The Countdown Begins
Mehul came up to me one morning with some money and put it in my pocket. “That’s my half of the rent. If I am going to stay here, and now that I have started earning again, I will pay my share of the rent.”
I knew this was coming. He loved discipline in life, whether it was in his work, or his personal life. So, I took a step ahead from my own as well. “In that case Mehul, I would be giving you one half of every other expense – food, grocery, electricity bills, phone bills, and maintenance charges. If I go by the last month’s expenses, it would amount to almost equal to what you just gave me. So shouldn’t we make each other’s life a lot easier by continuing in the pattern we do now? I pay the rent and you pay for the other things.”
A big smile appeared on Mehul’s face. The weather had just started becoming chilly, and a strong cool breeze over the past few days had made life a lot comfortable for people in Bangalore. It was the onset of winter, and a festive season all around. My parents had invited Mehul to visit our hometown to celebrate Diwali together and he was very excited at the prospect of having handmade homely food and time off work and daily chores. I had long suppressed my curiosity about his family, and finally one day I blurted out, “Hey Mehul, how come you never mention anything about your family or their whereabouts? I think we are good enough friends that I should know about your relatives.”
With the pain of a century on his face and with an extremely laborious gesture he told me everything about his past. “I am from Gurgaon. I have a loving mother, a hating father, 2 silly sisters and a dirty dog back home. My father is the head master of a local school. I have always been a problem child. I troubled everyone around me, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unintentionally. There was one time when I was experimenting with a compound created during my chemistry lab, and it turned my sister’s hair pink. Another time a sound emitting fire cracker, which I had created for my sisters, went out of control and landed near the feet of my mom, and her dress was set ablaze. A few experiments were silly ones, like how long can our puppy hold its breath under water, where I forgot that it won’t be able to indicate when it ran out of breath, or the time when I made a fool out of our maths teacher in front of the whole class since she was teaching us wrong theories. I actually went on to prove that with her theory, I can give her 10 Rs and get back 10,000 in return. She was so embarrassed.” Mehul spoke with a giggle and self-appraisal in his voice.
“Anyways, the problems increased by the day, and somehow my interest for experimenting and learning new things created a lot of problems for my parents and teachers. Eventually my father sent me to the boarding school which was within his means and where discipline had higher grounds than education. It was a torture out there. They literally put you in exile and curb all your creative freedom. I called up my dad and requested him to take me back home, since I was suffocating there. The warden used to beat me if I did something wrong, and any questions in classes which challenged the intellect of my teachers, were met with unnecessary punishment under the name of discipline. I requested many times to my dad, but he was adamant that boarding school was the only option for me. I even gave him my word that I would be a good boy, but he stopped receiving my calls. That’s when I knew that I have to help myself out. One day when the external inspector visited the hostel, I told him that I wanted to be 2 grades higher than where I was, since all the concepts taught at my grade were too childish for me. The inspector was a kind man. He arranged for a viva along with various faculty from the school, where they threw all possible questions at me. I answered everything with a smile on my face. The rest is history. I cleared school in the next 2 years instead of 6, went to college and eventually landed up here. But till date, I could never forgive my father. He did keep sending me money while I was studying, but never did we feel like meeting each other. I spent most of my time outside home, and my only contact with my family is through my mom, with whom, as you might have already noticed, I speak frequently over phone. The main reason for my quitting studies and going for a professional career was to become independent and financially free from my father, which I now realize, was not too bad a decision after all.”
Mehul had become a little sad and sat quietly for some time looking ahead towards the buildings far away. I wanted to lighten the mood and cheer him up, and so, proposed to have lunch outside, the treat being on me.
We reached Delice, Mehul’s favourite Chinese restaurant, at around 1.30 PM. We finished our meal by 2.30 PM and started on our way back home. I had evening shift at office, and had to be there before 3.30 PM. I drove to our house, dropped Mehul, and was about to leave for office, when his phone rang. It was Kamath. An emergency situation had come up and he requested us to visit the bureau to help him out. He just mentioned that this was a matter of national security and many lives might be at stake here.
Without thinking twice, we raced off to the bureau. Kamath met us outside the office. He had a tense look on his face, and talked nervously. We went into the conference room on the 2nd floor, which was a level 2 secured location with sound proofing and limited access. He had a small box of papers and files kept in the room.
“Thanks a lot for coming down at such short notice. I would not have called you if I had a little bit more time to solve this case. But this time, we are racing against time.”
He picked up the glass of water and emptied it to the last drop. For the first time, I could feel a little quiver in his voice.
“I will start off with a few incoherent and seemingly unimportant chain of events that happened. Few days back, there was an alert from the metro rail police, for 3 dead bodies found in one compartment. It was the last train for the day, and the 3 passengers were regulars from CR Road to the Vijaynagar terminal. The train reached the destination at around 12.30 AM, and as usual, stays there till 4 in the morning. The station master discovered the 3 bodies during a final round of inspection. There were no injury marks on the bodies, there were no signs of struggle, or of fear and pain in the lifeless faces of the deceased. The bodies were immediately transferred to the local police for an immediate post-mortem. All the three were found dead from cardiac arrest, in surprisingly the same fashion. No traces of poison or chemical agents were found in the blood of those 3 men. After some preliminary investigation, the case was transferred to our department. We have preserved the body cells for forensic investigation, but you know it would take substantial time for that to happen in our department.
Less than an hour after this happened, another case was reported from Ashoknagar, 8 kilometers away from Vijaynagar. In this, a driver ran into a road side electric pole and the car went off road into a dug out construction area. The driver was found dead in his seat, seemingly due to heavy bleeding. There was blood everywhere. But when the body was taken for post-mortem, it was found that the cause of death was neither bleeding, nor injury to head, but due to cardiac arrest. The lab expert believes that the time of death might have been before the accident. So, either he was killed, put into the car and the vehicle set to motion, or he died due to natural cardiac arrest while driving and lost control of the vehicle. The first scenario is ruled out, since it was a busy road, and if anyone did kill him and stage an accident, there would have been witnesses. But none have come forward so far. Even this death showed no signs of violence, or traces of poison or chemicals in blood. The lab did report minor traces of a rare bacteria in the blood stream of this man, but also mentioned that the bacterial infection is sterile and could not have induced a cardiac arrest.
And now, the bigger issue. On Tuesday morning, we received a note from an unidentified source. It mentioned that within a week’s time, there would be multiple blasts in the city, which would kill thousands of people at least. They want us to wire 25 million dollars to an account abroad through an encrypted money transfer system, which they sent in a CD. The threat of this terrorism would be nullified if we give in to their demands, or they would go ahead with the killings.
Our intelligence keeps track of movement of every combustible substances which present security concerns including gun powder, RDX, etc., and we know for a fact that there hasn’t been any major transfer of ingredients required to create a bomb in the last few months in or out of the city. Our informers have also spread their resources in all corners, but no dealers have been reported to sell any suspicious materials to anyone. So the first impression was that this letter is a hoax or someone trying to fool us.
But when we turned the letter overleaf, there were 3 blood marks on the paper. We sent it immediately to the DNA lab for tests, and we found that the 3 samples matched profiles in our database. The 3 people whose blood samples were included, were the victims of a bomb blast last year. I don’t know if you remember, but last year, around the same time, there was a bomb blast near the city market. A small explosive was placed inside the drainage pipe that runs parallel to the main road. It was a minor blast, but 3 people died and 2 severely injured due to that. The case went on for months and no one could find the culprits. Some thought that it was the work of a political party, while some thought that it was the work of terrorist groups of our neighbouring country. The case was closed after every point of investigation reached dead ends. The victims were unlucky to be present there, and it was a general consensus that the blast had some other motive and not that of killing people. It was a small bomb and placed in a less impactful area.
Today morning, we received a new letter. It says now we have 48 hours in our hands to transfer the money. If we fail to make the transfer within that time, on the 48th hour, there would be multiple bombs going off around the city, and not even our bomb squads are equipped enough to stop them.”