Joseph Cohen stared absent-mindedly at the abstract painting on the wall, while Henry continued his monologue about some upcoming financial crisis. If a stranger had to enter the room at that moment and catch him staring at the painting, Joseph would have been mistaken for a vivid admirer of art, which he wasn’t. He just needed something to keep his mind occupied, just so he could divert his mind from the image of that ten-year-old boy constantly playing on his mind.
‘Hey Joseph, are you listening to me?’ Henry inquired.
Joseph glared at Henry for a moment. ‘Henry, do you think I came here to discuss the current financial scenario? After all that I’ve told you, do you think this is something so important to me right now?’
Henry let out a sigh. ‘Look Joseph, I know what you are going through. And, the most important thing you need to do right now is to take your mind off the events of that terrible night.’
Joseph didn’t feel like answering. He stared blankly at the wall, chewing his lip. ‘It’s been five days since it happened. Do you know how many hours of sleep I have had since then?’ He turned his attention to examining the minor abrasions over his palms, and began to pick at them.
Henry needed no verbal statement to confirm what Joseph was going through. His bloodshot eyes and weary face demanded no supporting evidence. ‘Joseph, I know that you blame yourself completely for the boy’s death. You were a cop on duty. You were in pursuit of a criminal, who happened to disappear into that abandoned building. It was unfortunate that the kid came out of a dark alley at such a wrong time. You were so full of adrenaline that you shot the kid on instinct. You did not do it intentionally. It just happened.’
Joseph raised his eyes to catch a glimpse of Henry’s face. ‘It just happened? What are you, a fucking love-guru? I killed a kid, Henry, for god’s sake; not fall in love with a girl for something to just happen!’
Joseph rose from the chair and paced from one wall to another anxiously. He halted beside the table and stared at his open palms. ‘I carried the bleeding kid in these hands as he breathed his last. I could still feel the warmth and the red of his blood on my palms; it feels like a permanent tattoo, which doesn’t wash off. How am I supposed to forget everything and act like nothing ever happened?’
Henry stood up and walked over to Joseph. He placed his hand over Joseph’s shoulder. ‘I’m not asking you to pretend as if nothing has ever happened. I am asking you to accept that it wasn’t completely your fault.’
Joseph buried his face in his hands and rubbed his tired eyes.
‘Do you have those sleeping pills?’ Henry asked.
‘Yeah,’ Joseph said, patting his blazer pocket.
‘Good. Get home, eat something, take a pill and sleep sound. You have an investigation to face. You don’t have to add this unwanted mental stress to your loaded self.’
Joseph nodded and walked towards the door. Holding the doorknob, he turned back to Henry and said, ‘you know the funniest thing about these actions, Henry?’ He did not wait for a reply. ‘It just takes a moment to do something in the blink of an eye, but a lifetime to bear the weight of the consequences, all the time wishing the moment had gone differently.’ He managed a meagre smile before leaving.
When he entered his house, he accidentally kicked off the letters lying on the doormat in the dark. He switched on the light, collected the scrambled letters off the floor and dropped them on the couch. Before he could turn away from them, his eye caught a letter bearing the logo of “ANONYMOUS POSTS”. He picked it up and studied the envelope. The sender was named “The Whisperer“, like one of the many clichéd names senders use to send on “ANONYMOUS POSTS”. He tore the envelope and pulled the letter out. Once he was done reading the poem printed on a single sheet of paper, he withdrew his phone and began scrambling through his contacts list.
David Bronson browsed through the contents of the last autopsy report and closed the file. He closed his eyes and massaged his temples. He let the silence of his chamber sink in, which felt like a blessing after the tiresome day he had had. Performing one autopsy after the other for three straight hours had drained him of every ounce of his energy, making him wonder why people had to pick that particular day to meet an unfortunate end. The notification bell of his phone came through crashing his silent contemplation. He snatched his phone off the table and navigated through the notifications on the screen. There was a message from Charlotte. It read- How are you? Just wanted to know how you are doing. Give me a call when you are free.
He checked the time on his watch. Maybe later.
There was another message from Dr. Philander Waters asking him to call him after seven in the evening. David dialled the number and waited for him to answer the call.
‘Hey Dave,’ he said.
‘Hey Phil,’ David said. ‘Can we talk right now?’
‘So, how far did you get with the arrangements for the symposium?’ David asked, rubbing the nape of his neck. He held the phone to his ear, walked over to the couch and crashed on it.
‘I’m halfway through. I am trying to convince Dr. Elena Sandberg to give a presentation.’
‘You mean Dr. Elena Sandberg, the geneticist?’ David asked.
‘Yeah, that one. She says she has got a busy schedule and can’t say for sure, as of now. I requested her try to squeeze the symposium into her itinerary. She promised to look into it. Fingers crossed.’
David gave it a thought. ‘If I’m not mistaken, I met her at a conference last year. I believe she gave me her card. Maybe I could try to convince her regarding this.’
‘Then, give it a shot, Dave.’
‘I shall call her right away. I’ll call you back after I speak to her.’
‘Okay, bye.’ Philander disconnected the call.
David walked to his desk and opened the card folder. He found her card on the third page and dialled the number on the card. She answered on the fourth ring.
‘Hello, who’s this?’ He noticed a tinge of robotic touch in her voice owing to the lack of emotional touch in her tone.
‘Dr. Sandberg, good evening, this is Dr. David Arthur from Kraminko General. We met at a conference in Kraminko last year and we talked about Neimann-Pick’s Disease. Do you remember me?’
There was a momentary pause before she answered, ‘yes, I remember. You talked to me about your son’s condition, right?’
David managed a meek ‘yes’.
‘So, to what do I owe this call, Dr. Arthur?’ she inquired.
‘Call me Dave,’ he uttered. ‘As you know, my son was suffering from Neimann-Pick’s, and…’ his mouth went dry. He forced back the welling tears and continued, ‘he passed away before… two months.’
‘I’m so sorry to hear about that,’ she said. It was the first time he noticed a tinge of emotional touch in her tone since she first answered the call.
‘Thank you. The purpose of my call is to speak regarding the symposium on “Genetic Diseases” that, I believe, Dr. Philander Waters contacted you about. I’m assisting him in organizing the symposium, and I believe that it would be great to have you talk about the importance of Genetic Counselling. You see, I’m a doctor and yet, I failed to get myself checked for any possible genetic diseases. I’m a carrier of the gene, and so is my wife… soon-to-be-ex-wife Charlotte. My son, Joshua, was our first-born and he inherited the genes from the both of us and manifested the disease. He died before he could even turn two.’
David feared he was being too dramatic, rather than professional, and tried not to dwell too long on the emotional aspect. ‘When a doctor like me is so ignorant about these aspects, we couldn’t expect any better from a layman. This symposium could help us reach at least a tiny portion of the population and help prevent a mishap like mine from repeating.’
There was a brief pause before she answered. ‘I agree with what you said, Dr. Arthur. And, as I promised Dr. Waters, I’d do my best to make time to speak at the symposium. You could count on me.’
‘Thank you so much Dr. Sandberg. I hope to see you at the symposium. Have a good night.’
Once he ended the call, he checked the time on his watch and began gathering his belongings to leave for the night. He collected the mail from the table, which the clerk had placed there earlier in the evening, and walked to the door. Before he could reach the door, his phone began ringing. He answered the call.
‘Hey Dave, it’s urgent. Check your mail for a letter from ANONYMOUS POSTS by “The Whisperer” and call me back.’
David placed his briefcase on the floor. He shuffled through the mails and found what he needed. He opened the letter from “The Whisperer” and read the poem, before reaching for his phone.
‘“Love of my life…”‘, Victor sang along with the singer, dancing towards the kitchen. Natalie adjusted the time on the oven’s display and turned around to smile at him. Victor waved his arms in the air and extended them towards her. She accepted the invitation and joined him.
‘You look to be in quite the mood today,’ she teased.
‘Yeah, I think so,’ he said, and whirled her around. ‘Is the wine ready?’
She broke free and pointed at the bottle on the table. ‘There it is.’ She walked back to the oven to check on the timer.
Victor danced his way to the table and examined the bottle for a couple of seconds before restoring it back in its position. He collected the letters lying on the table and examined them one after the other, shuffling them like a deck of cards. ‘Who the hell gets these many posts in this era of computer technology?’
‘Maybe, an English Professor from the Richmond University?’ Natalie replied.
He continued shuffling through the posts, acknowledging her remark. ‘Is that an indirect jab at my request to the students to submit handwritten essays instead of typed electronic ones?’
‘You are free to interpret it as you like,’ she replied, shrugging her shoulders.
A letter from ANONYMOUS POSTS caught his attention. ‘There’s also a letter from Anonymous Posts. I wonder who this… “The Whisperer” is?’
‘Maybe a girl having a secret crush on her balding English professor.’
‘Ha-ha, funny. You know there are apps to serve that purpose, right? Anyhow, it’s addressed to the both of us; guess it’s someone who admires us as a couple, somebody who isn’t Gwyneth for sure.’ He looked in her direction just in time to catch the annoyed look on her face and the bulging vein of her forehead. ‘I’m sorry. I thought this was a night to joke about obvious things.’ He tore open the envelope and retrieved the letter.
‘You’re free to joke about anything but Gwyneth and that night at the cabin, unless you intend to spoil the mood of the night,’ she blared, pointing an accusing finger at him.
‘Guess someone has got that on their mind already,’ he said with a blank look on his face, waving the letter at her.
His face told her that he was off his joking mode and that the letter had something to do with it. She walked over to him and took the letter. She read it twice before dropping it on the table. ‘We need to call the others. You call Dave and I call Joseph.’
She shuffled to the coffee table and snatched her phone off the table. There were three missed calls from Joseph. She dialled his number.
THE FIVE JACKALS
VICTOR AND NATALIE’S RESIDENCE
Victor was tapping his fingers on the table impatiently, while Natalie and David were standing in the kitchen involved in a muffled conversation when Joseph rang the doorbell. Natalie opened the door and let him in. Once they had all exchanged their respective greetings, they settled at the table.
Natalie wanted to ask him about the investigation, but she thought better of it, and instead served them dinner and settled in her chair, toying with the idea of starting the discussion about the matter at hand. ‘So, it’s time to acknowledge this letter,’ she said, dropping the letter on the table beside her plate beside the other two copies belonging to David and Joseph.
‘What’s there to talk about it?’ Victor asked, not taking his eyes off the food on his plate, which remained untouched.
‘Did you even read this at all?’ she bellowed. ‘Someone has composed a metaphorical poem about what had happened before fourteen years, and posted it to every one of us, and you ask me what there is to talk about it. Is that your way of dealing with this?’
‘Just because some idiot has decided to dig up the past doesn’t warrant us to take it up right now. We decided never to discuss this again when… when… Oh God!’
Natalie glared at Victor for a few moments before turning her attention to David and Joseph, who sat staring at the arguing husband and wife. ‘I did not ask you two to come here to sit and watch us arguing as if this is a damn sitcom. Speak up!’
David and Joseph glanced at each other, as if gesturing the other to start speaking. Finally, David leaned forward and clasped his hands together. He cleared his throat and said, ‘yes, it’s time to discuss it.’
‘Dave, don’t act stupid!’ Victor yelled. ‘There’s nothing to discuss about this. It’s just a useless discussion.’
‘Victor, you don’t get to dictate what we decide to do with this. It’s up to the all of us. Let everyone speak,’ Natalie yelled, not bothering to hide her obvious exasperation.
David and Joseph nodded in agreement and turned back to the commanding person in the room. Natalie acknowledged their attention with a nod and picked up one of the pooled letters from the table and opened it.
THE FIVE JACKALS
Together walked into the jungle
Five shrewd jackals,
Along came a little hare,
Laden with the promise of revelry
Little did it know that the jackals
Would watch with impish glee
As it bit the dust
And met an unfortunate end
She dropped it on the table as if expecting a thud, and looked around hoping for any comments.
‘The Five Fucking Jackals?’ Victor bellowed.
‘Apparently, that’s us and… Leonard,’ Natalie mumbled. ‘And, Gwyneth was the hare.’
‘Yes, that’s what the local newspaper called us when… Gwyneth died,’ David added.
Joseph nodded. ‘Even the whole school called us the same behind our backs.’
‘Who the fuck is this guy? This bastard “The Whisperer” wants us to feel guilty for her death? He should have known better before writing this one. It’s been fourteen years since she died. But did a day go by where I felt sorry that she bit the dust? No, I hated her. ‘
‘You don’t have to state the obvious, ‘Natalie said.
‘And, you were the one who started the whole argument that night about fucking popcorn!’ Joseph said. ‘Maybe, that’s what he wants you to feel guilty about.’
‘Are you kidding me, Mr. Cop?’ Victor bellowed. ‘Better stick to staying sharp around corners!’
‘Victor!’ Natalie yelled. ‘Watch your mouth! I don’t want another stupid argument turning out bad again.’
Victor raised his eyebrows at her and gazed at her like Robert de Niro from Taxi driver, as if he meant “You talkin’ to me?” He rose from his chair and paced around the room, with his hands digging his pocket. He withdrew a cigarette and lit it. ‘Do you guys now see the whole picture? Is this some kind of “Night of Contemplation”? This idiot seems to be achieving his motive behind this letter,’ he said, dropping the ash from the cigarette over the letter. ‘And, you people are accusing me of being a perpetrator behind her death. And for what? For asking her to make some fucking popcorn! Do you want me to assume the responsibility for Leonard’s death too?’
THAT EVENING AT THE CABIN BEFORE FOURTEEN YEARS
Victor stood at the window studying the cloudy sky and the lightening outside the cottage, watching as his plans for trekking melted away. Leonard stood by his side, watching the dark clouds and secretly admiring their beauty. He wished he could he say it out loud, however Victor was not in the mood to appreciate it.
‘Trekking seems very unlikely,’ Victor complained.
‘Yes, maybe we should settle down for a movie today,’ Leonard said, squeezing his shoulder.
They walked to the centre of the living room where the other four of the party were seated on the floor around the coffee table, awaiting further notice.
‘The trekking plan has been called off. Let’s watch a movie instead,’ Leonard said, crashing in the empty spot beside Gwyneth. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. ‘How about “Friday the Thirteenth”?’
A disappointed Victor sat down beside Natalie, who rubbed his back, trying to soothe him. Victor took a quick glance at Leonard and Gwyneth together and wondered how his best friend had ended up with a stupid girl like Gwyneth, who was notorious for being a rich fucked-up bully.
‘How about some popcorn for the movie?’ Natalie asked him.
‘Yeah, maybe Gwyneth could make some popcorn for us,’ Victor suggested, staring at Gwyneth, who was seated across them on the opposite side of the table with Leonard.
Gwyneth, who was till then balancing her attention between Leonard and her phone screen, raised her head and contributed her attention to the physical world around her. ‘Me?’
‘Yep,’ Victor said.
‘Never mind, buddy. I shall get it done,’ Leonard said, getting off the floor.
‘Hey, I asked Ms. Gwyneth to make it, not you Mr. Gwyneth.’
Leonard acknowledged his sarcasm with a smirk, while David and Joseph joined in with exaggerated laughing. Gwyneth did not seem to be in the mood for his sarcasm, especially with the meagre signal on her phone, which had already dragged her to the limit of her patience.
‘Anyway, it isn’t as if I asked her to grow corn here and now, and then make popcorn from it. Is it, Princess?’
Gwyneth dropped her phone on the table beside David’s wristwatch and folded her hands across her chest. ‘Don’t you dare call me that again!’
Victor enjoyed the notion that his sarcasm was getting on her nerves. He was in no mood to back off, considering that her reluctance to participate in any work throughout the trip had beckoned him to try and call her out for it.
‘Hey guys, cool it off.’ Leonard intervened. ‘I agreed to do it, right? Why do we have to make a fuss about it? ‘
‘I’ve had enough of your support for your girlfriend! This is a trip where we work and enjoy together. It isn’t a trip for Princess Charming to chill with her servants. I’d be happy to hear about anything useful Princess Charming, here, did in this trip other than basking in the sun like a lizard, or gazing at her phone screen when the sun’s down.’
‘Victor!’ Leonard yelled. ‘You know that she hates it when someone calls her Princess Charming. Why are you trying to provoke her?’
‘And, I hate her attitude! Do you hear me complaining about it?’ Victor said, pointing his finger at Leonard.
Gwyneth eyed him with obvious hatred. She looked him in the eye and did not blink for a few seconds, as if she was trying to make it more obvious. ‘Here’s a guy who’s a big joke, and constantly cracks jokes on others around him just so he could evade the truth that he is the biggest joke himself. Don’t you, even for a second, believe that I don’t know about you and your stupid acts! I know that you were the one who started calling me Princess Charming,’ she said, pointing an accusing finger at Victor. ‘It’s like you thrive on these jokes.’ She let out a sigh and turned to the others. ‘And, I don’t know if you people know this. But, he jokes about you guys when you aren’t around, just so he could sound cool.’ She shook her head with utter disappointment. ‘The only reason I came here is for Leo, not you. Clown!’
Victor struggled to find the right words to come back at her. He struggled to divert his gaze someplace where he wouldn’t meet the others’ eyes, knowing too well they were expecting him to contradict her statements. At that moment, he wasn’t aware of Natalie’s gaze of sympathy for the guy, who, she believed, was being wrongly accused by a narcissistic girl. She wished he noticed it in her gaze, just like she wished for him to see how much she loved him.
Out of the blue, Natalie snapped, ‘we didn’t beg you to grace this trip with your mighty presence, my lady. We just extended a formal invitation, for Leo’s sake. It wasn’t as if we expected you to come.’
Victor realized that it was his cue to try and reclaim the upper hand. ‘You ain’t our friend. You ain’t part of the group. We invited you for the sole reason that you happen to be Leo’s girlfriend. After all, you are Princess Charming, the only daughter of Nicholas Herrera, who happens to be the richest man in the city. And, you enjoy treating people badly just because your dad’s rich. And, does that make you entitled to treat others like shit, and feel like the self-absorbed narcissistic bitch, that you are?’ He flashed his teeth and looked around the room, expecting to find some praise for his comeback.
Gwyneth lost her patience, and so did Leonard, who was till then trying to choose a side to pick. He realized that Victor had taken things too far by calling her a “bitch”. Before he could respond, something went flying through the air towards Victor.
THE NIGHT OF CONTEMPLATION
Victor stubbed the cigarette butt in the ashtray and scratched the scar on his forehead with unease. ‘So, who do you think this “Whisperer” is?’
Joseph lifted his head to meet Victor’s eyes. Victor averted his gaze, unable to look into Joseph’s bloodshot eyes. ‘God, do you sleep anymore?’
‘Do not mind me,’ Joseph muttered. ‘To answer your question, I strongly believe that this is the work of Nicholas Herrera.’ He looked around the room to study the others’ reactions. He was met with three nods.
‘Man!’ David shrieked. ‘I still remember the way he looked at us with disgust at Gwyneth’s funeral. I still can’t get that picture off my mind!’
‘Yeah, it must be that old fucker! But, what does he seek to achieve after all these years?’ Victor blabbered.
‘The stupid poem is all about accusing us of being responsible for… what happened to her during the trip,’ Natalie suggested. For Victor, her hesitance to use the word “death” seemed to stem from her belief that they were at least partly responsible for Gwyneth’s death.
‘If he wants us to feel so, I am sorry to announce that it isn’t happening. It was purely her misfortune that she had to succumb to her death in such a way.’ Victor shook his head to reinforce his statements, which annoyed Joseph.
‘Yes, it was her misfortune that she had to die like that. But, isn’t it our fault that she ended up like that?’ Joseph said.
‘What do you mean?’ Victor jeered in a threatening tone. But, Joseph did not budge.
‘You know that you can’t threaten me with that fucking tone, right?’
Victor opened his mouth to reply. David silenced him. ‘Stop Victor, I’ve had enough of your denial for a night. No matter how much you deny it, the both of us are definitely responsible for her plight.’
THAT EVENING AT THE CABIN
It took Leonard a couple of seconds to make sense of what was happening. The thing that went flying through the air at Victor was David’s wristwatch. It missed Victor’s head by a few inches and shattered against the wall. Leonard did not have to look at David’s face to know his reaction. The wristwatch was the last gift he had received from his mother before she had succumbed to cancer the last year.
‘What the fuck!’ Victor and David yelled in unison, though the context of their yells were quite different.
‘Gwyneth, you broke David’s watch!’ Leonard yelled at her.
She stole a quick glance at the shattered fragments of the watch lying behind Victor. ‘I shall buy him a better one once we’re out of here.’
Before Leonard could explain her the sensitivity of the scenario, David shattered her phone against the far wall of the living room, sending its fragments flying in different directions.
‘That’s my fucking phone!’ she exclaimed, breaking into a sprint.
David stood up. ‘I might as well buy you a new phone,’ he said, shrugging his shoulders. He collected the broken fragments of his watch and walked away in the direction of his room, with Joseph following his lead.
Victor walked to a panicking Gwyneth’s side. ‘I hope you realize that I wasn’t lying about you.’
Leonard watched as Victor shrugged past him without uttering a word, while Natalie followed him. Leonard shuffled in Gwyneth’s direction and helped her collect the phone fragments.
‘Do you even realize how important that watch was for David?’
‘I don’t care.’
He suppressed his annoyance for her disregard to others’ emotions. ‘You should apologize to him for this, Gwyneth.’
She wiped off the tears streaming down her face and snatched the phone fragments from his hand. ‘I wish I never came here with you. It’s fucking over between us Leonard! You are no different from the rest of them.’
Leonard watched as she slammed the door behind her and disappeared into her room. He stood up and walked towards David’s room, shaking his head. ‘Fuck!’
THE NIGHT OF CONTEMPLATION
‘How are we responsible if she slid down the cliff and got trapped beneath a rock after our argument?’ Victor bellowed, leaning against the table and staring into David’s eyes.
‘If not for your petty argument with her, she wouldn’t have gone out alone in that rain and accidentally slid down the cliff in mud. If I hadn’t broken her phone, she would have had access to call any one of us when a huge rock slid and fell upon her leg, pinning her to the ground. The doctor said that the fat globules from her femur embolized into her lungs and caused her death. We were able to find her trapped under a rock and dead more than sixteen hours after our argument. We weren’t even aware that she wasn’t in the cabin till the next day morning. Fat embolism takes at least twelve hours to occur after trauma. God knows how many hours she must have spent trapped there praying for some help. We could have saved her had she called us immediately.’
Natalie tried hard not to paint of mental picture of what David had just said.
‘What if the rock or the fall had broken her phone?’ Victor suggested.
David shook his head. ‘Of all the things that you could say, did you have to ask a stupid hypothetical question?’ David retorted.
Victor ignored David’s question, and paced around for a few seconds shaking his head. ‘She shouldn’t have wandered off so far from the cabin in that weather.’
‘Victor, we have been in denial for fourteen years. I think it’s time to accept the truth,’ Joseph pleaded, smacking his lips. ‘What about Leonard, Victor?’ Joseph demanded. ‘If it wasn’t for Gwyneth’s death, he wouldn’t have gotten addicted to heroin in college and died of a fucking overdose. Do you deny that too?’
Victor was at a loss of words. He just stared idly at a far wall and massaged his scar uneasily. He lit another cigarette and took a deep drag. ‘I can’t help praising “The Whisperer” for setting us up against each other, something a fucked-up old guy like Nicholas would do.’ He clapped his hands with a grin on his face, which did a poor job of hiding the apparent disgruntled look on his face.
‘Victor-‘ Joseph began. But, Victor silenced him.
‘I’m afraid the dinner is over, gentlemen. Time to call it a day!’
‘I’m really sorry about Victor,’ Natalie said. ‘I wish he could act a little more mature. So, what do you reckon we do about this letter?’
David and Joseph exchanged confused glances. Joseph said, ‘well, as far as he doesn’t mean us any harm, we don’t have to worry about this “Whisperer” guy, whoever he is. Maybe, like Victor claims, he wants us to assume responsibility for Gwyneth’s death. If that’s what this is all about, we don’t have to pay heed to any of this bullshit. We have been here before.’
‘Yes,’ David said. ‘Don’t take this too seriously. Try to grab some sleep.’
‘Hey Joseph, what’s the progress with the… investigation?’ Natalie asked.
‘I’m working on it. But, I’m not sure if I’m up for that.’
‘Hey,’ Natalie said. ‘You did not do that intentionally. You’d squeeze through. I believe in you.’
Joseph managed a meek smile.
‘Good night guys,’ Natalie said, stepping back into the house. ‘Drive safe, David. Drop Joseph at his house on the way.’
‘Will do, ma’am,’ David said, and walked over to his parked car with Joseph on his side.
David tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, while Joseph shifted in his seat constantly trying to find a comfortable position.
‘Are you OK Joseph?’
‘Yeah, I’m alright. So, what has been going on with you in your life?’
David hesitated for a second. ‘I’m doing a lot better now than I was a few days back.’
‘Good to hear that. How’s Charlotte? Do you guys still talk to each other?’ Joseph asked, unbuckling the seat-belt and shifting to face David.
David would have warned him about the safety regulations and all. However, he thought better of it. ‘Yeah, we talk to each other often. It isn’t like we are separating because of our differences. We were unable to cope up with Josh’s death, that’s all. Actually, after Josh’s funeral, we tried to make it work between the two of us, and tried to live like nothing had happened. But, the two of us were deeply disturbed and disappointed with our incompetence in avoiding such a tragedy. We knew that we could have evaded such a catastrophe by getting ourselves checked. That was when we realized that we couldn’t stay together anymore. We thought it best to go our separate ways, rather than staying together and mourning it every single day. We applied for a divorce, and she moved to Sylvinkeria.
‘For the first few days, I was fine. But, as days went by, I realized that moving away from each other does nothing to mitigate the grief. I felt like I was drowning in my sorrow, and it escalated to a point where I saw no point in living. That was when she came back. She called me and asked to meet me. We met and we talked about the whole thing. We knew we were responsible. But, separating and not talking about it did nothing to ease our minds. We were just running away from it for the moment until it eventually caught up with us to haunt us again. So, we talked it out for hours together.
‘Joseph, you see, we tend to believe that running away from problems or not addressing them is going to solve it, while it actually doesn’t help. All we need to do is accept it for what it is, and move on, using it as a stepping stone. I and Charlotte learned it the hard way. But, that doesn’t mean that we are getting back together again. We accepted that we aren’t meant to stay together, and moved on. That’s what helped me.’
David exhaled hard after he was done with his long monologue, and looked at Joseph, who was staring away into the night. ‘David, can you stop the car to a side? I want to smoke.’
‘You are welcome to smoke in the car. I don’t mind,’ David said.
‘Nah, I just want to feel some fresh air.’
David halted the car to a side on the bridge, stepped out of the car and followed Joseph to the railing of the bridge. Joseph lit a cigarette and blew the smoke into the air. He leaned against the railing and gazed at the calm water of the river beneath as the reflection of the city danced with the waves.
‘David, what’s your take on all this?’ Joseph asked, taking a deep drag.
‘I’ve talked about it at Natalie’s. I have got nothing more to say. What about you?’
‘Well, it’s quite complicated. In my opinion, each and every one of us was responsible, and deep down, we all know it. We just needed this “Whisperer” guy to point it out. We are like a murderer, who stands to a side and watches the whole investigation unfold, before the cops point him out as the culprit. We just need someone to say it out loud. In my opinion, you were the only one acting matured back at Victor’s. On that day in the cabin, Victor shouldn’t have provoked her. No matter how much he denies it, Victor can’t escape it. That was why he was acting so over-denying. And, Natalie and I should have done better than staying quiet for most of the part. Natalie just wanted Victor to like her, and she wasn’t ready to go against him. And, I… I’m not even sure why I did not react to any of it. Maybe, I wasn’t able to pick sides, just like Leonard was. She shouldn’t have broken your watch, and you her phone. And now, we could do nothing but wish that things had turned out different. Wishing is all we could afford to do right now. Even now, I wish I had done something.
‘You know David, on that day, I saw her leaving the cabin in the rain. It was about an hour after the argument. I was standing at the window of my room, and saw her walking in the direction of the cliff. At that moment, I was apparently angry with her for everything that had happened. And, I was the least bit interested in going and stopping her from taking the lone stride. And, even after that, I was too blind to foresee the danger signs, when I offered Leo some of my pot in the summer and he accepted it. He wasn’t a stoner, yet that day he took it. And, when he went away to college, it wasn’t enough for him. He got his hands on heroin, and more and more of it before he found the right amount to overdose himself trying to get fucking high.’
David was growing concerned. ‘Joseph, you don’t have to blame yourself for Leo’s death. Every one of us failed to realize that he was taking the dangerous path of self-destruction.’
‘He was my best friend. And, I failed to do what a good friend does. It’s all so fucked-up! This “Whisperer” wants to fuck with our minds, but the funny part is that every one of us is way fucked-up beyond this bastard’s imagination. And, if he happens to be the old bastard Nicholas, I just wish I could tell him what a bitch his daughter was. Yes, she was a bitch, and chances are, even she knew it. Just because her dad was rich did not give her the right to treat everyone like garbage and get away with it.
‘And, I don’t support Victor either. God, he was such an asshole. And, we let him go on with his stupid jokes and pranks by standing by and laughing out loud. And, the thing is, he has got that scar on his forehead, which Jonas gifted him for joking about his sexuality, to remind him of who he was. The rest of us carry such invisible scars in our fucked-up little brains; that’s the only difference.’
David placed his hand on Joseph’s shoulder and squeezed it. ‘Take it easy man.’
Joseph nodded and glanced at his watch. ‘It’s getting late. Let’s go.’
Natalie walked back to the dinner table, and found Victor hunched over the table with his face buried in his palms. She stood by his side, and rubbed his back. Suddenly, he turned around and hugged her waist tightly, as he sobbed quietly. Natalie fought back tears of her own, and stroked his hair.
‘Everything is gonna be okay, Victor,’ she mumbled over and over, rubbing his back.
David dropped the keys on the coffee table and walked to the refrigerator. He grabbed a coke can and drank it. He changed into his night clothes and powered his laptop to check the mails. Amidst the ten unopened mails was the mail from ANONYMOUS POSTS, which he clicked. The mail had a receipt for his payment of six hundred bucks against the three letters he had sent through their medium as “THE WHISPERER“. He checked the numbers and clicked on “delete”. He closed the laptop and opened the chat-box for Charlotte. He typed- Hey Charlotte, thanks for asking. I’m doing quite well. Hope you’re doing well too. I shall call you tomorrow in the morning.
David hopped onto the bed. For the first time in ages, he found himself drifting into slumber without any difficulty.
He was drifting through a sweet dream, when an instrumental sound blared out of the blue. He wasn’t sure where the music was coming from, and he seemed to have lost track of time. Only after a few seconds did he realize that it was his phone. He glanced through half-opened eyes at Natalie’s name on the screen, and reluctantly answered the call, wondering what time it was.
‘Hey Natalie, what time is it?’
The voice on the other side was unclear, and through muffled sounds, he heard the words ‘he… shot… himself’.
Hoping that it was drowsiness playing tricks with his perception of sounds, he yelled, ‘Natalie, I can’t hear you properly.’
She broke into a crying fit. ‘David, come to Kraminko General immediately. It is Joseph. He shot himself!’