The Criminal Mind
The Criminal Mind
Four middle aged women huddled on a sofa in an inconspicuous corner of a Ladies Club. All of them, Mrs Chaki, Mrs Raha, Mrs Chakladar and Mrs Mondal, belonged to the same echelon of the upper middle class society. They often met at clubs or Kitty parties to have adda over drinks and snacks. But the actual reason was to show off their expensive boutique clothes, ornaments and accessories, boast about their latest foreign trips and, of course, have stimulating sessions of bitching and backbiting. Members of the erudite society wrinkled their noses and addressed them as new-money-no-class women, but that bothered them the least. They were happy and still very much intoxicated with the riches that destiny had suddenly showered upon them.
That evening began with their much-loved bitching and backbiting session.
"Don't you think its high time that Titli Bhatnagar should send her daughter to her husband?" said Mrs Chaki, a fair, short, pot-bellied woman in red designer sari and backless choli.
The other three women nodded their heads in agreement.
"I think it's wrong to keep your daughter too long with you after she's married," said she in a judgemental tone. "Who knows, her son in law might find someone else in USA. Her husband left her for her lascivious ways and now she's hell bent upon ruining her daughters life. What a dirty bitch!"
Mrs Chaki wrinkled her flat nose in disgust.
What? exclaimed Mrs Chakladar, an overdressed stocky woman with a pock-marked face. So far as I know, her daughter got married more than two years back. Titli is still sticking on to her? What a leech she is! Why doesnt the daughter defy her mom and go? Shes not a minor. Or is she too having a few skeletons in her cupboard like her mom?
The four women rolled in fits of laughter.
"Hang Titli and her daughter, spat Mrs Raha. I have a more interesting piece of news.
"Really?" the other three got closer to her, bursting with curiosity and enthusiasm.
Mrs Raha adjusted her short, scanty hair with her plump, red nailed fingers. Then she lifted a thin, pencilled eyebrow and said,
"Yes. Its about that doctor woman who has a chamber in our complex.”
Who, Rima Ghosh?” asked Mrs Chaki. She was my classmate in school.
Yes. My cousin Deepti Majhi passed MBBS from Medical College in the same year as Rima did. Recently we met at a party where Rima was also invited. Strangely, Deepti and Rima could not recognise each other. Deepti said she had never seen Rima in the Medical College. Shocking, isnt it? Is Rima really a doctor? Or is she a vet?"
This was again followed by a loud roar of laughter.
"Then how come she practices in her chambers?" asked Mrs Mondol, a fat, darkish woman in colourful skirt and sleeveless kurti. "Isn't that a criminal offence?"
"Of course it is," replied Mrs Raha. "She's a quack. Thats why she prefers private practice only."
"But many doctors nowadays prefer private practice as it is hassle-free and more profitable, said Mrs Mondal. Moreover in her prescription it is clearly stated that she's an MD.
"That's a lie of course, declared Mrs Raha. Then she knitted her artificial eyebrows and asked, By the way, how did you come across her prescription?"
"Oh, I visited her once when our family physician was out of town, replied Mrs Mondal. “I was down with viral fever and her chamber is in our complex. So..."
"How did she treat you?" asked Mrs Raha.
"Nothing to complain," replied Mrs Mondal. "The fever subsided within a day."
"Oh come on! exclaimed Mrs Raha. Anybody can prescribe medicines for a viral fever.
"That's right," agreed Mrs Chaki. "Even the owner of our local medicine store knows the medicines for such minor diseases."
May be, said Mrs Mondal in a small voice.
"Whatever the case might be, I must say she has a flourishing practice to own such a palatial mansion," said Mrs Chakladar.
"Flourishing my foot!" observed Mrs Chaki in an angry voice. Whoever would go to a quack like her? I wouldn't even take my dog to her! And the house belongs to her husband."
"But people do think high of her as a doctor" said Mrs Mondal.
"They do? Don't worry, we will unmask her one of these days," smiled Mrs Raha.
"Do you know, Mrs Maity is arranging for a costume jewellery exhibition again," said Mrs Mondal, changing the subject.
"That thief!" spat Mrs Chaki. "She charges exorbitant prices for her jewellery. She invites me every time. But I went there only once. You can hardly call it a proper exhibition. Cheap collection of junk jewellery displayed in a shabby room and sold at an outrageous price. I didn't buy anything from there."
"Last year Mrs Bhargav bought a neckpiece and matching ear danglers from her exhibition for three thousand rupees," said Mrs Raha. "Imagine her shock when someone showed her that the same types of items were available for just twelve hundred bucks on Amazon!"
"That's open robbery!" exclaimed Mrs Chaklader.
"What else?" said Mrs Chaki. "Her husband is a worthless fellow without a job. Poor Mrs Maity has to look after all the expenses in her family."
"That's not our fault," said Mrs Raha.
Suddenly Mrs Chaki remembered something.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you something. Last Saturday I met Mr Chatterjee in Quest Mall. He invited me to have coffee with him. I would have declined, but he was very insistent. We talked for a while. Then he did something very indecent.
"What did he do?" asked the others.
"He placed his hand on my thigh and squeezed it!"
"Oh, indeed? Which one? asked Mrs Chakladar.
Eh? Mrs Chaki failed to grasp the question.
I mean which thigh he pressed - the left one, or the right one? Mrs Chakladars voice rang with mock seriousness.
"Don't take it so lightly!" Mrs Chaki blushed. "It was so embarrassing!"
"But according to Mr Chatterjee it was you who insisted on having coffee with him," said Mrs Raha.
"He told you that? It's a lie!" retorted Mrs Chaki.
No, he didnt say anything to me; actually I heard it from a common friend.
He shouldnt spread such dirty lies! Its so mean of him! Mrs Chakis face turned crimson.
"He also said that you requested him to take you out on an overnight long drive and he downright refused to do so." Mrs Raha was acutely enjoying her friends embarrassment.
"Hes a liar!" cried Mrs Chaki.
"You don't need to feel shy," laughed Mrs Mondal. "Mr Chatterjee is a handsome man."
Mrs Chaki blushed a beetroot red and her friends rolled in laughter.
They did not notice two elderly ladies silently leaving a nearby table and walk out of the room. The ladies had come to the club in the expectation of having a quiet tete-a-tete over a simple lunch in a peaceful atmosphere. But the constant chatter of the garrulous women forced them to leave early.
These new-money-no-class women are a shame to this club, remarked one of the ladies. They have little education, no finesse and no etiquette.
You are right, agreed the other. They gather here solely for the purpose of lambasting others, pass crude remarks and drink like a fish. Their outlandish outfits reflect their vulgar personalities.
Absolutely, replied the first lady. Lets not spoil our day in the company of these repulsive scarecrows.
They silently walked towards the parking lot.
It was New Year's Eve. The housing complex was decorated with strings of blue fairy lights and colourful streamers. Like every year, a pool side party had been arranged for the residents and their guests. Rima generally didn't attend these parties, as she liked to spend the New Year's Eve with her family in the privacy of her home. She owned an apartment on the first floor of one of the buildings which she used as one of her chambers. But she did not reside there. She could never adjust herself to flat culture. But this year Mrs Chaki, who was a member of the organising committee, had personally invited her to attend the party. Rima and she were schoolmates; hence it became all the more difficult for her to refuse.
Rima freshened up and changed into a pair of jeans and full sleeved black top after her last patient left at 9 pm. She passed the comb through her waist length hair and debated if she should go for a last minute shampoo. Then she decided against it as she was already late. She gave herself a final glance in the mirror, locked up her flat and waited in front of the elevator.
She was warmly greeted by Mrs Chaki as she entered the party area.
"Welcome my dear Rima. It's so nice to see you here. Come and meet my friends."
She introduced her to her three friends. Rima smiled and nodded at each of them.
"Come, let's occupy a poolside table and chat," said Mrs Chaki. She snapped her fingers at a waiter and ordered him to bring soft drinks for them.
"Are you okay, Mrs Chaki? Coke on New Year's Eve?" Mrs Mondal looked shocked. The other two giggled.
"Have patience dear," chuckled Mrs Chaki. "Look, the bar is getting ready over there. Dont fret; we shall swim in liquor tonight."
The four women guffawed and pushed each other in mirth. Rima stole a glance at her watch. It was quarter past nine. She had to leave by ten.
"What's the matter dearie?" asked Mrs Raha. "Why do you look at your watch? The party has just begun."
I have to leave by ten, replied Rima.
"That's preposterous!" cried Mrs Chaki. "You possibly can't leave before midnight, before welcoming the New Year."
"Im sorry dear," replied Rima. "But I have to drive back alone. So it wont be safe to be too late. Moreover my family will be waiting for me."
"Oh, no! exclaimed Mrs Raha. "I cant believe that a doctor of your calibre and position dont have a driver."
Rima felt the hidden barb in the comment. But she smiled wryly and said, "Dont worry. I can drive well."
Almost an hour had passed. Mrs Chaki and her friends were drinking like fish. The tipsy women boasted about their riches and threw obscene jokes at each other. Rima, who restricted herself to a glass of Coke only, found these jokes to be quite offensive.
"Mrs Chaki, you look ghastly tonight!" bawled Mrs Raha. "Without Botox injections your face is full of wrinkles! Ha ha ha!"
"Idiot!" snorted Mrs Chaki. "You eat like a hog and look like a bloated frog.
Mrs Raha, quite offended, retorted, "In spite of all that massage your boobs sag like cabbage! Ha ha!"
Mrs Chaki's face turned purple at this insult. As she was hunting for a suitable reply, Mrs Chakladar let out a shrill hyena laugh, startling everyone around her.
"That cabbage one was really funny!" Her stocky body jerked with laughter.
Mrs Chaki narrowed her eyes and looked at Mrs Chakladar.
"Youre a disgrace, Mrs Porky Face!"
"Hey ladies, stop quabbling and let's go to the dance floor. The music's on!" cried Mrs Mondal, clapping and swaying her massive hips to the tune of 'Despacito'.
Rima had never been so bored in her life. She was getting impatient to leave.
Mrs Raha suddenly turned at Rima and asked, "How come you dont know my cousin Dr Majhi? Werent you both from the same batch in Medical College?"
Yes we were, replied Rima. "There were hundreds of students in our batch. It is not possible to remember each and every one of them. Moreover she and I were not in the same group."
"Thats true," said Mrs Raha. "Even Deepti can't remember ever seeing you in Medical College. Strange, isn't it?"
Rima looked at her watch and rose. "I must leave now," she said.
Mrs Chaki protested, "But its too early. Moreover you cant leave without having your dinner."
"No dear," Rima politely declined. "Its already late. I must leave. It was nice meeting all of you. Good bye and Happy New Year in advance."
Rima felt relieved as she hurriedly walked down the way towards the parking lot. The evening had been a total waste.
Mrs Raha softly chuckled after Rimas departure. "I have added Doctor Goody Two Shoes into our WhatsApp group," she chuckled. "Deepti is also in the same group. Let's look forward to some fun now."
Upon reaching home Rima changed her clothes and joined her family in the drawing room. They were watching a crime thriller on the home theatre.
How was your New Year bash? asked her husband Aniket.
Boring as ever, replied Rima. What about dinner? I didnt eat anything there.
Did the right thing Mom, replied her son Ronnie. We have ordered a lot of items from Swiggy. They should be delivered any moment now.
The bell rang almost immediately.
Rima was massaging night cream on her face when her mobile phone rang. She looked at the screen and saw Mrs Chakis name. It was almost one in the morning. What could she want now? Reluctantly she answered the call.
"Is that you, Rima?" cooed a woman's voice.
"Yes." Rima tried to keep the note of impatience out of her voice.
"Did I disturb you darling?"
"I was going to bed. Anyway, why did you call?"
"I just wanted to ask if you have seen my iPhone anywhere, by any chance. I have lost it."
What? Rima did not know whether to laugh or to cry.
"Yes, Ive lost my Apple iPhone," Mrs Chaki replied in a tearful voice.
Rima looked at her mobile screen to confirm the number.
"Your iPhone is in your hand," Rima said with a sigh. She wondered if Mrs Chaki was literally swimming in liquor now.
"Yes, you are right!" she exclaimed in joy. "It indeed is in my hand! My stupid friends searched everywhere but couldnt find it. You're a genius Rima, love you dear!"
Rima disconnected the call and sadly shook her head.
The following morning Rima switched on her mobile and was greeted by a hoard of messages on WhatsApp. They were mainly posted in the Ladies' group where Mrs Raha added her the previous night. She did not have time to go through them as she was getting late for her morning chamber.
She returned home late in the afternoon, feeling ravenously hungry. After having lunch she relaxed on a couch and opened her mobile to read the messages. Most of them were unimportant, but a few comments in the Ladies group caught her attention. Deepti Majhi had blatantly asked her which year she passed out from Medical College. Rima failed to understand why Deepti and Mrs Raha were so inquisitive about her college days. What were they aiming to prove? She decided to ignore Deepti altogether.
That night Deepti repeated her question in the Ladies group. This time her language was more aggressive.
'Rima, would you mind telling me, which year you passed out from Medical College? Last night too I asked you the same question, but you did not reply. Anyway, if you have any problem in declaring the year then you need not reply.'
Rima felt she had to give a reply to this impertinent woman.
'I fail to understand your curiosity. she wrote. ‘I don't even know you.'
The reply came after five minutes.
'That is my question. I thought you and I passed out in the same year. Yet I cannot remember ever seeing you in Medical College.'
'Neither did I,' replied Rima.
'Thats even more puzzling, wrote Deepti As a Union leader I was quite popular in the college. It's strange that you did not know me.'
'I was never part of any Students Union,' replied Rima. 'Nor was I interested in their activities. So its not strange that I did not know you.
'You know Rima, even my classmates cannot recall you. Isnt that strange?'
'No, its not, replied Rima. Anyway, Im not here to conduct doubt clearing classes. I dont need to explain anything to anyone.'
'Relax baby! Cool down,' Deepti sneered. Why are you getting excited at a harmless, simple question? You were never seen in the college campus, never took part in any cultural activity, never seen in any exam hall, yet you say that you got your degree from the Medical College. Isnt it strange?'
Rima felt herself burning with rage. The vile woman was directly charging her with falsehood and calling her a quack in an open forum! The other members of the group, including Mrs Raha and Mrs Chaki, were unusually silent. But Rima knew they were there, reading the messages and having fun at her expense.
Bitches! she thought disdainfully.
Deepti was trying to provoke her. But Rima decided to maintain her cool as it was the best way to avoid an unpleasant situation.
'Currently I am busy, she wrote. ‘But you will definitely hear from me within this day. Good bye.'
She closed the WhatsApp window and became thoughtful.
The four women were having a gala time. They rang up neighbours and common friends who were not in their WhatsApp group, and narrated how Deepti Majhi had cornered Rima and practically forced her to flee from the group in order to save her face. Before the day was over, everybody came to know that Rima had never been to the Medical College and was not a qualified doctor. Some were shocked to learn the news and some waved it off as one of the countless gossips spread by the abusive Ladies group.
Rima kept her promise and replied to Deepti in the Ladies WhatsApp group late that night. She purposefully chose that time as she knew that most of the group members would be active then. She sent a link to the Result Directory of Medical College that declared the names of the successful candidates who passed MBBS in the year concerned. The fifth name in that list was Rima Ghosh.
'This link is primarily sent to satisfy the unjustified curiosity of Deepti Majhi,' wrote Rima. 'Today her inquisitiveness regarding my medical degree surpassed every level of indecency. I should like to give some free advice to this Nosey Parker. Condemning or slinging mud at someone on social media is a cyber crime and hence a punishable offence. Deepti should thank her lucky stars that I did not charge her with a Defamation case for publicly maligning me. Anyway, I hope this puts a final end to this distasteful discussion.
There was a long, stupefied silence in the usually noisy group. In the evening Deepti meekly replied,
'You got me wrong, friend. I had no intention to malign you. I just wondered why I never saw you in Medical College, that's all. If I have hurt you, Im sorry.'
Rima saw the message but chose not to reply. She knew that her last post had been a tight slap on the faces of the jealous, frustrated, stupid bitches.
'The idiots did not even check the college website before making such an allegation, thought Rima. I hope this teaches them a lesson.'
Many silent members of the Ladies group called up to congratulate Rima. They advised her to remain in the group and keep an eye on Deepti Majhi and her vindictive friends like Mrs Chaki and Mrs Raha. But Rima had no intention to ponder over such trivialities and soon forgot about the matter.
Mrs Raha and her friends were seething in rage. Deepti had a showdown with Mrs Raha for turning her into a laughing stock. She now realised her stupidity in falling a prey to Mrs Rahas dirty scheme. She distanced herself from Mrs Raha and left the Ladies WhatsApp group.
No one said anything in the group, but Mrs Raha and her friends were aware of derogatory things people said behind their backs. Criticising others had always been their prerogative, but being the object of criticism infuriated them.
After several meetings at different rendezvous they chalked out a plan to teach a lesson to Rima.
About a month later, Sharbari came to see Rima in her chamber. Sharbari was Rimas friend and neighbour, and one of the passive members of the Ladies WhatsApp group.
"Hi Rima, can we talk for a few minutes?"
Sure, why not?
Rima locked her apartment and invited Sarbari to have coffee with her in a nearby cafe.
"Dont you ever go through your WhatsApp messages, Rima?" asked Sarbari.
"Yes, I do, though not on a regular basis," replied Rima. "Why, whats the matter?"
"Have you seen the recent thread of messages in the Ladies Group?" asked Sarbari.
"I hardly open that group nowadays," replied Rima. "I think I should leave that group."
"Please dont do that; not immediately at least," said Sarbari. "You are not aware of the dirty politics going on against you in that group. You should go through the messages and retaliate."
Rima was surprised. "What politics? I never communicate in that group."
"Go through the messages and you will understand everything. It all started the day before yesterday. Someone wrote that she has been receiving threatening phone calls from an unknown caller who, she is sure, wants to harm her. She is definite that some jealous woman from the Ladies Group is tied up with this man in some dark conspiracy against her."
"Nonsense!" cried Rima. "Who is she and how can she be so sure about everything without valid evidence?"
The womans name did not surprise Rima. She was, as expected, one of the four new-money-no-class friends.
"A foul woman doesn't need evidence to abuse others, remarked Sarbari. She is doing it now and is blindly supported by the others. She has also threatened to go to the police."
"Who does she think is the conspirator in that group? Me, I suppose?" Rima asked sarcastically.
"She has not publicly taken any names yet, but the indications are definitely at you.
"What is their problem with me?" asked Rima. "Why are they after me like this?"
"Revenge and jealousy, Im sure. But you should immediately go through the messages and act accordingly."
"Okay, but I cant do anything before they directly take my name. Anyway, thanks a ton Sarbari for being such a good friend."
Rima was shocked as she went through the messages. The woman wrote that she had been receiving threatening phone calls from an unknown person for the past couple of days. These calls were made in her personal mobile number which she did not share with anyone except her close friends. But recently she added it as her second WhatsApp number in the Ladies Group. Hence she was sure that someone from the Ladies Group had passed on her number to this unknown caller.
'It is not difficult to understand who the culprit is,' she wrote. 'This group has been operating for the past four years, but such a horrible thing has never happened before. The old members, who had been with us through thick and thin, are beyond suspicion. But, after the inclusion of certain new members, the elements of jealousy and vindictiveness have entered into this group. This is not to be tolerated. We should soon identify the culprit, grab her by the scruff of her neck and throw her out of the group.'
Her message had been followed by countless hate mails from her followers demanding that the 'mean minded', 'envious' 'traitor' be exposed and thrown out of the group immediately.
The woman also wrote that she was afraid that the man would harm her and lamented that why a ‘harmless’, ‘innocent’ woman like her should be subjected to such treatment. Using a number of tearful emojis she wrote that she felt like committing suicide.
Her followers sympathised with her and advised her to lodge a complaint at the cyber crime department and get the ‘culprit’ arrested.
Let her have a taste of the jail, wrote one of them, then she will understand the consequences of playing with fire.
The woman replied that the matter was now under police investigation. They had already identified the ghost caller. Criminal lawyer Mr Munshi would be fighting her case. It was now just a matter of time for the ‘culprit’ to get arrested.
Rima sat speechless for quite some time. Almost every member in the group had reacted to the woman's post, except her. Her silence must have made everyone think that she was guilty conscious.
She slowly went through the messages again. It was doubtless that the woman had targeted Rima right from the very beginning. But she had failed to provide any evidence to support her allegations. Rima wondered if all her supporters were as daft as her. None of them had noticed the lack of evidence. They had believed her just on the basis of her words.
Or maybe they take perverse pleasure in castigating an innocent person, thought Rima.
Someone had suggested that the woman should consult Mr Mitra, an A grade officer in the Crime Branch who resided in the same complex. But the woman had refused to go to him.
'The men know everything, she wrote. In spite of that they have decided to remain aloof. Some of them are making fun of the incident and calling it a fairytale. A real man should always believe in a woman's words, even if she speaks a lie. Otherwise he's not man enough.
Rima was amused to read the last two lines defining a real man.
At least the men are not dumbheads like their female counterparts, she thought.
That night, Rima narrated the incident to Aniket and showed him the messages. But he did not take the matter very seriously.
"Rima, a bunch of lies can never be passed off as truth," he said. "These women are trying to malign you because you placed them in an embarrassing situation. They spread rumours and tried to prove that you are not a qualified doctor. You proved them wrong and earned their enmity. You should have left that group then."
"I should have done that," agreed Rima. "Then they wouldn't have got the chance to target me again."
"Right. Anyway, under the present circumstances you cannot leave that group. But I would advise you not to get affected by the hate mails of a bunch of stupid women who don't have an ounce of grey matter in their brains. Just ignore them."
"Can the police harass me in any way?" asked Rima.
"I don't think so," replied Aniket. "But I will talk to Anil to make sure.
"Oh yes, I forgot about that college friend of yours. Isnt he an IPS officer?
"Yes. He has been transferred to Kolkata and we often meet in the club. From him I get to know many shocking secrets about the so-called 'cream' of our society. I'm positive that woman wouldnt dare to harm you in any way. Thats because people associated with amassing of felonious revenues cannot afford to get mixed up in a police case. At the most she and her followers can indirectly abuse you. But the moment any of them mentions your name in the group, we file a Defamation case against her."
Rima thoughtfully nodded her head.
"Interesting. Now I understand the mystery behind her foreign trips, luxury cruises, expensive dresses, costly jewellery and the likes."
"No wonder," replied Aniket. "Money earned by crooked means cannot be stored. The best way is to get rid of it as soon as possible and avoid an investigation."
Rima nodded again.
"Sarbari said that the woman operates an escort service behind her NGO. That did not surprise me at all. The vulgar way she dresses...
"Leave it Rima," said Aniket. "Let's have dinner."
Rima got busy laying the table.
"Whatever you do, be careful, Rima," warned Aniket. "These people can turn vicious if they're cornered."
A chill ran up Rima's spine. This was not because she felt worried about her own safety. The safety of her children and husband meant much more to her. Suddenly she lost her appetite.
"Are you crazy?" he screamed at her. "We cant involve the police for a petty matter like this."
She sat on the couch, her face a mask of anger.
"Why not?" she screamed. "They are on our payroll, aren't they?
"Dont shout, you stupid woman! Do you want the entire neighbourhood to listen to our conversation?"
"I don't care. I have told everyone that she is the culprit. Now if I dont do something, they will think I'm a liar. The police must arrest her."
"How can you be so foolish? If the police arrest her, the matter goes to the Court and the case is taken up by the Cyber Crime Department. Then the local police, who are under our payroll, can do nothing for us. A competent lawyer from her side will prove her innocent in no time at all. After that she will definitely file a Defamation case against you and demand an exorbitant sum from us. Her lawyer can also dig up evidences against us to start an investigation. Can you imagine the consequences then?"
She did not reply. She knew what he said was true. Yet she wanted to have her revenge. It was obvious that he was not going to help her. Whatever should be done must be done by her alone. She needed time to think and chalk out an alternative plan.
After he left she quietly lay down on her bed in the semi-dark room and recollected her past.
She belonged to a lower middle class family. Her father was a clerk and mother, a housewife. Their commonness and lack of ambition annoyed her. Two rented rooms on the ground floor of an old, dilapidated house in a dark alley of old Kolkata was what she called her home. She dreamed that someday she would own a big house, an expensive car and lead a luxurious lifestyle.
She was not a bright student and knew that academics could never be the key to her success. After she entered college she indulged in a series of affairs. She used men at random and received expensive gifts and sometimes money in exchange for the favours she bestowed upon them. When her father came to know of her promiscuous ways, he quietly got her married.
Her husband was not the key to the riches she was searching for. But he did not lack ambition and hence she could easily influence him. Using her previous connections, she gathered enough capital to set up their own business. He worked hard, but after a couple of years both of them realized that an honest business could never give them solid returns. So they decided to traverse those dark crooked lanes that led to the riches they had always dreamt of owning.
Their lifestyle changed overnight. From a shabby, rented one-room flat they shifted to a 3BHK apartment in an elite housing complex in a posh locality. The following year they bought a brand new BMW. She was now leading the life of her dreams. She recklessly spent money, gave herself airs and soon gathered a number of like-minded female followers. They were like birds of the same feather and complimented each other.
Her political aspirations made her open an NGO. But soon she realised that a gold mine was waiting to be excavated behind that facade. Women of every age approached her for help. College students, high school girls, young housewives, frustrated dowagers, office clerks, receptionists... they all needed her help for some extra income. Many of the girls were pretty, smart and willing to do anything she said. Taking advantage of the situation, she started an escort service. She trained the girls herself and soon they were in hot demand. She maintained complete secrecy and greased whichever palms were necessary. Soon money started pouring in.
She cared little that people found her vulgar, loud and obnoxious. The lack of education and class never bothered her. Money was the only thing that mattered to her.
Such was her life until she met Rima.
"How was your day, Rima?" asked Aniket. Any further harassment in that group?
"Not at the moment, replied Rima. The woman wrote that her lawyer has advised her not to discuss the matter in a public forum."
"Good advice. So everyone is quiet now?"
"Some of the women pressured her to reveal the name of the culprit and produce valid evidences against her so that they could throw her out of the group immediately. Being a nitwit, she would have taken my name with perverse pleasure. But the question of producing valid evidence must have stopped her from doing so."
"That must have been quite frustrating for her," laughed Aniket.
"You bet, replied Rima with a smile. So, to save her face, she wrote about her lawyer's advice and also wrote that she would show all the evidences to her close friends in the secrecy of her club. Quite dramatic, isn't it?"
"Shell secretly display her evidences after publicly maligning you in a group? Thats ridiculous!" exclaimed Aniket. "Didnt anyone protest?
"No. The women who are neutral don't have the guts to protest. And her followers will only support her."
"Unbelievable! How can people be so spineless?"
“Leave it, said Rima. We cannot change the mindset of people, can we?"
"By the way, Sohom Dada called today. Your mobile was unreachable, hence he called me in my number. He has asked you to call him back."
Sohom was Anikets elder brother. He lived in Mumbai with his wife and daughter Monika.
"I had a talk with him this evening, replied Aniket. Here's some good piece of news for you. Our Goa trip has been finalised in the first week of the coming month. We shall reach Mumbai four days prior to the trip. We will celebrate Monika's birthday on the fourth and start for Goa on the sixth. That means we leave Kolkata on the second of next month. That leaves only fifteen days in between."
"That's great news!" exclaimed Rima. "But I cannot leave Kolkata on the second. I have a medical conference to attend on the third. But I promise to avail the earliest flight to Mumbai on the fourth. But you and the children must leave on the second and help them arrange for Monika's birthday bash."
Aniket agreed. Rima felt excited at the news. This was to be her second visit to Goa. She remembered how much she liked the beaches and the river cruise on the Mandavi river.
She stared at the photograph in shocked silence. She had no idea how the unknown sender got hold of such a compromising photo of hers. Till then she had been making up stories, but this one was for real! The man who took this photo years back, now lived in Dubai. She had no connection with him for the past few years. It was impossible for him to know her new Whatsapp number. Who might be the sender then? It was definite that someone was trying to blackmail her. Cold perspiration broke out on her brows. What should she do now? She could never show that vulgar photo to her lawyer and ask for his advice. Ultimately she decided to keep quiet and wait for the senders next message.
The next photo arrived a few days later. This one was even more vulgar, more compromising. She spent sleepless nights in anxiety and anticipation. The photos were not accompanied by any message; hence the sender's motives were yet not clear to her. After spending two sleepless nights, she decided to talk to her neighbour, a software engineer. She narrated the whole thing and said that it happened to her friend.
After listening to the incident he said, "I think that your friend's mobile has been hacked. Tell her to transfer all her mobile documents into a laptop or pc. Then she should reboot her phone to get rid of any malicious virus that might be causing all this trouble. If she cannot do it on her own, send her to my flat on any Sunday morning and I'll help her. But first your friend must go to the cyber crime department and lodge a complaint against this unknown sender. They will readily identify the number and take necessary action."
Her neighbours advice did not help her much. She knew nothing about transferring and rebooting. Neither could she go to the police and show them the scandalous photos. The only thing she could do was delete all her old photos from her mobile. After that there would be nothing for her to do other than to wait and watch.
Two more photos arrived within the next five days. The fear of the unknown almost turned her into a paranoid. She stopped going out and mostly kept her mobile switched off. She only switched it on to check if any further message had arrived from the unknown sender. She remembered what her neighbour had said. The hacker had access to all the documents in her mobile. That meant her contact numbers were no longer private. She looked at her iPhone a chill ran up her spine.
Mrs Raha had a bad showdown with her husband. He returned home stone drunk in the wee hours of dawn. A red lipstick mark was distinctly visible on the left side of his off-white shirt. She had been so busy tarnishing others that she had failed to notice her husband's promiscuous ways. He had stopped caring for her years ago and now they slept in separate rooms. Now she realised that by spending too much time with her friends she had distanced herself from her husband.
That night she had been lying awake thinking of her past. She lost her first husband in an accident. After a few years she married a divorcee. Mr Raha had a nine-year-old daughter from his first wife whom she hated. Sensing her hatred, Mr Raha sent his daughter to a boarding school. Mrs Raha had all the material comforts she needed, but was that enough to make a woman happy? Once upon a time she used to think that financial stability would make her happy; but now she did not feel so sure. She looked at her mobile screen and saw it was past midnight. Her husband still had not returned home. She knew that he often spent the night elsewhere. But she never questioned him fearing that he might leave her.
She opened the medicine chest. Nowadays she needed tranquilisers to help her sleep.
The sound of a car woke her up. Her husband was parking the car in the garage. She looked at the mobile screen and saw it was four in the morning. She heard her husband enter the adjacent room. He was humming a tune under his breath. Suddenly she felt that she had the right to know where he had spent the night. She got up from her bed and boldly entered into his room. The whole room reeked of alcohol. Mr Raha was surprised to see her.
"What're you doing here?" he slurred.
"I want to know where you spent the night."
He threw her a dirty glance and replied, "That's none of your business. Get lost!"
Suddenly her eyes caught a red lipstick mark on the left side of his shirt. She grabbed him by his shirt and screamed, "Whos the whore you slept with?"
Mr Raha pushed her aside and said, "Yes, I have slept with a whore! But you should not complain as you too are nothing but a slut."
"Thats not true! Everyone is not like...like that hooker you sleep around with.”
"No? You mean to say that you're holier than her? What a joke!" Mr Raha let out a low, sarcastic laugh.
"Stop it! How dare you come to your wife after visiting another woman?"
"Madam, you flatter yourself!" replied Mr Raha with a sneer. "I didn't come to you. It was you who trespassed into my privacy and threw yourself at me."
"You cannot speak to me like that. You forget that I'm your wife."
"What's wrong with you today? Instead of indulging in your favourite bitching and backbiting sessions you suddenly want to act the wife? Are you okay?"
"Dont talk nonsense."
"Talking nonsense, am I? Everybody knows about your worthless, abusive group. You make life hell for others. Your jealousy knows no bounds. Don't you bitches have any other work?"
"You have no right to criticise us. It's none of your business."
"Youre right. It's none of my business. Likewise, who I sleep with is none of your business, understand? Now get lost and let me sleep."
She stormed out of the room and he closed the door with a loud bang. The sound felt like a tight slap on her face.
Saturday afternoon Rima and Sarbari met in the food court of a shopping mall. Sarbari informed that there was something grossly wrong with woman who had made false allegations against Rima. She had totally vanished from the scene.
"Have you seen her lately?" asked Sarbari.
"No. Why?" asked Rima.
"One of her friends was enquiring about her. She's been absolutely silent on Whatsapp and Facebook for the past several days. Her friend said that her mobile is also switched off. Strange, isnt it?"
"Probably she's sick or on a vacation," suggested Rima.
"Whenever she goes on a vacation she keeps on posting photographs and videos on Facebook. No, I don't think she's on a vacation. But yes, she might be sick."
"Maybe; who cares!" shrugged Rima.
"Are you sick?" he asked, adjusting the knot of his tie.
"No. Why? Do I look sick?" She took a quick glance at the mirror in front of her. Did he suspect anything?
"You hardly go out nowadays... no clubs, no kitty parties, no WhatsApp, no gossiping, no shopping, no parlours! You hardly receive any phone calls or visitors. You don't watch TV serials. Thats why I asked. Are you okay?"
"I'm perfectly fine, thank you. I'm just taking a break from the monotony of routine life."
"Indeed, you surprise me! Anyway, there's a cocktail party for us this evening. I'll pick you up at 8.30." He opened the door to go out.
"Do I have to go?" she asked. "I'm not in the mood to go anywhere right now."
"Get up and get ready. You have locked yourself up for a pretty long time. You need some fresh oxygen. Remember, 8.30 sharp."
He opened the door and briskly walked towards the lift.
The party, thrown by a reputed business house, was held in the banquet hall of a five star hotel. She was sitting in a corner of the huge hall, toying with a glass of Pink Lady. She was not her normal boisterous self and was in a dark mood.
"Hello Madam, how're you? See you after a pretty long time."
It was Dr Moitra, the office physician of the host company. He already appeared quite high.
"Hi, Dr Moitra," she dryly returned the courtesy. She was not in the mood for small talk now.
"Let me give you a good piece of news. Ive been transferred to the Company Head Quarters at Noida, that too with a promotion. Isn't that great?" beamed Dr Moitra.
She congratulated him and wished that he should leave now. But he didn't.
"You might be knowing the new doctor who has been recruited in my place. She has a chamber in your complex."
Suddenly she felt interested.
"Really? Who's she?"
The doctor told her the name and said, "She was two years my junior in Medical College."
She tried not to show too much interest.
"No, I dont think I know her."
"Oh, I see. I can send you the link to her website. You'll get all information there. She designed it herself you know? Pretty good job."
Suddenly she became alert.
"She's good at computers?"
"Yes, that she is."
"Does she have any knowledge about hacking?"
"What a question!" laughed the doctor. "Hacking is not a problem for anyone having technical knowledge."
She tried to conceal her excitement. She had never imagined this conversation would turn out to be so fruitful. Now she knew who hacked her mobile.
Mrs Mondal had a bad day in her school. She got a verbal thrashing from the Principal for giving corporal punishment to a student of Class 7.
Two boys had a terrible fight during the Tiffin period. The stronger of the two had badly beaten up the other and the latter had to be taken to the infirmary. Mrs Mondal beat up the boy and forced him to perform sit ups in front of the class. The boy tried to speak for himself but she gave him no chance.
The boys angry mother wrote an e-mail to the principal asking for justice.
'My son goes to your school to obtain education, not get tortured by inhuman teachers,' she wrote. 'Before beating him up, the teacher Mrs Mondal did not even give him a chance to explain himself. If she had, she would have learnt that the other boy had provoked my son by using extremely vulgar and abusive language about his parents, that is, us. I do not say that my son's reaction was correct, but we don't expect such inhuman behaviour from a teacher either. My son said that after facing such public humiliation he felt like committing suicide. Imagine then, how much traumatic the experience had been for him. Does your teacher know that giving corporal punishment to a child is a punishable offence? Still we did not lodge a police complaint against her just to save the reputation of your school.
I request you to consider this matter as serious and take necessary action. Otherwise we might be forced to go elsewhere.'
Recordings of the close circuit cameras proved that the boy had indeed spoken the truth.
The Principal summoned Mrs Mondal into her chamber and gave her a verbal thrashing. She even ordered her to write an apology mail to the boys mother expressing her regrets.
Mrs Mondal felt very sad as she came out of the Principals chamber. She had behaved with the boy just like the monster she once called her husband. The drunken bastard used to beat her up almost every night. Two years had passed after their divorce, but she still had nightmares whenever Srijit left Kolkata on business tours and she had to sleep alone. She needed his constant presence to maintain her sanity. She would have been happier if Srijit had given less importance to his business and spent some more time with her. But she knew that would never happen.
A chauffeured car was waiting for her on the other side of the lane. Mrs Mondal crossed the road and waved at the driver.
At first she could not decide what to do. After thinking for an entire day she realised that the only person who could help her was him. She was not sure how he would react about the photographs. But she knew that she could manage him in the end.
He returned home early that night. For a change he was sober and in a better mood. She thanked her lucky star and waited for an opportunity to raise the topic. It came before dinner, while he was relaxing on an armchair with a peg of Johnny Walker.
I want to tell you something. Its important.”
Someone has hacked my mobile data.
“Is it so? How do you know?
She narrated the incident of the photographs.
“I did not know you had such compromising photos,” said he.
“They are not compromising, she protested. They're just a bit revealing.”
“Then what makes you so scared? You always wear revealing clothes.”
“Thats because the hacker now has access to my emails, the downloaded attachments and the contact numbers too.”
His expression changed.
“This is serious, he said slowly. “Any idea who the hacker might be?
“Yes, she replied. I think it is her.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Someone told me she is a computer expert. I think she's the one.”
"Maybe," he replied quietly. "But we have to be sure."
"But how can we do that?" she asked, a little scared.
"Leave everything to me. I know how to make people talk."
The hard note in his voice sent a chill up her spine. He could be vicious if needed.
"Are you planning to...?" She left her question midway, looking terrified.
"Did I say anything, brainless woman? He sounded furious. It all happened because of your stupid jealousy." Then he controlled himself and said in a silky voice, "Don't worry, I'll only interrogate her."
"What if shes the one?"
He clicked his lighter and lit a cigarette.
"Then we'll have to find out how much she knows."
"What if she knows something?" She felt scared to breathe.
He inhaled the cigarette and released the smoke through his nostrils.
"In that case we might have to get rid of her."
His casual attitude made her shiver.
She regretted the day she had started this game.
Mrs Chakladar was bored to death. She did not know how to pass her time after her husband left for work. Earlier she used to keep herself busy with shopping or meeting her friends in clubs or restaurants, but nowadays those things did not interest her much. Throughout the day she loitered in the big rooms of her spacious flat wondering what to do. Sometimes she took out her old album and looked at the photographs. The dusty smell of the old album made her feel nostalgic. She touched the black and white photographs of her childhood days and felt young again. To her, they were like a journey in a time machine. There were photos of her as a crawling baby on her mothers lap, a small girl in school uniform, a teenage girl having picnic with her friends, a young girl wearing her mother's sari during college fest, a shy bride with her husband on wedding day, their honeymoon at Digha, her first child, the first steps of her son, etc. Along the course of this long journey, the photographs gained colour but her life lost much of it. It was ironic that in spite of leading the luxurious life she had always dreamt of, she missed her past. And of course, him! The man who embraced lifelong bachelorhood just for her.
"I think my phone calls are getting tapped."
Sarbari put down her coffee mug on the table and looked at Rima.
"How can you say that?"
"For the past few days I have this nagging feeling that someone is listening to my conversations. This morning while I was talking to Ma, I distinctly heard an unknown male voice in the background. I asked her who it was. She said there was no one around her. I can't understand what's happening."
Sarbari looked thoughtful.
"Your may be right. There are many apps in the market for tapping android phones."
"But why should anyone feel interested in my conversations?"
"That is difficult to say. Did you tell your husband?"
"You must tell him and inform the police as well."
"Ani and the children are leaving for Mumbai tomorrow. It would be unfair to put them in tension and spoil their vacation."
"That means you will be completely alone in the house?"
"Yes, but just for two days. Ill join them on the 4th. But don't worry; my house is quite safe."
"Still it's better to be careful. Come with me. I'll get you something."
Sarbari helped Rima buy a pepper spray and described its usefulness to her.
"This little weapon is an instant solo rescue provider. The spray covers a range of about 12 feet and the effects last for about 45 minutes after the initial burst. Make sure to always keep this handy."
Rima did not think she would ever need the pepper spray, but she appreciated Sharbaris concern for her.
Before parting, Sharbari gifted a small diary to Rima.
"I think you should start writing a diary," she said. "You dont have to write every day, but you can keep an account of your unusual experiences. You can begin by todays call tapping incident."
"I get your point. I will surely try."
On her way back home, Rima noticed a grey Scorpio tailing her car. She did not notice it on the crowded main road, but as soon as she entered an alley she became aware of it. Although the Scorpio maintained a fair distance, Rima did not fail to spot it. At first she thought that she was imagining things. In order to make sure she parked her car in front of a shopping mall and walked inside. Then she took the escalator to the first floor and peeped through the glass window in the balcony. To her utter dismay she found the Scorpio parked near her car. Zooming her mobile camera she took a clear photograph of the car's number plate. The dark glasses of the Scorpio were wound up and gave no indication about the passengers inside.
Rima spent half an hour in the food court and thought hard over a mug of coffee. She failed to understand why anyone should want to follow her. At last she decided to keep watch and resume her journey. The Scorpio followed her till she reached her neighbourhood. Then it overtook her car, gained speed and disappeared.
Upon reaching home Rima got busy helping her children pack their travelling bags for the following days journey. Soon the occupation made her forget about the Scorpio incident.
That night she remembered about the pepper spray and took it out of her hand bag. While scrutinizing the small bottle she casually pressed the spray button. The impact of that small spray was devastating. She rushed to the washroom, choking and coughing. She could not open her eyes and her face seemed to have caught fire. She repeatedly splashed cold water on her face and eyes to reduce the burning sensation. It took at least half an hour before she regained normalcy.
'If that is the impact of a small spray,' she thought, 'I wonder how disastrous a long, full spray would be.'
Thoughtfully she returned the pepper spray bottle into her bag.
"Close your eyes and stretch your legs. Just relax and make yourself comfortable.
The heavily curtained room was veiled in semi darkness. The soft music of sitar and a faint fragrance of jasmine built up a tranquil atmosphere. His soothing voice made a calming impact on her turbulent mind as she relaxed on the comfortable sofa and closed her eyes.
Well-known psychiatrist Dr Sen shifted his chair closer to her.
"I shall ask you some questions and you shall answer them. Shall we begin?"
"Yes," she replied softly.
"Tell me about your problems. Don't keep back anything. If you can trust me as your friend then only I can help you. Now speak!"
"I can't sleep at night."
"I see horrible nightmares."
"Describe your nightmares."
"I see blood everywhere."
"Your own blood?"
"Then whose blood?"
"I see her dripping with blood."
"Who is she?"
"Shes my biggest enemy."
"What caused that enmity?"
"She stole my photographs."
"Indecent, scandalous photographs with which she wants to blackmail me."
"I see. How did she get them?
"She hacked my mobile."
"How do you know that? Do you have any proof?"
Not yet, but Im sure its her.
What makes you so sure? Did you do anything to make her feel hostile towards you?
"Yes...No! I didnt do anything!"
"That's strange! What do you want to do now?"
"I...I dont know."
"Yes, you do. Tell me your plan."
"I really dont know anything.
"You see her blood in your dreams. Do you wish for her death?"
"I dont know. I...I feel so scared.
Scared of her?"
"Yes...I don't know."
"Maybe you want to kill her?"
"No, no! Not I."
"Not you? Then who wants to kill her?"
She did not reply.
"Whats the name of your enemy?"
"I cant tell you her name.”
"Why? Do I know her?"
"Maybe. Birds of a feather flock together."
"Birds of a feather? Is she a doctor?
"I...I can't say."
"So she's a doctor. Whats her name?"
Suddenly she began to shiver violently. Dr Sen injected her with a mild sedative to quieten her down. Slowly her shivering subsided and she became normal again.
Dr Sen switched on the light and said,
"Your session is over.
Slowly she opened her eyes.
"How did it go, doctor?"
"Good, but you could have been more candid in your answers."
"He thinks I'm mad and need treatment. Do you think so too?"
"I can answer that after a few more sittings. But next time you have to be more co-operative. Talk to my secretary for your next appointment."
Can I go back to my normal life?
Yes, by all means.
"Thank you doctor."
Rima returned home from the airport at around 3 pm. The big house was strangely silent. She missed the constant chatter of her children. After having a quick lunch she locked up the house and started for her chamber.
On her way she noticed that she was being tailed again, this time by a black coloured Swift Dzire. One of its headlights was broken. She adjusted the rear view mirror to get a closer look at its number plate. Most probably it was fake, but she took care to remember it. Then she saw a police station and on a sudden impulse stopped her car in front of it. Getting out of the car, she walked into the police station leisurely enough for her pursuers to see her action. She approached a sub-inspector, narrated how she had been followed for two consecutive days and handed him the numbers of both the cars. He accompanied her outside the station to check if the Swift Dzire was still there. It was gone.
Rima had a hectic evening. When her last patient left it was past 10 pm. She locked up her chamber and stepped into a deserted street. There had been several occasions when she had returned home later than this. But that night she was feeling tense. Her sixth sense warned her about some impending danger. She took out the pepper spray bottle from her handbag and closed her fingers round it. Then she briskly walked towards the underground parking lot. Soon she reached her car and stopped to unlock it.
Suddenly two men appeared out of the darkness. In her subconscious mind she might have been expecting them. Beads of perspiration appeared on her forehead as they approached her. One of them pointed a gun at her and beckoned her to move. Her grip tightened on the bottle in her hand and she acted immediately. Holding her breath and narrowing her eyes she aimed the nozzle at her assailants and pressed the spray button. The effect was instantaneous. The men let out blood curdling cries and fell down on the ground coughing and spitting. They madly rubbed their eyes with their hands. Without wasting time Rima opened her car and jumped inside. She started the engine and sped off. She heard a couple of gunshots and but didn't bother to look back.
For the next fifteen minutes she drove like a mad woman through a labyrinth of by lanes. Then she parked her car in a dark lane where, she hoped, it would remain unnoticed. Then she took out her mobile p hone and removed the SIM card. She knew that if her pursuers could tap her mobile, then they could easily find her by the location of her mobile tower.
Somewhere nearby, a man in a grey Scorpio was observing a moving point on an electronic city map on his mobile screen and was helping his driver to navigate. All of a sudden, the point disappeared from the screen.
"To hell with her!" exclaimed the man."I think she has removed her SIM card. Now it would be hard to locate her. But don't worry, we will find you yet Madam."
"These people don't know a thing about make up." Mrs Chaki's booming voice made many of the spectators turn their heads and look disapprovingly at her. The man beside her gave her an annoying look and whispered, "Keep your voice down."
Mrs Chaki looked at her mobile and checked the time again.
"When is this play going to get over? It's damn boring."
"You either keep quiet or else get out!" retorted her companion.
Someone from the audience protested.
"If you want to talk please go outside. Don't disturb the others."
Mrs Chaki turned her head to see the person who made that comment. But it was impossible to discern anything in the darkness. She tried to concentrate on the drama but boredom made her feel sleepy.
Mrs Chaki regretted her decision to come to the theatre. She could have spent the evening with her friends in the club. But there she was, watching an intellectual drama that went far above her understanding. The hero was short and ordinary looking, and played the role of a poor farmer. The heroine, though not unglamorous, was too slim for her liking. She herself was fat and hence supported fat people. Contrary to the view of the world, slim was ugly to her. She again looked at the time and yawned loudly, wondering how her companion could enjoy the play so much. She rested her head on the back cushion of her seat and closed her eyes. Soon, to the utter horror of the man beside her, she began to snore.
"We're sorry Sir, but she escaped."
"Impossible! How did she escape?"
"She used pepper spray on our men and vanished."
"Then find her!"
"She removed her SIM card. It's difficult to locate her now."
"To hell with your men! They can't even handle a woman. And you call them professionals?"
"Im sorry Sir, but they were not prepared for the pepper spray."
"Shut up! Send some men to keep an eye on her house and both her chambers. She might come to any of these places to spend the night."
"What if she decides to go to a hotel? She has a car."
"Tomorrow she has a medical conference in the Science City Auditorium at ten. Tell your men to wait for her there if they cant find her tonight."
"What if she doesn't turn up there?"
"Then keep an eye on the airport. She'll take the morning flight to Mumbai day after tomorrow."
"But how can we abduct her from such a high security zone?"
"No need to abduct her. Just shoot her from a car and dissipate. The roads will not be crowded in the morning."
"And make sure your men don't fail this time. She must not leave the city under any circumstance."
Rima parked her car in a dark corner under a bridge along with a few other cars. The place was very close to the housing complex where she had her apartment-cum-chamber. She looked at her watch and saw it was past midnight.
At first she could not decide where to spend the night. She was sure that her house and chambers would be watched. She considered going to a hotel. Then she dismissed it. She had to go to her apartment to collect the necessary papers required for her presentation at the medical conference. She needed fresh clothes too. She debated that if she waited for a while and did not go to any of the probable places, her pursuers might conclude that she was staying in a hotel and become less watchful. Rima decided to take the risk.
She spent an hour lying on the backseat of her car. Then she locked the car, carefully surveyed the streets and started walking. She knew that it was risky for a woman to walk so openly on the street at that time, but she had no option. She avoided the glaring street lights and kept close to the shadowy houses. Soon she reached the complex. Keeping out of sight, she carefully inspected the surroundings. There was no one around. The security guard was dozing on his tool. She silently slipped in through the main gate. Keeping to the shadows, she entered the building where she had her apartment on the second floor. She avoided the lift and silently climbed up the stairs. She met no one on her way. Upon reaching the first floor she debated if it would be safe to climb further up. From where she was standing, she could see the door of her apartment. But she was not sure if it would be safe to approach or enter it. Someone might be keeping a watch from the upper floor or her assailants might be waiting for her inside. She leaned against the wall and waited, not feeling sure what to do.
Retired barrister Mr Nandy and his wife lived in the apartment opposite to hers. Very slowly Mr Nandy opened the door of his apartment and silently gestured her to come inside. Rima tip toed up the stairs and quickly slipped into his apartment. The door closed as noiselessly as it had opened.
She was looking like a scared rabbit. Mr Nandy made her sit down comfortably on a sofa and brought coffee and muffins for her. For the first time she realised that she was famished. Hungrily she gulped down the coffee and ate four muffins. Mr Nandy watched her with curiousity and said,
"Im sorry that I couldnt offer you anything more to eat. You see, my wife has gone to visit her sister and will return after two days. Without her I feel a bit helpless, he sounded apologetic. Would you like to have some more coffee?" Rima put down the empty mug on the side table and said,
"No, thanks. It was very kind of you. I really was very hungry."
"I can understand that. If you are feeling better, can you tell me what's going on?"
Rima looked at him and debated if she could trust this person. The old man noticed her doubts and said,
"You don't have to tell me anything if you don't feel like it. Actually I suffer from insomnia and cannot sleep at night. Tonight, while I was sitting in the balcony, I saw a grey Scorpio stopping in front of the gate. Four thickset, evil looking men got out of it, said something to the security man and entered into the complex. I knew they were outsiders and wondered what work could have brought them here so late at night. Secretly I kept a close watch on them and, to my utter surprise, they entered this very building. I peeped through the magic eye and tried to make out where they were going. I could hear their soft footsteps coming up the staircase. They reached this floor and silently walked towards your apartment. Within minutes they opened the door with a key and stealthily slipped inside. I was thinking of calling the police when I saw them leaving your apartment. I guessed that they were searching for you. Silently they left the complex and waited inside the Scorpio for nearly for an hour. After that the car left. I was smoking in the balcony trying to comprehend the matter when I saw you sneak inside. From your movements it was apparent that you were desperately trying to hide from someone. I felt that you needed protection and hence called you inside. And now here we are."
The affectionate old man reminded Rima of her father whom she had lost many years back. Tears welled up in her eyes and she decided to tell him everything, right from the medical college incident to that nights attempt to abduct her. Mr Nandy attentively listened to her story and said,
"You took great risk in coming here. You could have arrived at the wrong moment. Those men left hardly fifteen minutes back"
"I can understand," she said. "But I had no other option left. I had to collect my papers before attending the medical conference."
"Forget your conference lady!" cried Mr Nandy. "You cannot go there and further risk your life."
"But..." Rima tried to protest but the old man stopped her.
"I am a Criminal Lawyer and perfectly know how the minds of these criminals work. They will definitely wait for you near the auditorium. They might even shoot you! So you're not going out anywhere."
"Okay, but what about tomorrow? I have to go to Mumbai. I cannot avoid that."
"I've thought about that too. You will go to the airport in a disguise."
"Disguise?" Rima felt confused.
"Yes. I know a make-up artiste who will help you."
Rima sat open-mouthed.
"But will the airport security allow me to enter if I look different from the photo in my id card?"
"Dont worry, only your get up will be changed so that you look different from the distance. There will be no major change in your facial features. Dont get rid of your disguise before safely reaching your destination. Who knows, someone might be waiting for you at Mumbai airport as well.
Rima had to admire the lawyers clever plan. "I really don't know how to thank you."
"Then don't," he said. "But remember, this is not going to be the end. You'll have to return too. I think it will be safer for your children to stay back in Mumbai till the matter is solved."
"Ill have to talk to Ani regarding that. But I think he'll agree with you."
"Im sure he will. Since they tapped your mobile, it's only natural that they know about the date and time of your return."
Rima became speechless. She had not thought about this. Mr Nandy noticed her anxiety and patted her hand.
"No need to worry. Tell Aniket to talk to the airport authorities and change the date of the journey to make it a day earlier. That, I guess, would be enough to fool the villains. I hope you did not tell your brother-in-laws address to anyone over the phone?"
"How can I? I don't know the address myself."
"Good. Ignorance can sometimes be a blessing."
He looked at his watch.
"Its nearly dawn now. Since going to your house is out of the question, I think you should go to your apartment and pack some garments for your vacation."
Rima carefully surveyed the passage and entered her apartment where she always kept a spare set of garments. She hurriedly packed her clothes and toiletries into a bag, locked the door and returned to Mr Nandys apartment.
The old man advised her to take some rest in the guest room. But sleep refused to come to her. From her handbag, she took out the small diary gifted by Sharbari. Then she switched on the bedside lamp and started writing.
In the morning she went to the kitchen and made two mugs of coffee. Mr Nandy was in the drawing room going through the newspaper. She put down the coffee mugs on the table and said, I cannot use my SIM card, but I need to call Ani. Can I use your mobile to call him?
Of course you can, replied Mr Nandy. But I suggest that you call your brother-in-law instead. It would be a safer option. And ask your brother-in-law to come and pick you up from the airport instead of Aniket.
Rima did as she was told. She took care not to sound too tense and promised to narrate the details upon reaching Mumbai.
The following morning Rima reached Mumbai. The makeup artiste had done a good job. He had tied up her hair in a traditional bun. A thick line of vermilion ran through her middle parting. A heavily padded bra, puffy three quarter sleeved blouse and three starched petticoats made her look fat. She wore a red bordered white sari, stiff with starch, in typical Bengali style. Gold framed round spectacles; a big red 'bindi' on her forehead and flat heeled Shantipuri chappals completed her look. She partially covered her head with the 'pallu' of her sari and slightly limped as she walked towards the airport gate. Any onlooker would mistake her for a fat, middle aged Bengali married woman, suffering from arthritis.
Before leaving, Rima repeatedly thanked Mr Nandy for his kindness and handed over her diary to him.
You must give this diary to my husband, in case anything bad happens to me, said she.
Mr Nandy took the diary and kept it inside a locked drawer.
“Im sure nothing will happen to you, he said. Just be careful.
Sohom came to receive Rima at the Mumbai airport. At first he was surprised to see her dressed in such an unusual way, but later understood its necessity. On her way she bought a teddy bear and a big box of chocolates for Monika. The evening was happily spent in Monikas birthday celebration.
That night Rima narrated everything to Aniket.
"Thank God nothing happened to you, exclaimed a shocked Aniket. I told you, these people are dangerous."
"But I cant understand why they should be after me like this," said Rima.
"Neither can I. Anyway, don't worry. I'll call Anil and discuss the matter with him today. Im sure he will be the best person to help us."
The next morning, Aniket briefly narrated the incidents to Sohom and his wife Kavita. They were shocked but failed to understand why anyone should want to harm Rima.
"I think all of you should remain here in Mumbai until your friend Anil identifies and arrests the criminals," said Sohom.
"But for how long Dada?" asked Aniket. "I have my office and Rima has her patients. We cannot hide for an indefinite period. We have to return. But yes, as per Mr Nandys suggestion, the children can stay and we can make our tickets a day earlier."
"But what about Ronnie's school and Aishi's college?" asked Rima.
"At least they can stay here till the end of their vacation. I hope by then the situation will be under control."
He furiously smashed the glass on the floor.
"Your men are nothing but a bunch of fools!" he screamed.
"I'm sorry Sir. But we acted according to your instructions."
"Shut up! How could your men allow her to get away?"
"My men watched her residence and chambers but she did not go to any of these places. She did not even attend the medical conference. How she managed to hoodwink my men in the airport is a mystery. We tried our best, Sir."
"Best my foot! By now her husband knows everything. He has friends in the topmost echelon in the police force and hell surely inform them. Do you understand what soup we're in, you fool?"
"Get lost before I lose my patience and do something violent. And don't expect a single farthing from me anymore. You and your men are dismissed."
"Please Sir, give us one last chance. I know the date and time of their return. I promise, this time my men won't fail."
The man thought for a moment.
"Okay, Ill give you a last chance. But if your men fail again, never dare to show your face to me again."
"You may go now."
"Theres one more thing, Sir."
"My men saw her with another woman in a shopping mall. They spent quite some time together in the food court. They said that the other woman bought the pepper spray for her."
"Your men knew that she had a pepper spray?"
"No Sir, they learnt only after she used it on them."
"Disgusting! Who's the other woman?"
"My men didnt have instructions to shadow the other woman, Sir."
"Wonderful! Get lost and make sure that your men don't miss this time."
"They won't Sir."
After the man was gone he lit a cigarette and thought hard. He did not think the doctor woman knew anything about hacking or sent the photos. He had the number checked secretly. The SIM belonged to some Bablu Malik from Murshidabad. Undoubtedly it was a fake account. The doctor was not the type who would involve herself in such shady affairs. But the risk lay elsewhere. If the woman was bold enough to buy a pepper spray, next she might obtain a license and buy a firearm. The attempts on her would surely induce her husband to go to his police friends and begin a thorough investigation. No, it would be unsafe to keep them alive. But the question was, if the doctor did not send the pictures, then who did?
Mrs Chaki announced a get together after she returned from a weekend holiday at Mandarmoni.
"Dear friends! I'm back!" she wrote in the Ladies WhatsApp group. "To celebrate my homecoming let's all meet at the club."
It was followed by a number of comments from her friends.
"Oh it's so nice to get you back darling."
"We terribly missed you dear."
"Life was so boring without you."
"Hope you won't leave us again on another vacation immediately."
"It's a long time since we had a get together. Lets do it."
"I suppose we will go Dutch, like always?"
"Of course it will be Dutch. We can't burden a friend with a huge bill."
"Of course. What's the date and time dear?"
Mrs Chaki replied after two long hours.
"Dear friends! I'm overwhelmed at the love and affection you have showered upon me. I cant tell you how impatient I am to meet you all. Let's all meet at my club on next Saturday at 7 pm. And yes darlings, we'll go Dutch. I dont want to pay a huge bill and make my beloved friends feel uncomfortable.
"Of course darling. We'll share the amount among us. It's done then. We meet on Saturday at 7 pm."
"Yes, I'll come."
Many of the group members remained silent. Sarbari was one of them.
The get together was noisy as usual. Mrs Chaki gifted mother-of-pearl key rings to everyone as tokens from Mandarmoni.
"I hope we dont have to pay for these too!" whispered one of the women to another.
"I won't be surprised if we have to, considering her fondness for the Dutch policy," replied the other.
"What a miserly bitch!"
By ten most of the women were fairly drunk. Mrs Chaki called for the bill. The women handed over their shares to her and stumbled outside.
Many of them grumbled about the exorbitant sum they had to pay.
"I paid fifteen hundred rupees for three regular pegs of gin, a few pieces of chicken kebabs and a couple of fish nuggets. This is open robbery!"
"She didn't even show us the bill."
"She never does. She just tells us the amount we have to pay."
"Nobody even wanted to see the bill."
"Out of courtesy I suppose."
"What nonsense! Im never coming again.
Their grumblings continued till they reached their cars. Within fifteen minutes everybody was gone.
One of the women took lift from her friend as her driver was on holiday. They relaxed on the back seat of the car and made small talk.
"How's life dear?" asked one of them.
"Not bad," replied the other, feeling quite tipsy.
"Good. We should enjoy life."
"Sure. By the way, did you receive any more photos?"
The first woman slowly turned to look at her friend. Darkness failed to hide the expression of surprise and shock on her face. But her friend was too drunk to notice it. It took a few seconds for the first woman to recover and reply.
"No. I did not receive any more photos."
"Good. Did you get any call from Harun?"
Slowly she shook her head.
But Harun said he will call you.
Lets go home.
They returned home in silence. The first womans inebriation was fairly overcome by the shock she had just received. She changed into a nightgown and retired to bed. She closed her eyes and tried to solve the puzzle going on in her head.
'I told no one about the photographs except him. Then how the fucking bitch came to know about them?'
Then she suddenly remembered what the other woman had said: But Harun said he will call you. That meant the two knew each other. Now she understood how Haru got hold of her new mobile number. So it was he who was sending her the photographs. She was wrong in her assumptions. Nobody hacked her mobile and her documents were safe. She felt an immense relief. Tomorrow she would call Haru and make up with him. The thought relaxed her mind and she soon fell asleep.
A subdued voice from the adjacent room woke her up. He was speaking to someone on his mobile in a hushed voice. She got up and tiptoed near the door to eavesdrop. She could hear only one voice, but even that one-sided conversation gave her goosebumps.
"Explain the job clearly to your men.”
“I won't stand a failure this time.”
“Four persons...she, her husband and two children.”
“A girl and a boy, both in their teens.”
“How the hell should I know? Either in jeans or salwar kameez.”
“Tell them to escape to Bangladesh from Itindaghat.
“I can arrange for a fishing boat.
“That's your headache, not mine.
“Youll get the money after I see the news on TV.
“Don't call me on my mobile. Ill get in touch with you.”
She heard him disconnect the call. She tiptoed back into her bed and tightly closed her eyes. She tried to go back to sleep, but the shocking words she just heard kept her awake.
He had planned to murder all of them. Should she tell him the truth, that no one hacked her documents? But no, why should she? She hated her. But was it necessary to kill the others too? She had no hard feelings towards them. Why was she feeling so guilty? She would not be doing anything. He did not even consult her. It was silly of her to suffer from such guilt pangs.
She set the air conditioner at its lowest temperature, yet the bed felt like a furnace. Her throat was dry as blotting paper and she badly needed some water. She took out a chilled bottle from the refrigerator and drank water in big gulps, spilling and wetting the front of her nightdress. Her head felt heavy. She needed fresh air. She came out into the adjoining balcony. The city in front was shrouded in darkness. The sky was partially cloudy. A cool, wet breeze announced the approach of a possible shower. She settled down on an easy chair and inhaled the fresh air around her. Soon her eyes became heavy and she fell asleep.
"Relax and be comfortable," said Dr Sen, looking at his file. "You had not been entirely co-operative during our previous session. I can't help you much if you dont allow me to reach the depths of your mind. Today, with your permission, I would like to apply hypnosis on you."
She blankly stared at him. There were dark circles under her eyes and a lost look in them.
"Do whatever you think is best," she replied with a sigh.
Okay, lets start.
Both their mobile phones were switched off. Dr Sen ordered his secretary not to disturb him for the next forty five minutes.
The room was veiled in semi-darkness. He made her sit on a sofa and adjusted a soft focus on her face. Then he sat opposite to her and looked into her eyes.
"Are you ready?"
"Good. Now relax every muscle of your body and take deep breaths."
He dangled the golden chain of a small pocket watch before her eyes and talked to her simultaneously. His soothing voice had an instant calming effect on her.
"Look at this and concentrate. You're letting yourself slip deeper and deeper into a calm, peaceful trance. You can feel a heavy, relaxed feeling coming over you. It will grow stronger and stronger, until it carries you into a deep, peaceful state of mind. You can feel your eyelids getting heavy. Let them drift and fall. Every word I say is putting you faster and deeper into a calm and peaceful state of relaxation, sinking down and shutting down the exterior you completely. The deeper you go, the deeper you're able to go, the deeper you want to go, the more enjoyable the experience becomes. You are now at the top of a long staircase in a cool, quiet room. As you step down, you feel yourself sinking deeper into relaxation. Each step takes you down into the depths of your subconscious. There are ten steps and I will guide you down each one. Take the first step down and let yourself sink into deeper relaxation. Now you take the second step and feel yourself getting calmer and more tranquil. You have reached your third step. Your body feels as if it is blissfully floating away..."
His soothing voice continued till she reached the stage of somnambulism. Dr Sen extended the induction to ten minutes and reached the first session of hypnosis. Then he began the second session of hypnotherapy by asking questions.
"Can you hear me?"
She replied with a dreamy, faraway note in her voice.
Now tell me your secret. Whom do you want to kill?"
"My god! Why do you want to kill her?"
"I hate her."
"Why do you hate her?"
"She has education and class which I never had. I have money, but people don’t respect me. They call me cheap and vulgar. I made up stories to defame her, but no one believed me.”
"Thats why you said she wants to blackmail you."
"I was wrong."
You mean you lied.
No, I said I was wrong about her.
"Do you mean to say that someone really wants to blackmail you?"
" Yes. I know that Haru and Mrs Raha want to blackmail me."
Who are they?
Haru is my ex-lover and Mrs Raha is his current lover.
Then you should not kill Rima."
"I dont want to kill her. My husband wants to kill them."
"Yes. All of them."
The doctor felt a shockwave passing through him. With difficulty he controlled himself.
"He thinks they know about his criminal activities."
What does your husband do?
He has a business of import-export. But actually he is into smuggling.
"I see. Tell me how he plans to murder them?"
"I don't know. He never told me."
"Then find it out immediately!"
"Okay, I will."
"Come back tomorrow and report to me. Do you understand?"
"You will remember only the last part of our conversation. The rest will be completely erased from your memory."
That will be all for today.
Dr Sen looked at the sleeping woman and his mind was filled with horror and disgust. This woman was a dangerous lunatic who needed prolonged treatment in a mental asylum. Situation forced him to let her go. He badly needed the information from her to save Rima and her family. He was sure that the man was also a nut. These psychopathic killers must be stopped before they made a massacre.
He asked his secretary to cancel all his appointments. He needed time to think. He had to find a way to stop these insane criminals.
Rima was having a great time at Goa. But a nagging feeling of fear always trailed her. Never for a moment could she abandon the thought that soon they would be returning into the clutches of danger.
They stayed in a beautiful resort at Calangute Beach in North Goa with a magnificent view of the Arabian Sea in front.
The early morning walks on the golden beach were quite refreshing. The beach shacks were always crowded with tourists and local people.
"This is what I love about Goa," said Aniket. "In other places people begin their day with bed tea, but the Goanese say good morning with a mug of beer! Compare the number of beach shacks with the number of tea stalls and youll understand."
"We're not a Goanese dear, laughed Sohom. So we wont start our morning with beer. Lets find a tea stall."
Monika and Aishi walked a bit away from the others, engrossed in their personal conversation. Ronnie walked towards them.
"Hello Frauleins! We exist!" he teased them. "It won't harm if you talk to us sometimes."
"Don't bother us," replied Aishi.
"Of course I will," said Ronny, "if you dont join me in sea bath.
Monika rolled her eyes and said, "Never Bro! We dont want a tan."
"Ha! You'll miss all the fun."
They found a good tea stall at the adjoining Baga Beach. The beach was mostly thronged by foreigners. Semi nude men and women sunbathed on deck chairs. Masseurs gave oil massages to some of them. Tourists flocked round tattoo artists making tattoos on their bodies. Vendors sold beer, soft drinks and different eatables. The beach was already littered with empty beer cans and plastic wrappers.
They had tea and breakfast in Baga's popular beach shack Brittos. Aniket longed to have a beer, but a stern look from Sohom made him settle for a cup of tea instead. He hungrily looked at the beer cans and finished his tea with a sour face.
Inexpensive beach wears and garments were sold at the beach stalls. Aishi and Monika bought pretty beach wears and Kavita bought a salwar kameez. The others settled for bermudas.
They spent the next two days touring the picturesque north Goan beaches like Anjuna, Candolim, Vagator, Morjim, Ashvem, Mandrem, Sinquerim, Aguada, Dona Paula, Querim, Chapora and Bambolim.
After sundown, they enjoyed the serene night life of the Goan beaches. Many pubs offered live music. A local singer gave a perfect rendition of Careless Whispers' and it was a treat to listen to him. Aishi and Monika nearly fell in love with the handsome youth.
They next stayed at Colva Beach Resort in South Goa. They knew that, like the Bengalis, the Goans too were great fish lovers. So they tried out new fish delicacies every day. The preparation they loved the most was Goan King Fish curry.
The next day they toured the exquisite south Goan beaches like Mobor, Palolem, Majorda, Varca, Cavelossim, Agonda and Benaulim.
They spent the last day at Panjim or Panaji, the capital of Goa. The Miramar Beach was extremely crowded and Rima felt that this beach was less beautiful compared to the other beaches. They did some shopping in the morning and reached the banks of the river Mandavi in the afternoon to have a river cruise. Though the tickets were expensive, but they were worth it.
The auditorium was in the upper deck, complete with a stage and acoustics to conduct music and dance programmes. The lower deck had a discotheque. The younger crowd like Aishi, Ronnie and Monika swayed to the tunes of the discotheque and the others enjoyed the music and dance programme.
Their return flight to Mumbai got delayed by an hour due to bad weather conditions. The sky looked gloomy as they stepped out of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal.
The very same evening Rima and Aniket boarded the flight to Kolkata. Aishi and Ronnie stayed back with Sohom's family in Mumbai.
Dr Sen felt extremely worried that his patient did not turn up even after three days. He wondered what could have kept her from coming. He tried calling her but her mobile was switched off. He was afraid that further delay might lead to disaster. He opened her file and copied down her address in his note book. Then he closed his chamber and walked towards his car, determined to see her.
Her housing complex was nearby. The security guard informed that she hadn't gone out for the past few days. The guard tried to call her, but her mobile was still switched off. Dr Sen showed him his identity card and said that she was sick and he was her doctor. The guard stepped aside and allowed him to enter the premises.
Dr Sen soon found her apartment on the third floor. He pressed the calling bell but no one answered. He repeated the procedure for a few times without any positive result. Suddenly his eyes fell on a couple of newspapers and a few milk pouches lying outside her door, still uncollected. He found this unusual as it was past midday.
'Something must be terribly wrong here,' he thought, as he pressed the bell on the opposite apartment. An elderly woman opened the door.
"Sorry to bother you Maam," said the doctor. "Do you know anything about the lady who lives in this flat? I know she's inside, but is not answering to the calling bell."
The woman shook her head.
"I don't think I can help you much. I have not seen her for the past two or three days."
"What about her husband? Doesnt he come home?"
"I cannot say that."
"Strange! She didnt keep her appointment with me, didnt collect daily items like newspaper and milk, has kept her mobile switched off, doesnt answer the calling bell... Im sure something is grossly wrong. I must call the police."
"Do whatever you must, but please don't bother us in any way. We know nothing about that family."
The elderly woman slammed the door on the doctors face.
Sub-inspector Mr Das arrived with two constables after fifteen minutes. Dr Sen explained the emergency of the situation, but Mr Das was not sure if it would be right to break the door open without court permission.
"I think the lady needs immediate help," Dr Sen tried to reason. "If you dont break the door now, it might even cost her life."
Mr Das felt the urgency in the doctor's voice and came to a decision. He ordered the two constables to break the door open.
The entire apartment was veiled in darkness. Heavy drapes prevented sunlight from entering the rooms. An eerie silence coupled with the acrid smell of burning created an unnatural atmosphere.
Mr Das used his mobile torch to find the switchboard and switch on the lights. There was not a soul in the drawing room. He ordered the constables to search the bedrooms. They found no one in the first two. The door of the third one was locked from inside. Mr Das loudly knocked on the door with his ruler.
"Open the door Madam. It's the police."
Nobody answered. He knocked again.
"If you don't open the door then we'll have to break it."
Nobody replied. He looked at the constables and signalled them to go ahead. It took a few thrusts to break the door open. The room was thick with smoke. Nothing was visible inside. Dr Sen and the others covered their noses and entered the room.
The shadowy shape of a woman was sitting on the floor. She seemed to be in a trance and was oblivious to the presence of people around her. She was surrounded by burning candles. The floor was littered with piles of ash. The smoke was so suffocating that breathing became difficult. The doctor quickly drew aside the heavy curtains and threw the windows open. Immediately the room was flooded with sunlight.
The woman was holding some papers in her hand and burning them in the fire of the candles around her, one by one. Dr Sen picked up a piece of paper from the floor and got a massive shock. It was a woman's photograph, rather a computer print out, probably downloaded from Facebook. There was an expression of insane pleasure on the woman's face as each photograph caught fire and burnt to ashes. Dr Sen moved forward and snatched the photos from her hand.
"What are you doing? Have you gone mad? You will start a fire."
The woman turned her head. Slowly she became aware of the presence of people around her. There was a manic expression in her hollow eyes and part of her face was covered with her unkempt, tousled hair. Her expensive nightgown was marred by tiny holes made by sparks of fire. She peered at the doctors face. There was no sign of recognition in her eyes.
Suddenly she let out a shrill, hysteric laughter.
"Go on trying, but you can never save her. See, how I burnt her!"
Dr Sen felt sick. The woman was not in her senses. He requested the policemen to wait outside so that he could talk to her privately.
"Where is he?" he asked once they were alone.
"He has gone to kill them."
"Whats his plan? Where is he now?" His voice shook with agitation.
"Why should I tell you? You are not my friend."
Dr Sen tried to make his voice sound as soothing as possible.
"Of course Im your friend. Now please tell me where he has gone."
"Promise, you won't tell anyone?"
The woman entwined a dirty strand of hair round her finger and said nothing. She was softly humming to herself. The doctor was becoming impatient. He caught her by her shoulders and shook her violently.
"Tell me where he has gone."
The woman looked at him. There was unspeakable hatred in her eyes.
"I dont know. He never told me. He didn't tell me so I cannot tell you. I cannot tell you so you will never know it. You'll never know it so you cannot save her." She clapped her hands and laughed.
Dr Sen lost his patience. For the first time in his life, he hit a woman. He slapped her hard on her face. The sudden pain changed her evil laughter into an eerie scream.
"Her wicked husband informed the police, she sobbed. “They investigated and learnt the truth about his business. They sealed his secret bank account and forced him to run. Now they're chasing him like hounds. But before leaving he said that he will send her family to Hell. That's what he said and that's what he's going to do. They finished us, now he will finish them."
She laughed and cried hysterically. She screamed and tore her hair with both hands, banged her head on the wall and spat at everyone.
Dr Sen called the police inside and asked them to tie her up. Then he took out his mobile and called a number. Fifteen minutes later, a man and two nurses arrived from the mental asylum. When they took her away, Mrs Chaki had turned completely insane.
The two men parked their car near the taxi stand and patiently waited in front of the main gate. The Mumbai flight would be landing in fifteen minutes. Earlier they had orders to carry out the operation on the next day, but there had been a last minute change of plan. Somebody had informed the boss that the targets were arriving a day earlier.
They clearly remembered the descriptions.
"There will be four of them - a middle aged man, his wife, a young girl and a boy. The man, his wife and daughter are of medium height. The boy will be taller than them."
After completing the assignment they would dissipate from the scene of action and stay underground for at least a couple of years. Their false passports would help them to hide in Bangladesh or Nepal.
The flight landed on time. Rima and Aniket collected their luggage and proceeded towards the exit. Rima's face turned pale as they came near the exit. Aniket took her hand in his and said, "Don't worry. Anil's men will be waiting outside the airport."
Before they could reach the exit someone called Aniket. He turned his head and his face filled with a pleasant surprise.
"Isn't that Mahesh?" he cried.
"You bet!" The two men joyfully embraced each other.
Aniket made the introductions. Mahesh and he did their MBA together and now they were meeting after decades.
Mahesh wanted to sit somewhere and have a long chat. Rima proposed they sit in the coffee shop on the first floor, which was readily accepted.
The two men keenly watched the passengers who came out through the exit door. They saw an elderly man followed by two young foreigners, and then a young couple with a toddler, a group of college students, an old couple, two executives, three Chinese men...Suddenly they became alert. They had spotted their targets. A man, a woman, a young girl and a teenage boy were walking towards the exit. The boy was the tallest of the four.
They came outside and looked for a cab. One of the men approached them.
"You need a cab, Sir?"
"Yes. But I think I should book one."
"No need to stand in the queue, Sir. I have a cab. Where will you go?"
"I stay near Garia Metro station."
"Very good Sir. I'm also going that way. I live in Patuli. Give me your bag."
"But I will pay as per meter reading. You cannot charge extra."
"That is all right Sir. You pay as per meter. No extra charges. Shall we go now?"
He led the passengers to his car and kept their luggage inside the dickey. Then he entered into the drivers seat and started the engine. They left the airport and entered VIP Road. Another car followed them from a safe distance. It was driven by the other man. The first car left VIP Road and entered EM Bypass. After driving for some distance the cab swerved and entered the desolate Rajarhat route. Suddenly the driver stopped the car near a wilderness.
"What's the matter?" asked the man from the passenger seat. "Why did you stop here?"
"Emergency Sir, the driver showed his little finger. Nature's call,"
"Oh, okay. But be quick.
The driver left the cab and disappeared behind a cluster of trees. He quickly ran towards another car which was waiting behind a shrub. He jumped inside and the car speeded away in the opposite direction.
The explosion shook the entire area. Debris flew in every direction. Local people hurried to the spot and soon a huge crowd assembled. Some of the spectators rushed to the nearest police station. Soon the police arrived, accompanied by the media.
An hour later Rima and Aniket bid good bye to Mahesh and left the airport. Two plain dressed policemen walked towards them. They had been sent by Anil to drop them home safely in their jeep. On their way, the policemen discussed about a car explosion that had occurred near Rajarhat just half an hour back. Four persons had been killed and the road to Rajarhat had been blocked. Rima wondered if it was a terrorist attack. The policemen could not say anything in details.
On the way Rima received a call from Dr Sen. He sounded quite agitated.
"Rima, are you all right?"
"Yes, Im fine. But why do you ask, Dr Sen?"
"I'm afraid that your life is in danger. In fact your entire family is in danger."
"What... what are you talking about?"
"I don't have much information. I only know that Mr Chaki wants to wipe out your entire family. I have no idea when and how he plans to do it."
But why should he want to do that? Rima almost screamed.
“Mrs Chaki said that because of a complaint lodged by your husband, the police made an investigation and learnt about Mr Chakis smuggling activities. They sealed his secret bank account and went after him, but he escaped. Now he wants vengeance.
The doctor's words made her terribly scared.
“Dr Sen, thanks a lot for the warning. I will call you later. Her voice was shaking.
Aniket, who was watching her, inferred something was seriously wrong.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Who was it?"
Rima told him everything. Aniket looked worried. They had almost reached their house. He asked the driver to stop the jeep.
“I have to make sure that we don't fall into a booby trap," he said.
Aniket called Anil and explained the situation to him.
The house has been under lock and key for the past eight days, he said. “It wont be difficult for anyone to enter and set up a booby trap for us. What do you suggest we should do now?"
Anil told them to stay where they were and reached within fifteen minutes. He brought a sniffer dog and two constables with him.
They carefully searched the house but found nothing.
"I'm arranging for police posting in front of your house," said Anil. "Our culprit is on the run. But every exit of the city has been blocked, so he cant escape. It was wise of you to let the children stay back in Mumbai. Dont worry. Just be careful and keep vigilance."
Sohoms call came a few minutes after Anil left.
"Have you seen the news on TV?" he asked.
"We have just arrived," replied Aniket. "Why, what's the matter?"
"A bomb exploded in a car near Rajarhat. Four persons have been killed."
"Yes, we heard about it on our way back. It must be a terrorist attack."
"The deceased persons travelled with you in the same flight."
"How terrible!" Aniket was aghast.
"This was not done by any terrorist group. Sohoms voice was very quiet. “The couple were of your age. Their daughter was a student of First Year and their son studied in Class 10."
Aniket turned cold. He quickly switched on the TV. All the channels were telecasting the news of the explosion. He loudly called Rima.
"See the news, Rima! The persons who died this morning travelled in the same flight with us...a man, his wife, a daughter and a son. Does that ring anything in your mind?"
Rima's face turned pale. The photographs of the deceased four were repeatedly shown on TV. The similarities were too apparent to be brushed off as coincidence.
"The bomb was meant for us." Rimas voice choked.
"Undoubtedly," agreed Aniket. "The murderers were looking for a family of four. They had no idea that only the two of us were arriving. When they checked the Passengers' List, they searched for our names, as they took it for granted that the children would be accompanying us. Moreover, it was unlikely for them to know their official names. Hence they targeted the wrong family. It was tragic for them and a narrow escape for us!"
Rima felt sick. Such ruthlessness was beyond her imagination. She tried to focus her attention on the newsreader. The car, as expected, had a false number plate. Eyewitnesses said that they saw a black Swift Dzire speeding off in the opposite direction seconds before the explosion took place. They did not notice the number plate, but one of its headlights was broken. The police were checking the CCTV recordings of the airport area to find out who took the ill-fated family to the car that exploded barely twenty minutes after they boarded it.
Aniket switched off the TV and called Anil.
Soon the police arrested the two criminals. The CCTV cameras outside the airport gate revealed how the killer had approached the family and led them to that car. Criminal records identified the man as Monty, alias Mantu Mondol, who was wanted by the police for two murders and four armed robberies. The Border Security Force arrested him from Itindaghat while he was trying to cross Ichhamati River to escape to Bangladesh. His partner Bablu Sardar was arrested from a brothel in Bashirhat.
"These are just the small fries," said Anil. "The head of the octopus is yet under water. We have to fish him out."
"Do you have any idea where he might be?" asked Aniket.
"No, but I have a plan," replied Anil thoughtfully. "We have to set a trap for him."
"What kind of trap?"
"Its a trap of emotions."
"I didnt get you."
"Don't worry. Leave everything to me. Just be careful and call me if anything unusual catches your eyes."
Aniket disconnected the call and became thoughtful. What did Anil mean by 'trap of emotions'?
"I think he referred to his wife," said Rima.
"What do you mean?"
"Sarbari called. She said that Mrs Chaki has been admitted to a mental asylum. She's gone completely mad."
"Really? When did this happen?"
"It happened a few days before we returned from Mumbai. Dr Sen is treating her."
"Now I understand," said Aniket. "Anil thinks that Mr Chaki will secretly go to see her."
"It is possible. They had been partners in crime for a long time. Sarbari said Mrs Chaki looked like a replica of Lady Macbeth when they took her away. Even the candle was in her hand. Eerie, isn't it?"
"Extreme jealousy and excessive greed for money ruined her life. Now let us see how our Macduff Anil brings about the downfall of the villainous Macbeth."
He switched off the TV. The news depressed him. Everything had gone wrong. His men had failed again. He must leave the country soon. The only relief was that, his lunatic wife would not be there to bother him. The jealousy of that insane woman ruined him. He had made arrangements for a large sum of money to be deposited at the mental asylum so that she could get proper treatment. His responsibilities had ended there and he had no wish to see her again. His false passport and visa were ready and he could leave the country anytime. But before leaving he had to see someone.
He extracted an invitation card from a folder and looked at it. A soft light came into his hard eyes.
Anil parked his jeep a little away from the building. Today he was in plain dress. No one knew that the area surrounding the building was thick with plain dressed policemen. Last minute preparations were going on for the annual fest. The main gate was decorated with marigold garlands and colourful streamers. The guests had already started arriving. They were cordially received and taken to the auditorium.
The programme was due to start within five minutes. Most of the guests had already arrived and taken their seats in the auditorium. Anil looked at his watch.
An Ola cab stopped at the main gate. An old gentleman slowly got down from it and limped towards the entrance. He showed his card at the gate and was directed to the auditorium. The old man had a brief conversation with the youth who received him and walked away in a different direction. Anil noticed it and rushed inside.
"Where did the old man go?" he asked.
"He asked the way to the washroom," replied the youth, looking surprised.
"Where is the washroom?"
"The mens toilet is on back side of the ground floor."
Anil rushed towards the building with four policemen in tow. There was no trace of the old man in the washroom.
They ran up the stairs, two at a time. Anil unholstered his pistol and removed the safety catch. He stopped outside a room on the second floor. The door was closed from within. Anil and the others took their positions and waited in silence. The door opened after ten minutes. The old man came out, followed by a young girl. Anil leaped forward and pointed the pistol at him.
"You are under arrest. Tiwary, handcuff this man!"
Tiwary slipped the handcuffs round the man's wrists and locked them. Anil pulled off his wig revealing his smooth, balding head.
"Your disguise was not very clever, Mr Chaki," he said. The handcuffed man glared at him with intense hatred.
The girl, who had been witnessing the scene, suddenly snatched the revolver from Tiwaris open holster and aimed it at Anil.
"You cannot arrest my father," she screamed. Leave the way or else...
With a sudden kick with his left leg Anil threw the gun off the girls hand.
The shocked girl was arrested on the charge of armed attack on police.
Rima invited Anil to dinner. She looked relaxed and happy. Sohom had called to inform that he would be bringing her children back home on the following morning. She had missed them a lot and eagerly awaited their return.
"We had our suspicions on Mr Chaki for a long time," said Anil. "But we could not get any solid evidence against him because the local police protected him."
"I never knew they had a daughter," she said. "How did you come to know of her?"
"It is our job to know," replied Anil. "My men had been following him for quite some time. One day they saw him entering that college. When they told me I wondered what business could have taken him there. I made an appointment with the Principal and asked for her help. The lady was really helpful. She showed me the CCTV recordings of the day Mr Chaki had visited the college. I soon found him but the Principal identified him as Mr Chandra, the father of one of their residential students named Urvashi. I wanted to see her admission form and there I got the loose thread I was looking for - the AADHAR number of Mr Sudhir Chandra. The rest was easy. From his AADHAR I got his PAN and the bank account number in which he kept most of his black money under that false name.
While we were talking, the Principal casually mentioned that the annual college fest was round the corner and all the guardians were sent invitation cards for the occasion. The rest is history. Remember I mentioned about a 'trap of emotions'? I felt sure that Mr Chaki would come to see his daughter before he left the country. I was also sure that he would choose the fest day when the college would be crowded. See, both my intuitions were correct."
"That was indeed smart, Anil. Well done!" Aniket patted his friend on the back.
"I wonder why they kept their daughter under cover," said Rima.
"It is not hard to guess," said Anil. "They lived in a different name here. How would they explain it to their daughter?"
"Right, I forgot about that," agreed Rima. "It's surprising that the daughter never wanted to come home during her vacations."
"Where was the need? They spent her vacations on foreign trips and luxury cruises. Her parents made sure that she never missed her home. Moreover, they bought a second apartment near her college which was home to her.
"I think she knew about her fathers reality, said Rima. Thats why she became ferocious when the police arrested him.
"Thats quite possible," agreed Anil. Now she too will have to serve a minimum sentence.
Thank god she didnt shoot you, said Aniket.
She never got a chance, replied Anil. Had I not been prompt in my action, she might have.
Mendel again proved his laws on heredity, said Rima. Blood speaks for itself.
Rightly odserved, said Anil.
After Anil's departure, Rima and Aniket came out into the balcony. They sat close to each other and savoured the intense relief and happiness they felt after spending many days in acute anxiety. Once again, good triumphed over evil; once again, Macbeth got defeat.