Code Decode

Code Decode

It was around 2 AM when the phone rang. Briana rubbed her eyes and groggily answered the call.

“Briana madam, constable Lokhande here. A dead body has been found in Mandvi.”

“What? Another murder?” Briana sat erect on her bed, scratching her forehead.

“Yes, madam. And in the same manner too. Please come soon.”

The crime site was cordoned off. Appalled onlookers swarmed the place even in the wee hours of the morning. Mumbai never slept, they said. Briana closely observed the body of the victim- a middle-aged woman. A duct tape sealed her mouth, while a transparent plastic cover shrouded her head. A sunflower was stuck on the plastic.

“Modus operandi matches with the previous murder that had happened in Kalbadevi, madam,” Lokhande tutted. “The poor woman died gasping for breath.”

“Who found the body?” Briana inquired.

“A rickshaw driver discovered on his way back home.”

“Once the forensic team is done with their job, send the body for postmortem,” Briana instructed.

“Do you think there’s a serial killer behind this, Mathur?” The Superintendent of Police asked his deputy back in his office. “The media and public are going frenzy. We need proper investigation.”

“I understand, sir. That’s the reason I’ve appointed Inspector Briana for this case,” DSP Mathur replied. “A sincere and headstrong officer with an indomitable spirit, Briana possesses an astute problem-solving skill. She’s the right person we need, sir. In the past too, she has cracked several complex and challenging cases.”

“Yes, I’ve read about her. Make it quick, Mathur. Solve and close this case as quickly as possible,” the SP commanded.

Briana and her team held an emergency meeting in her office.

“The first murder happened on September 1st. Name- Sushmita, age- 32, residing in Kalbadevi. The second murder happened on September 7th. Name- Harleen, age- 51, residing in Mandvi. Both of them were killed in the same manner. No foreign fingerprints were retrieved. Perhaps the killer used gloves,” Sub-inspector, Karan briefed the team.

“This indeed looks like a serial killer is on the run,” Briana exhaled sharply. “Any link between the victims?”

“We checked every possible angle, ma’am,” Karan replied, with his eyes glued to the case file. “Family background, college, common friends and even their facebook profile. Strangely, no data matched.”

“Looking at the MO, I don’t assume them to be some random prey,” Briana shook her head. “Both the victims belonged to locations that are close to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Is the killer targeting ladies in this location?” She circled the area with a pencil on the city map.

Mumbai shaking in terror. Two brutal murders in a week. Are the citizens safe? Are the police inefficient?

News channels were flooded with frazzled reporters blaming the government and police department.

Not very far, someone keenly watched the news with a smug. I’m getting famous! Shalini, I’ve become a seasoned killer now, thanks to you…

***

February 14, 2022

The terrace of the twelve-storied building in Bandra, Mumbai, buzzed with laughter, ear-splitting music and disco lights. Food and booze were served relentlessly. Youngsters danced like wild, insane hippies. Valentine’s Day celebration was in full swing.

His eyes scanned the entire place like a hawk intently awaiting its prey. There she was- Shalini- coquettishly swaying her hips to a popular Bollywood number. He snorted. Wrecking his life, his dignity and everything he had, she danced unabashedly.

He dialed her number. She was too engrossed to pick up the call. After multiple buzzing, she finally answered. She moved across the dance floor, trying hard to hear the caller. The next moment, she retrieved an envelope from her handbag and ambled to the upper area of the terrace, which was isolated.

“Hello, Shalini…” a voice called from behind.

Shalini turned around, and froze.

“Y… you? Wh… what are you doing here?” She gulped hard, looking all around, tracing her steps back slowly.

“We did speak over the phone, right?” He smirked.

“Was that you? I thought…it was a student.”

“You were too haughty to even ask my name,” he sighed. “Look, where it landed you.”

Her sweaty hands brushed against the balustrade. Peeking below, she gasped.

“Look, I can explain,” her voice quivered. “I can set everything right…”

“Shut up!” He growled. “You can do nothing. The only thing left is this…”

He bent down and lifted her feet. Her pale, horror-stricken face and shriek as she plummeted below brought an inexplicable tranquility to his agitated soul.

***

Present Day

Another murder in Colaba, three weeks after the previous murder shook the entire city. News channels openly shamed the police department as being incompetent and irresponsible.

“People are losing faith in us. Damn it!” Briana punched her fist on the office table. “What’s the update, Karan?”

“Victim’s name- Ashwini Gore, age- 28. MO is the same. A sunflower has also been retrieved as before. No link has been established with the previous victims,” Karan remarked. “As we had previously guessed, this has nothing to do with CST location, ma’am. Colaba is about 4 km from CST.”

Briana peered at the Mumbai city map that was stuck on the wall. She circled the three locations- Kalbadevi, Mandvi and Colaba.

“If there isn’t any link between the victims, is there something with their locations? Just a wild guess,” Briana scratched her chin.

“Ma’am, you have a parcel from amazon,” a constable informed.

“I had ordered a book. It must be that.”

Briana glanced at the package cover. Her eyes paused at the PIN code.

Just then, her face lit up. “Can I have a look at the city PIN codes, please?”

Karan handed her a little handbook that carried PIN codes of each locations in the city. Briana ran her gaze through the page and exclaimed, “that’s it!”

As her team gaped at her in anticipation, Briana spoke.

“All the three murders that have happened till now have a sequence. The PIN code of Kalbadevi is 400002, of Mandvi is 400003, and that of Colaba is 400005.”

“That’s a great revelation,” SI Surabhi intoned. “But why were the codes 1 and 4 skipped?

“Good question, Surabhi,” Briana was lost in contemplation.

Surabhi opened the case file to have a look at the pictures of the dead bodies.

“Why has the killer left a sunflower on each of the victims? What clue did he leave behind to challenge us?” Surabhi pondered.

She googled for some information on sunflowers. Her eyes shone as she yelled, “guys, I guess I have stumbled upon something important. Listen. The sunflower demonstrates the mathematical pattern of ‘Fibonacci sequence’, a set in which each number is the sum of the previous two. For example- 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21… and so on.”

“That means the killer happens to be a math lover!” Karan exclaimed. “He is choosing his victims according to their area PIN codes following Fibonacci series. That’s the reason he skipped area code 4. Still, doesn’t explain why number 1 was skipped. Also, is he randomly choosing his victim or is a pattern followed there too?”

“Brilliant, Surabhi. But let’s take one step at a time,” Briana interjected. “Now we know about the next target’s location. PIN code 8, which is Mumbai Central. But who’s on the radar? For this, let’s take a step back.” She re-opened the PIN code book. “Karan, get me details of any suspicious murders that happened in Mumbai G.P.O area in the past few years.”

“Good idea, ma’am. G.P.O has PIN code 1. That will tell us why he skipped code 1?” Karan quickly got to work.

Within an hour, he was back with an assuring smile.

“Ma’am, there hasn’t been any murder with the same MO in the past few years,” Karan said.

“I was looking for a criminal with math background. Interestingly, one Dr. Lakshman Narayanan, a math professor was involved in a police case. He was a genius, and was nicknamed ‘modern Ramanujan’.”

“Please continue,” Briana chimed. “I’m listening.”

“He was arrested for molesting one of his coaching class students, Shalini. However, due to lack of proper evidence, he was released after serving few months in prison. Call it a coincidence, the girl committed suicide eight months later! However, her parents still believe Dr. Lakshman’s hands behind this, though no evidence has been retrieved.”

“Any other reason for suspecting this man?” Briana raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, ma’am,” Karan quipped. “Apparently, the women who were killed had their names Sushmita, Harleen and Ashwini. If you pick their first letters, it makes SHA…”

“As if the killer wants to complete the name, Shalini!” Surabhi completed the sentence.

“That means the next victim’s name begins with letter ‘L’,” Briana continued. “Dr. Lakshman was nicknamed ‘modern Ramanujan’. Have you heard about Ramanujan number?” She quizzed.

“1729,” Surabhi quipped, checking google.

“Yes. If you have noticed the dates when the murders took place…”

“Good Lord! September 1st, 7th and 29th .” Surabhi cupped her mouth.

“Which means the next murder will happen on October 1st, that’s… tomorrow!” Karan gasped.

“So we have a math genius here, who not only loves to kill, but is in LOVE with numbers too. Briana scribbled in her notepad. Next victim- L, location- Colaba, Date- Oct 1st. There are about 90,000 people living in Colaba, out of which around 42,000 are female. How do we find you, Ms. L?

***

June 2020

A loud scream reverberated in the coaching class campus. Teachers and students darted towards the sound that emerged from the math HOD’s room.

A shocking scene welcomed the crowd. Shalini, a grade 12 student stood shaking in fear. Her dress was torn and body bruised. Dr. Lakshman stood with a pen knife, which he hurled across the room upon seeing the students.

Shalini rushed towards a teacher, weeping.

“He… this monster… tried to rape me,” she bawled.

Dr. Lakshman stood still like a robot.

“We never expected you’d stoop to such level, sir!” the teacher exclaimed.

“I… I didn’t do anything… she’s mad!” He retorted.

“Have some shame, sir. Is this the way you’ll defend your heinous act? Shalini, tell us dear. What happened exactly?” The teacher asked.

“Ma’am, I had asked sir a doubt regarding a chapter. He called me to his room. And… on pretext of solving the problem, he touched me inappropriately. When I resisted, he took the pen knife and tore my dress, and tried to rape me,” she sobbed.

“Lie!” Lakshman hollered. “She was the one who…”

“Who believes a girl, after all?” Shalini bellowed. “It’s always our fault, isn’t it?”

Chaos ensued. An enraged mob of students attacked Lakshman and vandalized his coaching centre. Police arrested him. Court case went on for months. However, due to lack of solid evidence, they couldn’t imprison him for long.

***

Present Day

“Ma’am, I just discovered something very important,” Surabhi darted into Briana’s office. “The first victim, Sushmita’s mobile number ended with the digits 1729.”

“Darn! That’s where the clue lies- Ramanujan number! Even in choosing his victims!” Exclaimed Briana. “Inspect each of the victims’ details once again and match their link to 1729, quick!”

Soon, the details lay on the table.

“The second victim, Harleen’s date of birth was 9/2/71, the reverse order of 1729,” Karan elucidated. “The third victim, Ashwini’s address was Street 1, Building number 72, apartment number 9 in Colaba.”

“His next target, Ms L is from Mumbai central, and her car registration plate number is 1729,” Briana concluded. “Her name is Lena Chawla.”

“Should we apprise her of the impending danger?” Surabhi quizzed.

“She’ll panic, and the killer may get wary. Let’s just follow her surreptitiously, and nab him red-handed,” Briana clasped her palm.

***

August 2021

Repulsive glares and hushed gossips welcomed Dr. Lakshman to his residence. The entire city had turned hostile and abhorred his sight. Seated in his vacant house, he shed hot tears of anguish.

The past year had been the worst in his life, and he was surprised that he survived. After the molestation charges, he had spent nearly eight months in prison, before being released for lack of evidence. He was due as the recipient of the prestigious ‘Ramanujan Award’ that year. But his name was struck out for obvious reasons.

His wife, too, severed all ties. She confessed to be ashamed to call him her husband. The worst hit came from his fifteen-year-old daughter, who claimed to feel unsafe in his presence. His soul died that day.

Like a zombie, he’d wade around the city, sometimes cackling for nothing, while wailing the next minute. Somebody admitted him in a mental hospital, where he was treated worse than an animal.

After six months, he was released, not because he was deemed fit. But because the beds were full and treating a molester was of least interest.

Though, legally he was free, the society had labeled him a pervert and sick predator. His nails dug deep into the sofa as he decided to punish the one who had framed him. Shalini had to pay the PRICE.

Shalini was just another student in his coaching class. But she had been a seductress, often putting him in an embarrassing spot. Lakshman had warned her sternly. His only mistake was that he hadn’t raised the issue with her parents, as for him, she was just an infatuated, confused teenager. But things went south when one day, she barged into his room and was all over him.

“I’m going to fail the board exams. Please help me,” she sobbed.

“Shalini, there’s still time for the exam. Study well,” he pushed her aside.

“Do you have an access to the board papers?” She whispered.

“What rubbish! I don’t have it. Don’t you know it’s illegal?”

But she was relentless.

“I know you have contacts. If you don’t help me, my life will be ruined. I’ll make sure to ruin yours too,” she hissed.

Lakshman held her elbow and yanked her towards the door. Shalini pushed him and took out a pocket knife. Ripping her dress, she scratched her skin, as Lakshman stood horrified and clueless. And then she screamed.

The scream that devastated his life. He wanted to hear her scream again. One last time.

He hatched a fool-proof ruse. He decided to stalk her. Soon, Lakshman learnt that in the past few months, Shalini had gained access to exam papers, and she sold them for a good price. Pretending to be a needy student, Lakshman had called her on her cell and asked for papers. On Valentine’s day, Shalini fell for her greed, and later fell to her death. Literally!

The terrified look on her face as she plummeted stimulated an uncanny desire to kill in Lakshman. For days and weeks, her face haunted him, imparting a sadistic pleasure. His insane mind resolved to go on a hunting spree. He followed his icon Ramanujan, and used his number 1729 in choosing each of his victims. It was a trophy for him with each kill. The one that was denied to him.

***

Present Day (October 1st)

Briana, Karan and Surabhi clandestinely followed Lena in plain clothes. After work, Lena walked towards her car in the underground parking lot. As expected, a masked Lakshman sprang from his hiding. Dragging her to a secluded corner, he taped her mouth and wrapped a plastic cover over her head, as she struggled to breathe. His excitement level rose with each dreaded breath that she took. However, his vicious grin vanished as Briana pointed her gun on the back of his head.

“Game over, professor!” She hollered. “Leave her right now or this bullet will blast your brain.”

Lakshman couldn’t believe what had just transpired. Little did he know that the police were a step ahead of him. He loosened his grip over Lena. Surabhi untied the plastic from Lena’s head and took her to the hospital.

“I must say you’re brilliant,” Lakshman declared, shaking his head.

“You were over-confident, Lakshman,” Briana said, as Karan handcuffed him. “If only you had channelized your intelligence in the right direction…”

“I WAS in the right direction, inspector,” he grunted. “It was you and your society that mis-judged me and shattered my life.”

“I’m sorry for what happened. But what you did no way justifies anything,” Briana affirmed. “For now mister math genius, spend the rest of your life rotting in prison, counting the number of days you’re going to live.”
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