A police SUV screeched to a halt in front of a modest split-level house. It had a small but well-kept garden. Trimmed hedges lined the straight drive on both sides. Flower patches and bushes dotted the lush green lawns. A smart, well-dressed man in his early forties stepped out with ‘senior police officer’ stamped all over him. An authoritative knock brought an elderly woman to the door who smiled at him in welcome.
“Jaiswalji! We haven’t seen you in a long time. She is in her studio.” gushed the woman.
“Hello, Sheila. How are you? And our friend?” Beaming her answer in a bright smile, Sheila led him to a closed room, offset to the living room.
There was a Greek-style archway, supported by thin, tooled columns. Sheila opened the door without knocking and, with the familiarity of long years of companionship, announced breathlessly, “O Mala, Chief Inspector Jaiswal is here! You chat with him and I shall get him some refreshments.”
She withdrew noiselessly.
Jaiswal surveyed the familiar features of this exclusively designed sanctum sanctorum of Kanchanamala, the high priestess of Divination. (In mortal terms, she was a high-priced tarot card reader!)
The exposed brick and stone walls, the wood beamed ceiling, and blue and white colors dominating draperies, rugs, and furniture coverings screamed Greek in no uncertain terms. A handcrafted wooden shelf contained several blue bottles of various sizes and shapes, apparently holding various perfumed oils. A pleasant, soothing scent wafted from a couple of candles.
A tall, fair woman in her late fifties dressed in long robes stood from a throne-like ornamental chair. Her auburn hair was rolled up into a kind of a knot on the crown of the head and fastened with a matching pair of golden clasps in the form of coiled snakes. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and armbands, were radiating brilliance. Jaiswal’s untrained eyes detected emeralds, pearls, and diamonds. Jewels sewn into the various parts of her clothing completed the picture of a Greek Goddess.
“May this humble civil servant have an audience with the great Kanchanamala, the renowned Tarot reader and diviner?”, said Jaiswal in solemn undertones.
“Hush with you, silly boy!” She laughed, her rich laughter adding to that something in the atmosphere.“Seat yourself in that comfortable chair, boy. Not the client’s Diwan for you. And how are Darling Madhu and your charming kids?”
After spending almost two hours with Kanchanamala, Jaiswal rushed off to his duties.
* * *
Sheila was getting alarmed. Kanchanamala was behaving strangely for the past few days. Her normally calm demeanor increasingly turned hysterical. She would often wake up screaming from her bed. Oscillating between aggressive behavior and almost catatonic silence, she stopped maintaining her impeccable personality. She urgently summoned Kanchanamala’s daughter, Kavita from Delhi. Kavita took her mother to their family friend and famous psychiatrist, Dr. Kapadia. After prescribing some medicine, Dr. Kapadia admitted her into the famous mental asylum, “The Serenity Mindscape”
After detailed checkups, incorporating various sophisticated diagnostic equipment, Kanchanalak was taken to the Director and Chief Psychiatrist. Dr. Cynthia, in her early forties, exuded the confidence of a true professional. She smiled her welcome and offered a psychiatrist’s couch for Kanchanamala to recline. Kanchanamala was amused to find herself in the reversal of her usual role. Dr, Cynthia took down a detailed history of her patient. She told her that she had had a detailed briefing from Dr. Kapadia. She had scheduled back-to-back meetings with Kavita and Sheila. She then summoned an orderly-cum-nurse in a bright pink uniform to escort Kanchanamala to her quarters.
Kavita sparing no expense, Kanchanamala was assigned a luxurious suite. She seemed to have calmed down significantly. The authorities permitted her to keep Adonis, her German shepherd dog in her quarters. She had also been allowed to carry her full complement of implements for her tarot reading.
After several hour-long sessions in the first week of her confinement. Dr. Cynthia felt that Kanchanamala should not be kept away from her passion for fortune telling. Offering herself as the first Guinea pig, she then sent all the members one by one to Mala for “reading”. Later on, she suggested that the inmates be sent to her, which would have a salubrious influence on both the diviner and her“clients”.
In the confines of her suite, she would often ask them to take off their upper garments so that she could correlate their thoracic contours with their skull measurements. This, she claimed, along with her tarot reading, gave her the complete picture of their past, present, and future. She had an expensive camera and would shoot pictures of her “clients” in various stages of undress.
Around 2 am one night, Adonis clawed at her desperately, emitting a low but persistent growl. He pulled on her robes and dragged her towards the door. Mala surreptitiously tried to open the door and saw that it was locked from the outside. Adonis dragged her to the window in the living room of the suite which opened to the lawns. The billowing curtains indicated that it had been left open. After several false starts and grunting with effort, Mala went through the window and landed softly on the lawns. Adonis followed her silently. Guided by Adonis, they ended up in the vast backyard of the institution.
They hid in the bushes when she spotted some feverish activity. Using portable lights for illumination, a few men were lowering what seemed to be a body into the ground. Mala quickly retreated to the safety of her suite, Adonis noiselessly following her.
She sought an urgent meeting with Dr. Cynthia early the next morning. After an hour-long discussion and a battery of tests, Dr. Cynthia discharged her as fully cured. Kavita and Sheila took her home and strictly confined her to her bedroom and waited hand and foot on her.
That very night, Chief Inspector accompanied by a team, numbering to about 100s, descended on the Serenity Mindspace Campus. Simultaneous raids took place at the residences of Directors and a few well-known surgeons. They discovered a well-guarded entrance with high-quality access control systems. They roused up the security head and resident administrative head and gained access to a well-appointed reception area. A bank of elevators, each large enough to accommodate gurneys to facilitate transportation of patients, led directly to the fifth floor of the building. (Jaiswal was surprised as the official drawings at the municipal corporation showed only four floors for the facility). This floor mainly consisted of a sophisticated information technology module, reception, and a registration area as well as several examining rooms and cabins for surgeons of every specialty. To their utter surprise, there were two more floors with their own access control systems. They found luxurious rooms, several of them occupied by apparently sane but ill and recovering patients. They all appeared affluent, hailing from all parts of the world. They also found a set of state-of-the-art operation theaters. Highly sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic equipment of every known kind were buzzing all over.
The next day, national media, both print and electronic, were agog with sensational news. The headlines screamed,
“International Organ Theft Racket Busted!
Reputed mental asylum involved!!
High and mighty arrested!!!”
The next few days were hectic. The sheer scale of the operation was mind-boggling. National and international investigative agencies got involved. Jaiswal, found himself coordinating with different agencies. He had to perform a careful juggling act to keep bloated egos from different agencies satisfied, taking care to avoid an international diplomatic row!
It came to light that an international syndicate was running this well-oiled illegal organ traffic. Four personalities from Germany, the US, Qatar, and Australia, each of them controlling a sprawling legitimate business empire of their own, had been financing the entire operation.
Serenity, under the garb of charitable work, rounded up homeless, mentally challenged people from all over India. They were a rich source of harvestable organs. An international network would match a waiting list of terminally ill, super rich patients from all over the world with the “donors” they have found. Brilliant surgeons, who have long ago mortgaged their conscience and Hippocratic oath to the smell of green money, smoothly ran the organ transplant leg.
When the dust settled down, industrialists, diplomats, and politicians of various hues had been rounded up. International ramifications and the diplomatic rows that erupted therefrom shook the entire global community.
When everything was over, Chief Inspector Jaiswal was closeted with the Director General of Police, who duly congratulated him and was dying with curiosity to know the details. Jaiswal began his detailed narration, thus:
“Dr. Cynthia, who is the head psychiatrist in the asylum, accidentally stumbled upon the restricted access portion of the computer system. She saw the detailed floor plan of an unnumbered floor of the institution. This floor had separate access, denied to the mental facility. Curious, Cynthia opened the plan. She was flabbergasted to note a state-of-the-art operation theatre complex. Coincidentally, on the very same day, one of her patients had one of their ‘episodes’ and started stripping. She noted that he had telltale surgical scars, indicative of kidney surgery.
She was the consultant for our department for the psychological profiling of criminals. She urgently summoned me to her residence. She recounted the startling information and the obvious inference thereof. She was scared for her safety as she knew that powerful people must be behind the whole operation.
I had come across the famous Tarot reader in an earlier case involving the murder of her close friend. I immediately noted her analytical brain and instinct for crime solving. Her valuable insight helped me solve that case. From time to time, I used to consult her when I hit a roadblock in an investigation. The lady was brilliant at drawing inferences. With your permission, I decided to involve her.
I put the Serenity problem before her. The first thing she did was to conduct an elaborate Tarot reading exercise on both me and herself. She smiled and suggested she get herself admitted to the asylum to dig out evidence. She orchestrated the whole drama of insanity in collaboration with Dr.Kapadia and Dr. Cynthia. She was so convincing in her acting that even Kavita and Sheila were taken in completely.
Under the pretense of card reading of the inmates, she photographed the surgical scars of several of them. One night, she and her dog Adonis saw a body being buried in the dead of the night. This was conveyed to me through Dr. Cynthia. The good doctor acted with great alacrity and got Mala safely discharged. Then she conveyed Mala’s latest finding to me.
That was the one missing piece I needed. Getting her safely out of the clinic and putting Dr. Cynthia in a safe house, I came running to you. With the rapport you enjoy with the national and international agencies, you pushed the right buttons.
I raided the facility and exhumed the corpse which was the result of a botched-up organ harvesting. As you know, later investigations unearthed several such skeletons.
Naturally, Mala does not want any publicity. I get underserved credit! “
The DGP chuckled, “Great job! I am sure the cards foretell a big future for you!”
That evening, Mala, Kavita, and Cynthia were invited to a celebratory dinner at Jaiswal’s place. Kavita, Sheila, and Madhu were flabbergasted when they heard the whole story. They lambasted Jaiswal for putting Mala at great risk.
But the diviner only shook her head,“Bodily harm and death were not on the cards, my dears!” And she chortled with a straight face!
- Dr, Cynthia was put on a witness protection program and is helping the mentally ill in a remote part of the northeast.
- Kanchana mala resumed her roaring divination practice
- Jaiswal had been assigned to the illegal organ prevention wing of the INTERPOL, stationed at Geneva.
Name: Tarot Card Reader
This Post Has 3 Comments
A great thriller with some tough combination of prompts… I got Bollywood movie vibes … but the issue you dealt with was a serious one… well written
This sounds like a sure shot winner! You seem to have worked very hard with your research. Brilliant writing!
What a briliant plot! Despite the police officer appearing in the beginning itself, I couldn’t figure out the role of the asylum and the surprise made the story a better read for me. Loved how the prompts have been used, for a moment I thought K was another of those fraudsters, exploiting people under the sham of her ‘divine power’. I felt the word count constraint towards the second half, where you had to fit in all the explanations – the first half of the story was more lucid. Loved your decision to use three prompts and weave them well into the story. I would not have minded a bit more of Adonis, but I know that word count is the one to blame here! Once again, loved the plot a lot!