Friday, February 10, 2006

The Twin Tangle

Presenting to you a story I wrote in middle school. It was a time when writing short detective stories used to be one of my numerous hobbies. While it might not be the brightest detective tale you will ever read, I guess it was a decent effort on the part of a 13 year old.
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The Twin Tangle

ONE
For Jonty and Monty, it was always a great occasion to have Uncle Marino around. Once a year, Uncle Marino took a few days off from his busy schedule of managing a small shipping company in Cochin, and dashed to Calcutta, to be with Jonty, Monty and their parents. Because of his shipping business, his twin nephews used to call him Uncle Marino. He used to some like a typhoon and leave like a blizzard.

“It’s hell in Calcutta!” Uncle uttered, as he buttered his toast at the breakfast table, “pollution can’t be worse, but I wanted to see you all. I will also meet an old friend of mine, while I am here. He is also into the shipping business.”

“Who is he?” Monty queried

“Oh he is Prachand Pratap Singh, P.P. for short, a Merchant Navy Captain. Ah well! What a coincidence! P.P. also has a twin brother, just like you. He is ‘D.P.’ Durdand Pratap Singh, a professor of Physics, eight minutes younger than Prachand”

“Where do they live?” asked Jonty

“In their old ancestral house called Pratap Villa, in Diamond Harbor Road”

“That’s just great”, Monty said with excitement, “Can we come with you to get a few nagging problems of physics explained by the professor to us? After all, these are our pre-exam holidays.”

“By all means, yes” said Uncle Marino, gulping his tea. “But hurry up, we would be moving in the next 15 minutes.”

Inside the taxi, Jonty and Monty felt very excited. As twins themselves, a question was biting them no end. Jonty could not resist himself from asking Uncle Marino how would they be able to distinguish between the twins Prachand and Durdand.

“Simple” Said Uncle Marino “Prachand sports a beard while Durdand is clean shaven.”

Half an hour later, the trio reached Pratap Villa and knocked at the front door.

“Who’s there?” called a voice from inside. The door flung open and Durdand’s clean shaven face appeared.

“Hi D.P.! What a fat barrel you have become in the last three years since we met in Cochin! Ah, well, meet my nephews Jonty and Monty, identical twins like you and Prachand. They joined me to have some dirty physics cleaned up by you.”

Durdand greeted the guests and ushered them into the living room. He did not appear to be in the best of moods.

“What is the matter? Eh D.P.? Where is Prachand? Why do you look like a marooned ship?” queried Uncle Marino.

“I am alright. But I’m afraid I don’t have any idea about Prachand.” replied Durdand.

“Don’t kid me. Do you want me to believe that you have no idea where your elder twin is? Come on, I smell something fishy! What’s up? Open up and tell me all about the matter” Uncle Marino sounded serious.

After a pause, Durdand muttered, “Frankly, I really don’t know much. A month ago, Prachand left for Singapore abroad the Samudrika. A week later, he called me to tell that he would be return by air before the ship makes it’s return journey to Calcutta. The ship has returned since then, but Prachand has not. I am awfully worried about him.”

“Did Prachand make any more contact with you during this period?”

“Not at all”

“Have you enquired about him?”

“Yes I did, I spoke to the crew of Samudrika. They hardly know a thing.”

“Did you ask for Police help?”

“They would hardly be of any assistance, as you may guess.”

“I see.. Well, now that I am here, you need to worry. Prachand is my old pal and I know lots of joints where he may drop in. I will surely get to know about his whereabouts in a few days.” Uncle Marino had firmly taken center stage.

It was certainly not the right time for any discussion on Physics. Uncle Marino appeared to be in a hurry to take up his investigations about hi mate, Prachand Pratap Singh. The trio, therefore, took leave.

TWO

A week had gone by. Uncle Marino had rounded up all possible places and met all possible characters connected with Prachand Pratap Singh, but to no avail. Jonty and Monty had also got mentally involved in the case.

“Amazing, isn’t it? A captain of a ship vanishes into thin air in a foreign country, and there is no trace of him for a month! I think this offers a good chance to put our heads together.” What could be the mystery, Monty pondered.

As Jonty was about to reply, the living room door flung open and Uncle Marino dashed in. “Hey kids! I have grabbed a few clues from the crew of Samudrika. They informed me that Prachand was last seen going to Singapore Airport, about 3 weeks back, and there has been no trace of him there after.” He announced.

“Uncle, what do you reckon could be the possible cause of his disappearance?” Jonty posed a question.

“Well, I am not too sure, but there could be three possibilities. One, he might have met an accident on his way to the airport, in which he was seriously injured or was even died. But then the Singapore Police must have picked up his passport and other identification papers, and would have known his name, nationality and address by now. So also, Durdand would have come to know about it. Two, he might have gone to hiding, for which guess the chances are rather thin. I cannot find any reason why he should hide himself in another country for so long without a word to his brother or anyone else. And lastly, he might have been kidnapped. Here again, Prachand is too cleaver a guy to allow himself to remain hostage for a month. Moreover, his captors might have contacted Durdand for a ransom by now.” Uncle Marino sounded like a ship without a radar.

Jonty jumped to the conclusion, “He must have been murdered and all the clues must have been carefully eliminated by his killers.”

“Now you little ones, seems you have been reading too many detective novels off late. You should stop worrying about this matter” uncle Marino gave an angry stare. “It is none of your business. You mind your own studies and leave the Prachand affair to me. I will bring him out of troubled waters, sooner or later.” With an air of anger and frustration, Uncle Marino marched out of the room.

But, the scolding by their uncle only triggered more interest in the boys about the affair than ever before. They started thinking more about the mystery, but decided not to let Uncle Marino have any inkling about it.

A couple of days later, Uncle Marino got a call from one of his business contacts in Singapore. He mentioned that about 3 weeks back, the local police had found the body of an Indian national named Mr. P.P.Singh, who died in a car accident near the Singapore airport. The contact person could not confirm whether it was the body of Prachand. He promised to get the details from Singapore Police as soon as possible. However, this much information was enough to convince Uncle Marino that the body was that of Prachand.

“But Uncle. How can you say that it was indeed Prachand Pratap Singh, who died in the accident, and not some other P.P. Singh? It could easily have been someone else.”

“How many people by the name of P.P.Singh would you find in Singapore? Singapore is no Punjab! And add to this the fact that the body was found on the same day as Prachand was last seen, and at the same location as well. Does it not make it apparent enough? Anyway, I have asked my contact to get me more details on this. We should be able to confirm the exact identity of the dead man very soon. But I would be very surprised if it is someone other than my old pal Prachand.”

The twins were still far form convinced. But they kept their feelings to themselves. They took dinner with Uncle Marino and went to bed.

Next morning, Uncle Marino decided to visit Durdand Pratap Singh, and inform him about the apparent death of his brother. Despite Uncle Marino’s extreme reluctance, Jonty and Monty managed to somehow make him agree to let them come along with him.

When Uncle Marino broke the news of his brother’s death to Durdand, he did not look too shocked to hear it. It seemed like he had already resigned to this fate, and given up any hope of finding his brother alive long time back. After a while, Uncle Marino asked for his permission to have a look at some of Prachand’s personal papers, just to get some more clues. Durdand nodded his head, and Uncle Marino left for Prachand’s room, leaving Durdand and the boys behind in the living room.

“Well Durdand Uncle, do you remember if your brother had any hobbies?” Jonty asked.

“None that I can think of. He spent most of his time at sea. And thus never had much time for anything else.” Durdand replied in a grim voice.

“Look at all those trophies on the shelf! Did you win all those?” Monty pointed towards the shelf loaded with numerous trophies of various sizes.

“No, it was Prachand who won all those. He was a very good cricketer in his youth. He won a lot of laurels in club cricket. He loved watching cricket matches too. He was very much looking forward to watch India vs. South Africa one dayer, which, I understand, is going to be played at the Eden Gardens tomorrow. But alas….” Durdand sounded very sad.

Monty, who had been suppressing his Physics doubts all this while, finally could not resist it, and asked, “D.P. Uncle, since you are a Professor of Physics, can you tell us what kind of mirror can reflect a laser beam completely? This problem has been bugging me for long.”

“Er.. in fact, I am not in the right mood to concentrate on anything right now. But tell, me what are those things pooping out of your pockets?” Durdand pointed his finger towards the little objects kept in the back pockets of the boys.

“This is a Boomerang” Jonty took the v-shaped object out of his pocket and showed it to Durdand, “Both of us keep one with us, just for fun”

At that instant, the boys saw Uncle Marino coming out from Prachand’s room. Jonty hurriedly picked up his Boomerang and put it back into his pocket. The boys got up, thanked Durdand, and left for home with Uncle Marino.

That evening, the boys discussed the Prachand-Durdand affair for quite sometime. “Durdand Uncle did not seem too shocked to hear the news about the apparent death of his brother?” Jonty wondered.

“Hmm. I noticed that too. Maybe he had just given up hope of finding him alive, since he has been missing for so long.” replied Monty. “But why did he avoid a discourse on his favorite subject of Physics? If he was so very disturbed, why did he show interest in our Boomerangs?”

“Wait! I remember something!” Jonty exclaimed suddenly. Before Monty could reply, Jonty had got up and left the room. An instant later, he reappeared with a recent edition of “Sport Star” magazine in his hand.

“Well.. well.. This makes it really interesting.” Jonty said, while reading an article from the magazine. “Remember D.P. Uncle said that his brother was looking forward to watch the India- South Africa match at Calcutta. But the game was not even announced a month back. The announcement came only 20 days ago!”

“Prachand left for Singapore a month back. But Durdand did say that Prachand called him after a week. Maybe he mentioned about the match then” Monty reasoned.

“Hmm. May be. But whether Prachand was looking forward to see the match or not, we are surely going to watch it. You have those tickets we purchased last week, right? We don’t want to miss the game for anything” replied Jonty, with a twinkle in his eyes, as he threw away the magazine.

THREE

The Eden Gardens was packed to the rafters with cricket-crazy Calcuttans. After a long exile from International cricket, South Africa was playing it’s first one dayer, against India. Kepler Wessels was batting and batting well. He made a big hit and the crowd roared. It was a huge six, and the ball landed in the stands close to where Jonty and Monty were seated. A spectator caught the ball and handed it over to a fielder.

“Hey Jonty!” Monty shouted, amidst the roar and clapping, “What a strange co-incidence! Doesn’t that man look a lot like Uncle Durdand?”

“It appears that you are obsessed with Uncle Durdand’s affairs. Why should everybody look like him? Come on, give me my binocular.” Jonty shouted back.

Monty continued to look through the binocular, towards the spectator who had returned the ball. “Good heavens!! Not only does he look like Uncle Durdand, but in fact he is! But what on earth is he doing here?” Monty exclaimed. “He had told us that it was his elder brother who has a cricket fan. But instead, we find the younger brother here.”

Jonty grabbed the binoculars from Monty and peered through them. He too could not believe his eyes. “Goodness gracious! It is Durdand indeed! This affair is getting fishier by the day.” Jonty exclaimed.

The twins decided to keep a close eye on Durdand while the match went on. After a while, they noticed a pop-corn vendor, selling pop-corn halfway between where they were sitting, and where Durdand was. Jonty suddenly had a brainwave and called the vendor at the top of his voice, so that the entire stand could hear him. Everyone turned their heads towards Jonty. So did Durdand. As soon as he saw the boys, he turned pale. He looked surprised, shocked and embarrassed. Suddenly, he got up and left the stands.

Monty wanted to follow Durdand. But his Jonty stopped him. “There was no point in going after him. He would be going back to his house in any case. It is clear now that he left the stadium in order to avoid us. Such behavior from him only makes it more and more apparent that there is more here than meets the eye. My guess is, Durdand is definitely connected to the disappearance of his brother in some way or another. But we shall attend to his matter later. For now, let’s enjoy the pop-corn and the cricket match.”

As soon as the match was finished, the boys rushed home. Uncle Marino, after hearing it all from the boys, nodded his head in agreement, “I too have noticed some suspicious behavior from Durdand. But Durdand is not the kind of guy who would behave like this. He is basically a simple natured person, and not as crafty as his brother Prachand. Nonetheless, tomorrow I am going to search for more details about that person called P.P.Singh, who body was found by the Singapore police. Good Night boys!” Uncle Marino stood up and left for his bedroom.

Suddenly, Monty heard a sound near the window. The boys ran outside, into the garden, to see if anybody was there. An untimely drizzle in the evening had made the earth wet. They checked the soil outside the window, and found some foot marks on the soil.

“The foot-prints are fresh. Someone was spying on us, and got away before we could catch him.” Monty rued.

“But who would want to spy on us. Currently, I cannot think of anyone else apart from Durdand. If that is so, why don’t we return him the favor? Why don’t we go and spy on his house tonight? What say?” Jonty was excited.

“Done! It is 10 o’clock right now. We can be at his house by 11 if we make a move immediately.” Monty was all set for the adventure.

At 11 PM, the boys reached Pratap Villa. They climbed up the rear boundary wall, taking care not to make the slightest bit of noise. The lights of the living room were on. Silently, the boys peeped through the living room window.

FOUR

Inside the living room, Durdand Pratap Singh was seated on a sofa with a sheet of paper in his hand, which looked like a letter. He was reading the letter again and again, his face turning paler by the minute. Suddenly, he got up and started pacing across the room briskly. After a while, he picked up a bottle of whiskey from the cupboard and started drinking. He tore up the letter and threw it aside. He drank heavily for a while, and slumped into the sofa, murmuring to himself, “How…. Can .. do it… er… How….”. In no time, he had dozed off, and was snoring loudly.

What a heavenly chance it was for the boys! They scaled up the window and got inside the room. Jonty whispered, “The letter must give us a clue.” The boys picked up the pieces of paper, and re-arranged them in the original position, carefully.

And lo! There was the letter in front of them.

University of Mass-chusat
18th Birdy Lane
Singapore

To,
Mr. Durdand Pratap Singh
Pratap Villa,
Sector 6,
Diamond Harbor Road
Calcutta, India

Subject:- Physics teaching assignment

Dear Sir,

Please refer to our letter no. UOM/PHY/98789, dated, 18/08/1991, regarding your contract with the University of Mass-chusat, for a six-month Thermodynamics teaching assignment.

We would like to bring to you notice that as per the agreement, you were supposed to report at University of Mass-chusat, on 15/09/1991, on time for the start of our new academic season. It is unfortunate that you have not reported here, even after a month of the expected date. You have also not responded to our repeated reminders for the same.

We would like to inform you that unless you report to the University within 7 working days of receiving this letter, we would be forced to take legal action against you for not honoring your commitment to the University of Mass-chusat.

We are hopeful that you would report for work before the deadline, and that we would not have to resort to legal action in this regard.

Yours truly,
Mr. Huan Huan
Chancellor
University of Mass-chusat
Date: 19/10/1991

“Why should he be so upset at reading this letter? After all, he still has a week’s time. And a person of his learning and teaching experience hardly needs any preparation.” Jonty wondered.

“Wonder why he did not report at the University a month back as per the agreement in the first place.” Monty added.

“Good Heavens! What are these? Foot prints?” Jonty whispered, as he looked down at the floor. A line of prints from a pair of muddy shoes has gone into the shoe case in the corner of the room. The prints were identical to those found outside their living room window an hour back.

“So it was he who was spying on us from outside our living room window. But why?” Monty questioned himself.

But Jonty was alert. “Look, he is waking up from his slumber. We must leave immediately.” He said, dragging his brother towards the window. Soon, the boys jumped out and vanished into the dark on the night.

Next morning, while Uncle Marino left the house early to fetch more information that he expected from Singapore, the boys sat down to take stock of the situation.

“Let’s piece the facts together” Monty continued, “Durdand Pratap Singh is not shocked to hear the news of his bother’s death. Then he is seen watching a cricket match, though he says his brother was a cricket fanatic. He spies on us to find out what we suspect. And is worried about a Physics teaching assignment. All that points towards a single conclusion…. And that is…..” Before Monty could finish the sentence, there was a knock at the front door of their house.

An irritated Jonty got up and opened it. His heart leaped as he saw the visitor at their doorstep. It was the surprise of all surprises.

FIVE

When Uncle Marino returned in the evening, he found the boys in a cheerful mood.

“Hey boys! What’s this high tide on your faces? Looks like you have some good news eh?” Uncle Marino asked. The boys kept smiling as Uncle grew restless.

“Why don’t you utter something.. you cunning kids?” Uncle Marino could not hide his annoyance.

“Uncle, there is nothing to utter!” Monty said with a smile, “Come with us to Pratap Villa to witness the drama yourself.”

Jonty got up, reached towards the telephone and made a call. When the person at the other end responded, Jonty just uttered a couple of words, “Go ahead”.

Keeping the receiver back on the cradle, Jonty turned to Uncle Marino and said, “Let’s go to Uncle Durdand’s house. There is not a moment to waste.”

“I am not moving from here, until you tell me what’s cooking”

“Uncle, have faith in us for once. I assure you, you won’t regret it.”

Within an hour, the trio was at Pratap Villa. Uncle Marino dully proceeded towards the front gate. But the boys insisted that he should scale the backyard boundary wall with them. They finally reached the living room window and peeped inside. To his great surprise, Uncle Marino saw Durdand talking to a man sitting opposite to him, who appeared to be strikingly similar to him in his looks.

“I thought you died in Singapore.” Durdand said to the other man.

“That was the very purpose you sent me there, isn’t it?” the other man replied.

“No, my brother, not at all. I never dreamt about it. Who put that rubbish into your head?” Durdand tried to convince his brother.

“Stop giving excuses. I know everything about what you have been doing all these days.” The other man was getting angrier by the minute.

“Why don’t you believe me!! Had no intention..” The other man did not allow Durdand to complete his sentence, and said, “I said, no excuses! Your game is up!”

Durdand’s mood seemed to change from apologetic to aggressive in a split second. He sprang up to his feet, pulled out a pistol from his pocket, and pointing it to the other man, said “Well, in that case, there can be only one Durdand in this world. And since I have the gun, you are the one who is going to have to die.”

Suddenly, a small object flew in the air and hit Durdand’s hand at great speed, deflecting the pistol out of his grasp. It was Monty’s Boomerang, right on target! While the other man swiftly picked up the pistol, the boys jumped through the window, followed by Uncle Marino. The boys quickly caught Durdand while the other man kept the pistol pointing towards him.

Holding Durdand tightly, Monty shouted, “Mr. Prachand Pratap Singh, your game is up!”

By now, Uncle Marino was panting with a mixture of excitement and confusion. “Now I have become the world’s most confused man. Why are you chaps calling Durdand as Prachand? And who is the other man here? A third brother of the triplets?”

“Relax Uncle! No more confusion now! Here, the man in our hold is the actual Prachand, the sailor, and the other man is the real Durdand, the professor!”

“You are right”. The other man, the real Durdand, said as he turned towards his brother, the real Prachand. “Tell us the whole story, you crook, or else I will pump the bullets right into your chest.”

“OK, OK. Spare me Durdand. I shall tell you the whole truth.” Prachand (the real one) begged. He continued, with a sigh, “For many years, I had been smuggling gold from Middle East and supplying it to gangsters in Singapore. A couple of months back, one of my boats on the way to Singapore sank south of Sri Lanka, taking with it, a 100 kgs of smuggled gold. When I informed the gangsters in Singapore about this, they refused to buy my story. They asked me to pay for their loss. I simply did not have so much money. So, they threatened to kill me if ever set foot on Singapore again. I was in a great fix as I had to deliver a consignment of electrical goods for the Singapore government the following month. I tried to delay the shipping, but matter went from bad to worse. I got a legal notice from the local government threatening legal action against me if there was any further delay in shipment. They also asked me to appear in person to explain the reason for the delay that had already occurred.”

“So, you pretended to be very ill, and persuaded me to go in your place with the electrical goods, and also to place an explanation before the government. To ensure people about your identity, you asked me to grow a beard like you.” The real Durdand interrupted his brother. “But the scoundrel that you are, you did not tell me anything about the danger I faced there from the local gangsters who were ready to kill Prachand at first sight!”

“And this end, Prachand shaved off his beard and posed to be Durdand.” Monty added.

“My goodness! This has really taken the wind out of my sails!” Uncle Marino exclaimed “And all these days, I was under the impression that Prachand was killed in the road accident near Singapore airport, and here he was right in front of me. The man killed must have been some other P.P. Singh. But Prachand.. er.. Durdand, did the gangsters attack you there?”

“Oh yes!” said the real Durdand, “They made several attempts at my life. I was very lucky to have survived all of them. Finally, I had to go into hiding to avoid the gangsters. Then one day, I sneaked into the harbor and managed to get into a ship sailing to Calcutta. I reached here today, and went straight to your place to seek your help, since I knew you would be in town at this time. But you were not home. And these boys took care of me.”
The Boys were smiling.

Monty said, “After the real Durdand Uncle told us his story, we took him to a saloon and got his beard shaven. We advised him to stay in a hotel till you returned home. When you were back, we called him so that he would go back to his house and confront his brother, the real Prachand. We also gave him our pocket tape- recorder so that he could tape his conversation with Prachand.”

Uncle Marino looked at the boys with admiration mixed with curiosity, and asked, “Did you boys know beforehand that the fellow here is not the real Durdand, but his brother?? For God’s sake, pull me out of these murky waters.”

The boys were still smiling.

SIX

After tying up the real Prachand and making a call to the police station, the boys sat down with Uncle Marino and the real Durdand.

“We first smelt the rat when we saw that our Uncle Prachand (in the disguise of Durdand) did not appear to be too shocked by the news of his brother’s death. Then, we noted that the one day international cricket match was not even scheduled to be held at Calcutta before Uncle Durdand went missing. Then how could he plan to see the match? And when we saw him at the Eden gardens, our suspicions were fortified.” Jonty said

“We also came to know from you Uncle that Durdand was a simple and good natured man, where as Prachand was a crafty one. Then there were the foot-prints, the identical ones outside our living room window and in this house. We were sure that he was spying on us. But the ace of the clues was the letter from a University which worried our cunning deceiver no end. Obviously, a sailor cannot teach physics.”

“And when the real Durdand arrived today, we confirmed what we always suspected.”

As Jonty finished his story, Uncle Marino took a deep breath and got up. He said cheerfully, “Broavo boys! Come on, now that the storm is past, let’s leave for shore. Let’s go home. The police would be arriving any minute now. You twins have done your part. Let the other twins settle their own scores.”

As the twins and Uncle Marino walked through the nearly empty street, the half moon above was helping the Calcutta Corporation overcome the load shedding. In a low distant voice, Uncle Marino was singing, “Tomar holo shuru, aamar holo shara”.. While you begin, I have just finished.

4 comments:

the_new_cloud said...

if i comment after reading this completely , it will be after 1 month.. So , Good Post Dude (in advance..)
:-)

Nikhil Kulkarni said...

Read it in full .... Gr8 one !!

Though, it smells like a Tintin story narrated without pictures, it is a gr8 attempt - especially at Indianising the concept.

Shubham said...

@the-new-cloud,
thanks for the compliment.. in advance.. :)
@nikhil,
as u know, i was a great tintin fan in my childhood.. so i guess a bit of tintin did rub off in this story too.. :)

shoOOonya said...

Toooooo Loooong for me to read online ...

I have taken a print (both sides printed with 2 pages per ide - Environment Friendly u see) ... will post my comment afetr reading that ...

But ... why the heck am i posting this comment NOW ??? Dunno ?? any way ... story writing sounds interesting ... :-)