“Dhruv, you’re going too fast!”
“Yami, first get a driving licence, then I’ll listen to you.”
“D, she’s right, man. It’s pouring. And we’re driving on hilly roads.”
“Yeah, we don’t want a crash in the middle of nowhere.”
“Don’t worry, children. Nothing’s going to happen to us.”
Dhruv hadn’t heard the car horn sound through all the jabbering. The car appeared suddenly and nicked the sideview mirror. Dhruv slammed his foot down on the brakes and pulled the handbrake as the SUV spiralled out of control. It rammed into a tree at a speed of sixty kilometres per hour.
“Well done, you ass!”
“Quit the smart aleck talk and get out!”
The six youngsters jumped out of the car into the pouring rain. They inspected the damage the car had sustained upon crashing. There was a huge dent where the car had collided with the tree and one of the front wheels had come off.
“Look at your work of art, Picasso!”
“Shut up, Zaheer!”
“Don’t you dare tell me to shut up, Dhruv. Who told you drive like this was some street in London at 2 AM?!”
“Cut it out, you two. Think of how we’re going to get this wreck of an SUV to town.”
“I’m actually a little more worried about having to return the car in such a condition.”
“Thanks, Hayaat. That really cheers me up,” mumbled Dhruv.
“At least show some shame, you clown!” snapped Neeta.
Dhruv was about to retaliate when somebody called out from behind him.
“Need any help?”
“N-” Dhruv started to speak but Zaheer stamped on his foot.
A tall man in his mid-sixties opened a wooden gate and walked up to the group.
“Crashed car, huh?”
“Well, you won’t get any network on your cell phones in this weather. Why don’t you all come inside? Once the rain eases, I’ll radio the police station to send a tow truck up here.”
The group hesitated slightly. The man smiled.
“Ah, I think I know what you’re wondering. Old man inviting us into his house on a stormy afternoon. Must be a ghost. I assure you that I am as human as Mrs Bhaskar next door, maybe even a little more than that irritating witch. Come on.”
The group followed him past the wooden gate. The old man latched it.
“The strays try to come in sometimes,” he answered the question before it was asked.
“You stay alone, sir?”
“No. I stay with my younger brother. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Ranvir Kashyap.”
“I’m Gaurav. This is Yami, Hayaat, Neeta, the tall guy is Zaheer and our reckless F1 driver is Dhruv.”
Ranvir pushed the door open and everyone stepped inside. The lights came on and before the group stood a man almost identical to the one they’d just met, only his eyes were a different colour, his eyebrows weren’t as thick and he didn’t limp.
“Ah, Reggie. These kids had a bit of an accident outside. I told them that they could wait in here until the rain eases and the tow truck is able to make its way up. Kids, this is my younger brother Rajvir.”
“You kids like Aloo Parathas?” asked Rajvir.
“Yes,” they chorused.
“Ronnie, hand them some towels. I’ve already got the fire going.”
Soon, the six were rubbing themselves dry and Ranvir had thrown some more logs into the crackling fire.
“You and your brother look almost identical, sir,” Dhruv remarked.
“We get a lot of that. We both look like our father. Finally. I was wondering where you’d disappeared, Reggie.”
Rajvir appeared with a trolley laden with plates and a large casserole.
“There’s pickle and dahi on the lower shelf for anyone who wants it. Drink anyone?” asked Rajvir.
Seven hands went up. Rajvir smilingly handed out glasses and a bottle of Old Monk went around the room.
“Eat, kids. Always better to eat Aloo Parathas when they’re piping hot.”
Everyone tucked in and almost immediately started praising the food.
“How long have you lived here?” asked Yami.
“Our entire lives. That would be around sixty-nine years.”
“A hill station like Coonoor must be having a lot of stories.”
“Indeed, it does.”
“Could you tell us one?”
“Sure. What kind? Lots of stuff happens in Coonoor.”
“A scary one.”
The two brothers looked at each other and smiled.
“Shall I tell them that one?” asked Ranvir.
“Oh, that one. Yeah. Tell them. They’ll like it.”
“This story is quite old. Thirty-six years old, to be precise. And it all really happened. Coonoor doesn’t really seem like the kind of town where this kind of thing happens but I swear that this did happen,” began Ranvir.
“That’s what everyone says,” laughed Dhruv.
“I don’t lie, young man!” Ranvir shot him a fiery glare.
“Ronnie, easy,” said Rajvir, tapping his brother’s forearm.
“Sorry about that. Doesn’t usually happen.”
“Go on, Mr Kashyap,” said Hayaat.
“Yes. This series of incidents occurred in 1980. Mind you, this was a time when violent crimes were at their peak in India. The infamous Poona Murders trial had just come to an end. The Stoneman of Bombay was very active. The Rickshaw Rapist of Madras had just been nabbed. All these things dominated the headlines. The citizens of Coonoor didn’t quite know what hit them when three people died in mysterious circumstances at the Blue Pond on the first Monday of January, March and May. The police were baffled. The murderer had left no clue.”
“Mr Kashyap, you just said they died in mysterious circumstances. Then how could one be sure that they were murdered?” asked Gaurav.
“Muddy shoeprints were found on the backs of all three victims, indicating that they had been kicked into the pond and their heads been held under water for a while. Blue Pond is actually a very misleading name. It’s a big lake. People even do boating over there. Anyway, all three people were locals and the locals here are generally good swimmers. That’s what led the police to believe that they were murdered.” Ranvir sipped his drink and poked the fire before going on. “They couldn’t even find a suspect, let alone the killer. The case was hurriedly closed. People were warned to be alert. Shops were manned by no less than three people at a time. People went to work and back home in groups. The State Reserve Police was called in. Streetlights were installed all over the place. Then, one night, a security guard was found dead. He had been shot by a police officer’s weapon. The police officer was found lying unconscious. He had been attacked by the murderer, but not killed.”
“Pardon me for interrupting, Mr Kashyap, but is it not possible that the police officer was the murderer?” asked Neeta.
Ranvir and Rajvir exchanged smiles before the latter spoke.
“It’s highly possible. Given that he was a policeman, it was easier for him to get around undetected. But could he have dropped unconscious of his own accord? Just like that? And mind you, he was found before anyone heard the shot being fired. So that theory can be ruled out.”
“Seems like the two of you are very well-versed with the case,” remarked Zaheer.
“Son, when you’re in your mid-twenties, unemployed and living in your parents’ house, you take interest in all sorts of things,” said Rajvir. “Ronnie, go on.”
“Following that murder, the police officer was suspended for six months for no real fault of his own. After the people of Coonoor appealed to the State Government, they reduced the suspension to two months and put him on leave for the other four. In July, six new families bought land and settled down here. The new kids, six of them of the same age, formed a group of their own. Another guy also joined their group. His name was Rajiv. This is where the story gets interesting. I remember Rajiv very well. He had sharp, cold grey eyes; a twitching eyebrow and walked with a pronounced limp. He seemed like a nice guy but Reggie and I always thought of him as a bit odd. People hardly ever saw his parents, except in his company. But that didn’t bother anyone since the family had always been a bit funny. One thing that struck me about Rajiv was the way he maintained eye contact while conversing with someone. It was like he was trying to pull a confidence trick on you. He lived in this very farmhouse.”
“Really?” asked Hayaat.
“Yes. We bought the house from the bank after, well, let’s just finish the story. So, this bunch of seven youngsters started to hang out together. You hardly saw one or two of them, they were almost inseparable,” said Rajvir.
“Except when they went boating or when they went to the House of Mirrors,” Ranvir continued. “Rajiv had a phobia of water and mirrors creeped him out. That is what I’ve heard. He disliked being photographed too. There existed just one photograph of him. He had been photographed after hitting a century for his school in cricket. His new friends apparently found it odd that he had never introduced them to his parents. He always came up with a clever excuse whenever his parents were mentioned. Despite all that, he came across as a very generous guy and often took the entire group out for a meal or a movie. There were whispers about him being involved in some black magic or something but the people carrying those around were known to have tiffs with his father. Then, one evening, Reggie and I had gone to buy cigarettes when we heard thud-like sounds coming from the dry drain across the road. We went to have a look and saw Rajiv beating the body of a dog with an axe. He couldn’t see us but we saw him pretty clearly. He was smiling widely. The next day, on the bus to Ooty, we saw him stick a needle into a crying baby’s backside and noticed a most sadistic smile on his face. From that day onwards, we started interacting with him more. Reggie fell off his bike one day and hurt his knee quite badly. Rajiv was standing nearby and according to some people who witnessed the accident, he burst into laughter when Reggie fell. When Reggie told him off, Rajiv flung a stone at him. Thereafter, we tried our best to keep a close eye on him. Not only did he lack empathy, he was also an obnoxious narcissist. One night, we sat at a table near him in a restaurant. He was with the rest of his group and we overheard him narrating the Blue Pond triple murders in extensive detail.”
“That’s when we realised that he was a psychopath. We wondered whether or not to go to the police but decided not to since overheard conversations could be dismissed by the police,” added Rajvir.
“The next morning, one of the restaurant cleaners discovered the body of one of the girls from the group with a camera lying next to it. The other five decided to go to the police. Apparently, they too had the same misgivings as us. Rajiv was missing and the police sent out search parties to look for him. The police recorded the statements of the others and searched for Rajiv through their records. They finally came across that sole picture of his along with his criminal record. The investigating officer, who was incidentally the one who had been suspended, informed the quintet that the boy they were talking about had been dead for six years. He had apparently gone on a killing spree, murdering seven people, including his parents, before slitting his own wrists. The officer charged the quintet with murder and locked them up, believing that they were feeding him some cock-and-bull story. Those kids were released a few weeks later since no evidence could be found against them. As they were walking home, they saw a car parked some two hundred yards away from them. The cabin light flickered before suddenly coming on. They saw Rajiv sitting inside and froze. That mad psycho drove over them, killing all of them before disappearing. The bodies were discovered the next morning. The same police officer arrived to inspect the scene. He studied the crime scene and apparently smiled. That evening, he returned home to find a man wiping some stains off a car in his garage. The man followed him indoors and they sat down in the living room. The officer removed his contact lenses to reveal his cold grey eyes; pulled off the fake eyebrows, which led to one of the real ones starting an impromptu dance and removed a tightly strapped bandage from his ankle. The two men chatted. Reggie, shall we recreate that conversation for these kids?”
Both brothers sat down on opposite armchairs and smiled at each other.
“Great job, even if I say so myself,” began Ranvir.
“I went and saw the place before anyone else. Well done.”
“Thank you. Do you mind going to the station the next couple of days?”
Zaheer’s eyes were on Rajvir, staring intensely.
“Of course. You must be quite tired.”
The brothers rose and bowed to their audience.
“And that’s your story, kids,” said Ranvir.
“Great story, Mr Kashyap.”
“And that recreation! Superb.”
“Thank you, kids. Anyone for tea?”
Six hands shot up.
“No, thank you, Mr Kashyap. I’m good.”
He looked around the room and closed his eyes as the two brothers walked off in the direction of the kitchen.
“Guys, we’ve got to leave this place. Now!” said Zaheer.
“What? Why?” asked Dhruv.
“Did you not hear the story? Did you not hang on to each and every word they said and how they said it?”
“Not each and every word. Why?”
“They’re the murderers. Or at least Ranvir is.”
“What are you chatting about, dear children?” Ranvir hurried into the room.
“Nothing, sir. In fact, we were thinking that it’s pretty late now. We should leave.”
“What?” Ranvir was taken aback.
“It’s getting late, sir. We’ve made contact with the tow truck. There’s one in the vicinity. They’ll be coming along in a few minutes.”
“My child, why are you lying? There is no network inside this farmhouse. Why is it that you wish to leave so urgently?”
“Because I don’t want to stay a moment longer in your presence, you maniac. I can add. I put two and two and they certainly make four. You are the psychopaths. You and your brother. Both of you.”
The front door slammed shut and the group watched Rajvir latch it.
“Reggie, they caught on. At least one of them did.”
“I told you they looked smart, Ronnie. So, which of them caught us?”
“How did you figure it out?”
“I have studied psychopathy a lot. Both of you fit the bill.”
“Psychopaths cannot control certain things. You lost your cool with Dhruv just as the story started off. You failed to keep the pride out of your voice. Psychopaths are narcissists and they like taking credit for their work. Also, your way of narrating the story. Almost as if you were there all the time. Why don’t you remove those contacts and eyebrows, Ranvir?”
The old man smilingly did so and limped over to his brother.
“You caught us, Zaheer. Well done. Sadly though, you too will disappear, just the way the others did,” Ranvir’s sadistic personality came to the fore as he and Rajvir pulled their axes out of their respective cases and advanced on the group.
“Take one more step and you’ll be dead!” Zaheer warned them as he pulled out a pistol and pointed it at them.
“You don’t have the balls to pull the trigger!” laughed Ranvir.
“Oh, don’t I?” Zaheer smiled as he squeezed the trigger.
Rajvir Kashyap fell to the floor, blood gushing out of his forehead. An enraged Ranvir charged ahead, the axe raised. In a flash, Zaheer hurled the teapot at him before firing again. Ranvir gasped for breath as blood poured out of his wounds. Zaheer knelt down and smiled at the dying psychopath.
“Look at what you’ve done. Who are you?”
“I’m the Joker, the Ace or whatever it is you wish to call me. Just think of me as the third,” Zaheer smiled malevolently, his voice so low that only Ranvir could hear it.
Well, I do hope you enjoyed that. This is my first attempt at penning a short story. Please let me know what you thought of it by posting a comment in the field below. Also, if you have any flaws to point out, do let me know. If you enjoyed it, please share the link to your Facebook Timelines, on your WhatsApp Groups and Chats and on your Twitter Handles. And do check out my other write-ups on my Facebook Page. Up in a little while, Daddy’s Dilemma. Cheers!
Varun Bhakay Writing 2016