Case of the Missing Tiny Treskilling Yellow
Phone rings in one of the numerous cubicles at the Intelligence Bureau. A young woman dressed in blue-green saree with bright yellow and red flowers picks up the phone and in seconds the pleasant smile is replaced by a serious look and then an expressionless face. Putting down the phone she collects her bag and sends an e-mail before shutting down her system and leaves the office.
A day earlier to this. Outside CID bureau. Time: 12-30AM
Abhijeeth, Daya and Freddy are in the Qualis going home. As Daya drives, "Freddy bhabhiji ko manalo. Aaj to bahut der hua hai."
Freddy said with a smile, "Yes sir. But, I'm very hungry and I'll do justice to her cooking. So I'll be able to pacify her."
Abhijeet: You are lucky Freddy to get a wife like her who doesn't complain about your work and teaches your son to be patient when you are not there.
Freddy: Woh to hai sir. arre hum pohenche hai. Aap dono undar ayiye aur dinner karke jaayiye
Both Abhijeeth and Daya together said, "No Freddy kisi aur din.kal bahut busy din hai. DIG and DDIG are coming down.yaad hain na.kal jaldi nahin pahunchenge ACP ko ghussa ayega." And all the three laughed simultaneously.
Freddy waved both of them off as his wife opened the door saying, "arre why didn't you invite them in?"
Abhijeeth and Daya could see in the side and rearview mirror Freddy talking to earnestly to his wife as they drove away.
Abhijeeth gave a huge sigh, "All the reports are ready. All the files accounted for. Tomorrow all we've to do is be alert."
Daya nodded and leaned to switch on Radio Mirchi. "Some music as we drive home. Remember last time DIG came we had a lot going wrong in CID Bureau. ACP sir's son's death'one of our own officers-Daksh involved in it."
"Well this time let it be boring, routine" said Abhijeeth.
All of a sudden he said, "Daya why don't we have dinner at my place. It's been a long time'"
"hmmm. Ok Abhijeet. I've a better idea. Let me take a change for tomorrow and stay overnight. We can chat aur to aur I don't 've to think of driving all the way back home and get up early."
"arre yaar yeh hui na baat. Chalo tumhare ghar chalenge, baad mein mere ghar."
Both of them in renewed spirits hum an old 60s number being broadcast and turn towards Daya's house. They collect the needed items, get back into the car and drive towards Abhijeet's house.
"What shall we cook Abhijeet? Or shall we order on the way?"
"Daya let us cook our favourite quick recipe. Remember the one I'd surprised Asha after solving the 500 Rupees case?"
"Ha Ha' Yes. I remember that food. You still don't remember where you learnt that right? I wonder Abhijeet, how you learnt to cook that so well. I hope you have lots of onions and tomatoes at home. No shops are open now."
"Tomatoes aren't there. But let's try that recipe with carrots instead. It's been a long time since I did it."
They are nearing Abhijeet's house when all of a sudden Abhijeeth says, "I wonder where Asha is posted now. Is she still a senior Inspector or an ACP now?"
Daya smiles, "Haan. I too wonder Abhijeet. Wish we can meet her someday. Aaah'here is your house'"
As they near Abhijeet's place, Daya completely stops the car and immediately Abhijeeth follows Daya's line of vision. Just before turning the corner to his house, there is a narrow lane. He and Daya see a girl about 14-15 sitting by the side of the road, a cycle almost on her and wiping her face.
Daya and Abhijeet nod to each other and get out of the Qualiss without making a sound. They walk noiselessly towards the girl, alert all the way. Daya keeps looking around quickly to make sure the girl is alone. Both are keeping a hand on their gun.
"Itniraat mein akeli ladki yahan kya kar rahi ho?" Abhijeet asks quietly. The girl looks up startled and in her shock of seeing two grown-up men in front of her opens and closes her mouth. She tries to scramble up but can't as the cycle is on her legs. She sinks down. Both the officers notice there is a bleeding wound on the left knee and lots of scratches on her legs and hands. In her fear she can't recognize the pain. But it is seen in her eyes. Abhijeet looks at the girl keenly and a hiss of breath comes out of him. Daya once again looks around to make sure they are the only ones in the lane. A pale light from a street lamp is shining on the girl. But, a few glances at the girl and Daya says, "I've seen you somewhere. I'm not able to remember right now."
To this Abhijeet tells "You are Mrs.Wadekar's niece Mohua. What happened? Has anything happened at home? He turns to Daya "yaad hain'"
"I remember. You are the one who did the project on the police force six months back. But' at this time'you are hurt. What happened?" Daya picks up the fallen cycle and puts the stand. Abhijeet sits on his haunches and examines the wounds. "Not too deep. Minor scratches; but too many'hmmm..Sit here. I'll get the first aid box." As he gets up, he tells Daya to keep a watch out and goes to the Qualiss. In seconds he returns with a first 'aid box and a bottle half filled with water. Daya keeps a watch as Abhijeet deftly cleans the deep gash on the knee, the scratches on the legs and hands. He applies medicine. As he is going about these Daya starts asking the girl, "Are you alone?"
"Yes I am."
"Did you come out of the house alone?"
Slight hesitation and "Yeees'"
Raising an eyebrow Daya continues, "Do your parents know you are not at home?"
"Are you coming out of your aunt's house?" "No."
"Hmmm'. So, you've come out of your house without telling your parents?"
The girl nods her head as fat tears roll down her cheeks. This coincides with Abhijeet cleaning the deep gash on the knee. The girl gives a tiny whimper and bites hard on her lips to stop crying out loud.
"Was there any friend with you?" continued Daya. The girl bent her head as Abhijeet slowly washed the dirt off the scratches on her hands.
"Is it boyfriend trouble?" asked Daya in a grim tone.
Immediately the girl's head came up. She had a shocked expression on her face as she said, "I don't have a boy-friend. Mom and dad'll cut all luxuries and pocket money if I've one. How can I come to mausi's house on my cycle then? Anyway, boys are a huge headache. And I don't want to fall ill now."Both Abhijeet and Daya hid their smiles and helped the girl to get up. She was wearing a khaki Bermuda shorts and an old T-shirt. She gave the picture of a tired, sleepy, dusty, little girl who was trying hard not to cry. Daya made her drink some water and slowly they started leading her and the cycle towards the Qualiss. Daya continued, "Was there a boy or a girl with you?"
Abhijeet said, "Better tell now than allowing things to get out of hand later."
Slowly the girl replied to both that none were with her.
"Give details" said Daya. "Dekho Mohua, we will help you. But, hum brain reading nahin jante. Agar aap batayenge yahaan kya hua to kuch karsakte hain."
"Are you sure your parents are asleep? Are you sure they'ven't discovered you are missing and called all your friends?" asked Abhijeet.
Hearing this girl started crying. Quietly Daya put the cycle inside the Qualiss and Abhijeet said, "Get in. We are taking you home." Looking at her hesitation, Abhijeet firmly said," Mohua, raat bahut ho chuke hain. Tum peeche baitho, hum dono aage baitheinge." The girl slowly got in. They drove towards the girl's house which in the day traffic would have taken half an hour. Now at night took them 14 minutes. As they drove into the compound, they saw the lights were on in the ground floor.
Hearing a car drive in, the door opened and two worried parents came out. The house was an individual one not too great or too ordinary to look at. But clear that it was built at least 30 years back.
When Abhijeet got out, Mohua's mother gave a start "Officer!" She stopped when she saw Daya getting out and opening the door for Mohua. "Quickly come into the house." She said and came and hugged her daughter. The door closed behind Abhijeet and Daya. They saw that both the parents were up and so was another woman at home.
"What happened to you? Where is your cycle? How did you get hurt?" asked the girl's mother.
Quietly Abhijeet started, "I am CID officer Abhijeet and this is CID officer Daya. We found your daughter in the narrow lane near my house and we brought her here. We would also like to know what happened tonight. So, if you don't mind we would like to question your daughter in your presence. I stay in the same building as Mrs.Wadekar. You may remember that your daughter had come to meet us 6 months back for her project on police department."
Remembrance dawned on Mohua's father's face. The calm but firm voice of Abhijeet to a certain extent calmed the father and he seemed to realize that they were all standing. He invited every one into the sitting room and sent the woman to fetch water. He began "I am Nikhil Gupta. Please come in, sit down. This is my wife Malthi. I heard a lot about both of you from my daughter. Anjana' that is Mrs.Wadekar is Malthi's sister. She too has told me about both of you." The woman came in with a tray of glasses filled with water. Turning to her, "this is my sister Rakshita. She is here from Nasik. She came yesterday." Rakshita gave everyone water to drink. Mohua refused. She looked tense and ready to explode.
Daya began "dekho beta jo kuch bhi hua batao. Hum sab sunege. Tumhe koi nahin dantega."
Mohua looked at Daya then Abhijeet. Tears were welling up in her eyes. She tried hard to swallow them and "My collection is gone. Rohit and Shalu are not helping. They are going to participate in the competition and not me." She then started crying. Malthi Gupta held her daughter till the storm was over. Daya began "What collection are you talking about?"
Mohua: My stamp collection.
Daya: Where is it?
Mohua: Somebody stole it from my room.
Daya: From your room? When? Did you see the thief?
Abhijeet: What competition are you talking about?
At this point Nikhil Gupta intervened and said that his daughter collected stamps. She had entered the state level stamp competition cum exhibition. This was just five days ahead. Daya once again asked about the thief. Mohua haltingly began. "I was finishing going through the first six sheets, revising all the matter I'd written. I've been given two frames, so, I've to be very precise. I felt sleepy as I'd been doing the sheets since morning. I saw it was 10:45PM. I went to splash water on my face. As I came out of the bathroom, the phone rang. It was Rohit telling me that his uncle had agreed to lend a miniature sheet brought out by the Royal Post for me. I was excited. I waited and Rohit came at 11:05PM. I was here in the sitting room with him. I took the miniature sheet and he left. I went into my room.
On the way I showed it to my parents and bua. When I entered my room, I was at first unable to understand what'd happened. All my exhibition sheets were all over the table and a few stamps which I'd kept in covers and envelopes had fallen from my table all the way to the window. I rushed to the window and saw a person running away and a cover outside the window. I got scared and went back to my table and saw that my sheets were tampered with. I quickly checked through all my sheets and found that 3 sheets were missing.
I quickly put the miniature sheet in my wardrobe and locked it. Put the key around my neck and came out to the hall. No one was around. I opened the door and ran to the side of the house. I got one sheet, an envelope and some stamps in the dust. I quickly picked up the stamps, envelope and sheet and came inside and put them in my room. Closed the window, switched off the light and grabbing the keys of my cycle dashed out. As I came out cycling, I saw at a distance a man running away.
I cycled fast. As I went, at the end of the road before turning onto the main road I found the second sheet. I picked it up, came back home and saw the house was in darkness, except for the light in my parent's room. I slipped the sheet under the foot rug near the front door and went back on my cycle. In my hurry, I banged on the gate but didn't stop. I cycled on to the main road and saw no one. I first cycled to my left. I could see nothing. After I reached the flyover, I turned back. I then stood and thought at the end of my road again.
I went towards right. But after going for 10 minutes, I got side streets. I went through each one. Saw none. But when I turned on to the main road leading to mausi's house, I saw an envelope on the road. I saw it was empty. I took a short cut thro' the field. When I came on to the road, I saw a man talking to another man. He saw me and nodded to the other man. I saw he had a sheet that looked like mine. I shouted "thief give back my stamp sheet!""
The man who was seeing me tried to grab the stamp sheet and run, but the other man pushed him and ran down the narrow lane. I chased him on my cycle. When I came near him he stopped suddenly and pushed me! I fell down. I tried to get up but could not. I heard foot-steps and turned my head. The other man came running, he saw me on the ground and said, "Stupid girl because of you all the plan is spoilt." He pushed the cycle on me and chased the other man. At the end of the narrow lane both men fought. A car came and both men ran in different directions. The car stopped and waited for the man who had gone left. He came and climbed into the car. The car went right where the other man had gone. I felt tired and hurt. I was sitting there when both of you came."
As she finished, she cried out "my sheet and dashed out to the front door. Opened it and bent to lift the foot-rug. She took out something white and shiny but gave a cry and sat down. Her mother rushed and helped her up. "My stomach is paining!" she wailed. Rakshitha came and helped Mohua to come inside with her mother and went back to close the door. Abhijeet and Daya too had come out quickly. Nikhil Gupta came forward and lifted his daughter in his arms and carried her into her room. He invited both the officers into his daughter's room as he went in and laid her on her bed. The room was lighted but just as Mohua had told, the stamps, sheets and envelopes were in disarray. The window was closed.
Quickly Abhijeet and Daya looked over the room. Daya opened the window and looked out. In a low tone he said "We need to check the outside." Abhijeet opted to go out and check. Within seconds he held a long thick stick with a hook at the end which could now be seen from the open window. He asked "Is this yours Guptaji?" Nikhil looked up and said "I'm not sure." Malathi too had looked at it and she said that it was their neighbour's. Both the officers decided to go out of the house and check the street for clues. Just then the phone rang. "Itni raat mein yeh koun phone kar raha hai?" said Rakshitha as she went to answer the phone kept in the sitting room.
As everyone walked towards the sitting room, they could hear Rakshitha calling out, "Hello'hello kaun hai?" She listened and turned towards them with a shocked and confused look. Daya immediately went and took the phone from her. He heard "Jaldi' sheet wahi' gutter mein'lelo. Oh! My god! Who log aagaye!" The line went dead. Daya called MTNL from his mobile and introduced himself. He asked the call to be traced. Moments later they called back and informed him that it came from Andheri(w) from an all night PCO. Daya turned to the family and assured them that they would look into the matter. He also said, "Keep your doors locked. Get your daughter to sleep." Both the officers nodded and left.
They didn't talk till Daya started the quallis and they were on the main road. Then Daya told Abhijeet all that he heard on the phone. Both were silent. Abhijeet broke the silence " koi ek aam school ladki ke stamp collection kyon churayega? Bahut ageeb hai yeh. Yahaan kuch to hai jo hame abhi nazar nahi aaraha hai." Daya answered "aur ek baat. Wahan kuch to sahi nahi hai. ek sheet mein. Kya hai pata nahin chala Abhijeet. Par ghar wale poora innocent hein. unlogon ko bhi kuch samaj mein nahi araha hai yeh kya hua phir bhi us ghar mein mujhe kuch theek nahee laga. Par kya?" As they drove towards Andheri, Abhijeet's stomach growled. He looked at Daya and said, "Stop at the nearest hotel that's open. Let us carry a parcel each, eat as we drive." Daya nodded. They got a parcel from one of the road side cycle food vendors and took turns to drive so that the other could eat. When they reached Andheri(w) they were alert for the all night PCO.
They found two. But none had come in both to make a call at 1:40 in the night. They found a third and here the man ' a sleepy one said that a man had hurried in and hurried out. After him 2 students on the way home had stopped to make a call. On further questioning they found the man had thrown a 500 rupee note. He was calling out to him to give change when he saw a car come by fast and chased the man. Thinking it was gang fight the PCO owner did not pursue the case. He pointed to the direction the car'd taken and sat down in his place. Abhijeet and Daya got into the Qualis and turned to the street that was pointed out.
ACP Pradyuman could not understand it. His two best officers were not yet in the bureau, they were unreachable. DIG and DDIG were already in the building. Vivek and Freddy had not yet come back from their mission. The door opened, DIG came in followed by the DDIG. Seconds behind them was a worried Freddy and Vivek.
"I see the two hands of Pradyuman missing, tension in the air. What is the matter Young Pradyuman?" twinkled DDIG. Hearing their chief addressed as young by an older man Sachin and Kaajal could not hide the quick smile inspite of the tension. With mixed emotion ACP Pradyuman said "Welcome to CID bureau Chaturvedi sir. Both my hands are fine as you see. Anticipation of meeting you sir is in the air." This is SI Kaajal, SI Sachin, SI Vivek, SI Freddy. All of you this is our DDIG Abhay Chaturvedi."
"Pradyuman your right hand Abhijeet and left hand Daya are not here. Officers of their caliber are never tardy. Officers Freddy and Vivek are looking worried. Should I continue or'" With a huge sigh ACP Pradyuman acknowledged the truth. He turned to Freddy and Vivek. Both reported the futility of their search. Vivek added that Abhijeet had not reached home and the Qualis was missing as well. Freddy reported that on enquiry he had found the two officers had been at Daya's place and had gone out again in the Qualis together. He slowly said "It looks as though I'm the last one to see them together when they dropped me home."
At this point DIG got a call. He said "kab? Kahan?..." and turned to the DDIG "Sir, A3 coffee peyenge abhi." DDIG whipped out his mobile made a call. Kaajal, Sachin and Vivek were shocked to see lips moving and no sound reaching their ears. The DDIG finished the call and said, "I hope there is enough tea and coffee here Pradyuman. We are having a guest shortly. Meanwhile trace the missing officer's mobiles." Pradyuman replied, "We tried. No result."
An hour later all of them in CID Bureau saw a young lady dressed in jeans and red T-shirt enter. As Freddy got ready to go and enquire, DDIG nodded for him to be seated even before he had risen. ACP was kadak the CID team always felt. But, the DDIG was a mind reader and his eyes were expressionless, yet they made them feel comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. The lady looked around and the team was surprised to see a woman who could carry red lipstick with huge red earrings with lan and grace especially with a saree with bright yellow flowers. She nodded and entered the meeting room. Giving a quick smile to the DDIG, DIG and greeted them all. At this point the normally unfazed ACP gave a start. "This is Hasta Kashyap IB officer" said DDIG.
"Sit down Kashyap. Did you 've.."
"Sir, officers Abhijeet and Daya were last traceable all the way near Abhijeet's house via satellite that is ' tracking device fitted into every police car." She turned to ACP Pradyuman who was startled; "Sir, you know this. It was done during the time you were kidnapped, long back." ACP nodded still unable to speak. Everyone in CID digested this information in shocked silence. Only the visiting officers looked as though this was routine police work. Hasta continued, "The vehicle which is a Qualiss did not enter the society where Officer Abhijeet Sawant stays. But, it stopped nearby. Then it turned around. Here a technical matter maybe, the tracking device stopped working. I've sent two people to look around in that vicinity and report back. The call may come any time to either to you Chaturvedi sir or to me or to both of us. I went into Officer Daya's house to check. Yes. I could hear you enter as I was leaving Officer Freddy.
One small night bag, his toiletries and a suit or two are missing. Looks like they were packed in a hurry. His house slippers are missing s well. Officer Sawant hasn't reached home nor has anyone seen him last night in his apartment block. His bed and the guest room bed have not been slept in. No dinner cooked. Had all the surrounding areas within a radius of 5kms- no hotel or roadside eatery has seen them. And sir report came in as I entered, the tiny one is missing and two of our agents are missing as well. One of them was last traceable to an ordinary household at 11:30PM. He then seems to have vapourised." Hasta waited for further instructions from the DDIG. "What time did you get on to the case?" "at 6AM sir."
This regular exchange snapped Pradyuman to life. "How did you enter ' don't bother you are an IB officer trained to do these things." The DDIG asked "Coffee or tea anyone?"
"Sir, with your permission, what is this little one? And what is A3?" asked Freddy. DDIG smiled "Freddy, you hide a sharp brain. No wonder, Pradyuman doesn't want to allow you out of his team. You act like joker but always make the most valid point." Suddenly ACP exclaimed, "6AM?! How did you know my officers were missing? I knew it only at 8AM." Hasta Kashyap looked at DDIG. He began, "It is not just a case of your officers missing Pradyuman. Officer Kashyap will fill us in on the details how a certain case that IB is working on has got entangled with your disappearing officers later. A3 is one of the IB agents posted to keep a look out on Smith.
A precious antique document has been stolen. A famous American industrialist is in the city. He was assaulted yesterday in his hotel room inspite of his bodyguards present with him. We had received information from the Intelligence Bureau prior to his arrival in the city that an antique would be bought and sold on Indian soil and this businessman for all security purposes let's call him Smith is in the middle of it. Smith is an aficionado about certain antique documents regardless of their size. He'll pay any amount to own what he wants. His presence in India at this time is a cause for concern. Antique Indian items are being smuggled. Is he here for this is the question. A state level philately exhibition cum competition is taking place and rare stamps are getting exhibited.
Today the archeological survey of India is displaying old Palmyra scripts dating back close to the Mahabharata era. Five days from now the Indian Journalism industry is putting up an exhibition of old rare photographs. Why is Smith here? Still we feel something is not clear. A3 and his partner were in the hotel suite when Smith was assaulted. They had seen the assailant and chased him all the way. When last the contact was made, A3 said they were near a CID officer's house. Today morning the absence of two officers here was striking. I called Kashyap to check Officer Abhijeet's house and she was already done there. Now you know the rest."
"How did you get into Abhijeet's house?" ACP asked. Immediately he realized his question and said "forget it. You are trained in all aspects. But how did you know it was my officers missing?" Officer Hasta said, "At 6am I received the call saying the last known traceable point of A3 was near a CID officer's house. I found out who it was and got to know Officers Abhijeet and Daya are always together. The rest I just did my duty." Her mobile rang and she said "jaldi under aao."
"IB tried tracing the mobiles of all the missing officers. They are untraceable. Since they can't lose it, it must have been switched off after being confiscated. Which means, they may be either injured and unconscious or held in captivity." ACP Pradyuman immediately instructed all the others in CID to put their informers to work to locate the whereabouts of the officers.
They were all finishing the teas and coffees when a lady constable walked in with a file and signaled to Hasta that she had to sign and take it. After the formalities were done, she went through the file and passed it to others. It was a report that said the tracking devices of the Qualis and the IB agents were found in two different locations. Qualis device was in a gutter near the lane and the tracking device was floating in a sewage channel leading out of Andheri. The details of calls made and their location were given in detail. Hasta stopped at two points and handed over two papers from the file to the DDIG. He nodded at one and handed the other back. He passed that sheet to ACP. It said the last known point was a PCO booth in Andheri. Hasta gave the file a final perusal and with the ghost of a smile put it on the table.
There was a ghost of a smile on her face. But when she asked for permission to check the PCO she looked serious. She left leaving the file behind. ACP Pradyuman just heard it near his ear and he gave a start. It was DDIG saying, "Yes. She is very sharp and does the job like a shadow. Beauty with brains is what she is. Now we wait for the information. Where is Dr.Salunke?"
"In the forensic Lab" replied Pradyuman. "I'll meet him there. See you in a while Pradyuman" saying this DDIG and DIG went out.
ACP Pradyuman was thoughtful as he picked up the file. He was intrigued by the ghost of a smile on Hasta's face. He went through every bit of information. He sat and kept looking at the paper Hasta had put back and which DDIG had not considered. Even though he checked through the file twice more, Pradyuman could not erase the memory of that smile on Hasta's face. This paper had a clue he was sure. But, all that was on it was the address where agents A3 and B4 had passed through. As he sat pondering, he slowly recalled the conversations since Officer Hasta had entered.
Slowly some of the words came back. "Qualis ' tracking device- kidnap long back- the tiny one missing- two agents missing- One last traceable ordinary household - 11:30PM- seems to have vapourised". It took some more moments to put it in order and he looked at the piece of paper. It dawned on him what Hasta had tried to tell. He quickly called Freddy and Kaajal and asked them to accompany him. He wondered aloud "where are you two Abhijeet and Daya?"
Abhijeet slowly woke up. He initially could not fathom where he was. As he looked around to get his bearings right, he could feel a person on either side of him and a faint light coming from some high point. He slowly tried to recollect where he was and remembered driving into a dark street and a man entering a sewage channel beside the road. They had jumped out of the Qualiss and had followed the man and had all of a sudden arrived at a manhole that was closing on them. Abhijeet had quickly climbed up the ladder and put out his hand because of which the trap hadn't closed completely. Forgetting the pain in his hand and the stench of the sewage he had pushed the trap open and climbed out into a small place that looked like an underground room. He had helped Daya up and together they had tried a door and the moment they had entered, they had been assailed by the most aromatic smell they had the misfortune to ever have come across and lost consciousness. He tried to sit up and found that he could and felt for his gun. It was in its place. By this time Daya too regained his consciousness and with a groan the other person beside Abhijeet tried to sit up. Daya was on his left and this stranger was on his right.
Daya too felt for his gun and found it in its place. He too was watching the other man. In the faint light all that these two could make out was that they were in some basement room filled with cartons and boxes. There was a window or a ventilator high on the wall and three doors.
The stranger felt in his pockets and swore. He then felt his shoes and seconds later a thin beam of white light was thrown on the floor near Daya's legs. Groaning, the man showed the beam up at Daya and then Abhijeet's face and said "oh! You two! But, how did you get into this mess?"
Abhijeet motioned the man to keep quiet and they all listened hard. None came. Abhijeet then asked, "Who are you?" Daya said, "How do you know us?" The stranger felt in his pockets and said, my gun is missing and so is my ID card. Check fast if all is right." Hearing the urgency both the officers checked and found that their mobiles and ID cards were missing as well. "our guns are here" said Daya. Hearing this, the other man said "check the bullets." They found the bullets missing. Quickly both the CID officers got alert and tried to standup. They could do so slowly. But the other man had to be helped up. He said that he had been hit on the head and a cloth had been clamped by someone on his face. On being questioned again he said his name to be Ashok IB agent. Daya asked "Why were you running ahead of us if you knew us in the sewage channel?" By this time Abhijeet was walking around and getting to know the entire room. He kept an ear towards Daya and the IB agent. He heard Ashok replying, "I wasn't running in any channel ahead of you. I was here half conscious when they brought you. Seeing me waking up, they chloroformed me again I think. Uoohf! What an overpowering aroma that was!" "who koi chloroform nahin tha" Abhijeet said as he came near them. " who to koi aur hee smell tha."
The other man was throwing the beam of his torch around and they could see they were indeed in an underground room. Abhijeet said, "That door leads towards the sewage channel. These two doors are locked." Ashok said' " If that is the sewage channel route, then this door is locked that leads to the kitchen upstairs. The stairs are outside. I don't know where this other door leads to." "Kitchen? Ajeeb hai. Toh wus darwaze ke pass ya staircase ke pass koi to pehra dega yeh dekhne key liye hum keise bahar aayenge.Toh yis teesri darwaaze se bahar jane ka raasta dhoondna hai" said Abhijeet. "mere mooh ke baat cheenli" said Ashok.
Daya said, "You haven't told us how you came here." "I'll tell you once we are out" said Ashok. Abhijeet took out a wire from his shoe and tried to open the other door. Daya said he wanted to try after sometime. Abhijeet was tired and he gave the wire to Daya saying, "Darwazonka expert hain na tu." "han boss. Kya kare chup nahin rehsakta yis mamle mein" It took Daya too sometime to open the door. They opened and stood in a medium sized corridor. With the light of the torch they could see a short distance away some wooden planks and some iron rods piled on each other. When they went near, they could see a staircase beyond that. As they stood there wondering what to do, they heard voices coming. Switching off the torch they waited in the dark. Soon two men with guns came and went past them. They could hear them talk. "Arre beeru who log under hee hain na. kuch dere ke liye oopar aa aur hamaare saath khaana kha le." "yeh door nahin todpayenge. Who special perfume bahut their tak sulaadenge. Sebastian saab aane tak in teenonko rakna padega. Sirf do din ki baat. Baad mein police ko hum khabar dee hai yis ghar ke bare mein." " haan Yeh taala sahi hain. Under who log neend mein honge. Who doosra agent ka kya haal hain? Usko yahaan kab leke aana hain?" "arre uske bare mein Sebastian saab ko sochne do."
They could hear the sarcasm in the voices and soon the three men left. They saw the torch light going up the staircase and a door being shut. To be sure, Ashok slowly threw his beam of white light beyond the wooden planks and iron. They could see a door and an empty chair. With a sigh of relief, they started seeing ways of getting out. After checking the planks and rod, Abhijeet said pull the top one slowly inside here. Try not to make any noise. Daya lifted the topmost rod and slowly with the IB agent's help put it inside the cave. This seemed to tire the agent. He leaned against the wall. Next Abhijeet and Daya tried. They had pulled three more rods when they heard a door opening. Quickly, they sat close to the wall away from getting detected. They could see a torch light on the floor and heaved a sigh of relief as the man didn't turn it towards them. He shouted up "door tale ke saath bandh hai. Shaam chai ke waqt mujhe oopar bulaana." They heard the door shut. The waiting game began. That was when they realized hunger.
Out in the sunshine, Officer Hasta had finished talking to the PCO owner and could not get anything more. She even went to the street where she saw a sewage channel running after some distance. She turned towards her next goal the address of the ordinary household. She turned into the street and ACP Pradyuman called her. She politely replied she would wait for him near the house but she was very impatient with this delay. When Pradyuman got out of his car and came towards her, she said, "If you'd indicated, we could've come sooner and not wasted precious time." She nodded to Freddy and Kaajal. They were at the door of Nikhil Gupta and ACP was admiring the way she had finished the introductions quickly and shown the photographs of the two missing CID officers and the two missing agents as well. She quickly got out the story of the previous night and asked the reason Nikhil Gupta was not at his office. "kal raat ke baad office jaane ke mann nahi tha. Kal jaoonga" Nikhil Gupta said. Hasta asked to be shown Mohua's room.
Mohua herself lead the way chatting about Abhijeet and Daya all the way. Hasta went through the sheets and asked Mohua all about how and when she started collecting stamps. Gloves on, she started dusting each sheets for finger prints and lifted a host of them. She looked at Kajaal and asked her to get the prints of the family for obvious reasons. Kaajal got busy in the sitting room in this. Looking at Freddy she enlisted his help to keep all the finger prints in order. Looking at ACP she passed him a yellow post it note. On it she'd written, 'Please observe all at home as I work'. Then Hasta still talking about the previous night's incident asked to be shown the envelopes fallen in the room and outside the window. As she went through them she started sifting through them as well as lifting the prints of each stamp! She took an empty cover and put the stamps sifted through most covers in it. Looking at this Mohua cried out "Oh no! I took weeks to sort them. You are mixing them all!" Hasta calmly finished sifting through all the stamp covers and looked up "Now don't mix these ever. They are all CTOs. If you put them in your collection, you'll lose points. They are beautiful to look at. Don't get any more of them" she said. Mohua was lost for words for a few minutes. "Now show me the stamps that had fallen outside the window and inside the room." Mohua picked them all out and the slow work of lifting the finger prints from each began. All along she kept the girl talking about her experiences the previous night.
All of a sudden ACP Pradyuman noticed a small tape recorder in the pleats of Hasta's saree and his eyebrows went up. Mohua noticed the raised eyebrows so ACP calmly came to help lift some prints. It was close to 3PM. "two frames at your age is quite an honour Mohua. I wish you all the best. Don't worry you will get your sheet back." At this point Hasta's hand stopped on a sheet and ACP was sharp to notice it. She asked Mohua to point the stolen ones with the young girl's permission, she opened the polythene cover on the sheet and dusted for prints. She opened all the covers and checked the stamps, first day covers on some, miniature sheet on some in detail. She had the ghost of a smile as she softly felt the sheet she had felt earlier. ACP noticed this smile and on a pretext held each sheet to touch that particular sheet. He was puzzled. Freddy came and stood by his side. ACP said, "She reminds me of Abhijeet when he joined CID. I'm unable to understand her actions. Kuch to hai yahaan. Par kya?" Freddy said, "mujhe bhi aisa hi laga sir. Itni fingerprints aur itni patience!"
It was 4PM when all was done.
They thanked the family, refused food as they were on duty and left the house. They decided to eat in a hotel and Hasta urgently whispered "don't discuss anything in the car. Wait till we get to the hotel." They got into the car. Hasta chose the nosiest place to eat. ACP had a smile on his face. After ordering, Hasta told Kaajal to get the prints matched with the people in the house, missing CID officers and the missing agents. As they ate, she asked ACP sir about his observations. He said twice he felt something was odd. Eagerly Hasta asked who it was. Pradyuman took a few seconds to answer. "When you checked each sheet so thoroughly and kept coming back to the same sheet twice. What were you trying to find?" Hasta waved that aside and said spiritedly "Sir I asked you to observe the family not me."
ACP looked at her and sighed, "You are sharp. I can't understand this. First when you went through all the sheets, all were watching you. But I don't know why but the aunt was extra watching you. Second time was when we came out; I felt someone sigh and heard a call being made. Third, when you were asking Mohua about the stamps, the aunt was hovering outside." Hasta suddenly gave a beaming smile and all the three CID officers were wonderstruck at her beautiful beaming face. Every bit of tiredness had vanished. Towards the end of the meal she requested Freddy to be sent as the watch over Nikhil Gupta's house and requested him to go in a different route. She asked ACP to listen to the recording done at the Gupta house and see if the answers to the observations came to him. She further said that the qualis was not found in the street near the PCO.
Pradyuman thought for a few seconds and called Vivek "Go and check each street in the opposite direction from where Abhijeet and Daya have last been seen. The qualis may be hidden in a park or under a tree or in a huge compound. Be alert. It may be kept in any manner." A beaming Hasta said, "All the reports about you are accurate. No wonder Officers Abhijeet, Daya and Freddy never want to leave your team." They all came out and left for jobs given. Time was 7PM.
While they waited for the man to leave again, Ashok signaled for them to go back quietly to the place they were held captive. In whispers he told them how he had followed a thief stealing antique document from a hotel room and tried to get it back. On being questioned he told them that IB had been alerted of antiques leaving the country and how a philately exhibition, archeological survey of India's ancient Palmyra exhibition and rare photos to be unveiled in the city by the Indian journalism association might be targeted to smuggle out rare things by certain American. By this time the agent got thirsty and stopped talking.
They all decided to go out and wait for a chance to escape. It was a long time when they heard the door open and a voice call out for Beeru to go up again. The moment he left and the door closed, all the three started working to remove the rods. A sizeable space to squeeze through was seen and they stopped. Before Beeru could come, they came out of the hiding place. Abhijeet climbed the stairs first. He reached the top and opened the door slowly. He could hear faint sounds of laughter. He closed and asked Daya and Ashok to climb the steps quickly. The moment they reached, he opened the door just enough to squeeze through. They all went and as Ashok said stood in a semi dark huge kitchen. It looked as though it hadn't been in use for a long time. Light from outside was trickling in. They saw it was dark outside. They didn't know the date or time. Faint voices now were growing louder. They looked around and nothing much was to be seen to hide behind. Ashok rolled into one of the low stone shelves in the kitchen. Daya went and stood in the darkest corner. Abhijeet just had time to stand behind the kitchen door when three men with a gun each came in. They were talking loudly. "arre door khol ke dekhna hai kya?" another said, "Parishaan kyon karte ho? Who log zor ke neend mein honge. Agar utbhi gaye, to poora hosh aane mein waqt lagega. Aur to aur bhooke, pyase aadmi kuch bhi nahi kar sakte"
All three laughed at this and opened the door leading to the basement. They could all see Beeru going down, "unlogon ke pass khaali gun hai. Bullets khan? Woh IB agent to ghayal hua hai. Doosra agent bahar bandha hua hai. Sochna chodo. Sebastian saab aaneke baad, ham to yahaan se jayenge. Who bhi pasise ginne ke baad ha ha" Still they told him to check the lock and tell them. He went down and they heard him shout that everything was fine. The door closed and the two men went out of the kitchen. Abhijeet saw from the crack behind the door that they went straight out through a door and he could not make out anything more. He came out and Daya walked out of the dark corner. Ashok rolled out of his hiding place. They too went in the direction the two men had taken. They were in a bigger room this time. Dusty table could be seen. By its size they understood they were in a huge dining room.
They came to the door through which the captors had gone out. Daya peeped out. All was dark. He motioned the other two to follow him. They were in a long corridor and a faint light was seen at the end. As they walked, they noticed several doors on either side. Some could be opened but they dared not make a sound. They neared the light and slowed down. No voices. Alert, they were to take a step when a door opened just ahead of them. All three froze and stood still. The man closed the door and called out loudly, "Danielji, yis bulb to burn out hua. Toilet to andhere mein hai." He went towards the lighted room. Stood in front of it and laughed. "IB agent. Kya haal hai? Who chotewalle dedo. Sab settle hojayega." They could not hear if anything was told. The man walked away, turned the corner and silence reigned supreme. Slowly the three agents breathed deeply.
Hasta signed the ACP to get out of the car and follow her. As they stood looking at the channel that carried sewage from Andheri and joined another bigger channel, she began, "Sir, there is a huge private property up ahead surrounded by trees. It is an old bunglow built by a British officer that helped him smuggle during the days of the Raj. I'll need back up if we find them here. Did you listen to the recording?" Looking at the affirmative nod, she continued, "What do you feel?"
ACP took a few moments before answering, "Why did you record the child? She is in no way involved in the theft?" "Sir you know why I did. What do you feel?" ACP smiled. "It has been a long time since I worked with the IB. Yes, the child did see something, but, she is not clear what. Second, how can a stamp collection on a table away from the window by at least three feet have so much of things off the table, especially stamps lying all over the room? Kuch to gadbad hai wahan." Hasta said "sir I know you will keep track of all of us. But if you are sitting in the car keep track of us all through standard CID code in sms. I have a feeling we may be listened to."
ACP's phone rang. It was Vivek. "sir gaadi milgaya. Andheri Railway station mein tha. Parking lot may." "Vivek achha kaam kiya.Gaadi bureau lay chalo aur forensic lab mein poora jaanj karne ko bolo. Gaadi chodke back-up team leke ajao. Jagha hai'" ACP gave the instructions. He finished the call, both Hasta's and ACP's mobiles rang. DIG was calling Hasta. Kaajal was calling ACP. Both listened to the speakers and exchanged the information. The gist of which is that the fingerprints found on the stamps and covers were of course belonging to Mohua. Apart from her, Abhijeet, Daya, A3's were also found. The other print belonged to Rakshitha the aunt. Hasta was not shocked, it confirmed her suspicion. Looking at her, ACP remembered a portion of the recording suddenly, "Abhijeet uncle brought the stick with hook from outside window-belongs to neighbour" "Woh bua se stamps ka kya connection hey?" ACP wondered loudly. As Hasta got ready to leave, ACP told her to wait a bit so the back-up would have time to reach and asked her to be careful. It was night and close to 24 hours since the officers went missing.
Officer Hasta asked ACP Pradyuman to follow her till he could see her entering the gate or the park and stop at a distance so he could lead the back-up team if necessary. They both switched off their headlights after some distance and drove till both could see the bungalow and the park. Hasta deftly steered the car close to some trees and left it there and went on foot through the trees. ACP Pradyuman waited in his car as agreed earlier. Both saw a car approach the gates if at all it could be called that with its headlights on low beam from different places. Hasta waited for the car to go up the drive and followed it with the trees and shrubs giving her cover. She saw the man going in and the front door closing. The driver of the car was a uniformed chauffeur. He looked around alert but did nothing. Hasta felt time was of the essence. She slowly edged closer and that was when she spied the other car and a jeep. In the darkness it was tough to see if there was anyone. She changed the direction and edged closer to the car parked behind the jeep. She quietly sent an SMS to ACP in code telling him of the vehicles.
As her eyes got well accustomed to the darkness, she could see someone in front of the car staring at the very place she was standing. She became still and exactly at that moment a match flared just a few paces in front of her and she saw a man light a cigarette. He went and stood in front of the jeep. Then came and stood near the bonnet of the car.
Abhijeet led the way and as they came closer to the room, they got ready to fight in case someone sprang at them. Abhijeet slowly peered in and seeing a startled face of a man tied up, he entered with the others and signaled the man to keep quiet. Daya stood at the corner of the corridor as guard. A3 quickly introduced B4 as Vikram. They tried to remove the knots but it was already lose. B4 smiled at Abhijeet's look of astonishment and said "mere baap ek magician the. Un se seekha kaise knots ko nikaalna. Sirf waqt ka intezaar kar raha tha." He looked at A3 and said "Ds secretary hai." Daya came and asked them all to hurry.
They quietly turned the corner and a wide corridor with doors and staircase leading to different levels was seen. One of the rooms was lit and voices could be heard. "Sebastian saab aa raha hai." " hamara kaam jaldi khatam hoga." They heard a phone ring and few seconds later a voice was heard saying, "Sebastian saab ke saath who boss bhi aaraha hai." They saw that the only way to get on to the other side of the room was to climb the staircase and get down on to the other side. Daya
And A3 went to put a rough plan into action. Abhijeet and B4 stayed close to the room yet in darkness. Daya was getting down when a car drove up the drive way and the men inside the room were seen coming out. Both Daya and A3 silently jumped down beside the staircase and crouched in the darkness. The front door opened and two men came in. They went into the room. Two on either side of the lighted room came and stood ready. A3 signalled the hand message that surprise was the element they were banking on.
All agreed and waited. "Sebastian saab we have kept the men under lock and key." A refined voice was heard, "Did you get the stamp?" The man addressed as Sebastian replied, "Yes. We got the sheet of stamps but the one you told was not there." "Did you follow the agent to the phone booth? He must 've given it to someone." The voice addressed as Sebastian said, "We followed him, but lost him for some time. When we got him after he ran from the PCO, we did not get the stamp. But we got the sheet when he was trying to hide it in the gutter. Here it is." Refined voice said, "I don't trust these men. The agent could've kept it anywhere. Your men've spoilt the entire plan. When they saw the girl they should've kept quite not harmed her. I want to see this agent and question him. Keep the drug ready and no mistakes this time Sebastian" A3 was waiting he quickly gave the signal. The 4 men burst into the room and charged at the men. Taken by surprise the men with the gun were easily overpowered. Sebastian tried to run but Daya punched him and he fell back. The refined voice belonged to a foreigner. He pushed at A3 and tried to run out.
Outside Hasta came behind the car. She fitted a strange thin metal to a device and pressed the button when she was close; the man turned and slumped against the car. The jeep hid him from the chauffeur. Quickly she sent a signal to ACP and saw vague shapes at the gate. The chauffeur yawned and closed his eyes; Hasta ran up the steps and opened the door. She closed it silently and as her eyes got adjusted to the light, she heard "Hah! You can't catch me!" and a man was almost running towards her. She whipped out her gun and said "hands up"
The white man came back into the room shocked. Not to be done, he took out his mobile and punched a button and "come in with your gun." Nothing happened. Hasta said "no problem. I have come in with my gun." Seizing the chance Abhijeet put his gun to the man's head and said "I too have one. Want it? I wonder what for?" No sooner were the words out of his mouth, The front door opened and ACP Pradyuman was heard issuing orders. Hasta looked at Abhijeet and said, "Couldn't you've called someone before disappearing?" At that moment ACP came in with Vivek and Sachin and they handcuffed the men. A3 and B4 were looking at the foreigner and "so you planned all this? No wonder you never allowed the Indian officers inside the room." Daya was shocked to hear a woman talk to Abhijeet so, but he remembered and shouted, "Sir basement mein ek aadmi gun ke saath hain. Kitchen se entry hain." Sachin with a few police constables ran towards the indicated place.
Abhijeet was staring at the woman with a gun and for once he was unable to form a reply. The activity around him was like a crazy show.
But ACP sir's presence gave him some solace. Tiredness was catching up fast and he felt himself sitting on a chair. He noticed Daya walk up and B4 questioning the two former guards with guns where the ID cards and gun were. The woman was walking up to a drawer and pulling out all the ID cards. He realized he was not hallucinating when he heard the sharp voice of ACP saying, "Abhijeet tumhara bullets aur card lo aur bureau chalo." Sachin and the constables came with the man. They were all bundled into police van and taken for questioning. As all came out, ACP said "See you all in the bureau at 6AM." Hasta who had brought her car, said "Yes sir. See you in a couple of hours. Arre chalo tum dono, Chief intezaar kar raha hai. Don't worry sir they will be with me in the bureau." And left with the IB agents. Daya and Abhijeet stared at the departing car and their chief. All they saw was a smile and "bachho chalo. Nahake kuch khana nahi kya."
Day 2 6AM CID bureau. It was time for explanations. Abhijeet and Daya were told about their involvement in the IB case and they explained all that they had undergone. They could not believe still an IB officer so young who had done her job deftly in a saree! It was Hasta's turn to explain. Drinking mugs of steaming coffees and teas black as well as regular, the strange story unfolded. Between DIG and Hasta the story came out. DIG began. "15 days back IB enlisted our help to track all antique dealers of all sorts based on their information. But 5 days ago Officer Hasta was assigned the case and instructions were received to concentrate on two events, the philately exhibition and Palmyra scripts exhibition. Officer Hasta was stubborn that it would be only the Philately exhibition. Then Smith arrived and he would not allow our officers to be inside his bedroom in the suite where the safe was kept. He had made a deal, but the document was not visible. We had planned to search his room with a warrant when the assault took place. Now how did she connect this case with your disappearing officers she has to tell."
Hasta began, "Agent Vikram heard the man saying kill-yellow as he went unconscious. He reported having followed the man and A3 getting something from the thief and having lost him after they exited a compound. He said, agent Ashok had used a stick to get something out and he had talked to some one in the room of that ordinary household. When they disappeared, and reports came that last place traced was near a CID officer's house, I checked the officer's houses and they too were missing! Vikram's report of seeing the CID officers with a small girl was accurate. I went to Gupta's house and checked. Followed the clues and came to the place where the officers were. I didn't have to rescue them. They had done a commendable job themselves. Smith's secretary was the one who let the thief into the room. Here I must congradulate Officer Daya for safe guarding the stolen document."
Daya was startled. He denied having done anything. Abhijeet said, "I didn't see any document. And you haven't said a lot. How did you guess where we were? What is this document?"
Hasta said, "When I realized you had met the girl, I followed the clues. Most important question was how Ashok knew the phone number of the Gupta residence. Both the agents had no time to see the address or the street number. Next, why was an ordinary girl's stamp competition entry targeted? Why was the aunt of this girl so anxious to call the IB officer on her mobile after the CID officers left the house? These questions nagged me as I was talking to Mohua about the night's events. ACP sir said no one has left or come into the Gupta house hold. Well back to the stamps. Officer Daya you did not tell anyone what you felt when you went through a certain stamp sheet. That saved the document." Everyone turned to A3 or agent Ashok, 'Rakshitha is my neighbour and for unknown help given I requested her to be in her brother's place when I got to know her niece was a stamp collector. Please keep this quiet no one should know. As I came near the area I called her and told her to be in the room. She strewed the stamps around and went out and I hid the document. She doesn't know what it is. After the CID officers came she smsed the landline number and I called."
ACP Pradyuman said, "I saw the phone details in the file but it didn't strike me. I saw the house address and recalled the ordinary house hold in the report and came there. Good job Hasta."
Hasta said, "Officers Abhijeet and Daya must be commended for their part too." Hearing this, Daya unable to keep quiet said, "I didn't see anything. What is it you are talking about?" Hasta said, "Let's go to Mohua's house and retrieve the document and you can return her sheet."
Intrigued all left the bureau for mohua's house. Gupta house hold were thunder struck to see the officers so early. Mohua was ready yet tense as she was straightening her sheets. When the officers walked into her room, she looked hopefully at them. Abhijeet handed her sheet and she went rapturous. Hasta took out a sheet and removed the first day cover stuck on the sheet Mohua didn't know what to say. As she watched shocked, Hasta held out a small yellow stamp and moments later a tornado burst in the room. "omg!omg! It is the little Treskilling Yellow!" Mohua had shouted and looked like she was about to faint. Daya quickly calmed the girl and none understood the significance except for Hasta and Mohua.
Hasta held up the stamp and said, "Officers here is the 5 million pound Swedish stamp. The only one of its kind. It was stolen from the owner in Brazil and was sold to Smith in India so the police would not be able to arrest the thief." Hearing this everyone was stunned. 5 million pounds for a small stamp! Hasta continued, "It was painted yellow by mistake instead of green and so its value today is this."The stamp was taken to the bureau in a hand safe. Hasta refused anyone to handle it except for Daya and Abhijeeth as they had not raised an alarm after they felt something wrong with the sheet."
Three days later as the prizes were announced, at the Philately exhibition mohua hugged Hasta red faced. "Thank you for helping with my sheets. I could not have done all this again by myself." She looked at Abhijeeth and Daya her eyes worshipping them "Thank you Abhijeet uncle and Daya uncle for bringing my stamps back. I could not have won my bronze medal without all your help." The next surprise was seeing Hasta as one of the competitors. Her collection is another story.
But, the people who stole the lime light from the prize winners were CID Officers Abhijeet and Daya as most of the students there surrounded them for their autographs and photo sessions with them after listening to Mohua's story.