April 6, 1972
USP Atlanta, Georgia, USA
The thin, frail inmate housed in Cell 370 of the United States Penitentiary Atlanta looked at the sun through the tiny window and licked his lips. He pulled himself to a seated position with considerable effort. His nerves jangled with anticipation. He ran a trembling hand through his receding hairline.
The inmate waited with bated breath as he heard footsteps out in the corridor. ‘Any moment now,’ He said to no one in particular. He looked to the corner of the room and saw the book lying there, ripped to shreds. It was an illustrated copy of Alice in Wonderland given to him by his minder. He was supposed to have read it by now. He spat in disgust in the general direction of the book.
Ten minutes later, the door to his cell opened and the man in the white lab-coat sauntered in. He had a permanent smile on his face, which the inmate wanted to wipe out in the most brutal way he could think of.
Lab-coat smiled, ‘So, how is my favourite patient today? Did you take your vitamins? Did you do your homework?’ He looked at the ruined book and nodded sadly, ‘Tut, tut! That was very naughty of you, dear lad. Now, why don’t you fetch the book and read it while I get your lunch ready?’
‘Fuck you!’ The inmate barked in a very unconvincing voice.
‘You know the rules! No homework, no lunch. Hup, hup!’ Lab-coat opened his suitcase and started pulling out little bottles and syringes. The inmate sighed and crawled towards the book.
April 28, 1972
Another day and another visit by Lab-coat. The inmate groaned as the torchlight hit his eyes.
‘How is my favourite patient doing today?’ Lab-coat’s cheerful voice filled the stinking cell. The inmate lay in a mess of his own excreta. No one cleaned his cell and he barely had the strength to sit up, let alone clean. All he wanted was them to pull the plug off him.
‘My, my! This place is a dump. I thought you were a cat, but seems like you are a pig in reality,’ Lab-coat chuckled and crouched close to the inmate. ‘Do you want to move to a nice room? Watch some TV? A shot of Tequila, perhaps? Or a nice young woman? Would you like that?’
The inmate just stared at him with eyes filled with hate and drug induced torpor.
‘If you prefer young girls, that could be arranged as well,’ Lab-coat continued merrily. ‘Or a young little boy. My friend, I don’t judge anyone. I just keep an open mind. That’s the first thing I believe as a Doctor and a Researcher.’
Lab-coat just sighed and clapped his hands. Two burly men marched in and grabbed the inmate by his arms and strapped him to a chair. Lab-coat tapped on his right arm to find a vein and inserted an IV line.
‘Nembutal. Heard of it? Very powerful barbiturate. It’ll calm you down, make you forget all your worries. Oops, before I forget, here’s your lunch!’
One of the burlies held the inmate’s mouth open and Lab-coat placed a thin strip underneath his tongue.
‘Yummy, isn’t it? They say LSD is the best. Sadly, I’ll never know. I promised my Ma that I’d never do drugs.’ Lab-coat chuckled softly and plunged another IV line into the inmate’s left arm, ‘Amphetamine! I’d have given you Cocaine, but you might have died my friend. Don’t worry! This won’t do anything bad. You’ll just be friendlier to me. We’ll have a nice little talk in about fifteen minutes.’ He waved the burlies away, ‘Remember! Whatever you want, I’ll get it done for you. All you have to do is to tell me your secret. After all, you are my favourite patient, Delgatto!’
Lab-coat winked and walked out.
December 31, 1972
‘My friend, you need to try this.’ Sidney Gottleib waved a thin strip at his drowsy looking companion, ‘You’ll be transported right to your Lord Indra’s court where you’ll see Ramba and Urvashi dance seductively for you.’
‘Is that so? Well, then I have to try some!’ The younger man snatched the strip and placed it under his tongue and giggled, ‘I have a funky sensation coursing through me, Sidney!’
Sidney laughed and clapped him on his shoulders, ‘Trust me, my friend! This will take your creative genius to new heights.’
‘I wouldn’t stop that from happening. I have been meaning to start working on my debut feature film. I even have a producer who is willing to bankroll the venture. I just need to finetune my script.’
Sidney smiled genially, though his rotten teeth made it look like a sneer. ‘You’ll have a fantastic film ready for the special screening, Mayur. In fact, I’ll help you in this project. I’m a trained sound engineer.’
Mayur Pednekar raised his eyebrows, ‘A sound engineer? What are you doing among all these hippies? Shouldn’t you be working in Hollywood?’
‘No, my friend!’ My true calling is travel and world peace.’ Sidney moved his hand in a lazy circle around his head, ‘And I’ve found it amidst these citizens of the World.’
He handed Mayur a beer, ‘A New Year is upon us, my friend. I will help you with this film. We have six months to complete it. After that, I’ll be on my way.’
‘Wherever the road takes me. Absolutely wherever!’
September 2, 2017
Malolan groaned in frustration. The euphoria he felt few hours back had totally drained by repeated setbacks after that. First, Sudhakar had answered in the negative when Malolan had asked him about the restored films. Apparently, the Police had seized all the converted films and the unconverted film reels. Next, he tried reasoning with Inspector Jayakumar, who had been assigned the Prabhu case, but the Inspector was in a foul mood and had refused him point blank to share any detail. Third, he tried to find the name of Mayur Pednekar’s debut movie, but the document had been damaged to such an extent that only the words Koshy Varghese, ur Pednek, n Sharma and Sril were legible.
Desperate for information, Malolan called his friend Sayan Bhattacharya who was the lead Investigative Journalist with Revolution TV.
‘Sayan, do you have some time?’
‘Sure, Lola! What do you want? I’m on location of a murder. I have about fifteen minutes before I go on air. Prime time news, you see!’
‘No worries! I won’t take more than five minutes. Were you on site to cover the Taneja death?’
‘Of course! Nikhal Taneja was a notorious online pirate. I had to be there. What do you need?’
‘Did you notice something out of the ordinary?’
Sayan paused for a moment, ‘The whole place was like a scene out of a horror movie, Lola! Every damn thing was out of the ordinary.’
‘C’mon, buddy! You are a bloody Investigative Journalist. You cracked the Surpanakha Murders case as well. Don’t give me this crap!’
‘Well, massaging my ego does make my brain cells work faster. There are couple of things I noticed. Listen, they might or might not be significant. Even, I didn’t think much of it before.’
Malolan nodded, ‘Alright! Hit me.’
‘First, Taneja’s laptop. It was hooked to an OHP. Apparently, he was watching a video before he went crazy and tortured himself to death. I fiddled around with the laptop when the police was not paying much attention. There was no video stored on the laptop. It had been erased clean.’
‘Yes! Also, there was a webpage open on the laptop.’
‘It was an Amazon shopping page for a book called The Salem Witch Trials!’
‘Was Taneja searching for the book?’
‘Apparently, not! My friend in the Mumbai Police Tech Department told me that the page was opened ten hours after Taneja’s death.’
‘Another weird thing I spotted was outside Taneja’s house.’
‘Yes! I saw a crack in one of the glass windows in Taneja’s den.’
Malolan interrupted him, ‘What type of crack was it? Straight line or Impact?’
‘Aha! You are good, Lola! It was indeed an impact crack. On closer inspection, it had a red spot at the centre of the crack. I went out and saw a dead bat on the ground.’
‘Curious!’ Malolan’s brain went into overdrive. ‘Thanks, buddy! I won’t take any more of your time. Catch you later!’
He had a working theory now. All he had to do was to get his hands on the damn film.
Los Angeles, California
The phone’s incessant ringing irritated Mayur Pednekar. He walked slowly to pick the antique wall phone.
‘Pednekar! Who is this?’
A voice he hadn’t heard in nearly four decades came through the earpiece, ‘Mayur, my friend! This is Sidney Gottleib.’
Pednekar froze, ‘Sidney?’
‘Surprised?’ Gottleib’s laugh sounded like a bark, ‘Can I have ten minutes of your time and hundred million of your money, please?’
‘Thousands are going to die, Mayur! Only you have the power to stop it.’
‘Sidney! Don’t fuck around with me.’
‘Listen to me, my friend!’ Gottleib’s voice had lowered to a dangerous octave, ‘I’m going to release our masterpiece, Mayur. The world is going to be bewitched by the Beauty of the Harem!’
Casey Teo woke up with a start! She looked around her and discovered that she was in a hospital. Casey tried calling for an orderly, but felt a sudden flash of pain in her throat and promptly lost consciousness and fell back to her bed.
In exactly twenty four hours the film would go online. Tick! Tock!
To be continued…