Inspector Vikram Kumar was busy checking a file containing criminal records. His mobile rang several times. He got distracted from his work. He picked up the call reluctantly. It was his wife Bina. "Hello," she said,"Please come home immediately."
"What's the matter?" he asked her in a voice full of concern. She replied, "Our neighbour Mrs Gupta passed away. Her daughter Pooja discovered her dead body in the bedroom. She called me for help. I have already seen her corpse. Please come as early as possible."
Vikram rose from his seat and came home with few constables in the police jeep. When he arrived at the crime scene, he bent down to examine the corpse. He saw that there were no injury marks on her body. There was no sign of any struggle. " I hope nothing has been disturbed," he asked, "Who saw the body first?"
Mrs Gupta's daughter Pooja replied " I saw her lying motionless on the bed around 10 AM.
I called our family doctor Mr Pankaj. Unfortunately, he proclaimed her dead. I suspect some foul play in her death." Vikram probed her " What makes you think that her death was not natural?" She answered "She was very healthy. She was neither a diabetic nor had any BP problem. She never took any medicines. She was a strong character. I can't understand why she would take such a drastic step. She was busy with preparations for my wedding scheduled for next week." He continued to probe her "I hate to bother you, but I need some answers to my questions. Did you find anything strange in her mannerism? What was she doing when you saw her alive for the last time?"
"I entered her room to tell her that I was gripping. She merely nodded her head. She was busy checking her text messages on her mobile. Her face became pallid after reading a message. She asked me to fetch a glass of water and locked the room after my exit. I pounded on her door for 10 minutes. Finally, she opened it and gave me a weak smile. She assured me that she was feeling better and asked me to go ahead with my plans. I never thought that I would never see her again."
Vikram asked her " May I see your mother's mobile please?" Pooja gave it to him and waited for his response. Vikram checked the mobile, but there were no messages in the inbox. He had already anticipated the clearance of the messages. He told Pooja that he was taking her mother's mobile. He assured her that he would return it shortly. He expressed his condolences to the bereaved family. He left for the police station after sending the body for autopsy. He was surprised to find a young police officer waiting for him. The young man saluted Vikram and said "Good afternoon Sir. I am sub-inspector Manav Rao. This is my appointment letter." He handed over the envelope to Vikram who checked and returned it to him. Vikram shook his hands and explained his duties and responsibilities. They occupied their respective seats. Vikram took out Mrs Gupta's mobile from his pocket and wondered how to retrieve the lost messages. Manav saw him fidgeting with the paperweight. He went up to his table and cleared his throat. Vikram looked at him and asked "Do you want to say something? Don't hesitate to speak up." Manav answered "You seem to be worried. Is there anything that I can do for you?" Vikram decided to confide in him. He told Manav about his neighbour's demise and the deletion of all the text messages. Manav said "You need not worry. I can retrieve all those messages. Please give me an hour to complete this task." Vikram was skeptical of his abilities. However, he decided to give him a chance. Manav came back to him within an hour with a triumphant smile on his face. "Here is your mobile with all the recovered messages." Vikram was pleased and smiled at him. He thanked him and started checking the messages. Most of them were personal messages from her relatives. He felt a bit awkward because he did not believe in prying into the private matters of others. One particular message caught his attention. It was from an unknown number with the caption: Ignore this message at your own risk. There was another message from the same number. It said 'Do as you are told or else your past will continue to haunt you. Choose between death with dignity or life in disgrace. I know about your dirty deeds and your days in prison. Your death is the only price to buy my silence.' Vikram read the message in absolute silence. He called Manav and showed him the message. He asked him "What do you think of this message?"
Manav answered "This is a blackmail message. The blackmailer knew about the late woman's shady past. He took advantage of the situation and forced her to die. It proves that the victim must have seriously offended him." Vikram was impressed with him. He said " Your observation is absolutely correct. I am sorry I underestimated your talent." Manav responded "There is no need to say sorry. You are my superior. You are more experienced than me. I am just trying to learn the tricks of the trade. I am sure I will pick up the nuances of detection under your guidance." Vikram liked the young man's modesty. He resumed his work. Rest of the day passed off peacefully.
Vikram went home at 8.30 PM. His wife had prepared his favourite dishes. He was lost in thoughts. Bina quizzed him "Are you still thinking about Mrs Gupta's demise? " Vikram nodded and continued " I greeted her this morning before reporting to work." She questioned him "Have you received the autopsy report?" " Not yet" he responded,"The report will be ready within a day or two."
A couple of days later he collected the autopsy report. The report made it clear that it was a case of suicide. The lady had consumed too many sleeping pills. Vikram discussed the case with Manav. He asked Manav to trace the mobile number from which the hateful message was sent. After some time, Manav reported failure in tracking the mobile details. He retorted with a wry chuckle " The guy is too clever. He must have destroyed the sim after sending the message."
Vikram added, " I guess there is nothing we can do in this case." The two officers got busy in their work.
On Tuesday, a man barged into the police station. He appeared to be distraught. He pleaded for help and cried "Please help me, inspector. I am ruined." He fainted after uttering these words. Vikram sprinkled water on him to bring him back to consciousness. He made him sit on the chair and offered him a glass of water. Vikram inquired him about the purpose of his visit. The man started sobbing and continued " My name is Vishwanath Nagaraju. My wife Mallika shot herself to death. Her body is lying in my bedroom." Vikram offered his condolences and accompanied Vishwanath to his house. The latter showed him the room where Mallika's dead body was lying in a pool of blood. Vikram put on his gloves and removed the pistol from her hand. He turned to face Vishwanath and probed him "When did you see her alive for the last time? What was she doing?" He responded " I went to the garden to pluck flowers for our daily prayers. All of a sudden I heard a gunshot. I rushed up to my bedroom and found her dead." Vikram continued with his set of questions " Do you have any license for the pistol? If you have one, I want to see it. Was she upset over any matter? Did you notice any change in her? Did she quarrel with you? What made her resort to this extreme step?"
Vishwanath took out the license from the cupboard and commented "She was perfectly happy. We had welcomed our newborn granddaughter last week. We were in a joyous mood. We went to a restaurant last night for dinner. She always used to check her mobile before sleeping. She did the same at the bedtime. I saw her wiping beads of perspiration from her forehead. The colour had drained from her face. She quickly drank a glass of water. I sat upright and asked her about the reason for her anxiety. She said everything was fine and wished me goodnight before going to sleep. I was tempted to see her mobile and check the reason for her distress. My conscience did not permit me. We both went to sleep. She was her usual self this morning. She gave me coffee and said that she was going to take rest because of her migraine. I had no idea of her intentions." Vikram followed the legal procedures and sent the body for post-mortem. He said "I need to check your wife's mobile. May I have it?" Vishwanath handed him Mallika's mobile. The messages were deleted as he had expected.
He was lost in thoughts as he entered the police station. He summoned Manav and entrusted him with the responsibility of retrieving the message. Manav returned the mobile after recovering the lost messages. Vikram scanned the mobile only to find the same despicable message from another number. These two ladies had past criminal records and had ruined someone. He received yet another call pertaining to the suicide of a lady in her fifties. The Caller lived only a few blocks away from the police station in Karim Nagar. Inspector Vikram was posted to this police station. He reached there in no time with a few of his constables. He saw that a small crowd had gathered outside the deceased lady's house. He dispersed the crowd to gain entry into the house. A young man in his mid-twenties led him to the room where the body of the lady was hanging. The Cops brought down the body of the lady.
Vikram started questioning the young man, who was her son. The latter introduced himself as Krishna Verma, the only son of the dead lady Pushpa Verma.
Vikram's interrogations revealed nothing new. The lady got upset over the message and had ended her life. Vikram took her mobile and returned to the police station. He searched for Manav. He returned after having a cup of tea from the tea stall. Manav addressed him " Was this suicide similar to the previous ones? Shall I retrieve the deleted messages?" Vikram answered " Yes. This case is exactly the same. You need not worry about the messages. I have a fair idea of its content." Manav saluted him and went back to work. He could not concentrate on his duty. Manav was puzzled. He was thinking about his next plan of action. He secured the photographs of the dead ladies when Vikram had gone out for investigation. He scanned the photos and replaced them in their original position. He opened the criminal database and entered the first photo. Mrs Gupta's grinning face greeted him. She was arrested for physical abuse and torture of her fourteen years old domestic help. The complainant had escaped from her clutches and ran into a woman working for an NGO. Mrs Gupta 's first name was Savita. She had spent a couple of days in prison before getting out on bail. The case was nearly 30 years old.
There was a footnote at the end of her prison record. She was a key witness in Avinash Reddy sexual harassment case. He proceeded to another photo. This time it was Mallika's smiling face. She was accused of petty thefts. She had also spent her childhood in a juvenile home. She was a frequent visitor to the jail. She was finally sent to a rehabilitation centre for getting rid of her kleptomania. Manav was shocked to find that this lady was also another witness in Avinash Reddy case. He moved on to the next case. Pushpa the deceased lady was arrested in a prostitution racket. She served her jail term for six months. She married her pimp. All the three cases had taken place between twenty-five to thirty years ago. The three ladies had criminal records and appeared as witnesses in another case.
Manav searched for Avinash Reddy case. He got it within seconds and browsed through the details.
42-year-old Avinash Reddy was travelling on a bus with his 12-year-old son Vivek. The bus was overcrowded. When the bus came to a screeching halt, Avinash fell on Savita. His hands touched her inappropriately. Two other ladies had observed this incident and came to the aid of Savita. They were Mallika and Pushpa who thrashed him with few others. He was made to get off immediately with his son. These ladies too got off and dragged him to the nearest police station. They filed an FIR against him accusing him of sexual harassment. They recorded their statement in detail about the incident. The erstwhile Inspector beat him up mercilessly while the hapless boy cried his heart out. Avinash died in the lockup within few hours of his arrest. Vivek was sent to Karunalaya, an orphanage in the vicinity after performing his father's last rites.
Manav was in tears after going through this horrible case. He sympathised with the boy. He was sure that Vivek must have grown up with a burning desire for revenge. He decided to find out about Vivek from Karunalaya. He closed all the files and cleared browsing history. He turned off the computer and made sure that everything was in its proper place.
He went back to his seat and concentrated on his work. Vikram came back and had a friendly chat with Manav. The latter informed Vikram that he would be coming late next day owing to the personal work.
He left for Karunalaya early in the morning. He parked his bike and entered through the open gate. He was about to step in but he heard the voices of Inspector Vikram and the warden. He hid behind a tree and waited for Vikram to leave. Vikram came out after some time. His face was glowing with happiness. Manav went inside and approached the warden. He stated his purpose of visit and asked about Vivek, the orphaned kid. The Warden commented " Sir, You have just missed him. He was here until you arrived." "But that was Inspector Vikram," Manav insisted "Are you trying to tell me that Vivek and Vikram are one and the same?"
The Warden answered "You are absolutely right. The poor fellow lost his dad because of those bitches. His father pleaded innocence while Vivek begged for mercy. Those ladies did not budge from their stance. His father passed away while Vivek was admitted here. He was a bright student. He excelled in academics and sports. He said he wanted to become a police officer. When Vivek was in 9th standard, former SP Nagendran visited our orphanage. He was so impressed with Vivek that he legally adopted him. He changed his name to Vikram. Vikram grew up to be an efficient police officer just like his foster father. He visits us every month and donates generous amounts of his salary. He has also adopted two differently abled children and looks after them. He is a gem of a person. Our home is proud to be associated with him."
Manav knew that the blackmailer was none other than Vikram himself. Manav could guess what might have happened.
Vikram had access to the criminal records. He was going through them. He stumbled upon the three criminals who were responsible for his father's death. He devised a plan to seek revenge. He got their addresses and contact numbers. He got three Sims and sent messages to the three numbers. He forced them to commit suicide.
Manav left the orphanage with a heavy heart. He had made up his mind not to give away Vikram's secret. He sympathised with him. He regarded him with a new found respect.