Karl cannot sleep during train journeys. Whenever he has to travel overnight on a train, he spend the whole night reading books, listening to music, or preparing some notes for his students.
Karl has been working as a History lecturer at the University for the last four years. He always avoid traveling by train if the distance is too far and needed night travel. But, this time, he had to travel to his wife’s village. There was no airport near her village. There was no direct bus transport either.
In addition to teaching history, Karl enjoying reading detective novels daily. He is an ardent fan of Sherlock Holmes. As always, he bought some new novel in the Railway Station and boarded the train at 7 pm in the evening.
An old couple and two bachelors boarded the train and traveled with him in the same coupe. As the train started, Karl walked through the entire compartment quickly scanning people and their expressions. He would later read the book he bought and check if there is anyone with similar expression in the compartment.
More often than not, he would always find some interesting character during the journey who would be somewhat similar to one of the characters in the book he is reading. This day, he found a very desperate middle aged man, who badly needed some room in the compartment despite not having made the reservation earlier.
Karl noticed this man first outside the compartment before the train started. This man, Harish, was pleading the conductor to give him one seat so that he could travel for the night. He said that he needed to travel urgently as his wife was pregnant and she was admitted in the hospital. According to Karl, everything was normal about this person, except for the fact that he was acting too desperate. Harish started crying when the conductor told him that there was no vacancy in the compartment. Ideally, people would check other compartments or consider other modes of travel. Harish’s reaction to the situation did not seem natural to Karl. He wanted to wait until he read his novel as the found that one of the characters was similar to this one.
After a couple of hours, he noticed that Harish found a place in the compartment right opposite to his berth. The conductor, who was kind enough, offered his own seat to Harish. Karl continued to be curious about Harish and tried to make some analysis of him during this journey. Karl made a list of all things uncanny about Harish.
- Though Harish carried two bags, it appeared as though they were relatively empty. Harish carried them easily as though he was buying them in the shop. Karl thought to himself, “Why would someone carry two light bags? Either, they would carry one heavy bag or just one light bag.”
- Harish was over-friendly with everyone in the compartment. Within a few hours, he befriended most of the people in the compartment. Karl felt it to be very strange.
- Harish did not make a single call to his wife or family for nearly four hours to find out about the situation. This would not be the case if she was pregnant.
- Harish talked to everyone and gathered the same information from them. He found out their names, their travel plans, their originating and destination station. While everyone gave their true details, Karl told him that he was traveling all the way till Mumbai. The train is supposed to reach Mumbai the next afternoon. However, Karl is supposed to get down at a village early in the morning at 7 am.
- Harish offered a few cookies to most of them. Because he was friendly enough, almost everybody accepted them. The others accepted because nothing happened to the first lot that accepted them. Karl was the only one who did not eat the biscuits. He accepted them with a smile and threw the cookies away when nobody was noticing.
- Harish had two water bottles with him before the trip began. However, he bought at least four in the next few hours. At any given point, he had two water bottles at his berth. He never bought another water bottle from the same seller.
- Harish did not drink tea or coffee from outside.
All these facts added to Karl’s curiosity and doubt. So, he decided to act as if he is sleeping while listening to music. However, he turned off the music in his phone and wore the ear phones.
There were at least three to four babies in the compartment. Usually, one of the parents would struggle to put the babies to sleep while walking or near the doors of the compartment. But, today, none of the babies were crying. They all slept by the time it was ten. Karl felt it strange as his six month old son would never sleep early. Even if he slept, he would wake up almost after every couple of hours. Though he thought babies are different, he wanted to keep this in mind. It did not occur to him to relate this to Harish.
One of the bachelors beside him was watching a movie on his laptop. However, after an hour, Karl noticed that this chap forgot to shut down his laptop and slept while watching the laptop. Youngsters, usually, carry the laptops given by their companies and are very careful about them. Karl found it strange that this chap dozed off sitting with the laptop beside him. All these events kept Karl thinking.
As he sensed something fishy was happening, he hatched out a plan to find out what it is.
After careful thought, Karl woke up from his sleeping act as though he is supposed to go to the rest room. He drank his water bottle almost empty and got down his berth. He saw Harish across who had a momentary surprise on his face. However, Harish tried to hide that emotion and quickly grinned at Karl. Realizing that Harish had something to do with the chaos, Karl acted very sleepy and walked towards the restroom with drowsy eyes.
Karl used the reflection on the back of his iPhone to check if Harish was observing him. And, yes, Harish was observing him all the while. Karl could not connect the dots already.
As he went across other coupes, he noticed that most of the people slept as though they were intoxicated and terribly tired. It could not be a coincidence that most of them would sleep like that. In fact, this has been contradictory to all his previous experiences where people would make elaborate preparations before going to sleep in the train. The men would get into their sleep overs. The women would lay down blankets for the kids. Most of them would latch their luggage to the bottom of the berths. It appeared as though none of these preparations were made this evening by anyone. Going by statistics and probability, this seemed to be too impractical for Karl.
He went back to his berth thinking of the various possibilities. He did not want to doubt Harish without being able to make any deductions or arriving at possibilities. It could be the biscuits. But, Harish, bought the biscuits from the vendor.
He put his ear phones on and acted as if he was going back to sleep. Just then, he noticed that there was more water in his bottle now. There was very little in his bottle a few minutes ago. This gave him the idea. Now, he could connect the dots.
Harish, somehow, managed to mix something in everybody’s water bottles. He also did something to mix something in baby’s bottles. Parents, usually, carry boiled water separately for kids. What did he do? How did he manage to make everyone in the compartment unconscious?
Karl waited for an hour while acting as though he is asleep. He thought Harish would do something in the next one hour. As expected, Harish walked towards Karl’s berth to check if Karl is asleep. Karl could guess this by the sounds and movements. Harish waited there for a couple of minutes and then left this place to move to another coupe. Karl wanted to wake up and follow Harish to find out his next step. But, he chose to remain in the same position and act asleep. To his surprise, Harish came back suddenly to Karl’s berth to check if Karl is really asleep.
All of these movements made Karl sure that Harish was upto something. After waiting for nearly half an hour, Karl tossed around and moved in such a way that he can use his mobile phone within the blanket without people noticing it.
Karl sent a message to his friend who works for a newspaper.
“SOS. Heyj. I’m traveling on this train. Canyou pleas help me? Someone drugged all of us in the train. I feel heavily sedated. Evey1els is unconscious. I wante dto send this messag before I pass out. Alert the cops.” Karl added a couple of mistakes to make it obvious that he was really falling unconscious.
Karl was hoping his friend would forward it to the authorities in time before Harish completely executed his plan. It might be either to loot all the passengers or to kill somebody in the compartment.
As expected, during midnight time, Harish set across opening the luggage of different people and retrieving costly items and placing them in his bag. He carefully executed this one coupe after the other. Though Karl was acting asleep, he could notice the part where Harish would place the valuables in his own luggage.
Karl decided to wait for an hour and act by himself if the cops or someone did not turn up by then.
The train stopped at a railway station. Harish also acted as if he was asleep during the time the train stopped. Karl was hoping somebody would come. Nobody came. The train started again.
Just as Harish was about to finish his packing from most of the bags, the lights went out. Karl was hoping that this was done by someone. As soon as the lights came back, there were nearly a dozen cops around Harish. They caught him red-handed while he was packing in the dark. Karl woke up and grinned at Harish. Karl gave his water bottle to the cops and told them that something was fishy in that water. They noticed that Harish had some powder with him that he kept mixing in people’s bottles.
Doctors were rushed in to help all the passengers. Karl was appreciated for his efforts to save everyone.