“Run, Missus! It is not safe for you here any more” the boy implored. “Nonsense, Jonathan. You have a very active imagination.” She ruffled his hair, noting with a slight smile how he coloured when her fingers grazed his forehead accidentally. “Now get to work” she reminded him firmly, but not unkindly. Several moments passed with the pair working perfectly in unison. “Your Master was married twice before, was he not?” She asked suddenly. The boy nodded. “Do you know how they died? I have heard people talk. I know he can be a bit rough around the edges, but he is not as bad as they think him to be.” She continued. The boy looked surprised, peered at her from between his sandy hair. For a long time, he didn’t say anything. She watched him. He seemed to be shifting from foot to foot, contemplating and struggling with something. “He killed them, Missus! He is a bad man, he deserves to rot in Hell. You shouldn’t be here!” He burst out hotly, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. “Jonathan!” She went after him, shocked at his outburst. She was ready to reprimand him strongly for what he said. She followed him, and found him sniveling while feverishly ruffling around in the Master’s workshop. “What do you think you are doing?” She said sharply, pulling him away. “Wait, please… I want to show you something.” He pulled out miniature ceramic figurines of women, rendered so beautifully. “He made this? They are so life – like. He never told me about his artistic abilities”. She was astonished. Showing her the figurine of the woman in a bath tub, Jonathan said “This was his first wife. God bless her, she was as saintly as they come. She was his cousin. She always had a kind word for everyone.” He paused. ” How did she die? I heard that she died shortly after childbirth.” She inquired. “The Master wanted a boy. She gave birth to a girl child. The Master was displeased. He drowned them both in the tub and threatened me with the same fate if I told anybody. Besides who would ever believe that someone of his stature would do something so heinous?” His voice rang out in that shed. She shuddered slightly. Regardless of whether it was true, it was a horrible story. She was tempted to cut the boy’s pay for the day. What a horrid boy, him and his imagination! Spreading such lies! She crossed her hands, gazed at him levelly betraying none of her thoughts or emotions. “And what about this one? I am presuming this is the second one then?” She asked him as she turned around a figurine slightly more voluptuous than the first one with a sunny smile. This one looked to be in repose. “She was indeed his second wife. The post master’s daughter. We were classmates. She was vivacious and had a lovely, singing voice. I liked her a lot. You could even say, I was a bit sweet on her. And I think she knew. Which is why it came as a shock to me when the Master brought her home as his new bride.” Jonathan looked away, his eyes burning. She reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “She was seventeen, and with child when she supposedly fell down the stairs. I had heard them arguing the day before. He was accusing her of infidelity, and she, the same. It was true that she had taken up with a young writer at the lodge down the street and she was planning to run away in order to escape the tyranny of the master. Somehow, the Master found out. A passionate fight ensued between the two of them. She was never one to mince words. When it happened, they were the only two people in the house. Or so I am told.” The words spilled out, as if he had held them in for years. He probably had. She mused. “What makes you think I am not safe anymore?” “I found this when I was cleaning the shed yesterday.” With trembling fingers, he handed over a brown paper bundle tied in string. Puzzled, she unwrapped the bundle, and let the contents fall to the ground with a scream. There lay on the ground, fragments of what was earlier, a perfectly rendered miniature figurine of her.
(This is the first, and the more realistic version of what might happen in these sort of scenarios. The second one, the happier version is to follow… shortly.)
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the email. “Dear Maya, it has been fourteen months since you dropped that incisive, amusing and insightful critique of my book. We have been corresponding since then. I think your acerbic wit is delightful, you have a way with words and our mutual love for symbolism brings me to this decision. I will be in your city next week, and I thought of sharing a first draft of my next release. I want to gather your thoughts on it, I will be there for about ten days. So, think about it and we can set it up. As always, I hope that the odds have ever been in your favour” This was followed by a ten-digit number. Had he given out his mobile number? Surely not, it was probably his P.A. or agent. My hands were trembling only slightly as I picked up the phone and headed outside to the Cherry Blossom cafe and sat at my favourite table beneath the rose gold lights casting long shadows, even as the Sun was about to go down in the distance. I gestured to the waiter that it would take a while, I had run here all the way, patting the paper in my chest pocket. I took out the print of the e-mail and re – read it several times. “Irish coffee and a slice of the red velvet indulgence” I said to the waiter who nodded smilingly, looking curiously at the paper in my hand. As he walked away, my head was full of questions. My heart was palpitating as I pressed the numbers on my phone. “Hello? ” a smooth baritone said. I dropped the phone in shock. No Way! This was his personal number! I could still hear him saying hello, before the line was finally disconnected. I took a fortifying sip of the scalding coffee that had arrived and winced. He would think I am such a wuss. I called again. He was busy. Of course, he would be, he was a best-selling author. Not a carefree teenager sitting by the phone, waiting. I wrung my palms, trying to stay calm and I started counting to a hundred. I had gotten to 86 when Shape of You by Ed Sheeran rang out loudly. My phone, it was him! He had called back! I blew on my cold hands before answering. “Hi?” I ventured nervously knowing who was on the other end of the line. “Maya, hey! How are ya? This is Amit” he said. What followed was a delightful eleven minute conversation with me oscillating between excitement and nervousness. We fixed up a weekend meeting.
The weekend couldn’t come soon enough.
“I went over to Sunshine Cafe, smoothing my hair nervously as I walked inside. He was already there. Smiling slightly as he sipped from his own cup. I held out my hand, smiling a little too brightly. We sat down. I looked around, the whole room held one table. Ours, and the setting reflected the very same as that of the first time Pedro and June, my favourite characters from his novel go on their first date. First Date? Wait, whoa. Why was this room done up in this fashion? I backed away slightly, feeling a bit strange as he took in my appearance and his eyes held a strange light I didn’t understand. I tugged at my “Owl Always Love You” tee self – consciously. “Nice choice of attire” he said, smirking at the reference to a quote from a novel by one of our favourite authors. I shrugged. He then took out a slightly voluminous bundle and handed it to me. “280 pages, I trust that you will not show it to anybody. We will meet just before I leave to discuss your thoughts on it. Okay?” he asked. I nodded. Then talk shifted to politics, books and movies etc. As we parted ways, he said “I really enjoyed meeting you. I think there is a pretty good author hidden away, somewhere within you.” I waved to him and began walking away rapidly in the opposite direction feeling happy and floaty, as I clutched the black bundle tightly to my chest.”
Oh, how lovely if that had been the case. But it was not. For the truth made the headlines. The body was found in an alley, close to the highway. There had been no sexual assault. A bunch of titles by Amit Dwivedi had been found, along with an email, and a phone number, the address of a cafe. When the police questioned the author, he claimed that he had never known the victim or corresponded with her. He did not understand the diary entry either, had she written a fictitious and hopeful account of what she thought their meeting was going to be like? He had been in Bangalore, sure but not on the dates mentioned in the email. That was not his phone number either, and he furnished sufficient proof to back up his claims. The police were satisfied and let him go. They looked at the CCTV footage of Sunshine Cafe where they were supposed to have met. The baffling thing was that she had never showed up there. They looked at the call records, there had been a bunch of calls suggesting some possible last-minute plan changes. She was an extremely private person, or had not confided in her friends about the change in plans. Tracking the phone was to no avail either. The killer had gotten away scot – free. What the police, the author and media couldn’t figure out was why someone would spend over a year impersonating the author, and then fix up a meeting only to kill the girl. The sight of the mangled corpse was a grotesque one, one that would haunt the author for years to come. He explored it over the course of several years through his various stories but was never able to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Neither did the police.
Finally, the case file was closed and put away with the rest of the cold cases rotting away in the precinct’s Records Room.
(Note: None of the characters belong to me, only the plot and ideas, and the execution are mine. This is a fiction based on the popular CW series, Riverdale which is a contemporary, darker adaptation of the super popular Archie comics featuring Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica and the rest of the gang.)
“Our small town, what happened to the little joyous and meaningful moments that we spent here in more than sixteen years. One popular redhead, one murder and this town has changed forever. People look at each other with hooded eyes, suspicion and fear writ large on their face. They don’t know who to trust, they don’t know who the killer could be. They don’t know who is next. I am Forsythe P. Jones but I prefer to go by Jughead, or Juggie as She calls me. She is the single ray of hope in my ever-meaningless existence, that is a miasma of kaleidoscopic experiences each that I use to amplify my mind and contribute to my writing. Oh yes, weirdly quiet kid wants to be a writer. There is nothing cliche about that. I am penning this because I want to get to the heart of this mystery, She wants us to. She misses our good old days more than she cares to admit. I see it in the diminishing light of her formerly sparkling blue eyes that lit up with humour when she spoke of her exploits. Now her family is being torn asunder in a family feud, lies and betrayal. She is rudderless, as I am. We have found a sort of comfort in each other, each playing it by the ear not knowing how this came to be, or where this is headed. I fear that once again the love light will be kindled in her eyes, and she is going to smile the same way she did all through our childhood at Him. But when she is with me, the world looks just a little brighter and filled with promise.” Jughead Jones balled up the paper and threw it just outside of the bin, earning a glare from Pop. He smiled lazily in apology and stretched out his long limbs as he sauntered casually to pick it up, and placed it in his pocket not wanting anybody to see it. “God, Jones. Get a grip. Stop acting like a lovesick teenager.” He placed the loose change on the counter top, doffing his beanie to Pop once again for the superlative burgers and shake. It would have to do, until his next meal. Speaking of which, he had to go meet Her in an hour from now, help ready his discarded trailer and turn it into a sort of living space fit for himself and his sister. JB. Jellybean. Thoughts of dark curls and her impish grin flashed before his eyes and he found himself smiling genuinely, involuntarily. Their mother had wanted nothing to do with their father but had conceded visitation rights during weekends or holidays. Fourteen-year-old Jellybean had never so far shown an interest in reconciliation until the last time that she read his article in the Gold and Blue, and his investigation into the Blossom murder piqued her attention. She was finally ready to receive him at their home in Jersey. So, he went, by himself despite his girlfriend’s protests that he shouldn’t have to do so alone. They chatted for seven hours and Jughead came to realise they had more in common than the Jones name. She too, like him had known bullying. She too thought ahead of her time, she too was different. Different, like him. He wished that she could have had the mom and pop picket fence life she deserved, she was far too cynical for a fourteen-year-old. Hesitantly he had offered to host her at his “home” and she ecstatically nodded. So, it was set. That following weekend would be spent with him and the gang who were all curious to see ole JB. His lip curled in distaste as he thought of the wrecked state of affairs in his trailer that he shared with his father and renowned Serpent, FP Jones. Betty, bless her sweet, wonderful self had volunteered to him clean up and make the trailer fit and presentable for JB’s weekend.
She was already waiting for him at the trailer with, he noted with an unpleasant jolt… Archie. They were both wearing overalls and perfect smiles, looking like the All-American dream team. Pushing down his insecurity, he went and pulled her in for a long kiss. He broke apart when he heard throats being cleared loudly. He looked around and saw Kevin and Veronica smirking at him. “Guys, let’s get started.” Betty took a bucket of soapy water and got to work on the outside of his dusty, musty trailer. Kevin and Ronnie’s nostril flared as the rank smell of old socks, unwashed laundry and whiskey hit them. “Um, sorry” Jughead said, sheepishly stowing away FP’s stash. “This is really quite good, distinctive oaky flavour” Kevin said, taking a long sip of the amber liquid that burned through his veins. “Put that away, Kevin. We aren’t here to party. We are here to make Juggiekins presentable.” Veronica commanded, clearly the boss of any room she was in. Even if said room was more of a filthy, lived in trailer. Archie looked at her in wonder, and neither Jughead nor Kevin missed the look that passed between the two of them. He wondered how long before they would be found out, more importantly… How would Betty take it? How would it impact their social circles?
The gang were hard at work, the girls had brought linen and doily samples, the boys repainted the inside. Betty even brought a Welcome mat and a crystal blue vase filled with sunflowers. “A touch of blue and gold” she whispered in to his ear, smiling at him in a way that made his chest tighten uncomfortably, but not wholly unpleasantly. “You have to bring her around for tea and cakes at Lodge Manor” Veronica ordered imperiously, flashing him that impertinent grin. He could see how she could ensnare the heart of the redhead who looked like he would ask “How high?” if she asked him to jump. He thumped Archie on his back, bringing him out of his reverie. The place now looked charming and airy, touches of powdery blue used sparingly. The kitchenette was all cleaned up and simple but fancy lace doily lay about, evoking a cozy, homely feel.
“Let me walk you home” Jughead offered, as it had gone quite dark and they never knew what lurked about. “My chivalrous hero” she deadpanned and then giggled, the sweet musical sound of it filling the air. The others had gone their separate ways in their respective cars. They walked in companionable silence for a while. “Juggie, Ethel came to me the other day and said she had big news. She wouldn’t tell me what it was, but she said she was working on confirming it. She said it was related to the Blossom murder, and possibly someone who was involved in the case. I didn’t check for eavesdroppers and I haven’t since heard from her. Do you think she is okay? Oh God, we should never have discussed it in a public place like Pop’s where anybody could have heard her, and followed her home. Oh Juggie, what do we do?” He knew that tell-tale look of panic and he rubbed her shoulders to reassure her. “Hey, everything is going to be okay, Juliet” he said. She smiled at the nickname and took his hand, as if holding on to her last shred of sanity and dear life.
*Meanwhile on the other side of the Sweetwater River*
“Please, let me go!” Her shrieks rose in desperation. A large, manly hand reached out across the darkness and smacked her across the face. “Nobody will hear you out here, Ethel Muggs” he said, scornfully, the stranger’s voice low and menacing. “I promise to retract my story and tell the Blue and Gold it was probably nothing. I won’t tell anybody, I swear. Please let me go” she sobbed in terror, knowing she would never likely make it. She saw the scuff marks on the floor where Jason had been held captive and where his body had been dragged, the red splash across the wall where the bullet had ricocheted and caused some of his blood to spatter across the warm hued walls of the cabin where Sheriff Keller stood. He looked completely different, manic as he paced about with his personal silver Colt gleaming faintly in the moonlight that was streaming through the dusty windows. Her wrists were starting to burn from the constant effort she made to escape while the Sheriff was away. Her ankles chafed as the ropes bit into her skin. She knew somebody must have noticed her disappearance by now. It had been going on two days nearly that she had missed school. Ethel Muggs had never missed school, not even when she had had the flu. As if reading her thoughts, the Sheriff smiled and said “Yes, we have decided to look for you another day or two, and then file a Missing Persons report. Although you will probably not make it past then.” he said contemplatively. “Oh yes, they were quite distraught. That meddling Nancy Drew and her Romeo Friday. I have promised them my best efforts in looking for you.” his cold laughter rang chillingly through the cabin. “Kevin doesn’t expect me to be back for a couple hours. How about you and I have a little chat about how you found out about me?” She nodded mutely, knowing the more she talked, the greater her chances of being found by some hikers. If only she lasted the night. “I was helping the Blue and Gold with their expose of the Serpents. I followed Joaquin one day to a bar across town where I heard whispers of a dirty cop. I heard that someone was involved in the drugs game. I saw you in the bar that day and wondered. You weren’t there for any particular reason like raiding the place or letting someone off on a friendly warning. You, Joaquin and FP went into a meeting that lasted too long for me to see the end of it. In the next couple of days, the new gang The White Cobras got dismantled and the gang was put in jail. All including Oswald Piers, while writing the exposé for the Blue and Gold I came across the fact that his mother’s maiden name had been Blossom. She had been disowned for marrying beneath her station. A theory began to form in my head. What if he had been the one to help Jason Blossom and not the Serpents, with the drugs? A short interview with him quickly cleared things up and I realised the gang had been set up, he had been framed in the robbery you had arrested them for. That meant you or someone in your department were dirty, I wondered how deep this ran.” “That’s when you came to me” Keller finished for her. That Blossom kid hit upon us making a deal in the woods that day and what happened next had to be done. He laughed in our faces and threatened to expose me, he proceeded to make blackmail demands that he wanted for his new life, including cash. Oh, that fool, he thought he could get away with blackmailing me. I have no regrets for what I did.” She heard a click and closed her eyes. It would all be over in a moment.
Five days later, Sheriff Keller and his team fished out the body of Ethel Muggs from the Sweetwater River. Her skin glowed in a pale and waxy manner, her corpse had bloated in an undignified and unsightly manner, there was the tell-tale sign of the entry wound placed squarely in the middle of her skull. Once again, a hush fell among the people of Riverdale. Shocked that something like this could happen to someone like her. They held on to each other, their secrets and their lies. This town would never be the same again. “But as long as people had each other, they were going to be okay” fingers danced across the old keyboard, as Jughead Jones typed out the Ethel Muggs story for the Blue and Gold, and shut his laptop down. A lone tear made its way down his pale, angular cheeks as he walked out into the twilight, reminiscing and mourning his sweet, deceased friend.