Rhea was worried. Sean usually returned from work well before Maya’s bedtime and played games that would only make sense to a father and a daughter. However, by now Maya was well asleep and Sean’s fastidious nature normally would have let her know in advance if he would be late. However tonight there were no messages from him on her mobile. She waited patiently till 10 pm after which she tried calling him a couple of times. Each time a pre-recorded message stated that the person she was trying to call had switched off their mobile phone. Her foreboding told her that something was just not right. She then called Rajeev who had two lovely daughters not much older than Maya and their families got along fabulously well. Rajeev recalled Sean saying that he might get his eyes checked that evening and he thought Sean had probably forgotten to charge his phone and was probably on his way home right now. Rhea still felt a bit uneasy and as she was contemplating her next action, her mobile display lit up with an incoming call from an unknown number. Rhea listened carefully, mumbled a few affirmations and shakingly placed the mobile back on the table. It was an identification call from the local police station. Sean had been in an accident.

Thankfully it was not what she had feared. From what she could gather, Sean’s car had hit a motorbike rider who had not survived. The police then allowed Sean to talk to her and she felt greatly relieved when she heard his voice. ‘I am fine honey… I did not see him…the biker. Seems he died on the spot. I was a bit shaken up after the accident and before I knew what was happening a mob had gathered. Luckily for me the police intervened and right now we are awaiting the results of my blood report to ensure I was not driving under any influence. Somehow, I also lost my phone during the hullabaloo, and it is only now that they I was able to make this call. Since this was an accident, I do not think there will be any issues and so I think I should be back home in a couple of hours. Got to go now…love you’.

Rhea heaved a sigh of relief though immediately after she felt guilty thinking of the dead biker. However, she found it hard to believe that Sean had caused the accident. He was such a careful and methodical driver, checking and double checking. Though lately he had been complaining about discomfort in his eyes while driving at night, she felt it surely must have been the biker’s fault though she felt sorry for him. She wondered whether he had a family. These were her thoughts as she slipped away into a broken sleep on the couch. It was nearly dawn when she heard the police van outside their home. She rushed to open the door to find a bleary-eyed Sean who gave a weary smile as she rushed into his arms. The police left after making a few notes. Before Rhea could ask any questions, Sean silenced her gently with his finger on her lips. ‘I really need to get a hot bath… if you could wait till then and in get some hot coffee, I promise I will fill you in with all you need to know’.

Sean took an unusually long time to finish his bath. He had changed into fresh clothes and lumbered downstairs where he found Rhea waiting for him with a large cup of steaming coffee. Dawn was breaking as he slowly slipped into his favourite armchair and slowly took a large sip from his cup as he began his narrative.

‘You know how I have been complaining about having difficulty seeing at night. Well, Dr. Vimal’s eye clinic had some really good reviews and I decided to pay it a visit. They had put in a few drops in my eyes for dilating it and though the doctor did not think that my lens power needed correction, he prescribed some multivitamins and asked me to come back again after a month. Now here is where I did something very stupid. The nursing assistant had asked me to wait for another hour before driving for my vision to return to normalcy, but as I was feeling fine, I decided to drive back… a big mistake.

The lights from oncoming vehicles made my eyes water and I know I should have stopped but like an idiot I kept driving, occasionally stopping to wipe away the hot tears rolling down my eyes. To cut the long story short, I completely missed the biker coming out of the bar near the clinic and knew it was bad as soon as I heard the sickening thud. The rest of the story you already know…. what do you think?’, Sean cocked his left eyebrow at her. Rhea understood that Sean wanted her validation. ’What’s done is done… no one would do it purposefully. But I think we should visit the dead man’s home and see if we can help them in any way’, she said gently. ‘About that…do you know who the dead biker was?’, when Rhea shook her head in the negative, Sean continued,’ Do you remember the news from some years back where a fourteen-year-old girl’s body was found brutally raped and tortured?’, Rhea nodded as she remembered the horrific incident all too well. The victim belonged to a middle-class family and had been missing on her way back from school. A week later her decomposing body had been found in the marshes a short distance away from where she lived. The perpetrator was a young guy who lived nearby the girl’s house and had harbored romantic feelings for her. The crime was instigated when she spurned his romantic advances. Even though the incident was a couple of years old, and maybe because she had a young daughter of her own, Rhea vividly remembered the news showing the mother wailing uncontrollably while the father sat hunched, a completely broken man. Owing to his young age and a weak prosecution, the perpetrator escaped capital punishment and soon was out on parole. She also remembered a talk show later featuring the unfortunate parents of the victim being interviewed and on being asked on how they felt when they heard about the punishment being reduced, the father had unblinkingly answered, ‘I will kill him’.

‘Was the dead biker that…?’, Rhea left the sentence uncomplete. Sean nodded. ‘He deserved it…oh my god, I feel so relieved. I cannot believe that I would find myself being happy at a death caused by my husband. I recall a similar fate to another scum who did something very similar. Do you remember that case’? Sean’s jaws tightened perceptibly, and she thought she saw annoyance flash in his eyes. ‘Are you ok?’, she asked concerningly. Sean relaxed and nodded his head. ‘I remember the case. The victim had been a young married woman, and the perpetrator was her husband who had killed her using a venomous snake. If I remember correctly though he escaped punishment due to lack of concrete evidence, he had a fatal heart attack while weight training. The gym trainer though not convicted, did lose his license. Which reminds me, I think there is a chance that I will also lose my driving license. I have been asked to stay at home today as it seems the police have some more questions to ask before they can wrap up this case as unintentional homicide’. Rhea crept up to his side on the armchair and gently removed his specs as she kissed him warmly. She moaned softly as his fingers slid inside her robe caressing her warm body.

The doorbell woke them up from their sleep. Rhea hurriedly tidied herself before opening the door. ‘Good morning mam, I am Robert, crime branch senior investigator, and you must be Mr. Sean’s wife…is he awake?”, the owner of the polite question had a handsome face with a millipede moustache set firmly on thin lips. She could not comprehend why the crime branch would get involved in what was after all an accident. Even though he was all smiles, Rhea knew a shark when she saw one and this one was hunting. She took him over to Sean who was waiting. As Robert ensconced himself in the chair opposite her husband, she was quick to notice that spark of steely resolve flash in Sean’s eyes. ‘How can I help you inspector?’

‘Just clearing a few doubts…that’s all’, Robert’s voice was very polite. ’I was going through your driving record. Impeccable. Not even a small traffic fine in the last twelve years. I have always believed that it is only a matter of time before one has an accident. You cannot escape it. And when it was your number, you bumped off what one might call a low-life scum. I am sure many people wanted to kill him’, Robert looked slyly at Sean. ‘It was an accident’, was Sean’s curt reply. ’Of course, of course, but you might want to kill someone such as that person. Everyone feels that rage against someone at some point. You would probably not kill a snake if you saw it out on the street, but if it came into your home…would you still spare it’? Sean’s voice was cold,’ I would kill the snake if it tried to harm my family and I might even run one down inadvertently. But I don’t think I would take the pain to wait until one cross’ the street and then run it down’. ‘But you would kill it if you thought there is a chance it would enter your yard ‘? Robert insisted. ‘I would call a licensed snake catcher to get rid of the serpent hoping that they would take it away to a place where it could not return to harm society. As a loyal and law-abiding citizen of this country, I would be extremely disappointed if they failed in their duty to do this’, Sean answered as if he did not notice the apparent attempt to provoke him into saying something stupid. To Rhea the whole scene was reminiscent of two fencers circling each other, where one of them insisted on looking for an opportunity to drive home the cold steel whereas the other was keen not to offer any opening.

Robert chuckled, ‘Bravo…well said. Now that we have cleared that you are not a psychopath but a “loyal and law-abiding citizen”, let us move on. I can see from your statement that you gave last night that you wanted to have your eyes checked out. May I ask why you chose this clinic which is outside your normal route when you had more than a couple of ones located more conveniently’? There was a slight pause before Sean replied, ‘for a couple of months now I was having headaches and some difficulty in night-time driving. Dr. Vimal’s clinic had some very good reviews, and he prescribed some multi-vitamins… I can show you the prescription if you want.’ Robert shook his head, ‘we already checked the clinic’s security camera footage in the waiting room, and you had a front row seat facing the camera. However, the attendant did mention that you left early which was a bit rash and you don’t seem like a rash person. Quite the opposite in fact, very methodical and patient. Any particular reason as to why you did not wait till the effects of the dilatory drops wore off’? Sean shrugged, ‘It was stupid of me. I was feeling fine when I started, and I think just wanted to get home a little early’. Robert continued, ‘Right now I also had a look at the traffic camera footage and if you wanted to get home so badly, why did you stop near the bar which was frequented by the deceased. I timed the stop, and you were stationary for nearly fifteen minutes. Also, miraculously the distance between the exit gate of the bar and the spot where you stopped seems just enough for one to build up enough speed to cause a fatality. One might almost think you calculated the required distance and were waiting for the snake to cross the street to run it over’. Robert’s smiling facade had suddenly dissolved into a cold and hard veneer.

Rhea could feel the air in the room thickening. ‘It is a trap!!!’, she thought despondently as she searched Sean’s eyes for a response. She was surprised at how composed he looked even after all the insinuations. Sean sighed before replying, ‘As I mentioned, I foolishly jumped out of the clinic thinking I was fine. I was not. The lights of the oncoming vehicles were very harsh on my now hyper-sensitive eyes, and I had to stop to wipe away the tears rolling down my eyes and wait till the burning sensation in my eyes subsided. Unfortunately, the place I stopped from happened to be near the exit of that bar you just mentioned. I do not recall how far from the bar exit I stopped at but can assure you that it was not intentional nor calculated given the uncomfortable situation I was in. After waiting for some time for the pain in my eyes to subside I started moving again. It was at that point that I ploughed into the bike.’ Robert was silent for what seemed to be a long time and one could almost see various gears and cogs in his head processing the information and weighing its pros and cons. The tension in the room was becoming unbearable.’ Fair enough’, he said at last, ‘tell me do you believe in God’?

For the first time Rhea felt Sean was unsure on how to respond as he just sat there motionless, matching Robert’s gaze. The inspector did not seem to mind the awkward silence and continued,’ personally I do not, and it is not surprising considering the amount of unmentionable cruelty and horrors I have had to witness in my line of duty, day in and day out. I think it is enough to turn even the strongest zealot into the most hardened atheist. Similarly, there is one another thing that I do not subscribe to at all, and that is co-incidences. Do you follow’? Sean still declined to respond. ’Let me explain what I mean. Coincidence number one – A perpetrator of a heinous crime dying of unnatural cause. You will remember a similar case where the accused in the snake bite victim case died due to a gymnasium trainer’s negligence. The media praised his death as an act of God and the person who had carelessly caused it was celebrated a hero. The public rooted for him even though they knew that the trainer had known that the deceased suffered from high blood pressure, but in the name of training instigated him to keep on adding ridiculous weights to his routine causing his heart to burst. I am in no doubt that by the end of the day you will also be a local celebrity and will be a special guest of honor in many a chat shows. Coincidence number two – going out of your way to this eye clinic which was very near the bar which the deceased frequented. A parallel can be drawn to the trainer who had caused the death of the other guy, where the former had suddenly resigned from the previous high class health club he had been working for years and shifted to a beat down local gymnasium which the deceased frequented. The reason for his perplexing shift was that though the new place offered less monetary benefits, work was less, and it was closer to his home which meant he could spend more time with his kids. Coincidence number three – both of you are men of meticulous nature with an impeccable record. The trainer had not even a single complaint in his entire career and was very highly recommended by his previous clients and yet within a couple of months of joining the new spot he suddenly became negligent. As for you, not a single accident in your whole driving life. Last but not least– do you want to take a guess’?

Rhea was now terrified by the sudden turn of events. The Sean she knew had an extremely short fuse and any moment now expected him to cave in Robert’s nose with a swing of those burly arms. But the person she was seeing now seemed totally unruffled, which perplexed her. ‘That you do not have any proof’, Sean said dryly. ‘Exactly!!!’, bellowed Robert,’ other than all these coincidences which you have perfectly justified, there is no direct connection between you and the deceased. I checked your phone records, your friend list, your social media accounts and you do not have any links to the deceased victim’s family or to her father who had publicly threatened to kill him. Same the case for the trainer and the snake bite victim’s family. No connection, so absolutely no personal motive for what might have been a crime’.

Sean exhaled slowly and rubbed his forehead, a sure sign that his patience was now wearing thin thought Rhea. ‘I understand that you are doing your duty and that is the reason I even agreed to talk directly to you without my lawyer. But you have pushed very hard and this is where this interview must end. By your reasoning, you suspect me because I have a valid explanation for all queries which is quite ironic because the perpetrators of the heinous crimes you mentioned did not have them and yet they managed to go relatively unpunished. If only all investigations were so thoroughly conducted, then maybe this notion of ordinary people disbursing their own personal brand of justice would not take root. You had asked me early whether I believe in God. I do, but I also believe that God himself would not personally come down and punish the guilty. Instead, I believe we are but humble instruments in his hands which he uses judiciously to meticulously engineer your so-called coincidences and what others might just call karma. I would now like you to leave me and my family in peace’.

After Robert had left with a perceptible air of defeat around him, Rhea remained silent for a long time. Sean had closed his eyes and seemed to have fallen asleep. She could not contain herself any longer. ’Sean, did you cause the accident on purpose’? Sean slowly opened his eyes and looked at her. ’Would you stop loving me if I did’? He made some room in the armchair and Rhea squeezed herself into it, nestling her head on his broad shoulders, ‘I would be proud of you though I would also be angry with you for endangering the well-being of this family’. She was relieved to see Sean chuckle. ’For all his shrewdness, the good inspector missed one very important coincidence which might have answered most of his questions though I guess he still would not be able to do much. Hearing this Rhea gave him a puzzled look and he said, ’you see my dear, the trainer and I both have daughters’.

Sean continued, ‘it was a couple of years back when Rajeev and I were out on a coffee break. Both of us were a little disturbed seeing the news about the snake bite victim. The girl had been a simpleton and the only daughter of an old couple who had married her off using all their life savings. The husband had been a crook, decided to get rid of the girl using venom from a snake as then the death would be pinned to the reptile, and he would be the legal heir of all property under her name. He planned it out in detail and got the poor girl bitten not once but twice, first using a viper concealed on the staircase and when that attempt failed, drugged her and provoked a live cobra to bite the unconscious girl repeatedly. He then delayed taking her to the hospital where the poor girl eventually met her death. He had obviously trained extensively with snakes to execute this macabre plan. However, nothing could be proven. The pain and regret on the dead girl’s parents face haunted us. This got both me and Rajeev thinking. Both of us had daughters. What if something like this happened to them. Would we sit still drowning in our own tears trusting the law to take its long-winded course or would we react. If we reacted and did something stupid what would become of what is left of our families. It was then that we realized that if such cancerous cells were to be removed, it had to be done within the framework of the legal system under the pretext of unintentional homicide which has little, or no consequences attached. Now for something to be unintentional, it would need to be precipitated by someone who was not directly or indirectly related to the victim and someone who would stand no chance of having any gain from the incident. In other words, there must be an absence of a motive as defined by the law. It was the beginning of the pact where we said that if something like that were to happen to any one of us, the other would avenge on his behalf. We also agreed that we would discuss this idea with anyone else we knew and trusted. However, we were not prepared by how many dads took up this pact by word of mouth. We had a few simple rules for all members of the pact. Rule number one – The avenger would not have any direct or indirect connection with the victim’s family. So, in the snake victim’s case, though the family of the victim had no connection to the trainer, the father and the trainer had a mutual friend. All three were members of the pact. Similarly, the father of the victim avenged yesterday, was a friend of Rajeev who had informed me that it was my turn. Rule number two – The avenged family members would never try to thank or get in contact with the avenger in any form be it physically, verbally, or digitally. They must not be seen together. Rule number three – The avenger should plan the event to look like an accident in such a way to entail minimal legal or physical damages to themselves or their families. They should also be ready to suffer trivial loses such that of a license or repair of a vehicle. Rule number four – An avenger who has carried out the pact once will not be called again to honor it and the final rule – there shall be no evidence of such a pact in any form’.

Rhea listened spellbound to this narration and was trying hard to balance between her apprehensions regarding what her husband had just confessed and the intense love she felt for him. Love won hands down. She realized how much he must have trusted her to confess something that could have immense repercussions if she were not careful. She heard a shuffle and watched Maya emerge from her bedroom and walking sleepy eyed towards them, climb the armchair and snuggle herself between her mom and dad. She hugged them tighter and felt an immense sense of security as she thought to herself, ’The avengers are doting dads who would go to any extent to protect their families. They are everywhere and could be of any profession. They are always watching and if they are called to honor the pact, they will be ready…’.