Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Mystery of the Disappearing Blogger

The following story is my first attempt at fiction. I submitted it to the Coffee Beans Competition and won. My very first Story-writing Award! Here is the story for your kind perusal!

The Mystery of the Disappearing Blogger
By Brendan-Anton R. Dabhi

I had been summoned to the police station at two on Monday morning. Two cops came over and hauled my ass to the waiting jeep. I tried asking them what the problem was but they just cryptically answered me saying that their senior officer wanted to have a little chat with me.

They sat me down in one of the offices and brought me a glass of water to clear my head. I gulped it down. “Can I get some more?” I asked. 

“In a moment, um… Bendaam.” he said, stuttering, trying to pronounce my name with a kind of swagger that was supposed to impress me but which rather gained him a sigh and a withering look. I didn't care to correct him at two in the morning. I’m not exactly a morning person.

“What am I here for, sir?” I asked.

“A woman has gone missing in Mumbai and you were the last person to contact her before she went off the radar.”

I was immediately apprehensive and the first thought was for my cousin who I’d messaged on Whatsapp just two days prior to this interrogation. I, however, kept my thoughts to myself. “Well, who is it?” I ventured, dreading the very thought of someone I knew, being lost.

Officer Pundit, the officer interrogating me, said, “Do you know a lady by the name of Namrota Mazumdar?”

I was shocked! Namrota? Missing? How was that possible? I had sent her a mail just… And then I realized that I had sent her a mail over the weekend and had got no reply.

“Oye? Boy?” officer Pundit snapped his fingers in my face as I escaped my reverie. “Yes, yes I know her. What happened?” I asked; the nervousness clearly evident in my shaky voice.

Completely ignoring my question, he asked, “When did you last contact her?”

“Umm… I don’t know, may be yesterday or the day before that.”

“I need a better answer than maybe, kid.” He growled, evidently not very happy to be jogging my memory so early in the morning. “Yesterday or the day before that? Come on, answer me.” He demanded.

I took a guess and told him that it was the day before that I had sent Namrota a mail regarding a blogging competition. He looked at the paper in his hand and nodded approvingly. He then asked me if I had noticed any change in her writing style or if she seemed stressed the last time she’d contacted me. I replied in the negative, but the fact was that I really didn’t know. Our mails to each other were just really short one-liners.

He seemed to relax visibly. He leaned back in his chair, arranged his papers, put them back in the folder and got up. I got up too. He looked at me and gave me a smile. I was bewildered. Where was the rock-hard piece of stone that was questioning me? Why is he smiling? Is this interrogation over? All these questions were running through my still sleep-addled brain at the sudden change in expression of Officer Pundit.

“Come on” he urged, putting out one hand towards me and pointing at the door with the other. “Let’s sit in my office” as he waited outside the holding cell till I exited it too and then closed it behind me.

We had to cross the main doorway of the police station to reach his office and I noticed a number of policemen lounging about, poring over files and talking to people. My eyes also managed to wander over to the big wall clock above the doorway which proclaimed that it was just a quarter to three in the morning. How was that possible? I thought to myself. The interrogation felt like it had continued for over an hour or two.

When we reached his cabin, we asked me to sit in one of the chairs facing his desk as he took a seat behind it and regarded me in quiet contemplation for a while, making me even more uncomfortable and nervous than I actually was. He then gave another of his beatific smiles and said, “Don’t worry, Brendaam. It’s over. Now you can relax. No need to be scared. You’ve been cleared.”

“What?” I asked, in a voice that came out about a pitch higher than I’d anticipated. “I was a suspect? You thought I had something to do with Namrota’s disappearance?”

“Well, yes. We have to regard everyone as a suspect until proven otherwise. Don’t you watch CID?” he asked, chuckling at his own little joke. “But now it’s OK, I know you’re not involved in any way.”

At that moment, a constable came in carrying a file. He showed it to his superior who approved of whatever he saw and then sent him off. As he was leaving, Officer Pundit shouted after him, “Order two cups of tea, Balwant.”
“Yes, OK sir.” He shouted back, already halfway across the building.

“Now Brendan”, he said, “I need you to tell me what you know about this lady and what do you think happened to her.”

My elation over him pronouncing my name right was dampened by my apprehension over Namrota’s disappearance.  “I don’t know sir. But we are fellow bloggers. I follow her blog regularly and I've noticed something strange there.”

“Do go on”, he urged, placing before me a cup of steaming hot tea that had just been brought in by the Kitliwala.

“Well, her last post was an advertisement about some product or another. It seemed very unlike Namrota. I don’t think she had ever done anything like that before; using her blog to advertise something. I don’t remember what it was exactly but I think I know why I remember it; it was because the post had a kind of forced quality. It was as if she had been forced to write that particular post.”

“Uh huh? You think so?” he looked perplexed.

“Yeah, it was as if she was coerced into writing that post. Do you think she might have been blackmailed or be kidnapped by those people, sir?” I argued feebly.

“It is possible, we cannot rule out any possibilities…” he trailed off, looking into the distance and sipping his tea. The silence of those few minutes was so intense that I could hear the gears in his head turn and creak as he sought to make sense of the information I’d just piled onto him. “Very well, we’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.” He stood up and shook my hand. I took that as a cue that I was being dismissed. “Balwant will drop you home, alright?” he asked.

“Yes sir, thank you. Could you please inform me when you do find her?” I asked hopefully.

“Sure boy”, he replied absently as he picked up his phone to make a call.

I was driven to my apartment by the constable and as I sat down at the dining table, the shock hit me. I suddenly realized the enormity of what had happened. One of my blogger friends was missing, in another city, possibly without a trace. I was stunned, unable to move. When I finally came out of this trance, I groped at my box of cigarettes and struggled to light one with my shuddering hands.

I know not how I lived through those four days in the constant fear of my phone - the fear of bad news.

However, on the fifth day, just as I was about to leave for office, my phone rang. It was Officer Pundit and he informed me that my hunch was right. Namrota had indeed been kidnapped by the company whose advertisement had appeared on her blog. She was being held against her wish by those people because they wanted her to keep writing for them. Both the accused, the owners of the company had been apprehended and were being held in police custody. I thanked the officer for the good news and breathed a sigh of relief. Namrota was safe.

I reached office and got online only to see that I had a mail by no other than my lost-and-found friend. It was a letter of thanks and heartfelt gratitude for my help in solving the case. She said that she hadn't been mistreated and that she was unhurt. I was very glad to hear that.

Later that month, I heard on the news that the two guys responsible for her disappearance had been declared unfit to stand trial because of their mental instability. They had been admitted into an asylum for the criminally insane.

Later that day, I sent Namrota a one-line E-mail that went:

“Wow! What a Week!”

Note: This story is a work of fiction and any/all characters bearing resemblance to real people are mere coincidences.

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