Dibyasree Nandy‘s short story: Subaru


11:15p.m.

user@bagpipes: Did you know? The Professor who teaches the Renaissance Period special paper to the 3rd years died last night. On my way to class this morning, I overheard some students from the History department whispering about it.

user@apple_pie: He didn’t just die. He was murdered. I’ve got a friend who attended his class.

user@je_crois_en_moi: But I didn’t see any policemen today.

admin@subaru: Rumour has it… the Professor had an odd habit of visiting the canteen late at night. The canteen is open all the time, the cooks have shifts. Anyway, the Professor orders the same thing, scones. Some teachers were saying, he might’ve been poisoned.

user@bagpipes: The culprit couldn’t have been someone from the outside. The University dormitories are always locked at 9. It had to have been one of the staff members, those who were aware of his particular quirk. 

user@apple_pie: You think a student could’ve done this?

user@je_crois_en_moi: Not unless they were particularly close to the Professor. But of course, it’s always possible that they could’ve heard a cook chatting in the canteen. Practically everyone in the student body has a good relationship with the cooks.

user@apple_pie: It’s a bit alarming to think that there’s someone amongst us who’s a murderer.

admin@subaru: Don’t worry, I’m sure the principal will call in the police.

**

10:39p.m.

admin@subaru: That stubborn old fool!

user@bagpipes: What are you talking about?

admin@subaru: He still refuses to let the police know, the principal, I mean!

user@bagpipes: But why?

admin@subaru: Afraid of a scandal. Two-

user@bagpipes: What’s more important? Our lives, or this establishment’s reputation? Now I’m really afraid! What if the murderer strikes twice?

user@je_crois_en_moi has entered the chatroom.

user@je_crois_en_moi: Subaru, is there something more you know about this incident?

admin@subaru: Huh? No. Why should I?

user@je_crois_en_moi: You just typed… Ah, never mind.

user@apple_pie has entered the chatroom.

user@apple_pie: I just heard a scream from the west wing. And when I rushed over, a lot of people were huddled around a room. It’s the Professor of Comparative Literature this time! I’m typing from the crime scene. It’s terrible!

user@je_crois_en_moi: Calm down. Step away from there. Go back to your room.

user@apple_pie: No, wait, I’m trying to gather some details. I could help the police.

admin@subaru: What’s the point if the police aren’t even called in?

user@apple_pie: He was drugged and then knifed. Our Maths Professor found a whiff of something in a glass. The drug stopped him from screaming out.

user@je_crois_en_moi: How is the body positioned?

user@apple_pie: He fell from a chair. The chair was slightly turned towards the door which was locked from the inside.

user@je_crois_en_moi:In other words, he was speaking to someone who offered him water or some other beverage spiked with the drug. Once the Professor dozed off and fell to the floor, it was easy enough to stab him. 

user@bagpipes: But the locked room?

user@je_crois_en_moi: It’s not really a locked room, you know. There’s a master key hanging at the end of each corridor. Anyone can have access to it.

admin@subaru: The master key can only open doors.

user@je_crois_en_moi: Precisely. But you forget that each room has an inner connecting door which cannot be locked in cases of emergencies. One can go to the room next to it using that linked door.

admin@subaru: The chances of no one noticing a random person entering their room and using the master key to open the door from inside and leaving through that way are astronomically low.

user@je_crois_en_moi: Ah, but you forget who lived in the room beside that of the Comparative Literature Professor. The History teacher. The man’s corpse is still there. Dead men don’t tell tales. It was easy enough for our culprit. All he had to do was lock the door of the Literature teacher from inside normally, leave through the connecting door, enter the dead Professor’s room and unlock the room using the master key, lock it from outside; again; in the normal way, and replace the key.

admin@subaru: You’re quite the detective, Je_crois_en_moi.

user@bagpipes: Hold on. Wouldn’t it appear odd if someone, be it a teacher or a student, were to be seen leaving the dead History Professor’s room?

user@je_crois_en_moi: Not if they were seen wearing a janitor’s shirt and trousers.

**

10:45p.m.

user@bagpipes: I’m scared. I’m really scared. I wrote to my parents at home. I want to leave this place. Three murders and our own Psychology teacher this time. He was such a nice person, too. What motive could the murderer possibly have? Our classes have been cancelled. I wish they weren’t. It leaves more time for brooding.

user@je_crois_en_moi: That’s what bothers me the most. The motive. Rather, the lack of. What do they all have in common? Just one fact. Their rooms were beside one another’s. And Bagpipes, don’t brood. Whenever you feel afraid, just talk to someone, yes? 

user@bagpipes: I will. Thank you. But you know, what’s really horrifying? The modus operandi. It wasn’t poison or stabbing. But strangulation and then hanging the corpse. It’s getting more and more brutal.

user@apple_pie has entered the chatroom.

user@apple_pie: What on earth is going on at this university? Everybody is terrified out of their wits. My father has written to the principal. He wants me to drop out.

admin@subaru: I don’t blame your father! The university should be closed! Maybe the murderer will turn to the students next to convince the principal.

user@bagpipes: Please don’t say that! 

user@apple_pie: Say, does anybody know when the murder took place?

admin@subaru: At 2:16 am. I heard a faculty member telling the rest.

user@je_crois_en_moi: That’s interesting. Very intriguing indeed.

admin@subaru: What’s so interesting?

user@je_crois_en_moi: Nothing really, just marvelling at the idea that people never hold back on seizing an opportunity to reveal their superiority in knowledge even if it’s detrimental to them. A mistake repeated over and over again, leading to the undoing of so many people.

user@apple_pie: I don’t quite follow.

user@je_crois_en_moi: Don’t mind me, I tend to say meaningless things at times…

user@bagpipes: Shouldn’t the staff get rid of the master key in that wing? Also, to carry a person in order to hang him up… The culprit must’ve been quite muscular.

user@je_crois_en_moi: Among the faculty members, there’s the Biotechnology Professor who was a football player for a short while in his youth. I am in the Biotechnology Department, he told us. But, then again….

admin@subaru: What’s got you thinking, Sleuth? 

user@je_crois_en_moi: Merely a hunch.

**

11:45p.m.

user@je_crois_en_moi: I hoped my hunch would be wrong, but unfortunately…

admin@subaru: You mean your Biotechnology teacher? By the way, what exactly was your hunch about?

user@je_crois_en_moi: Well, I’m beginning to see a pattern, you see.

user@apple_pie: Is there a sequence to these murders?

user@bagpipes: What kind of pattern? In the modus operandi? Or, like you said, ‘lack of motives’?

user@je_crois_en_moi: That’s exactly what makes this entire affair so diabolic. The method of killing doesn’t matter to our killer. The identity of the victims doesn’t mean anything to him. And the master key cannot be removed from the corridor either. It’s a double-edged sword, you see. While it is being used by the criminal, it is also important in case it becomes necessary to open a door during an emergency. The residents of that wing are prone to panic attacks and the like, given the situation. So, if anyone needs help, they can be rescued using that key. And besides, this time, the master key probably wasn’t even needed.

user@apple_pie: Why do you say so? He succumbed to cardiac arrest. Everyone’s saying the murderer probably stole his heart medicines. They had to have entered his room.

user@je_crois_en_moi: That’s not true. Remember, he used to be a football player and a very fit man. He had been suffering from a cold for the past few days. Cold cures often have chemicals that can induce heart strokes. A primary example would be ibuprofen. Giving him some extra pills cleverly would be child’s play for our culprit. I mean, if anyone approached him saying, ‘hello, Professor, looks like you have a cold. Here, I have some medicines which work really well’, he’d obviously accept them. Quite an innocent statement.

user@bagpipes: Hey, Je_crois_en_moi, we were talking about a common factor among these victims and you mentioned the positions of their rooms. Come to think of it, the Biotechnology Professor stayed beside the three previous victims too.

user@je_crois_en_moi: That’s the pattern I’m talking about. And now that the Biotechnology teacher is ruled out-

**

user@apple_pie: I feel like a pig being trapped in a cage ready to be slaughtered any day.

admin@subaru: And the old mule is still refusing to call the cops. I wish parents would riot.

user@bagpipes: The Chemistry lot is in uproar. He was their Head of the Department, after all. They’re all talking about signing a petition to drop out.

user@apple_pie: It was horrible! His throat was slit, as if the murderer had a personal grudge or something.

user@je_crois_en_moi: I don’t think it was a vendetta against the Chemistry teacher in particular, rather, a frustration at someone, or at some specific circumstance. I’ve been doing some digging…

admin@subaru: Have you? So? What did you find?

user@je_crois_en_moi: Someone would benefit greatly if the university were to be shut down due to unexpected, unforeseen disasters. And only by calling in the police, can the entire situation be written off as ‘unexpected, unforeseen, unusual, unfortunate, and most importantly, unknown’.

user@bagpipes: You mean, that’s the motive? Insurance money?

user@apple_pie: This is a private institution, so all of the assets belong to our principal. But who would require his property? Unless he made a will or something… He isn’t married, he doesn’t have children… Strange…

**

“Professor, may I have a word with you?”

“Yes, please come in.”

A young man was sitting on a chair, one leg on top of the other, hands elegantly clasped. He smiled pleasantly.

“Hello, Subaru.”

The student who had just entered was stupefied.

“You’re not the Professor….”

The other introduced himself.

“I’m William. But you know me by a different name. Je Crois En Moi. And you have quite the physique. You are the nephew of the principal and his sole heir, right?”

Subaru flopped down on the bed and began to laugh. It wasn’t… sane.

“I knew you’d make a good detective. Yes, I’m the only heir of that old rascal. You caught on to my tiny slip of tongue, didn’t you, when I accidentally said ‘two’ to Bagpipes after I mentioned that the old mule was ‘afraid of a scandal’?”

“I did. You said that even before we knew about the second murder, the crime scene of which Apple Pie was texting us from. Furthermore, you told us the exact time of the third murder. You brushed it off by saying you overheard it, but without the presence of a police doctor, no one other than the murderer himself could have stated the time with such certainty. Let’s see, if the Professor of Computer Science would have been here in my stead, he would have been… ‘Electra’, yes?”

Subaru chuckled. “You understood the pattern, I see…”

William nodded. “The dormitories of our university, Pleiades College of Higher Education, are designed in a unique way. Every floor has seven rooms. Four on one side of a corridor and three on the other. Despite there being space for more rooms, there are only seven. I’ve often wondered about this and once these murders began taking place, I realised that they followed the pattern of Pleiades. Very crudely, of course, but the ladle-like resemblance to the constellation is still there. Alcyone, Maia, Sterope, Taygeta, Celaeno, Electra, Merope. You tried achieving this pattern as well, so that, even if the police were summoned, the probability of guessing would have been low. Hence the declaration of ‘murders by person or persons unknown’. And while the college would close down, you would commit a last, eighth murder, that of your uncle himself, getting all the insurance money for yourself.”

“A gold medal for William!” Subaru clapped cheerily. Then, he turned grim. “Say, William, what are your views on morality?”

William was taken aback.

“My uncle, you know, killed my mother. All this property belonged to her originally. She willed it so that it would go to my father. He murdered Dad too. As the next in line, he became the new owner. What I did… was it wrong, William?”

“Absolutely. You were a victim of injustice, deprived of parental love. Your uncle is a bastard. But the people you killed… You treated them like animals.”

Subaru smiled at William.

“Thought as much. By the way, I bet you didn’t know this, my handle name-”

“I am aware. Subaru is Pleiades in Japanese.”



Dibyasree Nandy began writing at the age of 27, two years ago, after completing M.Sc and M.Tech. Since then, she has authored six books, ‘The Labyrinth of Silent Voices-Epistles from the Mahabharata’, ‘Stardust: Haiku and Other Poems’, ‘Studded with Rubies; A Hundred Short Stories’, ‘Marchen of Newer Days’, ‘Liebeslied’ and ‘Windflower’. Several of her poetry and prose pieces have appeared in ‘The Pine Cone Review’, ‘The Telegraph’, ‘Indian Periodical’, ‘Literary Cocktail Magazine’, ‘White Enso’, ‘Dragonflies and Fairies’, ‘Open Skies Anthology’, ‘Proceedings from the Pondicherry Lodge’, ‘Ghostly Ghouls and Haunted Happenings’, ‘Dark Reflections Anthology’, ‘Haus-A Haunted House Anthology’, ‘Soul Anthology’, ‘Sea Glass Literary’, ‘Mediterranean Poetry’, ’10 by 10 Flash’, ‘Double Speak Magazine’, ‘Abominable-A Monster Anthology’, ‘Aroma of Notions’, ‘LitGleam’, ‘WritingHat’, ‘Story Mirror’, ‘Brown Sugar’.

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