The Case of the Missing Ring (Astute Ayesha Mysteries #1)

“Hello, Astute Ayesha Detective Agency. Our legendary lead detective is busy on another case. Please leave your name and number and one out of our 50 dashing detectives will call you right back,” said the mechanical voice on the phone.

Mika heard the voice out, and then, taking a deep sigh, replied patiently, “Ayesha, it’s me, Mika, and I know it is you impersonating an answering machine on the other end. I also know that you have not had a case in…let me think…EVER! So I don’t need to be a detective myself to know that you cannot even have one detective on your rolls, forget 50. Now that we’re clear on all that, can you please pick up the phone, it’s very urgent!”

Ayesha seethed with frustration at the other end. Mika had a talent for getting her goat every single time they spoke. That was one of the reasons that they’d decided to finally split up three months ago after going steady for four years. And though she would die before admitting it to him, she missed him terribly.

From the day she borrowed her first Nancy Drew from her neighbourhood Library in Lokhandwala, a posh suburb in Mumbai, Ayesha wanted to be a detective, and since she was a female, she decided that she would be a female detective, the first female detective in Lokhandwala.

But life, as is often the case, kept getting in the way, what with prosaic stuff like education, career, money etc. taking priority over her dream. In the meantime, she shifted to London from Lokhandwala, working a for a company that sold fried fish to hungry customers across the world. More importantly, she met Mika, till three months ago, the love of her life, and the man she had decided she wanted to marry.
Four years into the relationship, Ayesha casually switched on the TV one evening, and froze when she saw what she saw. It was a commercial for a new TV Series that was about to be launched, and the series was based on the various exciting cases of her childhood hero- Nancy Drew.

And that jolted her awake from her peaceful and dull existence. For she knew that she no longer wanted to sell fish, fried or otherwise. hell, she was a vegetarian herself, so what was she doing selling fish anyways! No no, this would not do at all. With all these tumultuous thoughts scrambling her brain like scrambled egg (which she did eat, by the way, being a vegetarian who ate eggs, except on Tuesdays), she decided to quit her job, and become a female detective!

And this is what ultimately led to her rather acrimonious breakup with Mika. For Mika belonged to the Royal family of Sheffield, and he was sure that his parents would not approve of their daughter-in-law prancing about dark streets till late at night, fighting crime, and mixing with a variety of unsavoury elements in the process. So they had various ‘talks’, then they bickered, fought like wild cats, and finally, agreed to go their separate ways, for Ayesha was willing to give up everything, but not her dream! She owed it to herself, and more importantly, she owed it to Nancy Drew.

Cut to the present day. Thirty minutes after that fateful phone call that this story opened with, the doorbell of Mika’s stately apartment in Central London, only slightly smaller than the Buckingham Palace, rang exactly thrice. Mika immediately knew that it was Ayesha, he remembered her distinctive ring. He opened the door, and they stood staring at each other for what seemed like hours. There was the pain of lost love in their gaze, and fondness for each other that time or harsh words had failed to erase.

Ayesha so wanted to rush and hug Mika again, but she was too stubborn to show weakness like this. Mika too wanted to say that he was sorry, but his blue blood prevented him from being the first to back down. The unending silence was finally broken by the butler, Justin, who entered the room just then, and asked, “Sir, should I get some tea for your guest?”

Ayesha and Mika quickly broke off eye-contact, and Mika said, “Yes, no sugar for me, two for her.” As soon as the butler went away, Ayesha composed herself and asked brusquely, “I don’t have time for such niceties, tell me what is the emergency that you were talking about on the phone?”

Mika replied, “My ring is missing, and I want you to find it.” Ayesha’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and she asked, “THE ring?” Mike looked down at the floor, and replied in a low voice, “Yes, THE ring!” Ayesha was horrified upon hearing this. THE ring was the royal emblem of the royal family of Sheffield, and had been with Mika’s family for generations. His great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather had brought back the ring from the Crusades, and since that day, it had always been kept in the possession of the eldest son of the royal family, to be worn by his bride on the day of their wedding, till the day their first son was born, when she would take out that ring, and pass it on to the child, till the day he got married…and so on.

“But why me?” asked Ayesha. Mika replied, “Because no outsider can know about this, for it will lead to a gargantuan scandal if the news ever came out. So I need someone I can trust to investigate the matter discreetly.”

Ayesha was touched at Mika’s trust, but also miffed that he hadn’t called her because he thought she was a good detective, but only because he trusted her to be discreet. So she shrugged off the feeling of warmth that she was feeling being this close to him again, and said, “OK, so tell me, where did you see the ring last?”

Mika replied, “In my socks drawer of course, for I knew no one will think of looking for it there. But this morning, when I was looking for my favourite Mickey Moue socks, I realized that the ring had disappeared.”

Ayesha said, “Then lets start from the scene of the crime itself.” She went to their room, and that feeling of warmth once again hit her when she wasn’t looking. This was the room where they’d spent such happy moments together for four years. Mika was equally impacted by her presence in his room once again. He could still hear her lovely laughter ringing in his ears.

But Ayesha had a case to solve, so she directly opened his socks drawer, and started looking inside it very carefully. Something struck her eye, but she just processed that information, and kept it safe for later use.

She then went through every inch of the house with a fine tooth comb, but the ring seemed to have disappeared into thin air.

She then started questioning the household staff one by one. All the 26 maids had an alibi, so had the footman and the shoe-shine boy. She searched them all, and their belongings, but the ring was nowhere to be found. The only staff member left now was Justin, the butler.

So she called him next. he entered in his usual imperious manner. She asked him about his movements in the morning, and he told her that after ironing Mika’s clothes as usual, he’d put the dirty laundry into the washing machine, and had been in his room ever since, waiting for the wash cycle to get over.

Ayesha searched his room thoroughly of course, but there was no trace of the ring. Mika was looking absolutely dejected, as if he was thinking that he had made a mistake by calling Ayesha. Ayesha saw this and her face fell.

But then, she suddenly heard the sound of a ‘ting’. “What’s that sound?” she asked the butler. “That’s the sound of the wash cycle getting over ma’am,” replied Justin. And with that ‘ting’, something ‘tinged’ inside Ayesha’s brilliant brain, and she ordered, “Take all the clothes out of the washin machine, NOW!”
Justin and Mika both looked at Ayesha like she’d suddenly gone crazy. But Ayesha didn’t care. She repeated her order, and Mika reluctantly asked Justin to take out the wet washed clothes and place them on a heap on the floor.
So Justin started taking out the wet clothes, and Ayesha starte checking them one by one. Thirty minutes later, Justin declared, “That was the last of the wash load ma’am.” An exhausted Ayesha looked up from the floor, dejection and defeat apparent in her eyes. Mika looked pityingly at her, and shook his head in disappointment.

And this look gave Ayesha a new lease of life. She jumped up and rushed to the washing machine, brushed Justin aside, and crawled INTO the front loading machine, her hands searching desperately for something. Mika kept shouting for her to come out, but she blocked out his voice, and kept searching.

And then, after five minutes, Ayesha emerged from the washing machine. In her hand was a piece of wet clothing. She put her hand inside it, took out something, and held it up triumphantly. A resplendent ring glittered in her hands.
“What…what…what…” Mika stuttered and spluttered, shocked and awed at the same time. Just at that moment, the butler Justin decided to make a run for it, but Ayesha jumped and landed a Karate chop at the base of his neck, and he fell down like a broken tree.

Mika looked at this with even more shock (if that was possible) and asked, “What the hell was that? And how did you know that the ring was in the machine?” With a slight smile on her face, Ayesha replied, “When I was looking through your socks drawer, I discovered that there was only one Mickey Mouse sock in there. I also noticed Justin’s expression when I found that single sock in the drawer. A shadow of guilt appeared on his face for just a moment. So I knew that the missing sock was connected to the missing ring. And so, while I was searching for the missing ring, I was also searching for the missing sock. And then it hit me. What better place to hide a sock than the one place where everyone would expect it to be, in the laundry.”

Mika looked at Ayesha in wonder, and said, “What a brilliantly astute detective you are Ayesha. I was an ass to let you go. Please, please, please marry me, I will convince my parents to let you run your detective agency after marriage also. Hell, there would be no dearth of crimes among the royal families of England that need to be solved discreetly, and having a discreet detective as a part of a royal family will certainly be a boon for the snobbish royalty. Now give me the ring, so that I can put it safely in the locker.”

Ayesha kept looking at him for some time, and then, with an impish smile on her face, said, “Actually, you know, I think I’ll hold on to this ring for a while.” So saying, she put on the ring on her ring finger, and everything was fine again. Astute Ayesha had just solved her first case, and was getting into a royal family. Nancy Drew would have been so proud of her.




About anuragbakhshi

At the age of 40, I decided to exit the corporate world, and enter the world of stories as a full-time writer. Wish me luck!
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