Short Fiction – DEAD MAN’S WHISKY

DEAD MAN’S WHISKY

Short Fiction Story By VIKRAM KARVE 

Link to my original post in my Blog Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2016/08/dead-mans-whisky-short-story.html

DEAD MAN’S WHISKY – A Story By VIKRAM KARVE

Part 1 – A DEAD BODY

I looked at the dead body – at the dead man’s face.

Even in death – he had the stamp of defeat on his face.

“Yes – it is him…” I said to the cop.

They covered the dead body.

We walked out of the morgue.

“The doctors will have to do a post mortem. They’ll do it straightaway – at night – and – we will get the body in the morning…” the cop said.

“Okay…” I said.

“If his family comes tomorrow – we can cremate him and complete the last rites tomorrow itself…” the cop said.

“That’s the problem – how do we inform his wife – his family…?”

“Sir – you don’t have their address – phone numbers – anything…?”

“No. His children have settled down abroad – in the US – and – his wife lives with them in America. I don’t have any contact details of his wife or his children. Tell me – did you not find anything on him – his wallet – mobile – some ID…?”

“No, Sir – I told you – the only thing we found was a piece of paper with a mobile number written on it…” the cop said.

“That’s funny…” I said.

“Looks like he has been robbed…” the cop said.

“Oh – so the robbers may have killed him…?” I said.

“I don’t think so, Sir – most probably he was dead before he was robbed – but – we will wait for the post-mortem report to confirm that…” the inspector said to me.

Part 2 – DEATH REPORT

Well – Dear Reader – this was what had happened exactly one hour ago.

Around midnight – at 2330 Hours  – or 11:30 PM – to be precise – a police patrol saw a man lying unconscious on the street in a sleazy “red light area”.

Actually – the man had fallen into a filthy gutter by the street.

They thought it was a drunkard – it was quite common to see intoxicated men wallowing dead-drunk on the streets in that squalid area.

However – on a closer look – than man appeared to be dead – so the cops called an ambulance.

The man was declared “brought in dead” by the doctors at the hospital.

On searching the dead man – the cops found nothing – except a piece of paper in his trouser pocket with a 10 digits – which the inspector correctly assumed to be a mobile number.

The inspector called that number – and – my mobile cell-phone rang.

I picked up my mobile phone.

“I am Inspector ‘XXX’ speaking from ‘YYY’ Police Station. A man was found dead and we found your mobile number on a chit in his pocket – you will have to come to the police station…” a voice said curtly.

“It is past midnight…” I said.

“So what – it is a police case…” the cop said rudely.

I identified myself – I told the Police Inspector who I was.

There was a remarkable change in his tone – and – the cop said politely: “I am sorry, Sir – I didn’t know…”

“That’s okay – where do you want me to come…?” I asked.

“Sir – we are in the civil hospital – I will send my jeep to pick you up…”

“Don’t take the trouble – I will come down myself to the civil hospital – you just give me the directions and tell me where exactly…”

“No, Sir – I will personally come and pick you up – please tell me your address…”

Outside – it was pitch dark – and – it was raining heavily – and – I didn’t quite fancy driving on that harsh night in the torrential rain – so – I accepted the inspector’s offer to pick me up.

I told the police inspector my address.

I changed my clothes – and – I waited for the cop to arrive.

Soon – we – the Police Inspector and I – we were driving in the police jeep towards the hospital to identify the body.

The cop looked at me – and – he said to me: “Sir – the place where his body was found – Sir – it is a “red light area” – that area is notorious for crime – vagabonds and urchins must have looted everything – there was nothing on him – no wallet, no watch, no mobile phone – nothing – only his clothes – and – this chit with your mobile number written on it…”

I looked at the piece of paper on which I had written my mobile number – and – I said: “I met him in my club – he wanted to have a drink with me – but – I was in a hurry – so – I told him that I would have a drink with him some other time – he told me that he had got a bottle of my favourite single-malt whisky…”

“Single-Malt Whisky…? Imported…?”

“Yes – he told me that he had recently returned from the US after visiting his children and wife there – and – he had got a bottle of my favourite whisky from the duty-free store at the airport…”

“Oh – he must have really liked you…”

“Yes – we were good friends when we were in the Air Force – and – later too – I kept contact with him after he retired long ago – and – after I retired 6 months ago – I met him once at his house – just before he flew down to America…”

“Oh – Sir – what happened at the club…? How did you give him the chit with your mobile number…?”

“Oh, Yes – I told you – I met him in the foyer of the club – near the reception area – he said that he had misplaced the visiting card I had given him a few months ago – and – he asked for my mobile number so – I asked the receptionist for a piece of paper – I wrote my mobile number on it – and – I gave it to him…”

“Sir – you could have given him your visiting card…”

“Actually – I was in a hurry to get home – and – he was totally drunk…”

“He was already drunk – at what time – Sir…?”

“Around 9:30…”

“Sir – you must have seen him drinking in the bar…?”

No – I was attending a private party in the blue room – and – when I was walking towards the foyer of the club on my way out – he suddenly came lurching towards me – he asked for my mobile number – I could have given him my card – but – I was so disgusted seeing him in a drunken condition – that – I just wrote my number on a piece of paper – and – I gave it to him – and then – I walked to my car and drove off…”

“What surprises me is why he went all the way to the filthy “red light area” which is quite far away from your club…”

“Yes – that’s surprising…”

“Or – maybe – the dead body is not your “friend” – oh – I am sorry, Sir…” the cop said.

“It’s okay – I told you – he was a good friend…” I said.

“Sir – I hope the dead body is your friend – the same man who we think it is…” the cop said.

“What do you mean…?”

“Sir – it is possible some other man “mugged” your friend – and – he took the “chit” with your number on it – and – the dead man is that man who mugged your friend and took the chit from him. But – that is a remote possibility – as I said – most likely he died before he was robbed – but – the post-mortem will give us a clue…” the cop said.

It was obvious that the cop hoped that I would identify the dead man – so that – the police could close the case.

Soon – we reached the hospital.

The doctors took us to the morgue.

I identified the body – it was him – yes – the “Dead Body” was that of my “Friend”…

They covered the body – and – we walked out of the morgue.

“We will have to do a post mortem. They’ll do the post-mortem straightaway – at night – and we will get the body early in the morning…” the cop said.

“Okay…” I said.

“Sir – I have already put my men on the job to enquire with our informers in the area – so that we can rule out any foul play – and we can give clearance to cremate him once the doctors give their “all okay” report…”

“That’s a good thing you have done…” I complimented the inspector.

“If his family comes tomorrow – we can cremate him and complete the last rites tomorrow itself…” the cop said.

“That’s the problem – how do we inform his wife – his family…?”

“Sir – you don’t have their address – phone numbers – anything…?”

“No. I don’t know the contact details of his wife or children. Tell me – did you not find anything on him – his wallet – mobile – some ID…?”

“No, Sir – I told you – the only thing we found was a piece of paper with a mobile number written on it…” the cop said.

“Okay – let’s go to his house – maybe we will find some clue about the contact details of his family there…” I said.

“You know his house…?” the cop asked me.

“Yes – he had a bungalow in Deccan Gymkhana…”

“A Bungalow…? In Deccan Gymkhana…?”

“Yes – the Bungalow built by his father – and – since he was the only son – he inherited it…”

“Oh – let’s hope he hasn’t sold it off and gone to live somewhere else – he seems to have been an alcoholic – and – alcoholics are always short of money…”

“I don’t think he would have sold the bungalow – he was quite well-off financially – and – he was getting a decent pension…”

“Oh…”

“Well – I had been to his house around 6 months ago – he was living all alone – his wife had gone to live with his children who are settled abroad in America…”

“Sir – you knew him well…?”

“Of course – we joined the Air Force together as cadets – that was 45 years ago – we were ‘course-mates’ at the Academy – he was an ace fighter pilot – he stood first in our course – he won all the flying trophies – we all thought that he would reach high rank…”

“And just see what happened to him, Sir – what a sad end…”

“Yes – a very pitiful end to a good man…”

A doctor gestured to the Police Inspector.

The Inspector excused himself – and – he went across to talk to the doctor.

After some time – the Police Inspector returned – and – he said to me: “Sir – the doctors say that – prima facie – they don’t suspect any foul play – and – the cause of death seems to be cirrhosis of the liver due to excessive consumption of alcohol – but – they will give a full proper post-mortem report in the morning – then – we can get the death certificate – and – hand over the body for cremation…”

“Shall we go to his house and try to find out contact details of his families…?” I asked.

“Yes – Yes – Sir – let’s go. I will tell them to send some force to break the lock and force the door open…” the cop said, “Sir – can you tell me the address of his bungalow…?”

I told him the location of the bungalow.

The Police Inspector spoke for some time on his mobile – repeating the location that I had told him.

Then – he said to me: “Sir – let’s go…”

So – we drove to the Dead Man’s House in Deccan Gymkhana.

Part 3 – DEAD MAN’S WHISKY

One hour later – we – the police inspector and me – both of us were sitting in the drawing room of the bungalow – while a constable sat in the police jeep parked outside. The rest of the police party had been sent back to the police station.

The door had been forced open – and after a brief search – we found a diary with the addresses and phone numbers of the dead man’s wife and children living in America.

I called the dead man’s wife.

In Pune (India) – it was the unearthly hour of 2 AM.

In America – it must have been afternoon.

The dead man’s wife picked up the phone.

I identified myself.

She recognized me – though it was more than 15 years since we had met – after all – I was her husband’s course-mate and squadron-mate – and – I had kept contact even after her husband had prematurely left the Air Force.

“Is everything okay…?” she asked me.

I gave her the sad news that her husband was dead.

“Oh – it was bound to happen – the way he was drinking himself to death…” she said.

“We will get his body in the morning – I will arrange to keep his body in the morgue till you come…” I said to her.

“Why should I come…?” the dead man’s wife said.

“For his cremation – don’t you – your children – don’t you want to perform the last rites of your husband…?”

“No – you cremate him – I will send you whatever money is required for the expenses…”

“It is not a question of money…” I said to her, “won’t you like to see your husband for one last time…? Or – at least – the children would like to see their father for one last time…?”

“No – No – we are not interested in seeing his dead body – for us – he “died” long back…” the dead man’s wife said.

For a moment – I was dumbstruck.

Before I could recover my wits – the dead man’s wife said on the phone: “Please cremate him – we really don’t have time to come to India now – but – we will try and come next month during the Christmas Vacations to ‘settle matters’ – please get his death certificate – and – just see that our bungalow is cleaned and locked up properly…”

I smiled to myself at the way the dead man’s wife had said “our bungalow”

She had abandoned her husband – but – she had not abandoned his bungalow.

Yes – it was “his” bungalow – given to him by his father – but his wife called it “our” bungalow.

I did not wish to speak anything further with the dead man’s wife.

Also – it seemed that she too did not want to speak anything to me – so – I said: “Don’t worry – I am in your bungalow right now – I will do the needful…”

Then – I disconnected the phone.

We looked around the house.

We found empty liquor bottles lying all around – and – there were a few full bottles of Rum – and – some cheap country liquor bottles – but – conspicuous in his drawing room display case – there was a bottle of Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

“This must have been the bottle he bought for you, Sir…” the cop said.

“Yes…” I said – and – I took out the big one litre bottle of Highland Malt Whisky out of the display case.

I noticed that the inspector was looking at the bottle with a look of genuine desire – so – I said to him: “Come on – let’s “kill” the bottle…”

“Sir…?” he said, confused.

“Well – my friend had got this bottle for me – so why not have a drink and talk – anyway we have to kill a few hours till morning – you like “Single Malt” don’t you…?”

“Yes, Sir – I tasted it once – at a party…” he said, “Sir – I will get some glasses from the kitchen…”

We sat on the sofa – sipping the Dead Man’s Whisky.

“Sir, what is the exact story of the “Dead Man”…?” the cop asked me.

“I told you – we were together in the Air Force – and – he was an ace fighter pilot – doing very well in his career – we were sure he would reach high rank – and then – one day – he suddenly resigned and left the Air Force…”

“Resigned…? Why…?”

“Yes – he quit when he was at his best – just when his career was taking off – for the sake of his children’s education…”

“He quit the Air Force for his “children’s education”…?”

“Yes. He had two sons – I think one was in the 9th and the younger in the 7th – and – he wanted them to be in the best school in Pune and prepare for IIT – those days – airbases were quite desolate – and – did not have good schooling facilities…”

“Sir – he could have sent his wife and kids to Pune – and – he could have lived alone wherever he was posted…”

“He did that – his lived as a “bachelor” in the officers’ mess for some time – but – once you get used to family life – it is difficult to live alone – and – his wife kept nagging him to quit the Air Force and come and stay with them – as she was finding it difficult to manage the two teenage boys alone – and – she wanted him to take their children’s studies – as I told you – his main aim was that both his sons get into IIT – so – he was willing to do anything to achieve this…”

“So – he quit the Air Force at the prime of his career…?”

“Yes – in a nutshell – he gave up his career for the sake of his kids…”

“And – his kids…?”

“His kids did well – both got into IIT. His efforts had borne fruit – he had totally dedicated his life for his children – for 5 years – till his younger son finished his 12thand gave the IIT exam – he did not take up a job – but – focused full-time on his children’s studies…”

“A doting father…”

“Yes – he was more than a “doting” father – then – as most IIT graduates do – both his kids went abroad to America for higher studies and then settled down permanently in the US…”

“And him…? What did he do…?”

“He tried to get a job – but couldn’t get a decent job…”

“You said that he was an ace pilot – surely – he could have joined the airlines…”

“Sadly – there was a glut of civil pilots at that time – besides – he was a fighter pilot – and – the civil airlines prefer transport pilots…”

“That’s sad…”

“Yes – that is the time he started regretting leaving the Air Force – he was unemployed – treated as “good for nothing” in the civilian world – whereas he saw all of us doing well in our Air Force careers and reaching high rank…”

“It must have been depressing – you said he was a trophy winner – the best in his batch – it must have been terrible for him – he must have felt like a man in a gutter watching others climbing mountains…”

I smiled at the metaphor – alcohol seemed to be unleashing creativity in the cop.

I wondered whether it was a coincidence that he had used the metaphoric example of a “gutter” – because – my friend – the dead man – he had been found lying in a gutter.

I decided to cut the story short – why speak ill about a dead man…?

“Well – to put it in a nutshell – things went downhill after that – maybe because of his frustration – he started drinking heavily. Meanwhile his sons got married and had kids – and – his wife kept going to her children in America for long durations abroad for “nanny” duties – and – maybe because of loneliness – he started drinking even more…”

“Sir – he could have gone to America…”

“He did – but then – maybe because of his drinking – his children did not want him there for long – so – he would come back – and – his wife would stay on for months…”

“Sad – to be unwanted by the same children for whom he had sacrificed his career…”

“Yes – and then – things got even worse – there were all sorts of sordid rumours that he was seen in unsavoury company…”

“Oh – so that explains why he was found in the “red light area”…”

“His wife must have heard about his sordid affairs – so – she abandoned him here – and – she went to live permanently live with her children in the US…”

“It must have broken him – poor man – it must have been very sad…” the cop said.

“A sad end to a good man…” I said.

I finished off the whisky in my glass.

It looked at my watch – it was almost 5 AM.

So – I said to the inspector: “Shall we go…? It’s almost morning…”

“Yes, Sir…” the cop said, “I will just check up with the doctors…”

The police inspector made a call – spoke for some time – and then – he said to me: “Sir – everything is okay – death was due to “cirrhosis of liver” – we can take the body now…”

“That’s good…”

“Sir – “Vaikunth” or “Kailas” – which crematorium do you prefer – I will tell them to make the cremation pass accordingly…”

“Wherever you want – and – I don’t want any rituals – let’s keep it to the bare minimum – I want to get it over with as fast as possible…” I said.

“You are right, Sir – if his own wife and children are not even interested in seeing him one last time – why should we bother about having rituals and ceremonies…?” the cop said – and – he once again – spoke on the phone.

“Sir – shall we go…?” the cop said.

I got up from the sofa.

The cop picked up the Whisky Bottle – and – he said to me: “Sir – the “Dead Man’s Whisky” – there is still plenty of whisky left in the bottle…”

“You keep it…” I said.

“No, Sir – I think you should keep the “Dead Man’s Whisky” – as a token of remembrance of your friend…” the cop said to me.

VIKRAM KARVE

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Disclaimer:

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.

Copyright Notice:

No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.

Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved) 

Link to my original post in my Blog Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2016/08/dead-mans-whisky-short-story.html

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