Murder In An Online Class | Jesmal Jalal

Murder In An Online Class | Jesmal Jalal

“Hello, students. Am I audible ?”

“Yes, sir, we can hear you.”

“Well. Good morning,” greeted Dr.David Bejoy, stroking his dyed hair. “Can one of you tell me where we left yesterday?”

Just like any regular college online class, there was a long silence after that. It was a pleasant day in a villa in Trivandrum except for the nationwide lockdown imposed by the Government of India. The trees stood naked, devoid of any green. Dry hot nasty winds swirled around them, picking the pool of brown leaves up into the air. The crazy wind and the dry trees were vaguely visible through the distant window behind David.  

 “So dry and hot, and the air smells death,” David whispered as he wiped away the rivulet of sweat behind his ears. David was sitting on his chair in the living room of his villa. Except for him, all others (students) had their videos off on their laptops.

“Then,” said he, adjusting his Bluetooth earphones, “Let me ask you some questions.”

“Sir, I have a doubt from the previous lecture!” Stephin Sebastian cried out. Of course, they would have doubts when told about asking questions—a tactic across generations.

“Okay. Tell me…,” just then the doorbell rang, and David looked away. Excusing himself, he went out of the screen.

(Sound of door opening)

“Who—” David’s voice was cut short. Some suppressed groans accompanied instead. But the screen still showed the empty living room.

Just then, a person dressed in a PPE kit entered the screen, holding the teacher. He ( just using ‘he’ for convenience) had his one hand holding the mouth of the struggling teacher and the other on a knife thrust into David’s stomach. The students started to scream and yell, but they just went into the ears of a dying man. The assailant took out the knife and struck it multiple times crazily. Finally, he gave the killer blow, right at his heart. Only when the body hit the floor did he see the laptop screen. Quickly, he fled from the scene.

The cries and screams of students, struck with horror and confusion, persisted for a while. David laid out down there, like a lifeless brown leaf.  

#

 Circle Inspector Jishnu Madhav paused the video recording of the online class meeting. He was in his majestic police uniform but kept his cap at the desk. He was tall and muscular, and his face kept constant alertness of the situation. He exchanged looks with Officer Hemanand, who was in charge as Superintendent of Police (SP). A gruesome murder in front of 130 students!

            “Well, I hope it’s not one of the students who got bad grades from him,” said Jishnu, trying to ease the atmosphere.

“What do you think, Mr—Mr,” Hemanand asked, looking at the third man in the room.

“Sivarama Krishnamoorthy, sir. Just call me SK. And I am very thankful to be at your service. I think this is a very gruesome case.”

SK was the youngest of the people in the room and the least beauty conscious. He wore a loose full-sleeved white shirt with unmatching tight pants. Nevertheless, he smelled pleasant, thanks to the large amounts of body spray applied to his body.

“So you are a detective and also David’s nearest neighbor,” stated Hemanand, “So you are one of the suspects.”

“Yes,” said SK nonchalantly. “Yes, I am.”

“Hemanand, you are the new guy here, not him. He is a great guy in his field. For two years, he has been helping us in solving various crimes at Trivandrum,” remarked Jishnu, “But for your sake, tell me SK, what were you doing at the time of this murder?”

“Sleeping,” the suspect blurted out. Both the cops looked at him, somewhat surprised.

“Sir, two unfinished villas stand between my villa and his. And his villa happens to be lonely at the last corner of the villa complex. It’s autumn. It’s too hot and dry not to be sleepy in the evenings. I just slept, unaware of the crime,” explained he. “First of all, I hardly know him to kill him. I moved to this villa only three months ago. Besides, he was the best neighbor I ever had! He doesn’t bang at my door to show crazy ‘good neighborly manners’. Always shuts himself up in his house. Such a nice guy !”

“Yeah, you are right,” agreed Jishnu. “You see, Hemanand just doubts everybody.”

“Often, the innocent ones are the most suspicious,” the Circle Inspector expressed.

“Might be in movies,” Jishnu began. “Back to the case now. We clearly have the footage of the murder. David Bejoy lives alone in the villa. Unmarried. No known enemies here, in Trivandrum. His native is Kochi, right?”

“Yes, sir. His parents live there. They will be arriving at Trivandrum soon. They say he had no enemies there, but their manner is not very convincing”, replied Hemanand.

“Alright. My friends at Kochi are already at work in digging something out. Didn’t a maid work at the victim’s house?”, Jishnu enquired.

“Yes, sir. But she works only in the morning. She finished her chores and left at one o’clock way long before 4 pm, which is the time of the crime. Obviously, she is under suspicion of being involved. But she lacks height and strength, which we saw in the video.”

“Nothing was stolen?” enquired SK.

“None at all. His sole purpose was to kill David, it seems.”

Hemanand then spread out the photos of the body and the crime scene.

“And now, from the crime scene—”

“Sir !”, interrupted SK who was looking at the photos. “A while ago, I was asked what I thought about the video. I think eighty percent of the case is almost solved, most probably.”

Both of the officers stared at him in awe. But Jishnu was less surprised than the other.

“Well, if you are exaggerating the fact that we know the measurements of the killer…”

“No, sir, not that at all,” SK cut him short. “Look, the killer had already put the knife in the stomach. He could have inflicted the killer blow right there at the door,” SK pointed to a photo of the crime scene, “Instead, he held him up to the laptop table a few feet away.”

“You are suggesting that he wanted to be seen doing the crime?”, Jishnu interjected.

“I agree,” nodded Hemanand, playing the video, “Look at his body language after looking at the laptop. He is not surprised. He just looks and flees, not out of the surprise of being seen.”

“Yes, but we can dig deeper, sir,” stated SK excitedly, “The question is ‘why’.”

“He wanted to be viral, to catch fame,” replied Hemanand, “Look at his behavior. He struck the knife multiple times like crazy. I think maybe this is just the first of the series of many murders yet to come. A serial killer.”

“Clearly, you are exaggerating it. Seen so many movies lately, huh?” Jishnu smiled.

 “The behavior might be out of immense rage. Killing someone takes a lot of mental effort, too,” Jishnu pointed out. “I think he wanted the murder to be discovered as soon as possible. The time of the murder was important for him. So, at that time, he had—”

“a good alibi!” SK cut in. Jishnu nodded.

“The murderer can be he/she,” commented the circle inspector. “Never mind, let’s just use ‘he’ until we get something else.”

“Most importantly, the murderer knew the online class timings,” SK began. “That is not an easy piece of information to obtain about a man who spends all day in the house. Not easy to guess his schedule unless the murderer is close to him or the one who phones him often.”

“Such as the maid,” Jishnu suggested. “But the maid says that nobody ever calls him. And that he was not on good terms with his family. He rarely called or made contact with anyone. Often, it is either the online delivery guys or someone from the institute office.”

“The guy is a lecturer but very mysterious, indeed!” commented Hemanand, “Sir, then it shortens our list of suspects a lot.”

“In fact, it expands it a lot,” remarked SK with a smile. “With a minimum of  130 people.”

Both the cops stared at him in awe.

“That thing I first said— it was a joke,” Jishnu stated. “They have no motive. And most of the students are not even from Thiruvananthapuram district.”

“That’s great,” replied SK, “That would obviously reduce the list. We know no motive just for now. But we already know no one who has a motive to kill David!”

“Well, the man is not on good terms with his own family. That’s not a sign of a good man,” Jishnu pointed out. “My friends in Kochi will give us more information on his past, I hope. Then, it would surely cast some light upon the motive.”

“That’s cool, sir,” remarked SK, “Sir, my point is each of the students in Trivandrum has an alibi of being in the online class. Because the cameras of all students were off, any student could just turn on their class, go out to kill, and then come back. They know the time which nearly no one knows.”

“How do they know the villa?” asked Jishnu.

“By some other means, I think,” SK replied. “They would have searched or maybe—since David is new to this institute, I think of a slight possibility—that the killer himself fell into his own trap.”

“I don’t follow,” Hemanand was dubious. But SK was too excited to listen to him.

“Sir, please give me all the lecture videos of David’s course this semester,” asked SK excitedly. “I will give them back within 1 hour, I think. And an answer, if it works out. I will be just here in the next room.”

“Okay,” Jishnu agreed. “You think more deductively. That’s good. But your theory is hard to digest, maybe because the students are the suspects. On the other hand, if we exclude all students as suspects, we don’t have any proper suspects left. Let me go through all these pieces of evidence and see what comes out of it.”

#

“SK, examining the photos and all other evidence from the crime scene, I could rule out the possibility of a hired killer for this operation. Clearly, the mannerisms in the crime scene indicate that the man who appeared on the camera is the real mind. It gives more possibilities for your alibi thing.”

“Great, sir. I think we have only three suspects, and one of them might be the possible murderer,” told SK, putting the laptop on the front.

“Only three students from Trivandrum out of 130 ?” Hemanand asked.

“No, sir. There are 20 students from Trivandrum district,” SK explained, “When the teacher was killed, many of the students screamed and shouted. We can easily rule them out. It left me with just 3.”

“We can’t be sure about it. Maybe someone else shouted in the murderer’s place or like that—to keep up the alibi,” commented Hemanand doubtfully.

“Well, there are many wild possibilities if we think more. But more probable and somewhat simple is what we aim at first,” expressed Jishnu, “So let’s start simple. The suspects?”

“Sir, the suspects are Arun Kumar, Joseph Joshy, and Ann Mariya,” stated SK. “And only one of them talked to the instructor on what may be a clue for us. Listen.” He played the video recording.

“Sir, I am also in Trivandrum. Where are you residing in Trivandrum ?” asked the student.

“It is Joseph Joshy,” Hemanand read the name of the student.

“He slid that into a random discussion, and it’s the only time he ever spoke also. Remember that he is a new lecturer in this college, and this is the 2020 MSc Batch who had been all online mode since the beginning of their first semester.”

“So if one of the students were his enemy, David would have never known as he had never seen them,” Hemanand completed.

“Yes, that makes sense. And it turns out that Joseph Joshy was among the ones who didn’t make any noise during the murder,” reflected Jishnu, looking into the list. “You are more into psychological investigation, aren’t you?”

“Not a Sherlock Holmes fan, sir” SK smiled.

“Hemanand, you go and investigate the suspects. If possible, question them today itself.  And report it to me tomorrow. That’s all for today.”

#

“Sir, we have got some good news,” Hemanand reported, “I investigated our suspects before questioning them. Ann Mariya’s residential home is in Trivandrum. But for the past three months, she has been living in her ancestral house in Kottayam. So she is off the list.”

“So, two suspects ?”

“Maybe just one, sir,” responded Hemanand, chuckling. “Arun Kumar lives in Trivandrum, but he is 4 km away from the crime location. Unless he was not in his house, he couldn’t have committed the crime. So I went to his house to confirm it and for further questioning.”

“And?” enquired Jishnu Madhav.

“He was not there when I reached his house. His mother said he was out playing cricket. And I peeped into his room and saw his laptop with an online class unattended. Seems like a regular thing for him.”

“Sneaking out of class is so easy now.”

“The mother was quite open about talking. She said that Arun was out similarly at the time of the crime. But the playground, she said, was half a kilometer from the crime site. He is about the same height as the killer. But he often goes to play regularly and does that even now. So not so suspicious. But I couldn’t wait for the kid. And had no time to find more about Joseph. But his house is nearer than any other student’s. And he has similar measurements as the killer. Sorry, I couldn’t question neither Arun nor Joseph, sir.”

“Alright. Let Arun wait for his turn. We can go and see Joseph first. Ha! Another important matter. I got light on David’s past. It is known that he plays with multiple girls and uses them only to be thrown out after. Most notable among them is a lady named Asha who got a baby boy from their relationship. Asha demanded to take her in and caused havoc. But soon, she fled from Kochi. There is a rumor that David plotted to kill the baby, and Asha had to leave as a result.”

“And their current status, sir?” enquired Hemanand eagerly.

“Not known,” replied Jishnu, rubbing his chin, “The boy would have the same age as any student in this 2020 MSc batch. So you know what I am thinking, right? We found the thing that his theory lacked. The motive.”

Jishnu got up. “Call SK. Let’s go and see what Joseph has to say.”

The gang reunited and headed to Joseph’s house. While in the car, Hemanand revealed the new findings to SK. Hearing about it, SK just became lost in thoughts. He seemed somewhat disturbed.

“But…but… I think something is missing in their theory. But I couldn’t figure it out. Not the motive. Something else,” said SK anxiously.

“Nah, probably I think you miss that detective gig or thrill. Like something unexpected that happens in movies,” Jishnu remarked, “Chill out, man! I think we are on the right track.”

“But I think there is something I didn’t consider or something like that. I was very positive. But you say, an illegitimate son was born. And he killed the father out of revenge? Joseph Joshy is a boy, he was the nearest student to the victim, and he also has the same height as that of the killer. It comes about so perfectly—like—”

“like in movies,” interjected Hemanand.

“Yes, that looks so suspicious,” remarked SK, “It doesn’t work out so perfectly in real life.”

“I think the reason is very simple. The culprits are neither professionals nor serial killers,” responded Hemanand promptly, “Our suspects are just 22 or 23 years old. They react spontaneously and do the deed without thinking much. That peculiar youngster thought that they just needed an alibi and nothing more. So that gives them away easily.”

“I hope you get all your answers from there,” said the SP, pointing at the house in front.

Joseph’s mother, Lisa, welcomed them.

“Ma’am, you must be knowing about the murder of David Bejoy. We want to talk about it with your son.”

“He is not here, sir. But he will be here soon. Can you please wait inside?”

And then they found themselves in the living room. Putting tea in front of us, she sat down.

“You live here with your son?” asked Jishnu eagerly.

“Yes.”

“Adopted son,” remarked Hemanand, looking at the photos on the shelf.

The lady was taken back for a sec and said, “Yes. I was never married, but I wanted a child.”

“From where did you adopt him?” Jishnu enquired curiously.

“I was in Ernakulam with my work there long back then. I adopted him from St. Philip’s orphanage there when he was a little boy.”

“Do you know his real mother’s name?” asked SK eagerly.

“Asha,” said she, with a suspicious look, “Why is this conversation getting more personal?”

Jishnu Madhav eyed SK and nodded. Just then, Hemanand put a syringe on the top of the table in front of her.

“Maybe this will answer. I found it in your garden,” stated Hemanand boldly, “So your son is a drug addict, or you are.”

“He is…he is… he doesn’t listen to me! He is spoiled. I spoiled him,” she broke down, “He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t allow me in his room. He doesn’t even talk to me—”

 It took us a while to console her and calm her down. She told us that Joseph doesn’t care for studies now and attends lectures only to get his scholarship money. He just leaves the laptop on and goes away to his drug-addicted friends. He is more violent than ever now, she said.

“We are here to help you, ma’am,” remarked Jishnu softly, “Can you show us his room?”

She pointed to a room just behind them. SK opened the room upon Jishnu’s gesture. It was a total mess. Books and things scattered around.

“Look, sir,” gestured Hemanand, showing the scribbling and weird circles drawn in the books, “He seems not in good senses.”

Jishnu took a book among the pile lying on the table. “We got him, guys,” said he, excitedly, holding up a photo from the book, “This is the same Asha, David Bejoy’s Asha. And look inside the book. ”

SK and Hemanand went through the book. For most of the pages, the name ‘David’ was written and crossed through multiple times like a crazy person. And a whole lot of crazy gibberish covered the rest.

“This guy is really psychotic,” remarked Jishnu Madhav thoughtfully, “I now think that your theory was indeed wrong, SK. This is not a guy who cares for an alibi. He came in front of a laptop camera to show off his murder and satisfy himself. More like what Hemanand proposed first. The guy who cared for alibis would have definitely had the sense to hide all these craps….”

“I agree with you, sir.” Hemanand expressed happily, “Most probably Lisa hadn’t known about his son’s deed. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have given off much information so easily.”

“Right,” agreed Jishnu.

“It’s like I used the wrong formula to calculate but got the right results,” said SK, somewhat puzzled.

(All of these conversations in the room was of course, in a low tone.)

Just then, Jishnu noticed Lisa (in the hall) calling someone over the phone in secret.

“She is also a crook. We have to catch him now.” Jishnu instructed Hemanand to stay behind while he headed for the car.

“SK, Thank you for your services,” said Jishnu, shaking hands with SK, “We can take care of the rest.”

“Thank you, sir. I am happy to be helpful, although somewhat wrongly,” commented SK embarrassedly. The trio parted.

#

Joseph Joshy couldn’t lay down for long. He was caught taking a dangerous dose of drugs atop a rocky hill nearby. The police suspect he was trying to take his own life after his mom’s phone call.

The PPE kit he used was found under his cupboard, confirming his crime. With nowhere to run, Joseph admitted that he hated David and he always wanted to kill him. He was deemed psychotic by the court and was sent to a mental health institution.

“Well, that worked out fine. Using the drug dealers to disclose to him that David was his father was a clever move. He was already psychotic, but then he became much worse. Spying him to see his moves—Happy that Joseph did crazy drawings and all that crap from his rage at David. I thought he might ruin the lectures of David by abusing or something. Lucky that he didn’t. Maybe because of his introverted nature or because of drugs—who cares! Implanting all other pieces of evidence like the PPE kit was an easy task, and I could do it in time. Years I waited to see a perfect opportunity! And now the online mode served me a good one. He was living a secluded life. A changed man? Perhaps! Maybe it’s just a mask! But none changes his past. It felt so good to put the knife through his heart after this long wait.”

SK looked at his ID and thought, “Well, I always knew my theory was wrong, and they proved it wrong, just like I wished. A distraction by giving them a sense of their own victory. Well, I did say that I was helping them…but wrongly.” SK put back his ID into his pocket.

Everyone has a dark side. Some people don’t need it to live, but some do—to survive, to avenge. When we do need it, we will wait and nourish it until the perfect moment to strike. For me, it took two years. SK shot a glimpse of the dark maze in the sky provided by the bare pine trees. Soon they would wake up to a fresh new life. He needs it too.

“They did only one thing wrong. They just trusted another illegitimate child of the victim. A far less known one. And, maybe his first one.” He changed gears and headed to the airport.   


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