“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.
“Jay?” Officer Yadav said.
“Sir?… Good morning.” said ‘Jay’.
Jay?! Oh good, very very good! thought the shooter. And I was worried I was letting him easy. Deal with it Jeremy, let’s see how you do it.
The microphone was buzzing. The shooter listened attentively. He slipped the cell phone back in his pocket, he had no intention of getting Jeremy out of this rut.
“Didn’t you have to catch a flight back to Bangkok, Jay?” Officer Yadav didn’t waste any time casting his suspicions.
“Yes sir, I did. But I couldn’t leave Mrs. Virmani in this state, sir… so I called up my brother and told him to handle trade in Bangkok for a few days. It’s family business sir, I could delay it a little.” Jeremy didn’t like his excuse. He had no back-up, no proof to support anything he had said. How he would set up a ‘family’ in Bangkok, should the Officer want to know, was a horrendous vision.
“Hmmm… Very responsible, good. But you haven’t visited her Jay, my men would have told me otherwise…”
“No sir, I haven’t.” This time, Jeremy had a perfect answer, but he still wasn’t the least happy. He was going to give too much information to the shooter… What the hell?! As if dealing with Officer Yadav wasn’t enough!
“I spent a day trying to find Ankur, sir… he’s her son. She said she hadn’t heard from him… it felt strange.” Jeremy saw the officer stiffen.
“You said you were neighbours, Jay?” Officer Yadav was phishing for something.
“Yes sir, my family and hers were neighbours… ten years back. Ankur and I practically grew up together.” Jeremy replied. This was one lie he had had time to make earlier.
“Hmm… usually I don’t do this, you must understand. But the old woman doesn’t have any other close relative, family member, anyone. I am afraid I have news for you, bad news. Let’s go somewhere and talk.”
If it hadn’t been for the current circumstances, Jeremy would have jumped right in the opportunity. He could lie his way through a conversation easily, and would definitely want to if he could gather information. But the dilemma he was in , rather catastrophe, did not permit him to even sit by his own will.
Like a loyal servant, the cell phone rang at the perfect cue. It was the shooter. Of course.
“I must take this call, Officer.” Having got approval, he turned his back to the Officer and walked a little ahead. Nothing suspicious, nothing obvious.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I was wondering when they would pick up a case on that one. Go with him, but not beyond a two kilometres radius of this place. The rules still apply, Karan dies if you try anything. I want you back here in an hour. And you still have to sell him the weed.” The conversation was over.
Jeremy cursed the shooter heavily. Wait till HE is under the gun!
“Yes, Officer. Let’s go.”
“Anything serious?” Officer Yadav wasn’t used to other people walking away to take their calls, civilians usually didn’t have to want privacy.
Jeremy shook his head, aware that the shooter could still see him.
“Ok. Let’s go…”
And Officer Yadav started walking. Jeremy followed. But Officer Yadav turned right.. into Mrs. Virmani’s colony. There were no coffee-shops there… no place to sit and talk… just houses. Jeremy stalled.
“C’mon. We are going to her house. She knows you… it shouldn’t be a problem. Anyway, I need to talk to her too.”
She knows me, THAT IS the problem!
“You want to go to Mrs. Virmani’s house?” Jeremy said, more to the mic than to Officer Yadav.
“Yes. Is there a problem?”
Jeremy waited for the phone to ring, but it lay silent in his palm. Unwillingly, Jeremy took a step forward. Call god-damnit!
He went all the way to the door he had grown to hate, the bell was pressed, and they were waiting… but the phone did not ring.
“Jeremy and an Officer just entered Mrs. Virmani’s house.” Karan reported, his own thoughts rushing furiously. None of them were any bit happy, all completely terrified. Being able to open his eyes was not seeming any better an option.
The shooter was rushing with some things behind him. He was making a scuffle, but Karan couldn’t see just what.
He had finally had to use his trump card, the best part of his plan. But why, Karan was thinking? What was the unpredicted problem? And why was Jeremy in Mrs. Virmani’s house, that too with a police Officer?
Karan was as blind as before.
Karan focused on every sound he could hear. He had felt the shooter move away, and was wondering what sort of gun was aimed at him at that moment. He was sitting on the edge of the roof, on the wall that marked it’s boundaries. Karan thought if jumping off would leave any of his bones intact. He decided against it. The only way he was going to ‘take a leap’ that day would be if he was shot. Then, at least, the crash won’t hurt.
His thoughts diverted to Jeremy. Never before in their life had the situation been remotely similar. In the fifteen years they had known each other, even before they had joined the Army, Jeremy had never ever needed to do something of which Karan was unaware. It was either both, or neither.
Karan was afraid.
Jeremy raked his brains. What the hell? If I pay the man so much extra, he might just create a scene! What does the buffoon want, to have me noticed?!
Jeremy crossed the street, towards Mrs. Virmani’s colony. How he wished he were twenty paces inside it, and not in this rut! He walked past the entrance, and stopped at the roadside shop, set up by two wooden poles and a scrap of tent. Business was low. Not many people cared to stop for packaged tobacco in the heat. All the worse for Jeremy, the magnanimous pay would be noticed.
Jeremy spoke, in native Hindi, and the microphone relayed the conversation to the shooter on the roof.
“How much for that white one, brother?” boomed Jeremy’s voice.
“This?! No, no sir, that’s not the one for you! I’ll show you- Ya, this one, sir will like this one good. Not that one sir, low quality stuff.”
“Is this your best?” Jeremy asked, playing along. “What’s it cost?”
“Won’t fool sir, this poor fellow! Yes, yes sir, just for you… The price is nothing…petty for sir…”
The shooter could hear the apprehension in the shopkeeper’s voice. He thought he was losing the deal, Jeremy had inquired about the price so quick . Anyway, he was in for a surprise.
“Hmm…. okay, I’ll take… let’s say, three packets. Here.”
The shooter looked down the roof, through the binoculars. The kit he had kept ready on the roof was very important for this stint to be carried off. He saw Jeremy handing over the money. The shopkeeper was hidden under the tent, but the shooter waited to see what happened.
It had been twenty-four bucks. Jeremy had given fifty rupee note. More then half, he had been right. More than half… what excuse would he make?
There were no buses for Jeremy to ‘suddenly catch’, and anyway, that wouldn’t go well with the shooter. The shopkeeper was counting out the change….
“Keep it. Keep the change.” Jeremy wanted to rush off with that but the man had heard.
“But sir, it’s too much.” For the first time in his life, Jeremy didn’t like honest people.
“No, no… you’re a good man. Buy something for your family…. You have a family, huh?”
The shopkeeper was alert. His eyes were wide.
“Yes, sir….. two sons… and my wife….”
“Good. Treat them out. Keep it.” Jeremy turned and walked away, breathing sharply. He knew that with that much profit, the man would be able to have a full meal that day, and still probably save some. A treat, as he had said.
Jeremy felt grateful for poverty. Yet another first.
Nice one, Jeremy. Nice one. The mic had faithfully relayed the conversation to the shooter, and he had heard all of it. Good dealing…. But let’s see you tackle the next!
He picked up the cell phone, and speed-dialed 1…. It was ringing….
Jeremy had walked a good distance away from the tobacco shop, when he took the call. He was expecting only more crap.
“Not bad…. but let’s see you manage this. There’s a man in a blue shirt standing about two meters ahead of you. See him?”
“Go and sell all the tobacco to him. Doesn’t matter how much he pays, just make him buy it.”
“What the hell?! Do you even want anything from this place or are you just playing us?! Damnit, it-” But the line was dead.
Jeremy knew they were just being tossed about. The shooter was just going to kill them, he wanted nothing.
He thought about Karan, sitting so near his end, and oblivious of any such thing.
But then, was he even alive?
Karan and Jeremy sat down as silently as possible. They held their breaths. It had been a quick one, this duck. Not that they were scared, or surprised for that matter. A twelve year job as an ‘Information Officer’ in the Army makes this kind of stuff so much a routine that adrenaline just cannot kick in in such petty surprises. Though they had left the Office long back, they had never lost the skills. After all, how can you un-learn being clever?
In the shade of the house they were leaning against, in the colony opposite Mrs. Virmani’s, both were silent. Listening for all sounds, specially those of police jeeps. They had just been coming up the road, as planned, when the furious police jeep had rushed past them, causing them to change their plan. Not only had it stopped at the Virmanis’, Jeremy also recognised the Officer behind the wheel- the one who he had taken permission from before seeing Mrs. Virmani last time. Jay Mehra’s second appearance, and so casually too, might cause a few suspicions, he said.
Jeremy was thinking. “….Tell Karan; a nice girl, so nice she would never turn down an old lady’s request… she never refused to eat with me, to take me- but well, how does it matter now?…..” Mrs. Virmani knew something about Sunny. And she was saying very clearly, they could know all of it if they could pay the price. The plan was simple. Pay the price. Officer Yadav complicated it.
Just as he was diverting his brain’s most gruelsome thoughts to Mrs. Virmani’s, Karan was deciding if it was all right now to get out. And anyway, Jeremy needed to hide, not he.
“I’m going.” He said, getting up.
“Where?”, asked Jeremy, shaken out of his pleasing visions of torturing Mrs. Virmani. That was one luxury he could afford, in the sticky circumstances.
“To the house. Just saw that Officer return.”
Karan went and looked at the house over the boundary wall of the colony. All was quiet, just as they had anticipated previously.
“No way Karan! SHE can still create trouble!”
“Nothing we didn’t account for, Jem!”
“It’s too much police right now, Karan! Will you please stop losing it again and again, I care too, okay!”
Karan calmed down. But he didn’t change his mind.
“Jem. I have to go. Please just-”
Karan stopped in the middle of his sentence.
“Listen to Jem, Karan. You aren’t going anywhere.” An unknown figure said, pushing Jeremy back. It was more the gun he pointed at Karan’s head than his sudden appearance that made Jeremy comply.
And there he stood, looking at the grinning man, whose gun remained steady at Karan’s temple, like a pro’s.