room and his legs cut off. If they had been, sir, I would have smelt blood as soon as I was entering to carry out inspection. But, sir, I was not. I was smelling blood just only later when Vasubhai was calling to me to go in there. "
"Now, what the hell are you saying?"
"Sir, just that the jasoos was strangled and his body put under that tarpaulin before even I was coming here. He must have been murdered by Gulshan Singh at his own place and then brought here so that, when time was ripe, he would be found and Vasubhai would be losing very much of respect with each and every member of his own gang. "
"Inspector, how the hell can you have the face to say that a body that was found by you yourself, with the mutilated stumps of its legs still bleeding, was put here before you were even coming?"
"Sir, quite simple. The fellow was never having any legs. '
He paused a moment in the hope that what he had brought himself to say would penetrate to the Deputy Commissioner in time.
"Sir," he went on, gulping a little, "that man must have been one of the legless beggars that are everywhere in the city, sir, going here-there on their little wheeled platforms. And only if Vasubhai's gang members were seeing a legless beggar, would it be plain to them that the hundred per cent nondescript spy put into Gulshan Singh's gang had been found out, sir. Sir, because of that man having no distinguishing feature except for not having any legs, what was it Vasubhai had to do when he was find his body? Sir, he must at each and every cost make it look as if the body was not that of his jasoos. He must make it look, sir, as if it was the body of a man who was having as many legs as any other person. Then there would be no rumour or gup, sir, about a legless beggar having been murdered. You must be well knowing, sir, what I was remembering: in cases of asphyxia, such as death by strangling, blood clotting is by no means immediate. Sir, you will find, I am thinking, those cut-off layers of flesh in the pockets of Vasubhai's safari suit, or, if they are now inside his car itself, there may be some blood stains on the inside of the pockets. "
And find the two layers of flesh they did, and some bloodstains. But who took all the credit? The Deputy Commissioner, of course.


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