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The Deadly Highway
by Jasper Chand Bookmark and Share

And He Wanted Me Dead - 1

9th July 2010; 10.30am

It was a scorching and humid day. The much-awaited rains were evasive for the last one week now. New Delhi was reeling under God’s wrath, it seemed. Inspector Raj was restlessly shifting in his seat as he was drowned in a huge heap of files. He had been in the police force for the last twenty years now and was very dedicated to his job. He believed in the oath of service to mankind he had taken at the police academy, before he got commissioned. Although, there were occasions when he had to buckle down under the pressure of his seniors, but he always felt very awkward and uncomfortable whenever he had to accommodate them. He mostly tried to stick to his conscience as he wanted to be at peace with himself.

As he tried hard to concentrate on the file in front of him, under the dim light of the lone tube light in his morosely dark chamber, he could not conceal his irritation when his cell phone suddenly screamed out aloud, jolting the entire chamber’s eerie silence. One look at the display of the cell phone was enough for him to know that it was another call of the duty, the second one that hot and humid day, making it all the more exhaustive for a man in his mid-fifties. A shrieking voice informed him that there had been an accident near the jungles off the National Highway No. 1, near Alipur and that the victim was dead.

Inspector Raj was dusky, handsome and a well-built man who was around six feet and two inches tall. He was a self-imposed bachelor, who in his heydays was in love with a woman who was incredibly beautiful but could never muster enough courage to express his love to her. Soon he got to know that his younger brother was also in love with that very woman and both of them wanted to get married but could not as they belonged to different religions, which is still a taboo in India. The inspector magnanimously got the two married and consequently both the brothers were ostracized by their family. The inspector, being obstinate by nature never returned to his family ever after that. His brother and sister-in-law later died in a tragic car crash leaving behind a daughter – Sunaina, who was then adopted and brought up by the inspector. He raised her as his own, all by himself and loved her immensely. To provide her with unconditional love he vowed never ever to get married himself. He had made a lot of enemies within and outside the police force due to his obstinacy and honesty, thus he was forced to keep Sunaina away from him in a hostel in Dehradun, lest his adversaries harm her in any way. For the same reason, he had kept his relationship with her a closely guarded secret, till the time she was to get married.

Sunaina was married off to a wealthy businessman. She was now settled in Dubai. He had deliberately chosen a groom for her who was settled abroad since he wanted her to stay away from him and the perils that surrounded him because of his profession. Though, Sunaina wanted inspector Raj to take voluntary retirement and live with her in Dubai but he would not agree as he loved his job a lot. He had grown to love his job as that was the only solace he had in his terribly self-imposed lonely life. Had it not been for Sunaina and his job, he would have probably committed suicide but then slowly he started getting his peace by taking care of his daughter and by honestly solving the cases that came by his way.

The inspector was a part of the elite Crime Branch Unit of the Delhi Police, thus he was surprised to get this call as they said it was an accident. However, later after enquiring he understood as to why they had called him. The patrolling party who had reached the scene first had suspected it to be more than just a mere accident; therefore, it was prudent to have an expert’s opinion to reach to the logical conclusion.

It was reported that a car had burnt down, consuming the poor driver along with it. “Must be one of those drunkards driving crazy on top of a CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) or an LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) fuel tank,” loudly exclaimed Inspector Raj as he gathered a posse of policemen under his charge and got into the official jeep to reach the site of the accident. It took them almost forty-five minutes to reach the spot. Almost two third of the sedan was consumed by the furious flames. It seemed as if the accident took place the previous night and was not discovered until the next morning, simply because the spot was a very secluded patch of the road and was seldom used, even though being right off the highway. It was a bunch of rag pickers who had first noticed the car and informed the owner of one of the very few kiosks available there, who in turn had called the police control room. As inspector Raj alighted from his jeep, he saw the local villagers, who might have got wind of the accident, already swarming the place. The local police constables were making unsuccessful attempts to keep the crowd at bay.

As he reached the spot his nostrils were greeted by the stench of burnt flesh, nauseating to a normal person but not to a hardened hand like him. He sighed in disbelief at the number of people gathered around as if witnessing a spectacle. He felt sick to see people marvel at such a tragic death of a fellow human, instead of letting the dead be, the crowd seemed to extract a cheap thrill. “Respect for anything and everything has gone down the drain”, he thought. The sight of the maddening crowd got him so infuriated that he ordered a charge against the crowd to break them up and to get the site cleared for the investigators.

As soon as the crowd was broken up and the site cleared for inspection, inspector Raj moved toward the car. The front seating section of the car was completely burnt; the plastic parts had melted down beyond recognizable shape. On the driver’s seat lay the deceased, now reduced to a charred greyish-black skeleton. Barring some flesh still clinging on loyally here and there, not much was left of the poor soul. The calf muscles were somehow slightly intact on the right foot. The shoes on the skeleton clearly indicated that it was a male who had lost his life so painfully. The inspector looked closely and saw a charred watch strung around the bones at the wrist of the deceased, it looked like an expensive one, maybe a Rolex and he also found the remains of a cell phone. The door of the car was jammed due to the expansion caused by the immense heat created by the fire. On close scrutiny, he observed that the car was not operating either on CNG or LPG as what he had suspected initially. “It has got to be a wiring short circuit”, declared one of the policemen on the site. Ignoring the comment, inspector Raj started the routine inspection of the area. Unlike most of his other colleagues who would not miss an opportunity to just let things be so as to make life easier for themselves, they would just close a case as fast as possible even if it meant to cover up certain facts in the most injudicious manner, inspector Raj liked to get to the bottom of things to unravel the truth. He took pride in the fact that God had blessed him with such a divine job so as to bring the truth to the fore and to get justice to the destitute, downtrodden and the dead.

He could not explain why, but he had a strong hunch that the patrolling party might be right and that this was more than an accident. Experience had taught him not to take anything at its face value, to dig deeper and deeper was his second nature. One thing which the inspector noticed was that there were no traces of any skid marks; even the plantation in the jungle around the car bore no such violent marks that could be suggestive of an accident having taken place there. The place looked as if the car entered quite peacefully and burnt itself down. It was pretty evident to the inspector by now that it could not have been an accident, a case of suicide perhaps, but then he had not come across any suicide case in his entire career till date where someone had chosen such a painful way to go.

Murder...Yes! That was what was spelt all over the remains of the poor departed one.

“Call for the forensics and cordon off the entire bloody area. Keep these stupid urchins away, lest we lose more evidence ‘coz of these arses,” screamed inspector Raj instinctively to his sub-ordinates, who scrambled to follow his instructions. The inspector knew that the rampage caused by the villagers at the site had already done a lot of damage to the evidence, but hoped that they get enough to nail the son of a bitch who had committed such a ghastly crime.

9th July 2010; 08.30am

Nira Patel had called almost twenty to thirty different contact numbers on her cell phone, excluding almost fifty times that she had called up on her husband’s cell. Her fingers had become numb due to frantic dialing of numbers on her cell phone. She was sobbing inconsolably by now, the reason was that her dear husband, Bobby Patel, had not returned home the other night, not even called once and could not be contacted as his cell was unreachable. They had been married for the last twelve years and never during these twelve years had Bobby behaved so irresponsibly. At times he was rude, egoistic, arrogant, abusive, brutal, chauvinistic…but never so irresponsible so as to not return back home for the night. Considering all of his misgivings, one had to accept the fact that come what may, Bobby never stayed away from home overnight. Nira feared that he might be in some kind of trouble; she had called almost everyone on her contact list, in and outside town that she and Bobby knew but nobody had any news of him.

Nira was an orphan, the only family she knew and had, began and ended with Bobby. She was very attached to Bobby and could not imagine her life beyond him. There were times when she had to bear his wrath and many a times was subjected to his ferocities without any reason, but she never complained even once. She withstood all the brutalities silently, not because she had grown habitual of all this, right from her orphanage days but because she loved Bobby very much. She could do anything to please him. Being a romantic at heart, she always told Bobby that she wanted to die before him so that she would not have to bear the agony of separation from him. After his father’s death a couple of years ago even Bobby did not have many relatives in India as most were settled abroad. The only one left in India from his family was his cousin Harry who lived in Karol Bagh, who was a bachelor. Harry, who had promised to rush to be by his favorite sister-in-law’s side, at such a difficult hour was seated next to Nira and was trying unsuccessfully to console her. He had already called the police while on his way to his cousin’s place at South Extension and found one of them there when he reached. It was sub-inspector Tokas of the local police station who was assigned this case. SI Tokas was seated on the orange sofa in the living room, sipping the coffee served to him by the domestic help as he waited for Nira to get a hold of herself and to start giving her statement. Harry had just concluded introducing himself and explaining the incident of his missing cousin to the seemingly suspicious inspector when Nira had walked into the living-room. She had broken down like a baby upon seeing her brother-in-law, but she knew that the SI was waiting for her statement; therefore she soon regained her composure.

Without wasting much time, SI Tokas took out a writing pad and began, “When was the last time you heard from your husband?”
“At about four or five in the evening yesterday,” sobbed Nira.
“Where was he then?”
“He was still in office and was about to leave for a business meeting at Pitampura.”
“Who was he meeting?”
“I don’t know, he did not tell me. Since it was a business meeting, even I did not ask. Bobby hated any sort of interference in his business from my side.”
“Ma’am what does your husband do and where is his office?”
“He is into business. He is an agent for an American company and sells advertising for their portal; his office is at Connaught Place.” She gave him its address and the phone numbers.
“What is the vehicle your husband uses to travel? I mean is it a car or.....?”
“A car, it is a blue colored sedan with registration number being DL 2Z MC 0373,” snapped back Nira, who had by now gotten uncomfortable with the manner in which the interrogation was being conducted. SI Tokas, sensed this discomfort and patiently explained to her that though he was sorry that her husband was missing, he was only doing his job and that she would only make his task easier to track her husband faster if she would answer to all his queries accurately, to the best of her knowledge. Nira realized her mistake and duly apologized to the inspector. “So, how old is your husband,” continued the sub-inspector.

“Forty-three.”             

“May I get one of his photographs,” requested SI Tokas. Nira promptly brought one from her bedroom and handed it over to him. He took a good hard look at the photo and taking a deep breath, sighed out aloud, “Handsome man, eh! Ma’am, pardon my asking but does your husband have any girlfriends?”

Nira’s pale face was a sight to see, as if she had seen a ghost, “For godssake, no! He is a very family-oriented man, and a loving husband. He would never do anything to displease us. How can you even think on these lines, sir!?” she almost screamed.

“Sorry ma’am, but that’s a part of our job, we have to explore all angles and no matter how awkward you might be feeling, I will ask you…what I have to ask you, no offense meant, okay!”

Nira wanted to just throw this man out of her house but was helpless as she knew that he was her only hope of finding her husband. Although Bobby had his share of grey shades, Nira could never imagine him betraying her, especially when she had been so dedicated to him. “Does he drink, I mean alcohol,” inquired SI Tokas.

“Yes! “
“What type of a drinker is he? I mean on an average how many drinks does he take in a week’s time?”
“Not more than twenty to twenty-four drinks,” calculated Nira.
“Did you guys have a fight or an argument sometime lately that could have made him angry and led him to go away like this just to torment you?”
“No! Not that I can remember of, besides we’ve quarreled earlier also but he has never ever behaved this way, that is, if you are insinuating that I made him go away in anger. He is too strong a person to exhibit such cowardice,” stated Nira.
“I do hope he has a stable mental history,” enquired SI Tokas, slightly hesitatingly.
“You don’t expect a mentally unstable person doing an annual business turnover of over 300 million rupees, do you?!” quipped, Nira.
“No, of course not,” observed SI Tokas, “Did he have any enemies or anybody troubling or threatening him? Do you suspect someone?”
“No....I don’t think so, do you recall anything to this effect, Harry?”

Harry seemed shell shocked by the rapid-fire question-answer session. What seemed to affect him the most was the manner in which the entire interrogation was conducted by the sub-inspector; he just shook his head in the negative.

SI Tokas continued, “Where do you live, Mr. Harry?”
“Karol Bagh.”
“And what do you do?”
“I’m a hardware engineer; I work for a telecom company.”
“Wow! Who all do you have in your family here, besides them, I mean?”
“Here....no one, I’m a bachelor and my brother is settled abroad.”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-one.”
“Oh, so some more years to go before finally getting married and settling down with a beautiful lady like Mrs. Patel, eh?”
“No sir, I don’t plan on getting married at all!”
“Oh! And why is that? If, I may ask?”
“That, sir, is my personal affair and I don’t think I need to answer you.”

Taking a gulp of deep air the inspector continued, “You know I can be real tough if I have to but it wouldn’t be nice if I use my force with a genteel person like you, would it? Why don’t you save your attitude for another day and save us all the trouble by being reasonable...or am I being unreasonable with my request, here? ..... So, are you ready to answer my question now?” barked SI Tokas.

Harry took a deep breath and started as if he was about to let out a cat out of the bag and that too a big one, “Well, I’m Gay awright! Now do you get why I don’t have any interest in the likes of any beautiful lady like my sister-in-law. So I strongly urge you to stop your sickly assumptions of trying to indicate any immoral connections between Nira and I and help us all locate my brother, if you can. Please stop our character assassination for Christssake!!”

SI Tokas realized that this time Harry had him down on the mat. Although he was quite astounded, but he tried to under play it by concealing his amazement. He took down his notes and asked Nira to give him a written complaint about her missing husband, which she duly did. He finished his coffee and told her not to worry as in these kind of cases the missing person normally returned in a day or two  and then hastily left the house after giving her his cell number, just in case, she heard anything from Bobby. At the back of his mind, he was conscious of the fact that if this were a kidnapping case Nira would receive the ransom call latest by the end of the day.

 

9th July 2010; 01.30pm

Inspector Raj must have waited for more than two hours before the forensic team finally arrived on the scene. Meanwhile the inspector managed to take down the chassis and the engine numbers of the car and messaged the same to the headquarters to get them identified. He also decided to conduct a thorough check of the place himself till the time the forensics arrived. He made two search teams and started looking for more clues. Both teams were going about their task very cautiously, moving very slowly covering every inch of the ground around the car. They left the car be as the inspector wanted the car to be searched extensively by the forensics before anybody else to ensure that all available evidence was collected and recorded properly. Unfortunately, the hope of finding any footprints got diminished as they realized how badly the entire area was trampled by the villagers’ onslaught. It was almost an hour before they realized that they were not heading anywhere like this, they thought it would be best to wait on for the forensics to arrive. Suddenly on a hunch, the inspector asked one of the search teams to go deeper into the jungle and the other team to look down the highway, instructing them to pick up anything they would find which could even remotely look like evidence in the case.

Half an hour later, the team on the highway came back with an empty, black canister which they found almost ten meters away lying in a ditch besides the highway. They said that that was the only thing they could actually find which looked suspicious as it was slightly melted out of shape at its bottom, suggesting that it might have been in close proximity to some fire. When the inspector opened its lid a whiff of gasoline breezed across his nostrils suggesting what it was holding before it was emptied and disposed of in the ditch. Inspector Raj was not sure whether it was a piece of evidence or not but nonetheless he kept it aside for the forensics as he knew through experience that nothing could be ignored or taken casually when it came to gathering evidence. Meanwhile, the second team also returned back from the jungle, looking slightly dejected as they were unable to discover anything worthwhile.

As is expected of thorough professionals, the forensics got down to their job as soon as they arrived at the crime scene. A team started searching inside the car while another team got busy scanning the nearby area. The sniffer dogs who accompanied the forensics went around sniffing just about everything including the charred remains of the victim. They seemed to pick up a scent trail but as soon as they would move a foot or two from the car they would get confused and lose track; definitely because of the villagers’ trample. However, after a few unsuccessful attempts when the dogs were pulled away from the car and led into the nearby shrubs they suddenly got wind of something and rushed into the thick bushy area of the jungle which was not very far from the car. A few sniffs here and there were enough for them to start barking excitedly. They had made a discovery – it seemed to be a blunt rod, about two feet long and looked pretty heavy & solid.

Immediately the photographer placed a ruler beside the rod and clicked three-four photos of it from different angles. Once done, the constable handling the dogs picked up the rod and carefully placed it inside a plastic bag meant to hold evidence while the photographer got busy clicking away more photographs of the victim, the car and the surroundings.

Once all the photographs were taken, the forensics finished with their routine, the usual scrapping, sniffing, picking and lifting of evidence (which took almost four hours) and the dogs done, as they did not get any more opportunities to bark aloud excitedly, they decided to lay the victim’s remains down on the ground to be wrapped and dispatched to the morgue for the post mortem. As it was being laid down, inspector Raj noticed a deep gash on the back of the skull, just above the neck. It looked as if something solid had hit the back of the head of the victim before he was consumed by the fire. It did not take too long for everybody to conclude that the victim could have been hit by the rod that was discovered by the dogs.

“It seems that the poor bastard was hit by the rod, stunned or perhaps killed by the impact and then set ablaze. They all do it the same old-fashioned way! Why can’t these suckers be slightly more innovative eh?” quipped one of the forensic experts while supervising the wrapping of the remains in the body bag.

Just as they all were preparing to call it a day, inspector Raj’s cell phone screamed again. This time it was a call from the headquarters. The voice on the cell phone boomed, “The car has been traced, sir. It belongs to one Bobby Patel of Rohini, North West Delhi.”

Continued to "The hunt Begins" 

 

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20-Sep-2020
More by :  Jasper Chand
 
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