The Ryders’ Riddance

I would like to start with an apology for not having touched this blog for an unacceptable duration of time. All this while, I hid behind an excuse of being busy working on something much bigger than a short-story.

Since the last seven years, I have battled against a bucketful of self-doubt, a dollop of laziness, several handfuls of procrastination and the nerve-shattering contender of all: fear. Fear of judgement, fear of failure and fear of having wasted my time. Not head on, but slowly and steadily, I allowed my perseverance to take over, which put every contender to sleep eventually.

And through these enriching struggles of working & reworking & reworking yet again, I have compiled a Crime Fiction novel.

If I know you, or if I know about you, then I want you to know that you have been a major influencer in helping me shape a series of stories and plots and sub-plots into singular novel, which I am going to call ‘The Ryders’ Riddance‘.

I have felt not unlike how the legendary author Stephen King says,

The journey of writing is like sailing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub; there is plenty of time for self-doubt.

My journey on this bathtub is approaching the shore and this 120,000+ word-novel is coming your way.

I pray for your continued support and your well-wishes, now, after the publishing of the book, and beyond, for this is only the beginning.

Stay tuned for more updates.

Yours truly.

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Win or Laws

Win or Laws
The transition from a mental state of hope to despair was grueling, taxing and exacting. Several years ago, a young woman had decorated opinions about being a lawyer for the National Court, the desire which fueled her zest to outmatch everyone else in her academics. Her career skyrocketed like a space shuttle without sufficient fuel to escape the gravitational force of struggle and rat-race and with an ambition of floating in an eternal weightlessness of success, riches and fame. The community that she grew up in was not encouraging in subjects of academics and career, owing to which Rita was more popular in circles dominated by white men and women. This formed a vital point for her community to issue her a cold disdain. 

Couple of years ago, she left her husband for reasons lesser known to the world. Rumours floated around saying that the loss of her baby girl drove the couple apart. However, the rumours were given only the credit that they deserved – not more, not less. Furthermore, her relationships with her friends remained square and invulnerable to her personal circumstances.

The flames of ambition of entering in the circles of the most renowned lawyers and judges were fighting against the storms of ennui and monotony. She was good at what she did – probably the best – but what she did was fight mediocre divorce cases, petty crime cases and cases related to family money that she wished she had, so she could run away and kick a restart to life.

She readied her bag to call it a day, when her boss, the man next to her father showed up at her cubicle. “Got to be somewhere else, champion?”

He always cheered her up. “Yup! Someone is waiting for me tonight and it must be getting cold. I better eat it before it actually does.”

Dan laughed heartily, he always did. “Well, I am sure that your dinner can wait. Come, see me in my cabin.”

They entered in his cabin.

“Here, have a look at this.” Dan slid a file across the metal-top table towards Rita.

Rita browsed through the file and made a mental note of all the key aspects of the case in hand. A murder case of the house-keeper. Time of death – early morning. Place of death – the living room. Potential suspect – Jake Douglas. Rita’s eyes widened. She looked back at Dan with sheer surprise and did little to suppress her shock. “Is this the Jake Douglas?”

“This is the Jake Douglas. The actor from The Night in the Train, The Bridge of the Blacks and Underside of the underside. This is him, Ms. Ferreira.”

Rita, shivering in anticipation. “And you handed his file to me, because?”

“Well, I will take it back this instant unless you hug it to your chest and run away.”

Tears softened her vision as she found this case as a breakthrough for her career. She was convinced that this case could be the fuel that her rocket needs. A case advocating an A-list actor in a murder incident would lift her up to all sorts of media: the newspapers, the TV, Press conferences and everywhere else. Owing to her size, she was in tears again, dreaming about the large area of the pictures that she will dominate.

She ditched her dinner and stayed back, burning the midnight oil. Meticulously, she studied every detail of the case and prepared herself with her meeting with the cop, Mr. Stan Morse later next day.

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Ferreira.”

“Call me Rita, please.”

“Alright. Listen, I don’t think there is any case in this. The housekeeper, an old lady who cannot run or fight back, was killed in the house, where only one man stays and it is that goddamn Jake Douglas.”

Rita did not respond to Stan’s comments. “Thank you for your inputs Mr. Morse, but I will refrain from making judgements at this point.”

Stan took off a bottle from his trousers and popped a pill as casually as candy. “PTSD,” he said. “Those rascals sitting on exorbitantly expensive and ridiculously uncomfortable sofas call it PTSD.”

Rita observed how Stan turned red, veins showed on the top of his balding skull.

“What do they know, eh? They sit in an air-conditioned room, counselling people in what they have never experienced. A fancy degree gives them the right to judge me? Do you know how a war feels like Rita?”

Rita nodded a negative.

“Bring to your eyes your worst nightmare, Rita and tell yourself that it is real. That is what a war is like.”

Rita brought her nightmare to her eyes. Her nightmare was not remotely linked with deaths or violence. Her nightmare was dying or fading away into death without achieving what he has struggled to achieve all her life – fame and respect. 

“Anyway, I am sorry for my outburst. It is just these goddamn pills.”

“Assuming that Mr. Jake is innocent, who is in the list of suspects? There is no one in this list I have. Has there been any advancements?”

“None. There is nobody who has entered the house or left the house in the last two days, except for his poor old black lady.”

“Thank you Mr. Morse. I will see you at the court hearing.”
As hard as it was, Rita had to bend over backwards to prevent her affinity to Jake Douglas from coming in her way of her judgements. 

“You know you are not a snowflake, right?” Jake’s words hurt like the friction from sandpaper. 

“I don’t believe I am, Mr. Jake. But thanks for the reassurance.”

“Ah cut the Mister and Missus crap, already. Let us get me some freedom, alright. Listen, I did not kill this lady at all. Now, go, save me or I will have you cut off from the case and would hire someone more attractive than that ugly ass of yours.”

Rita bottled her ferocity. She felt her affinity for the highly famed actor evaporate like fuel. “The police have found no other suspects as of yet. Little would you know about how things work in the real-life, so let me tell you exactly how this will go down.” Rita was riled up in fury. “There was a murder of a black old lady in your house during ungodly hours. The cameras prove that the only person coming in and out of the house for the last two days was your housekeeper, who is now dead. If your best defense is going to be that ‘I did not do it’, then pray to God that capital punishment is issued to you. That way you will die early and will be saved from the assured defamation that will be launched at you, while you get your ass raped in the city prison.”

Jake stared at Rita, holding his tongue. Rita was hardly sure about the reality anymore. A few nights ago, the idea of defending one of the most popular actors swept her off her feet; now, the same idea brought her back to her feet. 

“That is right, Jake. May I now kindly request you to shut your attitude up and let me do my job?”

“Sure,” he murmured. “You being my lawyer, I might as well tell you the truth, Rita.”

“I already know it. What I want to know is why.”

“You know how it is with famous people, Rita? People are greedy around me like it is their lunchtime. Why am I single? It is not my attitude; my attitude is the outcome. I am yet to find someone who loves me for me, not my money, not my fame. This housekeeper duped me into recording some words I spoke while rehearsing an act. She got it doctored and threatened me to go to the court with the tape and shame me for life unless I paid her her ransom.”

“Marvellous. And you decided to just kill her in your own house, with your own hands. Wow. Only if you were as smart as the Jake on TV.”

“Yes. I did it, alright. Because it’s easy. And I’m Jake Douglas. No prick can threaten me into misery.”

Rita prolonged her stare hoping for it to drill a hole through his chest. Emotions aside, Rita. It’s your job. Do it. 

“So, you’ll still fight for me? I mean, after knowing that I am the culprit here?”

“I don’t care what happens to this society Jake. This world has showed me only the ugly side of the moon. I am not letting it take away a stepping stone to success, too. I will fight and we will win.” It’s my first and probably the only chance at earning a name that they’ll regret they ever subjected to shame. 

Jake sighed.

“In the meantime, may I tour your house and look for information that could benefit the case?”
The tour took longer than she imagined. Superficially, she crossed ever corridor, every room and every corner to look for loopholes that could be used by the police or the opposite party. Mr. Stan must have taken care of it, she was certain. 

A small room at the corner, facing the garden was open and Rita took note of a childish bed with cartoons printed all over them. The size of the bed was too small for Jake to place his head on and she was aware that there isn’t any kid in the house. To crosscheck, she asked and he confirmed. 

“There is nothing there, Rita.”

She didn’t listen. She lit the room, the blue and the pink of the walls were coming alive. The walls made her feel confined to the room, crushing her presence between the four walls. Chocolates, comic books, toys and every thing that a kid would fantasise about. Except for one black book. 

Jake saw Rita storm out of his house, stomping away. He’d expected worse. “Rita,” he called out, but he got no response. “Rita, you said you don’t care about anyone, right? What’s wrong now? Come back here you-” he held his tongue and witnessed Rita fly away faster than a bird.
A week later, the court hearing began and ended. Jake observed the blinding fury with which Stan interacted with his lawyer. “How could you as a woman?” And “How is it that you could defend a monster like him?” And “Might as well you marry that insensitive son of a bitch!” And “I’ll make sure you end up a big fat black widow!”

The outburst was deafening and nothing like Jake has seen before. Stan’s eyes widened, his face reddened and his limbs shivered. Rita let it all hide under the rug until the jury was out, defending Jake innocent and due to the personal circumstances, the old lady killed herself. 

One branch of this success was celebrated by Jake, while the second one was a trade off for fame, name and endless popularity or the lack thereof. 

The night following the case, Jake met Rita upon her request. “How can I help Rita? Don’t worry about the payments. They’ve been made and I’ve added 30% as a variable fee. 

Rita was drowned in gloom as Jake could sense. She was fumbling in her purse as she spoke. “You think you’ve won, haven’t you?” She pulled out the book she took from Jake’s house. “Yes, I still don’t care about the sorry world that has served to pull my leg every time I climb. But I care about my world.” She shoved the picture from the book on his face. 

“This was my world, you god-forsaken son of a bitch!”

It took seconds for Jake to switch to an ’actor’ mode. “Rita, it was all a mistake. I swear I’ve left it all behind. I’ve realised that the more crime I do, the more I’ll end up doing. Believe me, the housekeeper was just there at a wrong time. She wasn’t supposed to come that day.”

A speeding white van came to a screeching halt at he mouth of the alley where they stood. A group of strong men abducted Jake and before he could realise what befell upon him, he was half way to hell. 

Rita stood there, welcoming the rain, cleansing her of her sins. With her arms outstretched, she peered through the falling tears of her angel at the sky. “I hope you know that mamma did this for you, baby girl.

The Hues of Death

The sunlight perforated through the large window that dominated the wall behind his plush leather chair. The humble wooden desk was the only thing in his room that did not comply with the decadence that he had inculcated in his lifestyle. It was not his house, anyway, he always thought, and gave in. A son of the mountains, he had survived the harshness of the savage beauty the mountains had to offer in the Alpine Europe. Facing minimal competition, Jimmy Kew had an easy way into the world until he stepped first in the warmer and a venal part of the globe – Gellet.
Air-conditioning was a must if he had to serve as the Branch Head of a major Multi-National bank, located in Gellet. How he ended up in India still throws him into a state of pondering. Pondering ceases when an illegitimate wealthy bastard comes across his way, to make use of Jimmy’s special services. Struggling to settle at an optimal room temperature, he nudged the Air conditioner every few minutes. However, today, he did not. The room was freezing – cold enough to enable a snow leopard feel comfortable. The only thing colder than the room was Jimmy himself. Dead.
In another part of the city, a real estate agent shut down his office, and examined his new possession in sheer privacy. In midst of the ruckus of the city that bore a population more than that of several countries, and away from the banal misappropriation of funds within the company, right now, he was in a state of zen. He admired wealth like many admired virtues, but he was shy to make a garish display of it. It was best for his profession to look modest. He wore a shabby black suit that fit him not, for it was borrowed from his cousin, starkly opposite in appearance. A face that the world related with humblest of raiment had today chosen an extra-ordinary selection, owing to the rules of the venue he had to attend. “Mr. Harman, you are looking stunning”, is what he heard all day, but he cared least to offer them an explanation to it. He knew that most of the people surrounding him were sycophants, who loved his money more than him. Of what use is money, if you can count it till the last penny? He quickly undressed his suit, unbuttoned his shirt and stared at the marvel that was now under his possession. He understood nothing of it, but he knew how much he paid for it. The overwhelming excitement that stirred a storm within made it harder for him to breathe. It must be the damned tie, he thought. His head started to get lighter, the more he kept his eyes open, so he decided to shut them down. Dizziness took charge. In a span of a few excruciating moments, he found himself lying on the floor of his office, with the shutters down, and the noise of the city drowning his feeble cries for help. This is why I never wear a tie.
Elsewhere in the outskirts of Gellet was someone who wore a suit by choice, and loved it to the skin. High heels that brought up her overall fashion quotient clacked across the hallway as she entered a house – no, a mansion, that lay its foundation on the pile of money stained by the blood and sweat of hundreds and thousands of honest men and women. Who’s fault is that if they consider this living anything but a competition for survival? It was her birthday, and the mansion was swarmed by dozens of men, decorating the walls and the floor and the ceiling and the pictures and the tapestries and the windows. The lady who led the decoration team briefed Mrs. Sharma of the idea that she is putting life into. Resha Sharma was pleased, or so her expression warranted. “You are sweating, Mrs. Sharma.”
“Oh, am I?” Surprised, she ached to reach for her napkin. At the acquisition of which, she ached to bring it up to her face and wipe the sweat off. At the completion of which, she ached to maintain her balance. At the failure of which, she ached to breathe. Succumbing to it, she ached to survive. Failure hit her like a truck. Dead.
“Three dead and counting, Mr. Freemont. Third one was found two days later, when his office shutter was forced open.”
“I hear you, Willy.” Svent Freemont had just returned from a long vacation that the Agency had forced on him. “You need to have a break or we might run a risk of being driven crazy.”
“I feel a little rusty with the practice, I admit. Would you be kind enough to brief me on the details of the deceased while we drive?”
Svent was filled in on the details. “What did you say the third one was doing in his office when he was found dead?”
“It appears that he was looking at a painting.”

They arrived at Mr. Harman’s office. “If not whatever that killed him, cholesterol would have grappled him down, sooner or later,” remarked Willy, finding comfort in blurting silly comments around Svent. Noticing Svent’s expression, Willy slid back into the usual discomfort.
“Why is the painting on the floor?” Freemont began his investigation with the employees that Mr. Harman had working there. The actual painting was cleared away by forensics as evidence.
“It is new, sir. I have never seen this painting before.” The others resounded the comment, and it satisfied Svent’s judgement that the painting was out of place, anyway. Rich, elegant, but out of place. It would rather be well-suited in a plush apartment or anything bigger.

At the mansion of Mrs. Sharma, the decoration was halted, and the mood swayed sharply from joy to despair.
“Where was Mrs. Sharma earlier today?” Willy led the investigation upon Freemont’s order.
A crying lady, her mother, responded, “She had taken off from her work today because it was her birthday.” Sobbing incessantly, the decoration lady picked up from there. “She had told me that she would not be home before lunch, as she had to attend an important event in the south of the city. However, she had dropped this from her purse today. Maybe this is where she had gone today.” The lady handed out a business card.
“Gellet Art Gallery. That is indeed in the south of the city. Thank you.”

Svent had formed an assumption, that would be confirmed only after learning about the death of the third person – Mr. Kew.
His body lay cold as ice on the chair, his face lying on the desk, screaming silently that he did not want to die.
“It is cold up here.”
“We did not touch anything in the room, except that we tried to bring Mr. Kew to life.” An employee at the bank responded. “And we failed,” he said, sinking his head into his chest.
“Was he in the office the entire day?” inquired Svent.
“He is hardly in the office. He is usually with clients or other business meetings.”
“Where was he earlier today?”
Mr. Kew’s secretary sped off to his desk, punched his nervous keys on the computer, fumbling to press the right ones, to open Mr. Kew’s appointment schedule. “It is blank.”
“How is Mr. Kew’s interest in paintings?”
“Oh, excessive. You’d fail to find a piece of wall in his apartment at Malabar Hills! It is covered with paintings – elegant ones at that.”
Svent smiled.

Svent and Willy headed towards the Gellet Art Gallery, and observed the dismantling of the exhibition that attracted the affluent parties from across the country for the 5-hour event.
The gate-keeper opened his eyes wide at the sight of men in suits and revolvers in their holsters. He ran off to alert the owner of the gallery – Mr. Eliah D’souza. Before the owner could be told about the guests, the detectives were at his door, widening the gate-keeper’s eyes further. Willy thought that his eyes might just pop out if he were to be shocked again.
“I am sorry to bring you some bad news, Mr. D’Souza,” uttered Svent as he approached his Eliah’s desk.
“Call me Eliah, please. And what might that news be?” Eliah gestured at the chairs, and the detectives took the seats. Eliah gestured the gate-keeper to find the door.
Willy pulled out three photographs, and placed them neatly under the owner’s nose. The owner studied the photos carefully.
“What about it?” Not a line or a crease on the aging face of the owner gave way for suspicion.
“Well, we are told that these people had visited the art exhibition early today. And, like you can see, they are lifeless. To cut to the chase, we are here to find out how you defend your innocence, Eliah.”
The assault was direct. Willy observed this to be one of the techniques how guilty criminals could be broken. But here, Svent was of the intention to smash the criminal.
“Defend my innocence?” Eliah laughed mockingly. “I own seven other galleries all across the country. I look after the dealings of millions in cash every single day. Do you know how taxing it gets, Mr. Freemont?”
Silence prevailed. Willy felt the weight from under, now rising on their back.
“I guessed not. If you believe that I am going to spare my time to defend myself over what appears to be a mere co-incidence, then you are mistaken, my sirs.”
“I understand,” Svent remarked, absolutely unsatisfied by the performance. “If you think that we are going to spare our time to dig the culprit out, then apparently, you are are not.” The detectives stood up, greeted superficially.
“One last thing, Eliah. We’d like to meet the artist whose paintings the victims were looking for, please.”
Eliah pulled up a card from his drawer, and allowed the detectives to take leave. “A junior artist, but a highly revolutionary one at that. His paintings are attempting to bring the unethically rich and the wealthy to their knees. Like the Stanleys and the Bradleys and also the McKennys. He was a goddamn minister, who was painted in red. It is marvellous, but he is a junior, still unsure of his footing. He seems to have taken a much bolder move, this time. Go fetch him.”
Willy moved ahead, cursing under his breath, only to find that Svent had taken a smaller pace. Svent was in the gallery, exchanging serious gestures with the gate-keeper, whose eyes seemed to have gotten smaller, and friendlier. Nodding their heads an inch, they moved away.
Svent responded to the curious eyes of Willy that were not able to form the question, with mere smirk.
“The artist goes by the name of Bastian LeMac,” said Willy, with anxiety in his voice. “But, he made a casual welcome to us.”
“Hmm,” responded Svent with a natural coolness, unaffected by the tidings.
“Sir, shall we not question him?”
“What for?”
“He could be the one who killed the victims!” Willy was flabbergasted, thinking that Svent was still in his holiday mood.
“The forensics had called,” Svent replied dispassionately. “They have assigned the cause of the murder to a substance that starts with a letter E. I cared not to remember the fashionable names these scientists give them. Upon a very small research, I found out that this substance is light, almost transparent, and has characteristics of oil.”
“Which could be applied on the paintings, to mimic the features of the oil!”
“Yes, my dear Willy. Now you tell me. Why would a junior artist who is struggling for earning his living want to risk his career and his life, while being at a loss to an ability to escape?”
Willy grunted under his breath. Why does this have to be so complicated sometimes? “Who is it, then? The gate-keeper? The owner? An extra-ordinarily co-incidental suicides?”
Svent smiled. “What is it exactly that you write in your notes? Come, let us go.”

At the art gallery, surrounded by the police, Eliah D’Souza had nowhere to go. His confident and charming appearance had allowed him to go through the scanner undetected once he thought, but he was wrong as pineapple on pizza.
“But sir, how?” Willy at a loss of idea. Although there were as few as these many possible culprits, Willy missed it. “Did the gate-keeper tell you something that I don’t know?”
“The gate-keeper made sure that Eliah was not to leave the gallery. What did Eliah respond when we asked for the painter whose paintings the victims were looking for?”
“The name of the artist.”
“Exactly! If he deals in millions like he said today, and that also across the entire country, how would he readily know which person was looking for which paintings in particular?”
Wide-eyed Willy remarked it as genius. “He had not taken even a minute to ponder over the name. Eliah plotted against the artist! But why?”
“Not our job to find out, I suppose. But I believe that Eliah might be the next rich that Bastian would have thrashed under his paintings.”

The Purple Death

She waited anxiously. She sat on the curb, oblivious to her surroundings, which were full with nothing. It was close to midnight, and the vicinity was clear of people. She was alone, but yet she was waiting for someone…waiting for something…

As an honest academician, Chloe climbed the ladders away from the abject poverty that had cast an ominous shadow over her childhood, only to find herself at the same spot of penury. She was not among the ones who’d blame anyone else for any misfortune that came her way, but rather, she sucked it up. Her father had made severe financial blunders, which caused them dive face first into the ocean of debt, the surface of which felt like thin glass. A dull life with just enough money to live had started to eat her from within, and vacuumed her life out of satisfaction.

Teaching was not something that she saw herself doing, but to make her way through, she taught to the needy, and made money only enough to nourish herself and her small family. She did not complain, neither did she crib over her situation. She fought and she survived, but was robbed of any possibility that would make her happy from her heart. The happiness that appeared on her face was disconnected from what ran in her heart. Fighting for survival and then money, barely enough to keep her alive, made her feel as if she were a hamster running on a wheel. Ending exactly where it started. She was looking for a window out of which she can escape.

She got a job at a public school that paid her in meagre quantities. She was offered a position in a private school that promised her the money that she only dreamt of. However, she knew it in her head that her chase for money will ruin the future of public schools, and soon, there would exist none. Poor kids will remain uneducated, availing a monopolistic advantage for the private giants. Besides, her greed for money was lost. She didn’t think that she would enjoy it like the way she could have if she had more money ten years ago. She continued at the public school.

Frustrated, she went to a place where she usually went when she was low. A jewellery shop. She was browsing things she gave up hopes of owning. However, her desire could not be subsided. She ached for some necklace, or a ring, or a tiara or anything else that she couldn’t afford. The owner knew her and her tragic life since she was a young little girl, who wasn’t dried off of the joy and glee. His life was not as glorious as it was a decade ago, when he could take walk with a straight back.

“This is a new collection!” Chloe stated with a smile on her face, clearly joyed by the glitter of the gold, and the shimmer of the silver.

“It certainly is, Chloe! How are you, today?” The man spoke with an aging voice, rough due an overuse of cigarettes.

Chloe hoped he did not ask this question since it brings her back to reality from this magical land of gleam and shine. “I am doing okay, Mr. Brown.”

Mr. Brown could see the pain beneath her face every time he heard the response. He asked this question every time to read how she really is from her face. It only got worse from the last many times.

“Come,” said Mr. Brown, pointing his hand towards a staircase that led to the warehouse underneath the shop. “I will show you something that will make you lose your senses!” He locked the shop door from the inside and led the way downstairs. He walked with a limp, every step a shot of pain through her legs.

They settled in a room, big enough only to fit two people and a small table between them. However, the walls were full of shelves and drawers where Mr. Brown stored his jewellery. He took out an elegant black box from the topmost drawer on Chloe’s side and placed it on the table between them. He shut the light off, and turned on a small white light that was powerfully hitting the surface of the black box. Curious as to what lay inside the box, Chloe leaned forward towards the table. As the box opened, a magnificent glow of purple washed her face. Her expressions of joy could not have been described better than this purple shine on her face. Mr. Brown observed her face; he could not dig that deep in his memory to a time when he had seen Chloe his astounded.

Mesmerized and lost, Chloe’s amazement of the grandeur of the small purple stone was brought to a steady halt by My Brown’s polite interruption. “This is called as a Blue Garnet. I know it is purple, but that is why this is a special stone. It is blue by nature, but it turns purple every night. It is among the rarest of the stones! As small as this is, selling this will help me earn a fortune.”

“I am sure it would.” Chloe was yet to come out of the incredulity.

“However, there are many stories associated with his stone, Chloe. I need to tell this to someone. If I tell this to a prospect buyer, he will never buy this stone from me.”

Chloe was bewildered. “Why is that? What is the story?”

Mr. Brown cleared his throat. His grey hair shone brighter in the small light in the room. “This stone has changed several hands. I have learnt the reason why. As mesmerized as you were, other enthusiasts were trapped by the charm of this stone, but they bought it. The first owner of this stone bought it from a jewel exhibition in Mumbai. An enthusiast, wealthy businessman bought the stone with a blink of an eye. Now, as if this stone is cursed, the man’s car was slammed by a truck just when his driver pulled off the car out of the parking. The driver survived, the owner of the stone did not.”

Chloe’s eyes spoke of the horror that she felt.

“This stone was shipped to Dar es Salaam, to his only son, who inherited all his possessions. He sold it the First Lady of Tanzania. Her position rewarded her with a lot of money, and his work had her in constant touch with her. She bought it without having to try to sell it to her. The stone has a magical spell that lured the audience into falling for it. It is akin to Siren, who deceptively attracted the shipmen towards her, breaking their boats apart. She choked on her next meal the same day. It is also said that she was attracted to the stone enough to bring it with her everywhere she went.”

Chloe was smart enough to understand what is going on. “Mr. Brown, are you feeling superstitious about this stone?”

“If I were superstitious, I would not buy the stone off the grieving lady who came yesterday. Co-incidences are more powerful than superstitions. Superstitions are merely incidences that humans fail to comprehend.” Mr. Brown stated plainly, expecting her question. “Now, this brings me to the last known owner of this beauty. Mr. Grim. A connoisseur of rare stones and jewels, and more importantly, a man who ridiculed the curse that hovered over this multi-coloured stone. She wanted to sell away the stone, the blasphemy that made her beloved fall off the roof to death.”

Chloe was shocked and puzzled. Dumbfound as never before, her lips were parted and her eyes stared at the table where the black box was placed. Mr. Brown, with his stooped back, was putting away the box with careful steps on the small ladder, placed right behind Chloe. Grasped by the mystic powers of the purple stone, Chloe handled a box of jewellery from beside her in the shelf, and slammed it on the back of Mr. Brown. She smashed the glass and the wood on him and before he could gather his senses around what was happening, he succumbed to the possessed woman who out of desperation put an end to his life. She delivered the curse that the stone possessed.

Now, she waited. She waited on the street. Sitting under the gleaming moon, she waited for the end of the joyless life that she had invited for herself. Every person who has possessed this stone has died, she thought as she ran her finger across the stone, thinking of Mr. Brown who was delivered a release that he needed, now waiting for her own release that would set her free from the manacles of the joyless and unambitious life. “Superstition,” she said to herself, bringing a smile to her face as she ran her hand through the smooth surface of the stone. She waited..

The Untamed Fire

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”. I saw the leading man of the jury on the other side of the glass door as he led the jury that walked marching towards the court room, where I in all my solitude, waited. They held in their hands a piece of paper that would determine which turn the vehicle of my life will steer into. Whether it will crash into a wall made of solid steel or if will be lobbed into the skies of freedom and glory was a decision that will be at the mercy of what the jury believes in. To my dismay, I had given up the fate of my existence in the hands of those twelve people as well, for I could have been the lawbreaker, or I could not have been. Befuddling, isn’t it?

Accustomed to the burden of frustration, I spend my dull afternoons taking a break from the humdrums of the grey life that I have brought myself to. Perhaps I have more than what I deserve to have, but none of it makes me happy. I would not try to glorify myself by telling you what I am not. I am a salesman, who sells exercise equipment for the morbidly fat and the rich. The equipment is robbed of every possible utility, and is a device that aids me in earning some money off the desperate obese populace.

Some weeks ago, I sat at fountain that adorned like a jewel, alongside the curved path of the Central Park. An empty bench was reserved for me, it felt. A bunch of boys came to the path precisely ten minutes after me, glee on their faces, except one. That one boy reminded me of my childhood. As the only boy with spectacles on, he was bullied over by the other boys who followed him. Don’t mistake me for a nice person, for I am not one. I am bereft of sympathy and compassion. Life has filled me enough apathy to serve for this one life at least. I was the shortest in height among my fellow schoolmates who took the same route home. My belongings were tossed, placed on a tree branch high up and more. The days were as dreadful as I imagine them to be, today. My parents handed this matter to the teachers and the teachers put it on my parents. Ultimately, I was left alone to be exploited by my schoolmates. I went through similar emotions, if not same as this boy’s. However, I did not feel bad for the boy, but as the days passed by, the various forms of harassment that he went through had brewed a mixture of rage and anger within him, which blazed his eyes with a fire that I was not an alien to. He would have painted the park red if his physical strength matched with his inner rage.

Some days later, the boy approached me and sat by my side. “Why don’t you help me, sir?”

Surprised by the question, I dove into a pool of thoughts, swimming from one to another. One thought was about how I was as a child. Unlike this boy by my side, I never sought for help. I never thought that I needed help. I had perceived everything that happened in my life as something that is meant to be. My father worked for very long hours, my mom cheated on him and my babysitter barely took care of me. My mother fed herself a belief that I fell for her lies. Nobody needs a dentist three times a week and I was acquainted with that. Fights and violence dominated the small house that my parents could afford and it made me insensitive to both. Neither affected me. Sensitivity is like a lemon; once dried up, it is only worthy of debris.

As a child, I demonstrated violence in my own way. With barely anyone to supervise me, I was at the liberty of experimentation and at the mercy of no one. Fire. I love fire. I loathe cigarettes or any other smoke, but fire mesmerizes me. It fascinates even today, when I am over thirty, how almost the entirety of the object turns black upon burning. The wrappers of the Christmas presents were the subjects of my first experiments. They shrivelled, cowered and got supressed by the raw might of the orange-yellow power, rendering them ruthlessly of their purpose.

I did not stop here. The brutality of my actions climbed the ladder. I know these as brutal acts because I learnt the meaning of sensitivity from others, when I had already surpassed the barrier, time and again. It was too late until I knew that I was a monster! Do I regret any of it? No. Remorse alights from the train along with benevolence. I went to my front yard, and put a burning match inside the ant hill. The pleasure that I now know to be so sadistic was once a matter of joy for me. It fed my endless curiosity. I did not stop at ants. I lit roaches and lizards alive as well. If there were someone who corrected me while I was young, I might have stopped being apathetic, but then I would have been robbed of the ultimate pleasure that I derived from burning those little helpless bastards alive!

“Why do you think should I help, boy?” I responded after a while, taking a deep dig into my sandwich.

“Because you seem to care,” said the boy with barely any expression or hope for help.

I ignored the boy, for I don’t consider myself to be the best of the men one must seek out for advice. The boy went away, alone, dejected. His loneliness followed him unmistakably and was deafeningly loud. Being accustomed to seclusion, the supressed, quiet rage within him came an inch closer to the surface. It was an issue that went miles ahead of simply bullying. It scars the person for life. A human is nothing but an amalgamation of all the experiences that he has in his entire lifetime. There is a reason why I am who I am. Improper direction of right and wrong, insufficient childcare, limitless mistreatment and guiltless pleasures.

The scene repeated day after day, as I ate my lunch, I saw that boy get beleaguered by the boys out of his league. Still, sympathy is not the word that I would use to describe how I felt. I could not care less. As a matter of fact, I mentally tried to run away from the situation, as it reminded me of the unpleasant times from my past that bring me trepidation.

After some more days, he came and sat next to me for another time. For a boy that age, he spoke some words of a wise man. “For someone who could witness and tolerate the injustice on a young boy so casually, one has to consider this juvenile and unimportant.” The wrath that was bred within him was closer to the surface than the last time I had felt.

I was taken aback by his words. Maybe he was right. Perhaps I do not find this to be a big deal. Or perhaps it was only an extension of my unconcern for anything that goes around of me. How do I explain it to him? I tried.

“Have you tried talking to your elders about this?” I asked, surprising myself with the level of maturity that I had in my talk.

“You think I would resort to a complete stranger eating his lunch in a park before resorting to my parents and teachers? Do you see what they are doing to me? Do you see how limbless I feel when they are harassing me?”

His voice rose with every question that he asked. His face trembled, his lips parted and he sweltered like a pig. I simply stared back at his eyes and he calmed down, started staring at his shoes – shoe, just one shoe. The other was hanging up the tree in the park.

Agitated, I frowned at the boy’s situation. The realization hit me like a truck on my face that the bullied life that I had is not the one that I wish for this boy, here. It was one of the reasons why I grew up to be an ungrateful piece of being. A personality is at the mercy of how things are around you when you grow up. I am sullen, apathetic, unconcerned, indifferent, cruel and violent due to the circumstances that impressed me in my childhood were full of it. Do I love it? If I understood what love was, I would not love who I am, I am doubtless.

A sudden wave of anger swept me red. I noticed the boy feel empowered as my fury boiled within me.

As I stand now in the court, awaiting judgement, the echoes from my past still haunt me, but I feel that I brought about a change in this world. A world of shame was swirling within me, but my face had a happy curve on it. Never had I known what disgust means until today, when I helped prevent a boy from turning into who I am—a hateful and spiteful piece of wreckage. The solution is to slice down the roots!

“Six, five, four, three, two, one…”

“With regards to the case charged against you for the murder of three teenagers, we find you…” the pause between now and the decision felt to be the longest. “Guilty.” The voice came from the skies. Hazy, yet perceptible. For reasons I could not comprehend, it felt like a piece fell right in place. I felt complete.

The boy followed me as they took me away for a life in prison. I knelt down, and looked in his teary eyes, free of the rage. “How am I to live with this, sir?”

I sighed. I did this because this gave my life some meaning, some purpose. “I did this for myself, boy. You live like a man should. Learn not from me.”

“But,” the boy cried profusely. His words were unspoken, but yet heard. He felt the fire within him subside, as I saw the one he set on the boys roar aloud.

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.”