It Can’t Be You by Prem Rao: When Colonel Belliappa, Indian Army (Retd), a highly decorated war hero is found dying one night frothing at the mouth in anguish, there is no one else at home. Other than his immediate family. His wife, his daughter and his son. Did he, who killed so many, kill himself to bury something dreadful from his past? Or, was he killed? His death sets the clock back to his life as a career officer in the Indian Army. He fights with great valor in the 1971 war against Pakistan which leaves him physically and psychologically scarred for life. Years later, his aggression and maniacal bravery leads to a secret assignment. He is handpicked to command a crack team of Indian Army snipers as an irregular force to fight intruders and militants in the Kashmir Valley from 1989. Today, he is a partner in a flourishing and successful armaments firm. The Colonel finds himself in a series of conflicts with his family, amongst others. Standing to gain from his death, they plan to kill him for their own reasons, quite unknown to each other. Do Colonel Belliappa and his family pay the ultimate price? For the spiral of vengeance he himself triggered some decades ago.
Had one been able to, they would have seen a shadowy figure step into the corridor, look left and right and move swiftly to one of the bedrooms. Not more than ten minutes would pass from the time the scurrying figure entered one of the upper floor bedrooms, before it would re-appear in the corridor and scurry back to where it came from. The figure was hunched low and moving fast so as to be less visible to a watcher- if at all there was one. It was indeed difficult to determine whether that figure was that of a man, a woman or something else. The bungalow was after all over a hundred years old. One couldn’t be sure how many people had died there leaving their spirits to wander around- if they did that at all.
It was well past midnight when suddenly the silence was broken by a woman’s high pitched scream. By any standards it was loud and frenetic- in the quiet of the night it was deafening. Outside the bungalow, Rolf started barking ferociously and raced around the compound. The scream came from one of the bedrooms upstairs.
Pritam whose bedroom was across the hall raced towards where the scream came from. He saw his father’s bedroom door wide open. The lights were on and Elena stood there holding her hand to her mouth. She looked absolutely pale and shaken. There was shock in her large blue eyes and what she said was indistinct but she pointed to the floor with a hand that shook. The chair in which Col. Belliappa was sitting had toppled with him in it. He was lying on the ground, his arms outstretched, the fingers on one hand were half clenched, the pain on his face was so clear to see. His face looked almost grotesque, red and puffy. His thick eyebrows were knit together and the mouth was shaped in what could be described as either a grimace or a scowl. His swollen tongue hung out as if in defiance. Somewhere near his legs, his reading glasses lay on the ground still intact despite the fall. The closed windows with the curtains drawn made the room more stuffy and gloomy. It was fast becoming claustrophobic in here. Pritam felt his pulse and knew what he had feared when he first saw the body on the floor. His father was dead.
Within minutes the entire household had gathered there. They stood around in deep shock. Bahadur broke down and wept. He had seen too much of death and knew instantly what had happened. He had known the Colonel for over 30 years. It seemed clear to them that this was no heart attack or stroke. You didn’t need to a medical specialist to know that the colonel had suffered towards the end. Glass pieces from the glass which held the whisky and soda lay shattered around the body. His mouth was open and puke fell in a puddle. In place of the rows of medal ribbons that normally decorated his left chest, lay a stream of puke. There was a strange smell in the room – a mixture of alcohol, vomit and –death.
What had happened? Who had done this? Was the Colonel taken by surprise? Why hadn’t anyone heard noises of a struggle? How could anyone sneak in with Rolf let loose at night in the compound? Had he choked when drinking something? Was it something that he drank that made him choke?
The lights from the modem linked to the computer on the table blinked as if they knew the answers.
Prem Rao re-invented himself as an author by turning to his passion for writing after 36 years of professional work as a Talent Management specialist and executive coach. He is an alumnus of The Lawrence School, Lovedale; Loyola College, Chennai and XLRI, Jamshedpur. An avid blogger, his professional blog called People at Work & Play is widely-followed globally. More recently, he started a writing blog called Writing To Be Read. His tweets are at : http://twitter.com/premrao. He lives in Bangalore, India and can be reached at email@example.com