Contd from We have our man- Part 2
“He is our man for sure. But now I have a strange feeling we have more than a man in this,” I replied grimly.
* * *
“Over there,” the man replied looking slightly nervous.
An overnight journey and we had reached Ooty early morning only to go straight to the hotel Nischal was staying. The man had pointed to a room across the hotel lobby where he claimed we would find our “man”
“Are you sure there is more than one man?” Suhelika asked me softly while steadily walking towards the intended room.
“I have an uncanny hunch the number perhaps could be much more,” I replied in a whisper.
The door swung open and in came a batch of people all looking to be in their twenties. Behind them was our man. He looked disturbed and honestly if it wasn’t for the fact that he was our prime suspect I felt bad for him. This is what made realise the case was not about murders it was about a man I was sure. But that man was not so easy to find. Nischal though involved would be somewhere on the rim of the plan. A pawn in all aspects. If in that moment someone asked me why I felt that, I would only say on hunch.
“Nischal,” Suhelika’s voice jerked him out of slumber it seemed.
For a few moments it seemed like he would attempt to run, there was that slight hesitation in his physical sense. But something changed, he looked like he resigned to his fate or something.
“We will need you to come with us,” I spoke keeping the eyes intact on him.
* * *
“Something has gone wrong, something has made him go mute. He will not speak. I can assure you that the trauma is not skin deep but more than what meets the eye,” we heard the doctor explain to us meticulously that Nischal’s silence was not resilience but something more than what we imagined it to be.
Speaking this he left us alone and walked back inside. Suhelika looked like something had finished for her, I knew what she was going through. Nischal was our only breakthrough.
“Suhelika if I told you that Nischal’s condition is not natural but man made would you believe me?” I asked in a strange monotone.
She didn’t reply only expressed her confusion in eyes.
“Somehow everything looks like a puppet show. I can almost feel the strings. I feel some on myself too. I am reacting in a very predictable manner. We need to go backstage, we need the puppeteer not the puppet. I don’t know if I am making sense anymore,” I ranted off and suddenly got up and left the room.
* * *
I hadn’t gone home in weeks. My wife who was expecting our second child had left for her own house. And so somewhere I thought I held no responsibility to mark presence at the place one may like to call home.
“Sahab, woh sketch artist,” it was Ram bahadur’s voice which suddenly broke my slumber. Yes I had somewhere dropped off to sleep and yet it felt like it was only a few minutes back I saw Nischal being admitted in the hospital.
“Aur baaki teen ho gaye?” I asked, waking myself up to consciousness.
“Bring him in,” I spoke. The strings, its the strings I need to cut, perhaps that can make the puppeteer desperate.
He was dragging his feet and that broke the otherwise serene peace of my office. His face looked like a cyborg, a haggered one. The one who has not been charged in a long long time.
“The sketches? Are they complete?” I asked impatiently.
He became a bit nervous, probably this was his first assignment in the department. I know the other artists well they would have probably kept the sketches and left by now. He stuck around probably expecting an appreciation or something.
“This is it? Only four?” I asked again. This time with slight politeness.
“Yes,” he replied meekly.
I began to go through the sketches. All very well made. The features of each face was clear as crystal on the paper.
“This is strange,” I murmured.
“I know. At first even I couldn’t believe it,” the artist replied suddenly.
I looked up, he hadn’t left. Why had he stuck around?
“What is strange?” I asked.
“All of them. All of them seem to be of the same person,” he stuttered.
* * *
We have been played by him like a fool. He was always there right after every murder. In all the four cases he disguised himself as the prime witness. He gave us red herrings, he deterred us from the real path. And we bought it. It was when the woman (or he disguised as one) told Ram Bahadur that the murderer was seen running from the front gate that I felt weird. We had seen footsteps from the back door. I had a hunch this was not right.
But now how to track him? And then Nischal how does he fit in?
I knew where the answers lied but then I was afraid it would create issues. I had made the guesses and I also knew who he was. But to say it with confidence, I needed more proof. One final outing and the nails on the coffin would soon arrive.
To be contd.The strings had to be cut-Part 4