Source: Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve: Romance in Mussoorie
My Blog is a Gallimaufry of my writing – “non-creative” and “creative”.
So –I post a variety of my writings on my Blog.
Yes – my writing comprises a multiplicity of genres.
But – I love writing fiction short stories the most.
Surprisingly – going strictly by numbers – the readers of my blog prefer my “non-creative” writing – which seems to be more popular that my “creative” fiction short stories.
But – that does not matter.
I enjoy writing stories.
Here is one my earliest stories – written by me more than 21 years ago – in the early 1990’s – many years before the advent of internet and blogging in my life – when typewriters were in vogue – and when magazines were the only medium for creative writers to showcase their writing to the world.
THE WOMAN WITH RESTLESS EYES AND ENTICING PERFUME
Encounter at Lal Tibba Fiction Short Story By VIKRAM KARVE
From my Creative Writing Archives:
Sometime in the early 1990’s I visited Mussoorie.
I stayed at Landour – near Lal Tibba Peak.
Every morning I would go for a long walk in the pristine surroundings to refresh my lungs with pure cool air and savour the breathtaking view of sunrise over the snow white Himalayan Mountains.
The place inspired me so much that I wrote a few stories set in Mussoorie – Landour – in particular.
Here is one of my “Mussoorie Stories” – a “thriller” – which was liked by many readers way back then more than 21 years ago – in the 1990’s.
I have abridged and revised the story to make it suitable for online reading as Blog Fiction – and I have given it a new title too.
Do tell me what you think of this rather old style “Thriller” …
THE WOMAN WITH RESTLESS EYES AND ENTICING PERFUME
(a “Thriller” by Vikram Karve)
“Excuse me, Sir,” said a feminine voice, “Do you have change for twenty rupees? Even two ten rupee notes will do.”
I put down the bunch of grapes which I was examining – and I looked up at a rather suburban looking woman.
She proffered a crisp twenty rupee note – folded into half at the centre – the reverse side of the watermark turned upwards – and she held it in such a way that I could not fail to notice something written on the watermark in neat capital letters in blue ink.
I understood at once.
An active dead letter drop – vintage David Mackenzie style – used only in emergencies.
“I’ll check,” I said, pulling out my wallet from my hip pocket.
I extracted two ten rupee notes – and I gave them to her – taking her twenty rupee note – and putting it into my wallet.
I did not make any purchases – but I rushed a straight home – walking the fastest mile of my life.
I reproduce below the exact words written on the twenty rupee note:
D E W D O L O E
I dusted out my code-book – and I deciphered the coded message:
So that was what David Mackenzie had sent me.
It was vintage David Mackenzie.
Tell a guy only the place of the rendezvous.
Never mention the time.
It was too risky.
Now all I had to do was to reach Mussoorie by the fastest available means – and then trek up Landour to the peak of Lal Tibba – also known as Landour Peak – the highest point in Mussoorie.
I had to just go there and wait for David Mackenzie to find me.
We both knew the area around Lal Tibba quite well.
We had many a rendezvous there – we had even used Lal Tibba as a dead letter drop – on rare occasions.
But that was more than ten years ago.
Since then – I had retired – and I had broken all contact with David.
I wondered why he had summoned me all of a sudden after ten long years of silence.
What was the assignment…?
And why Mussoorie of all places – when there were so many secure and convenient rendezvous in and around Pune…!
I picked up the telephone, dialled my travel agent and booked myself on the next flight to Delhi.
Beyond Delhi – I would have to make on-the-spot decisions – and improvise to shake off a tail – if I grew any.
Of course – I had torn up the twenty rupee note that had brought me the coded message – and burnt the small pieces.
But – I wondered who the woman was.
Maybe she was just a housewife.
David Mackenzie has a vast network of contacts – agents, runners, watchers, sleepers.
I was certain that I would never see the woman again.
Though the whole thing had happened so fast – there were two things about the woman which made a distinct impression on me.
Her eyes were the restless eyes of a woman with a great thirst for life.
And – from her body – emanated the lingering fragrance of her enticing perfume – a tantalizing fragrance…!
I reached Delhi airport – and I took the airport bus to Connaught Place (CP).
Then – I walked around CP a bit – ostensibly window-shopping – ate a pizza at a fast-food joint – and – once I was convinced that I was not being followed – I took a taxi to Old Delhi railway station.
It was almost 9.30 at night by the time I purchased a second class unreserved ticket to Dehradun – and walked onto the platform clutching my small briefcase.
And – out of the blue – I ran bang into Manisha Rawat.
David Mackenzie had always insisted that a man and a woman would be far less conspicuous than a single man or a pair of men.
So I always teamed up with Manisha Rawat when we went on a surveillance mission, stalking, tailing, shadowing, or just plain watching.
She worked as a stenographer in our office – and like most girls from the hills – she was extremely attractive – and she had a flawless complexion and carried herself very well.
Then – one fine day – she got married – and resigned from her job.
I did not maintain contact with her after that – for obvious reasons.
I was wondering how to avoid her – when Manisha Rawat called out me: “What a surprise, Ravi. But what on earth are you doing here?”
“I am heading for Mussoorie,” I said.
“No. I bought a second class unreserved ticket. I haven’t got reservation.”
“No problem,” Manisha said. “We have got two berths. My son and I. He is sitting inside. We’ll adjust. You can upgrade your ticket in the train.”
In normal circumstances, I should have refused her offer, but I could see that Manisha was so genuinely happy to meet me and was yearning to talk to me that I could not do anything else but agree and I joined Manisha and her ten year old son in the compartment.
“I won’t ask you why you are going to Mussoorie,” Manisha said.
“But I’ll ask you,” I replied tongue-in-check.
“I’m going to Dehradun,” she said.
“We have settled down in Dehradun. My husband and I – both of us work in Dehradun now. He’s an Engineer – and – by the way – I’m an HR Manager now.”
Manisha opened her purse – she pulled out a visiting card – and she gave it to me.
“So you are Manisha Joshi now,” I said looking at the visiting card, “I am looking forward to meeting your husband, the lucky Mr. Joshi.”
In my mind’s eye – I was visualizing how I could avoid meeting Manisha’s husband.
I was tempted to tell Manisha everything – to get it off my chest – but I stopped myself.
Life has taught me to leave dangerous things unsaid.
So I asked her, “Your husband must be coming to the station to pick you up tomorrow morning?”
“No,” she said. “He has gone abroad for some work. That’s why we had come to Delhi see him off. He left yesterday. But that doesn’t matter. You must come over to my place in Dehradun. It’s on Rajpur road – on the way to Mussoorie. The address, phone number – everything is on the card.”
As I put Manisha’s visiting card in my wallet – I knew that visiting her was out of the question – at least this time.
Manisha probably realized it too – I noticed she had not asked me anything about myself.
She had given me her visiting card – and she had left the ball in my court.
The Mussoorie Express reached the destination – Dehradun – precisely at 7:20 next morning.
I engaged a tourist taxi for my onward journey to Mussoorie.
Enroute – I dropped Manisha Joshi and her son at their house on Rajpur road.
The road to Mussoorie – coiling like a snake – was surrounded by dense vegetation – and as we made our way up – I noticed patches of snow – like lather – which became denser as we neared Mussoorie.
It was off-season – quite cold – and getting a room at the Savoy wouldn’t be a problem.
When I reached the hotel – I was shocked to find that a room had already been booked in my name.
Something was wrong – terribly wrong.
I could not believe that David Mackenzie would commit such a grave lapse.
I tried to smoothen my startled look into a grin – and I quietly checked in – trying not to arouse any suspicions.
All sorts of confusing thoughts crowded my brain.
The coded message – the woman with the restless eyes and fragrant enticing perfume at the fruit stall in Pune – and most of all – Manisha appearing as if from nowhere after fifteen long years – and very conveniently offering me a berth on the train.
And now – I find that someone has booked a room in my name at the Savoy.
Coincidence – Red Herrings – or an invisible hand gently guiding me into a trap…?
Complete anonymity was my best weapon I had always relied upon.
But now it was useless.
Invisible eyes seemed to be following me everywhere.
There was only one thing to do now – I had to quickly contact David Mackenzie and ask him what the hell was going on…?
I went down to the reception and asked the girl at the counter, “Please can you tell me who made my hotel reservation?”
“Just a moment, sir,” she said – and she began consulting a register.
I waited as she looked at the register.
“It’s here…” the receptionist said – giving me a curious look, “A travel agency. Hill Travels. They rang up from Dehradun this morning at 8:30.”
Manisha…? Had she made the hotel reservation for me…?
How could she be so naïve…?
Or was she…?
Had David told her to make the reservation…?
Was she still working for him…?
I would have to find out for myself.
But first – the rendezvous with David Mackenzie at Lal Tibba.
After lunch I walked down the Mall – posing as a tourist – seemingly clicking photographs with my camera.
But my camera was in fact a LASER-DAZZLER – or Dazer – which could dazzle – flash blind – the victim by means of laser beam.
Nobody even gave a second look to an inoffensive-appearing, meek-looking man like me – which was really to my advantage.
There was a chill in the air now – and I knew it would get bitterly cold – so I bought a trench-coat from a Tibetan roadside stall at Landour Bazaar – and then I turned left – and I began climbing up the path towards Lal Tibba.
At the Char-Dukan junction – I did not take the normal route to Lal Tibba – but instinctively turned right – in a last-ditch attempt to spot any tail – and I began negotiating the steep and longer route – skirting and traversing the undulating mountainous slopes.
It was this instinctive decision that probably saved my life – for when it suddenly started snowing – I took refuge under the porch of the entrance to a cemetery.
Gradually it stopped snowing and all of sudden rays of evening sunlight filtered through the gaps in the Deodar trees.
Indeed – the weather in Mussoorie was as unpredictable as the stock market.
As I was about to leave – I heard the bark of a dog.
I turned in that direction.
A Bhutiya dog was sitting about fifteen feet away from me.
It was a friendly breed.
I smiled at the dog.
And then I froze – and my blood ran cold – because – next to the dog was a tombstone – illuminated by a ray of sunlight.
On the tombstone was engraved in large bold letters:
DAVID W. MACKENZIE
BORN 24 MAY 1935
DIED 15 JANUARY 2010
As I recovered from the shock – I felt sad – my mentor David Mackenzie was dead.
But then I wondered – if David Mackenzie was dead – who had summoned me to Lal Tibba…?
Something was wrong – terribly wrong.
I knew I had to be careful – very careful.
Fully alert – I walked slowly to Lal Tibba.
I stood motionless on the Lal Tibba peak which jutted out like a bird’s beak – holding the railing in front of me – below which there was a sheer drop of over thousand feet into dense jungle.
The cold hung like a cloak of ice around my shivering shoulders.
I breathed in slowly – mouth and nose together.
The air was so pure, so pristine – that I sensed her arrival at once.
A whiff of that familiar enticing fragrance – no doubt about it…!
She came close and stood behind me.
There was no need for me to turn around and look – I knew that she was the same woman at the fruit stall in Pune – the woman with the restless eyes and enticing perfume.
“Why did you kill David Mackenzie…?” I asked softly.
I did not turn around – but I could feel the waft of her warm breath on the nape of my neck.
Suddenly – at the same spot on my neck – I felt a needle.
With cobra speed I ducked – and I rammed against her with my shoulders.
Then I turned around – I pointed my Dazer camera in her direction – and – I pressed the button.
Despite the weather – the laser beam was quite effective at that short range – and soon she began screaming.
The manner in which her silhouette was moving it was evident that she was totally dazed.
“Don’t kill me,” she shrieked in anguish, “David was going to die anyway. He had terminal cancer. I just put him to sleep to spare him the agony.”
Her hands cupped her eyes – and she seemed blinded.
I look two quick steps – and I pushed her towards the railing.
Her hands – which were earlier cupping her eyes – now desperately gripped the railing.
As I walked away from Lal Tibba – I could hear her trailing voice, “Don’t leave me here. I am blinded. I can’t see anything. Please don’t go…”
I stopped in my tracks.
In this profession – one operated on the basis of the 11th Commandment –“Thou shalt not get caught”.
I closed my eyes with my palms for about half a minute – and when I opened them again – I could see better in the dark.
I carefully scanned the footprints in the snow, where or scuffle had taken place.
After a bit of searching – I found what I wanted.
The syringe was intact – resting in the snow.
I slowly and furtively picked up the syringe – and I concealed it in my hands.
I looked at the woman.
She was standing still, gripping the railing.
It was evident that she was still blinded – and she could not see anything.
“Give me the syringe,” I shouted at her.
“I dropped it,” she said.
“I don’t believe you,” I said.
“No. I swear I don’t have it,” she said desperately, “Search me if you want.”
“Okay. But tell me first. What was in the syringe…?” I said.
“Ketamine…” she said
I smiled to myself.
‘Ketamine’ – an anesthetic with hallucinatory emergence reaction.
“Take off your coat. You may have hidden the syringe inside your coat. I want to check it,” I commanded.
As she started to take off her coat – I moved fast.
With my left hand – I pushed up the sleeve of her pullover – and with my right hand – I jabbed the needle of the syringe into her wrist – and injected the entire contents of the syringe into her body.
At first she struggled – but soon – she gave up – and in a few moments she slid down on the snow – her body became limp as the Ketamine took effect.
I lifted her body – struggling – and using all my strength – I rolled it over the railing – and I watched her body vanish into dark nothingness.
Miraculously – the Dazer was still intact around my neck.
I was tempted to throw it away.
But no – a tocsin sounded in my brain.
I may indeed need the Dazer yet.
David Mackenzie was dead – I had taken care of the woman with the restless eyes – but there was still the question of Manisha.
I had to be sure – dead sure.
It had started snowing again – and it was with great difficulty that I made my way down the slopes of Lal Tibba – and then walked down from Landour – in the enveloping darkness – towards the bus-stand at Picture Palace.
When I rang the doorbell of Manisha’s house it was dark.
I had not gone back to the Savoy hotel in Mussoorie, but I had caught the first bus to Dehradun from the Picture Palace bus-stand near Landour Bazaar.
Though I could read the surprise in Manisha’s eyes at my disheveled state – she did not say a word.
She just made me sit down – and she gave me a cup of tea.
So – I played it straight.
I told her everything – the whole story – exactly as it happened.
And – observing her eyes – her body language closely – I knew Manisha was innocent.
“Ravi – it is high time you broke off with the looking-glass world,” she said tenderly.
Manisha was right.
David Mackenzie was dead.
My link was to the wilderness of mirrors was broken.
Now – it was entirely up to me.
“Sleep here for the night – and we’ll go and collect your baggage from the Savoy later in the morning,” Manisha said.
We reached the hotel at noon to find a police officer waiting to interrogate me.
“Where were you since yesterday afternoon, sir…?” he asked, “The hotel staff has reported you missing. You have been out of the hotel for almost 24 hours. We were about send a search party.”
“He was with me – in Dehradun,” Manisha answered.
“Full night…?” the Police Officer asked.
“Yes – he was with me in my house for the full night” Manisha said.
Manisha and she opened her purse and gave the Police Officer her visiting card.
“Oh – you are an HR Manager – Thank You Madam,” the Police Officer said.
The Police Officer gave me a conspiratorial look and he advised me, “Sir – in future, better to inform the hotel staff and avoid panic.”
And then – the cop walked away – smiling to himself.
I cannot begin to describe the emotion I felt towards Manisha at that moment.
But – before I could say anything – she held my arm – and she said, “It’s okay, Ravi. For old times’ sake. But remember what I said. There’s no point living a lie – a double-life – it’s not worth it.”
The reason why the woman with the restless eyes and enticing perfume wanted to murder me became clear only a few days later.
When I reached Pune – I found a letter asking me to contact Mehta and Co., Solicitors, at Mumbai.
The letter said that the matter was urgent – so I rushed to Mumbai the next morning.
“It’s good you came, Mr. Ravi,” Mr. Mehta said. “We are the executors of the late Mr.David Mackenzie’s will. He has left you everything he had – except his bungalow – ‘The Anchorage’ – at Lal Tibba in Mussoorie.”
“Who gets the ‘Anchorage’ Bungalow?” I asked.
“Susan Morris,” he said looking at his papers, “In fact, she was the one who came here on the 2nd of February – and she personally handed over the death certificate of David Mackenzie.”
So the woman with the restless eyes and enticing perfume was called Susan Morris.
I looked at the wall-calendar.
2nd February was Friday.
3rd was Saturday – the day Susan Morris handed me the coded message in Pune.
And – on the 4th – a Sunday – I was on the flight – on my way to Mussoorie…
Everything was falling into place.
“Who gets my share in case of my death…?” I asked.
“Susan Morris. In case of the unforeseen contingency of your death – Susan Morris gets your share. And – of course – you are the alternate nominee for the Anchorage Bungalow – in case of the unforeseen death of Susan Morris – but then – she is very much alive – I told you that Susan Morris was here on the 2nd of February…” he said.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
“Shall we complete the formalities,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
After the paperwork was over – Mr. Mehta paused – and he said, “Thank you for coming. Now – as far as you are concerned – all formalities are over from your side and we will do the needful. We had asked Susan Morris to come over after a week – but she hasn’t contacted us yet. Do you know who she was to David Mackenzie…?”
“No. I don’t know any Susan Morris. I have never heard of her,” I answered, “David Mackenzie was a bachelor – and bachelors do get very lonely sometimes, don’t they…?”
Mehta smiled – and he said, “We were hoping she turns up fast – so we can settle everything. Anyway – we will wait for her.”
“I don’t think you will have to wait for long. I am sure Susan Morris will turn up quickly to complete her formalities,” I said nonchalantly.
I stood up – I shook Mehta’s hand – I turned around – and I walked away.
Then – I quickly lost myself in the crowd on the street.
In a week or two – I will be back here in Mumbai – to collect my cheque – my share of David’s legacy.
And sometime later – maybe after a few months – or maybe after a few years – when things settle down – and – if I am in the mood – I will surely visit Mussoorie – and climb all the way up to Lal Tibba at Landour Peak – to meet the ghost of Susan Morris…!
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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.
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This is a revised version of my Thriller Story written by me Vikram Karve in the 1990’s and First Posted Online by me Vikram Karve in the year 2006 in my creative writing blog at url: http://creative.sulekha.com/thriller_29930_blog and https://vikramwkarve.wordpress.com/2007/05/29/lal-tibba/ and http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2011/01/encounter-at-lal-tibba.html and http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2015/10/fiction-thriller-encounter-in-mussoorie.html and http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2011/01/encounter-at-lal-tibba.html etc