Saturday, February 18, 2017

Do You Want a Glass of Chilled Beer...?

CHILLED BEER
Short Fiction - A Sizzling Romance 
By 
VIKRAM KARVE

From my Creative Writing Archives:
 
Let me delve into my creative writing archives and pull out for you one of my earliest Short Fiction Stories  CHILLED BEER – a Murder Mystery – and post it once again  revised, abridged and updated  for you to read.

I wrote this story more than 20 years ago  for a creative writing competition.
And  this fiction story won the first prize.

This story features in my anthology COCKTAIL

By the way  my prizewinning story  CHILLED BEER  has been made into a short film too.

Cheers  how about a glass of CHILLED BEER...?


CHILLED BEER – a story by Vikram Karve

It is a lazy Sunday morning and I sit languidly in my balcony reminiscing.

I feel a tinge of nostalgia as I think of the good old days of my wonderful past.

I am overwhelmed with melancholy as I mourn the gloomy and depressing present.

And I speculate with foreboding about what the ominous future may hold in store for me. 

The doorbell rings.

I curse at being disturbed from my reverie  and I wonder who’s come to meet me on a Sunday morning.

I open the door.

I am dumbstruck.

Standing in the door is Monica – my wife Anjali's friend and colleague  that gorgeous snooty pompous beauty who lives across the street.  

“Anjali is not at home,” I say tersely.  

“I know,” Monica says, “I have come to see you.”  

“Me...? You have come to see me...?” I ask in bewilderment  and I stare at her  for until now  the pretentious haughty Monica  who does not care for losers  has always ignored me as if I did not exist.  

“Yes Ajay  I know Anjali is not at home. I have come to see you. I want to talk to you alone.”  

“Alone...?” I am curious  and I can feel a shiver of anticipation rising within me. 

We  Monica and Me  have never been alone before.  

“Yes. Alone. I want to see you alone. Won’t you ask me to come in...?” she says.

“Of course. Please come in. Shall we sit in the balcony...?” I suggest.

“No. We’ll sit inside here  so no one will see us  and we can talk in private,” she says.

Monica looks chic and ravishing  in tight jeans and a close fitting pink T-shirt.

I try not to stare at her.  

The moment we sit down on the living room sofa, Monica says, “Suppose you found out that your wife was being unfaithful. Tell me, Ajay, what would you do...?”  

Taken aback by the bombshell, I exclaim: “What...?”  

“Suppose you caught your wife having an affair. What would you do...?” Monica asks.  

“What nonsense...!” I say angrily.

But inside me  there germinates a small seed of doubt.

Does Monica know something...?

Why is she saying all this...? 

So  trying to hide my fears  I put up a solid face  and I say, “Come on Mrs. Kumar. It’s impossible. You know Anjali for so many years  and you know how much she loves me.”  

“Hey  stop calling me Mrs. Kumar. I have told you that before  haven’t I...? You just call me Monica...”

Then she looks provocatively into my eyes  and she asks, “Now think carefully. Suppose  just suppose  you caught your wife Anjali having an affair  you caught your wife cheating on you  betraying your trust with infidelity…”

“I’ll kill her,” I say instinctively.  

“How...?”  

“How...? What do you mean ‘How’...?”  

“I mean ‘How’...? How will you kill your wife...?” she asks.

“Well  I don’t know,” I say getting up from the sofa  not wanting to continue this conversation. 

“Let’s hypothesize. Will you shoot her...? Will you strangle her...? Stab her to death...? Suffocate her with a pillow...? Push her over the balcony or shove her off a cliff...?  Electrocute her...? Drown her...? Douse her with kerosene and set her on fire...? An ‘accidental’ gas cylinder explosion...?” Monica asks.  

“What do you want from me...? Why are you harassing me...? Please go away Mrs. Kumar. Anjali will be here any moment,” I beseech her. 

“No  Anjali won’t be here for some time. I know she has gone to the health club and beauty parlour for her Sunday session. Anjali will be back after twelve. We have enough time together  haven’t we...?” Monica says  looking mischievously at me.

I say nothing.

After a pause of silence  Monica says, “Okay  you just tell me how you would kill your wife if you caught her having an affair  and I promise I’ll go away...!”

“I will probably use poison...” I say – and I start walking towards the entrance door.  

Monica remains seated in silence for some time.

She she looks at me intently as I walk towards the door.

I wait for her to get up from the sofa and leave my house.

Then Monica speaks  her words clear and deliberate: “Poison...? You will kill Anjali using poison...? The same way as you finished off Nisha  your first wife...?”

I stop dead in my tracks.

Stunned  my pulse rising – I feel cold sweat breaking out on my forehead  and I can sense a sharp, cold fear drilling into my vitals.

I look at Monica  into her shining eyes.

She knows...

And she wants me to know that she knows...

And now I know that I have no choice.

I walk back to my sofa  sit down  and I say to her, “So you want to kill your husband. Just because you think he is having an affair.”  

“You killed Nisha  didn’t you...?” Monica asks, looking directly into my eyes.  

I feel very frightened, very scared.

How much does Monica know...?

Or is she just speculating, guessing...?

Maybe she is just trying a shot in the dark...

But seeing the venom in her eyes  I realize that I dare not take any chances  so I smile  and I say: “Well, Monica  you have got your manacles on me  haven’t you...?”

“Listen, Ajay,” Monica says, in her voice soft, as she speaks in measured tones, “I don’t want a scandal  that’s why I haven’t given my husband even the slightest hint that I suspect. But I can’t live a lie any longer pretending I am happy. The flimsy façade of our successful marriage  the veneer of pretence – it’s all going to blow-up sooner or later  as he is becoming more and more indiscreet and careless.”

She pauses for a moment  and she says, “He’s got to go. Quickly. Quietly. As ‘normal’ a death as you can arrange.”

“Why don’t you leave him...? Ask him for a divorce.”

“It’s much better to be a widow than a divorcee  isn’t it...?”

I think about what she says.

Monica is right. 

It is much better to have all the sympathy of a widow – rather than suffer the stigma of being a divorcee.

Why not inherit all her husband’s riches, money, property, everything he owns  rather than a paltry alimony?

Her husband is rich and successful  and her marriage a social triumph.

“Tell me  who is your husband having an affair with...?” I ask out of sheer curiosity.

“It’s none of your business,” Monica says angrily, “You just do what I tell you to do  and you don’t try to delve too deeply.”

“I thought maybe…”

“What’s the use...? He’ll get another one – he is a bloody philanderer...” Monica says with contempt.

Then Monica looks at me and she says: “It is he who has betrayed me  and I want to get rid of him fast. You do this for me, Ajay  and my lips remain sealed about Nisha forever  I promise...”

“That’s all...?”

“I’ll clear all your gambling debts  your loans, the mortgages – with the bookies, financiers…”

Inside I tremble with indescribable terror.

Outside I try to be calm – and I say, “You know all about me  don’t you...?”

“I have done my homework. Now you execute a foolproof plan. And after it’s all over there will be plenty more to come for you. I will give you so much money  you can’t even imagine...” she says.

“Okay  let’s brainstorm. You tell me everything about your husband. Each and every detail  his food habits  his routine  his programme for the next few days  about both of you  everything. Absolutely everything,” I say.

“I’m thirsty,” Monica announces. 

“Fresh Lime...?” I ask.

“How about a chilled beer?” she suggests.

I get two cans of chilled beer from the fridge.  

“Hey,” Monica exclaims holding up a beer can, “you know what...? My husband Kumar drinks the same brand of beer as you do...! It’s his favourite beer...”

“That’s a good start,” I say  and I clink my beer can with hers  and we raise a toast: “Cheers – to our success... 

And then – I say to Monica: Now tell me everything about your husband Kumar...”  

Monica tells me everything about her husband Kumar.

I listen intently.

And I carefully make notes.

By the time Monica finishes  in my mind’s eye  I am already evaluating the pros and cons of various options of how Kumar is going to die.

“How do you want him to die...? Instantaneous death or prolonged illness...?” I ask Monica.

“I want to finish it off as quickly as possible. Painless. Fast. When he is far away from here. Like maybe during his trekking trip to Mussoorie next week,” Monica pauses for a moment  and she says, “but make sure it’s a perfect foolproof job – not even an iota of doubt or needle of suspicion.”

My mind races  exploring and weighing all the options  like maybe an exotoxin which leaves no trace and excretes itself from the organism within a few hours...?

I keep on thinking  my brain cells working at lightning speed  and all of a sudden I know what I am going to do... 

“We’ll give him something in his favourite beer...” I say.  

“What...? Tell me  Please...” Monica says excitedly.  

“Now  you don’t delve too much...” I say haughtily, “ You just do what I say. Lips sealed. And ask no questions...”  

“Okay,” she says

I look at the notes I have made when Monica was telling me about her husband  and I ask her, “His weight is only 70...?”  

“That’s right. 70 kilograms. Five feet ten. Thirty Eight years of age. Ideal  isn’t it... He is a fitness freak,” she says.

“And he leaves for Mussoorie on Thursday...?” I ask

“Yes. Early in the morning.”  

“Okay,” I say, “I’ll have the beer can ready by Wednesday evening. Make sure you collect it by 6 o’clock in the evening  before Anjali comes back from office. And then you ensure that he drinks the can of beer that night…”  

“No. No. You serve it to him. Let him have it here. In front of you. Right here,” Monica insists.

“He’s never come here to our place before...” I say.

“He will come here. If you invite him,” Monica suggests.

“Fine. I’ll tell Anjali to invite both of you to dinner on Wednesday evening. She’s been wanting to call you over for a long time,” I say.

“And...?” she asks.

“I’ll make sure your husband Kumar drinks the special beer. He’ll be off to Mussoorie on Thursday  and you should have the ‘good news’ by Sunday morning,” I say.

“I hope he doesn’t pop off here...” she says.

“He won’t. I’ll calculate everything precisely – I will make sure there is at least a 36 hour incubation and proliferation period,” I assure her.

After Monica leaves  I realize three things.

Firstly  murder is a rather lucrative business.

Secondly  from an amateur  I am going to become a professional.

And thirdly  infidelity is not only reason why Monica wants to get rid of her husband.

Everything works as per my plan.

I meticulously keep the vacuum microencapsulated ‘special’ can of beer firmly in its designated place in the fridge on Wednesday morning  the moment Anjali leaves for work.

Then I leave for my office.

I return from work early in the evening.

When I open the fridge  I notice that the particular ‘special’ beer-can is missing.

My heart skips a beat.

I feel a tremor of trepidation.

I search desperately in the fridge.

But  I don’t find the can of beer.

Soon  I am in a state of total panic.

After a frantic search  I find the empty beer-can in the kitchen dustbin.  

I pick up the beer-can  and check it.

Oh yes  no doubt about it – it is the same ‘special’ beer-can.

But the beer-can is empty...

I try to think  steady my confused mind.

Who can it be...?

Who could have drank that ‘special’ can of beer..?  

Suddenly – everything becomes clear.

And  I find myself shaking in sheer terror.

I rush to the bedroom  no one is there. 

Then  I run around the house like a crazy animal.

Anjali is not at home.

I dial her mobile number.

It is an excruciating wait – as time stands still.

Anjali answers the phone. 

“Anjali...? Where are you...?” I ask anxiously.

“I am in the shopping mall. I am picking up some stuff for the evening...” my wife Anjali says.

“So early...?” I ask.

“I took half a day off – I came home for lunch  I got things tidied up and ready for the evening  and now  I am just getting a few things from the market. I’ll be back soon...” Anjali, my wife, says.

“Anjali. The beer...! The beer...!” I stutter anxiously.  

“You want me to get more beer...? I thought we had enough...” she says.

“No. No. There is a beer-can missing in the fridge. I found it in the dustbin...” I say.

“Oh  that...? I drank a can of beer in the afternoon...” Anjali says.  

“What...? You drank that beer-can...?” I shout anxiously.  

“Yes. I drank it. I came home in the afternoon. It was hot. I felt thirsty. So I opened the fridge – I picked up a can of beer  and I drank it. It’s that simple...” Anjali says.

“You stupid fool...!!! Why did you drink that beer-can...?” I scream into the phone.  

“Stupid fool...? How dare you...? Ajay  have you lost it...? I just can’t understand your behaviour nowadays...” Anjali says – and she disconnects.  

It is extraordinary how my mind becomes clear all of a sudden.

There is no known antidote to the poison I have synthesized.

Clinically  there is nothing I can do.

Logically  there is no point in doing something stupid in desperation.

It is a question of my own survival.

Having sunk to the depths of depravity  all I can do now is to helplessly watch Anjali die.

Anjali is less than 60 kilos  much lighter than Kumar  and the poison will take effect faster.

By Saturday evening it will all be over  and Anjali will be dead.

The evening passes in a haze.

Monica and Kumar come for dinner at 7:30.

My heart sinks as I watch Kumar enjoy beer after beer  but what’s the use...? 

That ‘special’ beer-can  the one I had meticulously prepared for Kumar  is lying empty in the dustbin.

There is a gleam in Monica’s eye.

What excuse am I going to give her...?

She does not know what has happened  and I shudder to think what she may do when she realizes the goof-up.

At best she may forget everything  but knowing her vindictive streak  anything is possible...

Inside  I tremble with fear in unimaginable agony.

Outside – I try to present a happy and cheerful façade  so  I make pretence of enjoying the dinner.

Time crawls.

I feel wretched  and I suffer in painful silence the longest and most agonizing hours of my life waiting helplessly for Anjali to die.

Thursday. 

Friday. 

Saturday.

I closely observe Anjali for symptoms  waiting for the worst.

Nothing happens.

Anjali seems normal  in fact – she seems quite hale and hearty.  

Sunday.

Anjali is still going strong...!!!

She sits across the dining table devouring her favorite idli-chutney-sambar Sunday breakfast.

I marvel at Anjali’s constitution  her liver  it’s got to be super-strong  or maybe I have goofed up...!!!  

My cell-phone rings.

It is Monica.

My heart skips a beat.  

“Hello...” I say with trepidation.  

“Ajay – Congrats  You have done it  Kumar is dead. I just got a call from Mussoorie...” Monica says excitedly.  

“How...?” I mumble incredulously  perplexed  baffled out of my wits in consternation.  

“It happened exactly like you said. In the early hours of Sunday morning. He died in his sleep. They say maybe it was heart failure. Painless, instantaneous death...” Monica says.

“Do you want me to come now...?” I ask Monica.  

“No... No... Not now. We can’t take chances. I am rushing to Mussoorie now. I will finish off everything...cremation...death certificate...everything. I will personally make sure the paperwork is done okay. And when I return  you can come and offer your condolences…” I hear Monica’s voice trail away.  

I disconnect the call.

I put my mobile phone in my pocket.

I look at my wife Anjali.  

“Who was it...?” Anjali asks.  

“Someone from the office...” I lie  trying to keep a straight face.  

“Anything important...?” Anjali asks.

“No. A man died. That’s all...” I say nonchalantly.  

I look at Anjali  into her large brown liquid eyes.

And  suddenly – comprehension dawns on me like a bolt of lightning.

So  it was Monica’s husband Kumar who drank that ‘special’ can of beer that afternoon  and not my wife Anjali. 

Why did my wife Anjali lie to me that she had drank that ‘special’ can of beer...?

What was Monica’s husband Kumar doing with my wife Anjali in my house that afternoon...?

What a cuckold they have made of me.

It is me  who is the real sucker.

My wife Anjali was having an affair with Monica’s husband Kumar  and  I was totally clueless.

My brain goes into a tizzy.

I wonder what I should do to Anjali for betraying me...?

The possibilities are endless  aren’t they...?

And – while I contemplate on my plan of action  I think it would be a good idea to have a can of chilled beer...

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
This story is 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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