The Masked Criminal
Rima returned from the airport at around 3 pm. The big house felt strangely quiet without the constant chattering of her children. She was already missing them. She had a quick lunch and got ready for her evening chamber. She had lots of appointments today and would be returning late.
On her way she noticed that she was being tailed again, this time by a black coloured Swift Dzire. She slowed down her car to have a closer look at its number plate. There was every possibility that the number was false, yet she took care to remember it. She saw a police station on her way and on a sudden impulse parked her car in front of it. Then she walked into the police station leisurely enough for her pursuers to notice her action. She approached an officer and made a complaint against the car. She narrated the incident of the previous day too and handed over both the numbers to the police. A police constable accompanied her outside the station to have a look at the Swift Dzire. It was gone.
Rima had a hectic evening. When her last patient left it was almost 10. She had no idea it had become so late. She asked her compounder to clean her table and lock up the chamber. She stepped into a deserted street. There had been several occasions when she had returned home later than this. But that night she had a feeling of tension. Her sixth sense warned her of some impending catastrophe. Suddenly she remembered the pepper spray and took it out of her handbag. Her fingers closed round the small bottle as she walked towards the parking lot.
Suddenly two men appeared out of nowhere. In her subconscious mind she had been expecting their arrival. They surrounded her as she stopped to unlock her car. She looked at them and felt beads of perspiration on her forehead. One of them pointed a gun at her and beckoned her to move. She positioned the bottle in her hand and acted instantaneously. She held her breath, narrowed her eyes and sprayed a lingering shot at her assailants. With blood curdling cries the men fell to the ground. They coughed and madly rubbed their eyes with their hands. Without wasting time Rima opened her car and jumped in. She started the engine and sped off, injuring some of her pursuers. She heard a couple of gunshots but didn't bother to look back.
She drove like a mad woman through a labyrinth of by lanes for some time. Then she parked her car in a dark, inconspicuous blind lane where it could not be noticed from the main lane. Then she took out her mobile and removed the SIM card. She knew that her pursuers could easily reach her through the location of her mobile tower. Having taken care of that, she thought hard to decide where she could pass the night safely.
Somewhere in the city, a man was marking a moving vehicle on an electronic city map on his mobile screen. Suddenly a point vanished from the screen.
"To hell with her!" exclaimed the man."She's removed her SIM card. Now it will be hard to locate her. But don't worry, we will find you yet Madam."
"These people don't know a thing about make up." Mrs Chaki's booming voice made many of the spectators turn their heads and look disapprovingly at her. The man beside her gave her an annoying look and whispered, "Keep your voice down."
Mrs Chaki took out her mobile and checked the time for the umpteenth time.
"When is this going to get over? It's damn boring."
"Keep quiet or else get out!" retorted her companion.
Someone from the audience protested.
"If you want to talk please go outside. Don't disturb the others."
Mrs Chaki turned her head to see who made that comment. But it was impossible to make that out in the darkness. She tried to concentrate on the drama but it made her feel sleepy. Constant messages arrived in her mobile and it irritated her companion.
"Keep your mobile in the silent mode," he snapped. "Why did you come here at all?"
Mrs Chaki actually regretted her decision to come to the theatre. Hanging out with her friends in the club would have been a far better option to spend the evening. But there she was, watching an intellectual drama that went far above her head. The actors were dressed like common people and their subdued make up did nothing to make them look glamorous. The heroine, though not bad looking, was too slim for her liking. She herself being on the heavier side always supported fat people. No matter what the world said, slim was ugly to her. She again looked at her mobile and yawned loudly. She gave a sidelong glance at her companion and found him totally engrossed in the play. She rested her head on the back cushion of her seat and closed her eyes. Soon, to the utter horror of the man beside her, she began to snore.
"Sir, we're sorry, but she escaped."
"She used pepper spray on our men and vanished."
"Then find her!"
"She removed her SIM card. It's difficult to locate her now."
"To hell with your men! They can't even do a job properly! And they call themselves professionals!"
"Sorry Sir, but they did not expect the pepper spray..."
"Oh shut up! Send some men to keep an eye on her house and both chambers. She might arrive at any of these places to spend the night."
"What if she decides to go to a hotel? She has a car."
"In that case ask your men to keep an eye on 'Swabhumi'. She'll go there to attend a medical conference tomorrow at ten."
"What if she doesn't turn up?"
"Then keep an eye on the airport. She'll avail the morning flight to Mumbai day after tomorrow."
"But how can we abduct her from such a high security zone?"
"No need to abduct her. Just shoot her from a car and dissipate. The roads will be clear then."
"And make sure your men don't fail this time. She must, under no circumstances, leave the city."
"Yes Sir. One more thing. She visited the police station this evening."
"I know. Don't bother about that. You just make sure that your men complete the job successfully."
Rima soon left the blind lane and parked her car in a dark corner under a bridge along with a few other cars. The place was in close proximity to her chamber. She looked at her watch and saw it was past midnight.
She could not decide where to spend the rest of the night. She knew that her house and chambers would be watched. The first thought that came into her mind was a hotel. Then she dismissed it. She needed go to her chamber to collect the necessary papers that would be required at the medical conference. She needed fresh clothes too. She thought for some time. If she did not go to any of the probable places, her pursuers would possibly conclude that she was staying in a hotel. That might make them less watchful. Rima decided to take the risk.
She killed an hour before leaving her car. She carefully surveyed the streets and started walking. She knew it was risky for a lone woman to walk down the streets at that time, but she was beyond any care. Her life was in enough jeopardy to bother about other dangers now. She avoided walking under the street lights and kept close to the shadowy walls. Soon she reached the residential complex. She kept out of sight and carefully inspected the surroundings. There was no one around. The security guard was sleeping on his tool. She moved silently and slipped in through the main gate. Keeping to the shadows, she entered the building where she had her chamber on the third floor. She avoided the lift and climbed up the stairs without making any noise. She met no one on her way. Reaching the second floor she debated if she should climb further up. From where she was standing, she could see the door of her apartment. But she did not know if it would be safe to approach it. Someone might be keeping a watch from the upper floor or a bunch of hoodlums might be waiting for her inside her apartment. She leaned on the wall and waited, not feeling sure what to do.
Retired barrister Mr Nandy and his wife lived in the apartment opposite to hers. Suddenly the door of his apartment opened and his head peeped out. He gestured Rima to come upstairs and get inside. Rima followed the wall and slipped inside his apartment. The door closed as noiselessly as it had opened.
In spite of her courage she was looking like a scared rabbit. Mr Nandy asked her to settle down comfortably and have some coffee. He brought two mugs of coffee and a number of muffins. For the first time Rima realised that she was famished. Hungrily she gulped down the coffee with four muffins. Mr Nandy watched her curiously but said nothing.
"Would you like some more coffee?" he asked as Rima kept the empty mug on the teapoy.
"No, thanks. It was very kind of you. I really was very hungry."
"I can understand that. If you are feeling better, can you tell me what's going around here?"
Rima looked at him and debated if she could trust this person. The old man noticed her doubts and said, "You don't have to say anything if you don't want to. Actually I suffer from insomnia and remain awake for a major part of the night. Since I don't want to disturb my wife, I spend my waking hours either in the drawing room or on the balcony listening to music on my mobile. Tonight I saw four men arriving here in a grey Scorpio. They talked with the security and entered the complex. I was surprised as I never saw them here before. Secretly I kept a close watch on them. Imagine my surprise when they entered this very building. I peeped through the magic eye and tried to see which floor they were heading for. I could hear the lift coming up. It stopped on this floor. They stepped out of the lift and walked towards your apartment. One of them entered a key and opened the door within a minute. They went inside but remained there only for a few minutes. I gathered they had come to search for you. Not finding anyone they locked the door and went downstairs. They entered the Scorpio and waited there almost for an hour. After that they drove away. I was smoking in the balcony and trying to make out head or tail of the matter when I saw you sneak inside the complex. From your body language I felt sure that you were trying to hide from someone and needed protection. So I kept my door open and waited for you. And now here we are."
Rima looked at the old man. Suddenly he reminded her of her father whom she had lost years back. Tears welled up in her eyes and she decided to tell him everything.
She unburdened all her problems to this fatherly lawyer. Beginning from the medical college incident to the recent attempt to abduct her, she kept back nothing. Mr Nandy attentively listened to every word she said. After she finished he lit a cigar and said, "You took great risk in coming here. You could have landed up at the wrong moment."
"I know," she agreed. "But I had no other option left. I had to collect my papers before attending the medical conference."
"Forget your conference lady!" said Mr Nandy. "You cannot go there without risking your life."
"But..." Rima tried to protest but the old man stopped her with a gesture of his hand.
"Do you know, I studied with Criminal Law. I know perfectly well how the minds of these criminals work. They will definitely wait for you outside the main gate. They may even enter the auditorium and try to harm you. In every possibility they will not take a further chance of abduction and shoot you. So you're not going out anywhere."
"But tomorrow I'm going to Mumbai. I can't avoid that."
"I've thought about that too. You will go to the airport in a disguise."
"Disguise?" Rima felt confused.
"Yes. I know a man who is a make up artiste in a theatre. He will help you."
Rima sat open-mouthed.
"But will the security let me pass if I don't resemble the photo in my id card?"
"He'll only change your get up so that you are not recognised from a distance. After you enter the lobby safely, you can go to the washroom and get rid of your disguise."
"That's cool!" Rima had to admire the lawyer for his clever plan. "I really don't know how to thank you."
"Then don't," he said. "But remember, this is not going to be the end. You'll have to return too. It would be safer not to bring back your children till the matter is solved."
"That should be left for their father to decide. But I think he'll agree with you."
"Im sure he will. Since your phone is tapped, it's only natural that your enemy knows the date and time of your return."
Rima was speechless. She had not thought about this aspect. Mr Nandy noticed her anxiety and patted her hand.
"No need to worry. Ask Aniket to exchange the tickets and make them a day earlier. That would be enough to fool them."
Rima felt that Mr Nandy was a blessing in disguise. Then some other thought struck her.
"By helping me you are endangering your own life. You don't know how ruthless these people are."
"Don't worry," replied Mr Nandy. "I have faced worse situations. I know how to take care of myself. By the way, did you tell your brother-in-law's address to anyone?"
"No. I don't know the address myself."
"Good. Ignorance can sometimes be a blessing."
He looked at his watch.
"There's little left of the night. I think it will be safe to go into your apartment now. You'll need some garments for your vacation."
Rima carefully surveyed the passage before entering her apartment. She always kept a spare set of garments here. She hurriedly packed her clothes and toiletries into the travel bag Mr Nandy had given her. Then she locked the door and returned to his apartment.
"Come now," said he. "I'll show you the guest room. You need some rest."
"I have to get in touch with my husband, but it will be risky to call him from my mobile. Can I use yours?"
"Of course you can," replied the kind man. "But now he must be asleep. Call him a few hours later. I would suggest instead of calling Aniket, call in his brother's number. Who knows, even his mobile might be tapped."
Rima nodded. She had not thought of that.
"Today you will do something else," said Mr Nandy. "Whatever you told me last night should be jotted down on a paper and signed by you. You shall make three copies of this signed declaration and seal them. One of these copies should remain with me, one with your banker and the other in the police station. These will be opened in case anything happens to you, which I'm sure will not."
"Okay, I'll do as you say."
Rima recalled the diary presented by Sarbari. She felt guilty to think that not a word had yet been written in it.