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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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..

A Leap of Faith

“What would you have done on this beautiful Sunday if were not for this demanding case?” Willy asked Freemont as the latter looked outside the plane window into the milky-white clouds.
Freemont sighed. “The usual. Sunday afternoons are for gaming.”

Willy expected to listen to a mature answer than what he heard and it was evident from his facial expressions.

Freemont noticed the same, laughed and said, “It is necessary to keep the kid inside you alive, Willy.”

Their private plane booked for them by the Government of a city-state of Juana landed on the rain-washed runway. Juana is connected by trains with few islands around, that are well-connected with the rest of the world, currently in a better political state than Juana. For almost every travel in and out of this city, airplanes are the most promising mode of transport. The airport was washed, but no amount of rain could wash out the tyranny of the unknown intruders who have been eating the life out of the city by harbouring a brutal regime under Juana’s glorified skin.

A group of terrorists attacked this benign state that lay far away from the globalization, in the middle of the Atlantic. They came by boats. Dozens of them, and took over the administration of half of the petite state.

“The only thing we know about these savages is their reasoning that they scream out loud through videos and banners.” The DCI of Juana, who asked for a favour from Svent Freemont, expressed the borderline despair that he was experiencing.

“And that is?” Svent asked as he leaned forward in his chair and rested his arms on the wooden table in between them.

The DCI stared Freemont in his deep black eyes and said, “Revenge is inevitable. You took something away from me. I will take everything from you.”

The monstrous demonstrations of murders and total autocracy in half of the city had brought Juana to its knees. If not stopped, the city-state will be eliminated before it could receive any foreign aid, in case it does. The message that the assailants yell out sent a chill down the spines of Svent and Willy, as they both rested back on their chairs.

“It sounds like you have mistaken me for someone who stops terrorism, Mr. DCI.”

“I know exactly where your expertise lies in, Mr. Freemont. I have read and heard a lot about you. I called you here trusting your stellar zeal in solving cases. In the better part of the city where we are right now, several number of people are missing since last few days, and no investigation has come to fruition, yet.”

Freemont was not impressed. He was looking for a reason why he was requested to travel hundreds of kilometers into this war-torn city-state.

“And the reason why I want the best detective here in my city,” the DCI continued, assured to wipe out the frown off Svent’s face. “Is because it is almost impossible to flee this city via cars and passenger trains are rusting in the yard. Goods trains are on, for even the terrorists need them, but they are under constant surveillance. All the modes of transportation have been monitored and controlled by the assailants. They had no idea that the airfield where you landed on could be operational if we want it to. It is like a curfew in the other part of my city-state! The case of missing people is only loosely linked with terrorism. It is something else. Here is where we need your help, Mr. Freemont.”

The sun shone bleakly over the plagued city of Juana as Freemont and Willy made their way towards the private car that the Government of Juana had arranged for the two. On the other side of the street, a man dressed in black overalls, with his eyes, his magnificent azure eyes bore into Freemont’s as if sending him a message. Svent’s prying eyes caught the attention of a pistol shabbily hidden under the man’s loose dress. Without any sudden movement, Svent and Willy took off from the police station and fled the scene, leaving Svent into a swirl of thoughts that centred around the peculiar man who stood behind a tree with a unique pair of eyes.

The hotel room over overlooked the area, which had noticed a lot of missing people- the central railway station of Juana. As the night fell, Svent was deep in his thoughts, and Willy sat right by him, clueless on where to begin with the search. The moon shone with all its might over the railway bridge where a man passed through with a feline stealth. He stopped in the middle of the bridge and after a couple of minutes and jumped off the bridge over an oncoming train! Svent was startled to see this and he hurried himself to the bridge and try to comprehend the eerie series of scenes that took place right in front of his eyes. Willy was instructed to stay at home, in case they are approached by someone in this matter.

Svent came back to the room, disappointed and tensed. Willy asked him, releasing the repressed restlessness, “What happened back there?”

Svent was absolutely clueless, but headstrong on solving this case. There was no body there. Neither on the bridge, nor on the tracks!

They witnessed another eight mysterious jumps from over the bridge onto the trains and this seemed to be in total slip of his hands. He had no grasp on the matter. While Svent was baffled, Willy made a keen observation that threw a very bright light on this case. Willy pointed out that every person who has jumped from this bridge has stopped there for some time with their head sunk into their chests as if they were reading something. Since their hands seemed to be empty, it must be a small note.

“It cannot be a co-incidence that everyone had something to read right before they jumped. Someone is making them do this!” Freemont got up of the chair, and rushed himself to the bridge, once again asking Willy to continue with the case if he does not return back. Svent’s energy was overwhelming to the point that Willy shed a couple tears at the thought of Freemont giving away his life only to solve a case.

Svent waited for some hours and nothing. It was a forlorn afternoon when the clouds dominated the mighty sun, making it look feeble and ineffective. He stood at the bridge and observed the only few people who passed him on the bridge. He could feel the oppression that the citizens felt, making them wait in the shelter of their homes until the dark clouds cleared from their lives. When he put his hands inside his jacket pocket, he found himself fumbling for a small note that someone sneaked into his pocket when he stood there. Feeling infringed, Svent was utterly shocked for the fact that he, being an excellent detective, let the witness away with not much of a sense of when and how!

The note read, “Take a leap of faith on the next train that passes from under you. See you on the other side.” Sweat broke on Freemont’s brow, but he had to jump. This was the only way to find out the truth. He did not know if he is going to come out alive, but this was a chance his passion for the profession demanded him to take. The train came, the coaches all roof open, filled with white goods. He did not know what they were, but he knew that they would prevent him from getting killed. he closed his eyes, jumped on it and the next thing that he saw was a train station where the train was opened up and he was rescued. Fear trickled from every bone of his body, but he had learnt to hide it well. He stepped out of the train as some men tried to help him with it. It was a very small train station.

Before he could orient himself after the train journey to an unknown land, a voice greeted him from behind, “I was waiting for you, Mr. Freemont.”

It was the man with the azure eyes. Svent was shocked to see him there and he immediately realized the he is a part of a bigger plan and he did not know why. “You! You are trapping people here in this faraway land!”

The man with the azure eyes heard Freemont out, understanding his accusation completely. It was not hard for detective like Svent Freemont to find a gun on a man’s body. “Mr. Freemont, I am aware that Juana has brought you here for a cause, and I am here to help you in this cause. I am not against you.”

Freemont was astonished at what he heard. He was in utter disbelief. Before he could speak further, the man with azure eyes continued. “You are the only one whom I can trust right now. If I were to confess to a Juana military personnel or even the DCI, I would be shot dead or imprisoned under premises of terrorism. Nobody but you will believe me.”

Svent sensed a tone of sincerity from his man. Gathering all his patience, he listened to him. He met some Juana citizens who awaited Freemont’s arrival, in order to convince him of the nobility of the man with azure eyes.

“I am indeed a part of the terrorist group, but it is not my choice. They have my family hostage and any hint that they would receive against me, they will all be dead. I cannot tolerate this horrendous inhumanity and I have been doing my part in trying to rescue people from unaffected areas of Juana to his part of the region, where that madman is not creating havoc, and won’t. He has nothing to do with here. Juana is his only target. This needs to be very low-profile and therefore, it is very secretive.”

Freemont was impressed and sympathetic towards the man. His emotions took an about turn. He heard the man out, completely. He now knew the reason why the madman is on a killing spree, and why he is targeting Juana. “What do you want me to do?”

“Take this train back, and urge the DCI to stop his search for the missing men. They are missing for a good cause. They are all safe here, and my small network of people in Juana are rescuing as many as they can before they see themselves on the madman’s target. If DCI advances his search any further and if he hears about it, the consequences are going to be gorier than now.”

“I will do that,” Freemont said with a new-found zest and motive for the case. “Why cannot I recollect hearing this madman’s name before?” Freemont thought to himself, “Victor Klashkinov.”

“Sure you have,” replied the man with azure eyes. “He is otherwise known as The Boss!”

A Fortune Cookie

Envy followed her like a shadow, in every façade of the sky-rocketing career that she built around herself like the defense walls of a monumental fort – high and impregnable. Living a life filled with success and ceaseless inflow of wealth, she barely found time for her social life. However, she never wanted to get away from a chance to meet her childhood friend, a soul sister and among the few real people that she had in her socially empty life – Susan.

It was a Chinese restaurant that Lucy frequented very often, usually with her colleagues and clients. With the number of small businesses that she had her wealth spread out, she took it to herself to acquire as much information that she could about the businesses as well as those who made the business run. She chose to eat at the Chinese restaurant as a measure of being healthy. Exercising in a routine that demanded her focus on every hour of the clock was hardly something that she preferred to do. Least that she did for herself was to choose healthier diet.

“It has been a long time, Lucy!” Susan spoke with an unmistakable look of joy in her eyes. “How I miss you, busybee!” Susan hugged Lucy before they settled at their table.

Over the pleasant conversation that covered the topics of their personal lives, the businesses that Lucy is tapping on, and Susan’s nagging over her wish for Lucy to get hitched, they ended the meal with a laugh. At the end, they received one fortune cookie each, which Lucy rarely opened, but she did this time on Susan’s insistence. It read, “Life is shorter than you think. Live it while it lasts.”

Lucy felt a little discomfort in her gut upon reading this ominous note. It felt like that message was specifically for her. She frowned, and looked for the waitress that left the fortune cookie on her table, but she did not see her anywhere. Eventually, she let it slip away from her mind and focussed on the million other things that she had to for the rest of the day.

After a usual hard day, she retired in her huge apartment post-midnight—something that she rarely did. On harder nights than this, she rested in a room that she built for herself in her office, where she’d have her privacy for sleep. Envy followed her here as well, as it was miraculous how deep she slept every night, despite the stress that she handles every day for her livelihood. As much as she enjoyed sleeping, her routine permitted her nothing more than a five-hour window to sleep, and she slept every minute of it, unlike this one night.

Few moments after she hit the bed, she was woken up by a loud piercing sound of glass breaking on to the marble flooring that covered the floor of her downstairs rooms. She woke up, alert and vigilant. Someone had broken into her house, she was certain. The moonlight projected shafts of light filtered by the scarce leaves from the tree outside the window. She pulled out her pistol from the bedside table and got out of the bed, befriending stealth.

She got a peek of the intruders. Not one, but three of them. She suddenly felt weak in her knees, overpowered by the force of three against one, but she maintained her resolve. She sent a message to Susan, because that was the only way to communicate without having to make a sound. As she anticipated, Susan did not answer her message. Panicked, Lucy sneaked a peek from the open door of her bedroom and got aware of the movements that happened in the rooms downstairs. The masked intruders were searching for something, but Lucy did not know what. She was hoping that they would find what they need, and left.

She heard the noise of falling furniture, breaking glasses; sign that the intruders are either foolish, or clueless that Lucy was in the house that night. Lucy stood with her back against the wall along her bedroom door. The breeze swayed the leaves outside, making their shadows dance on the floor in front of her. There was no noise for some moments and then what she heard shook her off her feet. She heard them taking the staircase, the footsteps heard distinctly in the otherwise empty night. She knelt and walked to the corner of the room, with the pistol raised to her shoulder level, ready to be fired.

The intruders barged in the open door, all three of them. Laced with anxiety, Lucy lost her focus and aim and missed her first shot. The repercussions of that misfire invited a shower of bullets piercing her flesh preceded by muffled shots. She screamed in fear first, and then pain and woke up from the nightmare that made her peace run off into the woods. Drenched in sweat, she breathed heavier than ever and took a walk outside in her house, finding every inch of it intact. She could not remember the last time she had a nightmare this haunting that it took away her sleep for the night.

She was shaken and disturbed by the literally unreal events from the last night, and it showed on her face and behaviour. No amount of caffeine worked its charm.

She was alone at lunch, and she decided to go to the same Chinese restaurant again. Anxiously waiting for her take-out, she was immersed in thoughts, clearly worried and anxious.

“Ma’am!” A voice came screaming into her left ear, as if the waiter was calling her for many times. She shook herself up, bringing herself out of the realistic and yet an unreal nightmare, collected her meal and thanked the waiter. She dug into the fortune cookie first and what she read left her lips trembling, her head spinning, her hands shaking and her voice stopped midway in her mouth, as is she choked on her own voice. She felt down on her knees, dropping the cookie on the ground that had a note, which read, “Some dreams will come true.”

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.”