“What happened?” Nataraj asked as he saw the young man sitting in the back of the jeep who was looking listless. Completely and totally listless.
Karan was not listening to the constable. He was incapable of it. His mind was repeatedly playing that thud that he had heard in the hotel room.
Her beautiful black almond eyes...Her sparkling smile....Her beautifully well shaped eyebrows which always looked curious...Her beautiful dimpled cheek. Karan took a shuddering deep breath and realized that none of it was coming back.
That thud which he had heard. That was the end of it.
“You have to tell me son,” Nataraj said in a serious tone as he was driving the jeep sitting in the front.
Inspector Varun and other three policemen were looking around the hotel. Nataraj was given the job of escorting the accused to the police station.
“You need to let us help you,” Nataraj tried again. “You are in a very deep mess,” Nataraj said quietly. “And you are not saying anything....” Nataraj’s voice trailed away because he realized that the young man before him was really not listening to anything.
“How could he think I would hurt her?” Those were the first whispering words which Nataraj heard from the man inside the jeep. The anguish in the young man’s face was horrible, almost making it look like the man was being burnt. “I wanted to marry her. I wanted to spend my whole life with her,” Karan said chocking on the words unable to go on.
And that was when Nataraj realized why the man was silent. The young man was unable to accept the fact that a life was snuffed away, never to come back...A life which the young man had found precious.
“Did she call you here?” Nataraj asked willing that the man paid attention to him. The way Karan was speaking was actually scaring Nataraj.
Karan looked blankly at Nataraj and Nataraj for a few seconds wondered whether he had slipped into his own language, instead of the local one. And Nataraj was unnerved by the look in Karan’s eyes.
Karan suddenly looked broken and shook his head miserably. “I do not remember,” Karan whispered cutting back a sob. “I don’t remember anything – of why I was in the hotel or how she was...” Karan stopped talking.
Nataraj stopped the jeep as Karan was fumbling and with great difficulty pulled out his cell phone from his front pant pocket, with trembling hands.
Nataraj came to the back of the jeep. Nataraj’s training had taught him to take the cell phone away from the man. But Nataraj’s heart was telling him that he was watching a broken man before him. A man who was struggling to make sense of something which was happening to him.
“She didn’t call me,” Karan said his voice shaking. “She did not send me any message.” Karan looked at Nataraj shaking his head. “It does not make sense that we would have met in that hotel by chance.” Karan looked at the man pathetically. “Please just take me to my newspaper office. Probably, she came to see me there. Probably someone would remember her. Please!” Karan was begging Nataraj.
Nataraj studied Karan for a long second. He pulled out the key from his pocket. “I am trusting you, son. Don’t make me regret it.” Nataraj said studying the tired brown eyes of the man before him.
“Thank you,” Karan said as Nataraj gave the man a weak smile, wondering whether he really was going to regret it. Inspector’s brother or not, Karan was younger and stronger than Nataraj on any given day. If the man really gave him a slip, Nataraj knew that there was very little he could do to stop the man from escaping.
Karan was clutching his trembling hands leaning back on the jeep breathing deeply, as Nataraj signaled Karan to come forward.
“Let us go to your office,” Nataraj said getting in the front of the jeep.
Nataraj need not have worried. It did not even seem like the man was trying to escape. Nataraj drove to the office as he saw the security guard of the building downstairs.
Karan was walking towards the security guard as the guard looked guardedly at Karan, looking a little worried, “Sir. Your vehicle was here overnight. The security chief was having problems with that. We have a policy of not letting vehicles stay here for the night. And when I told the chief that you took the vehicle out and then kept it back in, the security chief was even more angry.” The guard said sullenly.
“I want to see your visitor’s register,” Karan said hurriedly pulling the register from the desk of the man without a second question.
“Sir..” The guard looked surprised as Nataraj joined them. “This is a police investigation.” Nataraj told the security guard sternly. “Let us see the register.”
The authority with which Nataraj spoke allowed no one to say anything as the security guard mutely nodded as Karan was studying the register.
Karan shook his head looking disappointed as he suddenly turned his attention to security guard.
“When did I leave the office?” Karan demanded from the security guard.
The security guard blinked. Even Nataraj felt sorry for the guard. Of all the weird questions people asked, this probably took the cake.
“What...?” The security guard fumbled.
“WHEN?” Karan asked angrily, wincing because his headache was suddenly getting worse.
“Evening five sir,” The security guard said swallowing painfully looking really scared.
Karan was however shaking his head. “You said I brought out the vehicle and parked it again. And you sit here outside the building. I brought the vehicle till here...” Karan said pointing at the man. Karan looked at the main road in front of him. Karan looked at Nataraj. “I saw someone in the road.” Karan said pointing at the road. “Someone whom I knew and someone who was in their own vehicle and could take me.” Karan told Nataraj. “That was the reason I kept the vehicle back. I went with the person in their vehicle.” Karan looked at the watchman. “Did you see whether I walked inside anyone’s vehicle?”
The watchman nodded. “She couldn’t drive well sir, but she was hot sir,” The watchman said and stopped immediately as Karan was looking almost murderously at him.
“I...I just caught a glimpse of her face. Long flowy hair, some black dress...She was inside her car,” The watchman said hesitatingly.
Both Karan and Nataraj studied each other. Black dress...
“You got inside her car and left with her. Why that hotel? And what is with the shots?” Nataraj murmured.
Karan frowned turning to the security guard. “Why do you say she cannot drive?” Karan asked. He remembered that Charu was a very good driver.
“Her car trunk was open,” The security guard said grinning. “She just did not know it. And you did not see it either as you got inside the car and drove off with her.”
Karan sighed shaking his head. He was not even going to bother gracing that with a comment. What had happened? Charu came to see him. She drove her car to work so it was safe to assume that Charu came to see him directly from her work. Why? What was important? What did she want to tell him that he felt it necessary to go to that hotel and what happened after that?
“Please just one more thing,” Karan said controlling his nausea. “Let us go to Charu’s office. I swear, after this, I ask nothing more from you.”
The constable looked at Karan with a huff.
“Please!” Karan said again with desperation.
“Come!” Nataraj said angrily crossing the road.
The trip to Charu’s company – Lavelle, was short and dangerously quiet. Each man lost in his own thoughts – the younger trying to recollect and the elder wondering whether he had made a mistake.
Nataraj stopped the jeep outside the company and looked inside. “Come inside and don’t talk!” Nataraj said savagely as the two men saw the building from the jeep.
The building was lavish and looked every inch like a very rich company which was involved in making the top inventions in the field of bio-chemistry. And as they neared the building, they saw a group of people near the security guard.
“Stay here,” Karan murmured to the police constable.
“WHAT?” Nataraj asked Karan angrily.
“People are rarely communicative to the cops.” Karan said pointing at the crowd of people at the reception. “And there is really something going on there.” Karan said eying the people.
“And you think they would talk to you? Have you seen yourself?” Nataraj demanded angrily.
Karan saw the mirror of the police jeep and realized that Nataraj had a point. Karan really looked worse than a policeman investigating a crime. And that was really saying a lot.
Karan took the water bottle from the back of the jeep and poured it all over himself. And was wiping his face with his kerchief and Karan pulled out his comb from his right back pocket trying to flatten his hair as Nataraj huffed.
“Now you look like a guy who has just woken up from sleep,” Nataraj said in a disgruntled tone.
“People generally talk to people like that,” Karan said as he inserted his shirt and pulled his jacket more closely and a range of emotions passed through Nataraj’s eyes starting from utter annoyance to complete frustration as Nataraj realized the truth of Karan’s words. And there was another part of Nataraj which realized that Karan was really not involved in the whole mess and that Karan was just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Nataraj saw Karan walk up and just mingle in the crowd. And Nataraj was honestly impressed with the man.
Karan had picked a plump man right in the back who looked like the perfect guy to gossip and joined the conversation. Nataraj regretted not able to hear the conversation, but he could see that Karan was really giving the people their undivided attention or at least the people believed that and they could see that the plump man was telling Karan everything.
Slowly, fifteen minutes later, Karan disengaged himself from the crowd and walked back to the jeep.
“A guy is missing,” Karan told Nataraj as soon as he reached the jeep.
“What guy?” Nataraj asked.
“Charu’s office...” Karan started and then swallowed painfully. He collected himself and started again. “They work in shifts.” Karan started again. “The man – Urjit Sachit, who was supposed to work after Charu’s shift has disappeared. And he has locked the lab with a number lock. The number lock is set on timer. For eight in the morning. That is why they are all worried.”
“Timer?” Nataraj asked.
“Those doors can be opened only when after that time or on typing the correct sequence. It is common with lab doors,” Karan said nodding to himself.
‘Any news on Charu?” Nataraj asked quietly.
Karan swallowed and nodded. “Her shift is from morning nine to four. She left at four and she is expected to come to office.” Karan said in a whisper.
Nataraj’s cell phone suddenly rang as he held up a silencing finger at Karan. Karan realized that it was his brother or probably someone from the police station and nodded his head.
“Hello sir,” Nataraj said.
Karan did not know what that was all about but he saw Nataraj’s face suddenly turn sharp and then angry.
“We are stuck in traffic,” Nataraj said with cold anger. “We will be there as soon as we can.”
Nataraj looked at Karan a sudden anger build up in his face. “Are you a user?” Nataraj asked Karan.
Karan was slightly taken aback.
“It was ages ago. I was innocent.” Karan said swallowing painfully. “I was with my friends. They were smoking marijuana!” Karan shook his head tiredly. “I have not even used that thing.” Karan said in a defeated tone. He really had not even touched the damned thing. Not that anyone believed him. Neither his family nor his friends. And now Karan was stuck with a brand of being an ex-user. Nothing could change it. Nothing at all.
Nataraj looked angrily at Karan. “That was Inspector Varun on the line. He said he found enough cocaine in the hotel room to drug an elephant!” Nataraj said savagely. “And he said you have problems with that!”
“Of course he would say that,” Karan snapped back angrily. What else was he going to expect from his perfect elder brother?
Karan stared at the Nataraj, who was looking at him with less and less sympathy as Karan shook his head. “Look you got to believe me...” Karan said desperately.
“I am trying to!” Nataraj shouted angrily. “That is all I have been trying to do.”
Suddenly Karan blinked. The slight headache which he was feeling was threatening to go out of bounds as he staggered. Nataraj caught the young man, who looked like he was going to collapse.
“I remember.....” Karan whispered.
Nataraj led Karan to the jeep as Karan’s hands were trembling real bad.
“Something about being buried!” Karan said in a voice barely about a whisper. Karan winced as suddenly the memory vanished. Karan collapsed and fell on the road, groaning as his headache went worse.
A small crowd was gathering around the two of them as Nataraj was helping the man up.
Karan suddenly looked at Nataraj in an anguished tone. “I...remember the gun in my hand,” Karan said wincing as Nataraj stopped the traffic as he was crossing the road.
The constable said nothing as he helped the shivering man inside the police jeep.
“The gun was in my hand and I was suffocating...” was all Karan said before he slumped unconscious.