June 26, 1973
Koshy Varghese yawned and stretched. His mind was feeling numb after watching three movies back to back. He looked to his side and saw his colleagues were in a similar state of torpor. They had one more movie to watch before they could call it a day.
‘I cannot sit for one more moment here,’ Koshy stood up and worked the kinks in his back. ‘Can we watch this one tomorrow?’
Srilatha, who was to his right, nodded, ‘Yes, please! I cannot take this anymore. What do these filmmakers think before wasting so much film reel which could have been put to better use otherwise?’
Sharma just grunted. He was the senior most and usually took a call, ‘Let’s finish this one. We have only two more days and seven more movies to certify.’ He pulled his fountain pen from his pocket and scribbled some notes on the yellow legal pad in front of him, ‘I know most of the movies that are being made these days are garbage, but we still have a job to do. Without our certification, they won’t be able to hit the screens. Let’s finish this one, alright? Dinner’s on me.’
They shrugged their assent. Srilatha asked, ‘What’s the movie’s name?’
Sharma picked up the application and squinted to read the writing, ‘Anthapura Azhagi – The beauty of the Harem!’
Koshy guffawed, ‘Really? Jesus! Don’t tell me we are to watch and certify a semi-pornographic movie! Why don’t we just slap an ‘A’ certificate and be done with it?’
‘I’m tempted,’ Sharma grunted. ‘But we do have a duty, right?’
‘Dirty old man,’ Koshy moved towards the door. ‘Don’t tell me you are excited to watch this.’ He pulled the door open, ‘Why don’t you two start? I’ll head out for a few minutes and get you some samosas?’
Koshy walked languidly to the tiny store outside and bought a cigarette. He told the shop owner to parcel few samosas while he smoked. Just as he was about to leave, his old friend Mathew came in his brand new Lambretta scooter. Koshy felt a slight envy towards his friend. The waiting period for a scooter those days was nearly seven years, unless you knew some influential person. Mathew’s father in law was a politician and had pulled some strings to get him that beautiful red and white scooter.
Mathew knew that Koshy always wanted a scooter. He offered him a ride and Koshy accepted gleefully. Mathew even let Koshy drive. Half an hour later, they said their goodbyes and Koshy walked into his office carrying the parcel.
The viewing room was oddly silent. Koshy wondered if his colleagues had stopped watching the movie because of his delay. He opened the door and was immediately hit by a pungent odour.
‘Sharma? Latha? Are you guys here?’ He walked in and immediately stepped on something squishy and slipped. He dropped his parcel and fell face first on to the floor. Grunting in pain, he used his palms to prop himself up. There was some liquid that had spilled on the floor and his palms became sticky on touching it.
‘Hello! What did you guys spill in here? It stinks! At least you could have switched the lights on before running away from this mess.’ Koshy stumbled in the darkness and reached the switchboard. The ancient tubelight took a while to light up and after few seconds it bathed the room with an eerie yellow-white glow.
Koshy looked down and froze. Sharma was lying dead, his face contorted in severe pain and fear. One of his eyeballs was missing from its socket. Koshy now knew what he’d stepped on. Blood trickled from the cavity. Koshy backed up and plunged headlong into the body of Srilatha. There were hundreds of scratch marks all over her face and arms and her hands held clumps of hair she’d apparently pulled from her own head. Sharma’s fountain pen was lodged deep into her throat and blood oozed from the puncture wound.
Koshy looked at his hands – they were covered in blood, just like the white tiled floor of the room. For few minutes, he just stood there trying to find his voice. Once he did, he started screaming.
The last thing he saw before the Police came in and dragged him out was the film reel rotating in the projector.
August 28, 2017
Malolan Pratap finished typing the bill for his professional services. It was a standard CCC (Character Certificate Case), the bread and butter for any Private Investigator. CCC was requested before marriages by both the bride and groom’s side and also by companies before they handed the offer letter to prospective candidates. Malolan hated the CCCs. They were mind-numbingly plodding and he always desired for cases that would challenge the grey cells of his brain. But the CCCs paid the bills and kept his father off his back.
As he sent out the email, Malolan noticed a short, stocky guy labouring his way up the stairs. His was the only office on the second floor and obviously the visitor was for him.
‘Sir, please climb down,’ Malolan called out, ‘I’ll join you in the tea shop downstairs.’
Relieved, the man trundled down the stairs. Malolan locked the doors and skipped down the steps – three at a time. He found the man washing his face in the washbasin outside the tea shop. Malolan walked up to him and offered his hand,
‘Hello, I guess you had come to meet me. I’m Malolan.’
The man grasped his outstretched hand with a sweaty palm, ‘Are you the detective?’
‘I’m a Private Investigator, yes! How can I help you, Mr…?’
‘Sudhakar!’ He had beady little eyes that darted from side to side. ‘I want to hire you for a case.’
‘I’m sorry, Mr. Sudhakar. I have enough on my plate already. In fact, I’m engaged for the next four months. I’d be very happy to refer you to my colleagues. They are pretty good.’
Sudhakar shook his head, ‘No, No, No! I want you Mr. Malolan. You have expertise and you come with high recommendation. The case I want you to handle is not run of the mill. I hope you would agree. I’m ready to pay you a retainer.’
Malolan was intrigued, ‘Alright, give me the case within ten words. I’ll decide whether I want it or not.’
‘Ok!’ Sudhakar grunted, ‘My assistant watched a video and died a gruesome death.’ His beady eyes fixed Malolan with a steely gaze, ‘Interested?’
Malolan returned his gaze, ‘Which video?’
Sudhakar didn’t blink, ‘That is the mystery, detective.’
To be continued…