She entered the Starbucks café, just like the other days. One black coffee without a pinch of sugar is what kick-started all her days. She used to think her plan of action everyday right there. She might be the most sought after crime news presenter in the country but she used make sure that she got her homework done about the news she would be presenting that day. There is no chance for shortcut or fake news when Mrinalini Sharma is going to present some news, only hardcore truth and well-documented and detailed news. She had often been the reason of various scandals coming to public view and her life had never been a cakewalk with threatening calls and e-mails being a part of her life, leaving aside the kind words she got to hear from various power-hungry corrupts in the country.
She came out of the shop fidgeting with the phone and bang! She collided with someone who visibly seemed irritated about it. No she was mistaken; he was quick to apologize and helped her with her papers and files scattered around. Then with an astonished and confused look on his face he said, “You are Mrinalini Sharma, right? OMG! What luck to meet with you, I am a big fan of yours.” Mrinalini gave him a courtesy smile mixed with gratitude and started to move ahead. She felt that the face is known to her but neglected that thought as she was in a hurry. On the other hand, the person said to himself, “So, the game has finally started.”
Thereafter they kept on bumping into each other. Be it the new movie that she was about to catch with her friends, her long planned shopping weekend, site of her new crime scene news etc., that person was here and there, everywhere. She might even had caught a glimpse of him near her house. It was as if he was following her always or taking notes about her daily routine. Earlier she was a bit paranoid thinking that he was some kind of pervert or stalker and even thought of confronting him or complaining to the police. But then she realized that he had done no harm to her, so let him be as he is. Life was going on in the same flow for her as it always had. But “picture avi baki tha mere dost” (there was still more to this picture/movie).
Mrinalini had again been in the news as she was at the forefront in unearthing the newest scam in India. It was regarding local estate at Rajnagar, a booming city in Gujarat where crores and crores of money was at stake. The two brothers of the defense minister Shri Harshvardhan Patel were the chief suspects in this case and she was hell bent in finding the evidences against them. Of course they had been denying these rumors which were supposedly made by the opponent party. The opponent party also lodged a huge campaign against the ruling party to dislodge them from the center. Things took a creepy turn when various people associated with this case along with the chief witness got killed under mysterious circumstances. The modus operandi was same in all the killings; a parallel slit of the neck and then multiple stabs from behind so that the person bleeds out and never gets to see the face of the killer. The forensic doctors were sure that they were killed by the same person using the same knife. Nobody came ahead after these ruthless incidents and the case was losing steam. The only person who was making sure that this case did not go into oblivion from people’s mind was Mrinalini Sharma.
Mrinalini got a big breakthrough in the case. She along with the police found a person who was ready to become a witness in this case. But neither of them divulged any details about who that person was or about his/her whereabouts as revealing his/her identity would endanger his/her life and that of the family. She was challenged by the brothers in her own talk-show that she would not be able to find anything as there was no evidence. Mrinalini got a huge round of applause for the show and it went viral in the social network. As she reached home, she got a call from an unknown number. There was no reply from the other side, just a cold, cruel laugh. Finally when she was about to hang up, a shrewd and merciless voice said, “I know you don’t care about your life. Your mother had died long back and you have no relationship with your father after you found about his multiple extra-marital affairs. You have not gone to meet him although you know that he is on his death-bed. If you love the Maya Child Care and want it to continue, stop pursuing the real estate scam case. Let’s not make Yasomati Devi, the “nani-for-all” of Maya Child Care, the scapegoat for your futile battle. Also, you can peacefully spend your nights with Rishi, with whom you’ve in relation for just six months. Let’s not drag him into this dirty game.” Mrinalini realized that she had finally caught the attention of the mercenary who was on a killing spree regarding the Rajnagar Real Estate Scam. A cold wave went down through her spine.
An adamant Mrinalini just did not stop. He lodged a police complain about this threat-call although many including Rishi persuaded her to stop this cat and mouse game. Thereafter these calls came so many times but nothing could deter her. She went on with the same vigor and tried her best to accumulate as many evidence as possible. Surprisingly and much to her amazement, there was no harm done to any of her loved ones, nor were there any more killings. She often used to think that these were just prank calls but then again, whenever she remembered that cold and nerve-wrecking laugh, fear seemed to grasp her for an eternity.
The case had died down as no solid evidence about the two brothers of the influential minister was found. Some small culprits were caught though, who claimed to be the main masterminds but the main architects of this scam roamed around freely and proudly. Although the fire inside Mrinalini was still burning, a string of low successes or big losses made her mentally fatigued about this case. One night, she returned home late as she was too busy with next day’s news bulletin and also that case. As she opened the gate and was about to switch on the lights, she got to hear that cold voice again. He said, “Hi” and that was enough to make her sweat in the cold of December. She turned back and found someone was comfortably seated in her sofa with a body lying near his foot. For a moment she thought that that was Rishi and thought about screaming. But with imminent danger sitting in front of her, she found it wise to keep her mouth shut.
“Madam, you’re wrong. That’s not Rishi; he is peacefully sleeping in the next room. Just gave him a small dose of rohypnol, he’ll have no memory of anything happening now when he wakes up tomorrow. As per the man lying on the ground, you’ve no idea who he is. He was sent to kill you and I just took care of that business.”
A bewildered Mrinalini gained some courage and asked him, “Who are you? What do you want?”
The cold voice continued, “Aap hume vul gaye madam ji? (Madam, you forgot me?). Remember that sunny morning at Starbucks, we collided.” He mimicked a warm and caring voice saying: You are Mrinalini Sharma, right? OMG! What luck to meet with you, I am a big fan of yours. “I am that fan of yours.”
Mrinalini remembered that morning and said, “I am not that dumb to understand that that was your fake identity. Who really are you? Your face seems so known to me.”
“I will help you to find more about me. In your laptop, there is a folder named Rajnagar Reality Scam; it’s in your G-Drive. Inside that folder, there is another folder containing some rough sketches of suspects associated with that scam, made by the police sketch artist. By the way, its password is your ‘mother’s name’ then a ‘@’ character, then her ‘date of birth in ddmmyy format’. Oh! Hacking you was so easy; please choose a better password next time,” mockery was oozing from his voice. “Anyways, getting back to the original topic, the sketches about one person are really vague as none has ever seen his face. May be it will match with my face. Does it ring some bell?”
This time Mrinalini was really shaken. She never thought of meeting this person face to face. That one person whose face was never seen was the cold-blooded killer of that scam. She was barely able to ask, “It means you are here to kill me or maybe you have tried that earlier too. Then why are you staging this drama that you’ve killed that person lying near your feet who was supposedly my killer?”
“Oh you want to hear the reason! I have fallen in love with you. I just can’t forget about you”, sarcasm oozed out of his voice. “Let’s just come to the point. I have enough respect for you for you’ve made me realize what I missed in my childhood and the monster I have become because of that.” The voice was warmer now.
“I was an orphan from a very early stage of my life. No matter how hard I try, I can’t even recollect the faces of my parents. The orphanage where I was brought up, you can say that it was actually a breeding ground of criminals. The main problem there was money. With dearth of money, there was less food and clothing. For us, it was ‘survival of the cruelest’. The care taker of that orphanage was always eager to make more money and thus we were employed to various other illegal and shameful trades. His son, an incarnation of devil first spotted me, my aggression, my anger for this society, my zeal to succeed, my eagerness to defeat all and my ruthlessness towards others and took me under his control. He named me Sooraj and trained me in all the illegal trades you can think about. I 1st smuggled drugs at the age of 10, held a gun in my hand at the age of 13 and by the age when all the normal teenagers finish their 1st board exams and start preparing for their future, I had turned myself into a cold-blooded killer.”
After a long pause that cold voice which had mellowed down drastically continued, “By now you have surely understood that I am the killer of the scam you were, or shall I say, you still are investigating. I got your supari too. Before I kill someone, I make a thorough research about the person so that I can know about his daily routine. It helps me to get the perfect moment when I can kill him with least casualty and my identity remaining concealed. So I was not stalking you but collecting data about you. This is when I came to know about Maya child care and the main source of money for that huge establishment. Your father has left all his money to you but you don’t spend a penny on you. All that huge fortune, you generously donate it to that child care. You could have gave up your work and enjoyed a lavish life with whatever your father has left. But you sacrificed everything so that those children could grow into noble men. I could never become a worthy man just because the orphanage I grew up in was always in need of money and had a greedy and evil caretaker where I never got to know what love, care, sharing is. In you, I have seen all that. I have visited that child care and it’s needless to say they’re so happy there. Besides proper education, clothing and food, they’re being trained in so many handicrafts. Thus when they grow old enough to leave the child-care, they won’t have to kill people for an occupation or snatch food from roadside stalls and being chased by people, unlike me.
“After I saw your child-care, all I was doing was protecting you. I was making you those threat calls so that I can scare you and keep you away from harm’s way. All the little success you had in finding people or that you’re still alive is because of me. I either threatened them to come to your support or else perish; or killed the other killers who were hired to kill you, including this one. You need to live, please make sure that those children always get the support from you they’re getting now. I don’t believe in Karma or God and I have already killed many people. But if I kill you, I will produce so many more Sooraj like me. I don’t want those bright kids to get lost like me in the quagmire of crime, hatred and darkness. I am going to surrender to police and here is the file where you’ll get all the necessary evidence about the case. You can easily nail the Patel Brothers with these and so many other big fishes will be trapped. I will also become the chief witness.”
The dark night passed and a new sunny morning welcomed Mrinalini and Sooraj. He had taken care of the dead body by then. They were both sitting at the café where Mrinalini began her every day. She persuaded Sooraj not to surrender as she knew he would be hunted like a dog by the hatchers of this scam. He told her that he would keep in touch as and when required and would silently protect her from all problems. As a parting gift, he handed her over his prized possession, the knife with which he murdered all those people, still stained with the blood of his last victim.
She sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife stayed hidden in her handbag. As he got lost into the obscurity of the morning mist, she put the knife in her bag. She was fearless now and eager to put this case to an end.