Note- Sudden senseless ensemble. Brought on by a great day at an international trade fair.
Merry didn’t know where to start. So much had happened and so fast that Merry could easily let it all pass for a trick of the mind. Only the bloodstained carpet and the cold corpse of a young woman Merry had caught in his arms held him, frozen to the spot, with flashing lights and police sirens all around him.
Now that the corpse was taken from his arms into a stretcher, brutally zipped under yellow plastic and the bloodstained carpet photographed from every inch and dimension known to man, Merry found himself a prime witness. He had never been much of a prime, and Merry was having a tough time.
The policeman assigned to take Merry’s testimony was getting irritable. He was twitching and sighing and looking out of the dingy stall a yard away, at the real action at the crime scene. While Merry noticed all of these things, the things he was really supposed to have noticed moved further back in his memory… much to his comfort, but only short-term.
Merry played it over again… it was a crowded place… A Saturday at the Trade Fair usually was. There were buyers, wares and noisy sellers all around… And there was the woman. She had been standing, watching something at a stall nearby… doing nothing, just watching… and all of a sudden, someone had come from behind Merry, even banged into his shoulder, walked on and pulled the girl by the arm with force…. and the next thing Merry knew, there was a bang and the girl was falling… into his arms….
The next thing Merry knew and inhaled sharply on remembering…
925 people were being held in suspicion at the moment, with a shoddy description Merry had provided. Blue sweater, dark hair and a husky voice. It being winter, almost all males in that pavilion were taken into custody right away.
No wonder the police was in a frenzy. They weren’t prepared to hold 925 people for so long.
“Sir, let’s start at the time when the man banged into you? So.. what were you doing then?”
The dismay in the policeman’s voice was clear to catch. Of all the things that could be done out there, the poor man in charge of an unresponsive witness. And the Only witness, so there wasn’t much of a choice for him.
Merry was thinking. What was I doing? I was watching her… I was standing next to an air vent, so that the cold Air Conditioned pump blew air under his ear. She was calm, but he was itchy. He had wanted to talk to her. She was a pretty girl, she seemed a sweet girl.
But then the cold air was right in his face as he was pushed in front of the vent, and a man stumbled away, causing the disturbance. His hair was dark… and his sweater blue… and… nothing…
Merry cursed internally. Nothing new. It always broke off at exactly that moment. Merry couldn’t even give them a height, because the other man too had crouched after the collision. And after that, he had been swallowed by the crowd, only showing his pause in front of the girl and yanking her from her stillness.
“Sir? Okay… what about after the bang?”
After? After the bang, Merry had covered three paces without knowing it, and his hands were full with the weight of a body. She had fallen with a blow, crashed against his chest, and he had been frantically asking her if she was okay, when he realised she wasn’t. She was dead.
“So, after the shot… did you see the blue sweatered man?”
The man? No…
She had been there, lifeless, falling… he had a corpse in his hand, a corpse that was a pretty girl a minute ago, a person… a calm, breathing human. Now… nothing…
But the man? He didn’t feel the gravity of that fact, Merry knew. Else he wouldn’t have vanished in the crowd. He couldn’t have. He was cold.
“Okay. Let’s take a break. I’m gonna go out and get some coffee. You want some coffee?”
Merry nodded no.
The policeman rushed out, desperate for leave from a pathetic job.
Merry slipped lower in his seat.
He played the scene again, trying to find something, anything… anything that would put the police on a goose chase after the cruel man…
“Anything Dell?” Merry heard someone say outside the stall.
“No sir. It’s a clean slate. Can’t it be that he just didn’t see anything?” Merry recognised the voice of the policeman he had been with all this time.
“It can be. But I’m not gonna give in to that just yet. He’s our only witness. We need something, or we’re basically letting this murderer walk free.”
“Damn… I wish the girl was alive. Flesh wound or something you know… then, we could just ask her.”
Merry agreed. He wished he could.
He wished to just ask her.
Of the 925 in holding, who killed her, Merry wished he could ask her.
The smell of death hung in the air. A yellowish mist descending, reflecting the light from the head-lamps of the parked car, choked the surrounding air giving it a deathly taste. It was just after the first hours of the morning and across the horizon Aurora’s chariot raced, heralding the coming of the sun.
Among the stone tablets that protrude from the ground lay a lifeless body, or what was remaining of it. Shovel after shovel, earth is heaped onto it; concealing the evidence. It is only when dawn breaks that the body has been replaced by a mound of earth and the perpetrator safely away, hidden among the hordes of the city populous. And by the time the warm of the sunshine broke through the stale air, he was one among them, walking shoulder to shoulder.
Half an hour and the undertaker had reported the scene to a place it didn’t belong. The crime department. This was no crime. This was art. The hand that took the life out of the body vaguely visible under the earth was of no ordinary criminal. It took a mastermind to plan and execute, to think and design this.
A grave on a graveyard. A grave taller then its marker. A grave above all others- a symbol of the highest kill.
The crime department can only shiver. And suddenly the emphasis changes- a murder had been committed and a murderer was walking free. And all everyone wanted was to desecrate his craft and put behind bars the artist.
Cameras flashed at the crime scene, where the model of a case stood inanimate and the horrors seeped free. Queasy hearts couldn’t take the intensity of that creation and they called him a lunatic. The sunshine was still lingering by, trying to dry the stale feel but fear held a firm grip.
Much to a complete distortion of majesticity, yellow plastic tape was pulled, sealing off the home of the dead and unsettling them in their earthly beds as incompetent crime detectives frowned.
Somewhere among them the winner smiled as his work of art became their nightmares. Giddy with his guilty pleasure of the night, the artist becomes restless under the noon sun. He can never live it down, this last kill, he knew. It had been his calling card to honour his victims with disgrace, but the earth he piled on his face this time, the grave he erected, was by far his best. He wondered if they would dig him out in peace or with sad in their hearts.
Neither. They had a crime to investigate and as much as they wanted to make it all vanish, they had to risk increasing it all when in the evening the heavy noisy machines pulled the dirt back.
All the while the single black stone on which with a rough hand was etched ‘Lies Dead’ stood witness to the procession, mocking them. An invitation, almost a triumphant scribble calling. This was his hand, an act of defiance to proclaim his victory and superiority over his victims.
Yellow tape fluttered still, but cameras relaxed, dirt spreading to surrounding graves, the black stone submerged below, the last lights of day plunged in the sky. And as the sunlight pulled out of the disturbed graves, it fled up to the zenith and further away, gasping for condolence. Dark took its place and greeted its yellow horrors and sat, marvelling at the day old work of art.
Things had changed that day. A day had dawned and drowned; and a body lay naked of its grave. A killer had come and gone; leaving his mark- the hallmark of excellence. And the citizens’ utopia had been destroyed, reality of a cold world creeping in. Now they knew he was there, walking among them. He was the man without a face, the monster behind the curtain. The first round went to death. Justice had yet to try its hand.
By Ruchika and Peter 🙂
“Get down.” came a hurried command.
“Sorry?” asked Karan.
“Get off the ledge, and sit against the wall. Now.” the shooter replied, still not stopping with the work he was doing, which Karan could now see. He wished it wasn’t true.
What the shooter was furiously hustling with was the most diverse amount of ammunition and arsenal Karan had ever seen together. He saw weaponry in the Army all right, but never in such an eccentric pile- a barrel going through a trigger, bullets lying under a rifle, a poor quality walkie-talkie, which could only be described as a frail box with an antenna, incongruous and chilling. Karan knew who all of that was planned for. A neon-blue bag lay incapacitated, a little distance away. It seemed a marvel that all this had actually been contained in that shabby thing, but it must have been.
Karan looked properly. A rifle, three pistols, bullets for each, the “walkie-talkie”, a small cell-phone, a pair of good binoculars, and a tripod. That was all there was to it, yet it seemed all so dangerous, lying there that callously.
As he was looking, the shooter flung a few sheets of paper on top of it. There was no other word for it, he just flung the papers. Then having collected everything he probably had on him in the pile, he started readying the guns… putting in the mags… the bullets…. in ALL of them.
What a douche! Who the hell handles weaponry like this! And what the hell did he need the whole cavalry for?!
Calm as the shooter was, it WAS very strange, such a panic. And then the shooter stopped. Crouched on his toes, the shooter was going through the cell phone, one of the pistols dangling in one hand. Karan wrestled with the belt…
Jeremy had decided. Screw the shooter! Just as he was in the house, he would use his advantage of cover and carry out HIS plan. The shooter wasn’t helping, and he wasn’t going to get himself dead.
His trained mind set off on the routine tracks. Scan the Officer for guns. Just the usual police gun in the police gun-holder. It was to his side, the move would be easy. Two policemen standing behind him. Each with a gun. He should shut the door behind him. Controlling everyone at once would be a problem. As it is, Mrs. Virmani was a big black blot on any plan he made, however noble. Damn that lady! Jeremy got ready.
The door was opened, by another constable. Why one was INSIDE the house, Jeremy would have wondered in usual circumstances, but right now he was just dancing that it wasn’t Mrs. Virmani.
The two men went in, Jeremy shut the door. He thrust Officer Yadav just enough to pull out his pistol and still not knock him down. The constable had pulled out his own, and was aiming it at Jeremy but that was not his concern. They must not speak!
Having carried out this part of the plan properly, he handed the pistol back to Officer Yadav. The aim was to draw their complete attention. Quickly, Jeremy put a finger on his mouth, the traditional symbol of ‘quiet’ that was only too well ingrained in Indian children.
Both policemen were baffled. But now that they had their guns and Jeremy was begging them to keep quiet, they were at least not defensive. Suddenly, Jeremy started speaking. He was still miming that they don’t speak.
“Yes, Officer… yes, I tried to find Ankur… I had some phone numbers… common friends… no sir, I came up with nothing….” Jeremy knew he had to keep talking, just like a real conversation was going on. The shooter could still hear.
At the same time, he waved frantically for a pen. Another traditional gesture, joining the thumb and the forefinger and shaking the hand like one was scribbling. Only, this one was international! The constable was hooked. He saw his senior lower his gun, ready but not aiming. He took that as permission to give the boy the pen he had in his pocket. Jeremy found a flier on the center-table. Furiously he scribbled and scrawled a little note and rushed to give it to the Officer.
Marksman nearby. Kidnapped friend. Armed. Don’t call Mrs. Virmani.
With that he started gesturing to his shirt. The mic!
Officer Yadav understood. This mission kept surprising Jeremy. He felt so patriotic then, he wanted to give Officer Yadav a big bear hug. He didn’t because the mic would be muffled.
Jeremy had been murmuring fake dialogues throughout. He snatched the paper and wrote- Fake a conversation. Stall.
“I know…. Ankur has been a real mystery… He didn’t even reply to Mrs. Virmani’s calls, she told us.” Officer Yadav couldn’t tell Jeremy the real news anymore.
“Constable Mishra, I want you to go out, at your post. Rather, why don’t you three go back to the station, I don’t think there is any more need for supervision…”
The constable had been under Officer Yadav for seven years. He read the finescript. Inform the station. Prepare them for the shooter.
“… and anyway, I’m going to be here for the time being…”
I am waiting for you, here.
“… with Jay.”
I’ll get to the root of it.
Constable Mishra went out, fast but not rushed. The shooter saw the three constables walk out of the colony. So far, things were good. The shooter waited for information. He waited for his shot, his guns ready.
“Wait here, Jay. I’ll go see if Mrs. Virmani can talk to us… my last talk with her didn’t go very well…. She won’t like us being in her house so often… but it’s necessary…” Jeremy nodded. He knew Officer Yadav was cutting them some slack. He welcomed the break from the double-timing thinking, the make-believe conversation.
As Officer Yadav went into a corridor, Jeremy spoke into the mic, for good measure- “What do you want me to do?” He waited for a phone call.
Karan was sitting a few steps away. The shooter had had to put the phone and the mic-transmitter on the floor, on loudspeaker, he was busy aiming two guns.
From the conversation he had picked up in the past few minutes, Karan knew that Jeremy was up to something. He could feel it in Jem’s words.
About time too. The belt was breaking slowly.
Karan was fired up. Jeremy was too. Both had their reasons to end it, once and for all. Both were romanticising with life afterwards…. Jeremy a grand plan thought out, Karan a lonesome existence seeking. Both were so done with the whole thing, so done playing games, that they must be the most ruthless men on Earth. And that wasn’t going to be any good for Mrs. Virmani…
The old ‘lady’ was sitting in her home, dicing frail beans for dinner. To the police-officers still posted outside her house, going through their last day of mindless time-passing and gazing, she seemed not one bit interesting. They had tried to talk to her, only to receive monosyllabic answers, that implied only too well that she was pre-occupied. So the three men left her to her veggies and chores, not even offering to help anymore, resigning to cards. (In a span of two guard days, three hundred rupees had changed hands.)
Alert as the guards may be, they could never have seen into the shrewd eyes. They, of course, didn’t expect that old a lady to be conspiring a master plan, to tackle a sharp-shooter and two equally sharp boys. But that was exactly what she was doing…. formulating a plan… what with Ankur being dead now…. her son… gone….. and she couldn’t-
Old Mrs. Virmani’s thoughts were disturbed by the siren of a police jeep. An angry police jeep, it was obvious. Police jeeps in India are only either angry or missing. And the tires that screeched to a halt outside her house were clearly a sign of the former. Heavy thudding and car-door-shutting followed, through which Mrs. Virmani prepared herself.
A very very hassled officer, Officer Rajiv Yadav, opened the door hastily, in those rare moments he forgot society manners. His face spoke of complete shock. He was sweating profusely, he was worked up so.
“Mrs- Mrs Virmani. Please, do sit down. I need to speak to you about something urgently… ” With one wave of his hand, a constable pulled up a chair for his Officer and the woman and stood back. The two unlucky ones who still had to stand at the door peeped in, baffled by their head’s strange demeanor.
“Mrs Virmani, I am so sorry to be bringing you this news. But it’s essential it be me… since I’m in-charge of the case…. but first you need to know…”
He looked up at the passive face of Mrs. Virmani, only to be comforted to go on.
“Ma’am, your son, is dead.” No reaction. “We found him -his body- under ITO Bridge a few days ag- Ma’am are you okay?” Officer Yadav was troubled by the lack of response, he couldn’t have her going out on her, with all the questions he had for her. No, she musn’t. A constable brought her water. She silently accepted.
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand what you must be going through-” A well rehearsed line, of course he didn’t understand one bit.
” -but there are some serious complications that we need to sort out. We need your help with them, do you understand Mrs Virmani…?”
She nodded. She was still silent. Please, don’t let her go in shock! Prayed Officer Yadav. “Okay, we’ll-”
But he was interrupted. “I knew it.” For the first time in the ordeal, the woman was speaking. Officer Yadav let her go on, he wanted her to be really present.
“I knew he was dead…” Officer Yadav was attentive. What was this now?
“…I knew it when he didn’t call. My boy…. he wouldn’t leave his mama deserted… I knew something was wrong! MY BOY! No! No….” And Mrs. Virmani started crying. Officer Yadav was stunned by the abrupt change in her. This would mean a complete change of procedure. Stable the lady first. the questions would have to wait. Yet, he felt things more in control now.
“Now, Mrs. Virmani, I understand what you must be going through, I do…. To lose one’s child… Never easy…. No, no, it seems so unfair.” He had moved next to her, he was holding onto her, as she continued to wail.
“Now, now… Mrs. Virmani, you need to rest. It comes as a shock I know… Not fair, so fantastic it seems….. No, you must rest…”
Holding onto the young man’s arm, Mrs. Virmani ambled towards her room. Officer Yadav sat her on her bed, wondering whether he should wait for her to lie down or not, but the woman just kept crying, cupping her face in her wrinkled hands. She wouldn’t look up, so Yadav left her alone.
As he shut the door behind him, the questions shot back in. All those riddles! How could it be?! Had he not asked that constable to check into her son’s profile that day… such a meaningless thing it had seemed…How in the world did this lady’s son end up that way….. And she didn’t even know…. It was all so strange. The answers would come, the could help him, but he would have to wait….
Behind the shut door, Mrs. Virmani raised her tear-filled eyes, and looking out of the corner of one, smiled.
Another thing Officer Yadav missed was the crumpled newspaper in the bin, with Delhi Police’s ad, calling for Ankur’s identification, on the opened page.