The man in the car saw the woman waving frantically and slowed down. She was almost on the middle of the road. She wore a short black skirt and a white top; though it was dark, she had sunglasses on, probably to avoid the glare of headlights. The car stopped. She came around to the door.
“Could you give me a ride to the city?”
The man leaned forward and opened the front door.
“I missed the last bus,” said the woman, “Thank God you came by. I was waiting so long.” She removed the glasses and carefully placed them in a pouch.
“Here on the forest side it becomes dark early,” said the man.
“So cold outside,” she started rubbing palms.
The car picked up speed. “Aren’t you afraid to ask rides from strangers at this hour?” said the man, “Of late there have been a few unpleasant incidents in this route.”
“In fact, I was scared no one would come,” said the woman, “Can’t imagine spending a whole night in the forest…When I saw your car lights, I had to decide quickly, I thought, what are the odds of I missing a bus and you being…let’s say…a killer. I mean, it has to be some weird coincidence.”
Except for the small indicators on the dashboard, and the headlights that swiped the road, darkness ruled everywhere. Tall trees stood erect on one side of the roadside; the other side had a valley.
The woman let out a sigh when the car entered the city. The amber streetlights fought the darkness.
“I’ll get down here,” said the woman. The car moved off the road and stopped on the mud pavement. She thanked for the ride——struggled to open the door.
“I always have trouble opening car doors; they confuse me,” she tried some more.
“It’s locked,” said the man.
“Can you open it for me?”
The man didn’t respond, at length he said: “An incredible thing has happened. You have missed the bus and I am…to use your own words…really a killer.”
She gave a nervous laugh.
“Am I on TV?” she said, “Candid Camera? Is this some kind of—”
He slapped across her face. Her head hit the door. Her eyes welled up, reddened.
“Listen to me carefully,” he said, “Don’t talk. Sit quiet. Don’t make any stupid moves. If you behave I might spare you.”
The car made a U-turn, raced through the lonely forest road. The woman sobbed, took a handkerchief and blew her nose.
“Please don’t kill me.”
The man didn’t reply. He was handsome, neatly shaved and, young. Someone you won’t mind asking for directions when lost in a new place. She noticed he was wearing black gloves, quite unusual in these parts. A cold shiver passed through her spine.
“How much money you want? Tell me the figure.”
The silence continued.
“You can still leave me. I won’t tell anyone. I’ll keep quiet as if we never met.” Eventually reality seeped in. “I’ll do anything,” she said in a fit of helplessness, placing a hand on his lap——started stroking gently. “Do you like this?”
“Remove your hand or I’ll slap you again.”
She retracted instantly.
The car snaked through the mountainous road.
“There are more satisfying things than sex,” the man said, “Why do you think people kill?”
She didn’t reply. But when the question was repeated, she denied any knowledge. The man slapped her again.
“If you don’t think and answer, you don’t interest me. And, If I lose interest in you, you are no value to me, I might as well kill you now and throw your body in the valley.”
The woman shivered. “Please…” she begged.
“Let’s start again. Why do people kill?”
This time she took time. “Revenge,” she said.
“Jealousy, Wars, Communal Violence, money, Women, property——”
“Are you a teacher?”
“You teachers have an answer for everything. Though it maybe a wrong one. Someone just needs to ask a question. And, you are ready with text-book answers.”
A small animal, probably a fox, tried to enter the road, froze, blinded momentarily by the headlights, but scurried away at the last moment.
“You are not thinking,” said the man, “Let me put it this way: What could be the motive of a person who kills again and again?”
“Money,” said the woman.
“There are easier ways to make money. You don’t need to kill.”
“I don’t see any other reason,” said the woman, nervously.
“What about pleasure?”
“What about it, sir?”
“Can a person kill for pleasure?”
“How about indifference?”
“Yes. A person without feelings. He just kills. For him it is just another mundane thing——like drinking tea or ordering a checkbook at the bank.”
“How’s it possible?”
“Are you a vegetarian?” said the man.
“Do you eat chicken?”
“Do you ever think of the animals you kill for food? Why do you think you have a right to kill them?”
This line of reasoning left the woman speechless.
“People kill for weird reasons,” the man said, “Ever heard of Devil’s Photographer?”
“About a decade ago he killed 18 people in a year. The victims, mostly men, were unrelated. Except one thing, the killer left pictures at the crime scenes. The victims were not really innocent. They were involved in some kind of immoral activity. Our man would study his victims for days. Take their pictures of misdeeds. Once collected proof, he would corner and kill them. Leave the pictures at the crime scene. No one knows his name; he’s known only as Devil’s Photographer. Insiders use the short form——Devil.”
“Looks like some kind of a punisher,” said the woman.
“That’s what I thought, initially,” the man nodded, “But if he’s a punisher why did he stop? Why be silent for a decade?”
“What happened to him?”
“He simply vanished. I have studied his murders. Devil is an artist. He convinced his victims before killing them. In some cases, there were no signs of struggle. The victims simply accepted their fate.” The man nodded in admiration and fear. “He’s a perfectionist. Police cannot catch him. God knows how long he would have stayed low, but for the Cyanide Killings…”
“I have read about them,” said the woman, “Cyanide Killings…I mean…The murderer lured single women with the proposal of marriage without a dowry. The couple would elope and take refuge in a lodge. The next day he would convince the women to take a pill, to prevent any unwanted effects of the un-safe sex they had the previous night. Only that the pill would have cyanide.”
“Very good. Do you know how many people he killed?”
“Ten or fifteen.”
“When the police arrested him they said he killed 17 people. But within a week the total rises to 20. Anyway, I am not interested in the Cyanide Killer. He doesn’t have style. His motives were money and sex; he used the same formula again and again till the police got the wind of it. Now comes the interesting part.”
The woman waited.
“Last month 3 murders have happened. All three crime scenes had pictures.”
“Devil is back,” said the woman. Her chest heaved rapidly.
“Yes. After a decade. Do you know what’s happening here?”
“Race to the top. That’s what it is. I have finally understood the Devil. He has stayed on top for a decade with 18 murders. But as soon as he learns there’s a new challenger with count 20, he has surfaced and murdered thrice to raise his count to 21. None of your earlier theories hold good here. No money. No sex. No revenge. Just a race. To become number one.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“I am in the race.”
“What do you mean?”
“In the past 5 years, around 60 people were missing. Only 20 were the cyanide victims. What happened to rest of them?”
“Not all. As of last month 21; I and Devil are equal. Do you know what happens now?”
“The devil will start killing to stay on top.”
“Exactly,” said the man, “The killing spree will continue, unless one of us is stopped. How interesting it would be to kill the Devil. I’ll be slow and deliberate, enjoying each moment.” The man seemed to imagine his glory. “I wonder what he is doing now. What’s his next move?”
The woman seemed desperate to please the captor. “If he is serious about being on the top,” she said, “he probably has an interest in you.”
“Now you are talking sense,” the man patted her on the shoulder. “Why do you think he’s not been caught so far?”
“He could be one of the police.”
“I doubt that.”
“He could be a regular person sir. Someone with a day job, a banker, a postman, Or——”
“Some kind of an artist who changes his appearance smoothly. Gels with the crowd easily…”
“Do you have a gun? Don’t shoot me on the face. Please…”
The woman started wailing.
“Stop it. I don’t have a gun. I don’t need one to kill you. Continue talking about the Devil.”
“Sir, if you are correct about the race to the top, he might follow you. He might have started collecting information on you.” She said between the sobs.
“You make me nervous. But you have a point.” The car was now moving with a steady speed.
“He could have sufficient information about your normal routes. The way you work. The victims you choose. The things you do and don’t. He might have a profile on you.”
“I have another theory sir.”
“What theory?” The man shouted with impatience.
“What if the Devil is not a man?”
“What do you mean? He’s not a ghost or something——”
“Everyone is looking for a man, including you. What if the Devil is a woman? A woman could get away with all these murders easily, while the police are looking for a man. What if she knows you, sir? She has enough information on you. She has clicked enough pictures, while you were committing murders,” the woman talked as if in a dream, “One fateful day she decides enough is enough. No more waiting. She dresses up like a hooker. She waits at one of your regular roads and asks a ride.”
The car stopped with a sudden screech. The man stared in horror. A few moments went in silence. She looked at the valley outside. The wind started blowing, swaying the tall trees, mercilessly; but inside the closed car the occupants didn’t feel the wind.
“You just accepted, a few minutes ago, that you don’t carry a gun,” she said, “While I might have one in my little handbag.”
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This story was published on daijiworld.com