“Which idiot is calling me at 2am?”, he muttered annoyingly as the phone rang, piercing the silence of the night.
“Listen to me carefully, Simon. Don’t waste time trying to understand whats happening now. There’s been a murder… your best friend Vishal is dead. Dress up immediately. Go to 14th cross and locate a brown coloured Maruti Omni. They are running away. Go now… gooooo”
“Whhh, whoo is this!?”
Dead tone. The person on the other side hung up.
He called Vishal immediately.
“The number you are trying to reach is switched off”, an automated voice answered.
“Smitha, Smithaaa, get up! Get up!”, he nervously shouted.
“What is it? Another emergency case?”, Smitha woke up annoyed by her husbands sudden action. “It’s time you quit your police job!”.
“No, this is serious. Someone called me and said Vishal is dead. His phone is switched off too. I need to go and check.”
“Ah.. that guy! Might be a prank of his. Or another attempt to create content for another novel that no one wants!!”
“Smithaa, don’t waste my time. There was something strange about that voice. It didn’t sound like a prank call. Oh, Smithaa, there’s no time. I am leaving now.”
“Hello, Police control room!”
“Inspector Simon here. There’s been a murder on 14th cross, MC nagar, Bangalore. Please send a patrol jeep immediately. I have two suspects with me.”
The couple appeared nervous.
“Sir, please sir. Please believe us. We didn’t mean to kill him. It was an accident. We got scared and acted foolishly.”
“Will you both shhuttt uppp?”, Simon thundered and walked to the other side of the road to do a quick inspection.
“How did someone find it out? You should have checked properly.”, the girl whispered to the guy.
“Will you both shutttt uppppp there?”, Simon angrily shouted again.
The patrol jeep arrived in pouring rain. Four reluctant cops jumped out and saluted Simon.
“The dead body is in the van. Arrange for the formalities. Bring those two to the police station. Two of you can stay here till backup arrives.”
Ranjini and Shiva were a recently married couple. They were unhappy with the apartment Shiva lived in and wanted a change. They called Sunil, a house agent in the area.
“Sunil, listen, I want a house.”
“No problem, madam. I can show you many. Can you come today?”
“First, listen to what I say. I need a 2 BHK house. But I don’t want a noisy place. I don’t want troublesome owners too. Know any?”
“Hmm. Yes, madam. I will check and call you back.”
The phone rang again in 30 minutes.
“Sunil here madam. I found a house owned by a bachelor for rent. Would that suit you madam?”
“What does he do?”
“Oh, he’s a writer madam. Very silent guy.”
“Fine, lets go check it out.”
They went to Vishal’s house. It was a cosy house built on a 30×40 site. Vishal had his house in the ground floor. The first floor was for rent.
“What do you do?”, Vishal asked.
“I run a book store, sir”, Ranjini answered.
Vishal looked at Shiva.
Shiva looked confused. “Errr.. a software engineer, sir”, he muttered.
Vishal appeared uninterested in any further conversation. “Go and look at the house”, he said and went inside his house.
Sunil took them up and showed them around. They liked the house immediately.
“Lets move in immediately, Shiva”, Ranjini said excitedly.
Vishal was an eccentric guy.
He wrote a lot of novels and was moderately successful. Yet, he was deeply unhappy in life.
“It haunts me, Simon. It haunts me!”, he would often say.
“I want to write one great novel, just one great novel that is truly satisfying. One novel that will set me free!”
He had decided early on in life that he wanted to be a novelist.
He was obsessed with ordinary people and their lives. He would observe people very closely. How they behaved, what they did, how they dressed, the colors they liked,… these things intrigued him.
Sometimes, he went a bit too far with his obsession.
He would go to McDonalds and sit close to cuddling couples and listen to the conversations they had. Did the guy say “sweetie” or did he call her by her name? It never bored him though all these talks were usually trivial banter discussing mundane things like DiCaprio’s shirt color in a movie or a nut in the ice-cream that appeared shaped like a heart to the girl.
He would take notes, often hoping something interesting would turn up for his novel.
The obsession turned into paranoia. He wanted to know more and more about people. He began snooping into their lives.
“Did you have sex last night?”, he once asked a newly married friend. The friend tried to dodge away. Vishal never let him away until he got an answer.
Simon and Vishal were close friends. They had studied together since 5th standard. They got into the same college. Their careers went in different directions though. Simon became a policeman. Vishal, a writer.
Simon would often discuss his cases with Vishal. Vishal would ask a lot of questions. “Did the realtor kidnap the engineer in a Maruti Eeco? How did he keep him for 10 days?”
“What is the penalty for murdering an old aged woman living alone?”, he once asked Simon. Simon would patiently answer him, often referring him to his lawyer friend for clarifications hoping that it would help him write his new novel.
Sometimes, he went too far with his questions. Once he asked Simon if he ever suspected Smitha of philandery. That was the only time Simon badly beat up Vishal and stopped speaking to him. However, being thick friends, they soon patched up.
In spite of Vishal’s eccentricity, Simon always felt very protective of him.
Once Vishal got into trouble with his snooping. He had installed microphones in his tenant’s home when they were out on vacation, gaining entry using his duplicate key. After that, he would sit for an hour or two every night listening to their conversations.
He didn’t have wrong intentions. He only wanted to know what formed the bulk of conversations in people’s lives. He wanted to understand their lives so he could write a realistic novel. However, the lady soon figured out the microphones and informed her husband. Together, they filed a complaint.
If not for Simon’s intervention, Vishal would have been in serious trouble.
The couple soon left the home. Luckily, for Vishal, they didn’t tell anyone about it. That only made Vishal bolder.
He got the microphones installed again. This time, he spent a lot of money to have those done in a properly concealed manner.
From then on, tuning into his tenant’s conversations became a habit.
The conversations would be annoyingly boring to any normal person. Talks about inflation, onion prices, boring day at job, washing clothes, etc. Occasionally, it would spice up, such as the texture on the condom for that ‘night’.
He never told anyone about his microphones. Even Simon knew very little about it and thought he had removed it after the incident.
Shiva and Ranjini moved in on April 1st. They appeared happy and madly in love with each other. That only made Vishal more curious about them.
He began ‘tuning-in’.
For a while, it appeared like they too were just another ordinary couple.
Vishal would soon realise the truth about the couple in his house. They were no ordinary couple.
He once ‘tuned-in’ to listen to their conversation on someone called Vani.
“Let us go to her house at 7pm today and when she doesn’t notice, you add the drug into the tea. I’ll take care of the rest. As usual, let us dispose her off at the farm in Bellandur.”, Shiva told Ranjini.
Vishal shuddered for a while.
He “tuned-in” again late in the night when they returned and came to know that Vani was taken care of.
He bought the newspapers next day. No news about anyone named Vani.
The next day too, there was no news about her. For almost 3 weeks.
Then, he saw a piece about a lady named Vani missing in Bangalore. Vishal shivered as he read the news!
Vani was not the last. Vishal soon got to know about another one. And another! He couldn’t believe these innocent looking people were doing such acts of crime.
“Should I tell the police? Should I tell Simon?”, he thought.
Then suddenly a smile fell upon his lips. Everything fell into place.
He began his new novel!
It felt like having a first row seat watching these murders happen in real time. He could ‘tune-in’ and listen to their meticulous plans of picking people to murder and how they did it.
He never thought of these as murders. They were characters in his plot. A helpless, old aged wealthy lady named Vani who used to visit a ‘bookstore’ often. Or a software engineer staying alone, who had fallen in love with the ‘girl at the bookstore’. Or a hotel owner who had lost his entire family in an accident and had taken a liking to the ‘couple’ who ate often at his place that was situated next to a ‘bookstore’.
The modus operandi was simple.
They always picked people who lived reclusive lives. They always picked wealthy people. The girl would gain entry into their lives and after a while, introduce the husband as a friend. They would spend enough time with the person, gaining sympathy offering unconditional help. And then, use the friendship to know more about them, and importantly, their wealth. Once that was done, they would murder them and dispose them away using a crushing machine at a farm in the outskirts of Bangalore.
Vishal was thrilled. He tried to sometimes predict their next move. Slowly, he understood them well enough to begin predicting their moves quite accurately.
That is when he realised his novel began to suffer from predictability. It pained him. Such a wonderful opportunity going to waste? What could he do?
He had sleepless nights. He tossed and turned in bed.
It drove him mad.
One morning, he woke up feeling calm. He decided it was time to take things into his control.
Vishal heard someone ringing the bell at his door. He looked at the CCTv camera. It was Ranjini.
“Simon, what do you think I should do with the 3 crores? Should I invest in stock market? You know it is not safe to keep cash at home!”, he pretended to have a conversation on his phone, speaking so it would be just audible enough to Ranjini.
Ranjini heard the 3 crores clearly. Vishal opened the door, still pretending to have a conversation on phone.
“Simon, I’ll call later. Please think about what to do with the money. Bye.”
“What?”, Vishal asked Ranjini.
“Sir, the motor is not working. Could you please call the plumber?”, she said.
“Ok. I will ask Nagaraj to take a look.”
“Thank you sir.”
Vishal smiled as she walked away. He had turned off the motor himself.
Soon, Ranjini would try at least few times to strike a conversation with Vishal. Vishal would remain curt and cut her off quickly. Shiva would often drop by too, sometimes, just to say hi and discuss mundane things.
Slowly, but not easily, Vishal opened up to them. They were turning friends.
No, Vishal was ‘tuning-in’ more.
One day, casually, he revealed to them how he had made money from writing novels and had a sizeable amount in his home and was looking for options to invest. He said he might do it soon.
Shiva and Ranjini looked at each other. They began making plans.
All this while, Vishal ‘tuned-in’ and then wrote. A lot.
“Sir, my novel should be completed by August 17th”, he told someone over the phone.
“When can I have the manuscript then?”
“By August 18th”.
“Look, I really like the novel so far. I don’t know how you are going to end it, but if we decide to go ahead, it should go to press before August 25th. So you better make sure you don’t delay it.”
“100% sure of my schedule, sir”, Vishal replied and hung up. “In fact, I will send you all but one chapter of the novel on 16th itself. The last chapter will reach you by August 18th 9pm by email.”
“Sounds good to me, Vishal. Good luck!”
The date was August 14th. Vishal saw Shiva coming back from work.
“Hi sir, good evening”, Shiva said.
“Hello Shiva, busy day?”
Soon, they slipped into another conversation about Bangalore roads, life in a software company and how hard it is to make money these days.
The mention of money made Vishal casually mention that he had figured out an option to invest the idle cash he had at home and he was glad as it took the burden of guarding it. He said he was going to meet an investment advisor on August 18th.
Shiva turned pale. August 18th is just 4 days away.
He quickly excused himself and rushed home to Ranjini.
Simon was in tears. His best friend for 30 years was no more. He had been drugged and murdered.
Smitha was sad too. Vishal was a nice guy, though eccentric and reclusive.
“How could they even dream of doing such a thing?”, Smitha cried.
Simon choked in tears.
He tried to trace the guy who made the phone call. It turned out that it was an automated call from an internet account provided by CloudServe Teleservices. He contacted their support to find the owner of the account. They needed 6 hours to reply.
Simon received a parcel in the morning at the police station. It had enough evidence to implicate Shiva and Ranjini. Not only that, it also provided enough evidence against 6 other murders they had committed. Vani, the software engineer, the hotel owner and 3 others.
It contained a personal note to Simon too. The handwriting looked familiar. He opened the note and began reading.
He couldn’t believe his eyes!
Meanwhile, CloudServe replied too. The account belonged to Vishal.
He sank in his chair with his hands on his head!
Simon couldn’t believe it. Yet, he had one last obligation to his friend.
Earlier in the day, he had spoken to Shiva and Ranjini and had gotten all the necessary details from them.
He sat in front of the computer and began typing.
He wrote the remainder of the last chapter of Vishal’s novel.
The clock showed 8.56pm. As he finished writing, a tear fell on the keyboard. Wiping it off, he clicked on the “Send email” button.