You have five minutes. Tick-tock.

Chapter One

You have five minutes. Tick-tock.

Chapter One

It was eleven in the night.

A lone dog greeted the cab that stopped in front of a twelve-story apartment with a low howl. A slender young woman got down and closed the door behind her. She glanced at the deserted street ahead for a moment before turning to pay the driver. Her heels rapping smartly on the concrete, she looked at her watch and waited for him to return the change.

She was a little over five feet tall, dressed in fitted black trousers and a matching blazer. A large shoulder bag was slung to her right, blocking half her body from vision. Failing, however, to hide the alluring shape of her chest. Her thick black hair highlighted with a bold auburn shade fell to her shoulders in cascades, casting shadows on her pale face. Her full lips were painted red and the epicanthic folds in her eyes were rimmed in black kohl.

The woman’s name was Tashi Chotten and today had been her first work anniversary as a graduate trainee engineer at a reputed EPC firm in New Delhi.

Tashi walked inside the building and pressed the button on the elevator for the tenth floor. When the doors slid open in front of her apartment, she noted that the lights were out inside. Her mother must have fallen asleep, she realized. With a twinge of guilt, Tashi remembered that her mother had been insisting for over a week that the two of them should have at least one meal in the day together. But what with the new project going on in full swing and a purported promotion around the corner, she had been unable to find time for that.

Holding her own as a woman from Arunachal Pradesh amid the cut-throat competition in the country’s capital hadn’t been a cakewalk, and Tashi had been alone through most of her journey. Only recently, she had managed to save enough to bring her mother to stay with her from their village back in Bomdila. Her mother was the only family Tashi had, and her days were brightened after they started living together. The little apartment she stayed in started feeling more like a home.

Tashi turned the key in the lock and said to herself for the fourth time that week — ‘Tomorrow, I’m coming home early.’

She entered the apartment and fumbled on the adjacent wall to turn on the lights. In the darkness, her right knee caught against a table just below the switches.

“Fuck,” she exclaimed in frustration.

She bent to rub her knee with her right hand as she turned on the lights with her left. The familiar living room and the kitchen came into view. She straightened and walked towards her bedroom.

She entered the comfort of her room and hung her blazer neatly by the door. She then took out her laptop and tossed her bag on the couch. She let out a soft moan as she took off her shoes after a long day of walking in heels. She turned to her wardrobe and hummed softly as she undressed and changed into her nightgown. It was a silk negligee that fell to her knees: black, with white flowers printed all over- a lavish present to herself she had purchased on a whim a few days back. She took a moment to revel in the comfort of the soft fabric hugging her skin and then walked back into the kitchen to see what her mother had prepared for dinner.

She uncovered the plastic bowls inside the refrigerator and saw that it was rice and chicken stew. Tashi put the chicken inside the microwave to heat it up and walked over to the kitchen sink to wash her hands.

As she worked up a lather, she bit her lips, lost in thought, trying to remember the lyrics of the song that had been playing in her cab while coming back home. The tune was stuck in her head, but she couldn’t quite place the words.

The ping of the microwave oven brought her back to reality and she turned around, wiping her hands on a paper towel. She laid out her dinner carefully on a dish and carried it back to her bedroom. Then she lay on her tummy, with the plate beside her laptop and started munching on the chunky chicken pieces. Tashi couldn’t help smiling when she thought about how mad her mother would have been, had she seen her now. ‘How many times should I tell you not to have your meals in the bedroom?’ she would have scolded, an adorable look of exasperation on her face.

Tashi turned on her computer and opened Facebook. Her feed was filled with photographs of her friends either getting married, going on honeymoons and throwing baby showers, or getting promotions, switching to higher-paying jobs and moving abroad for further studies. It seemed as if all of them had their entire lives planned out while here she was, not sure if she would be able to squeeze in a few hours during the weekend to spend time with her mother.

Sighing, she opened another tab to look through her emails. There were a few updates from work which she ignored. A couple of emails promising dirt-cheap weekend getaways did little to assuage her guilt. She was scrolling absentmindedly when an anonymous message from an unknown sender caught her attention. “Important,” the subject read. It had a photo attached.

Curious, she clicked on the attachment.

When the image loaded onto the screen, Tashi’s mouth hung open in shock — it was her own photograph: pouting with full lips at the camera, dressed in nothing but a lacy black bra and matching panties.

She gaped at the screen, eyes wide with disbelief. No, this can’t be happening, she thought furiously. Her heart was pounding, her mouth suddenly dry.

At a loss for what to do, she refreshed the page, hoping that somehow it would disappear and she would realize she had been daydreaming.

The page loaded. The image on the screen stayed resolutely the same.

Head reeling with disbelief, Tashi read frantically through the accompanying text. There were only three lines, but she read them over and over again till her brain fuddled up and stopped trying to make sense of the words.

I have access to all your pictures.
I’ll keep this a secret between us if you do whatever I tell you to.
I’ll start simple: Send me a picture of what you’re wearing right now.

It was not possible. Her brain went into overdrive trying to connect the dots as to who might be behind this.

Akash is the only person whom I’d sent that photograph to — that was four years back. Is he doing this to get back at me?

A million emotions were racing in her head, but the only two she could make sense of were confusion and denial. With trembling fingers, she searched anxiously through her contacts and dialed Akash’s number. It rang for a full minute but he didn’t pick up. She slammed the phone on the bed and instinctively started biting her nails.

Tashi was terrified. She didn’t know what else to do, so she called her ex-boyfriend up again.

This time, a voice groggy with sleep answered. “Hello?”

She was trying hard not to hyperventilate. “Akash, it’s me.” There was a surprised intake of breath on the other end.

She started off without preamble — “How dare you send me that email?”

“Wait, what? What email?” his voice registered confusion.

“Those pictures of mine that I had sent to you so long back,” she almost sobbed.

“Why would I send you pictures?” he asked, his voice raised in anger at her accusing tone.

“There is an email with a — an explicit picture threatening horrible stuff,” she cried.

“What? Am I there in the picture too? Did they ask for money?”

“No, you are not there. They sent only one picture of mine and asked me to share more.”

His sigh of relief was almost audible. “Whatever you do, do not share any more pictures. We don’t know what is going on here.”

“Tell me Akash,” she continued. “What the fuck did you do? If you claim you’re not the one behind this, then did you share those pictures with anyone else?”

“Tashi, I have no clue what you are talking about,” he said.

“How do I believe it when you’re the only person who had access to them?”

“If what you’re saying is true, then either your account has been hacked or somebody else has had access to your computer. You should get in touch with the police immediately.”

She got distracted by the notification for a new email flashing on her computer screen. It was from the same sender.

The police might find me, but they will take at least a week. Imagine the kind of damage I can do in that time. For starters, I am going to upload this picture on Facebook so that all your friends and family members can see it. I think you look smoking hot. Sexy, wouldn’t you say?
If you don’t want that to happen, do as I tell you. You have five minutes to send a picture of what you are wearing. Tick tock.

Her heart thumping against her chest, she hung up on Akash and stared at the screen. She felt helpless- with no clue what to do next.

Her dinner lay forgotten on the bed — the microwaved chicken gone cold.

A fresh bout of tears blurred her vision. It made her mascara run down her deathly white face in black rivulets of fear and shame.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the first chapter of my new novella What did Tashi do? I would release the next chapters sometime later.

If you would like to read the full story and support my work, the book is available worldwide on Amazon as an ebook. It is on sale for just $0.71. You can order your copies here. If you like the story, please do leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads.

What did Tashi do? — a cybercrime thriller novella