This is a twisted tale; of how Gabriel North eluded, confounded and finally met his creator Samuel Clooney, which means that the author had fleeting encounters with him. There were many kinds of serial killers that Samuel could think of – the inhuman and cold blooded, the vicious and predatory, the cruel and bloody; but she persisted with her own imagination of Dr. North. Numerous stories filled with gore and macabre have been told earlier but this one is the most unusual I have ever heard in my entire career.
I would rather not elaborate upon the methods of her imagination and the grisly details of how her character tortured, killed and maimed people. Suffice it to say that the way in which Sam (as I fondly called her) worked on her third book was quite intriguing; and that was revealed to me like a puzzle solved block by block.
It was a typical hot summer night in Central Delhi. Paharganj was shrouded in darkness and its chaotic and grungy lanes were walked by drug peddlers, pimps and criminals. Amidst the grim looking buildings that glowed in neon lit boards stood Hotel Eros Deluxe. The ceiling fan in the damp room creaked somewhat ominously. The table lamp glowered and flickered like the eyes of a distant jackal in the jungle. The atmospherics were spooky enough for any author to rouse the latent savagery of the human mind.
Sam, who was wont to writing her rough draft by hand, swiftly penned the scene in which Dr. North set about identifying his next target. At half past twelve, five pages of the background description completed, the action shifted to a rundown hotel in Paharganj where murderous fate awaited the victim. Dr. North made quick strides in the darkness towards the room. Despite the enervating heat outside, he wore a weather-beaten brown overcoat, that concealed his weapon. As his footsteps moved stealthily, his breathe made a hissing sound in the air. The tension was heightened by now. Snap! The electricity went out and the room was enveloped in blackness. There was a knock on the door. Knock. Knock. Sam was shaken out of her seat when she realized the sound wasn’t in her head nor on the paper. It originated from outside her room. Who could be at the door at this hour?
‘Who… Who is it?’ She reached out to her phone and turned on the flashlight.
A knock again.
‘H… Hello?’ A mild shiver ran down her spine.
Still no answer.
The knocking resumed.
‘Who is it?’ She repeated the question.
Something incoherent was uttered by a muffled voice behind the door.
She looked through the keyhole to find a wiry figure standing in the corridor holding out a serving tray. She inserted the security latch and opened the door nervously. A sudden gust of wind blew into the room with great force and rustled up the papers on her desk.
A hand extended through the opening. It held a plate of sliced cucumbers garnished with rock salt and pepper.
‘Your salad, madam.’
‘I… I didn’t order anything.’
She inspected the shadowy frame. Bloodshot eyes stared at her.
‘I… I don’t ne… need this,’ she said.
‘Sorry madam. Maybe wrong room.’
He disappeared as unexpectedly as he had appeared.
Sam returned to her desk and collected the scattered pages of her manuscript. To her dismay, the last five pages she had written were missing. She frantically searched the bedside, floor and every corner of the small room but they couldn’t be traced. An eerie disquiet overcame her. Dr. North had gone absconding from the entire manuscript. None of the pages that had any reference to him could be found. How was this possible? Where could he be? Was she being delusional? Or was her brain overworked by the long hours of frantic writing? Only three weeks away from the submission of the full manuscript to the publisher; and the pivotal scenes were lost. She had disturbed sleep that night, fraught by sequences of bad-dreaming and waking up.
The next morning Sam filed a complaint with the hotel owner cum manager.
‘I… I… I think there was a theft last night in m… my room.’
In his mid-fifties, dressed in a charcoal grey suit and a tawdry tie, the owner exuded charm and confidence, but Sam found him quite disagreeable.
‘Theft in my hotel? Impossible. Can you tell me what was stolen?’
‘Few pages from m.. my manuscript are missing,’ she replied.
‘Sorry, did you say manuscript?’
‘I… I am a fiction wri… writer. I have been working on my b… book’
‘Mostly locked up in your room the entire day?’
‘I… I don’t want to be disturbed.’
She went on to describe the unusual circumstances of the previous night and her discovery of the mysterious act. ‘I need to find those pages. Else I will seek out the police,’ she concluded.
‘That is quite an incredible story, Ms. Samuel Clooney?’ he said in a tone of mild amusement.
‘THAT – is what happened.’
‘Is that your real name?’
‘That is my ps… pseu… pseudonym.’
‘Ah yes. And your real name is -?’
‘I.. I.. like to be called Samuel. It makes me feel good about m… myself.’
‘Call me The Owner. It makes me feel proud,’ he said mockingly. ‘It might interest you that I used to be a Professor of English literature in the University. Anyway. What brings you to this city?’
‘My mother is from Delhi, though my father is an American –’ Her voice trailed off. There was no need to explain herself to him.
‘Can you find out who could have entered m… my room?’ She stood up to leave.
‘You have my assurance. I will check with my staff about this. Do you suspect anyone?’
She shook her head in doubt.
As she stepped out of the manager’s office, her gaze settled on the twenty something man at the reception desk. His bony frame resembled the shadowy figure she had seen at her door the previous night. Except that he appeared bright and friendly.
‘Good morning, madam,’ he greeted her from the distance.
Still viewing him with suspicion, she nodded at him out of politeness and walked out of the hotel entrance.
The man rushed out to walk along with her. ‘My name is Bakshi. I loved both your books.’
Samuel was pleasantly surprised that an upcoming author like her had some following in this part of the world. Her first two books had fetched her fair amount of success but didn’t earn her the tag of bestselling author in America. Her first book sold a few hundred copies and close to a thousand copies of her second book found readers after she managed to generate some visibility on social media. At the age of thirty-four, she hadn’t made great money yet.
‘You must have great imagination. To think of how your protagonist tracks down his prey and eliminates them in his trademark style.’ Bakshi interjected her thoughts.
‘Mmm… It is hard work,’ she replied.
Ever since her childhood, Sam had been restless, fidgety, socially awkward and reclusive. It reflected in her unsteady handwriting and the stammer in her speech. Severely bullied in school, she took refuge in writing stories that alternated between fantastic fairy lands and the dark recesses of the human mind. Her inner struggle between her frail emotions and fierce purpose to suppress them surfaced in the characters she fictionalised. One such character that emerged out of her creative ingenuity was Dr. North.
‘Pardon my interference. I overheard your conversation with your publisher yesterday. I am assuming you travelled here looking for inspiration. What are you writing next?’
‘I… I have lost m… my plot.’
Bakshi ignored the desperation in her voice and prattled further.
‘I am sure you will come up with a novel idea and sign the contract.’
Sam remembered her excitement after completing her first book, Campus Man. Dr. North was introduced as the silent predator in the Texas University campus. His mission was to lure students who were addicted to drugs and alcohol and ruthlessly slay them.
‘My favourite is your second book. Scary shit. I would never step into any subway station in my life; not to face Dr. North lurking around to kill the wastrels and the jobless.’
‘I am glad you liked it.’
‘I used to work as a crime reporter for a weekly magazine. In my brief stint, I covered several maniacs; those who injected their victims with barbiturates and potassium solution or slashed their necks or bludgeoned them with iron rods. The job was too overwhelming.’
The conversation was taking an uncomfortable turn for Sam.
‘You talk a lot, Mr. Bakshi.’ Sam conveyed her annoyance.
Bakshi lowered his voice and said almost in a whisper – ‘I still have the nose to sniff around leads that can inspire your writing. I recently heard of a killer on the loose who feeds his victims cucumbers laced with cyanide. Does that interest you?’
Bakshi’s face widened with a menacing grin. His statement gave her goosebumps. She ran away from him in the opposite direction. Unable to comprehend anything she wandered through the congested roads. She got pushed around by people whose baser instincts erupted at the sight of a lone white woman. Many faces – mean, gaunt, crooked, rugged, hideous – appeared in front of her and melted away into the moving crowds. Was there a Dr. North among them? Was he tracking her down? Sam felt dizzy and decided to go back to her room.
Once she reached the hotel, she tucked herself inside the room and stayed put without asking for lunch. Her writing mission had abruptly halted. Perhaps it was time for her to curtail her stay and return to New York. Drained out by emotions and anxiety, Sam fell asleep in the mini sofa. She wasn’t sure how many hours she had slept. It was late night when an abrasive sound woke her up. She thought she saw a man at the window staring at her. The apparition vanished in an instant, but she felt unsafe. She hurriedly packed her belongings to leave. It was 10:30 pm and she had to wait till the morning.
She thought of ordering some food, but she didn’t feel hungry. She sat at the large wooden desk and decided to write as a welcome distraction. Stymied by a blocked mind, her hand refused to move on paper. Soon the clock struck the midnight hour. The eerie silence of the night was broken by heavy footsteps at the door. Her heart pounded hard. A loud knock followed. She remained frozen at her desk as the door creaked open.
‘You must not forget to lock the door in a hotel room,’ said a gruff voice. Sam turned around to find a sturdy person in a brown overcoat enter the room. He walked with a tormenting gait towards the desk and showed his face in the arc of the table lamp. She recognised him. It was The Owner.
‘Weren’t you expecting to meet Dr. North? Here I am.’ he said in a foreboding tone as he seated himself opposite her on the bed.
Sam felt a lump in her throat.
‘You are good writer, Ms. Clooney. I see potential, yet unused to the fullest. What is holding you back?’
She refused to be drawn into dissection of her works. Even so, she was struck by the observations he made further.
‘Get rid of these vermin. Those who have failed themselves do not deserve to live in the society. It is better to end their miserable being on this Earth.’ He quoted Dr. North from The Subway Murderer. ‘I see the subconscious choice you made to create your protagonist. The methodical killer with a fascination for targeting those who are failures in mainstream society.’
‘M… My stories are inspired by what I… I see.’
‘Or a reflection of yourself? Have you ever felt vulnerable when you created such a devious character, Ms. Clooney? It might just be the hour to write your own destiny.’ The Owner dug his hand into the overcoat and placed sundry things on the table – a plate, a cucumber and a bottle of cyanide.
Sam’s face was filled with horror. Her entire body stiffened.
‘You must write, Ms. Clooney. Let your story flow on the paper without choking or stuttering; your pen shouldn’t drop unless the ink dries out or the night fades away. Meanwhile, I will peel the cucumber and garnish the salad with the poison. If you fail to write tonight, I will serve this for dinner. Shall we start?’
He glared into her eyes with a fiendish expression. As though dazed by the hypnotic effect, Sam picked up the pen and went back to her manuscript. She had to resume from where she had left off. The blurry lines sharpened in front of her. The footsteps gained momentum as Dr. North approached the scene of action with grim determination. He had cornered his victim into submission. The plot slowly came back to her and she wrote at a frenetic pace even as The Owner watched over her. Occasionally she paused for a breather, but he slyly indicated towards the cucumber salad and she went back to her page. As the night passed, she had written non-stop for over three hours. The Owner’s surveillance was beginning to waver. Just when she desperately needed a break, the electricity went out. Sam seized the opportunity to hurl herself at him and knocked his head violently with the heavy table lamp. He fell unconscious and she bolted out of the room with whatever she could gather.
This morning, Sam rushed into my office with an expression of great relief. She looked cheerful unlike the gloomy person she had become lately. Something had been bothering her. Her third book, Cool As A Cucumber, was released last month and it took the literary world by storm. Within few weeks, it hit the best seller lists. Despite the fame she attained, Sam announced, ‘I am not going to write for a while,’ and that worried me as a publisher.
I then probed her about this changed demeanour. And thereby, Sam narrated to me the story above, of how the author was almost terrorised by her creation.
‘I am glad this has come to an end,’ she said. ‘I got this email a while ago.’
Dear Ms. Clooney,
Congratulations on your book. It’s a compelling yarn. Ingenious. Riveting. I am glad you have finally arrived. With deeper conviction about yourself. I acknowledge the indirect reference to me in the title. As a failed writer myself, I envy your success. I set you free from my stranglehold.
Dr. Govardhan Nath
‘I think I will go back to India and work on my next book,’ said Sam.
‘Not Delhi, maybe?’ she smiled thoughtfully.
==>This is an entry for Artales-17, #DrNorth, an ArtoonsInn writing event.
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