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From the Duckbill Workshop in Bangalore, the first chapter of Ambika Rao’s detective novel. Our thanks to Ambika for allowing us to publish this on our blog.

The first assembly of the second term was under progress. Eyes that missed sleeping till noon, limbs that missed warm beds, stomachs that missed hot glasses of milk. They blinked, creaked and groaned in tandem.

The only thing on Mr. Rangachari’s mind was to set things right. “No more treks,” he announced. “You are not allowed to walk into the hillock alone. Do you understand? If I catch a student anywhere close to the hillock, your parents will be called and you shall be expelled from Happy Times International. Am I clear? Alright then, back to your classes.”

The previous term hadn’t been too pleasant for Mr. Rangachari. Praful, the nine-year-old from Vindhya House had slipped off the hillock on one of the school’s weekly treks. His multiple fractures meant that Praful would spend three months in bed and miss an entire term. The newspapers wouldn’t miss covering this unhappy detail about Happy Times. Leaving Mr. Rangachari more restless and panicky than usual.

The whole school knew that Mr Rangachari had problems with the librarian, Ms Rani. Some students gossiped it was an affair, some linked it to an old rivalry, while others were sure they were a dog and a cat in their previous birth.

Varun, Anita and Karan, like most of the school, couldn’t stand either of them. Classmates for the last five years, they had grown to trust each other for notes, bunking classes and sharing bully troubles.

Today, when they found out that the librarian, Ms Rani, was dead, everyone except Varun, couldn’t stop talking.

“It was the Rottweiler,” said Anita, “He spotted her. Guess where?”

“Where?” asked Varun, adjusting his glasses.

“Right in the middle of the jungle,” roared Anita.

Asking Anita to calm down, Karan, who was himself excited to share the insiders info he’d sourced, gave them the lowdown. “So this morning at 8am, when Mr Rangachari and his faithful Bablu the Rottweiler were out on a prowl, a little beyond the smoking tree, the dog started dragging him. Picture Mr Rangachari on all fours and Bablu in the lead. Owner becomes the owned …”

“Karan stop digressing,” Anita interrupted.

“Yeah okay, so the stupid dog proved that it can do more than bark. It took him straight to Ms Rani who lay flat, head down, as silent as she liked her library to be. Resting in pieces,” added Karan, with a smirk, as Anita shook her head disapprovingly.

Karan continued, “I’m sorry I couldn’t help that one.  I’m sorry Ms Rani! The owner of Patti’s was my source. He seems to know everything that happens around here. Ms. Rani fell off the hillock he said.  Anyway, she’s dead now. That’s all we know.”

Varun, who was listening intently to Karan, adjusted his glasses, staring into nothingness. He was either examining the floating flecks of dust or reliving the incident, carefully, in the confines of his head.

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