Thunder rumbling, lightning lights up the entire sky. It was dark as dark could be and it was raining incessantly, news on the television asking people to stay indoors. It was 1100.....
1100 am, but it looked as if it was 1100 pm!
It was no less than a scene straight out of a horror movie.
Sarah, calmly moved around the small apartment, a large room divided by various partitions and turned into an apartment, got ready, picked up her umbrella and started moving towards the door, when she was interrupted by her granddaughter Violet.
‘‘Grandma, they have asked us to stay indoors and avoid going out as much as possible‘’!
Sarah smiled and replied ‘‘my princess, there is something I have to tend to, and nothing on this planet can stop me nor change my mind’.
Again the sequence of thunder and lightning repeated and while it shook poor Violet, Sarah smiled again and said ‘‘it’s OK dear, I believe god is just checking his light and sound instruments”. She kissed her on the head and moved out.
As Sarah waved through the water logged area and through the unforgiving rain, finally reaching the police station and towards the missing persons department. The small room had a functioning but noisy fan, a screeching door and heap of files everywhere. Sarah peeped in only to see empty chairs and old cupboards. She sat on the bench just outside the door with an expression of hope in the endless wait.
In walked Constable David, second in command in a 3 member unit of the ‘missing’ department. Back from a tea break and more importantly dumpling break, the nth time since his shift started, but who’s counting! On seeing Sarah, David is surprised and furious at the same time.
“Old hag! Do you ever give up? Have you made it a habit now? Coming in here and ruining my day. Don't you have any other work in life, damn street urchin’s mother?”
Sarah with a smile, greeting David says
“Good morning Mr. David, I'm sorry to ruin your day, yes, I do have other things to do, but nothing is as important to me as Pablo”.
“One less street urchin is a good thing for this city, isn't it”?
“Ok, now get off my face and let me do my job”. As Sarah took a seat on a nearby bench, David went around his normal routine, usual police work.
Sarah sat on the bench, her regularity to the place and bench made her look like a piece of furniture herself.
Wet and tired, she dozed off on the bench, just as she did from the past 73 days.
Her reason for visit - Pablo, her son, the Apple of her eye, crown jewel, eldest of the two Pablo and Raul. For any mother her children are always special and loved, it is hard to pick a favorite but Pablo was conceived after a gap of 7 years and had birth complications, but he survived! His mom loved the fact that he was a survivor, every and any calamity struck, he would fight and win his way through, teachers said he was slow and somehow would not succeed as much as a normal kid his age , but he fought the odds and never failed a single class and graduated first class. The coaches had dubbed him Olympics national team material.
In and around all this, 5th avenue happened! The rough neighborhood, as the police stated, had the ‘next most wanted materials’. What made this ghetto a flourishing trading hub was the fact that it was a junction between the rich class of the 1st and 3rd avenue and also the adjoining 4th avenue, which had access to the port and was a fishing center. The drugs and guns were smuggled in the seafood boxes, in the seafood, bigger orders and consignments were handled separately.
Since, the rich kids would invite suspicion if they would be found buying a box of seafood weighing 15-20 kgs, they would wait until the goods are delivered and ready to be distributed in the local market. The base would consist of the goods which would have layer of ice and then the seafood. It was a viscous circle and trade, being carried on for years. Everyone got their 'cut', no questions asked, no answer provided. Everybody made money and had a merry time!
But every once in a while when things got out of hands, there would be a 'crackdown', some 5th avenue kids, teenagers were taken into custody and some encounters would occur to maintain balance! After the hue and cry would die down, it was business as usual.
This fire of drugs, guns, power and above all quick money consumed one and all. Pablo's case was no different. Pablo did not get consumed in the fire but it touched him enough to stain and ruin a part of his life.
The quick road to success got the better of him as well, which is when he went down into the police records for possession of arms and drugs in a drugs bust, post which in any job interview and every job application, Pablo lost out to that one question, that one question that would crumble his good academic and exceptional sports records.
Do you have any current or past criminal record?
The answer being an obvious ‘yes’, ended any chances of Pablo of getting through to the next.
So why did Pablo take a U-turn on the gangster life when, just like in school and college, he was being dubbed as the next best thing in the gang!
His mother's love, her tears and her endless pleas is what drove Pablo to take a shot at redemption, a clean slate, to begin all over again, Pablo wanted out, he wanted to go clean. Sarah would always say which he later understood, having a better life does not mean having money and power but it is when you have your loved ones with you, respect you for who you are, care for you.
Pablo understood this the hard way, after being injured in a gang attack and even landing up in jail for a brief amount of time. His family cared for him, looked after him. But none of the 'brothers' from the fraternity paid him a visit nor were they of any help to his mom or family which rubbed Pablo the wrong and he decided to call time on his association with the gang.
Everyone and anyone in the 'gansta' industry would always say that it’s a 1 way street, it's like quicksand, leaving is not an option. But, people did leave, it will not be the 1st attempt for sure, people have left in ambulances on their way to the morgues as their souls left their body. A random police encounter, a bullet from the rival gang, an accident, a freak accident for those who looked for a way out and the ones who tried to turn an informer were killed in the most ghastly manner, to set an example of sorts.
Pablo knew the risk of what he was getting into or rather what he was getting out of! But he was a smart and intelligent boy, he was book smart as well as street smart and now he would have to use all the tricks of his trade more than ever. Unlike other kids in the gang or business, he was never addicted to the drugs or alcohol, the only reason he did get into this business was because he wanted a better life. But he had understood that the search of 'better' life never existed, not in this life and certainly not in this way.
He certainly had a plan or he didn't but one fine day, just like that Pablo disappeared!!! No one heard of him, none saw him. Theories started, maybe he tried to rat out on the gang, so they made him disappear, maybe he got busted and probably got a bullet in the head. Some said probably he went down in a gang fight. Some said he had left the city, but he would never leave Sarah. She was very dear to him and loved her enough to leave her stranded. For the gang, they would recruit another, for the police, they wouldn’t care less, it’s not as if a Nobel peace prize winner is missing.
Whatever the theory, whatever the reason, Pablo had disappeared. So, began Sarah's trip to the police station and her not so good encounters with Constable David.
David, was a man of principles and ethics or at least used to be. Seeing the corruption around him and how the criminal activities operated, he was fed up and given up on being the man of justice. But he would never accept bribes but wouldn’t stop if any of his colleagues took it. He just look the other way.
He was a few years away from retirement and as he would say
“I would like to work in peace so that I could retire in peace. So, I just go with the flow and look the other way”.
The case of Pablo's disappearance, was assigned to David and obviously he had zero interest in the case.
“One less street urchin to worry about”. He would say with a shrug.
But a patient and persistent Sarah would never stop chasing nor would she ever give up.
“I have faith in God, he will show us the path”. She would always say.
David would reply “maybe he's paid for his sins, that drug peddling parasite”.
Sarah retorted “he should and he will, in this life for sure. I know he sold drugs but he isn't a bad person also, there can and should be a chance for redemption, to start over, if you are willing to change”.
“Oh shut up! You people based on the morals of humanity get an easy way out only to go back to your old ways! I won't be surprised if he's found in a ditch with a bullet to the head”. As he gobbled on some dumplings.
“With a name like that! Why did you name him Pablo? Huh? Ummm…. Pablo Escobar? So your boy would be a big bad rich drug dealer? Like own the city?”
And David shouted again “Tell me old lady, why?”
Sarah in a low and depressed voice answered “Actually, we named him after Pablo Picasso”!
A mute David stared at her blankly with no reply. Thinking that maybe he was wrong in judging her and the others in general. But his bad cop routine got to him and with a sly smile replied
'Pablo Picasso of crime'!!! Now get off my face and get lost'!
Few more days and weeks passed but Sarah continued her search and pursuit for Pablo, only to return home rejected and dejected and being ill-treated by David. But fighting and not giving up was her only option and in her DNA, Pablo was her boy and she would stop at nothing, until she saw some proof.
Once while David was returning home, in a dark corner of an alley he saw three..... Figures..... As he was walking by, they broke up in a scuffle, normally David would avoid but deep down he still was and had the law enforcer fire. So he went out there to inquire and stop the fight. As he closed in, he understood that it was a drug deal gone bust.
3 against 1 was too much to handle for an out of shape dumpling gobbling David but he still tried to apprehend them. Back in the day, he would take on 5, but, not today!
Things got messy and one of the peddlers slashed David’s arm while the other put a knife through the abdomen. Analyzing the gravity of the situation that David turned out to be a cop, they ran when they heard someone shout and run towards them. David was bleeding profusely. The street was dim lit and he couldn't see the face of his savior, but a shadowy figure assured him that he would look after him and wouldn’t let anything happen to him.
David could not reply nor could he react as he blanked out.
David woke up in a hospital, his movements were minimal and he could hardly speak.
As the doctor walked in and greeted David “Good morning, Mr. David! A stitch in time just saved a LIFE! You are one lucky man, had you been brought late by say a minute or two. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. Also, quite a story attached to it. They say the guy carried you a good 2Kms”!!!
As the doctor smiled and comforted David.
An amazed David asked “Really? Who was he”?
The doctor replied
“I'm sorry, but we couldn't get his name, nor could we complete the formalities. I think he knew who you were, so he took off after admitting you in the emergency ward”.
David curiously asked “How long will I be here”?
“Not long, say 2 more days, luckily the wound isn't deep enough and like I said you were brought in on time, so had minimum damage”.
David was recovering and had ample of time to think, who would have saved him?
David asked the doctor that he'd need his clothes as evidence, once he is discharged.
David's wife was the relative staying with him, but she too had other responsibilities to tend to like taking their kids home after school, looking after them. So she would briefly move out when required.
Which meant, between the shuffling David would have the hospital food and be alone most of the time, which would also make him vulnerable to attacks, but he knew, they wouldn’t come after him, but he would not rest until he found out.
One evening, while David was alone and wanted a glass of water kept across the bed as he was thirsty, lying in bed he couldn't move much because of the flesh wound, also the fact that the medicines made him feel sleepy and could not function properly and in a helpless give kept out calling for water.
He saw someone reach out to the jug pour a glass of water and hand it over to him. After a few minutes when he felt better and came to his senses, David saw the person who handed over the glass of water.
To his surprise it was Sarah, David questioned
“What are you doing here? Still chasing me? Hope you don't follow me after my death”!
He said with a smile but there was no anger in his voice.
Sarah as cool as ever retorted, “Not if you solve my case first sir”!
To which they both smiled, laughed and David a nodded!
“Why? I have been so rude to you, from the very first minute, treated you like trash, yet you show up here with fruit, you can barely afford, time you can barely manage, energy and efforts which, you are low on!”
Sarah knew David was right, she would normally not buy the expensive fruit for home, between home and the contractual jobs she took out time for Pablo and now visited the hospital and yes and she was not getting any younger!
But as always, Sara replied with a smile on her face
“Mr. David, what you do and how you behave is up to you and on you. But, it is not in my character to be rude, disrespect and hurt people. I see, visiting the ill...sick as a good gesture. Makes them feel good and makes me feel blessed. You are right, I bought you fruit that I normally would not buy for myself, but I believe, you need it more than I do and your family needs you as soon as possible'. And mind you I have neither come here to change your mentality nor to make you regret. Also, you can be as you were when you resume duty and I meet you in your office”.
On hearing this, David zoned out, he started thinking about something.
There was a knock on the door and David's wife, Christie entered.
“Oh hey! Look who's got visitors! Hi I'm Christie, David’s wife”.
David started to feel a sense of discomfort as he thought, he would be a topic of gossip for both of them. Starting with his inefficiency to find Pablo or even be approachable for that matter.
However, Sarah's response bemused David.
“I'm Sarah, Mr. David is looking into our case, he has been assigned to find Pablo, my son.'
“Funny he never mentioned it” Christie replied rather curiously.
Sarah came in for David's defense
“I believe there isn't much to mention, my son was a bit of a trouble maker but he was a smart and good kid, probably knew how to cover his tracks. Just a case of being in bad company. I guess we should just let Mr. David rest now rather than worry him about his cases'.
David felt a bit ashamed and embarrassed for the way he had treated Sara and kept calling her family a bunch of street urchins! While she supported him and spoke highly of him, rather than tell the truth to Christie.
Once fully recovered and discharged. David collected his blood stained clothes for investigation. After being welcomed back to the department. David immediately was heading out. On being questioned by his colleague, he replied
“I need to solve this case before I retire”.
On investigating his clothes, David found out grease patches on his clothes. He remembered being slashed but none of the culprits would have had grease on their hands, as they seemed drug peddlers or smugglers. Since, the grease patches were on and near the knees and thighs and as the doctor mentioned that he was carried to the hospital. It was then obvious that it would have been a worker from the nearby garage. All he had to do was zero down on the garage. There were 2 garages in the vicinity of the scene.
David visited one of the garage, met the owner and checked the roster. There was a staff of 7, he met every one of them, inquired about the day and time of their activity.
Until a man came up to him and admitted he was the one who had got him to the hospital.
David looked at him with a puzzled look and asked
“Oh! Is it! How did you manage to do that?”
“Well, I saw you injured so I carried you, then got you into a passing car. Since, I didn't want any trouble and neither the car owner we bailed from the scene”!
David rather angrily said
“I'll ask you one more time, you shrimp! But you see this pliers out there, if what you say turns out to be a lie, I'll pluck your tongue out and make it look like an accident.”
So choose your next words very carefully. “Where were you at that night? Were you present at the scene”?
The man gulped in nervousness and replied.
“I was home, playing housie with my kids”!
“hmmm.... So did you win”?
“I always loose” replied the frail man.
“Well, we all do and you just saved your tongue, you seem like a winner to me”. David replied with a wink.
Convinced that none of the staff were and would have been around he moved on to the next garage.
The same drill moved on to the next garage. He saw the roster, met and interrogated the staff. A huge well-built man stepped forward stating he had saved David. On inquiring, his story, did match the original. When the garage owner congratulated David on finding his savior and making progress in the case.
“Well, almost! There is one thing that will decide whether he's bluffing or not'.
The curious garage owner and the puzzled savior, Lukas looking at David completely clueless off what would happen next.
David with a sly smile stated
“Let's see if ‘brick man’ here can carry me to the hospital in 22 minutes”!!!
“Sorry, what”? Questioned a puzzled and scared Lukas.
“You heard me, I remember the time of the incident and seeing the admission time in my hospital report, one can calculate that whoever carried me to the hospital did it in 22 or maximum 25 minutes”!
Everybody had a surprised look and Lukas had a tensed look.
“I'm guessing, ‘brick man’ here is too bulky, the guy who carried me out to the hospital has to be a strong man, not necessarily a giant, like you”.
“So, I know you can lift 2 people like me, but I'd bet your life on the fact that you cannot match the time. Also, I know you are a history sheeter, trust me, and it is good enough to ruin your future. So Lukas, where were you at the time of the incident”?
Lukas, understood that David was too smart for his story and also a good investigator in putting things together.
Lukas replied “I was playing PlayStation with my kid”
David replied “hmmm and I am sensing, you lost”?
Lukas replied “Yes, do we ever win? But then, but how did you know”?
David replied with a smile “I guess we all do, brick man”!
That was 2 strikes out of two and David had reached a dead end.
“It's a pity that you could not find your guy. Mr. David” said the garage owner.
“Never mind, I might be close, I believe, see you around”.
David left, but he did not have the look of a loser. Somehow he looked as if someone who surely had something up his sleeve.
After 3 days, David returned to the garage while the owner was closing the garage.
“Hello, Mr. David, how can I help you”?
“'I’m closing now, but is and if there is something I can help you with”?
“Yes, you can start with telling me as to why you lied to me? You gave me the roster and said that was your headcount. However, I'm yet to interrogate the mechanic, who is not on the roster and who has a different shift timing, also who comes and leaves the backdoor and leaves by checking the front gate lock”!
The garage owner was left dumbfounded and was out of words. He didn't know what to reply.
David continued “So, what you can help me with is to open the gate and introduce me to your ‘mystery mechanic’ or should we use the back door”?
The garage owner looked around, while nodding his head and said “back door”!
As they moved towards the back door, the garage owner asked
“When and how did you check on all these details”?
“Just because I didn't do my job earlier didn’t mean I don't know how to do it! Been in the force longer than your garage. Yeah! I’m a bit rusty, but I love what I do”!
As they moved in the back door, David moved onto a seat near a dirty desk, while the garage owner went in to call the mystery mechanic. As he walked up in a dim light room. David asked him to grab a chair and be seated.
“So! ‘Mystery mechanic’ you got a name”?
“Gary” came the reply.
“So Gary, I know the how? But you got to tell me what and why? What made you do it and why you did it”?
“Just wanted to help, I could figure out you were a cop. But I left because I didn't want any investigations and trouble. For all I know, if you would not have survived they would have put this case on me, stating that I probably stabbed you and then got you here. Just so that, they could have a quick closure, you know how the force works”!
David laughed, “Oh boy! We have a motor mouth here! Don't you know the force works? You sure you are a mechanic and not a lawyer”?
“Where do you live”?
“Where are you from”?
“Don’t remember, I was smuggled into the city and been moved around some orphanages, finally got this job and work here”
“Fair enough, why do you work this shift”?
“Extra money, less chaos”!
“So, Gary, would you mind want to tell me, why were you off the roster? What's there to hide”?
“Taxes and also the illegal ones we pay the police when they walk in here”!
“Don’t you hate the police, I'll have to bring you in for questioning and we will need your assistance to work on this case, you as a witness and of course identifying the suspects.”
“Can we the custody part happen tomorrow”?
“No, Mr. Mystery mechanic, you are an orphan from god knows where. If I keep the custody part for tomorrow, I’ll be staring at your greased stained clothes, while you’ll be enjoying hot cocoa in some other city”!
“You! Come with me, you are a witness under protection”.
Gary was taken into protective custody. But there was an issue. Gary was no less than a ghost. No identity, he had no identification card, he mentioned he only knows his 1st name as Gary, no middle name or Last name.
Fingers were messed up beyond recognition. So David was curious yet unperturbed by the fact that he had got a ghost which would not be accepted in court. David said “With a beard like that your mother wouldn't recognize you”.
On their way to the police station, David asked Gary, “Tell me one thing, why did those 2 try to fill in for you”?
Gary “They were in my debt, tried to repay, help me out, try to get you off my back. You turned out smarter than we thought”!
David, munching and gulping down a dumpling replied “Well, looks can be deceiving, but just so that you know, I was first in my class, with honors, I was a gold medalist in a nationwide police chess championship, silver medal in boxing, worked my way through various departments. I am here because I chose to be here, kid”!
As he broke into laughter and patting the driver next to him said “Smarter than they thought, hahahaha, kids and these days”!
As they arrived at the police station and headed towards David’s office. Seated in a corner a bearded Gary waited for further instructions. Across the room he saw Sarah walking in and taking her usual place. David walked in and even this time he had the usual harsh and rude tone.
“Good morning, old lady! You look a bit jaded”!
“Yes, Mr. David. I'm not well. Feeling a bit under the weather. About time you stopped coming here. I will be with you in a minute”. Not waiting for a reply, he walked in.
Seeing Gary seated, he said
“Yes, mystery mechanic, have you gotten over your identity crisis? Might as well call you, Jason Bourne”, he said with a laugh.
Sarah, mumbling something, fell to the ground as she fainted.
Gary rushed towards her, and made her lie flat on the ground. She was breathing, heart pumping, so it was not a heart attack, she suffered a stroke, probably. We should get her to a hospital. David seemed least interested as get they carried her inside. As she was catching her breath, Gary insisted they take her to a hospital. David on the other hand was the old rude, cruel and cynical person he was.
“What good is she anyway, a low life's mother and a street urchin, 1 less plague infested old hag to worry about”! Shouted David.
Gary furiously replied “You slimy, ungrateful freak! How could you speak such nonsense when all she's done for you? She genuinely bought you fruit that she couldn't afford, just because you weren't well. And you'd just rather stand here and wait for her to die, just because she is from a poor background”!!!
David didn't move a muscle, and replied.
“She survives or doesn't is a different story, and I'd only attend to her after you tell me how do you know her and why were you keeping a track of me”?
David had a point and a normally cool and composed Gary gave too much information in a fit of rage.
Gary replied, he knew Pablo and he had asked him to take care of her before he vanished.
“Now can we help her”?
“Where is Pablo”? Came the next question?
“I don't know”?
“Wrong answer! Where is Pablo? Oh by the way, Gary, the more you delay, lesser of her chance of survival! And yes, I will watch her corpse rot if I have to”!
“No, listen please, we have to help her”!
“Whereabouts! Gary, Now”!
Sarah vomited, pretty much indicating her health was deteriorating.
A furious Gary was in tears by now.
David, meanwhile, said
“Mystery mechanic, it’s not every day you get to save lives! Sometimes you have to watch people die. This is your unlucky day, superhero, you got to watch her die'. You are a ghost! No ID, no proof, nobody would believe a word you say! Watch her hopelessly as she chokes on her own vomit!”
Is when, Gary took a deep breath and replied
“I'm Pablo! Ok! I'm her missing son, I’m Pablo, I saved your life and I vanished because I wanted to leave my gangster life behind, now please help save her life”.
David then with a silly smile replied
“Do you believe in magic? Let me show you, wait, abra ka dabra, up on your feet Sarah”!
And with those magic words, Sarah, slowly and steadily got up. To a surprised Gary/Pablo!
A stunned Pablo, then replied, “if you knew or had a feeling who I was, why the masquerade”?
“I knew you would never admit it, no matter what I did. I noticed you around a few times around the hospital and near Sarah’s home. Raised a few alarms, so I tracked you, when you showed up at the garage. I knew something had to connect you to the scene. Rest played its part and I brought in Sarah to play a role and vomiting is no big deal if you've had a very heavy breakfast”.
Sarah interrupted, “l haven't had a heavy breakfast like this for years. Shame! I had to waste it”.
Pablo interrupted saying
“PLEASE Sir, if the word gets out that I'm alive and I'm here in this district, trust me I won't be seeing the next sunrise”!
David smiled and continued
“Relax! Look son, you were down... And it's not a sin, but staying down and not crawling your way out is. I was so judgmental and stuck on to your past. That I neglected the fact that you wanted to start over, you wanted to change! And you did! Everybody's got a right and a chance to begin again, that second chance! I belittled Sarah and your family on the basis of where you come from, what your social and financial status was, where and how you stood in the society and not on the fact of who you actually were... Good people! So, why the masquerade”?
“Well, it was a lot easier bringing in Sarah and getting you to confess! Also, the fact that your reunion would not be suspected by anyone”! David said with a sly smile!
As a colleague walked in, David changed his tone and said
“Well, Sarah, that 'Pablo Escobar' of yours is long gone I guess, I'll put this photo up in the missing section, holding a near unrecognizable old and washed up photo of Pablo. However, I hope you find solace in the fact that he'd be reborn as Pablo Picasso”!
Sarah, could only save a smile but couldn't hold back her tears!
“You! Mystery mechanic are of no good, your testimony won't stand a chance in court! You are free to go. Get out of my sight”!
Sarah, was like as if her life had returned to her and Pablo, still had to live a life of anonymity for his and his family’s safety. In a way, he thought it was him repaying for his sins, because directly or indirectly his previous occupation did affect and destroy lives. He considered it Karma and went ahead, hoping that he will think of ways of reconnecting with his family.
As they left, the colleague pointed out, ‘’Well, looks like you would be retiring without solving the case.’’
David, shrugged and with a smile on his face, said, “Some cases are better unsolved”.
As he closed the file and placed it in the archive section, he turned around and concluded with a wink.
“Besides, I believe, one less street urchin on the street, is a good thing, isn’t it”?