The sound echoed spookily across the silent bedroom. Mathew’s heart skipped a beat. It was the chat alert notifier. At two in the morning, Mathew wasn’t expecting anybody to come online and chat with him, especially since he had set his status as invisible.
“Maybe somebody took a wild guess to see if I am online or not,” he thought. So saying, he quickly saved his ongoing AOE-III campaign and minimized the game window. He clicked on the blinking Yahoo messenger to see who was trying to chat with him at such a strange hour in the morning.
It was Bobby.
Mathew raised his eyebrows in surprise. He had known Bobby since elementary school and they had been inseparable right through college. And then suddenly, ever since that fateful night at “Jalwaa Dhaba”, they had never spoken to each other again. Bobby still blamed him for Pooja’s death, even though he was never involved directly in her gruesome murder. Pooja… Bobby’s girlfriend and fiancée… raped and murdered… Bobby of course knew that his best friend Mathew was innocent, but he also knew that Mathew’s hands weren’t entirely clean either…
The chat transcript showed,
“Laid low, very low,
In the dark we must lie.
The merry glees are still;”
Mathew’s eyes widened. Bobby continued to type…
“The voice of the bird
Shall no more be heard,
Nor the wind on the hill.”
Mathew thought for a few seconds and then smiled. He punched in the words quickly.
“All things will die, by Lord Alfred Tennyson.”
Mathew used to play this game with Bobby back in College. They would suddenly quote lines from a poem and ask the other to guess the name of the poem and poet. Mathew found it strange that Bobby would break the ice after nearly 2 years of silence this way, but quickly brushed it aside with the thought, “Ah, it’s just Bobby”.
Bobby continued typing the same poem, “All things were born. Ye will come never more, for all things must die.”
Mathew stared at the chat transcript for some more time, and then finally replied.
“So, bro. How have you been???? Where the hell are you now?”
Mathew waited for a few more minutes, and then finally typed, “You there????”
Still no reply.
A chilled air suddenly blew across the bedroom and Mathew immediately got a few goose bumps. He looked around his bed nervously. Then he stared at the chat console once more and the message appeared, “Bobby is now offline”.
Mathew sat motionless for a few more seconds and then quickly shut-downed his system. He dove into bed immediately and feebly muttered, “That’s weird,” before falling off to sleep.
A week later, Mathew had almost forgotten that strange incident, when he checked his mail and saw a new mail from feedburner. It was an update notification from Bobby’s blog feed that he had subscribed to a long time ago!
“Whoah,” he exclaimed.
Mathew immediately clicked on the link. He landed on Bobby’s blog, surprised to see that it was the first update after 2 years!
“Damn Bobby, you lazy old fart,” Mathew smiled.
Bobby’s new post was a poem…
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
Mathew read it slowly and carefully. His eyes lit up as he was familiar with the poem. Finally, he clicked on the comment section and typed, “A Poison Tree, by William Blake.” He clicked on “Publish your comment”.
And then he thought for a moment and wrote another comment.
“Dudeeee. You spooked me a little bit that night. Did you get disconnected or something like that? Catch me on chat tonight, 11’ish pm. We have soooo much to catch up on.”
He clicked on “Publish your comment” again and his comment appeared for the second time on Bobby’s new post.
Suddenly the monitor flickered and the electricity in his apartment went off.
“Crap,” Mathew cursed.
Another week went by and still no word from Bobby. Mathew was starting to worry a bit. Bobby had never treated him this way before. But then again, considering the way Bobby had partially blamed him for Pooja’s death, he was not surprised.
And then, one fine day, two burly men came knocking on his door.
Mathew opened the door.
“Yes, may I help you?”
“Mr. Mathew Jacob?”
“May we come in please?”
“Urmmm… who are you?”
“We’re from the CID…”
“Oh! Crime Investigation Department?”
“Criminal Investigation Department.”
Mathew led them inside and as they all sat down, one of them got to the point immediately.
“Mr. Mathew. I believe you know a certain Mr. Ajay Poonawalla and Mr. Sebastian Chandy.”
Dark memories flooded Mathew immediately. He blurted out… “AJ and Sebby… Yes, I know them… I mean… I knew them. Haven’t spoken to them in almost… 2 years now I think.”
The two men looked at each other, and the leaner man with the spectacles spoke, “We know that. We’ve been checking on your online activities at orkut, facebook and twitter. You have not followed them back on Twitter in spite of them following you, and you have not added them as a friend in orkut or facebook, even though you guys have so many common friends on your lists.”
Blood rushed to Mathew’s face immediately.
“What???? You’ve been checking up on me? Invading my privacy? On what grounds??? How dare you…”
“Relax,” the burlier man assured calmly. “I am Inspector Verma from CID Crime Branch and this is Inspector Rana from CID cyber cell. We are working together on this case.”
“Well… five years ago, you were involved in the death of a certain Miss Pooja Dhania, right?”
Mathew’s eyes popped wide open.
“I was acquitted. I was never there at that time of the night!”
“Right. You were acquitted. But your friends Ajay Poonawalla and Sebastian Chandy…”
“They are NOT my friends!”
“They raped her, right?”
Mathew’s mouth trembled in anger. He screamed, “Yes! They bloody raped her, those bastardssss!”
“And what happened at the trial?”
Mathew hung his head down… and slowly whispered, “They were acquitted too. Lack of evidence, the Court said. They had their own alibi, just because Ajay’s father is a fucking Minister.”
The burlier Inspector now spoke in an empathizing tone.
“And to this day you blame yourself because…”
“Because,” tears flowed down Mathew’s cheeks. “Because I was the one who took her to the party but had to leave suddenly due to my uncle’s heart attack. I left her alone! Goddammit, I left her alone for those animals to rape herrr….”
Mathew broke down.
Inspector Rana got up from his chair and sat right next to Mathew. He kept his hands on Mathew’s shoulder and said, “Mr. Mathew. We need your help on our case…”
A teary eyed Mathew finally looked up and tried his best to maintain his composure, “What case is this?”
“A few days ago, Ajay and Sebastian were brutally murdered.”
Mathew was now sitting up straight and attentively listening. If there was any thought of exuberance, he did not show it.
“Yes. Both were killed at the same time, in the same fashion, even though they were miles apart from each other. Strangulated while sitting in front of their respective computers.”
Inspector Verma joined in, “The weird thing is, the postmortem revealed that they were strangled from the inside, with finger marks INSIDE their throats.”
“How is that possible?” Mathew asked in surprise.
“We are not sure. But our cyber cell has discovered that they were killed at the same time you left a comment on your friend Bobby’s blog.”
“What? Oh no… that’s not possible… I mean it could be a coincidence. You mean the exact same time?”
“Not exactly exact,” Inspector Rana corrected. “They were killed at the exact time a new post was published on Bobby’s blog. You commented a few minutes after that.”
Mathew now laughed nervously.
“See… like I said, it could be a coincidence… And I am sure Bobby is not the type to take vengeance, even though he still blamed me for Pooja’s death… I can vouch for Bobby’s innocence…”
“His innocence is confirmed, Mr. Mathew… Bobby... passed away, two weeks ago in a bus accident in Kashmir. They fell off a gorge at around 2 in the morning…”
Mathew froze. His face became as white as sheet.
Now it was the two inspectors’ turn to be worried.
“What’s the matter? Are you alright?” Inspector Verma asked.
“Two weeks ago… at around 2 in the morning… Bobby came online and chatted with me on yahoo messenger…” Mathew blurted out.
A long dead silence followed, with none of the three knowing what to say next.
Finally, Mathew nervously said something to break the awkward and deafening silence.
“That is why… the cyber cell is involved? You think this may be the work of some hacker or prankster with a sick twisted mentality, right? Right?”
He was trying hard to convince himself that this was not what it sounded like.
“Well... we have traced the ip address of the person who wrote that post on Bobby’s blog. We thought it would be rerouted or the ip scrambled, but it was a pretty much direct access.”
“Who was it?” Mathew asked, still trying to come to terms with the fact that one of his closest friends had been dead for 2 weeks and he never knew about it.
“We’re not sure. The ip address shows it is coming from somewhere near Wichita in Texas, America. Yet when we contacted the police there, they said that the place has been deserted for years.”
Inspector Rana opened his laptop and showed Mathew the location of the ip address.
“Interpol has also confirmed that this has been a deserted farmhouse for many years now.”
And then, Mathew looked at the ip address… something was familiar about it… extremely familiar… and then it hit him. He froze as if he had just seen the ghost of his dead friend.
Inspector Verma shook him hard, “Mathew, Mathew, are you alright son?”
With a trembling voice, Mathew lifted his fingers slowly and shakily pointed at the ip address…
“That ip address… 214.80.07.52. That's 21st April ’80, 7:52am. That is the exact date and time Bobby was born.”