8:30 AM (18 hours to go)
Casey Teo was agitated. The doctors were running a plethora of tests on her over her protests. The reedy night attendant had vanished with his laptop after ensuring she transferred the money promised to him online. Casey tried to find out about the extent of her injuries and the state of her German Shepherd, Snookie, by writing her questions on a medical pad but didn’t get any proper response from the doctors who were on autopilot.
She needed to get out of the hospital and she needed access to a mobile phone fast. Once the doctors moved away from her bed, she tried talking. She knew that Snookie had clamped hard on her throat and had injured her very badly. She clamped her fist tightly around her throat and tried making a noise. A bolt of pain ran through her throat, but she didn’t panic and instead increased the pressure slightly. For the first time in nearly fifteen hours, she spoke.
Malolan tried calling Sudhakar for the tenth time in two hours but got the message that notified that his mobile was switched off. Inspector Jayakumar had retired to his room to catch a couple of hours of sleep. He had roused the Director General of Police in the wee hours of the morning and had spent nearly half an hour to convince his superior. Luckily for them, the DGP had come on board and in turn had set the ball rolling. By seven in the morning, the Indian Ambassador in Washington D.C had been appraised of the situation and he had promised to get in touch with Mayur Pednekar through proper channels at the earliest.
Malolan had requested access to the autopsy reports of Prabhu and Nikhil Taneja. Jayakumar had promised to make them available before 10 A.M.
Having nothing to do, Malolan decided to go home and take a shower and rest for an hour.
Kannappa handed a cup of steaming coffee to Malolan. He noticed that the younger man had dark circles around his eyes.
‘Just a couple of boiled eggs, Kannappa.’
‘You don’t look well, kid!’
‘Hopefully, I’ll look much better tonight. After this is all over.’
‘Alright! What’s bothering you? Why don’t you come over to the kitchen? We can talk while I prepare breakfast for you.’
Without waiting for an answer Kannappa walked away. Malolan grinned and followed the old man. Kannappa didn’t utter a word as he started working on Malolan’s breakfast. Malolan sighed and started the conversation.
‘There are lot of lives at stake, Kannappa. I don’t know if I can save them.’
‘Is the film cursed?’
‘Nonsense! There is nothing called witches or curses that exist in this world. There are just evil men with evil plans.’
Kannappa popped a couple of slices of bread into the toaster, ‘Then how do you think those people died?’
‘I’m not entirely sure. I think there is some audio-visual trigger in the film. That’s why I was desperate to see the film. But, unfortunately the police seized everything pertaining to the case.’
Kannappa glanced at Malolan for a second and then turned back to the stove, ‘Seems like you have not made much progress. Shame! I thought you’d have cracked the case by now.’
‘There’s something that I don’t understand yet, Kannappa. I think I’ll have a better understanding once I talk to Pednekar.’
Kannappa dropped the buttering knife from his hand, ‘Mayur?’
‘The one and only!’ Malolan’s mobile rang. It was Inspector Jayakumar.
‘Malolan, be in my office in ten minutes. Pednekar will be joining us on Skype.’
Malolan looked at Kannappa who looked irritated, ‘I’m off to the Police Station. I’ll most probably not be here for lunch.’
Kannappa stared at Malolan’s retreating back as he stabbed one of the boiled eggs with the knife.
Casey grinned at her neighbour and ex-boyfriend Mark Goh who was visiting her. It was Mark who had come crashing into her house after hearing Snookie’s barks and Casey’s screams. He’d alerted the Police and Ambulance and had stayed with her till she was taken inside for treatment.
‘Here! I thought you’ll be needing this.’ He handed her mobile phone. ‘Sorry, the Police took away your laptop. I sneaked your phone into my pocket before they could find it.’
Casey wanted to kiss him.
But she had things to do. She opened her phone with facial recognition and checked the messages. Social media was going crazy with the imminent release of Pednekar’s lost film on CineMafia. If only they knew.
She wanted to talk to someone in charge of the Taneja’s or the other guy’s death case.
At that moment, a new message flashed on her screen. It was from MissyB
‘Delgatto backstabbed me too. Arriving at SIN in two hours. We need to meet.’
Malolan, Jayakumar and few senior Police officials were present in the war room. The tech guy checked the connections and gave them the all-clear. Right on cue, the distinctive Skype tone was heard on the speakers. Malolan nodded and pressed the button to answer and came to face Mayur Pednekar.
‘Good evening, or should I say Good morning to you fine gentlemen. To what do I owe the pleasure?’ His charming tone and calm façade couldn’t hide his troubled eyes.
Jayakumar stood up and introduced the participants.
‘Alright gentlemen! What seems to be the problem? How can I help you?’
Malolan composed himself before he started talking, ‘Mr. Pednekar. I’m sure you are aware that your debut movie ‘Anthapura Azhagi’ which has been lost for more than four decades is being released tonight on Cinemafia.com’
‘Yes! I was made aware of the situation earlier today. I’d have loved it if it had a theatrical release first. I still maintain that it is my best movie till date.’
‘Mr. Pednekar, let’s cut the crap shall we? We know that you know that your movie is evil.’
‘Evil!’ Pednekar chuckled softly, ‘Young man, what are you saying? Anthapura Azhagi is the uplifting story of a girl sold to a King’s harem fighting for her and her fellow women’s rights. There’s nothing evil about the movie.’
It was not proceeding as planned. Jayakumar had a panicked look on his face. He didn’t want the case to burst on his face so close to his retirement.
‘Mr. Pednekar, two censor board offciers died gruesome deaths in June, 1973. Two more died over the last week in similar fashion. The only thing common to all four was that they watched your movie as they died.’
‘Was it coincidence that three suit-clad foreigners calmed you and took you away after you had created quite the scene outside the CBFC office. Was it coincidence that you decided to call us just few hours after we sent message up the grapevine wanting to talk to you. I think not!’ Malolan was treading into dangerous waters now. But he knew he wouldn’t stop.
‘What are you insinuating, young man? I don’t have all night.’
‘I want to talk to your friends who are outside the frame of this video, Mr. Pednekar.’
‘Yes. The one’s from Langley.’
‘I know that you were a puppet sent by CIA to spy on one Sidney Gottlieb.’
On hearing the name, Pednekar’s face went pale. Malolan smiled grimly as he knew that his gambit had worked. A rather stern looking man in a smart black suit joined Pednekar in the video.
‘This is Special Agent Hogan. How do you know that name?’
‘I was interested in the list of technicians involved in the making of the film, Special Agent Hogan. So I retrieved the copies of registration from old archives and found out that there was a certain Sidney Gottlieb listed as the audio engineer.’
Hogan stared through the screen, ‘How did you find out Pednekar’s links to the CIA?’
Malolan smiled, ‘Who wears suits in India, Agent Hogan? But all kidding aside, why did Pednekar who created such a ruckus just walk away after those men interfered? But the clincher was the audio engineer.’
‘C’mon, Agent Hogan! Sidney Gottlieb was the brain behind MK Ultra, the notorious mind control program devised and executed by none other than CIA. I know that the real Dr. Gottlieb died in 1999. So, who was this fake Gottlieb who was a trained audio engineer?’
Hogan almost smiled, ‘He was a gifted sound engineer who had discovered a device to record infrasound and ultrasound onto film reels.’
‘That is the mystery there. The film should have had both infrasound and ultrasound recordings along with its normal soundtrack. Being hit with alternating pulses of infrasound and ultrasound would have triggered manic paranoia and frenzy in those who watched the movie. No wonder they mutilated themselves so much. They just wanted to be rid of the sound in their heads.’ Malolan picked a file from the table and waved it in the air, ‘I have here the autopsy reports of the two people who died last week. The doctor’s reports concur with my observations. They both had burst eardrums and lot of burst capillaries which could have been triggered only by sonic blasts.’
Malolan paused and sipped water from a bottle, ‘The one thing I was concerned was the man’s name. Why did he name himself after the person who came up with unique ways of testing and torturing people with drugs and chemicals just to find a way to control their minds? I could come up with only one possible answer – He was a victim of Dr. Gottlieb’s experiments. The CIA tortured him to get him to reveal the designs to his device. You don’t need to agree or deny. It’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that the movie is on the verge of being released tonight and I want to stop it. I need you guys to help us.’
Pednekar glanced at Hogan, who nodded once, ‘Bad news gentlemen. The man who calls himself Sidney Gottlieb is back and he is the master mind behind the release of Anthapura Azhagi.’
Malolan whistled softly, ‘How do you know that he is the one behind this? Wait! Did he contact you?’
Pednekar nodded sadly, ‘Yes! He has demanded $100 Million from me to not release the movie. His exact words were, ask your friends. They’ll be happy to cough up the money.’
Malolan started pacing the floor, ‘I’m sure you guys have still not been able to trace his whereabouts. So, what do we do now?’
Hogan coughed, ‘You guys do nothing. Leave this to the professionals.’
‘Another expected move, Agent Hogan. But, no!’ Malolan looked at the DGP who nodded his consent. ‘The crimes have originated on our turf. You don’t have authority here and most definitely you don’t have the time. Have your team started hacking into the CineMafia servers?’
‘Yes! The process has started few hours ago. But they have quite cleverly used a masking software which keeps changing the server location every few minutes. There is only one course of action. We have to find this Gottlieb person.’
‘Or! Any other admin of CineMafia. There would be more than one of them I guess.’
At that moment, the secretary to the DGP burst into the room and whispered something to her boss. The DGP looked pensive and then nodded. ‘Gentlemen, there’s someone from Singapore who claims that’s she’s one of the partners of CineMafia. Should I patch the call in here?’
They all nodded. The technician brought in a conference call equipment and patched the call inside.
‘This is the Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu, Srikanth Krishna here. Who is this? Please identify yourselves.’
‘My name is Mark Goh. My friend Casey Teo is the person who wanted to talk to you. But she is injured and not able to talk freely. You may ask your questions, she will type the answers and I will read them out for you.’
Malolan took over, ‘Mr. Goh, Ms. Teo, thanks for calling. We need all the information you could provide regarding CineMafia and its owners in order to stop the release of the movie.’
The line went silent for a while. Malolan knew that Casey was typing. In the meantime, he moved over to Jayakumar and asked him for certain details. Jayakumar nodded and excused himself from the room.
The line crackled and Goh started speaking, ‘We were four partners in CineMafia. Taneja was the brain behind the venture. I provided technical support. Our other partners Delgatto and MissyB took care of the finances.’
Hogan chimed in, ‘Delgatto? Holy shit! Pednekar, I couldn’t believe when you said that Gottlieb called you. Gentlemen, the man who calls himself Sidney Gottlieb was a part of our study group called Project Xenia. His code name during the study was Delgatto.’
Goh continued, ‘After Taneja sent the partners emails about coming up with a viral marketing plan for the movie release, he died. Twenty four hours later there was one more mail from Taneja disclosing the movie name. Casey here, was shocked and she had some doubts about the movie, especially after the death of Taneja. So, she attempted to watch it only to be interrupted by a phone call. When she came back, her pet German Shepherd had gone crazy and started attacking her. She also felt a weird pounding in her head and an urge to harm herself. She says she might have hallucinated, but she thought she say a grey figure in her room.’
Malolan looked thoughtful, ‘That’s no hallucination. Studies have proven that if humans are exposed to infrasound at 19 Hz, which is just below the range of sounds that humans could hear, they could see images and shapes. I’m pretty sure if we analysed the tape, we can find a soundtrack at 19 Hz. Also dogs and bats can hear ultrasound. My friend, Sayan, found a dead bat outside Taneja’s window. That and Casey’s dog attacking her gives us definitive proof that there was an ultrasound track in the film as well.’
‘Casey wanted to delete the movie from the server, but she found out that her admin privileges had been revoked. She thought that Delgatto and MissyB were behind it, but now it has come to our notice that MissyB has been cast out as well. Actually, MissyB is in Singapore today and we have agreed to meet her.’
No one said anything for a few minutes. Only Malolan’s footsteps as he paced the room was heard. Suddenly he let out an expletive and banged the table.
‘Guys, I think I have solved the case. Unfortunately the answer has been beneath my nose all this while, but I didn’t have enough variables to solve the equations. Now I think I’ve done it. All I need is one more detail. And I think Inspector Jayakumar here will be able to provide us.’
Jayakumar had returned while Goh was talking. He stood up, ‘Malolan, your assumption was right. Prabhu had sent the link to the video to Taneja. But our tech guy, who cracked open Prabhu’s mail id said that the mail was sent forty eight hours after Prabhu’s death.’
Malolan sat down with a thud, ‘As I had expected. From the first minute, I have been wondering how or why this case came to me. Why did Sudhakar, the owner of the post-production company, choose me? There are many famous and more experienced detectives in the city. Why me? The answer is very simple. The men behind the film were back and they wanted to see if I was able to crack the case without having the resources of the Police. They wanted to stand beside me as I solved the clues, so that they could go ahead and plan their next steps. Sudhakar claimed that he outbid all the other companies to get the restoration project because he loved films. It was a lie.’
Malolan started pacing again, ‘Sudhakar bid for the project because he knew that Pednekar’s film would be a part of the collection. This was the only way to access something lost in the gargantuan maze that is the Government department. So I’ve been tracing Sudhakar’s steps consistently. I realized that he had travelled to Mumbai the day after Taneja had died. I’m pretty sure that it was Sudhakar who had erased Taneja’s laptop. It was Sudhakar, who had mailed the movie link to Taneja, not Prabhu. Sudhakar’s company has this unfortunate image of a place from where new movies were getting leaked onto the internet. Sudhakar has always claimed innocence and he fires one or two people from his company every few months. But the actual criminal was the person who had access to everything in his setup – him. I wanted to bring him to the Police Station today, but he has skipped town. His mobile is switched off.’
He looked at Jayakumar and nodded, ‘But, I know where he is now. Inspector, can we get your counterparts in Singapore to prepare a welcoming committee for Mr. Sudhakar? Casey, Sudhakar is MissyB. Please select a crowded place to meet him and inform the Singapore Police of the location. I’m pretty sure that he is there to finish you off.’
Malolan sipped some water and continued, ‘That leaves us with Sidney Gottlieb aka Delgatto. Agent Hogan, do you have a file photo of Delgatto?’
Hogan nodded and produced a black and white image from a manila folder. Malolan looked at it and had a pained expression on his face.
‘As I deduced. Inspector, can you send a patrol vehicle to my house and bring my caretaker Kannappa? He is your Sidney Gottlieb.’
Jayakumar barked a quick command through his walkie-talkie.
‘But, I’m pretty certain that Delgatto would have vanished by now. He knew that I would catch upto him eventually. This morning he expressed surprise that I hadn’t solved the case yet. Now I know that he was mocking me. Delgatto had instructed Sudhakar to bring the case to me after confirming that the film still worked.’
DGP Krishna spoke up, ‘But, why now? After all these years?’
‘I think Agent Hogan here can confirm my theory. Delgatto’s mind had got addled by the amount of drugs pumped into his system and the continuous torture he endured. When we first saw Kannappa, he was always absent-minded. His memory has improved by leaps and bounds over the decades. But, I guess he’d forgotten all about the film until recently. How he got involved with the movie piracy business, I don’t know for sure. But his end game was not about money. He endured all the torture to make sure the technology to his device never reached CIA’s hands. He made the movie with Pednekar here as a patsy. I’m pretty sure he’d guessed that Pednekar was a plant. It would have been the ultimate ‘Fuck You’ to CIA. Thousands dying and the name on the credit would be one of CIA’s finest.’
Hogan ventured the question that was on everybody’s minds, ‘What now?’
Malolan smiled, ‘We nab Sudhakar in Singapore and get the admin codes for CineMafia and delete the whole bloody website. We put out notices for Kannappa all over the country. Let’s announce a cash award while we are at it. We’ll corner him.’
Malolan stood up and turned to face the room, ‘Gentlemen, we might have won this battle, but the war has just begun.’
Sudhakar was arrested in Singapore and he confessed immediately. The CineMafia website was deleted without any trace from the World Wide Web.
Malolan went back to an empty home. He smiled sadly as he walked to his bedroom.
Casey and Mark have decided to give their relationship one more try. Snookie was returned to her by the Police.
Kannappa aka Delgatto grinned malevolently as he read the mails from various terrorist organizations begging for his Vibro-Acoustic Blaster. He logged out from his profile on the Darknet as he contemplated his further plans.
And we are done this year. A huge and hearty thank you to all who read, liked, commented, criticized and motivated me all through this AtoZ Challenge. THANK YOU and see you all next year.