Chennai had an awful lot of drunken accidents given its abysmal nightlife. The person had driven over an unfinished bridge and jumped right off it. Needless to say, he was drunk. The passersby and the people in the neighbourhood had pulled the person in the passenger seat. He was in bad shape as well and when the police arrived at the scene, he was moved to the hospital.
Gokoulane, Sub-Inspector of police sighed as he reached the scene. It was his old neighborhood, Thiruvottriyur. After his success with finding the serial bomber who threatened Chennai last year, he was assigned to major crimes division. He moved his residence to Veppery, close to his workplace. Gok, as he was called by his superior Acharya and friend Sai, felt his stomach rumble. “Bad time to be hungry.” He thought to himself. The remains of the driver were brought to the ambulance on a stretcher. He had his earpiece intact, though the other side of the face was unrecognizable.
“Was he talking to someone when he jumped to death?” Gok asked. He looked around in hope of finding the phone, but it was lost in the debris. He looked at the victim again, “Is Sai doing the post-mortem?” He asked his assistant.
“Sir is busy with something. He went to a party yesterday evening and we haven’t heard back from him.” Gok knew very well what Sai was up to. If he was able to come to morgue the next morning with his pants on, that would be a surprise.
“Find me this guy’s phone and if you cannot do that, bring his call records. Looks like an open and shut case.” Gok said as he walked to his bike. His phone rang, “The guy we brought to hospital from the accident scene is awake. He wants to talk to you.” Gok cut the call and thought of having some midnight snack before he went to the hospital.
“He was acting strangely since two days. He would go pick-up a pizza but will bring back full meals to our office crowd. He replied his emails in a rude way which he hasn’t done before. It was as if somebody had a remote on him. I thought it was stress. I compelled him to have drinks. I passed out and when I wake up, here I am.”
“Was there any problem at home? Were you close?”
“He is not the one to discuss his problems. That is one of the reasons I took him to a bar, to loosen him up a bit. He would have single-handedly destroyed our project.”
“I will have to talk to his wife or whoever he was living with.”
“Actually, I know for a fact that he sent his wife to her mother’s place in Salem. She got freaky few days ago. She started doing weird things.”
“Weird things? Can you be more specific?”
“I can’t be so sure. He said to me as we drank. I couldn’t be sure if he was making fun of me. He can be cruel like that sometimes. He said his wife used his razor to shave her facial hair.”
“I am sorry.”
“Weird right? She was a beautiful woman. She started acting like a man a few days ago. That is what he said.”
“Are you sure this was an accident?” Gok asked.
“I mean.. It had to be, right? He couldn’t have reversed the car from the bar if the brakes weren’t working. He was drunk and that took his life.”
“And you took him to drink. If you didn’t invite him for drinks tonight, who knows, he might be still alive” The person’s face frowned and he almost cried. “Just kidding. You didn’t kill him. His carelessness did.”
Gok walked out of the hospital, called his subordinate to have the call log ready in the morning.
“I will buy you that gaming portal,” Lakshminarayanan said over the phone to his son.
“Not any game portal” his son insisted on the other end. “I want the PlayStation 4. Don’t bring me something else and say that you found a costly one.”
“Okay. I am picking it right now. I am going to a meeting later tonight. You will wake up to your game station.”
“It is called PlayStation. I am sending you a text message. Don’t mess this up.” His son cut the call. “Kids these days” Lakshminarayanan sighed. It was not a big deal to him. He thought about the money he was pouring into the research project. He felt as if he was buying things for grown-up people’s play station. He was going to stern that day. It had been a few years since the product was in development. The deadlines had been changed and shifted. He wanted to see the results now.
After a quick stop at the gaming store, he turned his vehicle to the OMR road. Old Mahabalipuram Road or Rajiv Gandhi Road is the silicon valley of Chennai. IT companies and IT services companies had taken offices in the stretch. He drove his vehicle to the newly opened, deserted IT park. His research team had occupied an incubation space in the IT park. He walked into an office which was devoid of any signboards and swiped his card for entry. As usual, only Neelesh was in the office.
“I am not going to let you talk me out this time. I need the product and I need it now.” He put his hand rather forcibly on the table. Neelesh looked up with a smile. “It is in the last phase of testing. I will need a couple of more days.”
“That is what you are saying for last two years. Where are you testing it?”
“Looks like you made a stop before you came here!” Neelesh said with a smile playing on his lips. “Did you buy something?”
“Yes. Some video game machine. It is in the car.”
“Can you bring it here for me?”
“What are you trying to do?”
“Let me explain when you get back. I hope you have not gift wrapped it.”
Lakshminarayanan came back with the package. He left it on Neelesh’s table. “Open it,” Neelesh said. A brand new Xbox 1was packed neatly in the gift wrapper.”
“Is this what you wanted to buy?” Neelesh asked.
“No.” Lakshminarayanan was shocked. It was too late to return. His son is going to give him the silent treatment for a month.
“I was testing on you. You didn’t bother about the spam call you took when you were in the shop. I embedded it with signals which would affect your brain cells responsible for decision making and I told you what to buy.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Did you not go into the shop with one fixed product in your mind?”
“Then tell me how did you end up buying this one?”
Lakshminarayanan had no answer. Neelesh pulled the security video he had hacked from the store earlier and let it play. “Look at you hovering the play station booth. It is very unlike you, I must say. Perusing the specifications and price tags. But that is none of my business. Here.. You are picking the call.” When the call ended, Lakshminarayanan walked straight up to the Xbox section, took one and went straight to the billing desk.
“So our product is almost ready. You are one of my five lab rats. So far, I have had 100% success rate. I have to test only on two more people who use different mobile service providers, buying patterns and people who use different mobile operating system. And you can unveil the product.”
“You mean I can make people buy my soaps at my own will. I don’t have to worry about market research at all. Do you know how much I am going to save from this.” Lakshminarayanan was ecstatic.
“Petty people have petty ideas. I didn’t expect this from you. Frankly, I am disappointed. Think about the elections. Think about how you can even become a CM with this technology. But all you can think is a soap.”
“You are right. But even better, we can sell it to the governments across the globe.” Lakshminarayanan couldn’t believe what he had stumbled upon.
“You helped me. I did this for you. You are the only person who let me do things in my own way. You had already spent much for me and his project of mine. In fifteen days, I will finish all the documentation and give it to you. Just keep my name out of it.”
“You don’t need more money?”
“I am good at my work. I can make money.”
“But why? Why are you not after money or fame? What motivates you?”
“There is only two motivators boss. One is guilt and the other is fear. And I don’t want to go into that now. This is a small gift for your trust in me. Can you trust me for fourteen more days?”
Lakshminarayanan decided to take leave. But he didn’t know what to do with the gaming console on Neelesh’s table. “You can leave it here. I made you buy it for me. You can buy a PlayStation for your son obviously.” Neelesh said. “But ask him why he is not open to new games and why he is going with the flow. Maybe he wants his friends to want him. Maybe he wants to invite his friends over to your house and show off his new gaming console. He wants to fit in. Have a talk with him. It will be worth it.”
“I will,” said Lakshminarayanan as he stepped out of the small office. Weird guy, he thought to himself.
“I don’t like what I see in the head of this guy” Sai’s voice came out muffled from his physicians mask. Gok was also in scrubs. Sai had warned him when they open the patient, the shit may hit the fan, quite literally.
“Where were you yesterday?” Gok asked Sai.
“I went to a party. I met with this young novelist. I talked to her about Edward Allen Poe about whom she was unaware of. We took the discussion to her place. I came here straight after that.”
“Was she any good?”
“Well… She believes in showing over telling. So she has got a good future in the literary circles. Moving on, I don’t think this is an accident. His brain is fried.” Sai took off his scrubs and walked to the table.
“About what you said about the writer. It is sexist and generalization.”
“We are in the freaking morgue. This is the most politically incorrect place. And I am the boss here and I can talk whatever I want to.”
“Tell me about the brain fry.”
“The radiation we get exposed every day is exponentially increasing ever since the advent of the television. With the new mobile technologies and cheaper mobile phones, we don’t know the extent of radiation we are getting exposed to. It is natural to see the damage in few glands, as I come to see in last few years. But this one is severe. It is like someone had passed electricity through his head.”
“His wife was behaving erratically too it seems. The department took her statement. She admitted that she was shaving facial hair but only on one side. She couldn’t remember why she did it.”
“Did you check for voodoo dolls in his house?”
“Doc. Stop kidding. We have to solve this.”
“Correction. You have to solve this. And typically you don’t solve anything. You are just extremely lucky.”
That is true, Gok thought to himself. They walked into Sai’s cabin. “When did they provide TV in your room?” Gok pointed to the new 60” LED TV on the wall. “Do you really think the government sanctions this stuff? I bought it.”
“To watch the news?”
“No. To play games. Deepan is coming down now with new Game DVDs. We are playing Zombie apocalypse, given the setting and all and the irony.”
“Is he any good? Are you getting along?”
“Pretty well, yes. He likes the puzzle and stuff. He is a good one to have when we play strategic games. The trouble is he brings along his laptop everywhere and is on duty all the time.”
“At least somebody is working.”
“Not you, obviously.”
“I was going to use your table. The phone records have come. I am going to take a look at it.” Gok didn’t get anywhere for another half an hour. He didn’t even notice Deepan coming in or the duo start the game. When Gok looked up at the files he saw the duo getting thrashed by the vampires and the brain eaten.
“Good morning SI,” Deepan said, without looking away from the screen where they lost one more time. Deepan kept aside the joystick in frustration. “We have to finish this level today to finish the game next week.” He said to Sai.
“I needed a break anyway. I can do the shooting.” Gok said as he took the joystick. He let his frustration come out through joystick as he shot through the zombie walkers in a dystopian town. Sai was no match for his speed. “Got it” Deepan shouted from the table. Sai and Gok turned to see him smiling and taking photos of the call records. And the zombies took advantage of the distraction to kill the gamers.
“I am going to kill you,” Sai said walking to Deepan.
“I don’t know why you had this” Deepan pointed out the call records to Gok. “But it may be a breakthrough in one of our cases.”
“What do you mean?” Gok asked.
“Do you see this number?” Deepan pointed out a number which was marked spam. “Another suspect got a call from this number, three minutes later, he threw his baby out of the balcony, killing the baby. When I said we should investigate the caller, nobody believed me.”
“Where was this?” Sai asked
“Poonamalee. Is this a new suspect?” Deepan asked Gok.
“No. He is a victim. We thought it was an accident or at best suicide. But Sai said he might have got killed”
“This is bizarre. The call was spam. The call duration was exactly 30 seconds. It is unlikely that we listen to gibberish for more than five seconds. So what really happened?”
Sai came to the cutting the call. “I talked to the prison doctor. He had agreed on us to take a CT scan of your suspect’s brain” Sai said to Deepan. “Let us see who is frying the brain”
“Have you heard anything like this?” Gok asked Sai as they were driving back from Puzhal. “The suspect and my victim knew each other from school. He had given five other classmates. I am looking at them now. But this is weird.”
“Don’t you watch American serials I give you? They are connected.”
“But American serials are full of bull shit. They don’t have to go through the red tape like we do.”
“As if. You have Acharya’s permission to do anything and everything now. Then what?”
“I am taking Deepan with me. Maybe he will find where the call came from if he can take it from the mobile directly.”
“I doubt it. But I have four corpses to cut up. You guys have fun” Said got down the vehicle. Deepan met Gok in the possible victim’s house.
“Yes, I was in the same school with them. In fact, we were pretty close. We were the cool guys you know. We used to rule the school.”
“You mean you don’t study well and you were backbenchers.” Deepan intercepted.
Before the person could counter that, his phone rang. He picked up the call, Deepan got hold of his hand at the exact moment and pressed the loudspeaker button. The call was gibberish, but it was the same number. It had high and low pitch frequencies with varying speed and tone and made it hard to listen. But they persisted. The call ended exactly at 30 seconds. Deepan started making calls to trace the number from which the call originated. Before five minutes, there was another call from the same number. The call was again put on the speaker phone but Gok recorded it. The call didn’t end in 30 seconds. A raspy voice spoke on the other end “So… You caught me sooner than I thought” the voice said. Deepan didn’t know how to react. “I don’t know what you know, so I am not going to give you much. But since you know about the technology, I can talk about how it started.” Deepan signaled Gok to go on.
“The concept is simple. Planting little voices in your head and dictate what you should do. The person who is sitting in front of you is my inspiration. This is my way of thanking him. I have thanked two people enough already.”
“We will soon prove the person who threw the baby out of the balcony was not in his sound mind. It is you who killed the baby.”
“You mistake me, sir. I don’t want him to rot in prison. I will not be talking to you if that was my goal. Throwing his baby out by himself is enough punishment. I give him four years before he kills himself. You know men; they won’t go to counseling or talk about it.” He coughed. “The thing is these four people made my life hell fifteen years back. I wasn’t good enough for them. They made it their job to make me feel bad about my shortcomings. When I tried to overcome that, I was beaten. The teachers dismissed it as class quarrels. My parents didn’t know better than feel sorry for me. Ever since the school days, I always second guessed myself. I couldn’t go to an interview without these guys’ voice in my head. Am I walking right? Does this shirt suit me? The voices didn’t stop mocking. I know it is all my imagination. I wanted to give it back. I didn’t have their arms or chest or their muscles. I am flexing the muscles they didn’t acknowledge. And now they are running for cover.”
“This needs to be stopped. You have done enough.”
“Not nearly. But I can stop you. You have saved this person. But you don’t know what will hit the fourth person. Or should I say who would hit him?”
Gok was silent. The other end said “You see, your friend Sai has this habit of giving out his number to any and every girl he meets. You should see how his name appears in the true caller. He is a lover of ladies and equally loved by the women. I have made a call to him before I called you. Bye Bye” the call got cut.
The phone’s owner looked like his blood was drained from his body. “Neelesh,” he said.
It wasn’t very difficult to find the fourth person’s address. The street was crowded before Gok and Deepan got there. They were standing few feet away from the house. In the threshold of the house was Sai with his clothes stained with blood, a scalpel in his hand and a smile on his face.
“I don’t believe a single word you say,” Gok said to Sai. Sai was busy killing Zombies.
“As I said, we don’t close cases because we are brilliant. You are not Sherlock Holmes and I am not Watson. We do it by pure luck and chances.”
“Fortune favors the brave” Deepan said killing his share of zombies. It was easy to nab Neelesh. He didn’t resist arrest. “What surprises me is the number of people who pay attention to static sounds in the phone. I don’t even listen to half of the things my friends say.”
“That Lakshminarayanan was a heavy guy. I didn’t think I would be able to stop him. But as I said, luck was on our side.”
“Walk me through this. I need to close the case.”
“Acharya sir asked me to go to this minister’s house. When politicians ask doctors to go home, it would be either constipation or erectile dysfunction. But I saw this guy Lakshminarayanan. He had asked for the minister’s help to check his prostate cancer. He was supplying the minister with some technology. The same technology. I don’t know why they called me. I was deep into his unmentionable area when the phone rang. Lakshminarayanan volunteered to take the call. For his size, he ran like a wind with his pants down. I tried to stop him, but he took the scalpel from my pocket and tried to kill that guy. And I don’t know why he did that, but he cut his own thigh. To think of it was supposed to be me, it is terrifying.”
“Then we arrived. So far everything checks out. I will call you tomorrow.” Gok said as he walked to the door. “What is this list?” he asked Sai pointing at a list of names, half of them stricken out.
“Oh. These are the guys I bullied at school. I just wanted to get back to them, apologize and know if they are proficient in technology. Something for nostalgia, you see.”
Gok walked out of the hospital in the hope that he will resolve at least the next case with proper police work.