Salil Desai is an author and film maker based in Pune. The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen is his fourth book and the second one of the Inspector Saralkar Mystery Series. He has penned two more crime novels, Killing Ashish Karve and Murder on a Side Street as well as a collection of short stories, Lost Libido and Other Gulp Fiction.
An alumnus of Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), his dramatized management training videos are much appreciated in the corporate world. Salil also conducts workshops in creative writing and film making. Over 400 articles written by him have appeared in The Times of India, Indian Express, DNA, The Tribune, Reader’s Digest etc. Learn more about him here. Read his interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from his book, The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen. Courtesy: Salil Desai.
“You want to go to jail?” the old man glared at his grandchild as soon as the policemen got into their car and drove away.
The thirteen-year-old did not reply; face set as always in a morose mask.
“Do you know what they do to you in jail . . .?”
The adolescent’s face remained impassive.
“Look at me, dammit . . . I am talking to you!” the old man growled, inflamed further by the lack of reaction.
“Calm down,” his wife quickly intervened, “. . . these indiscretions happen at this age . . . it’s only graffiti . . .”
The old man turned on his wife. “Have you seen the graffiti? Have you seen the kind of shocking, horrible things that your grandchild has painted on those walls?”
The old lady anxiously looked at the sulking teenager. “What have you written, dear?”
Her gentle query elicited no response either, just as the old man’s harsh words hadn’t.
“I’ll tell you . . . Blood . . . killing . . . death . . . arson . . . threats . . . torture . . .” the old man grimaced. “Who scribbles such sick things as wall graffiti? That too on their birthday of all days?”
For the first time the thirteen-year-old made eye contact—piercing, remote, and alien. It was just for a split second, but it was enough to send a chill of discomfort down the old man’s spine.
The old woman stared with disbelief as worry and fear converged into the muscles of her face. “What’s wrong? What goes on in your mind? Tell me, dear . . . what’s troubling you?” She moved closer.
The teenager looked at her, eyes frighteningly intense, face giving nothing away, as if wondering whether to confide its innermost thoughts. The words came in a low, throbbing tone. “I hate the world . . . I hate people.”
The quiet declaration took the old woman’s breath away for it didn’t sound like normal teenager talk—melodramatic and immature. It sounded disturbingly matter-of-fact. Her husband was also startled and regarded his grandchild uneasily.
“Who don’t you like, dear? Is it us?” she asked, shaken and anxious.
The couple glanced at each other, almost unable to process the situation. This wasn’t the first time their grandchild’s behaviour and words had disconcerted them.
“No . . . no . . . you shouldn’t talk like that,” the old woman said, hastily trying to change the conversation and the mood. “Come, it’s your birthday, let’s celebrate! Grandpa has got you a small present and I have made you a delicious blueberry pie and smoked reindeer!”
She fled into the kitchen, leaving the other two alone. Silence reigned for a few minutes. Then the old man spoke. “Here . . . this is your birthday gift.” He walked across the room and thrust a book into the teenager’s hand. “Tuntematon Sotilas. The Unknown Soldier. You’ll like it.”
The thirteen-year-old leafed through the book distractedly. The old man waited for some acknowledgement, maybe a response, but when none was forthcoming, he shrugged and sat back in a huff, watching the kid across the room, whom he and his wife just could not fathom even after two years in their care.
The old woman bustled back in with the celebratory meal. “Happy Birthday!” she declared and tried to inject some false bonhomie as they settled down to lunch. But it soon petered out. Their grandchild showed no signs of birthday enjoyment or even wanting to talk . . . just sat picking at the food, pre-occupied and aloof.
“How about a sauna later in the evening?” the old woman made another attempt at drawing the teenager out.
The thirteen-year-old refused.
“Why not? It’ll be fun in our new sauna.”
The old woman received no reply.
“Okay. Then is there something special you would like to do today?” she coaxed.
Her grandchild was silent, then said abruptly, “I want to drive Grandpa’s car . . .”
“Are you out of your mind?” the old man rasped with irritation. “You are too young to drive a car!”
The adolescent looked up and riveted him with a scorching gaze that burned with bitter hatred, then turned away.
The table fell silent as the grandparents seemed to lose their appetite for both the food as well as further conversation with their sulking, intimidating grandchild.
A few hours later, as the old man and his wife relaxed in their sauna, he said, “The police suggested we contact social services. They think psychiatric evaluation and counselling might be required.”
“Might be a good idea. It’s scary . . . I wonder if it is normal for an adolescent of this age to harbour such thoughts,” she remarked.
Her husband shook his head slowly, lost in thought, and wiped the sweat off his neck, which had begun dripping down.
“Isn’t it getting a bit too hot?” his wife asked.
“C’mon, it’s at our usual setting.”
The old woman shifted uncomfortably. “Well, this electric sauna certainly needs some getting used to. Our old steam sauna was so much better.”
The old man rebuffed her. “Pah! I am too old to keep pouring water for generating steam. This one’s much better. Convenient.”
“Well, turn down the temperature a bit . . .”
“Do it yourself!”
The old woman was too old to argue. She got up and put on her robe to step out of the sauna cabin and adjust the controls.
“Something’s wrong,” she said a few seconds later. “The door isn’t opening.”
“Come on,” the old man said with irritation. “Just pull harder.”
“No . . . It seems like it’s . . . jammed, you know.”
“Bullshit. That never happens.” He got up vexedly, clasped his hand around the door handle and pulled.
The door refused to yield. The old man licked his lips and heaved again. The timber stayed put, as if bolted. The eyes of the old couple met fearfully, the same suspicion lurking in their minds.
Then they heard the car start . . .