Raju, age 27, stabbed to death. His parents, retired school-teachers, teach underprivileged kids at home. His elder sister is a homemaker and her husband is a lift technician working in the Middle-East. The younger unmarried sister is a clerk in a government office. There is a picture of their modest house in a respectable lower middle-class locality. ‘Poker’ Raju was a notorious rowdy. The title of the news-item is ‘Poker Poked’.
The paper mentions that at the age of seventeen this youth with a decent background turned into a cold-blooded hit-man. The ‘overnight transformation’ could be a result of careless upbringing or abuse or mental imbalance or extreme provocation, the report conjectures without details.
I asked him about that once. Raju replied nonchalantly, ‘You are good at accounting. I am good at what I do.’
Regarding his nickname he said, ‘It’s a bit like the one given by parents, just another’s whim. Personally, I would have preferred ‘Stiletto’ Raju. That sounds Italian, huh?’
Raju used to intimidate his victims with a stiletto. He would make the victim place both hands, with fingers splayed, on a table. Using the stiletto he would try to poke between the fingers with increasing rapidity. After the hands, he would shift to the toes and the groin. ‘I am not really good at this game,’ he sheepishly admitted.
I got to know him six years back during Radha Aunty’s case. She is a widow and a close friend of my mother. She called me to her house one lazy Sunday afternoon. She served tea and lightly buttered cucumber sandwiches, hesitated and fidgeted, hum-hawed and pulled at threads of a cushion, and after a long while I got her request which could be summarized as ‘I need someone ready to dirty his hands.’
Through a friend, I arranged a meeting between Poker Raju and Aunty. She served him tea and freshly-baked cookies. His sharp and dark features contrasted well with her fair and chubby countenance. With him, surprisingly, she displayed efficient professionalism. I was present while they negotiated the price. She gave him a name and address. No reason was mentioned to me or Raju. It was after all her grievance and not ours – property or financial problem; violation of son or daughter; physical or mental threat; marital issues or tussle with relatives; something less or more severe. Some go to court, some confront on their own, some lie low trying to forgive or forget, and others deal with it this way. That’s all.
Raju then asked me if I wanted to be present, remaining concealed though, during the job. I was curious. I said yes. It was over rather fast. He exhibited his skills, or lack of it, with his stiletto. ‘Operation successful but patient died,’ he quipped at the end. He was joking – the man was only nearly dead but a bloody mess.
I have used his services a few times over the years. Yesterday, he was supposed to finish a problem that has troubled me greatly. I made the mistake of waiting and hoping. But, problems are like cancer. Finally, at wits’ end, I told Poker Raju what I wanted.
Raju completed the first part well. He abducted the man, his wife and kid-daughter and brought them to an old deserted building on the city-outskirts.
I instructed Raju to kill the wife and daughter first, in front of the man. For the first time, he broke our contract. He took the wife and the kid to another room. There, he knocked them unconscious but did not kill them. Hearing their horrible cries before the silence that followed, the man assumed that his wife and kid had been killed. Still, he begged for mercy. Raju returned and started with his stiletto and, finished him off.
For me, Raju had failed. I had heard from others that Raju had, on recent jobs, shown signs of ‘softening’. That is dangerous.
Anticipating Raju’s failure, I had ‘contracted’ two new kids on the block who worked as a team. They were there, remaining concealed in that building. While Raju cleared the dead man’s mess, I sent a message to the team.
They killed the wife, the kid and Poker Raju and, completed the job.
There are two kinds of people in this world: people like him; and, people like you and me.