The next morning she dressed in her track pants and shoes and went out for a jog as told by the police. Her heart was galloping in her chest threatening to spill out of her rib cage. She barely jogged a few steps and she was sweating already. Her panic attack was starting up and she was trying every trick in her book to calm down. Not just the impending meeting but also what was transpiring in her life. Gautam was unpredictable. She knew he was concealing so much within she worried the bubble would burst someday. But who would be there for him? His mother seemed so distant and he never spoke about her… he never spoke about anything personal. She worried about his and also about her sanity.
She remembered as children Rewa didi and she were made to sit beside maasa as she told them how cultured girls behaved. She often lectured on how cultured girls wore their clothes without revealing too much or how they put forth their views without offending anyone etc. Preeti would always question her about gender bias in their household. Yash and Rohit were allowed to go and do as they pleased but there were so many restrictions for them. Maasa however had justification for everything. She was a little way ahead of her times. She had been widowed at thirty and single handily brought up five children. She believed in education and modesty. She often said modesty was a virtue unique to women. She said, modesty was a crown to be worn by women and only then they would be respected by all. Preeti found it too medieval but Rewa didi adhered to all the rules laid down in the Sengar household. As they grew older, Maasa warned them about wayward boys, to stay away from them. She enforced the arranged marriage system. She said, it was up to them to transform arranged marriage into a love one. Preeti was at that time subdued because of the incident so the thought of being with men repulsed her.
Today, as she neared her destination, she chuckled. Maasa would have a stroke if she knew what her granddaughter had been doing. She shook her head. She was now the epitome of what Maasa called uncultured. People often spoke behind the backs of such people maasa would say. Here, forget others Preeti hated herself. She had let her heart rule her head and everything had gone downhill for her. Gautam and she both had a strong appetite for copulation. They had the power to get combusted the moment they were in the same room. Thank God for her contraceptive shots. She didn’t need any unwanted complications anymore in her life. Gautam probably knew that as well. The extremely prepared man never used a condom after their first time. That reminded her she was due for her shot in a few days….
Finally she reached the destination and looked behind her as if to check if someone was following her. She had been so lost in thought she never got to check. She didn’t feel anything amiss when she looked around. Feeling satisfied she wiped her brow and entered RA tech park premises. It was completely empty but spotlessly clean. She looked for some kind of instructions or someone who could tell her something. It was then she saw the elevator panel and walked towards it. There were four elevators but only one was working at the moment. She checked the time, she still had five minutes. She took the elevator to the fourth floor. As soon as she stepped out she saw a series of office rooms and took the direction for the one she wanted. She walked to the end of the corridor and knocked the door of office number 410.
“Come in Ms. Sengar” called a deep voice from inside.
She turned the door knob and stepped inside. Unlike the other places in these premises there were people in the room. All dressed in formals. There were three men and two women. A huge mahogany desk stood elegantly at the centre and behind that was seated inspector Tanveer Raisingh. He had aged considerably in the last twelve years.
She stood looking at everyone her anxiety rising higher every moment.
“Please take a seat Ms Sengar.”
She nodded and sat on the soft chair in front of him. She wondered since when the police stations were shifted to tech parks. She laughed mentally and gently chided herself for jesting in the situation.
She was offered breakfast which she refused. Who could eat now? She was sure she was developing an ulcer.
“Okay Ms. Sengar, let me get to the point. I am senior inspector Tanveer Raisingh and we are the Crime Branch. We are currently doing our investigations secretly hence the location.” He waved at the room.
Oh…He was in the Crime Branch… He had done well for himself she thought.
“So Ms. Sengar…” He continued. “…coming directly to the point, Is there anything you want to tell us about that day twelve years ago?”
Preeti looked up into his eyes. “Um… Sir…I told you everything that I could remember… you know I was injured terriblely…I was unconscious….”
“…Tell us in addition to all that Ms. Sengar…” He interrupted her. “…. I already know what you had told us. It’s in the records…”
“Then what else do you want to know Sir?”
“How about the truth this time Ms. Sengar?”
“Look Sir, I seriously don’t understand what else is left to say… and anyway twelve years have passed and I have moved on with great difficulty…”
“…the case is not closed Ms. Sengar. Your brother and that man…Sukhi were killed. Their killers were never caught. There were no bodies or blood at the crime scene which of course we could trace because of your car and Sukhi’s mobile phone. There were no witnesses at all. How could that be possible? The way you were hurt, even your blood traces were not found there… It proves there was someone who actually saved you and went the extra mile to cover up everything. So tell us Ms. Sengar, who was it?”
“..I don’t know what you are talking about. I am surprised that you found out what you did but I was unconscious all the time. How would I know?”
Why she didn’t want to talk about Gautam she didn’t know. It was as if she was going the extra mile to save his identity.
“Well let me tell you something Ms. Sengar. That year i.e in 2008. There were ten murders which the local police couldn’t solve but all the men were killed in a similar manner. Fine cut in the wind pipe with a sharp object. They were beaten black and blue before that. About two kilometres from your crime scene we found a body in the jungle. Exactly the same way of killing. He was beaten beyond recognition. We still don’t know who he was….”
Preeti was now scared. She was shivering. She knew this was not good. “..Wait Sir… what is this got to do with me?”
Tanveer Raisingh gave her a snide smile. “Hear me out Ms. Sengar. Patience. So… when we found that body, I went a step ahead. I got his bite marks from the forensics and got them compared with er…the bite mark …. You got there…”
Reflexively she touched the mark through the t shirt cloth and instantly the flood gates opened. She swiped them away and hunched down.
“I am sorry Ms. Sengar. I didn’t intend to upset you. But you have to hear this. When I compared the… marks, it was a perfect match.”
Preeti gasped when she heard it. The entire scene flashed before her eyes and she shivered. One of the women in the room got her a cup of hot tea from the dispenser. She took a few sips and tried to calm her racing heart. She only wanted Gautam right now. To hold her and assure her everything was going to be just fine. But somehow she felt her control slipping away and she was barely hanging there by a fragile thread of hope.
A minute later she composed herself and looked at Tanveer Raisingh. He spoke with a soft authority. “Ms. Sengar in the last twelve years I have been working my ass off to find the culprit but our theory says he is some kind of a vigilante. I know he worked alone. We have the proof for the same. The people whom he had killed were the worst kind of thugs, rapists and paedophiles out on bail whom we couldn’t touch because we were bound buy the law. He in fact did a service to the society no doubt by getting rid of those low lives. But Preeti no one gave him a right to be some kind of a vigilante. The law doesn’t allow you to kill someone.”
She didn’t know how to react at all.
“Who…who killed my Brother and Sukhi uncle?” she asked her voice cracking
“We will know that only when we find that vigilante and that’s where you come into picture.” He spoke looking straight into her eyes.
Preeti looked away and asked. “How can I help you?”
“Ms. Sengar, I have a feeling you know the guy.”
Preeti hoped she didn’t give Gautam away. She struggled to keep her cool.
“Sir, I still don’t get it. How can I help?”
Tanveer Raisingh looked up at his subordinates and they all left the room.
“Ms. Sengar I want to share a story with you. Do listen carefully.”
“I grew up in Rewari which is pretty close to Alwar. There was this boy in my class who came out of nowhere in the 8th grade. He was mysterious and kept to himself. He was brilliant in studies and also a super athlete simply a class apart. But his parents never came for the open house or any school function. He would just disappear after school. He never fraternised….” Tanveer Raisingh stood up and walked to the window looking out. After a moment he came back but didn’t sit on his revolving chair. He was lost in thought.
“…And then Ms. Sengar, one day I broke the ice, I chipped through his exteriors and he started to speak with me. I liked him because we shared the same interests. We both loved adventure sports and constantly competed in athletics. Though he didn’t share anything personal and was well guarded I did catch a few glimpses here and there. He was brought up by a single parent and had a younger sister and brother. But they weren’t in the same school. Ours was a government school so I assumed they must have gone to a private school. We soon became fast friends. He even came home with me sometimes. After 10th grade I shifted to Rangarh Alwar because of my father’s posting. The last I saw him was on the result day. He had scored well in 10th boards. He didn’t share his contacts ever but he had my landline. We didn’t have mobiles those days. He often called at least once a month. He spoke cautiously. But he didn’t reveal anything about himself. He knew I was getting into the force someday since my dad was also a policeman. We spoke of things which didn’t matter at all. It was as if he just wanted to hear someone talk to him. He came across as a loner. Then after a couple of years the frequency of the calls trickled to a bare minimum and finally stopped completely…. To date I don’t really know what he is up to.” Tanveer Raisingh sighed. He looked at Preeti and said. “…do you know what always struck me most about him?”
She shook her head.
“….Ms. Sengar, he couldn’t stand injustice at all. He would lose his temper at the drop of a hat. He stood up for the weak and trust me…I admired him for that. Really did…”
Preeti didn’t understand where this was leading to as he continued after a moment of stoic silence.
“… and another feature which is stuck in my memory was, he had the most expressive brown eyes…”
Preeti stared wide eyed at Tanveer Raisingh.
“I know what you must be thinking Ms. Sengar. I know about Mr. Vikram Singh that he is your future brother-in- law. My classmate’s name was Gautam Rathore…. Ring a bell?”
Preeti didn’t know how much Tanveer Raisingh knew. She had to choose her words carefully.
“Look Sir, I have told you all that I knew about the incident twelve years ago. I have to leave now because my folks will miss me and it will be difficult for me to explain things to them…”
“Okay Okay…Ms. Sengar. You may go now. But the offer stands. In case you ever want to share anything please call me. Here is the card.”
She took the card and put it in her pockets and turned around.
“Ms .Sengar?” he called out and she turned again. “Ms. Sengar…if I were you…I would be careful around Gautam. He is a dangerous. I hope you know that by now…”
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