Akash completed the final draft of his book a couple of weeks later and took it to the publishers. He hadn’t met Deeksha the last couple of months citing health reasons and professional commitments. She had conceded and agreed to meet if any developments happened in the mean time. After that innocent statement, Akash was wary of her and now didn’t trust her as much. Deeksha hadn’t shown any interest in the matter either. They decided it was a one-off incident, though Akash didn’t think so. But he didn’t want to involve himself beyond a point. After all, it wasn’t something he asked for.
Priyadarshini, his editor, asked him to relax in the lobby as she had to wrap up a meeting with an international publication. “Roopa will take it from here, Akash. I’ll meet you in a half hour, yeah?” Apparently, she had taken a look at the soft copy he sent her earlier on request, and had some pointers to polish the draft. She said her staff would take care of it, but that he should be aware of the changes. He’d agreed. First timers don’t have much of a say, anyway. He was just glad his book was on its way to the shelves, finally.
He opened his laptop and launched a browser. The office was wi-fi enabled. After browsing for a few minutes, he went to his favorite online newspaper for the days headlines. On a lark, he decided to look into the archives. What was the date Deeksha had mentioned? Ah, yes – July 26th, 2009. He was registered with the paper and logged on. He smiled at some of the headlines from back then. He was about to scroll down, when the link caught his eyes. “Car crash on the Mysore-Bangalore highway”. He clicked.Nothing out of the blue. Four occupants, he noted. Akanksha, Shashank, Roger and Fasal. Those were the names. He quickly read the report, and then some related links. He frowned. Some accident that. But it was just an accident. What did Akanksha’s spirit have to say outside of this accident, he wondered. Come to think of it, the whole incident seemed weirder and weirder. Why hadn’t her spirit made contact again?
The more he remembered her face, the more he got drawn into it. He sighed. He read the story again. Wait a minute.
The car was on its way to Bangalore, when the accident occurred.
But didn’t Deeksha say that Akanksha was on her way to Mysore? A lot of things didn’t quite fit here, but he wasn’t able to put his finger on any one. Unless he had access to the investigation files. Which was next to impossible. Then he remembered, Arun, his friend from college, worked at one of the reputed papers in the city and covered crime. He used to at least a couple of years ago. Could he pull some strings? He wondered. But for that, he’d have to tell him the truth. Would he believe him? Would he laugh at him? He might outright refuse him. But it was worth a try.
The number you’ve dialed, does not exist.
He decided to visit Arun personally.
He found Arun and a colleague smoking near the stairway, when Akash waved at him.
“Akash. Hey,” Arun said, throwing the butt out.
They pumped hands and clapped shoulders. “Long time, man.”
Akash nodded and laughed.
“So, what brings you here? Still with that company, umm…,” Arun tried to recollect.
“Yeah, still there. But I’m writing a book, and …”
“wow, cool. Really?”
“Yeah. And I wanted your help on some research.”
“Sure – shoot.”
“Umm, it actually involves a real case, happened a couple of years ago.” Akash feigned vague remembrance.
“Yeah? Here, in Bangalore? Which one?” Arun was all ears now.
“Yeah, related to Bangalore. You still doing crime?”
Arun sighed and smiled. “Stuck to it like glue.”
“Good,” Akash said.
“Hmm,” Arun said. “Chalo, let’s go to the canteen to grab a coffee”.
In the canteen, Akash told Arun about the accident, and Akanksha, skipping the parts.
Arun tried to rake his memory. “I do remember faintly about that one. I got it from one of those press statements they give us at the Commissioner’s office.”
“ok, do you remember the cops doing any follow up investigation?”
“Don’t see a reason why they should have. These guys have enough of crap to deal with inside the city, than to waste their time on a pretty straight-forward accident. Highways are, well, you know – accident prone, and they can’t do much about it.” Arun scratched his beard.
Akash nodded. Arun continued – “unless, the accident involves a politico, or some public figure. You know.”
Akash again nodded. “But you know, from what Deeksha told me, it didn’t quite match. She said her sister was bound to mysore. But the report says the car was on its way from mysore.”
Arun laughed. “Akash, I can’t believe you’re asking this question. Printing errors happen all the time. Even names get mis-spelt. Ages are written wrongly at times. It happens.”
Akash got a sinking feeling this wasn’t going down too well. Arun shook his head. “Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’ll try to find out who the investigating officer was on that case, and put you through. That work ok for you?”
Akash nodded. “that’ll be great, man. Thanks.”
Arun winked. “Anytime.”
Akash learned that a certain Inspector Dinesh Singh of Maddur District, was the primary spot officer for the accident, and the case was then handed over to ACP Bhargav, Traffic, South Bangalore – as the car was registered under the Southern RTO in Bangalore. ACP Bhargav was not in office currently.
Akash went over several newspaper stories from the public library, carrying the accident story and gathered mixed reports. Some reports said the car caught fire near Maddur, others even said near Mandya, a town about 16km away. He was confused now.
He visited the Bangalore South traffic police station, and met the public relations officer.
He stepped out of the police station, a while later, flustered, and confused even further. There was no record of such an accident, and the PR officer outright refused to comment on the subject.
“Please, sir, I have a lot more work to attend to now.”
What was the big deal about a road accident anyway? He learned about the deal the next day when he read the papers. The headline was buried in the third page, city crime news, but when he looked closer, it took his breath away.
“City crime reporter found dead in his apartment.”
Akash had to rub his eyes and read the report all over again.
“Arun Jadhav, a senior crime reporter was found murdered in his apartment, in the early hours of Monday. His wife and son were out of town and learned of the incident later. Arun was on the crime beat of this renowned paper for the last seven years…”
He almost jumped when his cell phone rang.
No answer. All he could hear was a hissing sound, like static from a television.
The line went dead.
He was perspiring now. A few minutes later, his cell rang again.
He looked at the display – it was an unknown number. He slowly pressed the green button.
“Don’t ask any question. Meet me at…”, the caller gave him the location and hung up.
Akash tossed the phone on the couch and looked up at the ceiling. He quickly bathed and changed. He had exactly three hours to be at the location.
Three hours later, a blue van slowed down by his side as he was waiting for the caller.
The door slid open and he was asked to jump in. Before he could even notice the occupants of the van, he was blind-folded and asked to keep quiet. His heart pounding, he obeyed silently and sat for what seemed like eternity. None of the occupants spoke during the journey.
When his blind-fold was finally taken off, he had to squint hard at the harsh light. It was late afternoon, he presumed. He was asked to alight. The van sped away leaving him standing in what looked like a school building.
A friendly looking elderly man approached him from inside the building.
“Come with me.”
He was escorted to a class-room. The door was open. He stepped in.
Akash stood mortified for a second, as he saw the person in front of him.
Concluding part here...