Thursday, June 16, 2016

Smoking Kills – Fiction Short Story

SMOKING KILLS
Short Fiction – A Murder Thriller
By
VIKRAM KARVE

From my Creative Writing Archives:

I wrote this story around 25 years ago  in the early 1990s 

Those were my nascent days of creative writing when I was trying my hand at different genres of prose.

I wrote this rather amateurish “thriller” under a pseudonym for a competition – and  wonder of wonders  this story won a prize. 

That’s why this story remains one of my favourites. 

Do tell me if you like it. 

And do remember to transport yourself back in time to the early 1990’s – an era when modern gadgets like mobile cellphones and laptops did not exist  and internet had not yet made its appearance on the scene  at least in India

Before you read this story – remember – this story may be fiction  but – smoking is injurious to health – in fact – smoking can kill...


SMOKING KILLS  Fiction Short Story by VIKRAM KARVE


I was not nervous at all. 

When I want to kill someone – I always make my plans alone  and with the greatest of care. 

Murder is a serious business  and you cannot afford to be careless.

For Amrita  I had chosen Ricin.

Yes  for Amrita I had chosen Ricin – the deadliest of biotoxins. 

Ricin. 

Six Thousand times more lethal than cyanide – yes – 6000 times more powerful than cyanide.

Ten Thousand times more deadly than cobra venom – yes – 10000 times deadlier than a cobra bite. 

And worse.

For Ricin – there is no antidote. 

Ricin – impossible to detect – no trace  and no tell-tale symptoms. 

Safe for the Murder  and certain death for the victim. 

Ideal for Amrita.

Stupid and unsuspecting Amrita. 

How easy she had made it for me.

Today was Thursday. 

Tomorrow – on Friday evening  Amrita would unsuspectingly smoke the specially prepared cigarette I would offer her. 

And then  she would take the night flight to Delhi to catch the early morning flight to Ladakh on Saturday  and begin shooting her ad film in the high Himalayas.

On Sunday  the Ricin would begin to act on her. 

First  she would experience a slight shortness of breath  a bit of a cough which was nothing abnormal at those altitudes. 

Most likely  the workaholic that she was  she’d pop in a pill for flu  feel okay  and continue working.

Then – suddenly late on Sunday night  she’d be in distress – high fever, severe cough, vomiting, respiratory failure and circulatory collapse.

By Monday morning  Amrita would be dead.

Of course there will be a post-mortem at some remote hospital in Ladakh.

The Diagnosis: High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

HAPE  as they call it over there. 

Quite a familiar illness at those high altitudes where oxygen is scarce – especially for plainsmen who rush up into the hills and overexert themselves.

“Sad,” they would all say, “she should have acclimatized herself properly.”

It was as simple as that. 

A precise threshold dose of Ricin which was just enough to initiate the cytotoxic action. 

An overdose would be disastrous – Amrita would probably drop dead on my doorstep. 

And an under-dose would be exercise in futility.

If I waited  it may be too late  before I could get such an opportunity again.

My husband Mohan would return from his business trip on Tuesday  and life would be normal once again.

I looked at the calculations in my notebook. 

Theoretically accurate. 

Haber’s formula. 

The exact concentration  the timing  the exposure route  delivery mechanism. 

I cross-checked everything  there was no room for error. 

The work of perfectionist – everything would happen like clockwork  like it had happened before – in my earlier murders

Each of my previous murders were a work of art and an exercise in subtlety.

Amrita’s cigarette was ready. 

Specially processed with a carefully calibrated dose of Ricin. 

70 micrograms. 

The weight of a single grain of salt. 

The precise amount that would manifest itself after a 72 hour incubation period.

I put the cigarette in the pack  and placed the cigarette pack next to the ashtray on the table.

Suddenly  a thought crossed my mind. 

Suppose Amrita did not smoke the cigarette?

No problem. 

I had plenty of back-ups my sleeve.

Aflatoxin  for instance. 

A drop of aflatoxin in her tea or drink. 

Like Ajay. 

Three days to certain death  due to severe jaundice followed by irreparable cirrhosis of the liver.

Or maybe  I’d give Amrita a face tissue. 

To freshen up before she left. 

A lavender scented face tissue laced with zombie powder – Tetrodotoxin. 

Trans-dermal delivery through her rosy cheeks.

But that would be a  last resort. 

Tetrodotoxin was too dangerous. 

Dr. Bhatia had dropped dead even before the train reached Dadar. 

The tabloids had said: “Massive Heart Attack”  – as the cause of death. 

Just imagine – that’s the state of forensics out here. 

You can get away with anything. 

Even murder.

Amrita  Ajay  and Dr. Bhatia. 

The three persons who knew the one secret I had kept safely hidden from my husband. 

Two gone to heaven. 

Only Amrita remained. 

She was the only surviving link to the dangerous skeleton I had kept safely locked up in the cupboard of my heart.

I was just 19 then. 

The last year of college. 

Carefree. 

Reckless. 

Moments of indiscretion in the flush of youth. 

A few lapses  and a peccadillo that cost me dear.

It had been easy to kill Dr. Bhatia and Ajay. 

No pangs of conscience – both of them were just crude blackmailers. 

One wanted my money  the other wanted my body.  

But with Amrita  it was different. 

Amrita had been my closest friend. 

Amrita knew things about me that no one else did  not even my mother. 

It was Amrita on whose shoulders I had wept when Ajay ditched me  and Amrita too had wept. 

She was the one who had arranged everything  and held me and tried to calm me  when Dr. Bhatia performed the clandestine abortion.

After college was over  she suddenly disappeared to America for higher studies  and we lost contact. 

Till she surprised me in the lobby of the Taj Hotel the other day  cigarette dangling from her lips. 

Amrita looked vivacious  in tight jeans and a close-fitting T-shirt. 

We hugged.

“It’s been a long time,” she said.

“Eighteen years,” I said. “Let’s go home.

Amrita looked around my luxurious flat on Marine Drive  and from the shelf – she picked up the framed photograph of my husband and me.

“Your husband. He is very handsome.”

“Yes. His name is Mohan. He has gone abroad on a business trip.”

“Kids?” asked Amrita.

Two. A boy and a girl. They are studying in Mussoorie.”

“You are really lucky, Anu. You have got everything  and I am still struggling,” Amrita paused for a moment  and then she suddenly smiled and said, “Okay. Let’s celebrate. Let’s get stoned.”

“You still do hash?” I asked, incredulous.

“Once in while,” Amrita said. 

Amrita took out a cigarette pack and small pouch from her purse  and she started meticulously preparing a joint.

I went inside to get the soft drinks. 

When I returned  I instantly sensed the sweet smell of marijuana.

Amrita had already lit up. 

She held out the cigarette pack, “Come Anu, I have made one for you.”

“No,” I said

“Come on, Anu. At least have a drag from mine – for old times sake!”

“No,” I said firmly.

I had vowed to never do it again. 

I can never forget that dreadful period of my life. 

Amrita  Ajay  and Me. 

Lying stoned for days. 

Doing all sorts of things  till one day I suddenly came crashing down to reality  when I discovered that I was pregnant. 

It was terrible. 

The clandestine abortion. 

The trauma I had to undergo. 

I was determined not to mess up my life again.

Amrita kept taking deep drags on her cigarette  and as she got stoned  she talked about herself  her divorce  her success in the ad film-maker  and then she suddenly asked me: “Does he know?”

“Who?”

“Mohan. Your husband. Does he know?”
       
“What?” I asked.

“About you and Ajay?”

“No. Let’s have dinner,” I said, trying to change the topic.

“That quack did a good job  didn’t he? Bhatia – Dr. Bhatia – that’s his name isn’t it?” Amrita slurred  and then she said teasingly, “I am going to tell your husband. There is no place for secrets between husband and wife.”

I shuddered to think what would happen if she told Mohan everything about my past life that I had so carefully kept hidden. 

My world would come crashing down. 

The fairy-tale marriage  the “social triumph” (as my mother put it)  the opulent lifestyle  the flourishing career  the perfect husband  and lovely children studying in the best boarding school in the country – everything would fall apart like a pack of cards. 

I could not allow Amrita to meet my husband Mohan at any cost. 

She was too much of a blabbermouth. 

Especially when she was drunk or stoned  Amrita was sure to blurt out everything.

Before she left, Amrita said, “Anu, I am dying to meet your cute husband.”

“Not this time,” I said, “Mohan is returning on Tuesday.”

“No sweat  I will meet him on my way back to the States. In fact – I will stay with you in your lovely house  and we will all have a good time together  okay?” Amrita said.

“Okay,” I said.

Amrita gave me a hug  and she walked to the door.

“Hey  you have forgotten your joint,” I said, picking up the half open cigarette pack. 

It contained just one cigarette – the joint she had prepared for me  which I did not smoke.

“Let it be,” Amrita said, “No point carrying it around. I will smoke it when I drop in tomorrow evening on my way to the airport. I love to be high when I fly,” she said with a wink.

Suddenly Amrita stopped at the door  she turned around  and she said, “Have you met Ajay?”

“No,” I replied, frozen. 

I recovered my composure  and I said, “I lost contact with both you and Ajay ever since you left for America after college.”

“It’s funny,” Amrita said, “I unexpectedly ran into Ajay at Seattle airport sometime last year  and he told me he was relocating back to Mumbai  and Ajay said that he would track you down.”

“Well, he didn’t track me down – so I have not met him since he left college,” I said firmly. 

What Amrita did not know was that Ajay had indeed showed up in Mumbai  and that I had killed him.

Yes – Dear Reader – as I have told you earlier – I had killed Ajay – with a drop of Aflatoxin in his drink.

I said once again to Amrita, “Well – I have absolutely no clue as to the whereabouts of Ajay – he certainly did not show up here.

“Strange. Ajay has just vanished – he has just disappeared into thin air. Now we will have to track him down when I come back next week,” Amrita said, as she left.

It was at that moment that I decided to kill Amrita.

Bhatia was dead. 

Ajay was dead. 

Once Amrita was dead  the ghosts of my past would never haunt me.

On Friday evening afternoon I took half a day off  and hurried home from my boutique to get ready for the evening with Amrita. 

I opened the door with the latch-key.

I was stunned to find my husband Mohan sitting on the sofa.

“Hi,” my husband said casually, “come home early?”

“What are you doing here?” I asked, “You were supposed to come back next Tuesday.”

“I cut short my trip.”

“But you could have called me.”

“I took a last minute decision  and everything was so uncertain. In fact I just reached an hour back  and I wanted to surprise you,” Mohan said.

Then  looking a bit irritated – my husband Mohan said, “Anu  I thought you would be happily surprised to see me.”

“Of course I am happy to see you, Mohan. I’m sorry I was rude,” I said.

I sat on the sofa  and it was only then that I smelt a trace of that sweet aroma. 

Instinctively  my eyes went to the ashtray  and I saw the smoked cigarette butt. 

It was the joint I had spiked with Ricin. 

The open empty cigarette packet lay next to the ashtray.

An indescribable fear drilled into me.

“Who smoked that cigarette?” I asked my husband Mohan.

“I did,” Mohan said.

“Oh, My God…” I barely managed to whisper.

“By the way  Anu  since when have you started smoking? And such an expensive imported brand?” he asked.

“Not me. My friend. She forgot it here last evening,” I stammered.

“Friend?” he asked.

“You don’t know her.”

“Amrita Khare?” he asked.

I was stunned. 

I felt as if I had been struck by lightning. 

I stared at Mohan – speechless.

“She rang up just before you came,” Mohan said.

“Amrita?” I asked.

“Yes. Your friend Amrita said she won’t be coming today. Something important has come up. But she said she would definitely come over to visit us on her way back to the States next week...” Mohan said.

I felt a sense of relief. 

And then  my mind became clear all of a sudden  and I was panic stricken. 

Mohan had smoked that cigarette  the hash cigarette laced with Ricin.

But he did not look even a bit stoned. 

Maybe the Ricin had neutralized the hash. 

Oh. My God! 

The Ricin. 

No antidote. 

Irreversible. 

There was nothing I could do  except watch my husband die in front of my eyes. 

It was terrible, unimaginable mental agony.

The day – Friday  passed. 

Then  it was Saturday. 

Sunday. 

Monday. 

Mohan did not die. 

In fact  he seemed healthier than ever. 

The Ricin hadn’t worked. 

I wondered what had gone wrong with my calculations.

As for Amrita  I will have to think of something different. 

Maybe  a nondiscernible microbioinoculator

A tiny scratch at the airport on her arrival. 

Death in three hours – multiorgan failure in her hotel bed. 

Amrita would be dead  before she could meet Mohan. 

So with Ajay dead  Dr. Bhatia dead  once I killed Amrita  my secret would be buried forever.

On Tuesday morning  I open the newspaper.

The news item is tucked away inside the newspaper. 

It is a small news item: 

“Award winning internationally famous Ad Film Maker Amrita Khare (38) dies in Ladakh. Ad-world shocked at sudden death. Post-mortem indicates Lung Failure due to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema High Altitude Pulmonary Edema”.

My mind goes into a tizzy. 

Mohan smokes the Ricin laced cigarette.

But Amrita dies. 

Puzzling  isn’t it? 

Strange chilling thoughts start perambulating in my brain. 

I put a stop to my train of thoughts. 

It is best not to delve too much. 

Let bygones be bygones. 

It is time for me to forget the past – and get on with my life.

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
1. This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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