In the DARKNESS

Briana tiptoed into Ciana’s room. Seeing her younger sister fast asleep, she sat beside her. As she gently stroked her hair, Ciana opened her eyes and smiled.

“Di, I love it when you brush my hair with your fingers,” Ciana said.

“And I love to see your beautiful smile when you wake up,” Briana lovingly kissed Ciana’s forehead.

“What did the Commissioner say, di?” Ciana asked.

“I thought you were sleeping!” Briana smiled, which didn’t last long.

“Any problem?”

“Well, my leave has been cancelled. I have to report to duty immediately,” Briana said with a long face.

“So what, di? Duty comes first, right?”

“But I don’t have the heart to leave you alone in this state, dear.”

“Oh, come on di. I’m not alone. Kamala is there. Moreover, I’m not a kid. I’m 25.”

Briana laughed at her overgrown kid sister.

“So, who’s troubling the city now? Gangster? Or rapist?” Ciana asked curiously.

“None. A serial killer, probably not very happy with women.” Briana rolled her eyes.

“Poor chap, this time he has locked horns with the wrong woman! My di is going to make a chutney out of him.” Ciana guffawed.

Inspector Briana Jacob was a known name in the city. A sincere and headstrong woman, she was an officer of indomitable spirit. Dauntless and tenacious, Briana possessed an astute problem-solving skill and a brilliant observant mind, that recorded even minute details that others may have overlooked. This made her the obvious choice as an investigation officer for this particular case.

“Good to have you back, Briana. Sorry for cutting short your leave,” Commissioner of Police, Desai said. “How’s your sister?”

“Ciana is fine, sir. She had surgery just few days ago and hence is weak.” Briana replied.

“Hmm… you would have read about the series of murder happening in the city. The media is behind us like hungry wolves. We need to find the killer as soon as possible.”

“Definitely, sir. I shall take charge right away.”

Briana read the case file. Four murders, and all the victims were young women. The killings were done around midnight. The second and third murders each had an eyewitness. They had merely seen a shadow in the dark night. They were not even sure if there was someone actually or just an illusion!

“What nonsense is reported in this file, Shankar?” Briana asked her assistant. “Were the eyewitnesses drunk?”

“No, ma’am. They were frightened when they narrated the incident. One of them was a shopkeeper, who was just closing his shop’s shutter, when he heard a woman screaming. He turned back and saw a shadow somersaulting, and the woman lay dead on the road. Initially he thought it was the woman’s soul escaping. But I didn’t report that,” Shankar said scratching his head. “The other eyewitness had just finished his shift and was returning back home. Sleepy and tired, he heard a woman screaming. Alarmed, he saw her wriggling in pain, while a shadow zoomed past. He sped away thinking it to be a ghost!”

Briana pinched the bridge of her nose, annoyed.

“It was pitch dark, hence seeing a shadow is not uncanny. Probably, he was agile in his moves, thus escaping their eyes.” Briana reasoned, as Shankar admired her comprehension.

“No one thought on these lines, ma’am. Everyone had concluded it to be a ghost’s job,” he said.

“Any link between the victims?” Briana asked.

“No, ma’am. According to their families, the four murdered women didn’t know each other.”

“There has to be a common link, Shankar. All of them have been murdered in a similar pattern. Let’s probe further,” Briana said.

***

The next day, Briana and Shankar met the doctor who had performed the post-mortem.

“All the murders were done using a common weapon- a medical knife,” the doctor said. “I have put that in the reports as well.”

“I read that, doctor. But did you find anything unusual? Anything minute that could give a clue about this murderer?” Briana asked.

“Well, my experience says it must be a man, more than six feet tall. The angle of the cut on the victim’s neck proves it. One of the victims was five feet seven inches tall. Yet, the cut on her neck was elevated, which means he was few inches taller than her. Also, he seems to be a psychologically disturbed person. Even after knowing that the victim is dead, he kept slashing their neck.”

“Oh, a psycho killer on the run!” Shankar gulped his spit.

Back at the office, Briana tried to create an image of the killer- tall, strong man with a medical knife, but deranged psyche. He couldn’t be a medical personal, as the injuries inflicted were not professional. Then, how did he have access to the knife? Just then, her mobile rang that snapped her back from her reverie. It was Ciana.

“Hi Ciana, did you have lunch? Did Kamala give you medicines?” Briana asked.

“Di, I called you to ask if you had lunch? And you are firing me the same questions!” Ciana said.

“Not yet, dear. Still stuck up in nowhere!”

“Daniel had called from Paris. He said they will be halting there for a week.”

“Ah, perks of having a job in merchant navy! Your husband is enjoying life,” Briana laughed.

“Di, if mom and dad were alive, you would not be single. Being younger to you, I am married. But you…”

“Come on, don’t nag me now. I am eleven years older to you, so don’t be my mom! I have crossed that age. Moreover, no man will allow his wife to work late till night or ‘chase’ other men, even though the men in picture are criminals.” Briana chuckled.

“Di, you are too much…”

“I know that, darling. Listen, Christmas is coming up. Will Daniel be back by then? This time, we will have a blast together. What say?”

“Only if your killer gives you permission. Don’t give me false hopes, di.”

“I will nab that rascal before that. You don’t worry. Just take rest and don’t move around much. I have asked Kamala to stay back a little late in the evenings for a month. Now let me get back to work.”

***

Briana ruminated over the common thread between the four victims. She took a calendar and marked the dates of murder. She saw black circles on each date. She wrote down the names of the victims. She gaped at the paper, as another clue struck her.

“Shankar, did you notice that each of the murders took place on a new moon night, or amavasya. Moreover, if you have observed the names of the victims, they mean the same. Can you read it out for me?”

“Deepika, Jyoti, Diya and Roshni,” Shankar read aloud. “Oh, they are synonymous with light!”

“Exactly!” Briana stood up excitedly. “This is the pattern he follows.”

“That means he hates light,” Shankar said. “No wonder he strikes on moonless nights, and kills the innocent lights.” Shankar mentally patted himself for the poetry he spilled out accidentally.

“Let’s meet the victim’s families one by one,” Briana hurriedly left with Shankar.

***

“A week before my wife was killed, we had gone to Goa via road,” Deepika’s husband, Ranjit said. “She was six months pregnant. Unfortunately, on the way back, our car met with a minor accident and Deepika started bleeding profusely. I got her admitted in the hospital, but unfortunately, our baby had died. She was aborted and we returned back home the next day.”

After enquiring each of the families, Briana realized that three of the four women had had an abortion. However, the fourth victim, Jyoti was unmarried, and her parents reported no hospital admission any time in the past. Moreover, the hospitals in which the women were admitted were not the same too. Briana had bumped into a dead end.

***

“Di, I’m so bored,” Ciana complained. “Today is Sunday. Why don’t we watch some movie together?”

Briana hated watching movies. And she knew Ciana loved watching cheesy love stories, that made no sense to Briana and would get into her nerves. But the kind elder sister obliged.

Ciana scrolled through the channels. “Kya Kehna! Let’s watch this one. I love Preity Zinta and her super cute dimples!”

Briana yawned when Ms Zinta cried.

Sniffing during the emotional scene, Ciana explained about the struggles faced by the young pregnant protagonist, as the society belittled and rebuked her.

Suddenly, Briana shot up, like a thunderbolt had struck her. She kissed Ciana for the marvellous revelation that had dawned upon her blocked mind.

She called up Shankar to meet her at the office. The latter relented half-heartedly, as his wife cursed his boss for ruining the holiday.

“But di… who works on Sunday…”

But Briana was out of sight already.

“Track Jyothi’s phone records,” Briana instructed Shankar. “Zero down the numbers that was in constant contact.”

A number was identified under the name of Mukul, which was seen maximum in the phone records. The duo left for Mukul’s house immediately.

“Jyothi and I loved each other. But our parents were against our relationship,” Mukul confessed. “We had decided to elope without their consent. But few days before she was murdered, she discovered that she was pregnant. I chickened out and wasn’t sure to start a family so soon, as I was jobless. We decided to terminate this pregnancy furtively in a hospital. Her parents are unaware of this.”

On her way back, Briana reckoned the events block by block. An invisible link between the murders had begun to appear- an abortion! Could the murderer have killed them because of this reason? If so, why? And how did he know of them? They had aborted from different hospitals. And what was with the new moon night and similar names of the victims? Briana seemed to be sucked into a quagmire of unanswered queries.

***

“Di, it’s Christmas eve. And you are still at work,” Ciana sobbed. “I thought we could go for the mass together.

“I’m so sorry, darling,” Briana consoled her sister over the phone. “But I shall be home soon and we will attend the midnight mass together, ok?”

Shankar brought steaming tea in styrofoam cups.

“Ah, thanks Shankar. Just what I needed,” Briana sipped and relaxed her nerves. “How’s your wife, Durga?”

“She’s just like her name, ma’am. Durga in the real sense. Her fury is a talk of the town,” Shankar chuckled. “If you don’t mind, can I ask you something, ma’am?”

Briana nodded.

“I am amazed at your names, ma’am. Briana and Ciana. It sounds good and rhymes like poetry. I am fond of poetries, but what’s the meaning of these names?”

Briana laughed. “Even my mom was fond of poetries like you, Shankar. But she was into foreign languages. I was named Briana, which means “Strong” in Irish. She said I kicked the nurse really hard the day I was born!” Briana laughed. “My sister was born after so many years and prayers. Like an angel, she brought brightness in our lives. So, mom named her Ciana, which means “Light” in Italian.”

Briana paused, startled. She peered at the calendar. At once, she opened the drawer and pulled out her gun. Tucking it in her pocket, she sprinted out hurriedly, leaving Shankar behind, surprised.

She sped her jeep, while trying to call Ciana. But no one picked her call. Anxiously, she made more futile attempts. Then, she dialed Kamala.

“Didi, I got a call saying my child met with an accident. So, I rushed back home. I just reached, but my child is alright. It seems someone played a prank. Shall I go back to your place?” Kamala said.

“It’s alright. I’m on my way,” Briana said, and tried calling Ciana again. But still there was no response.

In the December chill, Briana was sweating. Her cold and slippery fingers steered the vehicle quickly. But her mind was jittery. Ciana, too, had an abortion recently. An unfortunate fall from the stairs had harmed her unborn baby in her fifth month of pregnancy. Abortion was imperative for her to live. Since her husband was away, Ciana had moved to Briana’s house for postoperative care upon the latter’s insistence. Even her name meant “light”. How could she miss on this clue? Moreover, it was amavasya. The killer was right inside her house!

Parking the car outside her building, Briana brisked up her pace into her apartment, holding the gun firmly. The ajar door gave her goosebumps. Where was Ciana? She wondered. Pushing the door, Briana entered the dark house stealthily. There were few candles burning in front of Jesus Christ’s photo frame. The decorated Christmas tree shone in the garland of small light bulbs.

“Ciana?” She called softly. There was no response.

“O Jesus, after mom and dad’s death, I had raised and protected Ciana like my own daughter. Please let her be safe. Give me the strength to protect my sister, God,” Briana prayed.

A shadow on the adjacent wall moved across swiftly. She looked in the opposite direction. Someone was there in Ciana’s room. She entered her room and called Ciana again. She felt someone breathing behind her back. There was no time to look behind. Briana squatted and rolled to her back. The swift and rapid move saved her from being stabbed. The killer stood right in front of her.

The hooded figure faced her. His knife shone in the darkness. Before he could attack, Briana kicked him hard on his shin, that made him fall on his face. It didn’t take him long to realize that unlike his previous victims, this woman wasn’t weak and scared. He somersaulted and was back on his feet. With one blow, he tore her sleeves and the knife dug into her flesh, as she cried out in pain. Her gun flung afar. Stepping on the bed, Briana leapt high and kicked him on his chin, turning his face to one side, with a cracking sound of a broken neck bone. Folding her knee, the black belt karate champion raised high in the air and dug into his lower back, fracturing his spine, as he howled in pain and passed out.

Briana called her sister again. Ciana rushed out of the bathroom and hugged Briana, weeping inconsolably, shaking from head to toe.

“I’m so glad you are here, di. Luckily, I was in the washroom when this man entered. He almost broke open the door, and I thought I am dead! Thank God, you came just in time.” Ciana cried. “Di, you are bleeding. Are you fine?”

“Yes dear,” Briana thanked God for keeping Ciana safe. She switched on the mains.

“Is he dead?” Ciana asked.

“No, just blacked out,” Briana said.

Just then, he groaned in pain and woke up.

“Who are you?” Briana asked. “And why are you killing innocent women?”

“They were not innocent,” he grumbled. “They killed their unborn children.”

“They didn’t do that on purpose…”

“The responsibility of taking care of baby is a mother’s job,” he roared. “Pregnant women are not supposed to go on joy rides or walk recklessly on stairs or just get her baby aborted for not being ‘ready’.”

“And who are you to decide that?” Briana cut him off mid-sentence.

“I am the servant of God. I am here to clean the filth and make His world a beautiful place,” he said looking up. In the next moment, he pulled a knife hidden inside his socks and hurled towards Ciana that lodged in her chest.

He roared with laughter like a monster. Briana leapt towards her gun and showered all the six bullets into his body.

***

Next day, Ciana woke up in the hospital. She was glad to see Daniel beside her.

“Where is di? Is she fine?” she asked.

“Yes, she is. I’m happy to see you conscious. Let me call the doctor,” Daniel said.

“Ciana, my baby! How are you feeling?” Briana wept.

“I’m your sister, di. Nothing can happen to me with you around,” Ciana smiled. “What about that killer? Who was that insane?”

“He died in last night encounter. He worked with the Ambulance Service Company. He was their driver. He drove ambulance to various hospitals and dug out details about women who had aborted. He had stolen some medical knives from the hospital’s medical waste bin.” Briana said.

“But why was he doing this?”

“His name was Tamas. He had a turbulent past. His mother was a prostitute. He was born, not out of choice. She had realized about her pregnancy quite late, so she couldn’t abort him. She kept pestering about her loss in business due to him. She cursed his birth, and how she wished he had died in her womb itself. He was mentally disturbed. After few years, she began aborting babies as and when she got pregnant. He couldn’t bear to see it. Tamas had a baby brother, who died due to his mother’s negligence. In his eyes, his mother was a devil killing babies. One day, he smashed her head with a grinding stone. He was arrested and kept in a juvenile home, where he was further mistreated. He escaped from there and joined a circus company. He was a brilliant trapeze artist, and that explains his agility. His mother’s name was Prabha, which means light, and hence the hatred towards light that swallowed darkness,” Briana paused.

“All’s well that ends well,” Daniel hugged Ciana.

“We couldn’t celebrate Christmas together and I’m sorry for that, dear,” Briana said. “But no worries. We shall celebrate New Year together.”

Just then her mobile rang.

“Excuse me, please. I have to take this call. It’s from the Commissioner,” Briana left.

She returned with a long face, as Ciana had expected.

“Err… I’m sorry guys… An urgent case has popped up and I need to report to duty,” Briana apologized and hurriedly left as Ciana gritted her teeth and yelled, “Di…”

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