Pareidolia: Part 1

 On the night of the 23rd of December 1982, a police control room in southern India received a distress call from a woman who only said that she was calling from Redwood trail. Inspector Sarah Joseph was asked to find out what was happening at Redwood trail apartments. Sarah and assistant Issac “Ice”  Hamilton turned their patrol vehicle towards terrence road where the apartments was located. What happened from then on formed the script of a story. One that was written by fate and guided by destiny.

“Aaron” Purva said softly, “Stand up slowly baby”. Her voice was filled with fear but masked with confidence. She slowly put her hand out so that the 5 year old could grab on to it. “Aaron. Hold my hand” she said again and stretched her hand out a little more from around the ledge. He stood up, unsteadily. His tender fingers trying to get a hold of any support the brick wall behind him could provide. He took a step towards the voice of his caretaker, unaware that a thread from his dress had
gotten stuck on a nail in the wall behind him. “Aaron. Come here slowly, baby” she said, stretching her hand as far as she possibly could. She was sweating bullets and her legs were trembling. A gentle winter breeze sailed through the window . Her heart was now beating faster than ever. But she had to remain calm. Aaron shouldn’t see that she’s afraid. That’s what the man from the fire department had told her. They’d be arriving soon but she had to make sure the baby was in her sight.
Another breeze entered the house. Momentarily, she withdrew one of her hands to wipe off the sweat on her eyelashes. Instantly, she reached out again. “Aaron, Baby. Come to vapa.” she said, reassuringly.She looked out into the vast expanse of the city landscape, hoping to see a fire truck on its way. Aaron took another step forward. The thread loosened from his dress. He took another step, shakily. “Slowly baby. Slowly”. In his excitement of hearing his vapa’s voice get closer, Aaron giggled and clapped his hands, not knowing that he was standing on a 3foot wide landing, seventeen floors above the ground. Clapping happily, he tried taking another step and lost balance and sat down again. Purva’s heart jumped into her hands. “Stay there baby. Vapa can see you. Stay there”. He heard her voice and giggled and clapped his hands in joy again and tried standing up. The thread was now stretched to its limit. He stood up and turned, the thread put him off balance and tugged him back.He lost balance again and slipped.

“AARON!!!!!!”, she wailed. Her eyes were frozen in shock. Her face, white. Her hands and feet, paralysed. She coudln’t react.

A little while later..

“Are you absolutely sure?” Inspector Sarah asked her assistant Isaac, bewildered.
“Positive.” he replied.
“How’s Purva doing?”she enquired.
“She’s inside. Depressed and traumatised. We should get a psychiatrist here ASAP” he said.
“How many people did you talk to?”
“27. That’s everyone on this side of the building” he said, pointing to the side facing the balcony they were standing in.
“Who called the police?”
“Control room said it was an anonymous call from a woman but the residents say that it wasn’t one of them. Must’ve been Purva herself” Isaac answered.
“And nobody saw or heard anything other than her screaming?” she asked, amused.
“SJ. There is no body. There’s no blood. No crime scene, no witnesses. Just a depressed complaintant. What are we even investigating here?” Isaac asked, trying to convince Sarah that there was no case.
“Where did the baby go, Ice? We have to find him. There’s no way Purva will recover from whatever it is she is suffering from without finding Aaron.”
“There wasn’t a baby Sarah. Nobody around here has seen a baby in this house or with her. She was probably hallucinating. I’ve called the medical team, they’re bringing some help for Purva. Let’s get out of here”

“Alright. Wait in the car. I need to talk to her again. I won’t be long” Sarah said, not convinced by the overwhelming evidence.

She walked into the room where Purva was sitting, wrapped in a blanket with a mug of coffee in her hand, staring at the wall opposite her.
“Purva..Who was Aaron?”she asked.
Purva said nothing.
“Did you call the police, Purva?”
Sarah walked closer and put her hand on Purva’s drooping shoulder.”Purva..I need you to talk to..” she stopped her sentence midway as Purva fell to the ground.
“Jesus Christ.No way” she murmured and sat on her knees next to Purva and checked her pulse. There wasn’t one.
She reached into her jacket to get her phone but she’d left it in the car. She ran to the balcony and looked down. Isaac was in the car.
“ICE! ISAAC!! ISAAAC” she shouted at the top of her voice. He couldn’t hear her. She looked around for something she could throw at the car to get his attention.

Unable to find anything, she took off her shoe and used that.
Isaac jumped out of the car, startled and looked up. Sarah was waving frantically at him to come up.

Sarah was waiting at near the elevator for him. She told him what had happened as they walked back into the house.
“She just fell. Dropped dead. Something is wrong here ice. I just kn..” she stopped midway through her sentence again and put her hands over her mouth in disbelief.
There was a knife through Purva’s stomach.
Isaac instinctively took his service revolver out of its holster and searched the house for the culprit. Sarah coudln’t believe what she’d just seen. She looked around the room to check if someone was hiding there. She found the windows locked. So were the cupboards. “This room’s clear” she shouted,to let Isaac know and then looked around for some clues.
Isaac came back in the room looking stupefied.
“There’s nobody here”

To be continued..

Read the next part here:
Pareidolia: Part 2 

Pareidolia: Finale

“What?” Issac said, snatching the file from Sarah’s hands in disbelief. “Flat No 2204! That’s the house on the top floor! I knew it! Lisa, dressed up as Martha, killed Purva and then put us off track with the
statement about Tony.”
“Why did these two want to kill Purva in the first place? And how did she even know Tony?” Sarah asked.”The adoption papers don’t name the person who adopted that child. But, there is a clause in it that Alex and Lisa could ask for custody if they get married within 2 years of the adoption”,Issac said.
“So you think it was Purva who adopted the child and she refused to give him back?” Sarah said.
“Possible. But the neighbours said that they haven’t ever seen Purva with a baby.” Issac said. “We’ve to find Lisa. That’s the only way we can find out what happened. We’ve got to search that flat. Let’s go”

At Redwood Trail apartments, armed with a search warrant the duo enter Flat No 2204.
“There isn’t much stuff here SJ. Looks like they’ve cleared out.” Issac said.
“Ice. Look.” Sarah called out, going through a bunch of photographs. Issac came in and joined her.
“That must be Aaron”  Issac said, pointing to the picture of an adorable little baby.
“Yeah..I wonder wher..” Sarah froze at one picture. She wiped the dust off it to have a better look. There must’ve been 20 people- All in Black, standing around a coffin- a small coffin. Kneeling by its side was Purva.
“Do you think that’s…” Issac said, afraid to name baby Aaron.
Sarah just nodded, her sinking voice and drowning heart making it difficult to say anything.
“Lets go.” She managed to mumble”We’ve got what we need”.

As they walked down from Lisa’s 20th floor apartment, Sarah was in a daze. Issac followed her mechanically, the photo firmly held in his fist. On the 17th floor, Sarah lifted her head to have one look at Purva’s apartment. She walked to the door and grabbed the tape that read “Police Line. Do not cross” as if to tear it. But she let go and turned to Issac, dug her face in his shoulder and burst into tears.
In that picture, was a face that Issac hadn’t noticed. Standing a couple of feet behind a kneeling Purva was Tony-His head bent in reverence and hands tied behind his back. He stood alone, away from the rest of the crowd but close enough to Purva to suggest that he knew her well. Issac still hadn’t realised this. He sat Purva by the stairs and waited for her to stop crying. In a while, her tears dried and she got up and walked over to the large glass window by the stairs. She stood there and looked out over the rising skyline of the city with the vast ocean on the horizon, still thinking of Tony. Issac walked over to her, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yeah. Tony loved this city. If he saw this now, he’d take off on his bike chasing the horizon, searching for some invisible joy” she said, a couple of tears slowly making their way out of her eyes. She took the picture from Issac’s hand and pointed at Tony, handed the picture back and rested her head on the glass, deep in thought. Issac didn’t immediately recognise the face. He took a closer look and realised who it was. He wasn’t sure what to say. He put an arm around Sarah’s shoulder, trying to console her.
“Sarah”, he said softly after a while. “Let’s leave”.
Sarah walked like a zombie and got into the car. For the next half an hour, they said nothing to each other. The radio in the car played some old malayalam song periodically interrupted by the police wireless address system.

Back at the headquarters, Inspector Murugan had the adoption details of baby Aaron from the agency. It confirmed what the duo had suspected. Purva was the one who had adopted the baby when he was barely 12 days old. When Sarah and Issac got back, Inspector Murugan had more news for them. “I just received some sad information about the baby. He died of pneumonia at the age of 3. Purva moved to Redwood Trails after that. She didn’t have many friends here but we got in touch with the head of the adoption agency…” he stopped seeing that Sarah looked distracted. “Are you alright Sarah?”
She nodded to suggest that she was. Issac handed the photo to the inspector and explained what had happened.
“Oh so you guys already know about the baby. But it seems you still don’t know about Tony’s involvement in this”. Suddenly, Sarah became more interested in the conversation. “What involvement?” she asked.
“Like I was saying, we got in touch with the head of the adoption agency. A nice woman by the name of Theresa. It is routine to conduct a background check of the person adopting a child. Usually, it is done by the police but often, we allow reputed agencies to conduct their own background checks. In Purva’s case, it was Tony who did it. They got quite close too apparently.” he said.
Sarah didn’t flinch. She was learning more about her brother after he died than before. She struggled to keep up with the conversation.
“So Alex and Lisa blamed Purva for the death of their baby? But there’s no way they could’ve known who adopted the baby. The agency doesn’t reveal those details normally” Issac said.
“Right you are.  It was Theresa who informed the couple that their baby had died. She felt it was only right that the biological parents were present at the funeral. That’s where Alex comes in. Remember he was charged with criminal intimidation and a B&E?” Murugan said.
“He tried pressuring Theresa into revealing the details and when she didn’t agree, he broke into the agency and took all of Purva’s details.” Sarah inferred and completed the inspector’s statement.
“They must’ve seen Tony at the funeral. Since he was away from the crowd, they must’ve remembered his face. So it was pure coincidence that Lisa described him to the sketch artist. She had no idea that he was your brother.” Issac speculated.
“Did they have anything to do with Tony’s death too?” Sarah asked, trying to mask her fear with confidence.
“I had the checked too. But there’s nothing unnatural about his death. So it’s unlikely that these two were involved in that.” the inspector replied.
“But it took them 3 years to find Purva? That’s an unusually long time. Especially if they broke into the agency and found the details long back.” Issac said.
“True. But the details in the records only told them where Purva lived earlier. It took them time to track down her new location” Inspector Murugan clarified.
“I’ve already dispatched three teams to find Lisa. Good work you both. You’ve solved a crazy case. Now it’s time for the paperwork. Go on. Get on with it”  he told them, before answering the phone that had been ringing for a while now.

Sarah and Issac walked out of the debriefing room and walked onto the roof of the headquarters where two guards were now permanently posted. They sat near the ledge, looking at the skyline again. In the distance was redwood trails and beyond it, the ocean on the horizon.
“Sarah, I get that you’re upset thinking of Tony. But you’ve got to get over it.”. Issac said bluntly.
Sarah was sitting with her hands propping up her head. She tilted her head towards Issac and smiled. Then, turned her face away from him and stared into the sunset.
“I can’t stop thinking of Purva. When I stood in front of her door after we found that picture, I could see her on the door. I could see her outside in the skies. I could see her in the skyline. Every little noise sounded like Aaron’s cries. Even now, when I look out at the horizon, I can see them. But then I remember Tony. I can picture him even now on his bike, chasing the horizon. Only now, it seems like he’s racing to join Purva and Aaron. It wasn’t an invisible joy he was going after. It was  just one I couldn’t see it. But he did. He never told me about Purva but I remember him quoting G.K. Chesterton to me once, I’m sure now that he was talking about her: “Walking up a road at night, I have seen a lamp and a lighted window and a cloud make together a most complete and unmistakable face. If anyone in heaven has that face I shall know him again”. He will see her face again in heaven. And I just wish he finds the joy he was chasing.”

Pareidolia: Part 4

Issac walked into the waiting lounge where Sarah was now sitting looking less dazed than before.
“What happened? Did you get him?” she asked.
“He’s dead.Someone shot him. And there is no trace of the killer.” he replied.
“Was it Tony?He got away? He’s obviously the one behind Purva’s death too then.” Sarah deduced, hoping she was wrong.
“No. There was literally no trace of the killer. Like as if there wasn’t a killer.” Issac clarified.
“What? Ice. Go get tested.He’s probably injected you with that drug too. How can there be a murder and no killer?” Sarah mocked.
“At every step, this case has thrown up more questions than answers. But some of it is beginning to make sense now. This new victim isn’t Purva’s killer. He’s only an accomplice. His only job was to control the baby puppet from the terrace. The real killer was inside Purva’s house all along.” Issac explained.
“Hang on. That can’t be right. If he was inside the house with Purva, he wouldn’t have let her call the police.” Sarah interrupted.
“True. But why did this accomplice come here? Just to scare you? Why would he take that risk?” Issac asked.
“He didn’t! Maybe the real killer wanted him dead. This accomplice was our only track back to the killer. So he set him up here and killed him.” Sarah said.
“But why do it here? We would never have known about an accomplice if he had killed him elsewhere” Issac said, confused.
“Will you stop posing questions for me and try finding some answers yourself?” Sarah said, a big grin on her face. “I’m supposed to be the traumatised victim of this episode” she joked.
” Traumatised? ” Issac laughed. “You should’ve seen your face when I told you it was just a doll.” he teased.
” Hey! Ask the paramedics. I am in trauma. I have the orange blanket to prove it.” Sarah replied, pointing to the blanket that the doctors had put around her.
” Ok. Then you won’t be able to take part in the investigation any more I suppose” Issac said and turned and walked away.
“No No No No! I’m perfectly alright. What’s our next step?” Sarah said, throwing the blanket to a side and jumping from the couch, running towards Issac.
“Murugan Sir wanted to meet you. He’ll tell you what to do next”

Meanwhile, Chief Inspector Murugan had called a meeting of the security staff at the precinct.
“Sir. Our security systems are all working perfectly. The intruder jumped into our roof from the adjoining building. There is no way he could’ve gone through our security.” the security in-charge said.
“What utter nonsense. Do you think that any intruder is going to walk in through that front door for you to catch?” Murugan said, “How did these fools get certified?” he mumbled. “I want that roof to be under constant monitoring. Do whatever is necessary. Now, more importantly, why did constable Ramesh go up there alone? I want an immediate review done of all our emergency reaction mechanisms as soon as possible. You can all leave.” Murugan ordered just as Sarah walked in.

“Ah Sarah. How are you? Still shaken?” he asked.
“I’m fine sir. No worries.” she replied.
“Great. Ok Sarah. I’ll get straight to the point. Until Tony’s role in this case is clear, you can’t be investigating it. Issac will investigate that much. If he says Tony isn’t involved, you can take up the case once again. Am I clear?” he said.
“Yes sir. ” Sarah said. She knew this was going to happen. “Sir, can I at least go with Issac? I won’t get in his way. I promise.” She said, clutching at straws now.
“Sarah, You know how this works. Go home and stay there for a while. Catch a couple of movies or something. You need the break anyway.” he replied.
Sarah’s shoulders sank in disappointment. There was nothing she could do.

Issac went back to the apartments looking for answers. He decided to have a look around the terrace. He got into the elevator and pressed the button that said 20. He stepped out of the elevator and looked
around. There was only one apartment on the 20th floor. There was little door on the roof that led to the terrace. Without a ladder, it was impossible to get to it. Issac knocked the door of the lonely apartment. No one answered. He went down to the 17th floor and knocked on Mrs Martha’s door hoping to get a ladder. A young lady opened the door.
“Hey. Is Mrs Martha home?” Issac enquired.
“Who?” the young lady asked.
“Mrs Martha. She was here a couple of days ago.” Issac said.
“I think you’ve got the wrong flat. I just got back from London this morning.” she said.
Issac was taken aback. “Ma’am. A 76 year old woman named Martha was here a couple of days ago. Did you give her your keys  before leaving?” Issac asked, patiently.
“No. And I don’t know anyone by that name” she answered. Issac was stunned. He apologised and walked past Sarah’s flat which was still locked and sealed. He walked to another flat and made some
enquires about Martha. Nobody had heard of her. His whole investigation of the case of a baby that hadn’t died and a woman that had been killed by a killer that was dead, was based on a witness that,
apparently, didn’t exist.

Back in office, a visually disturbed Issac entered Inspector Murugan’s cabin.
“Sarah has to come back.” he said, bluntly.
“What? So it wasn’t Tony?” Murugan replied.
“Sir. Nobody in the apartments has heard of a lady named Martha. I’m not sure what I can believe in this case anymore” Issac said.
Murugan got up from his seat and walked over to his cabinet and proceeded to open a bottle of his vintage jameson whiskey.
“Call Sarah” he said after a few minutes of silence.

Sarah rushed from home and got to the office almost as soon as Issac called her.
“This makes sense now!” Sarah said, panting.
“What?” Issac and Murugan said in unison.
“It makes sense NOW? When your only witness turns out to be unreal?” Issac said.
“Yes! This Martha obviously set us up to think that there was someone else in that room. What if it was her? She didn’t have the time to escape so she stood there like a witness and blended in.” Sarah
“Right. So you guys didn’t notice an old lady standing stealthily in the room where you put Sarah?” Murugan asked.
“Sir I don’t think that was an old lady at all” , Issac said. “Sir, we have some work. I’ll get back to you as soon as I have more evidence. Come on SJ” he said as he walked out, grabbing his jacket.

“Where are we going?” Sarah asked, as she jumped across to the roof of the next building, trying to keep up with a speeding Issac.
“This is where the guy who was handling the puppet ran the other day.” Issac said, “And that’s where we found him dead”, pointing to the room in the distance.
Issac removed the police seal and unlocked the door. “If we can figure out who or what killed this guy, it will lead us to Sarah’s killer.” he said.
They began looking around. In no time, Sarah realised what had happened.
“Which group of absolute idiots from forensics did you bring here?” she said standing near the window next to the door. “You were chasing him and you were standing there when the shots went off, weren’t you?” Sarah said, pointing precisely to where Issac had stood on the day of the shooting.
“H..How..did you know that?” a perplexed Issac asked.
“This wasn’t a murder.” Sarah said.
“Forensics confirmed that it wasn’t suicide. I don’t think the law defines what getting killed by ghosts is” Issac said, mocking sarah.
“Shut up. Can’t you see? He was trying to shoot you through the window but the bullet ricocheted off the grill and killed him.” Sarah said, pointing at the bullet mark on the grill.
“Wow. How did I miss that.” Issac said, almost too embarrassed to talk.
“Wait. So this guy obviously was on a mission to scare me off but died in the process. where is his partner?” Sarah said.
“We need to establish this guy’s identity first.” Issac said before turning on his wireless set, handing the forensics team a piece of his mind and then asking them to find out the who that man was. “That’ll give us something to start with”, he completed when his wireless beeped. It was Dr Mani.
“Isaac. I’ve already got the identity of that guy and documented his history and handed you the whole report just this morning with the rest of documents.” he said as Sarah began looking for the report,”Now if you’d stop screaming at my people, that would be nice” he said and abruptly ended the conversation.
“Must’ve slipped my mind. Did you find it?” Issac said to Sarah who was now running through the file faster than a currency counter. A few minutes later, she found it.
“Here. Found it. His name is Alex Tharamil. 29. Married to one Lisa Cherian. Hey check this out. The couple had a baby but that was before they got married so they put him up for adoption.”
“Wait a minute. How did this family guy get into our databases?” Issac asked.
“There are a couple of charges of criminal intimidation and B&E against him. He’s never responded to them charges so he automatically enters the database.” Sarah explained.
“Oh. Wow. A baby. Finally we’re getting somewhere. Where does she stay? This Lisa?”
“Redwood trail apartments” Sarah said, a smile on her face.

To be continued…

Read the first three parts here:
Pareidolia: Part 1 
Pareidolia: Part 2 
Pareidolia: Part 3 

Pareidolia: Part 3

It was late in the evening. Cold air found its way into the debriefing room through the little gap under the door. Isaac and Sarah stood at one end of the room. Sarah was already shivering from knowing that her dead brother was the main suspect in the case she was investigating. Chief Inspector Murugan was going through the case files. He had to decide if he could let Sarah carry on with the case or if it should be handed over to another officer. After going through the files very carefully 
for about ten minutes, he lifted his head and said,”Please step out of the room for a while. I’ll call you back in a little later”. The duo turned to walk out. “Not you Isaac. Just Sarah”.

Sarah knew what was going to happen. She was going to be asked to stay away from the case because she was too close to the main suspect. She sat herself on the couch in the waiting room. From there, she could only see the door to the debriefing room. She closed her eyes and thought about what would happen at home when everyone found out that Tony was still alive. She didn’t want to tell anyone because there was a possibility that the suspect was someone who looked like Tony. In her mind, she knew that the odds of that were low. She put her head in her hands and shut her eyes, deep in thought.

Inside the debriefing room, Inspector Murugan asked Isaac about Tony’s story.
“There isn’t one sir. He died of a heart attack in his sleep. Natural death, no foul play.”Isaac replied.
“Then why was he at that crime scene?”Murugan asked.
“I..I don’t know sir”Isaac stuttered.
“Look. Sarah is too shaken to continue with this case. First of all, I want you to find this guy. If it is actually Tony Joseph, Sarah is off this case. If it isn’t Tony, Sarah can decide if she wants to take the case back or not. Until then, you’re in-charge. Either way, it’s your job to find this guy.Whoever it is”
“Yes sir.” Isaac replied.
“And what happened to that baby? The one that Purva said fell off the balcony” Murugan asked.
“Sir, If that baby really did exist and fell off that ledge, there is no chance that he survived. But we didn’t find a body or traces of blood. Purva was probably hallucinating.” Isaac replied.
“I’ve been a cop for 34 years. Everything in my experience tells me that you’re right. But go back to the apartments and make sure of it. If word leaks about a disappearing baby, the newspapers will be all over it. Add to that, the news about  the investigating officer’s dead brother being our main suspect and we’ll have reporters camping outside our office.I don’t want that” Murugan told Isaac. “Now go call Sarah back”.
“Yes sir.”Isaac replied and stepped out of the debriefing room.

Sarah got up from the comfort of the couch and walked to the large window across the room. She couldn’t stop thinking about Tony, her lovable brother, 4 years younger than her.
As she gazed into the night sky outside, her view only obstructed by the swaying branches of a nearby silver oak, she heard a soft gurgling voice say “Vapa”. She craned her neck to look outside. No one was there. She thought her mind was playing tricks on her when suddenly, she heard it again. This time, clearer than before. She went closer to the window and looked to the left and then to the right. Still nobody there. “Vapaa!!” she heard again, accompanied this time by the soft sound of clapping. She looked to the left again, from where the sound was coming. There, on the ledge sat a little baby, a haunting smile on his face.
Sarah screamed. She wanted to shout out for someone to help the baby but she could barely bring out any voice at all. Fighting her non-responsive vocal chord, she laboured and shouted as loudly as her body let her, “Isssaaaacc! ICE!! ICE!” and then dropped to the floor as her knees weakened and gave in from shock.

Issac had just stepped out of the debriefing room when he heard Sarah’s screams. He ran towards the waiting lounge and found her lying on the floor, with her back rested against the back of a chair. She was pointing to the window and trying to say something. Issac took out his revolver not knowing what to expect and looked outside. Nothing there. He turned his gaze upwards and saw something move. Something was hanging along the side of he building and moving up. He fired a couple of shots at it. It stopped moving. “Lock down this facility NOW! We have an intruder! Nobody leaves. Shut the gates and get a team to search every floor. I want this guy caught. NOW!”, he shouted over the wireless. He went to the window and looked upwards again. The object was still hanging. “Who’s scanning the roof? I want a team up on the roof and someone lower that thing. Whatever it is.”
A constable ran up to the roof and found some strings hanging over the railings. They were connected to the thing hanging from the side of the building. He slowly lowered it towards Issac. As it got closer to him, Issac realised what it was. A doll. A puppet that looked like a baby.
He turned to Sarah and showed it to her. “Calm down. It’s just a puppet” he told her and turned his attention back to the missing intruder. “Did you find anyone on the roof?” he asked over the wireless. There was no response. “Hello? Didn’t anyone in the team that went to the roof carry their wireless sets? Someone respond! Did you find anyone?” Issac asked again, getting angrier by the minute. He looked up from near the window and shouted, “HEY! Who’s up there? Viren? Sunny? “.
Finally, someone responded on the wireless, “Sir, Constable Ramesh went up the roof”.
“What?! He went up there alone? I Asked you to send a team up there.” Issac said as he began running for the stairs to the roof.
He pushed the door to the roof open and looked around for Ramesh. In a corner, behind an old unused desk, he found him. Unconscious.
“Oh god. No” he muttered and looked around for any sign of the intruder.
“I need a medical team here as quickly as you can. I have an officer down.” he said over his wireless. Just as he sent out that message, he saw someone running on the roof of the neighbouring building. Issac jumped over to the other roof and ran behind him. “You! Stop right there”. The man ran into a room on one of the roofs. Issac ran to the door and called for back up. “Suspect is locked inside a room on a roof three building next to ours. He is armed. I need cover”.
Issac tried to look through the window to see what was happening inside, when suddenly, there was a loud gunshot from inside the room. “Gunshot!  There was a shot fired!! Where’s my backup?!!” Issac shouted over the wireless, running for cover but keeping an eye on the door to the room. A couple of minutes later, 5 officers arrived.
“There was only one shot. No one has come out since. The guy who fired the shot is still inside. I want him alive, but if he tries anything smart, shoot him.” he instructed.
The team members took their positions. One of them broke the lock to the door with a controlled explosion. The 6 officers barged into the room, “Police! Put down your weapons and keep your hands where I can see them.”Issac shouted but his voice trailed off when he looked around the room.
In the middle of the room, the man who was running from him, lay dead with a bullet wound in his throat. A gun was on the floor, a few feet away from the body.
 “Suicide. He shot himself in the throat.” Issac declared.
 “No sir. The entry wound suggests that he was shot from some distance away. Doesn’t look like a point-blank wound that we normally find when someone shoots themselves.”
“That’s impossible. Nobody went out of this room. The window is intact so it couldn’t have been someone from outside. Besides, I heard the shot from inside this room.And the guy was carrying a gun when he was running and it’s right here.”Issac reasoned.,but he knew that he was wrong when he looked at the entry wound closely.
This man was killed. And the killer, had vanished into thin air.

Read the first two parts here:

Pareidolia: Part 1
Pareidolia: Part 2

Pareidolia: Part 2

The Debriefing room was a small conference hall. There was a long rectangular table at the center of the room with 6 neatly arranged chairs on either side. Only 3 of those were occupied today. At its one end,Sarah and Isaac sat facing each other. Chief Inspector Murugan dragged a chair to sit at that end, in between the two. “I want you both to tell me exactly what happened there last night without leaving out a single detail. I want you to tell me if you did so much as scratch your heads. Sarah, you go first” the Chief said.

“At about 9.25PM, I got a call on the wireless about a woman in distress at Redwood trail apartments. Inspector Isaac and I reached the location at 9.45PM. The victim,Purva Rathore, was alive when we got there. The neighbours told us that they heard her shouting the name ‘aaron’ and that she was saying that he’d fallen from the balcony of her 17th floor apartment. She was in shock and refused to talk to us. There was no trace of the baby, in the house or anywhere around. No blood or anything.I asked Inspector Isaac to check on Purva. He found that she was depressed and traumatised and in no position to talk. He gave her a blanket and some coffee and went to interview the the neighbou…”
“What coffee?” Isaac interrupted. “I didn’t give her a blanket or coffee. She was feeling uncomfortable, so I got her to lie down on her bed and let her rest.” he clarified.
“Wha..? Then when did she make coffee and sit on the chair in the middle of the room?” Sarah asked, confused.
“Ok. What’s happening here? Who else was with you both?” Chief Inspector Murugan asked, looking at Isaac.
“Nobody sir. Just us. The neighbours were waiting out..”
“Coffee” Sarah said.
“What?” Isaac and Murugan asked in unison.
“She was holding a mug of coffee when she fell off the chair. It broke when she fell.” she said.
“But we didn’t see any pieces of the mug near her body when we came back and found that she was stabbed. Someone cleared the crime scene” Isaac said, completing Sarah’s sentence.
“We need to go back and question the neighbours. Somebody entered the crime scene when I came out to call you, Stabbed her, cleared the broken mug from the floor and left. All in a few minutes.” Sarah said, getting up hurriedly to leave.
“Pssh..Yeah sure. Few minutes”, Isaac murmured.
“What?Shut up” Sarah retorted and left, slamming the door behind her.
Isaac and Murugan shared a few giggles about women’s sense of time and parted ways.

Sarah sat in the car, deep in thought, scratching an insect bite on her neck.
“Stop doing that. It’ll get worse” Isaac advised.
“It’s irritating.I cant think.”she replied.
“Ok.So Why coffee? Why make her coffee if you want to stab her and get away?” Isaac asked.
“Why come back and collect the broken mug? This case is weird. From the missing baby that apparently doesn’t exist, to this. Nothing makes sense.” Sarah said, trying to connect the events, when suddenly, her phone rang. It was forensics.
“Hello. Yes. What? Are you sure?.Ok. Finger Prints? ok.Thank you”
“That was forensics.Purva’s death was caused by excessive bleeding from the knife wound” Sarah told Isaac.
“So she was alive when you checked her pulse?Did they find any prints on the knife?” Isaac asked in surprise.
“Apparently she was. But I checked. I was sure. She couldn’t have been..”
“Hey. Calm down. It’s alright. What about the fingerprints?” Isaac asked, trying to distract his visibly disturbed partner.
“They ran it through our databases but didn’t find a match.” she replied.
“Of course they didn’t.Bunch of morons.”Isaac said.

At the apartments, they began questioning the residents about anyone entering or leaving the crime scene the previous night.
After a few disappointing interviews,
“Nobody.Except you guys. That other cop almost ran over my poor Petunias” 76 year old Martha complained to Sarah, unhappy about the treatment meted out to her plants.
“But I didn’t step on your plants miss!” Isaac said, in an attempt to clear his name.
“Oh!Not you love! You’re wonderful. The other young man. The one in the coat that said ‘Police’ ” Martha clarified to the duo’s utter shock.
“When did you see him? Was carrying anything with him?” Isaac asked.
“He came out of the house sometime after you left. He had a little plastic bag in his hand but I couldn’t see what was in it. I’m Sorry” She said.
“Ma’am. We need you to describe this man in as much detail as you can to a sketch artist.” Sarah said, while Isaac called the sketch artist.

Back in her office, they went over all the evidence again. Frustrated, Sarah got up to get something to eat from her shelf.
“Hey Sarah. Didn’t you say that the coffee mug broke when Purva fell?” Isaac asked.
“Nothing. Hang on. The time of death is between 10PM and 11:30PM.” Isaac said.
“We got there at 9:45 and she was alive. We must have left the house at about 10:20, so that makes sense. Whoever stabbed her, did it within that window.Makes sense”

Sarah said, unwrapping a sandwich as she spoke.
“No. I left the house at 10:10. You threw that shoe at me at 10:45.” Isaac said.
“I wasn’t alone in that house for half an hour! I checked her pulse, found she’d died, got up and ran to the balcony to call you. 3 minutes at best” Sarah said in her defense.
Isaac took his phone out of his jacket and checked his call records.
“I called Control room to tell them we didn’t find anything at 10:40PM. That was while I was in the car. Look” Isaac said, holding his phone out.
Sarah was shocked.
“Sarah. What happened in the house in those 25 minutes?” Isaac asked.
“It wasn’t 25 minutes Isaac! I’m sure” she said, almost in tears.
“Show me that insect bite. The one you were scratching in the car” Isaac said, as if he was on to something.
Sarah tilted her head, revealing a small wound.
“That’s not an insect bite. That’s from a needle. You were drugged. We’ve got to get you to the doctor NOW.” he said after looking at the wound and ran out, dragging her with him.

“Yup. She was drugged alright. There are minute traces of it under the skin. Nothing life threatening. You didn’t have to rush her in here” Dr Neha announced.
“That’s not why I rushed her in here. I needed to be sure. They’ve got to conduct another post-mortem of Purva’s body quickly.” Isaac said while he called forensics on his phone.
Sarah followed Isaac to the forensics department, unsure of what he was onto.
“Remember you said the coffee mug had broken? There was a mention of the coffee in the forensics report but they hadn’t tested it.The killer might have cleared the broken mug but not the floor. I’ve just asked them to run tests for any abnormalities in the coffee.They’re making the report now. Come on!”Isaac told Sarah, excitedly.

“You were right Isaac. We found trace amounts of Armosyl, a rare poison. It’s a compound of arsenic and almost undetectable once it enters the body. We only found it because it wasn’t fully dissolved in the coffee.” Dr Mani said.
“So you couldn’t find it in Purva’s system?”Sarah asked.
“No. Once it enters the stomach, it kills almost instantly. If we run a test now looking for residual quantities, we might find it. But judging by the concentration of the poison and how much coffee was in her stomach, the cause of death was certainly poisoning. It caused paralysis and cardiac arrest in seconds.”
“But then she should have died before I entered the room” Sarah said.
“You said she was holding the cup and staring at the wall?” Dr Mani asked and Sarah nodded in agreement.
“Then yes.She had died by then. The poison caused her muscles to tighten and hence her grip on the cup tightened. Her neck muscles tightened as well and therefore it appeared as though she was sitting like a stone.” Dr Mani inferred.
“What about the first report?” Isaac asked,”Why didn’t you mention cardiac arrest as cause of death?”
“We couldn’t find anything that could cause a cardiac arrest so based on the evidence we had, we concluded that she suffered from a minor cardiac event, due to the shock but death must’ve been caused by the bleeding.”he said.
“You weren’t wrong Sarah. She was dead when you checked her pulse. The killer managed to drug you at that point and retrieve the coffee mug so that there wasn’t any evidence of the poison, leading us to believe that she died from the stab wounds. Except, he wasn’t able to clean the coffee from the floor”Isaac concluded.
“She must have thought he’s one of us too.That’s why she accepted the coffee from him.” Sarah completed.
“Or, she knew him”Isaac suggested, when Rajesh, the attender, walked into the room with a file.
The sketch artist had completed his work.

Sarah opened the file and took out the sketch. She felt her hands go numb and her legs give way as she handed the picture to Isaac.
“Who is that?” Dr Mani asked, peeping into the file.
Isaac looked up at Sarah in disbelief.”That’s Tony Joseph. Sarah’s brother”. He turned to Dr Mani and in a feeble,cracking voice added, “He died three years ago”.

To be continued…

Read the next part here:
Pareidolia: Part 3