The Masked Criminal
The two men parked their car a little away from the airport area and patiently waited near the exit gate. The Mumbai flight was due within fifteen minutes. Earlier they had orders to carry out the operation the next day, but there had been a last minute change of plan. The targets were arriving a day earlier. An airport stuff, who was under the payroll of their boss, had disclosed this to him that morning. So there they were, waiting for their arrival.
"There will be four of them," the boss had said. "A middle aged man, his wife, a young girl and a teenage boy. The woman and her daughter are slim and of medium height. The man and the boy are stouter and much taller."
The men remembered every detail. After completing their assignment, they had orders to dissipate from the scene of action as fast as possible. They would remain underground for at least six months or till the heat had cooled down. They had been provided with false passports that would help them to escape to Bangladesh.
The flight landed on time. Rima and Aniket collected their luggage from the baggage hall and proceeded towards the exit. Aniket noticed Rima's face turning pale as they came nearer to the exit. He clasped her arm and said, "Don't worry. Anil's men will be there outside the airport."
Suddenly they heard someone calling Aniket by his name. He turned round to see who the caller was and his face filled with pleasant surprise.
"Isn't that Mahesh?" he cried.
"You bet!" The two friends embraced. Aniket introduced Mahesh to Rima.
"Rima, this is my friend Mahesh. We studied MBA together. And Mahesh, this is my wife Rima. She's a doctor."
Mahesh was waiting for his flight to Singapore. He had enough time in his hand and suggested that they settle down somewhere and have a chat over coffee and snacks. Aniket gladly agreed to the proposal. They sat in a coffee shop on the first floor and relived their college days.
The two men keenly watched the passengers coming out through the exit door. There came an elderly man, followed by two young foreigners, a young couple with a toddler, a group of college students, an old couple, two executives, three Chinese men and others. Suddenly they became alert. They had spotted their targets. A man, a woman, a young girl and a teenage boy were walking towards the exit. The man and the boy wore tee shirts and trousers, the women were in salwar kameez.
They stepped outside and looked for a cab. One of the men approached them.
"You need a cab, Sir?"
"Yes. But I think I should book one."
"No need to stand in the queue, Sir. I have a cab. Where will you go?"
"Garia... near Metro station."
"Very good Sir. I'm going that way only. I live in Patuli. Give me your bag."
"Are you sure? I will pay as per meter only. You cannot charge extra."
"That is all right Sir. You pay as per meter. No extra charges. Shall we go now?"
They walked towards the cab parked a little away from the airport area. The other man kept close watch from another car just behind. The driver kept the luggage in the car boot and helped his passengers get inside. He then settled down on his seat and turned on the ignition. The other car followed them from a safe distance. Soon they left VIP Road behind and entered EM Bypass. The cab then swerved and entered the desolate Rajarhat route. Suddenly the driver slowed down and stopped the cab beside a wilderness.
"What's the matter?" asked the man. "Why did you stop here?"
"Emergency Sir...Nature's call," pleaded the driver. "I won't take long."
The driver left the cab and disappeared into the wilderness. He half walked and half ran towards another car waiting behind a shrub. He jumped inside and it speeded away in the opposite direction. His passengers were still waiting in the cab.
The explosion shook the entire area. Debris flew in every direction. Local people rushed to the spot and soon a huge crowd assembled. A few men rushed to the nearest police station. Before long the police arrived, followed by the media.
Half an hour later, Rima and Aniket bid good bye to Mahesh and left the airport. Two plain dressed policemen approached them. They had been sent by Anil to take them home safely. They heard them discussing about a car explosion that had occurred near Rajarhat just fifteen minutes back. Four people were killed and the Rajarhat road had been blocked by the police. Rima wondered if it was a terrorist attack. The policemen could not tell them anything about that.
On the way Rima received a call from Dr Sen. He sounded quite anxious.
"Sorry to disturb you Dr Ghosh, but are you all right?"
"Yes. But why do you ask, Dr Sen?"
"I...I'm afraid that your life is in danger. In fact your entire family might be in danger."
"What... what are you saying?"
"I'm afraid that I don't have much information. I only know that Mr Chaki wants to kill you and your family. When and how he means to do it I have no idea."
The doctor's words made her terribly scared. All her previous trepidations returned. She shakily replied, "I'll...call you back later."
Aniket, who had been watching her, inferred something was seriously wrong.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Who was it?"
Rima briefly narrated everything to him. Aniket looked worried. They were nearing their house.
"I have to make sure that we don't fall prey to a booby trap," he said.
He asked the police car to stop in front of a shopping mall near their house. Then he made a call to Anil and briefly narrated everything to him. He said, "I'm afraid some disaster might be waiting for us in the house. It has remained completely uninhabited for the past eight days. What do you suggest we should do?"
Anil instructed them to stay where they were. He reached there within fifteen minutes with a sniffer dog and two other policemen.
They carefully searched their house but found nothing alarming.
"I'm arranging for police posting in front of your house for the time being," said Anil. "Our culprit is currently on the run. Every exit of the city is under red alert. He cannot escape. You did the right thing by not bringing back the children. Do not worry. Just remain vigilant and avoid lonely places."
A few minutes after Anil left, Sohom called from Mumbai.
"Have you seen the news on TV?" asked Sohom.
"We have just arrived," replied Aniket. "Why, what's the matter?"
"There had been a tremendous explosion near Rajarhat. A bomb exploded in a car. Four people were killed."
"Yes, we heard about it in the airport taxi stand. It must be a terrorist attack."
"The deceased persons travelled with you in the same flight."
"What? How terrible!" Aniket was aghast.
"No need to panic. They were not terrorists. The man and his wife were lecturers in a private college. Their daughter was a student of First Year and their son was about to appear for Class 10 Board Exams."
Aniket turned cold. He leaped up and switched on the TV. All the news channels were featuring the latest news of the explosion. He loudly summoned Rima from the kitchen.
"See the news,Rima! The people who were killed were not terrorists! They were a family of four returning from Mumbai... a man, his wife, young daughter and son. We returned in the same flight. Does that ring anything in your mind?"
Rima's face turned white. The passport photographs of the deceased four were repeatedly shown on the TV screen. The similarities were too apparent to be brushed off as coincidence.
"The bomb was meant for us," said Rima in a strangled voice.
"Undoubtedly," agreed Aniket. "The murderers were looking for a family of four. They had no idea that only two were arriving. When they looked into the Passengers' List, they searched for your and my names only, as it was unlikely of them to know the names of the children. Hence they picked up the wrong family. How sad!"
Rima was feeling sick. The ruthlessness of these people made her go weak in the knees. She tried to pay attention to the words of the newsreader. The cab the killers used did not belong to the airport area. The number plate was false. Eyewitnesses informed the police that they had seen a black Swift Dzire speeding off in the opposite direction seconds before the explosion took place. They did not notice the number of the car, but one of its tail lights were broken. The police would now be checking the CCTV recordings to find out who spoke to the ill-fated family after they egressed from the airport.
Aniket had heard enough. He switched off the TV and called Anil.