It had been almost four years that I last worked with Victor when we reported the last of our crime scenes for the local newspaper on the case that changed it all. The case which is still under wraps due to ‘lack of evidence’, but which still remains fresh in my mind, one which left many of our hearts distraught.
I had been working with Victor as his accomplice reporting crime scenes for about three years by then, and during that phase, I got to know almost everything about him. Victor, or Vic as he was known amongst fellow reporters, was just like any other average American guy who worked hard to make ends meet. But the one thing that made him different was his heart of gold.
“Hey! What’s up with you? You look upset. Is everything alright?”, I asked him as I took my seat at the cafe that seemed strangely empty in the busy rush hour. Although he didn’t reply, his silence spoke everything. I chose not to bother him for a little while. I was trembling inside just thinking about today’s happenings. Apparently, the crime scene that we just covered was so gruesome that it even shook me to the core.
Henry Billings and his wife Amanda Bergen were brutally murdered at their residence at Jefferson Avenue, Cleveland. The Billings lived an extravagant life which was quite obvious given they lived in this part of the state. Henry inherited his parent’s riches and carried on the family business. Though he wouldn’t admit it, the business bought him many enemies who were willing to take him apart at any time. So the news of his murder didn’t bring much surprise to his acquaintances. Henry’s body was severely mutilated and cut in half. His left eye was plucked out and his fingers were cut off and missing from the crime scene. These fingers were later found two blocks away at Madison Street in a plastic bag. His wife Amanda had fractures on her skull along with cuts all over her body. She had multiple stab wounds on her body. Examining the wounds one could deduce that the murder weapon is a very sharp object, capable of even cutting humans in halves.
Their five-year-old daughter Anna was the only survivor on site and sole witness to this brutal act of murder. This incident had broken and shocked her for life. She had lost the smile on her face as I saw her sitting right across the hall. Her face expressed nothing. She seemed dead inside. I couldn’t help but notice Victor walking out the door. Perhaps it was his inner self-taking over. I too left soon as I couldn’t stand the stench of blood and the huge crowd of CSI and other reporters all over the site.
He banged the coffee mug on the table with frustration, which clearly startled me and a couple of people nearby.
“You know what Suzanne? This sucks! Our jobs are probably the worst jobs ever in human history. Admit it.”, he spoke as he stared at the coffee spilled all over the table. His voice was filled with conviction and remorse.”I regret taking up this job. It just makes me feel worthless every damn second of my rotten life.”
“I know”, I said with the intention of calming him down and making him feel a little better.
“No, you don’t Suzy! Do you even have the slightest idea of how disabled I feel reaching a crime scene? There is nothing I could do, except reporting the crime, and what use is it when we know the criminal is far away on his escape. Watching the mutilated corpses or children gravely injured is disturbing in itself. It is as if I could have averted all this if I could have got there just a little earlier. All those thoughts are hard to deal with and are torturing me inside out”, he sighed as he let it all out.
“Well Victor, there is nothing we could do except pity for ourselves. We have to stay strong.” was the best reply I could give him.
“You’re right, but this feeling of helplessness won’t leave me that quick. I’m sure about that. It’s just that I can’t just stand at the crime scene and prepare for a worthless report. It’s really tough to overlook and ignore the dead victims. When someone kills a working guy, the entire family is the victim, for they have to live their rest of their lives in sorrow and misery. I have seen way too many of kids see their parents killed like the one we saw today. It hurts me thinking about them”, he said in a low tone before finally taking a sip from what was left in the mug.
I was used to Victor’s weak phases to ‘just reporting the crime’. Every once in a while he spoke out the same thoughts to me, very much aware that he is repeating the same phrases over and over again. But I was okay with that. I admired him for the person he was and his concern for humanity. But in the end, all we could do was sigh, get back to our work, receive our pay and try living our normal lives all over again.
But this was different. It had somehow managed to move us both. I felt sorry for Anna- the little girl who will now have to lead a miserable life ahead. She was sent to the local orphanage as no one turned up to take her in. She had frequent visits from the local police who were upbeat on making her speak anything, but Anna wouldn’t utter a single word. She barely flinched her eyes, as if still. It seemed as if she was still stuck at that moment where she witnessed the horrible.
“Victor, I had this thing in mind..”, I initiated the idea, fiddling with my cup.
“Since the moment I saw Anna, I couldn’t help but think about her. It’s pitiable that she will now be living a life without her parents. looking at her parent’s odd and not so healthy relationship with their relatives, I don’t think anyone would ever turn up”.
“So? Where are you getting with this, Suzanne?”
“So..I was thinking of adopting her.”, my voice trailed off.
For a second Victor didn’t move, as if he hasn’t heard me at all. But the next moment I was surprised as he smiled.
“It’s..it’s a rather good idea. We’ve to check all the legal procedures before Anna can be adopted. What did you think? I’ll snap at your idea?”, he smiled.
“Ya, kind of..I didn’t know how you’ll react to my statement at all.”, I sighed.
“Why would I say no to that? I too feel sorry for her. It’s great that we could do something for her. It’s a good cause.”
I felt relieved hearing him support me instead of bashing it.
It really took a convincing to let Anna leave the orphanage. She was adamant on staying there, with the least interest in coming home. The police officials didn’t trouble us either since they were literally done trying to get out any word from her regarding the murder. But slowly, she gave in and came with me. That day, I took a vow that I will raise her as my own child.
Victor was always awkward around children and it was no exception this time around. He didn’t know how to manage or talk to them. The weirdest example was him coming up dressed as Santa on Christmas, even though he knew Anna was afraid of Santa Claus. I can still remember how scared she was, running all over the house, screaming her hearts out.
Time flew by, running between crime scenes and looking after Anna. Even the housemaid had started liking Anna, especially since she didn’t demand or cry much. She was always silent, all by herself, lost in her own world. She rarely smiled, that too while watching her favourite toon on the television set. I made sure that I didn’t mention my professional life while I was around her. That’s the least I could do so that she doesn’t go back to that night.
A few cases and weeks later, Victor was offered a job in the UK with a much better pay scale. He wanted me to go along but he knew I would plainly refuse it for Anna’s sake. Anna won’t prefer Victor staying around either. With a heavy heart and a promise to keep the contact going, he bade farewell to start a new life with new experiences, and maybe with a new accomplice.
4 years later:
Things slowly started fading out between me and Victor as the days progressed. He was too busy in his new job, while I was somehow managing with the new replacement for him, Mr Taylor – who was too strict and obedient in his own way. Life seemed plain and dull at work and merry at home until the day I heard Anna scream out Victor’s name while asleep. At first, I tried ignoring it, but when the same thing happened a few days later, I couldn’t help but ask her about the same. As expected, she kept it to herself, not uttering a word. But this time I didn’t let it just pass.
“Anna! Please tell me what’s on your mind darling. And what’s it with Victor? You seeing him in your dreams?”, I asked her, gently caressing her cheeks of the tears.
She wriggled out of my arms, indicating me to go away.
“Anna, you have to say something!”, I raised my voice hoping she’ll give in.
But that didn’t work as it only made her cry even more. I regretted my decision of yelling at her and hugged her tight. Her muffled sobs slowly went silent before she fell asleep. I laid her on the bed, wrapped up a blanket and gave her a forehead kiss before turning off the lights.
That night was the longest one in my life. I just couldn’t keep my mind shut about Anna and her screams. I knew Victor’s Santa prank will give her nightmares, but I never imagined it’ll continue for this long.
The next day I got up early to check on Anna. I felt relieved as I saw her sound asleep, which was really a rare thing for her. I woke her up as I planted a kiss on her forehead and got out of bed. As I served her breakfast before going to work, she started sobbing and caught hold of my hand. Her eyes begged me to stay home that day. I took her in my arms and told her that I love her and would never ever leave her. This brought a little smile on her face. I took a day off and played with her the whole day. This made her so happy that she was all giggles, without any care in the world. I cursed fate for the horrible turn of events in her life.
It had been a few days that I noticed her calling out Victor’s name in her sleep and today was no different. She woke up crying but was relieved as soon as she found me sitting next to her.
“Victor didn’t know you were afraid of Santa, dear. He just wanted to give you presents”, I told her as I was wiping off her tears.
“Victor is a very bad man.”,she screamed and started to cry even more.
” No, he is not, honey! He cares about you ” I reassured her.
“No no, I know you are lying. Everybody lies to me. Even my Mom told me that Victor cares about me and now she is dead.”, Anna’s voice got muffled beneath her sobbing.
But what she said sent chills down my spine.
My mind went wandering on its own and worst thoughts started to appear.
“How did her Mom know Victor and why would she tell Anna about him?”, was all my mind could think of right now.
“What are you saying, Anna? I don’t understand!”
“Victor used to come home every day to talk to Mommy whenever Daddy wasn’t home. Mommy used to tell me that he was going to be my new Daddy. She used to give me lots of chocolates and bought me ice cream every day. She made me promise not to talk to Daddy about Victor. Though I did not like Victor, I kept my promise. One day when I went to her bedroom to pick up Molly, my doll, I saw them doing dirty stuff to each other. I got frightened and ran to my room and locked it.I was scared and cried the whole day.”
I kept listening, having a hard time soaking everything she said. She hadn’t stopped crying as I knew this conversation made her remind of her parents, but there was nothing I could do, except caress her.
“And then one day while Victor was still with Mommy, Daddy came home early.
He saw mommy and Victor together and started to curse them both. He picked up the golf club that lay nearby and ran towards Victor to hit him. Seeing this, my Mommy ran to get the axe that was hung above the fireplace and gave the axe to Victor. He then pushed Daddy and hit him with the axe many times. I started screaming and ran towards Daddy, but he just lay on the floor without saying anything. There was blood everywhere. I ran outside the room to get help from Mrs.White, our neighbour. But my Mom caught me and locked me inside my bedroom. I was screaming for help but nobody came. I peeped through the keyhole to look at Daddy. Mommy and Victor dragged him to the living room and then they both went into their bedroom and locked the door.”
I just kept listening in disbelief.
“After some time I saw Mommy rush out of the bedroom screaming for help. She had blood all over her. Victor had a knife in his hand and he stabbed Mommy. I could do nothing but scream for help. He then hit her head with a vase that was kept on the shelf. Mommy fell on the floor dragging herself towards the door, but he held her with his legs, bent over and stabbed her till she was not moving anymore. I just screamed and screamed. The next moment, he ran towards my room. I ran and hid under the bed. He saw me and holding my legs , pulled me outside. He came closer, kissed my cheeks and told me that if I told anyone about this, he would kill me too. He said that whenever he saw me. He gave me a present on Christmas that had a letter which said he would kill me if I said anything to you. I’m scared of him. He keeps scaring me while I sleep. He is a very bad man”.
I couldn’t believe what Anna had just said It was too much for me to believe, but deep inside I knew Anna isn’t lying. I wiped off her tears and hugged her saying everything will be alright, laying her back to sleep. But this time I was broken. My belief in humanity was stirred again, this time by my close aide – whom I trusted the whole time. I used to admire his tender and pure view of humanity and now I’m here, hating him wholeheartedly for what he did to Anna, and to me.
My head hurt as I went through our past interactions, understanding how he hid his alternate side from me so well. My mind slowly filled with anger and hatred on how foolish I was to easily believe him. But there’s no point crying over spilt milk.
He’s miles away from our grasps, leading a new life, no regrets leaving behind a kid who is far from having a normal life altogether.
ABOUT THE COLLABORATOR
I met Aravind for the first time when I was in sixth grade, and to be frank, it was a perfect fanboy moment since I had heard about him topping classes and divisions in the earlier grades, but never met him. The fanboy moment was slowly taken over by the curious thought on how he managed to irritate teachers, play pranks and still feature in the top 3 rankers. He is one among the few guys who have been with me from the start- been in the same school, same Junior College and now even the same Degree College! 10 years!
I have heard a few plots from him during our usual commute in the 6:20 pm Panvel-Thane direct local before and was easily taken aback by the sheer genius and twists that the stories provided.
He hasn’t published his works online, but he has them safely written down in his books. All we can hope is that one day – he’ll publish it, and we all will be able to read and enjoy them.
P.S.: He has also won the second prize from TOI for an essay writing competition way back in our school days!