Ninth Time’s a Charm

The loud and energetic anthem sung by the students and professors alike marked the unearthly day that brought down the pillar of the Chetford Institute. The annual function headed off with a zest of hundreds of motivated students, who were on the field to compete on a non-academic platform.

As the event began, six teams represented by different classes and courses took their corners on the open ground that was central to the two tall buildings that housed mediocre facilities of books and IT for the students who paid enormously for the education. To the outside world, the monetary demands of the institute was worth its name and face value in the job market, filling the hearts of the young men and women with hopes of a secured life post the education at Chetford.

As the event progressed, the organization was being handled magnificently. The games started on time; the teams that held the scores and schedule of the event did their job with impressive efficiency. At lunch, the professors returned to their chairs under the shade of a giant tree that stood solitary in the edge of the ground.

“Are the students not doing an excellent job?” The Assistant Head of the Institute Ms. Madson said in a rhetorical tone, clearly impressed by her students.

“They sure are. To me, they are already managers,” replied Bhackin, the head, zestfully, while munching from her plate, the delicious Sunday meal.

“The students from the Class B are clearly dominating the charts in every game. Only wish they did the same in their upcoming examinations,” said Prof. Khades in a lighter tone.

Minutes after that little conversation, they were immersed in the joyful competition of young men in the game of football. The next few minutes changed the fate and the mood of the event as well as of the Institute. As soon as the lunch was devoured, Bhackin felt uneasy, struggling with her breathing, as she threw her empty plate away in the moments of absolute helplessness and fell down on the ground on her face. Before anyone could register the horror that she was going through inside her body, she was dead. In front of hundreds of people, she lay on the ground, dirtied by the soil and insulted by her trust on the ones around, one of who killed her.

“A murder inside a college, you say?” Freemont raised his eyebrows, expressing a mild shock.

“Yes, sir,” replied Willy promptly as he was excited to go on such an interesting case with his boss and the best detective in the town, Svent Freemont.

Svent Freemont arrived at the crime scene, which was gloomy to the skin of it. It was not unusual for him to breathe in this kind of melancholy that was in the air on that Sunday afternoon. Some students cried, some were aloof and apathetic. Some professors sat next to the dead body, while some stood by with a stern expression on their faces. Willy made note of every valuable information that he could gather.

Upon instructions, Willy barred the entry and the exit of the premises. The rest of the police force joined in to keep the crowd in check. Willy went into the crowd and started interviewing several students individually about what they saw, and their relationship with the Head of the Institute, Mrs. Bhackin.

Meanwhile, Freemont requested the professors to avail him a free room, where interrogations could be held. Being assured of this being an inside job, he hoped to nudge the ones closest to the victim—the professors.

Prof. Shieve, an ex-Air Force cadet, had decided to take it upon himself to teach the lessons of morality, righteousness and ethics to the students—the future of the nation. “I am shocked,” said Prof. Shieve with an unnatural air of emotional expression. Freemont expected him to be stern and in control of his emotions as he had served the national Air Force. Svent was disappointed at Prof. Shieve’s dramatic reaction. Professor used a very controlling tone over his defense and the dismay that consumed him upon losing his idol.

The next in the queue was Prof. Khades, a mastermind in the Computer studies, who was a passionate professor with a clear, yet a hyper temperament. “I do not have anything to say except that she had her own ways of dealing with difficult situations, but she was an excellent leader. She has held this Institute together for decades.”

Ms. Madson, took a while to adjust in the chair in front of Svent Freemont. She was medically obese, and to make her balance worse, she was sobbing profusely at the loss of the Head of the Institute, with him she had very close ties. Freemont was not able to learn much from her, besides the fact that she was with Mrs. Bhackin since the morning. Freemont was absolutely clueless at the end of the three interviews.

Willy joined Freemont in the interrogation room, and they both took their time in discussing the matter, trying to reach to an acceptable theory behind it. Freemont looked outside the window and saw the ambulance carefully take out the lifeless body of Mrs. Bhackin, still with her glasses on her face that appeared pale. Her soon-to-be white hair were neatly buckled, giving her a strict appearance, which passed away along with her. Who would poison her, and how?

“The students I inquired have a very harsh opinion about this Institute and Mrs. Bhackin.” Willy was walking across the room, with a visible tension in his voice and demeanour. “Gathering all the information I received from various students, this Institute’s public image is a hokum. The promises of job placement and eye-catching number of zeros in the salary promises have attracted students from various corners of the country, but however, not one student is in accord with the Institute’s promises.” Freemont was keenly listening. “The Chetford institute is a giant spider web, luring students with its politically bolstered image of consistency and excellence, and the political influence is so high, that the voice of the students gets suppressed before it reaches the outside world. It has ridiculously high standards that suck the students dry, and to add to it, the penalties that the students are made to pay are monetary, which pressurizes them to follow the harshly set rules, considering the mercilessness of Mrs. Bhackin. Some of the students have not received their degree certificate due to their outstanding monetary dues that was blindly imposed on them, unforgivably.”

Freemont’s head was in a gear now, listening to Willy carefully as Willy continued with his comments. “Clearly, students don’t hold a very nice impression for Mrs. Bhackin. They have an appropriate motive to end her life— the root of their problems that decides their fate. This is was an excellent chance to poison her as they were in charge of everything today in the event. The food, the games and the maintenance.”

“There is a fair chance, Willy that one or some of the students planned this murder. However, this kind of planning and execution requires sensibility and genius, and no genius would want to take such a risk with their lives, when they know that the unfair treatment by the Institute will last for only two years.” Willy was not prepared to hear what came next.

“The ones who have to live under the tyranny of highly political, controlling and manipulative Head of the Institute are her colleagues.” Willy was shaken at the possibility of it. “Willy, let us review the camera recording that captured the moments before her death. I am certain it is one of them. Let us hunt for the proof.”

The recording played from several minutes before the professors got up to get their lunch. They came back to the seat and nothing seemed abnormal to Freemont. While munching down the meal, Prof. Khades got up and resumed back to her seat after a short break. Nothing seemed amiss. And then it happened. Mrs. Bhackin fell down on the ground, throwing her plate away in despair that she went through in her final moments.

Frustration mounted Freemont’s face as he scanned through the entire video for eight times. He closed his eyes and let the pictures play in the back of his eye, letting his mind do all the work. Willy sat there quietly, lost in the baffling puzzle. Svent’s phone rang. It was the department of forensics, who had a report of the poison that killed Mrs. Bhackin. Poison X. Freemont had heard about Poison X from his colleague, who described the classified information regarding the high-tech chemical weapons that the National Military was designing for the Secret Agents of the nation. Prof. Shieve. Freemont had a smile on his face, as the case came closer to completion.

Freemont watched the entire video for the ninth time, and this time he saw it. The answer was right there in front of his eyes all the time. Everything made sense. “Willy, arrest them all.”

Willy did not go immediately. He was very keen on learning why Freemont ordered him to go for all three of them.

Freemont rewound the video and showed Willy a glitch that ran for a little moment. It was easy for an untrained eye to overlook it. Freemont did not miss that tiny error this time that Prof. Khades made in pausing the video for less than half a second, and resuming the recording as it is. This subtle pause was shrewdly planned. She had got up to go to the control room, as she had access and the skill that was necessary to hamper with the recording. That small pause was enough for Ms. Madson to poison her food and get back to her original position, making it appear like she did not move one bit. Even with a use of wireless communication devices, the timeliness of the planning was commendable. The poison that Prof. Shieve had made arrangements of from his Military contacts, was one of an experimental kind that does not show any reaction on the dead body, making it look like a natural death!

“Did they really think that they would get away with this murder?” Willy asked with a hint of disgust in his tone.

“They would have for today, at least, if it were not for the tiny little mistake that Prof. Khades made. Later, their political status and influence could have taken them far from this case in a matter of phone calls, Willy. We just got lucky.”

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The Tenth Parachute

Inspector Svent Freemont peered through his cabin window, with a hot cup of coffee in his hand, and allowed himself the simple pleasure of getting soaked in the morning sun. An unusually free morning was something he did not know that he missed until today. His schedule was wrapped around with cases of burglary, murder or fraud every day, but today, he looked through the vastness of the green field outside his window that stretched till very far, under the endless blue skies.

“These green plains take me back to a case from some years old, Willy,” Freemont said knowing that Willy was at the table too, behind him, enjoying the warmth of the free morning himself.

“Does it, sir? What was it about?” Willy was excited, as he always is when Freemont opens up the interesting cases he has dealt with.

“It was a case of the unbuckled parachute”

Willy was perplexed. “An unbuckled parachute? As stimulating as it sounds, how did it go, Inspector?”

Freemont had a faint smile on his yellow-washed face. “It went very well, Willy. Since you seem to be willing to hear, here goes it. Nearly four years ago, in the plains of Famtown, about twenty kilometers off the state highway that ran between here and Dunyap, there was a special team of our military that was training ten of its finest soldiers for night rescues. This training included of flying in the murky sky, diving onto the Famtown plains with a parachute, and performing several other tasks in the blinding night.”

“And one of the parachutes was tinkered with!” Willy exclaimed with a slightly unrepressed horror.

“Yes, one of the parachutes was messed with, and it caused Greg Munk an untimely and horrifying death. When I was at the crime scene, there was the head of the training, Lt. Richard Humes, the nine other soldiers, shaken at the belief that it could have been them, and a few other men from the neighbourhood, some shocked, some nonchalant.”

“I would place my bets on one of the other soldiers. At times, jealousy can make one do what passion cannot.”

“Rightly said, Willy. Although, a good detective must not jump to conclusions so soon. I began with my investigations with the Lieutenant in a small building where the soldiers had put up along with Lt. Richard Humes. The soldiers grieved, but the Lieutenant was stern in his appearance. Hands held at his back, his strictly stiff posture made him stand out among all others. There was a very worrying frown on his face, made his furry white eyebrows meet and form creases on his forehead.”

“The pain of oppressive accountability must be eating him up,” said Willy as soon as Freemont paused from his narration for a sip from his coffee.

“It did, but he acted otherwise,” replied Freemont immediately as if imposing his personal respect for the man. “He silenced the grieving of the other nine soldiers by making them believe that this was the time to show resolve and courage; not to mourn. There will be a right time to lament for the loss, which is not in the present day. Today, we endure with the training.”

“Our military needs men like him.” Willy felt respect for Lt. Humes and had goose bumps as he expressed his respect for the man, who stood as a pillar for the country’s defense.

“Upon further investigation,” Freemont continued, unaffected by Willy’s comments. “Lt. Humes happened to mention Tom Bailey, an ex-military, who was let go from the special team due to budget cuts. Tom had strived his way up to the position, where he deserved to be among the ten, but he did not make it. He was agitated, and in fury, he quit the military altogether, and hopped on a mission to defame the special team. He had three years of experience in the military, had a knowledge of parachutes, and did not hold a positive feeling for the special team. What would you do next, Willy? On whom would you fix your eyes on?”

“Clearly, Tom is on the top of my list.” Willy said with growing excitement.

Freemont eventually turned away from the sun, and now faced Willy. Freemont’s involvement in the narration was now to its maximum and it was evident from his voice. “But, Tom was innocent.”

Willy had a growing smile on his face. He felt like he was a kid again. “How did you come to that conclusion?”

“Chiefly, because I know who did it. However, upon questioning Tom, he turned out to be a proud ex-military who would sever a head rather than killing someone passively. His case against the special team was unfairly dismissed by the court, and the injustice on him was sound. Nevertheless, as a man of honour, he admitted the he would have done better than chopping off a buckle from the parachute. I did not rule him out completely, yet. Not until the case was closed.”

“So, the murderer, whoever it was, did not care about which one of the ten died. It indeed could have been any of the ten!” Willy was moved at the thought of having escaped death so closely. “How innocent were the other nine soldiers?”

“On the other day, the nine soldiers were in the woods, training on military strategy. It was hide-n-seek but on a more serious level. If you were sought on the real playground, you could die.” Freemont took the last sip from his coffee, and placed the cup on the wooden table. “And in that hide-n-seek, a loud burst of a bullet shot came in from the woods, and shot one of the remaining nine down. A woman soldier, with whom Lt. Humes had a semi-secret relationship with. The team knew, but none others.”

Willy was horrified. “And then, there were eight.” Agatha Christie’s mystery thrilled Willy every time he read her books. This was happening in real.

“Eight.” Freemont took a pause. “On the bright side, this time, I had a lead that I could pursue. Not one, but two leads, in same day. As the forensics were analyzing the bullet from the soldier’s body all night, Lt. Humes was next on the death list. A bomb was found under the bed of Lt. Humes and when he woke up to find his slippers from underneath the bed, he took notice of the bomb. It had an hour to go. Such luck!”

“This keeps getting better. I would like to move my bet to one of the eight soldiers, now! That soldier killed two colleagues and now the head of their training. It is clear as a whistle!”

“Only if were so simple, Willy,” replied Svent with a smile on his face. He continued. “The bomb was defused on time, and Lt. Humes was under a tighter security for the entire night. Now, is when it starts to get interesting, Willy. Hold on to your socks.”

Willy moved slightly on his chair, and he leaned forward bringing his keen ears forward.

“The bullet information led me to one of the men from the neighbourhood who was at the crime scene on the day one. It was not very easy to catch the owner of the gun, but I had no alternative but to find him. Nevertheless, I had no clue why he would kill the soldiers. I had not the slightest idea on his motive, and thus, I brought him in for questioning. He was a bartender from the nearby bar, where the soldiers usually frequented, and Lt. Humes was there once, too, as claimed by one of the soldiers.”

“But why would a bartender…” Willy was lost in the complications of the case.

“Lt. Humes asked me the same. I knew exactly how to bring the truth on the front page.”

Willy could not wait till he got to the end of this story. His impatience was ever-growing.

“With Lt. Humes, the bartender and me in a locked room, the bartender was interrogated oppressively by the both to break him down. He did not. He was shocked at the allegation as well as at the idea of him being brought in. Since he did not budge, I took out my bag, and unpacked the same bomb that was found under Lt. Humes’ bed and placed it on the table. I knew the bartender would rather defuse the bomb than die, so I ticked the bomb on and timed it to ten seconds.”

“Unbelievable! You risked your life to prove the bartender guilty!” Willy widened his eyes in shock and at the courage that Freemont had shown for his duty.

“Ten seconds, Willy. Ten seconds. The bartender was horrified, and he quailed in the corner of the room, shocked and sweaty. Seven seconds. He was shouting for help and at five seconds he had given up.”

“Did he defuse it in mere five seconds?”

“It took him less than two seconds, but it was not the bartender who did it.”

Willy froze. “It was Lt. Humes all along?” He could not believe what he was hearing. “But…why?”

Willy’s shock brought Svent an even bigger smile. “Turns out, that the first kill, Greg Munk, was only to confuse the investigation.” He let the words sink in. “He was after the second kill, the woman named Martha Neef. She had threatened to charge him with sexual assault if he did not promote her, which Lt. Humes could not. Instead of having his decades-old career jeopardized, coupled with disrespect and hatred, he thought of solving the problem by eliminating it, rather than facing it. Juvenile criminals, I’d say.”

“And, he placed the bomb under his bed to throw off the lead from him, framing himself as a victim.” Willy was at a loss of words, but he felt the brilliance of Freemont’s mind strongly and rightly. “Impressive, inspector.”

Then the lonely phone at the table rang and Willy picked it up immediately. It was a time for a new adventure with Svent Freemont.

The Boss

The train thundered through the beautiful landscape, only a few kilometres before it made its journey through the mountainous terrain of the picturesque snow-clad scenery. The quietude outside the train, in the serene hills, was in contrast with the environment inside. An old couple in the far end of the coach exemplified the truthfulness of a relationship as they laughed together. A group of young students were on a trip and they appeared absolutely vibrant. A young woman was reading a romantic book, which turned her cheeks red, probably missing her love. Everyone on the coach looked thrilled, except for one man.

A middle-aged man, sitting by himself by the window stared into the depth of the woods from the window. His dark eyes were fixed outside the window for quite some time. He was lost in thoughts, which apparently ate him up from the inside. He seemed to be worried about the what came next and was clearly and quietly expressive about his anxiety.

Frank Gordon, a slightly older man, sat opposite to this middle-aged man; he could not help but notice the growing anxiety on the man’s face. He wore a perfume that had a musty scent. It was very distinguishable and it caught Frank’s olfactory senses. Gordon interrupted his thoughts, breaking the depth of them. “Excuse me, good sir. I hate to bother you, but I could not stop thinking about the nervousness on your face. Clearly something is bothering you. You seem to be in some trouble. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”

The man stared at Gordon with a disturbing look, clearly displeased with the unwelcoming interruption. The shadows were playing on his face as the sun was setting down behind the hills outside. His dark hair were neatly set and the piercing eyes were not helping Gordon to perceive the ferociousness of his stare any lesser. Frank was a little shaken by the silent aggression, but he maintained his cool.

The dark-haired man stared back outside the windows, squinting a little against the shine of the sun. Frank was feeling disconcerted upon the odd contempt of his honest concern.

“Everything will be alright, sir,” Gordon said with a forceful smile, trying his best to be nice with the man.

He adjusted his hat over his vanishing hairline and adjusted back in his seat. The train arrived at the station, and the impolite man stood up, taking his discourtesy with him. Oddly, even his impending departure did not help Frank attain rest. It had become harder for him to survive the heat that rose out of the disturbing silence that dominated the space between them, and his behaviour bothered Gordon.

The man left through the door, leaving a trail of the musty scent of his perfume. Apparently, Brent was the only one who got off the train. For a moment or two, Gordon was lost in the strangeness of the man that he encountered. Frank’s eyes came wandering to the bottom of the seat where that unpleasant man sat, and there was a black briefcase that he had left behind. Immediately, Gordon looked out in search for the man and he saw him vanishing behind the walls that led to the exit of the station. Compelled by his instinct of setting things right, Gordon picked up the briefcase from under the seat, which was heavier than it appeared to be, and he rushed for the door at the same time when the announcement of the train’s departure was over. He escaped the train just in time as he saw felt the automatic doors close behind him.

“Curses!” Frank muttered some angered words over the fate of his journey. The station he got down was surprisingly small, signifying that the region did not hold a lot of people. There was one small room, made of bricks for the station master, who was nowhere to be seen. The station was as unmanned as the moon.

The sky was glowing purple. Frank, without wasting much time walked briskly on the same path, which he saw the man take. Assuming that he must not have gone too far just yet, he hoped to get the next train, whenever it was. Upon turning the corner at the wall towards the exit, Frank walked out of the glass door and he saw the man boarding onto the backseat of a black sedan that sped down the road as soon as he was in. Everything happened so fast that Frank had no time to call him and deliver the briefcase.

Luck was not in his favour, but Gordon had ample of patience. Frank boarded a taxi that was waiting at the curb, and asked him to follow the black sedan that went ahead. The taxi driver obeyed and after a chase of nearly twenty minutes, the sedan came to a halt in a sketchy neighbourhood, deprived of rich infrastructure, or even decent buildings. An array of short brick buildings dominated the poor side of the town that he was in. Most of the street lights were non-functional and the only few that were lit faintly highlighted the quiet, broken and messed streets of the area. Frank found it odd that a man dressed as professionally as him would have business in the underbelly of a town. Frank felt the discomfort of landing in such a place, but he had to deliver the briefcase, which might be important to the man. The streets were not filled with a lot of people, and the lonely streets in such a shady night served poorly to his comfort. He had come this far, he thought. He carried on.

He got off the taxi, paid the driver and walked behind the man, who just entered a small green door in an alley between two buildings, where the cars would not fit. It got darker there. He watched his step carefully as the poorly lit street did not help him well with the visibility of the possible potholes; maybe even an open sewage hole. Gordon was as careful as he possibly could. He wished he had a gun for his safety tonight. He kept walking and then just as he approached the green door, he heard some voices. He stopped and overheard the conversation. Two men. They spoke about something that shocked Gordon and blew his senses off.

“You’re still on your number four, Brent. Another seven kills in another thirteen hours. What is making you so sluggish?” The voice was rough; the kind that comes with years of addiction of cigarettes.

Gordon was frightened, and considered fleeing from the scene. His morals held him back. There was not a chance that Frank would not act upon the knowledge of the identity of the criminals.

“I lost my briefcase in the train. My weapon is in it, and I cannot carry on without it. I need your pistol.”

Gordon understood that the man he had met in the train was on a killing spree. He shook in fear, he sweat through every pore on his body, but he still did not flee.

“Here it is. Remember, you have to notify Boss as you climb up the ladder. If he doesn’t receive a notification…”

“I know,” interrupted Vergo with an angry grunt. “He’ll kill my family.”

Gordon’s astonishment knew no bounds. He heard the pain in his voice. Whatever he thought about this man changed every few minutes; from a distressed person to a killer to a probable victim. His head spun with the heavy thoughts of having gotten involved with killers. The briefcase fell on the floor with a slam the moment he realized that it had a weapon inside!

The noise of the briefcase falling on the ground was loud enough to alert the two men and Frank heard the rush of their footsteps closing in. Without wasting another second, Gordon left the scene with the briefcase with him, and ran in the other direction from the train station on a pavement that was filled with people sleeping or shooting injections to their veins. After a long run in the forsaken neighbourhood and very less help from the people around in the area, he felt that he had escaped.

Gordon found one man in black hood at the corner of the street smoking a cigarette, who walked Gordon to the police station. It was a small office that lay in the middle of a malodourous compound at the end of the street. He rushed inside the surprisingly vacant office and spotted one room to his left and he barged inside it. The police station was as sketchy as the neighbourhood, but Gordon did not expect a lot from this god-forsaken region where he was stuck that night.

In that room, he was welcomed coldly by a burly man with greying hair and a big built. His thick grey moustache matched his stern personality. Gordon placed his faith in the stern policeman and narrated the entire incident to him.

“You’re the not the first one to have the knowledge about The Boss. He is feared all across. Kids, adults and others; anyone or everyone could be his target. He has a very strong influence over the political parties and gets away with every accusation with not even a scratch. Killing brings him pleasure and he has not stopped doing so in last some months. He has gripped the entire town under his giant web of violence and corruption, forcing everyone into murderers. Even the saints and the priests have dirtied their hands in this town. You came to the right place, here. You are safe.”

“I will leave this briefcase here.” The trauma in Gordon’s voice was overpowered by the anger that he felt rising in his belly. “It belongs to that man I met in the train.”

“I will take care of it. Soon, all this will be over. His strategy of making others kill, provides him a layer of extra protection. Once we get through that barrier, he will be dead as meat.” The policeman was as cold as he was in the beginning. It seemed to Frank that this was not the first time that he was hearing the anger of a citizen. He felt sad thinking about what happened to those people.

Gordon was flabbergasted. “I hope you have a plan in your mind.”

“What would you do when your family’s life is at stake?” The policeman stared at him with his big silver eyes. “Would you not kill to save them?”

Frank remained quiet. He was outraged at the horrid events that shaped that town. He could have screamed at the unexpected series of events that changed the entire story of his day…possibly his life. He slammed the briefcase on the top of the table with little regard to the respect that the policeman deserved. Before he got up from his seat, the door behind him opened with a creaky voice. He noticed a musty scent once again, and his eyes grew wide open. It was the man from the train. He knew it was him. The scent was so strong. Before his brain could register a reaction, Vergo’s large arms grappled Frank’s neck from behind and snapped it hard, rendering him dead.. His head fell on the table in front of him with a loud thud, his hat fell down on the floor.

“That is number five, Boss,” spoke Brent with very little emotions and he left the office where the Boss formed his shelter, disgusted over the depth of planning the Boss could implement for facilitating kills of innocent people. The man in the black hood followed Brent outside the station.

The Boss sat back in his chair, and a devilish smile was formed on his face at the sight of another dead man. This will never be over.

….to be continued