It had just been six months since Ram Nath had moved into his new apartment enclave. Generally an extrovert, he’d managed to befriend a lot of his neighbours and had even secured invites for the odd meal at their homes. However one family had managed to evade him. Though he did occasionally bump into them in the common areas, they largely remained reclusive. And this made him curious.
As a retired man, Ram Nath no longer found most materialistic things interesting. His only daughter was settled in Canada, and despite her numerous requests, he’d refused to join her. He mostly found solace in books, movies and gossip, and probably as a consequence, he’d developed this ideology that people who were introverts or reticent in nature, had something to hide. So he took it upon himself to discover what “these” people had to hide, that they were unwilling to let people into their lives. And his new neighbours seemed to be the epitome of secrecy. Not only did he not manage to uncover any information about them, he had not even managed to get a glimpse into their apartment. And if the block electrician was to be believed, their electricity bill was through the roof. From his experience of Sci-Fi movies and books, this unusual electricity surge had to indicate that they were working on something that required a lot of power. This further piqued his curiosity.
“It’ll be cool if they were like Super Heroes, or better yet, aliens!” Ram had thought when he’d first heard this news from the electrician. So he waited patiently, occasionally holding up a glass tumbler to the walls in order to listen to what was happening next door. Weeks soon turned into months, and Ram was no closer to finding out anything interesting about his reclusive neighbours. So he decided to try a different approach. Based on a few days of precision monitoring, he discovered that the lady of the house left at 0900 hours and did not return till about 1830 hours. The man of the house, strangely enough, hardly seemed to leave the house during the day. Except at 0830 hours, when he disappeared along with his toddler son. He soon returned empty handed which led him to believe that the couple were sending their son somewhere, probably to play school. The other time he’d seen the man leave the apartment was at 1330 hours when he again disappeared for approximately 30 minutes after which he returned with the toddler. Ram even followed the man around for a few days to try and chit-chat with him. But it had proven futile as the man was not a great conversationalist. Apart from a few customary nods and head shakes, the man did not offer any new pieces of information. At the risk of being termed a stalker, Ram had also tried initiating conversation with the lady. Though she’d initially appeared more communicative and outgoing than her husband, she too stuck to mostly one word answers. The only positive had been that he’d managed to discover that she worked at one of the corporate offices nearby and that her husband was an engineer who was self-employed.
For the next few days, Ram tried to divert his attention from the couple next door. And to some extend, he was successful. But some loud clattering noises from next door, one fine morning, ignited his curiosity once again. He slowly tip-toed to their front door and put his ear to their front door. He could hear loud noises and the clanging of metallic parts. “Is the engineer trying to build something?” he wondered as he continued to listen. Suddenly the voices went quiet and Ram heard quick steps approaching the door. Just as the door swung open, Ram managed to pull his ears away and pose as if he was about knock on their door. Ram stared at the behemoth of the man who opened the door. He was dressed in his pyjamas but had a long apron covering the front. He held a spatula in one hand and a butcher knife in the other which was dripping with a crimson coloured liquid. “Yes?” enquired the man. Ram was quick to respond (too quick, he thought in retrospect).“ Oh, I just heard some sounds and wanted to check if everything was ok” he said trying to peer in between the man, at the apartment. “Oh, that’s nothing. Thank you for checking, but we’re alright. I must go now. I’m a bit….occupied!” said the man with a smirk. Once their door shut, Ram let out a loud sigh. That had been a close one. But he was still curious. What was an engineer doing at home, in the middle of the morning, holding a butcher knife ? Why would a man want to cook, if that is in fact what he was doing? And whose was the other voice he’d heard? He was sure he’d seen the lady leave for work in the morning.
After the incident, Ram had tried not to appear too interested in their activities. But the behaviour of the rather strange couple, still haunted his mind. And then out of the blue, fate presented Ram with a unique opportunity. One day, as he was collecting the morning newspaper and milk from outside his flat at 0600 hours, he saw the lady of the house leave. The man of the house was at the door waving her a good bye. As soon as they noticed him they fell ominously silent. Though they’d smiled at him, he couldn’t help but think that they were hatching something that they didn’t want him to know. And the fact that his sixth sense was tingling, added weight to this assumption of his. Back inside, Ram paced up and down his flat. He was certain that the man was up to something illegal and that’s why all this secrecy was required. Why else would a grown man stay indoors all day long? And why would they send a toddler, who from the looks of it, was barely 2 years old, away for almost half a day? Something fishy was going on, and he was going to get to the bottom of it. He needed to find out what they were like. And that’s when he had an idea. Since the lady of the house had left far earlier than she usually did, the house would potentially be empty when the man went off at 0830 hours to drop the toddler off. From his previous observations, he knew that he would be away for a minimum of thirty minutes. “That’s more than enough time for me to discover what he’s up to” thought Ram as he congratulated himself on the daring idea. Ram wasn’t too bothered about the door being locked, since he already had a lock picking kit. And since the locks of all the main doors in the apartment enclave were manufactured by the same company, picking it would be a cinch.
At 0830 hours on the dot, he heard the doors to 805 (the one next door to his) shut. Through the door viewer, he saw the man and the toddler get into the lift. He quietly pocketed his tools and exited his flat. Cautiously he made his way towards the lift, and made sure that the one that the man and his son had entered into were at the ground floor. And then he proceeded towards their door. It took a little over five minutes to get the main door open. He waited for a few seconds to make sure that no alarms went off and that there were no hidden traps behind or above the door. Slowly he entered the apartment and looked around. The first thing that he noticed were that the curtains were all drawn and all the doors to all the rooms were closed. He hoped that they weren’t locked, since in the interest of not carrying any extra weight, he had only taken the picking head for the main door.
The living room was considerably spacious and was equipped with a state of the art television, home theatre system and gaming console. “Well, they sure do take their entertainment seriously!” thought Ram as he slowly made his way through the living area. En route to the kitchen, a large wooden bookshelf caught his attention and he quickly peered through the glass doors. He wasn’t surprised to note that most of them were spy thrillers along with a few “Templar” fiction sort of books, based on the Dan Brown kind of genre. There was also a few memoirs and a handful of children’s books. He quickly glanced at the kitchen, which was exceptionally neat and shiny. However one thing caught his attention. The refrigerator doors were completely covered with souvenir magnets from different countries and cities. “Looks like they’re well-travelled” thought Ram, as he tried to identify some of the countries from their iconic structures. Unable to find anything out of place there, he tried one of the doors that was closed. It wasn’t locked and it swung open. It was a nursery, filled with all kinds of toys, including a tent in the corner, filled with lots of multi-coloured balls. As he was about to shut the door, content that nothing out of the ordinary was going on in this room, he noticed a slight movement from the tent area. As he cautiously approached it, something suddenly darted up from behind the tent, causing him to stumble and fall down. He looked up to find a tall, almost life-size, Jack-in-the-box figure smiling back at him.
Ram let out a sigh of relief, and glanced at the clock. Twenty minutes had passed and so far, apart from a technology packed living room, a neat kitchen and a bookshelf overrun by spy thrillers, he hadn’t discovered anything worthwhile. He slowly proceeded to the next room, which too was unlocked. It was the master bedroom and in the corner was a rather large desk, atop which were numerous gadgets. There was an Apple laptop which was connected to two 24”inch monitors, a set of JBL multimedia speaker systems, a wireless keyboard and mouse combination and lots of other tiny light-emitting technological equipment that he couldn’t identify. “This has to be where they hatch their plans” mused Ram as he tried to login to the computer. After attempting to guess the password a few times, he quickly moved on to a cupboard, which was appeared to be locked. Cursing himself for not bringing the remaining pieces of the lock picking kit, he gave the sliding doors a strong push. As the door suddenly slid open, he glanced at the shelves. Most of them were filled with clothes and some jewellery. But one particular shelf caught his attention. Though smaller than the others, it was neatly arranged, with rows after rows of men’s watches, of all unique shapes. “Why on earth would anyone have so many watches?” wondered Ram as he stood mesmerised by what he saw. As he glanced at one of the many watches that adorned the shelf, he realised that he was almost out of time. He slowly slid the cupboard door and exited the room. As he turned around, after shutting the bedroom door, he was alarmed to note that the man was sitting on the sofa staring at him. “So, Mr. Ram Nath, did you find what you were looking for?” asked the man, with a stern look on his face. Ram gulped. He was in a lot of trouble.