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One’s A Crowd

ACT I

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ACT II

Tuesday, Twelve years before that other Tuesday

Thirty three minutes past Ten AM

The offices of Mr.Vishwanathan, Madras

There was a shrill high pitched laughter ringing across the nearly empty office of Mr.Vishwanathan.

A couple of other laughs in varying decibel levels joined in grudgingly.

They couldn’t help it because the Boss’s joke is always funny.

The office supremo Mr.V, the vice-president Mr.Gopalakrishnan, the Chief Accounting Officer Mr. Srinivasan and the operations incharge Mr.Swaminathan were all meeting after ages, discussing about the quarterly projections when they inadvertently switched into another topic that was completely interesting and hence highly irrelevant. 

Sipping on their hot beverages, they continued their pointless argument. . .

“Gopal, you just can’t be serious”

The vice-president continued to take measured sips from his cup and smiled.  He now turned his gaze towards the CAO.

“Gopal sir, do you really expect us to believe that of all people, you think Mr.Chandramouli is the most mysterious??”

“It’s not that simple Mr.Srinivasan. I still vehemently believe that people like Mouli have a secret worth hiding.”

“But Gopal, in the 22 years that this company has existed, I’ve never seen Mouli do a single thing that disrupts his monotonous existence. He has been a creature of habit. Even my driver Babu can tell you the colour of Mouli’s shirt and the lunch he’d be bringing next monday”

Gopalakrishnan couldn’t hide his indignation.

“Vishy, I’ve been here for the aforementioned time frame and I still believe Mouli will have a secret, a deep and dark secret.”

Mr.Vishwanathan then rose from his chair and spoke with a tone of finality.

“There’s just one way to find that out.”

Mr.Swaminathan couldn’t resist himself and said, “And… That is…??”

“Well Mr.Swami, my statement was an extremely well directed pause for dramatic effect and you took the bait.”

That familiar shrill laughter with those accompanying guffaws filled the room where a bet was wagered as to who could find a secret of Mr.Mouli that he would prefer remaining as one.

It all started with this one uncanny and unnecessary BET.

Act III

Scene 1

Friday, A couple of weeks after the 12 year Flashback Tuesday

Ten Thirty PM

The Same High Rise Building

The Offices of Mr.Vishwanathan, MADRAS

It had been two weeks since they had decided to keep a close watch on Mr. Chandramouli. Today was the day they had planned to convene and reveal their respective findings.

The wager did deal with a considerable sum and Swaminathan could always do with some extra money. He first thought of employing some extra help, but somehow this particular activity made him feel like, “NATHAN…. SWAMINATHAN”

He broke out of his reverie when Vishwanathan asked him to present his findings. Nathan glanced one more time at his notes and started rattling off its contents.

“Sirs, as we’d discussed earlier, Mr.Mouli is a man of few interests. He is the most punctual man I’d ever come across, after Mr.Vishwanathan of course. On the personal front, he had a very small family. He never had any alone time except for the last Friday of every month when his family went to a temple in the nearby town.

His family consisted of Mrs.Sunitha Chandramouli, à housewife who spent her time after tending to the familial needs by watching TV, reading film magazines and taking care of her 10 year old daughter, Aarya Chandramouli.

This man is like clockwork, his day starts at 0630 daily and retires to bed at 2230. He has signed in the office register at 0830 exactly for the past twenty two years and signed off at 1730. Not a minute earlier and not a minute late.

Mr.Mouli then picks his daughter up from her tuitions and reaches home by 1830. This routine changed every Tuesday and Thursday when he’d pick her up from music classes only at 1945. The time frame between 1730 and 1945 could easily be attributed to his visit to the Shiva temple every Tuesday. But the Thursday was shrouded in mystery and I didn’t have enough time to pinpoint the correct possibility. “

Once he’d uttered that last sentence, Mr.Srinivasan hurled a clipboard on the wall and that is when Nathan noticed the broken shards of glass strewn across the floor, the shredded papers and the bloodshot eyes of the other three people in the room. Such a glaring oversight made him réalisé something very important…

He was just Swaminathan and can never be Nathan… Swaminathan…

Once again his reverie was broken when his boss bellowed.

“Didn’t all of us tell you Srinivasan. You refused to believe our words”

Mr.Srinivasan was just staring at the wall behind me like a raging bull.

“Gopal saar was right. Such a devious bugger, he’d been gradually swindling money from the company and …”

“But Gopal, how come we never noticed this irregularity earlier?”

“Vishy, it wasn’t exactly an amount that’d have come under our purview and even if it did, Vasan would have been held responsible.”

“But that oh-so-poor Mouli. I want to kill him now.”

“Vasan, as Vishy believes, the account discrepancies could be forgiven … but…”

Nathan felt so stupid. The others had found out something more and he thought himself to be a sleuth. He couldn’t move his eyes away from Mr.Vasan who was now breathing heavily and punching the table continuously.

“I always harbored the doubt that she was seeing someone Gopal sir. I loved her so much that I never asked her anything till this morning.”

“What did she say Vasan?”

“Amidst all the incessant sobbing, all I could figure out was she did it for me. I couldn’t look at her face”

Nathan thought that now was the best time to clarify his biggest doubt.

“Oh… so is Mrs.Vasan the Thursday mystery?”

That’s when he knew the pain that table would have felt due to the repeated punches from Mr.Vasan. After being at the receiving end of a few well landed punches and upper cuts, Nathan was with a black eye and bloody lips.

The atmosphere became less tensed after the copious amount of alcohol that entered their systems.

Mr.Gopalakrishnan spoke up first.

“Vasan. . . We all know Nandini. I think she was indeed protecting you. That Mouli fellow could have convinced her that this was the only way and she very well knew how much this job meant to you.”

“Yes Gopal sir… she is an angel. It’s all that son of a gun. She would have been scared and did her best to protect us.”

“Vishy.. we must do something”

Four drunk people started plotting revenge against a man who had methodically stolen from the company. Mr.Vishwanathan instructed his driver to pick them up at 0200 and take them to Mouli’s home. Even though Nathan had his initial misgivings, he became the most animated part of this group after realising the grave injustice Mouli had done to his company, the very company that he harbored dreams of leading in the future.

More importantly, the Bosses are always Right.

Scene 2

Twenty past Two AM

Saturday, that only day Mouli is alone. Convenient right.

Mouli’s House, Madras

The car slowly rolled towards the Mouli household. Vishwanathan asked the driver to park the car a few mètres away from the gate.

The inebriated quartet stepped out of the car and looked at each other. Finally the boss spoke up.

“Since none of us want to go to prison, murder and stuff goes out right now. Let me go talk to him. I have my gun. I’ll threaten him with police and danger to his family. Let’s not all ambush him because our company’s and a woman’s repute is at stake”

After consoling Vasan, the boss instructed the other three to wait outside the house in strategic locations as pointed out by Nathan earlier.

From their hiding spots, they could hear the conversation upstairs. They knew Mouli was cornered because Vishwanathan’s voice was getting enraged and the threats seemed to be ricochet off every wall in that house. Amidst the continuous tirade, they heard three gunshots.

The driver went off running followed by the hiding triumvirate. Their bravado was now nonexistent and the three of them got into the car and drove off leaving their boss and the runaway driver .

The boss might be right always. But at times like this, no one cared.

Scene 3

Still the same Saturday

The households of Vasan, Nathan and Gopal, Madras

The three of them were now curled in their respective beds after the tumultuous turn of events last night.

Each of them were still hazy due to the insane amounts of alcohol in their system. That’s why when they woke up, it took them really long to understand the trepidation with which their wives handed the morning coffee and the newspaper.
The newspapers whose headlines now read,

” Industrialist M.N. Vishwanathan shot dead and burnt”

Act IV

Half past Two PM

Tuesday, Three weeks before that first Tuesday, before that 12 years time jump, the Act 1 Tuesday.

A dimly lit, shady room, Chennai

“I’ve been trying to reach him for so long Mr.Chidambaram. I want to speak to him directly.”

“Why??”

” okay.. I’ll tell you again… It was all framed. He was innocent. Even though he is no more, I need to prove his innocence. He must be absolved of all the allegations against him. Mr.Chidambaram, put me through to him directly. Please. I’ve heard a lot about his thirst for finding out the truth. ”

The secretary then rose from his chair, walked towards the door, switched off the lights and bolted it shut.

A few rings of smoke were now floating around that cranky old table lamp which was the only source of light. He put on his pair of glasses, sat on the swiveling chair and adjusted the rim of his hat.

He then spoke with that chilling yet assuring baritone.

“Good Afternoon Aarya… This is Chandrasekhar… Mahadev Chandrasekhar

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Filed under: Fiction, hatman Tagged: Aarya, crime, fiction, Hatman, Mahadev, murder

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Written by Avinash

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