There is an inner sense of pride in getting away from a chase. Not getting caught is nice, but maybe in any chase, catching the one in front of you gives a better feel. Majorly because you can bottle that moment. You can re-live the moment you handed upon the person ahead of you till then again and again. Lepcha and Kamal were in a chase. Two childhood buddies with bonds thicker than you can ask for, they always find one week in the year at least when they visit their native town, shedding the glitter of the city. Now in their mid-twenties, their zeal was still there and rightly so. It was a good year since they met each other last. Cutting back to the chase, Lepcha was behind Kamal in all his robust pace, trying to catch up and land some punches in his by now pot-bellied stomach as the latter had cracked a silly joke on the Marilyn of his life, the way only teenagers understand.
He was visibly surprised to see his friend, 15 kilos his superior suddenly running so fast.
“Have you been taking steroids, you jackass?” he shouted.
“Hahaha…” was the reply.
“Wait, I will catch you and tell you how it feels…” and there was a loud thud.
Something caught Lepcha’s leg as he fell down, face on onto the ground. Luckily, the ground felt unusually soft and as he tried getting up, with the help of his mud smeared elbows, he saw something he’d never forget his whole life.
His deafening scream scared Kamal 30 paces ahead.
Yellow and blue tape said ‘CRIME SCENE’ and ‘KEEP OUT’ in bold white letters. There were baffled faces all around. The police, the media, the locals- everyone wore a face laced with surprise and fear. The news had started flashing all over the country. Lying atop a bed in NEIGRIHMS, Lepcha could see on the television screen what he saw three hours back. Transparent plastic wires, bottles of medical salt water or as people there called it simply ‘saline’, the stench that only grew, flies and those teeth laughing at him as he screamed out his heart.
On the screen, the chief investigating officer Inspector Recho Benjamin came up after many enquiries by the media present there. His single line description sent shivers down the whole state of Meghalaya.
“We have a case of systematic homicide here.”
The NEIGRIHMS morgue wore a tensed look as five people crowded the space. 11 bodies lying in front of them. All in different stages of decay. The surprised look on their faces from a day back had not gone away an inch.
“They all were buried there at different intervals,” Basumatary, the forensic expert quipped. “The most recent body was buried a couple of weeks back and the oldest is probably 3-4 months old. And more interestingly, every one of them was exposed to a huge amount of drug overdose.”
“So, are we looking at the work of a supplier clearing his traces?” Recho enquired.
“We don’t really think that is the case, sir. Although, the possibility cannot be ruled out. The person who did this knew his science,” Mary, the other forensic expert quipped in.
“Why do you say so?” Rupert, the Superintendent of Police of the area asked.
Basumatary continued with the details, “Sir, each of the bodies was preserved rather than killed. They were first rendered helpless with a heavy dosage of heroin and then subjected to the decay. We can see huge colonies of Peziza and Aspergillus on the bodies. These are a fungus. They feed on dead matter. He must have placed them to grow there. However, the person who did this made sure the victims do not die. He supplied the standard Sodium Chloride solution we prescribe to people with weakness. He was feeding them as they felt themselves being eaten up by the growing fungus over them. He was not killing them, rather cultivating them. We just dug out someone’s personal farm.”
“What do you mean he was cultivating them?” Recho was taken aback.
“The bodies we have in front of us were alive when we dug them. Their organs were depleting, but their veins were still functional. They could feel the pain as the mycelium of the fungus, much like our vein network ate through their bodies. Only, they were helpless. We killed them as we dug them out, so to speak.” Mary ended the analysis.
The room never felt as silent as the time when the last line escaped the lady’s lips.
As Recho sat in the superintendent’s office that day, he could all but feel the tension in the air. A tension which only kept rising day after day since his team dug out the 11 bodies.
“We need to get to the bottom of this soon, Benjamin. We don’t have much time. The media is killing us every day and the state is adamant at not handing this case to the NIA or CBI. We have very less time.” the senior explained the situation in one frantic breath.
He was right. And Recho was listening to the same lined for the third time that day. The media ran bizarre stories. Someone ran a story called ‘The Man-Eater of Mawdiangdiang” the other day. That day saw a cover story titled ‘Doctors Turn Killers’. Things weren’t exactly in their hands. A list of all the missing people in the state in the past half a year was made. Three reported people were in the pits, alright. But that meant nothing to the investigation. How could they all be related? Or were they just randomly picked by the criminal? And why would someone do something like this? Fiddling through the pictured of the three identified victims in his hands, he could not listen to what his senior was telling him. He was lost in thoughts. The only thing he could see was the shiny bald head of his superior, shaving as he kept on speaking. And then it struck him. Could it be…?
One glance at his senior, three on the photos in his hands and he was out of the room. He’d hit the ultimate jackpot.
The forensics laboratory or NEIGRIHMS had been busy all these three weeks. As Recho entered the room, Basumatary literally ran towards him.
“Sir, you were right. We conducted an autopsy on all the bodies. There is a link. Each of them had cancer. Two of them had breast cancer, four had lung cancer and five had tumours in their brains.”
Recho showed a sign of relief that had been eluding him since a long time. In half an hour, his team assembled there.
“We are looking for someone who has the knowledge of science, we know that. The search has narrowed now. We need to find out people who had the resources to know about the medical conditions of patients. The criminal is either a doctor or a chemotherapy lab staff or anyone who sells medicines pertaining to cancer. And we know he visited his farm, so he must be a local. We need to find this person. Are we clear?” Recho explained it to his team.
“Yes, sir!” echoed in unison as the officers went out on the biggest manhunt the area had ever seen.
Dr. Himanta Gogoi.
The nameplate in front of a bungalow, secluded and towards the outskirts of Mawdiangdiang read. Almost everyone knew him. Famous environmentalist, social activist, doctor and resident physician at NEIGRIHMS. However, he was on the wrong side of the law that morning.
Recho assembled his team and instructed them on the to-dos. His breast pocket contained the warrant for the doctor’s arrest. As always, he took out his revolver and was the first one to lead the team into the scene.
As they entered the house, they heard a warm voice coming from the living room.
“Ah, inspector! I have been expecting you. Why did you take so long? Are you here to praise my farm? Sit, let me make you a cup of tea.”
“We have taken a lot from nature; is it not our time to give back? And they were dying anyway. What better way to go away other than being fed by beings we feed upon? And, I did not kill them, you did. Had it not been for you, my farm would have flourished. The veins of humans are an extensive network, you know. You should see what miracles happen when our network combines with that of nature! I am a man of science, I was just enhancing their lives. Giving their life a new meaning. A new and better end.” the doctor blurted out as he was tried in court.
Everyone wore a look none could explain. They were in the midst of psychopathic genius. And no matter how brilliant his idea might seem, everyone knew what the verdict would be.
A perfectionist to the core, Inspector Recho Benjamin wrote a memoir for every case he solved ever since he solved his first two decades back. He’d just finished the most recent one. The doctor was hung the previous day. Now, he’d put finishing touches on the account in a way no one else could. His diary sat there, on the table as he looked out from the balcony of his house he was sitting in. Taamul trees surrounded the periphery and the Khasi Hills were just around the corner. His chai felt like a sigh of relief.
The wind blew and opened the page where he’d left his pen. The top of the page pronounced “The Perfect Murders”.