Sunday 5.30 a.m.
The Prime minster looked at the sealed blank envelope given by the maid; she withdrew immediately.
Prime Minister sat at the desk and tore open the envelope and pulled a single sheet of paper. It wore navy insignia and was signed by two heads, Navy and Army. Prime Minister read the three sentences in the letter which was hand written.
Please come to the lawn immediately.
We request you not to use the telephone or call any one on your cell.
We are waiting for you.
Prime Minister had just woken up and he checked his wrist watch in his right hand and found it was 5.30 in the morning.
He walked to the lawn in front of Prime Minister’s residence and could see three persons standing.
As he went closer he could see The Chief of Army Staff, Ranjan Malhotra and Chief of Naval Staff Rajpal Singh and another man in military uniforms waiting for him.
It was Ranjan Malhotra who spoke extending his hand which the Prime Minister shook.
“Sir, we are extremely sorry to be putting you into inconvenience very early in the morning that too without notification.” He then pointed to the man in uniform and said, “Sir, this is Brigadier Sukhdev. The man who has requested all of us to meet on urgent basis. And Sir” Malhotra hesitated. “We need to leave right away and we will explain everything on the way.”
Prime Minister looked at the three men and spoke.
“What could be so urgent? And why are we not meeting in my office? At least I must tell my PA who can re-schedule all my meetings and there is a dignitary visit from our friendly neighborhood countries for a special meeting today.”
Malhotra spoke hesitatingly. “With due respect Sir. Your personal assistant, Mr. Sawant has been taken to a hospital late night for an urgent checkup.”
“What? What’s happening? How come I was not notified about his illness?” A shocked Prime Minister spoke a little angrily.
Rajpal Singh who was silent till now, spoke in a low but firm voice.
“Sir, it is a national security issue. Sawant is perfectly healthy. Nothing to worry. Once we are on that helicopter, perhaps we will explain everything.”
“what could be so damn urgent?” An exasperated Prime Minister spoke angrily.
Brigadier looked in to the eyes of the Prime Minister and spoke in an assertive tone. “The right word,” paused the Brigadier. "Prime Minister, Is not urgent. It is a catastrophe, Sir!"
The Prime Minister along with two Chiefs of Staff and Brigadier Sukhdev boarded an un marked helicopter which was on the lawn few feet away.
The helicopter rode a short distance. It landed on the un marked runway in Delhi airport where a military plane was waiting, engine running.
As soon as all the four of them boarded. The pilot got the signal and the plane started to move.
Prime Minister looked at his two heads of state and spoke, now in a composed voice.
“Where is our Airforce chief? And you pulled me directly from my bed. I haven’t had my tea. I just brushed and was about to get one.”
Malhotra cleared his throat. “Sir. He is away and we could not reach him and speak in a secured way. We will bring him as soon as we can. We have already sent our trusted man to accompany him.”
Malhotra pushed a button and a military jawan brought a tray with tea.
Malhotra spoke. “Sir, when we join any of the three forces, one of the important and first lesson we must follow without fail is to start our day clean shaven; as you can see both of us have stubble, for the first time in our life. Brigadier here literally pulled us from bed.”
Prime Minster noticed the stubble for the first time and smiled and then looked at Brigadier and spoke.
“And if I am not mistaken, Brigadier,” Prime Minister looked at the Brigadier and spoke. “you have not slept in let’s see, 48 hours. Am I right?”
Brigadier with blood shot eyes, smiled and spoke. “Sir lots of people have told me how observant you are. You are right Sir. It is exactly 48 hours since I slept and more than 14 hours since I ate. But, briefing you was at the top of my agenda. My superiors here have understood that.
Malhotra then turned to Brigadier and spoke “I think now it is safe. You can explain everything to the Prime Minister.”
Brigadier Sukhdev looked at Prime Minister and spoke. “Sir, first and foremost. The secrecy with which we are taking you is for a good reason. We don’t know where and how and how deep the infiltration has taken place. Your personal assistant was in hospital 15 days back for one day. A normal tonsils operation. In fact, you made it a point to visit him despite your heavy schedule.”
Brigadier paused, “He was not only operated safely for tonsils but.” The Brigadier inhaled deeply before speaking. “a very high-level listening device was implanted on his shoulder. The entire operation was done so skill fully, he would never notice. Sir, everything you have discussed in the last week when your PA was around has been heard by people who shouldn’t be listening.”
Prime Minister stood up involuntarily and spoke, this time he was barely audible.
“What? How could this happen? He was in one of the best hospitals in the country and I was told that the doctor who operated him was also one of the best and trust worthy.”
Brigadier exhaled deeply before speaking. “Sir. The tonsils operation was indeed genuine and was done, like you said, by our doctors. But your PA was told that he will be discharged next day. At night, he was taken to operation room, possibly heavily sedated and….” Brigadier stopped.
“Oh my god. Is this the reason why you people are taking me by plane?”
Brigadier looked at both the heads and they nodded their head. He looked at the Prime Minister and spoke. “Sir, with due respect. Implanting a listening device in the shoulder of your PA is nothing serious. What I am about to tell you is much bigger and” he paused before continuing. “much more catastrophic in nature.”
I will explain once we reach our facilities which, “he looked at his wrist watch and said. “in less than 15 minutes from now.”
The Prime Minister was breathing very fast even as his mind raced to the entire week that’s gone by and started recollecting the things, he would have discussed either directly or in the presence of his trusted personal assistant. Has the opposition stooped so low? He was desperate for an answer.
The plane landed in an unmarked airport and a bullet proof car was waiting, manned by gun wielding military personnel and the four persons were whisked away within no time.
The car journey was not long but it went through dense forest like place before halting, again in front of an un marked structure. The building was small and not visible from air as thick trees which were taller than the building was bent to provide shelter and a green coloured canvas covered the entire building.
The Prime Minister was ushered in to the basement through a lift. There were no numbers on the panel indicating how many floors the lift was going below but the Prime Minister noticed that it took almost 2 minutes to descend.
Once they reached, Brigadier lead them to a large area which looked like an assembly area of a rocket launch pad, though completely covered; there were hundreds of instruments blinking with red and green colour.
The three scientists who were waiting for the Brigadier, on his cue, pressed a button on the panel of what looked like a large fork lift. Ground appeared to split to reveal a platform. Resting on the platform was a glass dome which rose slowly.
Brigadier took all three of them closer and they were joined by the chief scientist Vinayakan who bowed to the Prime Minster and shook his hands. Prime Minister had handpicked Vinayakan and knew him personally.
Vinayakan showed the dome and explained it.
Sir, this is a prototype of one of the best nuclear war head we have ever assembled. It is capable of being deployed in a submarine or air borne planes.” He paused and looked at Brigadier who nodded his head in affirmation for the scientist to continue.
“Sir. I said this is not original but a prototype. It is the exact replica of the war head I narrated.”
Prime Minister looked quizzically at the scientist and spoke.
“You are saying I was brought here in this ungodly hour without notification just to see a replica? What is this, Vinayakan, is this some sort of a joke?”
Brigadier held up his hand indicating to the scientist that he would continue.
“With due respect Sir. The word prototype was deliberately used as a preamble to what I am about to say.
This prototype is not built by us.
This is built by a clandestine terrorist group called Octopus who has no affiliation with any particular country.”
Brigadier paused before continuing. “They stole the drawing and created a replica and kept it here and stone the original”
The Prime Minster was looking at all the four people with a gaped mouth and couldn’t utter a word..Brigadier continued; his voice shaking a little.
“Our preliminary investigation has revealed that the stolen nuclear war head would be deployed using ballistic missile system for delivery and in all probability, would be used for killing 15 to 20 lakhs of people and we believe it will be used at a place where such large gathering is taking place.”
The Prime Minister looked sharply and his voice was even sharper.
“Stolen? How? What kind of security system we have? Is it anything to do with my PA being implanted with that device you said?
Wait,” Prime Minister voice went shrill. “where the hell will you find such a large gathering now? Almost all the big festivals are over and we are approaching midway of this year! You say 15 to 20 lakh people? First of all, where is such a place in India which can accommodate the large gathering for the terrorist to target?
Brigadier took a deep breath and he could sense that all the other three people did likewise before speaking.
“Sir, such gathering is indeed taking place and it is estimated that the figure I mentioned may be less if our reports are correct. It will happen on Id festival.”
Prime Minister spoke angrily. This time not mincing his words. “Id? What’s wrong with you guys? Where the hell such a gathering can take place in India which I am not aware of?”
“With due respect Sir. Malhotra who was silent till now, spoke. “The nuclear war head will be deployed on Id when this kind of large gathering is taking place,” He paused before continuing; his voice barely audible.
“Not in India…. Sir. But….in Pakistan.”
Sunday at 7.30 a.m.
The Prime Minister sat, slumped in his chair while all the other five sat around a large round table.
After a while the Prime Minister spoke, in a shaking voice. “Do you guys recognize what would happen if what you described were to happen? Indian made nuclear war head destroying millions on Pakistan soil that too in a clandestine way? Forget about the condemnation of the dastardly act from around the world; that can be dealt. What will happen in Pakistan? The present Prime Minister will be thrown out in no time and the military, who have been waiting for an opportunity will take over will start ruling the county. It will be back to square one, not to mention retaliation and its effect on Indian soil.
When did this happen?”
Brigadier replied by looking and getting a nod from other two; “Exactly 48 hours ago Sir.”
The Prime Minister stood up and paced up and down while all the others waited.
“Then how come I am being informed now?”
It was the scientist Vinayakan who replied. “We noticed it late, Prime Minister; when we were trying to fix a beeping sound coming from inside the dome. The dome is made of steel and cannot be broken nor opened without elaborate security mechanism. They have dug up a deep trench from across the river.
The infiltrators took the original via underground tunnel and kept the replica.”
The Prime Minister exhaled deeply and sat down heavily on the chair.
“No gentlemen; this is something completely un-acceptable to me. We will be finished. My dream of taking India to the next millennium as a World leader will be shattered. I am not afraid of losing my seat. I don’t care about being the Prime Minister. What I am worried is about the people of my country. I have a mandate to protect them, at all cost.”
He steadied himself, took a deep breath and spoke in a calm voice; authority back in his voice.
“I am aware that you guys are the best in business. Now tell me what have we done so far to stop this catastrophe.” He paused and looked at Brigadier and nodded. “You were right Brigadier, that is the right word.”
Malhotra looked at the two persons sitting on either side, and spoke. “Sir, we have already un earthed lots of information about this gang called Octopus. We have also constituted a team which is being headed by the Brigadier, because he is the one who knows more about Octopus than anybody.
Sir, they not only stole the nuke but it was shifted from here using the secret base of Air Force; they used Air force plane too.
Maybe they must have forged authorization.
With due respect to you sir, we have given all the powers and resources he needs. We have traced the possible route the terrorists are taking for shifting the war head; we believe it will be through Assam. But they are likely to move it away from India and Pakistan for the time being; maybe it would either be Burma who lack sophisticated equipment to trace infiltration or the less suspecting Nepal. We have a regiment who are on the trail of a large gang in the jungles of Assam who belong to the same group.
As far as the infiltration is concerned, two of the persons who might have helped the heist of the original were shot dead by the terrorist gang who planned it. One, who masterminded the whole thing from Indian side, is missing and we have few hunches as to who it could be; we are watching him very closely.
Sir, we have sent experts to go through your office and the rooms in your house to find and remove all kinds of electronic listening devices that may have been planted. Your PA is clean and trust worthy. Poor fellow he had no idea that he was being used as a courier of information from your office till now. We got the bug removed just about 10 minutes ago. I got a message while we were sitting here.”
One request to you Sir.” Malhotra paused. We do not want even a single word to go out about this whole affair. Except for the people who are sitting here only three more persons know about this; they are all trust worthy beyond doubt. So, from your side, we request you to continue to conduct your affairs normally as if nothing has happened. We will be briefing you on a daily basis directly. This person will meet you every day without raising any suspicion.”
The Prime Minster stood up and all others also stood up and he shook hands with everyone and started to walk. He walked few steps and stopped, turned around and spoke.
“Gentlemen, India is not an isolated place in this World; we have become too important to the whole World. Anything happening to us will affect the whole World. Am sure you guys fathom the significance of stopping this at all costs. I don’t care what it costs us in terms of money and effort.
Gentlemen destroy this Octopus before it destroys us and the World.”
Saturday - Night
Somewhere in Assam
Gun fire from the military battalion called ‘Night Hawks’ lit the dark night sky in that thick jungle about 75 kilometers from Guwahati, not far from a swollen Brahmaputra river, in to an eerie orange and red.
The guns blazed as 25 plus solders lead by Major Das, a hard-core military man aged 42 who is nearly 6 feet tall and had an athletic body, a brilliant and sharp mind. He was a bachelor and was known to undertake riskiest of projects without batting an eyelid. Das was known as a no-nonsense man and spoke very little. He acted quickly and decisively; he readied his team and was in the thick of action in less than one hour of discussing with the Brigadier.
He gestured to his men to follow him smelling the terrorist’s hideout nearby.
Das observed that the return fire became less and less from the terrorists hiding inside the jungle, indicating that either they were retreating or perhaps, most of them were dead. He raised his hand asking his troupe to stop when they came to a clearing. One could see bodies of terrorists lying in different shapes without most of the time, their vital body parts. The bullet has burned the bodies and the acrid smell was unbearable.
Major Das looked around; it looked like one of the hiding places though, it looked like a transit camp instead of a permanent one.
The soldiers were tired but they were ready to go as they sensed victory. Major called a soldier who carried a camera with him and asked him to take pictures of few slain bodies focusing on tattooed arms, in close up shots.
He then called for a soldier carrying the portable rocket launcher. He took a small pocket-sized instrument from his overcoat and looked at it. It showed the map of the jungle in green lights. He pressed a button and typed the coordinates checking a pocket diary and suddenly, a red light started glowing on the panel. He indicated to the soldier that the target is less than a kilometer ahead.
The soldier fed the coordinates to the panel on his launcher and waited for orders. All solders huddled in one corner while Major Das stood with the solder.
The soldier got the thumbs up from the Major; he steadied the rocket launcher and launched the rocket. The rocket went straight in to the dark night and then turned and headed towards the destination.
After couple of minutes they all heard the big sound and splash of white light ahead and the troupe ran towards it with springs in their legs.
The jihadis heard rather than saw the rocket heading towards them; before they could even move, the rocket smashed in to the make shift large tent and fire ballooned. Suleiman jumped out of the burning tent and lay on his back as debris fell around him. It took him couple of minutes to get up. He ran towards a smaller tent at the back of the big one; it was burning. He ordered a few jihadis around him and they all went looking for something. Soon one guy called out indicating a body lying in the rubble.
Suleiman a tall man of around 35 had a neatly trimmed beard and wore a military dress, albeit with black tint. He carried several weapons with him including a large assault rifle which he hung over his shoulder and couple of .45 caliber pistols in either side of his pant pockets not to mention couple of sharp blades tucked under his calf muscle pocket.
Suleiman was a natural leader. He reported to his boss whom no one has seen or heard personally. The entire force adored and feared him. He had very sharp brain and equally sharp tongue.
He never spoke; he barked orders.
Now also he barked once and within seconds, a stretcher was brought with a soft bed on it. They shifted the injured man and tied the four ends of the stretcher which had soft pads attached to it.
“Be careful. We must protect this man at any cost. Ensure that no further damage happens to him in transit.” Spoke Suleman.
Within minutes, large ropes came down from the nearby tall tree and the men tied the make shift stretcher. Persons sitting atop pulled it higher and higher. Once the stretcher reached a height of about 20 meters and safely secured, Suleman barked something to the walkie talkie. People sitting at the top of the other trees released another rope by cutting it; large branches which were held together by the rope was released and spread like a large canvas just below the make shift stretcher hanging in air. It was impossible even to imagine that there was something beyond those large thick branches.
One of the jihadis came to Suleiman and pointed to a man badly injured lying in the bushes and asked what he should do. Suleiman went and bent down and checked; the man was alive, barely. Suleiman took out his revolver with silencer, pointed at the man and shot him between eyes.
The few jihadis who were standing witnessing the incident just looked at Suleiman without saying anything.
“A jihadi when alive or dead is an asset to our cause; when he is alive and captured by the enemies, he will be a liability.”
The jihadi looked at the dead man and then looked beyond to the bushes; there was another one in similar condition. But, having witnessed the result, the Jihadi simple walked away without even looking back.
Suleiman barked again and everyone scrambled and climbed the other tree. The trees were thick and large and very tall; the jihadis climbed the trees using the rope ladders which were lowered by the men at the top.
Suleiman, who also had climbed the tree and was sitting on a branch indicated through sign language, that they should all wait patiently for 15minutes. In less than 10 minutes the military soldiers came and stood near the destroyed tents. There were about 10 jihadis lying dead.
Major Das went near each body and checked it with his bright torch and shook his head.
Suleiman sitting atop the tree was checking every movement made by the Major and realized that it was time for the next line of defense. He took out what looked like a satellite phone; but it was not just phone; it had large key board and equally large screen. He tapped series of dash and dots on the key board which is a modern-day replica of the old Morse code. Soon reply came back on a small roll of paper attached to the instrument.
Suleiman trained his binocular on the northern side where within minutes, a blue smoke started bellowing. The thick smoke was observed by a soldier who showed it to the Major Das. Soon the battalion walked towards the smoke.
Suleiman waited for another 10 minutes before coming down and asked his men to bring the stretcher down. Once they all came down, they moved in the direction indicated by Suleiman who walked about 200 meters to his left, before stopping and barked orders to one of his aides.
The jihadi walked to a large tree, opened what looked like a small door in the tree through his knife and exposed a large handle. Two persons started rotating the handle clockwise and soon, a large trap door started to open where there were leaves strewn earlier. The hydraulic door opened to expose a large Wrangler Jeep; a four-wheel drive which can be driven in any condition or surface.
They shifted the man on stretcher and six of them got in to jeep while few others stood and took orders from Suleiman.
The jeep rode exactly in the opposite direction where the solders headed after seeing the blue smoke. Suleiman looked back and a smug smile crossed his face.
Two levels of camouflage went off as planned.
Sunday - Night
The phone rang and Abhay who was getting ready to sleep ignored it first. The phone rang again. He pulled himself up from the bed and walked towards the writing table where he had kept the phone for charging. He pulled the wire and looked at the number.
The lines on his face deepened and he hesitated for a while. Why call me after all these years, that too in this ungodly hour? Should I really talk to her?
Before he could answer the call, the call got disconnected; Abhay heaved sigh of relief. Shanti his wife was busy in the kitchen in the ground floor. Abhay reasoned that when she came up, she would surely ask him about the late-night call.
He once again put the phone on charging mode and was about to go walk away when the phone rang again.
Abhay picked up and said, “Doctor Abhay here. Who is this please”?
“Abhay, this is Madhu. Please Abhay I urgently need your help.” Said Madhu and continued to sob. The connection was not good and the call was not clear.
“What? Is that you Madhu? What happened? Where are you?”
There was a pause and Abhay could only hear the static sound. After a while, he heard her again. “Abhay, we were going to Pune from Panchgani and Rajeev was driving. I don’t know what happened. He slumped on the wheel and fell unconscious; the car went zig zag. I thought we both would die. But fortunately, the car hit a large tree and stopped. We are in the middle of nowhere. I can’t find any help here though I am shouting for help. I don’t know what do. Please Abhay, help me.”
Abhay stood still. Oh my god. Looks like a cardiac arrest, he thought. He spoke in a calm voice. “Listen carefully Madhu. First and foremost, don’t panic. Are you carrying a cold box which we use for carrying soft drinks etc.?”
Madhu who was still not out shock could not understand what Ajay was asking. “What do you mean soft drinks?”
Abhay cleared his throat and spoke. “Madhu, an insulated icebox which is used to carry soft drinks etc., are you carrying it in your car?” This time, Madhu understood and said hurriedly. “Yes. I think it is there in the dicky.”
“Good, now listen to me carefully. Madhu, you are also a doctor. Ok, you are a gynecologist, I know. But you must get hold of yourself and do what I am about to tell you. Rajeev seems to have suffered cardiac arrest. From what you described, I think It would take you another 30 minutes or so reach hospital. We must ensure that Rajeev does not suffer brain hemorrhage, which is likely when there is a cardiac arrest, and patient seems to be slipping into a coma. So, take some ice from the box, wrap it in a towel and make sure you wrap this towel around Rajeev’s head and secure it. The ice will cool and help in temporarily averting hemorrhage. Is the car in good condition to drive?”
Madhu listened attentively and said, “yes Abhay. I understood what you said. Will do it right away. And yes, the car’s front is damaged a bit but it is in running condition. I will drive and once I reach the hospital, will call you.”
The line was disconnected.
Abhay stood motionless. He heaved a sigh of relief and shaking his head, went to lie down on the cot. He has to get up early in the morning as he should be in hospital by 7 in the morning, he thought even as he heard footsteps of Shanti coming up.
Shanti, Abhay’s wife of nearly 12 years, saw Abhay lying on the cot with his eyes open. He turned towards her and smiled. Shanti squinted her eyes and looked at Abhay questioningly and spoke. “I heard you talking on the phone. Who was it? Was it from hospital? Any emergency”
Abhay got up and put the pillow behind his head and sat down, stretched his legs and spoke, looking directly in to his wife’s eyes. “It was an emergency all right but not from hospital. Madhu called from Panchgani.”
“Oh?” said Shanti. Poor Madhu. Even in college when we were studying, she would get very tense easily. In fact, she almost gave up her studies in the middle. What emergency? Is she all right?
“She was in trouble. She and her husband met with an accident and Rajeev seems to have suffered cardiac arrest. I just gave few first aid tips that’s all.”
“Accident? Oh my god. Is it serious? And what about Rajeev? What will Madhu do now?” enquired Shanti with genuine concern in her voice.
“Relax. I have instructed her to administer first aid to prevent damage to Rajeev’s brain and she would be reaching the hospital any time.” Said Abhay and looked outside window and saw that it was overcast.
“You are such a kind hearted man, Abhay. You are perfect for a cardiologist. Shanti smiled went close to her husband and kissed him on his cheeks in affection.
Abhay smiled and yawned “Come, we need to find as much sleep as possible as I have a tough day tomorrow and the weather looks like it might rain; two surgeries have been lined up. Said Rajeev turned to his side and slept. He started snoring within minutes.
How can someone sleep so easily and so fast? Wondered Shanti as a thin line of smile appeared on her lips. She remembered the situation in which she met the young doctor for the first time; a medium sized man with a king size heart, thought Shanti as her memory raced to that eventful day, once again, Shanti looked at the baby faced Abhay and smiled.
It was rainy season and Shanti, a veterinary doctor sat at her desk contemplating to go home early. She looked outside and the road was virtually empty barring few speeding cars.
She came inside to take the key kept in the table drawer when a car stopped in front of the gate and a man of around 25 or 26 came inside clutching something in his hand.
Even as Shanti stood there watching, Abhay looked up and spoke. “Doctor, I need your help.” Abhay went past Shanti and put, what looked like a rat trap on the table.
Shanti walked and looked surprisingly at the squeaking squirrel which was, apparently, got trapped in the rat trap and looked questioningly at Abhay.
Abhay smiled at Shanti and said. “Doctor, I was driving my car and stopped for a while to answer the call on my mobile. My eyes fell on this rat trap and saw the squeaking squirrel, don’t know how it got inside. When I Googled, found your shop was the neatest. So, I brought him here.”
Shanti examined the squirrel and using her skill full hands, removed the squeaking squirrel from the rat trap carefully and laid it on the table. The squirrel stopped the awful sound and was looking here there. Shanti looked at Abhay and smiled. “Lucky fellow. He didn’t bite the bait kept for the rat. Else, he would have damaged his brain as the steel rod would have gone through his mouth directly to the brain. He only has superfluous injury I suppose.”
She smiled mockingly at Abhay and said, I am sure he can be discharged in an hour.”
Abhay smiled broadly at the attritive veterinary doctor and extended his hand and spoke “Thanks doctor,” he looked at the name plate on the desk and continued “Shanti. It is very kind of you. By the way, I am a doctor Abhay, a cardiologist. Though I know few things about humans, animals are far too complicated for me to handle. Actually, I have lots of patients waiting for me; but, I thought, this too was equally important and urgent, if not more.”
Shanti looked at young Abhay and his twinkling eyes and fell in love with him that very second.
Abhay noticed that Shanti was still holding his hand and was looking deep in to his eyes. He too smiled and gently separated his hand, smiled and said. “If you permit me Doctor, I will have to go now. By the way,” he removed his purse and few currency notes as well as his visiting card from his coat pocket and gently kept it on Shanti’s hands and looked in to her eyes and continued. “This is my contact number. Will be delighted to speak to you again. And hey, thanks doc. You are very kind.”
Shanti looked at the money and the card and taking card in her left hand, she gave the money back to Abhay and said, “Doctor. I have treated a distressed animal which was brought by a very kind hearted man. Don’t you think I too should reciprocate in some way? Keep the money doctor. I will leave him once he is ready to go out.”
Abhay gently pulled Shanti’s ears who had closed her eyes and was dreaming.
“So, my dear wife seems to be recollecting events that happened a decade ago instead of sleeping, right?”
“Oh? You haven’t slept. You are good at acting too, doctor. I really thought you slept.” Said Shanti lying down closer to her husband.
Laughing, couple hugged each other and kissed. Abhay was playing with curly hair falling and obscuring her large eyes and spoke. “it’s been 12 years but still you look as young, fresh and alluring as ever. what’s the secret?”
Shanti pulled herself back, looked at Abhay and spoke.” You have a baby face, so innocent; you are a kind hearted man, what I don’t understand is how can you perform surgeries? That too when many of them require you to be stone hearted?
Abhay smiled and spoke with a faraway look in his eyes. “Honestly, I don’t know the answer. I always wanted to be s surgeon. As you know I grew up by losing my parents and had a very tough time in finding money for my education. I guess, when I wear those green aprons, my personality changes. Leave all those things now. You haven’t answered my question?”
Shanti pulled Abhay’s nose gently and said. “Are you a doctor or poet? You seem to be in a very romantic mood today.
Abhay pulled shanti towards him and locking his lips, spoke. “You make me romantic”. The couple made love and it was Shanti who reminded Abhay about next morning engagements.
Abhay smiled and still hugging Shanti slept peacefully.
Saturday - Night
The Wrangler halted about 50 – 60 meters in front of a large steel door that was embedded into the rock face; red light blinked at least on four different parts of the semi circled dome. Suleiman took out his walkie talkie and barked orders. Within seconds the lights turned to green, the steel door opened and the jeep went inside.
A stretcher was ready and they shifted the injured man inside.
The interior looked and smelled like a top-class hospital bereft of patients. The exterior gave no indication that behind those steel doors, there could be something so big and so well organized.
Suleiman barked commands and the man on the stretcher was shifted to the ICU and like a well-oiled machine, the next processes went out with clockwork precision – a doctor on duty went and attended and a senior doctor came from inside within minutes and a scanning process of the man lying on the bed started in less than 5 minutes of their arrival.
Suleiman stood while the doctors stood in semicircle around him. He listened uninterrupted and when they finished, he simply asked one question; “how much time we have before we can operate?”
“10 to 12 hours at the most” came reply from a senior doctor. Suleiman nodded his head.
Suleiman went out to an adjacent room, locked himself, took out his satellite phone and started the process of enlisting people who would put his next plan in to motion in different Indian cities. It took almost 30 minutes for Suleiman to put his next action plan in place.
When he completed, he stretched and thought that success of our plan lies in getting the injured man to at least talk for few minutes; that should be sufficient to get the information about the trigger mechanism. He cursed himself; this must be the first time that he undertook an operation of this size without plan – B for some of the crucial part of the plan.
Monday Morning – 8.00 am
Dr. Abhay Chaudhari came down the stairs, barefooted; he was looking for socks to get ready for the hospital. “Shanti…. Where are my socks? I have wasted nearly 15 minutes searching for them?” Shanti came out of kitchen wiping her wet hands on the apron and looked at her barefooted husband and smiled.
“I have always wondered as to how you were able to get that Gold medal in medicine? I also think about those poor people who undergo operation from you. Doctor sahib, your socks were kept along with your dress and in your hurry to grab the shirt and pant, you must have dropped it. God knows how many items you have misplaced in hospital.”
Shanti went upstairs and came out with a pair of socks and dangled it in front of her husband.
Abhay smiled and held Shanti and looked in to her eyes and said, “I just can’t imagine spending even one-day without you, my dear wife. You are right; even I wondered how I managed to clear my medicine. Thank you, honey. Are we ready to eat breakfast? Oh, where is our son? He was supposed to go to the football match today afternoon, right?”
Shanti smiled and went to set up breakfast on the table.
Abhay who turned 35 just last week has earned the title as one of the best cardiac surgeons not only in Bangalore but all over India, married for over 12 years lived in his bungalow on the outskirts of Bangalore. His son, Akshay travelled to school which is on the other side of the city in a school bus and both left almost at the same time in the morning.
Akshay came down running from stairs carrying his heavy school bag and smiled at Abhay saying. “Good morning dad, mom. Both of you seems so free early in the morning? Why? Has dad applied leave? Dad are you coming to watch my football match?”
Abhay sat on the chair smiled at his son and said. “I wish I could Akshay. I have a dinner party today.” Turning towards his wife, “Shanti, I almost forgot to tell you. Will be late today evening as we are hosting a party to one of our senior doctors, I am sure you know him? Dr. Vishwas? Yeah, he is going on a sabbatical for a three-year period. So, please don’t wait for me. You two finish dinner, Ok?”
Shanti smiled. “Abhay thank god you remembered at least now. You really saved me from worries. When you are late, I will be waiting without knowing what to do? Can’t call you too, as per your instructions!”
Abhay smiled and got ready and went to the basement and came out driving his car. Even as he turned his car towards main road, he observed from the corner of his eyes, a man standing and looking at his house and speaking on the phone. He thought of going back to check the man but decided that it might be a coincidence that he is looking at the house while talking absent mindedly, he thought and proceeded towards hospital.
Abhay parked his car in the Hospital compound at a place earmarked for him, got down and looked around. He was early and most of the parking space meant for doctors of the hospital was empty. As he walked slowly, he observed shadows of people behind him.
As he turned to face them, a man almost 6 feet tall with a swarthy face, gently held the doctor’s hand and spoke in English laced with a heavy foreign accent. “Doctor please listen to me without making any sound. Your son has just been kidnapped by a professional gang of kidnappers. He was made to get down from his school bus. He is right now in their custody and they are just waiting to hear from me. If you simply walk across the road and get in to the ambulance parked over there, your son will return home safely and you will get a call from your wife as a confirmation. You see doctor, we have a badly injured man inside the ambulance; of course, he is the most wanted man and we cannot go inside the hospital. This will take less than 5 minutes. We want only your opinion and not treatment. Once you check his condition, you can get down and go back to the hospital. So please hurry.” The man jabbed the pistol to Abhay’s stomach to prove he meant business.
Abhay looked at the men surrounding him and spoke to the tall man who appeared like their leader. “How can I be sure that my son is in your custody? What if you guys are pulling my legs?”
The swarthy faced man nodded his head and took out his mobile phone and dialed a number. It was picked up on the first ring. He spoke briefly; Abhay couldn’t understand the language.
He held the phone and Abhay took it and heard his son’s voice. “daddy, I was made to get down from the school bus. These guys speak some funny language and are taking me in a car...?”
The swarthy faced man snatched the phone and disconnected it.
The ambulance door opened as soon as Abhay approached by a man wearing doctor’s coat; he climbed the ambulance and stared at the empty stretcher. Before he could turn around, his neck was jabbed with an injection by the man in whitecoat who stood behind him and in seconds,
Abhay started falling down; he was caught and made to sleep on the stretcher even as the ambulance moved out of town to a waiting helicopter to take Abhay to an unknown destination.
Dr. Dipankar came down the stairs in his Salt Lake, kolkatta house and picked up the newspaper from the front door. Even as he was about to close the door, he observed someone standing on the opposite side of the road, looking at his house and speaking on the phone. The man, though was talking animatedly on the phone, kept looking at Dipankar’s house.
A worried Dipankar thought of calling the police but on second thought shrugged his shoulders and locked the front door. His wife had gone to her parent’s house as his father-in-law was not well. Dipankar is a noted heart surgeon in Kolkatta and has earned a very good name for himself through sheer hard work. He looked at the empty house and remembered that he had to cook breakfast himself.
He went to the kitchen and noted that the maid servant who is supposed to come around 6.30 in morning had not turned in. He looked at the kitchen sink full of yesterday’s left overs and vessels and exhaled and shrugged his shoulders.
He heard a knock on the door. He put the safety chain and opened the door a little. A lady was standing and when he raised his eye brows questioningly, the cleaning lady smiled and said, “Saab, I will do the household work for the next 3 days. Kantabai who is your regular lady has met with an accident. I am her neighbor. She told me that memsaab is also not there so I came to do the chores.”
Dipankar moved aside to let the lady walk in and looked at her thoughtfully. He picked up his mobile and called his wife to cross verify the story. His wife’s number was not reachable. He shrugged and took the tea and spread the paper on the table and started reading.
The man standing outside Dipankar’s house saw the women entering the house and heaved a sigh of relief. The first step of his plan was in motion. He walked towards his car parked in the shade of the tree, got inside and turned on the knob of what looked like a transceiver. There was a crackling sound and he could hear the maid servant sweeping the floor while singing a song, signaling that she has done her job – kept the back door open.
Dipankar got ready and the woman also had finished her job by the time he came out of the house, the man who was standing and talking on the opposite side of the road was gone.
Dipankar locked his house, got in to the car and was about to start when the man sitting behind jabbed what looked like a pistol spoke in a heavily accented English. “Doctor, please don’t make any noise. Drive slowly. At the end of the road there is an ambulance parked. Please enter it. All we want is your opinion of one of our men. We can’t take him to hospital you see, doctor. Please cooperate. Once you check him, you are free to go. Trust me, we don’t want anything else from you.”
Dipankar parked his car like the man said, there was an ambulance. He locked his car and entered the ambulance; what happened next was a replica of what transpired with Abhay.
Monday Morning – 9.00 am
Sukhdev was irritated; the police department was taking long time to clear the file he had asked for; he has been sitting for nearly half-an-hour that too, after calling the Commissioner in advance by phone before coming. He looked at the Commissioner and spoke rudely. “Am I to understand that you will release the file only after the home minster’s call? Shall I arrange one, right away? I am really surprised at the apathy of your department.”
The Commissioner was visibly upset; “Brigadier, your request, to say the least, is unusual and the choice of the person makes it even worse. Inspector Naresh has too many problems and his suspension is yet to end. Relieving him to ATS at this stage is not only difficult but questionable as well. I am listening to you patiently only because of the instructions I got from the Chief Minister’s office.”
The commissioner took his mobile, dialed a number and gave quick instructions.
Within five minutes, a senior inspector brought a thick file and handed it over to the Commissioner.
Commissioner looked at the file by browsing it through and handed it over to Sukhdev. He also signed a paper lying in front of him; transferring Naresh to ATS. He spoke in a sarcastic voice. “Honestly, Brigadier, I am happy to get rid of that man. All the best to you.” And walked out without looking back.
Sukhdev looked at the departing commissioner and with a wry smile on his face spoke to no one in particular; “No wonder the crime rate is increasing in this town. With a bunch of fools at the helm, what else one can expect.” He took the file put it in his leather bag and looked at his watch.
Time is ticking away; I must hurry with these things, he thought.
As he settled down in his office, Sukhdev wanted to know how and why a gold medalist in the police department got suspended?
The key to solving the present case, lies in this bag, thought Sukhdev as he opened the file.
He had taken an hour and he was only half way through the file.
Sukhdev stretched his aching legs, removed his reading glasses, got up from his desk and went to the kitchen and searched the kitchen for something to eat; continuous reading has made him hungry. He loathed his forced bachelorship and longed for his wife’s cooking and care. He sighed; he has to wait till the completion of the project to enjoy home cooked food.
Not finding anything in the fridge, he took a cucumber and few tomatoes, sliced them and made a sandwich and ate standing near the stove, even as the tea boiled.
He mixed his tea, brought the steaming cup near the desk put on his reading glass once again and continued reading the file.
When he finished, a wry smile crossed his face. He detached the photograph of Naresh in uniform kept in a separate plastic cover and held it in his hand and looked. The piercing eyes of Naresh had a greenish tint and appeared to pop out of the picture.
He shut the file closed with a sound, picked up his private phone from the table drawer and dialed a number and spoke.
Monday – 10.30 am
Naresh stopped the car as a policeman motioned him to pull it aside.
Naresh made a face and obliged. The policeman tapped the window to be lowered and once done, pulled the breathalyzer and put in to Naresh’s mouth; policeman looked at the result, put his hand inside the car, pulled the car key and asked Naresh to get down.
Naresh was irritated; he got down and looked at the young policeman and said, “Do you know? I am also a police officer?” the policeman looked at Naresh who was wearing jeans and a tee-shirt and asked, “In that case, you need to be fined twice the amount; show me your ID?”
Naresh looked at the policeman and said, “I am under suspension.”
“Indeed.” Smiled the young police constable before continuing. “If you start drinking as early as 10 in the morning and behave [vR1] the way you do, I am sure the suspension might as well get translated to dismissal.” The policeman pulled the challan book, wrote and tore a receipt and thrust it to Naresh’s hand and asked me to pay the fine.
Naresh pulled his purse, handed over the money and surprised the constable by patting him on the shoulder and said, “I like your attitude young man. You appear to be new to the job; don’t let the system corrupt you. The system is too strong and resists change; but by god, we do need to change a lot.
I never advise any one; this is just a suggestion, don’t lose heart, keep going.” He looked at the badge worn by the young police officer and as soon as he entered the car, pulled a small note book from his tee shirt pocket and wrote the young policeman’s name and drove away even as the young constable looked with surprise.
Monday – 12.00 noon
Naresh stood motionless; he was staring at the pictures of severed arms of several terrorists spread on the large table.
Having been asked to come to Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) Headquarters, Naresh was ushered into a room and was given a brief case. He was told that Brigadier Sukhdev will meet him in few minutes and meanwhile, he should go through the contents of the briefcase.
ATI Chief Brigadier Sukhdev Singh stood looking at the facial expression of Naresh. After some time, Naresh saw a man standing in uniform, read the name plate and spoke. “Sir, are these pictures taken in different places?” Sukhdev nodded and said “All most all these men were killed in different locations by a special military operation that happened less than 24 hours ago. What do you think?”
“Sir, it is too early but some sort of a pattern is emerging from the bits and pieces of tattoos on the hands of these slain men. Honestly, they all look dis-jointed and may be nothing to do with each other. But I have an idea; maybe I should say a hunch” Said Naresh.
Good, thought Sukhdev even as he left Naresh looking at the pictures; I did not go wrong in bringing this man to ATS on special assignment. He is too good to be wasted in the police department.
It was close to one hour before Naresh could complete his work; he had been pasting the pictures on the blank wall one by one using double sided tape. He stood back and made changes and altered the sequence of some of the pictures. Satisfied, he stood and looked at his art work and a smile crossed his face.
He saw Sukhdev walking in and turned towards him and spoke. “Sir, the pics, though randomly taken, belongs to the same gang. In fact, the image was very cleverly tattooed on the hands so that in isolation you can’t make head and tail but when you put them together, they look like Octopus…. The water animal with several layers of self-defense mechanism. What is more, even the different parts of Octopus have been tattooed perhaps, signifying different rings within the gang assigned for different jobs.”
Sukhdev came close to Naresh and put his hands on the shoulder and said. “Do you know Naresh why I selected you? You have done in one hour what many of my men are still not been able to piece together for quite some time. Yes. There is a gang called Octopus and we suspected that these guys are all part of it but didn’t have conclusive proof.”
“I have another piece of random information. I don’t know whether this is even connected. A prominent doctor from Bangalore has disappeared early this morning. He is a famous heart surgeon. What’s interesting is the way he was taken, as seen by some by standers and the footage from CC TV camera. He was taken in a waiting ambulance, as soon as he got down from his car near the hospital. And one more thing.” Sukhdev put his hands-on Naresh’s shoulder, looked in to his eyes and said. “Remain sober. We need to crack this as early as possible. I went through your file; you seem to have been framed in that case you were handling. Someone wanted to remove you from the police department. I believe you are the right choice for this assignment. Just ask whatever you need. Make sure that I am the single point contact for everything. I will put in a word with others to help you in whatever you need. And there is a large attaché case in the cupboard over there. It has several mobile phones – not traceable to the department – and some passports in your name and some ammunition for your job. Am sure you would need all of them.”
Naresh looked at Sukhdev and spoke. “I don’t have to drink any more Sir. The suspension created a vacuum and I was forced to drink; now I have purpose and objective in my life. Trust me, you will not be let down at any cost. Sir, one more thing. I urgently need a deputy; I have someone in mind, a young man who is also in police department. I still have few friends in the department. They helped me to get this” Naresh removed couple of sheets of paper from the desk and handed it over to Sukhdev.
Sukhdev looked at the photograph of a very young constable and his eye brows went up.
“Sir I just met this young man only once, today morning. But I believe he has lots of potential.” Sukhdev looked at Naresh, clasped his hands and said, “There is a sense of urgency to this whole project. I will get your man in the next two hours maximum.”
Naresh stood shell shocked as he read the papers sent to him by the inspector in Bangalore head office of ATS. From the eye witness account it appeared that the heart surgeon was last seen entering an ambulance; his son who was taken away from the school bus by unknown persons, went home and informed that the strangers spoke some alien language.
Naresh listened to the statement made by Shanti, wife of surgeon, recorded by one of the constables; the doctor never ever went out without giving details of his ware bouts, said the lady. What’s more, he was actively involved in arranging a party to one of the doctors which was to take place in the evening.
Monday – 2.00 pm
There was a tap on the door and the young Vivek, the constable entered and saluted to Naresh and stood shell shocked.
Naresh looked at Vivek, smiled, stood up and held out his hand. Vivek hesitated and then shook hands.
Naresh made Vivek sit though he protested, and explained briefly about the project and said, “Vivek, you will learn more and more as we progress.”
Vivek listened and looked at the information lying on the table and then spoke.
“Sir, thank you very much for reposing faith in a total stranger like me. I would love to work with you. Sir from what you have told me, something is bothering me, can I?”
Naresh looked at Vivek and spoke. “I don’t believe in ranks and designations, Vivek. We are a team, feel free to express your opinion. I need a young and honest brain like yours to work overtime, ok?”
Vivek smiled and said. “Sir, the heart surgeon obviously been kidnapped. Since no ransom requests have come and he had a clean record, I believe that it is not random case. Can we check other cities including Bangalore and see whether any more medical persons have been abducted? Because, a heart surgeon howsoever good he may be, needs a team to be useful. I don’t have explanation ye, but just a gut feeling.
Naresh smiled broadly and said. “You see Vivek, why I asked for you? Good. Get cracking and call all major cities, particularly cities with high level of medical facilities.”
Vivek sat in front of the telephone, opened a note book and started calling polices control rooms across the country and made notes on the book. After spending nearly an hour, Vivek stood up and went out looking for Naresh.
Naresh was in his cabin and going through what appeared like an encyclopedia. A puzzled Vivek asked. “Sir? Looks like you are reading some encyclopedia?
Naresh looked up and said; “Yes, Vivek. This book holds the key in solving the puzzle that we are entrusted with. What did you find?”
“Sir, there are more than 35 cases of abduction around the country in the last 24 hours. But”, Vivek paused and kept a note pad with three names circled. “These three, though from different states, taken away in mysterious circumstances. You can say, kidnapped.
All three have medical background and most importantly, looks like someone has planned to pull an entire team of medical professionals.”
“So, the kidnap is not an isolated case, aftercall like you predicted.” Naresh looked at the list kept in front of him. Can we get as many details of these three persons,” Naresh tapped his pencil on the circled the names from the list, “as soon as possible? I think there is a pattern emerging. All the four cases appear to have been made, I don’t know, if not by the same gang at least under instructions from a common entity.”
Vivek had left a message in all the three police station where the missing persons reports were filed. He got a call from Lucknow police station; the inspector narrated how he was able to trace few things written in the women’s rest room, purportedly written by the nurse who is reported missing.
Vivek wanted a photograph sent on WhatsApp immediately, to his private number.
Naresh was busy going through the big encyclopedia when Vivek walked in to his cabin with his mobile. He checked the message and showed the image. Naresh stood up with a smile on his face and said, “Excellent work Vivek. Now we seem to have a solid lead. Let’s go to Lucknow right away.”
Naresh picked up the phone and spoke to Brigadier and briefed him about his trip to Lucknow.
Monday – evening 5.30 pm
Naresh and Vivek got down from the taxi in front of the police Headquarters in Lucknow; Vivek called the Inspector with whom he had spoken and they were directed to a second-floor office.
Sajjan Singh, the quicksilver inspector warmly welcomed Naresh and Vivek and over a cup of tea, spoke; “Sir, the senior nurse whose name is Urmila was not only clever but brave. She has taken few risks in providing clues to us about her kidnappers. What appeared like an ordinary kidnap case is now looking like a complex one involving international gangs”
Naresh listened attentively and said nothing. Sajjan Singh got up, took keys with him and asked Naresh and Vivek to follow him to the basement strong room where most of the valuable evidences were stored.
Naresh stood as Sajjan Singh opened a cupboard and removed what looked like e a steel box. He took another key from the bunch and opened the box to reveal, what looked like a thick walkie talkie.
Sajjan Singh removed the instrument and handed it over to Naresh. Naresh looked questioningly and Sajjan Singh said, “Don’t worry about finger prints etc., it is unlikely that we may have anything in record as these people appear to be foreigners. You can check this.”
Naresh stood dumbfound; it was a satellite phone cum something else. Sajjan Singh smiled and said, “you won’t believe, this is so advanced, our armed forces also do not have this kind of a thing, leave alone the police force; this is satellite phone cum Morse code sender and encoder! Obviously belonging to one of the abductors who came to take the nurse away. Honestly, I don’t know how she managed it, but she had put this in the flush tank in ladies’ toilet in a plastic cover and wrote a message on the mirror in a cryptic language!”
Naresh raised his eyebrows and spoke “what cryptic language?” Sajjan Singh smiled once again. “Sir, she wrote the ware about of this instrument in Pashto language! I have to struggle to find somebody who could read and translate. I have twisted several arms in the last couple of hours.”
“Wait? That is one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan! Why would she write in that language? Unless, the language is also a clue?”
“Indeed. I believe that she was trying to tell us that the abductors were from that background. Incidentally, Urmila worked in Afghanistan as well in middle east and I was told that she speaks those languages very fluently in addition to reading and writing.” Said Sajjan Singh.
Naresh looked at Vivek and nodded and went out to make call to the Brigadier. Vivek and Sajjan Singh huddled together and spoke in a low voice; Vivek explaining the mission and Sajjan Singh’s eye brows went up. He held Vivek’s hands and spoke earnestly. “I have not told what I found out to anybody. It is not easy to trust anyone whether inside the department or outside. I know Brigadier Saab personally. He is from our village, a very brave and intelligent man. It would be an honour to work with him. You are very lucky. You got a break so early in your career.” Vivek smiled and squeezed Sajjan Singh’s hands and said. “thank you, Sir. Sir, I have a question. Can I?”
Sajjan Singh held Vivek’s arms and spoke. “Please leave the formalities. I am a man of action and don’t believe in all those un wanted mannerisms of the department. As me what you wanted to know?”
Vivek smiled and said “thank you sir. Sir, this is coming from me and I need to check this with Naresh Sir. Can you join our team for this project? Naresh Sir has powers to pull anyone from anywhere. Your addition will add more muscle to our team; we are only two as of now”
Sajjan Singh smiled and said, “I would love to work with you and Naresh Sir. Go ahead, talk to him. Meanwhile, I will get all the reports ready for us to review after lunch. Ok?”
Brigadier Sukhdev listened to Naresh attentively and disconnected and kept the phone in the second drawer of his table and locked it. He exhaled deeply and contemplated his next move; he will have to thread carefully, he thought.
He called the board and asked to be connected to Major Das.
“Major Das? How are you? Spoke Brigadier when connected.
“Good Brigadier. How are you Sir? Long time since we spoke. Were those photographs I sent, useful to you?”
“That’s the reason why I called you Das. I am sending a special person to meet you. He is in charge of our new project. Please brief him everything you have on what I told you last time.”
“What? You are sending a civilian? Common Brigadier, you know very well, I don’t deal with civilians.” Spoke Das.
Brigadier Sukhdev laughed out loudly “Das, I know you better than anyone else. Naresh is not a civilian. I have dragged him from police department because he is good enough to be in Military. You will like that man, I guarantee you. He is very smart and sharp. Treat this as a personal favour, Das.”
“Ok Brigadier. Since you are asking, as a special case, I will meet him. Send the file on the man, if you have, on the secured line. I want to know whom I am meeting.” Said Das keeping the phone down.
Naresh stood attentively and listened to Brigadier Sukhdev. Only two of them were in the room and Vivek was made to go outside.
Brigadier briefed Naresh about his talk with Das and told him to leave immediately. “The journey by jeep will take minimum of 6 to 7 hours or so. You have to go alone I am afraid, Naresh. Das don’t not like to deal nor talk with civilians. I had to use all my persuasive skill making him agree to meet you.”
Naresh briefed Vivek to visit Dr. Shanti, wife of kidnapped doctor. He made Vivek him write down few important questions that came to his mind for the meeting with Shanti. He pulled a file from his table drawer and handed over to Vivek. “This is the spade work done by a team from Bangalore. See whether you can get something important that the Bangalore team has missed out. I have already spoken to Brigadier. Sajjan Singh is very much part of our team now. Ask him to visit Dipankar’s house and then come here”
Monday - Night
The journey to meet Major Das through the treacherous road was very tiring. When finally, they reached the camp, it was close to mid-night. Naresh was ushered into Major’s tent.
Naresh stood at the entrance and saw that Major Das was sitting in front of a make shift table with two glasses and a large bottle of liquor. He stood and spoke politely. “May I come in Sir?” Das looked at Naresh and waved his hand.
Naresh went and stood near the table; through there was another chair, he didn’t sit.
Das looked at Naresh and spoke. “You look much younger in person than your photograph, Naresh.
Do sit down.”
“Thank you, Sir. It is an honour to meet you Sir.” Said Naresh sitting straight with his hands on the table; there were no handshakes.
Das pushed a glass towards Naresh and said, “care for a drink?”
“No thank you Sir. I don’t drink.” Naresh hesitated. “I have stopped completely.”
Major Das raised his eyes brows but said nothing. He pulled a box of cigars kept on the table, removed one and like an expert cut one end, lit it. He moved the cigar from one end of his mouth to the other expertly, pushed the cigar box towards Naresh and spoke with cigar in his mouth.
Naresh smiled and said politely. “I can make out that the cigars are original and imported from Havana. But thank you Sir. I don’t smoke either.
“What a pity” said Das, dusting the ashes on the ashtray kept on the table and continued, with cigar in his mouth.
“Do you know why I smoke Havana cigars?” Naresh nodded his head sideways but said nothing.
“Havana cigars are made in Cuba, a country though small, stood up against Uncle Sam and said up yours! Laughed out Das, holding the cigar and pointing it upwards and continued.
“I may not subscribe to the politics of those countries. But I am an admirer of people who put up a good fight with enemies much stronger and powerful than themselves. Anyway, you have come all the way to ask me something and perhaps find something. Is it not?
What do you want to know?”
Naresh carefully weighed the words he was about to speak and clearing his throat spoke. “Sir the pictures sent by you, when put together creates an image of Octopus; obviously each of the group of persons have tattoos on their arms, which represents a particular body part of an Octopus perhaps indicating their rank and responsibilities in the organization. There were two pictures which didn’t fit in to this description. I want to visit the place where these pictures were taken, before you got diverted by the blue smoke.”
Das turned sharply towards Naresh who lowered his head and examined his finger nail. Naresh knew he has veered in unchartered territory.
Das spoke without emotions. “Winning and losing the small battles rarely upsets me, Naresh. It is the war that I concentrate on in winning. Yes, the defense system of the gang is very powerful. But do you know something? I went back to the place from where we were diverted. I haven’t disclosed what I found. Maybe I could be court-martialed for withholding the information. But who cares? My goal is clear and looms large in front of me obscuring everything; rules and regulations included. If you are you ready to see, let’s go.”
Das stood up and so did Naresh and followed the Major in to the cold night. It was drizzling slightly.
They walked a fair distance; two men with rifles in ready position were ahead of them while another solider was holding the torch for them to see the path.
Das stood in front of the tree and pulled his knife to open the hatch and showed the lever inside. Naresh stood looking at it even as Das asked the soldier, who twisted the lever clockwise to expose an underground hiding place which terrorist had built for the vehicle.
Naresh sat on the ground on his knees to examine the tire mark and with the help of torch, followed it for about 100 feet before coming back to where Das was stood observing every move Naresh made.
“So? What did you learn? Asked Das, cigar still in his mouth.
“Sir, first and foremost, the gang has very intelligent and fully updated technology and most importantly, qualified engineers in their fold. Second, the vehicle used by them is a four-wheel drive something like a Wrangler Jeep. The Wrangler jeep has lots of advantages and travels around 140 plus kilometer per hour; but on this terrain, it wouldn’t go beyond say, 60. That also indicate that another hiding place, may be the one that we are looking is not far from here and most probably it is in a completely uninhabitable place.
They didn’t use helicopter, even if they had one. for the simple reason, it is too noisy and easily detected.” Said Naresh.
“Not bad. Not bad at all, Naresh. Now I know why Brigadier has chosen you.” Said Das nodding his head.
“Thank you, Sir. Sir, can you recollect the exact time when you started moving on the opposite side? Though the tire marks would have been washed away from rain, perhaps we can try and trace their hideout.” Spoke Naresh looking down on the wet and soggy ground.
We would be leaving tomorrow morning, say around 3.30. It would be a long walk for us as it is almost 25 to 30 kilo meters from here. We have a very tough battle ahead of us Naresh, so my boys will have to have some rest and most importantly, I have asked for some supplies which are reaching any time now.
I will be keeping in touch with Brigadier.” Said Major Das.
Das and Naresh reached their camp and Das asked Naresh to freshen up and meet him in his place. Naresh was provided with a separate tent with bed. He freshened up and went up to meet Das.
Das, still chewing his cigar was going through some notes being made for tomorrow’s direction when Naresh joined him.
Naresh looked at Das and asked hesitatingly.
“Sir, if you don’t mind, can I ask you a personal question?”
Das looked up and his eye brows went up. He moved his cigar sideways and spoke.
“As long as it is within permissible limits”
Sir, are you a Clint Eastwood fan, by any chance? The way you move the cigars is very much like him.” Said Naresh.
Das laughed out loudly even as he removed the cigar and dusted the ashes.
“Yes. Indeed I am. What about you, Naresh?”
“I really liked some of the characters played by him Sir. “
“Which ones? The western types, like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly etc.” Das asked and looked at Naresh closely.
“No Sir. I am not a fan of the Western type; I think it is called Sudden or something. I liked the Dirty Harry series, because he was very unorthodox in his approach and that’s what I do. And perhaps, the vulnerability of the characters showcases the reality we face in our daily life.”
“Oh Ok. You are unorthodox, all right. No wonder your style was not appreciated by your department. Maybe you were stepping on too many toes in the department.” Said Das.
“So, you have already done quite an amount of work on the whereabouts, Sir? Because you said, you know the direction of their hideout. Spoke Naresh.
Das laughed out loudly and put back the cigar in his mouth before speaking.
“Do you know what’s the problem with our Police and Military training? They train you to think like a policeman or a military man. I do it differently here. All my boys have been trained in terrorist camp.”
Naresh opened his mouth to say something but thought better of it. He knew something was coming.
“Don’t worry, Naresh. What I meant was, I have created a camp which is similar to the one where terrorists train a new entrant. To beat a terrorist, you should think and perhaps, act like them.”
Naresh hesitated. But he knew by telling Das more about the mission he is likely to get more benefit. So, he looked at Major Das and spoke.
“Sir, four prominent medical persons have been kidnapped by a gang from around the country. One is a heart surgeon and another brain surgeon along with an anesthetist and a nurse who speaks several foreign languages including some dialects from Afghanistan. The gang you are perusing could somehow have links with this act?”
Major Das looked at Naresh. Stood up and paced up and down. Then he made up his mind and spoke.
“When we went to the place where the terrorists were attacked by us, the rain had removed all traces of fight except for the debris. But I went there immediately after we found out that we were led to the wrong direction. Guess what? There was a stretcher tied to a large tree with blood stains on them. I found how they fooled us to believe that they had escaped. They created a unique camouflage at the top of the tree which we traced later and found the stretcher hanging. We were lucky too. We found a terrorist in the bushes. Of course, he was in very bad condition. But we made him talk, albeit for some time before he died. From what you are describing, it is possible that some prominent person must have been injured very badly which requires surgery, though we don’t know who it is, yet. Yes, it is all falling into place now.”
Naresh stood and saluted to Major Das. “Sir, Brigadier said you have a razor-sharp mind. I salute you, Sir. The conclusion you have arrived fits perfectly. “Sir, I don’t know how much the Brigadier has shared with you. But there is one more thing. The gang has infiltrated our system; both police and military not to speak of other areas of government. They pulled off something which is unthinkable.”
Major Das looked at Naresh and stood up. “I prefer to work on need to know basis, Naresh. You also will have to get up early and leave like us. So good night Naresh.”
Naresh freshened up once again and took out his satellite phone and called Vivek.
He spoke briefly; there were no additional information available by the visits to both the kidnapped doctors.
Naresh made his bed and took out the big book which he had brought along with him describing in detail the evolution of Octopus, the sea animal. He was engrossed in reading. Time and again, he made notes on the sidelines; the more he read, the more he realised, that somewhere in that book lies the clue to catch the gang called, Octopus.
Major Das stood at the entrance of the tent and looked at Naresh who was fully engrossed in reading.
“What is so interesting Naresh? You seem to be completely lost!” spoke Das.
Naresh looked up and stood up. “Sir. Sorry, please come. There was a table and couple of chairs; both sat down and Das looked at Naresh and spoke.
“I have come to tell you something which, I wanted to tell you when you came to my tent; but somehow, I was contemplating what to do.”
Naresh, surprise on his face said. “Sir. You can tell me anything sir. No need to hesitate.”
“Naresh, I was going through your file which was sent by Brigadier and found something very interesting and useful to you. I know how and who framed you and why you were suspended. What worried me was, you are such an intelligent person, how come you missed the obvious?” Said Das.
Naresh almost stood up in excitement and spoke. “Sir? what are you saying? What did I miss?
Das gestured Naresh to sit before continuing. “Look, you were involved in busing the racket of arms smugglers who operated in a small town in Lucknow, right?”
Naresh nodded his head even as his mind raced to that rainy night when he almost lost his life but for his close friend Gajanan. He looked at Das and nodded. “Indeed, sir. I remember every detail.”
“in that case, perhaps, can you recollect who lead to you to the place that you were so desperately searching?” said Das and looked at Naresh’s eyes.
Naresh spoke. “Sir, it is my close friend Gajanan; in fact, that night he saved my life.”
Das laughed out loudly. “investigators who went in to the whole incident has recorded in your file that, you and the so-called friend of yours, went and un earthed the hiding place of smugglers. But what you found out was unwanted and discarded parts of ammunition; the smugglers had escaped even before you went there with the cache of arms that you were looking. Now, just spend couple of minutes and think. Whether your friend, what’s his name? Oh, Gajanan did anything unusual, that day?”
Naresh stood and thoughtfully looked outside; it was pretty dark and except the sentry who kept vigil everything was very quiet. Naresh recollected the incident. The front tire got punctured when they were speeding towards the hideout; it was Gajanan who was driving and Naresh was asked to change the tire while Gajanan went for nature’s call. Now, Naresh remembered; Gajanan went quite a distance and appeared to be talking to someone on the phone.
He also recollected that’s when a motorcyclist shot at Naresh and sped away, even before Naresh could get up and see. It was Gajanan who returned the fire but the motorcyclist escaped, un hurt. Naresh suffered superfluous injury as the mirror’s broke and pieces flew at him. He was bleeding from the wound in his left hand.
Naresh narrated the incident, Das listened attentively. Later he spoke with a smile. “Who filed the report of that incident?” Naresh looked up and said, sir it was Gangadhar. Because I was sent to hospital by Gangadhar to get my wounds treated. Why?”
Das smiled again and said. “did you ever read that report? Gajanan stated, that ‘because of laxity on your part’, the gang escaped. In fact, the guns used for the killing of a state minister about 15 days later, belonged to the same gang who escaped from you that night. In all probability, Gangadhar must have tipped them. He tried to put the entire blame on you while in reality, he was instrumental in making that gang disappear. I re-constructed all these things from various reports available. The persons who were responsible, simply missed a very important point in Gangadhar’s report – the date! Gangadhar had prepared the report even before leaving the office as it was dated two days before the incident took place – he has written two different dates in the same document! Now, this can happen only in one situation; the supervisor for both you and Gangadhar was also involved; the man who issued orders for your dismissal!
I was able to re-construct and conclude. How come you missed out?”
Naresh stood still. He took a minute before answering.
“Sir, many things are falling in to place now.
The killing of minster and the resultant enquiry lead to my suspension for negligence. I was never allowed to see any file. Now I remember one more thing that happened before we left in a jeep; in the last minute, Gangadhar changed the vehicle. At that time, it looked like uneventful; but now it looks it was deliberate.
First, the jeep got struct and refused to move. After Gangadhar did some repair, it started moving. But we lost more than half-an-hour. Then came the incident of puncture. I had never even given a thought that, how could anyone possibly know that we were moving in that road, for a bike rider to come and shoot at me?” Naresh took a deep breath and looked at Das who was observing his every move.
Das, finally broke the silence. “What happened to your wife who left you immediately after your dismissal? The report, literally stops at your dismissal.
Naresh looked at Das, worry lines on his forehead. “She was made to believe that I was a wrong person, Sir. The last person who met her before she left me was, indeed, Gangadhar.”
Das looked at Naresh without any expression on his face and spoke in a matter of fact tone.
“When you get back, perhaps you could find more things as you are no longer part of that department. But whatever you do, thread carefully. There are more than couple people involved from what I could make out.”
Naresh nodded in agreement. He looked at Das and smiled and spoke. “Sir, thank you very much for brining so much of information to my clouded mind. I think one good deed deserves another.”
He walked and took out his bag kept under his bed and removed the walkie talkie taken by Urmila and handed it over to Das and spoke. “I am sure, this will help you a lot in your chase tomorrow. This belongs to the Octopus gang.”
He then narrated the incident involving Urmila. Das looked with a smile on his face and said. “Thank you, Naresh, this is the final nail I was looking for the coffin to lay the Octopus gang in rest.
By the way, in another 15 minutes or so, the helicopter with the supplies I had asked for, is landing and would leave immediately. You can use it if you want and save time. I will send the jeep back tomorrow.”
Das looked at Naresh and asked. “By the way, I saw that you were reading a fat book when I came inside. What did you bring in here to read?”
Naresh looked at Das and smiled. “Sir. It is a book on Octopus, the water animal. Very interesting read. Perhaps, the clue to finding and overpowering the gang Octopus lies in that book. Here is a sample.”
Naresh opened the book and read out the notes he had made.
“Octopus is an animal with venom like a snake, a beak like a parrot, and ink like an old-fashioned pen. It can weigh as much as a man and stretch as long as a car, yet it can squeeze its boneless body through an opening the size of an orange.
It can change color and shape; you have already experienced it. It can taste with its skin. Most fascinating I found out was that octopuses are, very smart.
If you look at what the gang has done so far; building hideouts and creating escape routes, creating several layers of camouflage etc., they are following the Octopus animal’s behaviour step-by-step.
Here is the most important of all. An octopus bite can inject a neurotoxic venom as well
as saliva that has the ability to dissolve flesh!
Sir, my humble submission is, you should carry some gas masks for your troupe. I am sure, the hideout of the gang will have this kind of a protection, like its counterpart animal, I described above.”
Major Das, looked at Naresh and spoke earnestly. “That is a wonderful analogy, Naresh. I have come to believe in you perhaps, much more than anyone else. The gas masks were not part of our equipment but we have plenty in stock. I will definitely take some with me. Hey, I was wrong in thinking that military trained personnel are better than ordinary police; you proved me wrong.”
Major Das stood up shook hands and then hugged Naresh.
The whirring sound indicated that helicopter was landing.
Das looked at Naresh and said, “All the best.”
Naresh’s face lit up. “Thank Sir. I will make use of the extra time I would be saving in in travelling back.”
I will make that guy, Gangadhar pay for what he did thought Naresh.
Monday – 10.30 a.m.
Abhay woke up and opened his eyes and held his aching head and tried to sit. He felt his body was very heavy. Must have given a heavy dosage, he thought.
Lying down, he studied the place. It was a clean and well-kept room with a large bed and a fridge in the corner and a rest room. There was no cupboard or pictures on the wall.
There was no clock.
He looked at his wrist and found his watch was missing. Then he realised that even his dress was changed. Now he was wearing a night gown.
He slowly stood up and heard footsteps; some was coming.
Suleiman walked and extended his hand. “Good to see that you are awake, doctor. My name is Suleiman and I am responsible for bringing you here. But,” he paused. “you will have to join the others to know the why part of your journey. Please follow me. Let me introduce you to your new team.”
Suleiman walked out of the room followed by Abhay.
Abhay walked in to a large living room. Four other persons were sitting on the sofa; three men and a woman. He suddenly noticed a very familiar face. Dr. Dipankar, whom he had met in one of the conferences. Dipankar too saw and recognized Abhay and stood up; with both shock and surprise.
Others too stood up even as Suleiman stood in the middle and others forming a semi-circle.
Suleiman looked at the four persons and spoke. There was authority in his voice though, it was not harsh.
“Gentlemen and the lady. Let me introduce you all to one another. I am sure, both Dr. Abhay and Dr. Dipankar know each other.” He pointed to Abhay and looked at others and spoke. “this is Dr. Abhay and he will be leading the team. Second in command will be Dr. Dipankar, the famous heart surgeon from Kolkatta and this gentleman” Suleiman pointed out a tall man of around 6 feet and continued “here is Dr. Sudhakaran a heart surgeon. and of course, one of the best nurses in India, Ms. Urmila.”
We have already lost quite a bit of time” Suleiman looked at his expensive wrist watch and spoke, “so, please plan your next course of action quickly. Our resident doctors here will give you all the information as well as all the equipment you may need.”
Suleiman barked something in Afghanistan and two doctors came running towards them and bowed to Suleiman.
“One more thing. We want no trouble nor do we cause any trouble to you guys if you just operate on our man, make him come alive and make him speak. That man must be able speak. I personally assure you; we will take you back to your places as safely as we brought here.”
Suleiman looked in to the eyes of all the four persons nodded their heads.
He said something to the doctors in a language not understood by others except, Urmila who kept a straight face. Whether they know that I understand their language? Wondered Urmila.
Abhay learnt that all preliminary work has been done on the patient. He and his team of three went along with the doctors. They were all given uniform to wear for the impending operation.
Abhay looked at the patient lying on the bed and checked the scan reports along with Dr. Dipankar. Two bullets had pierced the body very close to the heart and the other through the skull. The patient was hit almost 20 hours ago and was unconscious.
Abhay looked up when Suleiman came back. He listened to the diagnosis arrived at by both the doctors; it will have to be heart operation first and then brain surgery as heart operation posed less problems. Suleiman listened and agreed that it was indeed logical and told them to go ahead with both the surgeries even if the survival chance is less than 10 percent.
Abhay was not surprised by Suleiman’s decision. The injured man would be of no use to them if left un-operated as he was slipping in to coma and unlikely to recover, ever. Abhay was puzzled by one thing.
When Dipankar and himself could do the job why another heart surgeon has been brought?
The operation theatre had glass door on two sides and Abhay could see Suleiman standing outside and instructing the gun wielding persons, who were stationed outside.
Abhay stood aside and allowed Dipankar to take center stage while he kept looking at the monitors. The lone nurse, Urmila went and closed curtains and was at Dipankar’s side helping him while the other heart surgeon just hung in there making Abhay think that man was more of a mole than doctor. Since there appeared to be no cc tv cameras or listening devices inside the operation theatre and curtains were also drawn, the extra man inside was the eyes and ears of Suleiman, thought Abhay.
Suleiman stood watching the proceedings from outside even as Urmila drew the curtains. He was approached by one of the security personnel and said something. Urmila who had come out to get few instruments from store as desired by Dipankar, heard the conversation but kept a straight face. She looked for an opportunity to talk to Abhay. So, she came back and spoke loudly for the benefit of the tall man who was observing and listening to everything that was happening inside. “Dr. Abhay, could you please come with me? I have never assisted in a heart operation before. What should I pick up from store room that Dr. Dipankar is asking?”
Abhay looked at Urmila who indicated with her eyes to follow him.
Once inside the store room, Urmila whispered. “I just heard them speak. Ok. I understand their language. It is a dialect from Afghanistan. There is a sense of urgency with which Sulieman went to speak. I believe he is being called to speak to his boss.”
Abhay looked at Urmila and spoke thoughtfully. “This situation is so un-nerving. How come you remain so calm? Do you think these guys will send us back after operation?” They haven’t allowed us to even talk till now.”
Urmila looked at baby faced doctor and smiled. “You look and behave like an innocent child, doctor. Of course, we will all be killed. But I have done something.” She explained how she hid a walkie talkie which she stole from one of the kidnappers and hid it inside the flush tank in the women’s room.
Abhay looked with respect towards Urmila and spoke. “But how did you manage to steal it in the first place?”
Urmila who had very large breasts, bent down and showed the cavity and Abhay stood staring both in bewilderment and surprise.
“You hid it inside? But how did you get it in the first place?”
Urmila smiled. “Doctor, unlike you, I was kidnapped from my hospital. Two burqa clad woman who did not understand the local language were asking for direction to restroom to the receptionist.
She directed them to me as they didn’t even speak English. I took them to the rest room and opened the door when one of them vomited in front of the rest room. The one who went inside pulled me inside and locked the room.
Only then I realised that it was a man. He quickly removed burqa and asked me to take off my hospital dress. Like anybody else, that man’s eyes virtually came out of the socket when he saw me without dress.
Rest was easy though I hated it, I had no option but to lure him in to the act quickly.”
Urmila smiled again. “You see doctor, being a woman, I have few tricks up my sleeve. I used them.
Then I put on the burqa and told him that I need to clean myself so went and locked the toilet door”
They heard the security guard tapping on the door. Urmila clutched few instruments and both of them went back to the operation theatre.
Abhay stood close to Dipankar who was busy in opening the heart valve and looked at Abhay questioningly.
Abhay whispered. “Do you believe that this man can be saved and revived to speak?”
Dipankar spoke through his mask. “Fortunately, the bullet has just grazed without actually damaging the arteries.
That is why he still alive. I am trying to at least make his heart work. It will be up to you, doctor after that. But I am sure it will take at least another 4 to 5 hours, is it not? There lies our chance of someone coming for our rescue. His blood group is very rare, AB negative. Not easy to find.”
Dipankar looked at the man lying and asked Urmila to get more blood. “I think, this man has already lost lots of blood. Even though the resident doctors have given some blood, I don’t think it is sufficient. Find out whether they can get us another 4 or 5 bottles. After I finish, Doctor Abhay will take over.
Am sure, we need it then also.” Dipankar looked at Urmila and blinked, unseen by the tall man.
Urmila understood. She took the tall man posing as doctor aside and asked him about AB negative blood.
The man took Urmila out and they spoke to two resident doctors who went inside the store room and came out clutching just one bottle of blood.
Urmila spoke to the resident doctors and told them they would need another 5 to 6 bottles and sent the tall man along with another doctor to check the refrigerator whether any more bottles are there.
The other duty doctor went looking for Suleiman.
Urmila went inside quickly and pulled both Abhay and Dipankar aside and spoke.
“Doctors, I have a plan. The man lying here and undergoing operation is almost 6 feet tall and so is our duplicate heart specialist. Here is what we will do once Doctor Abhay finishes his operation.”
Urmila spoke about the plan she has conceived even as both doctors gave a bewildered look. They were in awe of Urmila. They simply nodded. They believed in her abilities as they have already seen a glimpse of her capability.
Suleiman looked up, removed his headphones and barked. “What is it?” when the security guard put his head inside after opening the door.
The guard said something about doctor and Suleiman excused himself to the speaker on the other side and came out.
Suleiman listened to the doctor and every sentence he heard; his anger was raising. He slapped the doctor so hard, that the doctor almost fell down to the ground.
Urmila who was standing a few paces behind understood. No one in the hideout has that blood group.
Sulieman ignored the fallen doctor and took out the walkie talkie switched it to open mode and started speaking. He had no other option but to make call on the open line so that everyone who has the walkie talk could listen and act quickly.
Naresh reached his home and it was past mid-night but he didn’t sleep that night. His mind was going back to that incident again and again. Gangadhar? Of all the people in the world? His friend for over a decade, Naresh couldn’t understand how and why he betrayed him.
As soon as he got up, Naresh called Vivek and told him about the plan is, briefly. Although it sounded strange, Vivek thought that Naresh knows what he is doing, checked the revolver and left his place.
Vivek called Sajjan Singh and told him he will be picked up on the way.
Naresh called few numbers, there were very few whom he could trust in the department. But he was lucky. He came to know that Gangadhar had applied for leave but was very much in town.
A surprise visit will help, thought Naresh with a thin wry smile on his face.
Naresh used Vivek and Sajjan Singh as backup who will come from behind the house while Naresh will go directly to the front door.
Naresh drove his car Vivek and Sajjan Singh sitting behind; he parked the car several blocks before Gangadhar’s house.
The road was quiet as it was still early. They waited in the car and could look at the front door from where they parked their car. Even as Naresh was contemplating his next move, the door opened and Gangadhar came out hurriedly carrying a leather bag and got in to his car which was in the driveway and came out.
Naresh, though surprised, thought that it is a blessing in disguise that Gangadhar came out on his own.
He followed making sure at least there would be two vehicles in between not to arouse suspicion.
Gangadhar went to expressway and was out of town in less than 20 minutes; though Naresh followed, he became worried from his old friend’s behaviour.
Gangadhar stopped his car in front of a farm house, a little away from the main road and Naresh went in slowly and went ahead in to the mangrove and hid his car.
Naresh, Vivek and Sajjan Singh approached the house carefully; Naresh went to the entrance, Vivek entered it from the left while Sajjan Singh went to right side of the house. Naresh entered the compound and saw a large French window and peeked inside.
He was shocked!
Gangadhar was standing and talking while two others were sitting. The two men obviously not Indians, had heavy muscled arms and had tattoos, similar to the ones Naresh saw in pics.
What’s more was, Gangadhar held in his hand a similar instrument which Urmila managed to get from her kidnappers!
Vivek indicated to Sajjan Singh that he would be going through the French window and Sajjan Singh nodded his head and looked for an opening on the other side.
Naresh, checked his gun and took a deep breath and crashed in to the front door and somersaulted quickly to standing position and within no time, was holding the gun against the head of Gangadhar who was busy typing the message on Morse code.
Simultaneously, Vivek broke through the French window and even before the two men who were seated could get up, shot one of them in the leg and the other lifted his hand indicating that he is surrendering while Sajjan Singh joined them.
Vivek pulled a nylon rope from his pocket and along with Sajjan Singh, tied the hands of both the terrorists while Naresh took care of Gangadhar.
Naresh made Gangadhar kneel down on the ground and searched his pocket and the leather bag.
There were two passports and large amount of foreign currency in Gangadhar’s leather bag.
Naresh indicated to Vivek to look after the three while he made an urgent call to the Brigadier briefing him what he has found out.
Naresh made Gangadhar sit on the chair and stood very close to him and spoke
“Do you know what hurts me more, Gangadhar?
Just for the sake of money you have betrayed my friendship, which I don’t care; but joining a gang which is hell bent in destroying the very country which is paying you, protecting and helping you to rear your children? That hurts me more.”
Naresh took out two large cloth pieces from his pocket. One he stuffed into Gangadhar’s mouth and the other he tied on Gangadhar’s mouth to secure it.
Gangadhar knew what was coming.
Naresh took a cutter and cut the small finger on the left hand, without warning.
Gangadhar let out a muted sound and started crying; water gushing from his eyes and blood oozing from the cut finger.
Naresh held the cutter at Gangadhar’s eye level and spoke. “You know very well that I am very unconventional and unorthodox.
If you are expecting me to arrest and produce you before a magistrate and all, you are mistaken. Nothing of that sort is going to happen.
Instead, I will tell you what will happen.
Suppose, if I open the piece of cloth stuffed in your mouth, say for a brief minute or two, if you start talking to me and answer my questions, honestly, you will save other fingers, not to speak about life.
Think about it! What will you do once I let you out? If I let you go out? Without any fingers on both the hands, what will you do Gangadhar?
Dying, perhaps, might be a better option than living. Don’t you think?”
Naresh lifted the cutter and Gangadhar’s eyes widened and he pleaded though his eyes.
Naresh removed the cloth from his mouth, kept the plier in his hip pocket, pulled a chair and sat in front and spoke.
“Ok. I will save your hands. Now tell me whatever you know about Octopus.
Don’t look surprised. We know lots of things. If you try to misguide me, there will be no more dialogue between us, only cutter. Ok?
Gangadhar looked at Naresh and recollected many an incident where Naresh simply used the third degree which is never prescribed in the books to get information from arrested thief’s and infiltrators.
He nodded his head and spoke., his voice barely audible.
“I got a message on Morse code asking me to meet these two guys and arrange for few bottles of AB negative type blood.” Gangadhar paused and Naresh took out the cutter and held it once again at eye level for Gangadhar to see.
Gangadhar continued. “What I told you is true. There will be a helicopter which I need to take to carry the blood. These two guys will accompany me. Sulieman is the boss who is heading the operation. He reports to someone, whom we have never spoken to or seen.”
Naresh saw Vivek standing near the French window and looking outside. He motioning him to be quiet.
Some vehicles were approaching. But when the jeeps came closer, they could make out it was military.
Brigadier stood near Gangadhar and looked at Naresh questioningly.
Naresh took Brigadier aside and explained everything briefly.
The soldiers who came along with Brigadier bundled the two terrorist and put them in the back side of the van and left as per Brigadier’s instructions.
Brigadier walked towards Gangadhar, stood and saw the blood on the ground. He spoke without any emotions.
“I understand that you were supposed to organize AB Negative group blood and carry it to the hiding place. We will provide you the blood. However, Naresh will accompany you. Take him to the hiding place.
If you do this, we will forget that you were involved in these activities. May be, jail term will be minimum. You have exactly two minutes to think and accept. If you don’t want, then I will leave you in the able hands of Naresh, here.”
Brigadier turned towards Vivek and Sajjan Singh and nodded his head indicating, Gangadhar should be treated for his wounds and made ready for departure.
Brigadier took Naresh aside and spoke. “I have a plan Naresh. You take Gangadhar along.
I am sure the blood is for the person who got injured when Das and his team attacked.
I believe that person must be really important to Suleiman. That’s why he went to the extent of kidnapping the two doctors and nurse.
Major Das would soon reach the hidden facility; he is already very close. I want you to reach first and bring out doctors and nurse safely so that Das can then attack the facility.
I am not sure Gangadhar knows about the nuke. We have to take Sulieman alive who appears to be the master mind to find it out.”
Naresh looked at Brigadier and spoke.
“Sir, I have a hunch. The facility built by the Octopus gang in the middle of that thick jungle might be the place where they are hiding the nuclear war head as well. Since the trigger mechanism is always fixed at the time of deployment, it might be safe for Das and his men to attack and destroy it. But once I enter the facility, I am sure I would need at least couple of hours to find out the whereabout of the nuke as they have planned everything so carefully. Is it possible to ask Das to wait in case he reaches early and wait for my signal?”
Brigadier looked at Naresh and smiled. “I believe that finding the hide out and finding the nuke are both a priority. If your hunch is proved right, we should find a way of destroying the nuke. What if the nuke has been shifted elsewhere?”
Naresh stood erect and spoke “Sir, let me go along with Gangadhar first to trace and infiltrate their hidden facility.
I will find a way of communicating with the Major from inside. And sir, did we get anything from those two who were taken away from here? Every bit of information will help.”
Brigadier took out his mobile from the pocket and dialed a number. He listened attentively and then disconnected.
“I don’t know how much this information is useful. One of the guys who was shot in the leg appears to have gone once to the hiding place. He could not tell the location. But he said, he was specifically directed to contact people inside only when he was about 50 meters from the hideout.
I just can’t understand why?”
Naresh looked at Brigadier and said, “Oh my God! We must first alert Major Das.”
Brigadier looked at Naresh, surprised. “What did you understand from what I said, Naresh? Alerting Das? On what?”
Naresh took a deep breath and spoke. “Sir, the hide out created by the terrorists in all probability resembles an Octopus, if not in shape, definitely in terms of self-defense. I believe they must have developed several systems to destroy anyone going too close; that’s why 50 meters; so that they can switch off the system when they want to let anyone inside. I will speak to Major.”
Naresh nodded and went to pack his things which included extra ammunitions.
Urmila went back to Abhay, took him to the corner and spoke in a low voice. “We have bought few extra hours before we can do the second operation.
Sulieman was speaking to everyone asking about their blood type.
If I am not mistaken, the walkie talkie I stole from the people who kidnapped me must have already reached the hands of the police; am sure they too will be listening.”
Tuesday – Late night
Das, who was marching in the jungle heard the crackling sound on the walkie talkie given by Naresh and switched it on to the listening mode and signaled his troupe to stop.
Sulieman was speaking in his Afghanistan language and Das couldn’t make head and tail of it. But one thing became clear; he was instructing that whoever has the blood type AB negative should contact immediately.
Das smiled and mentally congratulated the brave Urmila for providing a window for tracing the gang.
The call on the open line indicated that the person who spoke was desperate. He also remembered what Naresh told him about kidnapping a team of medical professionals. It was all falling in to place. He looked at the ensemble of soldiers and called for a subedar who specialized in telecommunication. He showed him the walkie talkie and entrusted him with instructions that the minute it become live, he must be notified and most importantly grab the clues it might give.
Das and his regiment moved on and they could sense coming closer to the river.
Das stopped. His satellite phone was making vibrations. He took out and heard Brigadier speak. “Das, when are you expected to reach?”
Das thought and checked his log book and spoke. “Sir, in less than an hour.”
“Consignment is being sent through known courier. You should reach after the consignment. Ok?”
Das realised that Brigadier must be talking about Naresh. Brigadier is indicating that somehow, Naresh is going perhaps, inside the facility.
“Ok. Will speak to the courier guy.” And disconnected.
Even if Octopus gang were to intercept the conversations, it was unlikely they will completely understand what was spoken.
Indeed. Four persons sitting in front of large electronic boards which had multiple wires running across, with head phones, did hear the conversations. One person made note of what he heard and took it out and went in search of Suleiman.
Suleiman looked the scribblings and looked up questioningly. The man spoke haltingly. “sir, it came just now. We couldn’t identify the exact place. One of them is definitely very close to us. We are working the exact location and will get it as soon as possible.”
Sulieman looked at the words again. He expected the military and the police personnel will start looking for his hideout. He smiled and spoke to himself. But they don’t know what to expect!
Suleiman walked to the control room and all the four personnel stood up. He waved his hand asking them to continue what they were doing. He went to the corner of the console and looked at three coloured items looking very much like water taps; only difference is their mouth was closed. Each tap was painted with different colours. He delicately touched each one of them and smiled to himself. The first of the tap which was green coloured when turned on, would let out a steam of extremely hot water out of the steel dome on all sides; burning anyone within a vicinity of 30 feet. The second tap coloured white, when turned on release’s gases – of the extreme kind which suffocates and kills anyone one, again, up to 30 feet. The last one which was painted in orange was a mystery. It has never been tried before.
Except Suleiman, no one knew what it would do when turned on.
The helicopter ride taking Naresh, Gangadhar, Vivek and Sajjan Singh had one more person from military who will be acting as back up as per Brigadier’s instructions; that man also was anti bomb squad and had technical qualification which, Brigadier thought would come handy.
As per the plan, the helicopter landed almost one kilometer from the hideout. They walked the rest of the journey. Gangadhar had bandage on his hands; he managed to send a cryptic message while Naresh held the instrument, when they reached about 50 meters from the hideout.
They didn’t get any reply. But, the red lights on top of the dome turned in to green.
As soon as they neared the entrance and Vivek and Naresh moved to the edge of the door. As the door opened wide, Vivek pulled the man who opened it and smashed his revolver on his head. The man became un conscious. Both Vivek and Naresh ran in opposite directions,
Naresh went inside dragging Gangadhar along with him. Naresh looked at the long winding left wing as well similar wings on three other sides. He recollected the picture of Octopus; the inside of the hideout very much resembled it.
He was searching for a place to hide when he saw the picture of medicines on the door indicating that the room was a store room for medical equipment etc. He gently checked and found it was ajar.
He took Gangadhar and went inside.
It was indeed, medical supply room. Naresh went to the far end and found a large wall cupboard. He picked up tape and covered Gangadhar’s mouth with it and also tied his hands and hid him inside the cupboard and pulled the door shut.
He looked around searching for cc tv camera and found none.
He opened the door slightly and saw movement of gun wielding persons; he waited.
After few minutes, he gently opened the door and went out. He could see that part of the hideout which looked like hospital.
He realised that he was lucky; maybe I will find the kidnapped doctors here he thought.
He heard voices and realised that he would be seen; he rushed back to the room and looked for a place to hide.
He saw a large drum. He pushed it a little and hid behind it and waited.
Urmila walked in and was trying to find something. Naresh looked over the drum and realised that a person in nurse’s dress was searching for something.
Naresh decided that the person could be Urmila and decided to take a chance.
He came out of hiding and stood in front of Urmila; first Naresh thought she would scream. Urmila looked at Naresh and raised her eyebrows. Naresh asked;” Are you Urmila?”
Urmila heaved a sigh of relief. “Oh my god. Are you police or something? Did you find the walkie talkie I hid?”
Naresh, despite the situation, smiled. “Yes Urmila. You are very brave girl. You actually helped us come here. Now tell me what’s the position.”
Urmila in a quiet tone, explained everything and said “how did you manage to come inside?”
It was Naresh’s turn to explain, which he did in less than a minute.
As soon as she went back to the operation theater, Urmila saw that the operation was almost over.
Abhay spoke in a low voice as the tall man was standing a little away and was looking out at the security guards. “His brain is active, like his heart, his brain did not get damaged. What should we do now?”
Urmila looked at the man lying on the bed and asked Abhay. “How much time before he regains his consciousness?” Abhay looked and said, “may be in another two hours or so. Why?”
Urmila smiled. She went very close to Abhay and whispered in his ears. “A military man has already come inside. I think he has brought few people with him. I have a plan.”
She looked at the tall man and spoke to him in Pashto. The man looked surprised but agreed to do what Urmila told him.
He went near the bed and looked at the man lying and lifted his head questioningly. Urmila, still speaking the same language asked him to search under the bed.
When the man sat down and was looking under the bed, Urmila went behind him and pressed the large cloth dipped in chloroform to his nose.
She was a big girl and overcame the struggling man and held on to the cloth; the man, collapsed.
She asked both Dipankar and Abhay to help her. They removed the man who was lying on the bed and laid him on the floor, carefully and put the tall man who was lying un-conscious on the bed.
Urmila took out an injection and jabbed it to the tall man, for good measure.
He will be sound sleeping at least for the next four hours, she thought.
She told Abhay and Dipankar to be ready and went out and met Naresh again in the supply room and explained.
Naresh smiled at the bravery displayed by Urmila and was amazed at her plan. It was risky but they can pull it off.
Naresh hoped that by now, Sajjan Singh and the bomb expert who accompanied them, would have started to put the planned distraction in place.
Even as he was thinking, a loud sound came from outside.
They had set of series of explosion very near to the dome and trees started burning.
Urmila went out and saw that men who were stationed in front of operation theatre were running towards the main door. She signaled and Naresh went inside the operation theatre and met Abhay and Dipankar and looked at the man lying on the ground.
Vivek heard the sound too. He found out that he was in that part of the hideout which was meant to house the inmates; it looked like quarters and resting place.
He took out series of explosives from his bag and set them up to explode in less than 2 minutes. The explosives were meant to create just sound and smoke and would destroy anything in the vicinity of 5 feet or so.
He scurried away and within seconds heard the sound; fire and smoke billowed. Immediately, the water sprinklers started spraying water all over.
Vivek scurried ahead and saw a room that looked like control room. A man was rushing inside to close the door when, Vivek overpowered him. He looked more like an engineer than a terrorist. The other man who had put the head phone and was looking at the console, did not hear the sound.
It was easy for Vivek to overpower him. He tied both the men and made them sit in one corner and looked at the console of wires and blinking lights.
Suleiman was in his room talking to the man to whom he reported when he heard the loud sound though he had put on the head phones.
He quickly went out of his room and saw men running here and there and water gushing from the ceiling all over. He understood that enemy had not only infiltrated but has created chaos
I must first get our man who is being operated alive so that the mission stays on course, he thought even as he ran towards operation theater.
Suleiman noticed that the guards had gone.
He sensed danger; he took out .45 caliber pistol and advanced slowly. The glass doors were covered with curtains, so he couldn’t see who is inside
He stood briefly in front of the door and slowly pushed it. It was not locked from inside.
There was somebody lying on the table but there was no sign of doctors or the nurse.
Suleiman moved quickly and removed the blanket covering the person lying on the operation table.
He stood shocked; the man who was lying was not the man who got injured but the man whom he had planted inside the operation theater!
Suleiman kicked the operation table and ran towards the exit while getting drenched from the water sprinklers.
Vivek remembered what Naresh told him.
Like the sea animal, the gang, Octopus is also good in creating several layers of protection.
His role was to identify and disarm them.Vivek stood gazing at the console and three coloured tap like things in the corner attracted him.
There was nothing written anywhere to tell the onlooker, what they represented. But the unusual colours made Vivek take notice. He went close and scrutinized them. He could see that the concealed wires appear to go to the bottom of the room. He realised that there must be some underground structure or something.
He started tracing the wires by kneeling down.
Naresh literally carried the injured man on his shoulder while both the doctors and Urmila ran alongside.
There were two men holding rifles, standing near the door way and Naresh, shot both them quickly.
The gun was concealed from the body of the man whom he was carrying. There was a lever and Urmila turned it and door opened.
They ran outside and Naresh kept saying we must run at least 50 or 60 meters before we stop.
Suleiman knew he was late when the saw both the security men lying in pool of blood.
He knew going out to pursue them would be waste of time; instead, he knew what he should do.
He ran towards the control room which had the console and found the door was ajar.
He opened the door and peeked and saw Vivek kneeling and searching something.
Vivek heard the foot step and was about to look back when Suleiman fired and hit Vivek in the left shoulder, as Vivek swiveled in the last minute to escape the bullet and grabbed the gun which he had kept on the ground and fired back.
Suleiman sensing the reaction, dived head long towards Vivek, smashing his body on him and pinning him down
Vivek was breathless. He struggled to push the heavy Suleiman aside but couldn’t. Suleiman was using all his powers and somehow got his right hand, which was holding the gun, released and aimed at Vivek and about to pull the trigger.
Vivek who was lying on the ground with the heavy Suleiman on his top looked at the protruding large knife strapped to the leg, pulled it stabbed Suleiman with all the force against the back of Suleiman who screamed and fell aside.
Vivek got up and took a deep breath and looked for his gun. In the scuffle the gun had moved away. He turned to get the gun.
Suleiman, with great difficult got up, blood dripping from his backside, and moved towards the taps and turned the orange tap with all the strength left in his body.
There a huge sound was heard as liquid nitrogen gushed through the pipes which opened on all sides; Naresh, two doctors and Urmila heard rather than see the liquid nitrogen gushing through the pipes.
They were close to 50 meters away from the hideout.
Vivek heard the gushing sound and looked around and saw that the man who shot him slipping away from the room.
He ran outside but couldn’t find him.
He then saw four-gun wielding men running towards him. He took his pistol and shot them rapidly and ran back opposite route, where the man possibly went.
Then he saw it.
A trap door was open about 10 meters from the control cabin and when Vivek went close, he could see stairs going down.
He took a torch and started descending the stairs.
It was so narrow that only one person with great difficulty could get down using those stairs which appear to go down a long way.
Finally, when Vivek got down and put his foot on firm ground and beamed his torch around, he saw it.
The man who shot him was inside a Wrangler jeep and sped away towards jungle, even as Vivek fired at him, in vain.
With all the strength left in his body, Naresh dived along with the man on his shoulders towards safety and fell unconscious.
Sajjan Singh also heard the sound and ran towards the hideout white foam coming from the dome and saw four persons running towards him.
Sajjan Singh pulled Naresh with all the strength he could muster while Urmila pulled the man who was lying next to Naresh.
Vivek walked slowly circling the dome shaped hide out and saw that around the hideout large masses of white foam of ice created by the liquid nitrogen.
Vivek joined the gang and they all moved towards the waiting helicopter.
As they took off, they heard a loud sound. When they looked back, the entire dome on that hideout was flying in the air and fire and smoke billowed.
Naresh knew what happened.
Suleiman has played his last card. He wiped all traces of his existence and fled, just like the water animal.
Tuesday - Morning
Brigadier stood outside the bullet and sound proof glass doors even as the man brought by Naresh was being interrogated.
It took them better of a day to make that man talk. The interpreter hesitated to translate a sentence which the man spoke for a question about the hiding place of the nuke.
“Why are you not translating? What did that man say?” Spoke Naresh harshly.
“sorry Sir.” The translator hesitated once again and looked down and spoke. Translating the sentence spoken by the man.
Naresh got the shock of his life. He looked at the man and then looked at Brigadier who was standing outside and listening.
The man who was brought back by Naresh said that they hid the nuke in the jungle just couple of kilo meters from where they have stolen it!
He was the only man who knew how to arm the nuke for attack.
Naresh sent Vivek and Sajjan Singh to tackle the nuke.
He had other important thing to worry about.
The Prime Minister looked at the vibrating mobile kept in the drawer of table, took it out, excused himself and went inside a small room behind the conference room where he was sitting.
“What have you got Brigadier?” said the Prime Minister.
“Sir, first I want to ask you a question, if you don’t mind. Can I?” said the Brigadier.
Prime Minister understood something was coming. He said, “Yes. But I walked out the conference room. I am in a small room behind it. What’s the matter Brigadier?”
Brigadier weighed his words, “Sir, we destroyed the hide out used by Octopus gang and brought back a man who knew how to set off the nuclear war head.
He was injured in one of the raids conducted by Major Das. To save him they had kidnapped two prominent doctors and a nurse.
And Sir, we found the nuke.
The man whom we brought back along with us told us that he got help from our people in stealing the original.
Gangadhar, a policeman who lost his life in the hideout is one.
Gangadhar reported to another person, a very high ranking official.” Said Brigadier and held his breath before speaking.
Prime Minister listened and after a minute, he spoke. “Are you sure, Brigadier? It is unthinkable and if any one else had told me this, Brigadier, I wouldn’t have believed them.
Go ahead and finish of the job you started, Brigadier. But,” The Prime Minister paused, before speaking. “Be discrete.”
Brigadier and Naresh looked at each other even as they stood in front of the large government bungalow.
The outside gate was manned by uniformed soldiers who checked the identity of Brigadier.
Brigadier was made to wait outside while the sentry called on the intercom.
He gestured Brigadier to come and speak on the intercom.
Brigadier took the intercom and even before he could speak, the voice of Air Chief Marshal was heard.
“Brigadier, there is no need for you to come inside. I know what you will be saying and I know why you are here. I will save the trouble for you.”
The phone got disconnected.
Even as the Brigadier kept the phone, they could hear the gunshot from inside the house.