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‘It’s clearly not burglary. There are marks on your neck, implying someone tried to kill you. But if someone wanted you dead, you would be.’
Editor’s Note: Read part one of this short story right here on Women’s Web!
“So, you’re telling me that someone broke into your apartment, attacked you, and destroyed your laptop?” said Ajay, a police inspector.
An excellent officer, and Ria’s brother, he readily agreed to help after she called him, her terrified voice narrating the events that had taken place. He looked at Ria. While he didn’t think her story was plausible when she’d called him, her voice held a note of panic, one simply couldn’t fake.
“Yes,” Ria answered, not looking at him. She heard the disbelief in his controlled measured tone.
Ria knew Ajay won’t believe her about Ritu’s message and decided not to tell him about it. As a matter of fact, Ria too had difficulty in believing it, despite having seen it herself.
“Why?” Ajay questioned.
“What do you mean?” asked Ria.
“Why would anyone do that? Is there someone who has a grudge against you? Someone, who, perhaps wants you dead?” he asked her. He enunciated every word slowly and looked at Ria carefully.
“I don’t think so,” Ria said, shrugging.
“Ria, look, I want to help you. I really do. But I can’t do that if you’re lying to me.”
She began, “I’m not l-”
He cut her off with a stern look. “Alright, I’ll tell you what I found. I examined every door, every window and there are no signs of a break-in. Apart from your laptop which was broken – not stolen, nothing else is amiss. It’s clearly not a burglary. There are marks on your neck, implying that someone did try to kill you, but if someone wanted you dead, you should be.”
Ria spoke angrily, ” What do you mean, I should be dead?”
“Well, clearly the person who broke in was very thorough. In fact, so thorough, that it looks like no one was ever in your apartment… Except you. Look, I can understand that you’re frustrated, but I can’t help you if you insist on hiding things from me.” Ajay said.
Ria took a deep breath, “Three years ago, my girlfriend died. I wrote our story and posted it on my blog yesterday. And… she commented on it.”
“Your dead girlfriend commented on a story you wrote?” a puzzled Ajay asked.
Ria nodded seriously, “I know it sounds crazy, but you have to believe me. Ajay, I’m not joking.”
“I didn’t say you were…….” he trailed off. “And what did this girlfriend say?”
“That she was alive. And that she needed help.” Ria said. “Look, I know this sounds crazy but I-”
“Ria, I’ll be the judge of that.” He paused for a few moments, considering the matter. “Tell me the address of your blog.” he finally asked, taking out his phone.
Ria told him, and after a few minutes of surfing, Ajay looked up at her with a frown on his face.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“The blog you’re talking about was deleted.”
Ajay continued, with a very confused expression on his face, “Ria, it was deleted three years ago.”
“So this was where Ritu lived?” Ajay asked, his sharp eyes taking in the posh building. At the entrance, he noticed the CCTV cameras, which were surreptitiously hidden under some foliage. He made a mental note to inquire if he could obtain footage from three years before.
“Yes,” Ria replied, in a distracted way.
“You brought the key?” Ajay asked Ria.
“Yeah.” Ria said, “Here,” she said, handing it to him.
“What floor did she live on?” Ajay asked, walking to the lift.
“The penthouse,” came the prompt reply.
The ride up was quiet. Ria had never been much of a conversation maker, and Ajay was far too wrapped up in his thoughts to initiate one.
Nothing Ria said made any sense to him, her story seemed far too improbable. But he didn’t think she was lying. Whatever had happened, left her terrified. Apart from wanting to help out his sister, the case was too intriguing for someone like him to pass upon.
A ding sounded, signalling that they had reached their destination. The balcony next to the door looked old, dusty, and deserted as if no one had set foot on it for a very long time.
Ajay looked at Ria. She stood like a statue her face wiped clean of any emotion. It was clear that she was lost in deep thought. The doors of the lift began to close. Ajay held he had out to stop them. Ria appeared not to notice. Gently, he asked, “Shall we?”
She took a deep breath as if steeling herself for whatever horrors lay in store.
The apartment was eerie in the way most places in horror movies were – abandoned. And the really creepy part, Ajay thought, was how ordinary everything looked. Everything looked as it ought to be as if the occupant had gone out for a vacation and would return.
He stole a furtive glance at Ria. She had a distant, unreadable expression, something quite in character for the Ria he had known.
They were the same age. Ajay’s parents had adopted a nine-year-old Ria, who’d always been a silent soul. She was brilliant in her academics, always ahead of Ajay, but he never minded. Ria was always nice to him. His six other brothers never were. She’d grown apart from the whole family after she left for college.
“You didn’t tell me that… That you…” he stammered as he couldn’t phrase the words properly.
“Dated girls?” she asked with the faintest hint of a smile.
He nodded, turning a little red.
“I never really thought about dating anyone at any point in time. Ritu… just sort of happened, that’s all,” she said, looking around the apartment with an almost pained expression on her face.
“Oh,” he said simply, not knowing what he could say.
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather not talk about that,” she said, her tone strained as she looked around Ritu’s flat.
“Yeah,” he said relieved. “I’ll just, look around the apartment. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”
She shot him a quick grateful look, before leaving.
“Well?” Ria asked Ajay. It was a week after they’d seen Ritu’s flat. Ajay told her that he’d get back to her after he examined all the evidence. They decided to meet in a cafe.
He sat across from her now. Ajay came 10 minutes after Ria did, carrying a bag. He shot her a peculiar, searching look as he sat down, but didn’t say anything.
“I have a few questions I’d like to ask you,” he declared, sounding official.
“Okay… Is anything wrong?” she asked, not understanding his peculiar behaviour.
He ignored the question and asked one of his own. “Where did you meet Ritu?
“At college, I told you-” He cut her off. “What classes was she taking?”
“Same as mine… Aj-”
“So, she was the same year as you, studying the same subjects?”
“Yes. Ajay, where are you going with this?” she asked, confused.
Instead of answering her, he took out a bottle of pills from the bag. He showed it to her and said, “I found these in Ritu’s apartment. Do you know what these are for?” he asked, watching her expression carefully.
She stared at them blankly for a while. Then she remembered. “For her heart! She had a heart condition. Come to think of it, that might be why she….” her voice faded off.
“Ria, how many times did you go to Ritu’s place?” Ajay asked, soldiering on.
“Just once. She moved in after college, three years ago, and I helped her move. That’s all.” she answered. “How is this even relevant?”
“I’m going to speak now, and please don’t interrupt me,” Ajay said, looking at her with an almost sad expression.
“Okay,” Ria said. She felt very nervous for some reason.
“The first thing I did after I dropped you off at home was going to your college. I spoke with teachers, the Dean and all of them told me something quite strange. A student named Ritu never studied there.”
“What? I don’t understand-” Ria began.
He held up a hand silencing her. “Now this was shocking. But I did understand what was going on shortly after I received the CCTV tapes from the building you said Ritu was supposed to move in. The flat is registered in the name of Ritu, but the only person who ever stepped foot in that apartment was you. And, it wasn’t just once, it was multiple times.” He looked at her stunned face.
He continued, “I can see that it doesn’t make any sense to you. It didn’t to me either. So I went back to the apartment, and I found this.” And he placed the bottle of pills on the table.
“The pills were given out on the name of a doctor that I tracked down. I showed him your photograph and asked him what he could tell me about the girl in the photo. He asked, ‘Ritu? What do you want to know about her?’
Ajay continued, “He told me about a girl who’d started seeing him four years ago. She called herself Ritu and she told him about she needed someone to help her. When she was asked to produce her identification, she showed him your college ID. Well, he did some tests and after pinpointing her exact problem, he prescribed these pills to her.”
Ria finally spoke, “Heart pills? How- how could they help?”
“Ria, these pills aren’t for the heart. They’re to treat schizophrenia.”
Picture credits: Still from Netflix movie Ghost Stories
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