Josh crashed into a porter moving sluggishly with a huge roll of bedding precariously balanced on his head, his right hand supporting the load and a suitcase and Tiffin carrier in his left! Even as cuss words and angry cries rang across the platform, Josh picked himself up from the mess and dashed after the train desperately trying to get into the last bogey as if in some bollywood flick! As the train took the final corner and disappeared, Josh huffed and puffed to a halt clutching at his sides, sweat dripped down his unshaven face and his bloodshot eyes suggested he hadn’t slept. Wiping the sweat on his sleeves he lit the last cigarette in his pack and sat down on a bench. He barely had minutes left!
9 hours ago…
A cab honked outside the apartment of Josh Mathews. Josh was a 33 years old, branch manager at a National bank. He lived alone in his 2-BHK apartment, made a decent earning, led a low-key, content life and was widely unpopular among his neighbors because of his minimal socializing. So when Mrs. Kumar from next door offered Josh a lift the previous night, she was in for a surprise. Josh’s car had broken down 6 blocks from his apartment- something which happened very often. But unlike on other previous such occasions, this time he accepted Mrs. Kumar’s offer and even talked animatedly to her on the way back home.
“Good gracious! Did he win a jackpot or something, he is positively glowing!” thought a bemused Mrs. Kumar.
Josh hustled around picking up documents and hastily stuffing them into his briefcase. Hearing the key turning in the lock next door, Mrs. Kumar hurried outside with a bowl of gaajar ka halwa.
“Good morning” she greeted Josh with a wide smile and extended the bowl of sweetmeat towards Josh, but he gave a nonchalant smile- which looked more like a smirk, and hurried down the stairs.
Mrs. Kumar was shocked at the rudeness but couldn’t help noticing how unkempt Josh looked. Usually he was very particular about his attire- tucked, ironed full sleeved shirts with classy trousers and shiny black leather shoes. Mrs. Kumar, too angry at Josh’s sudden mood changes didn’t sense anything suspicious though. Not yet!
The cab stopped in front of a dilapidated, old government building. Josh paid the driver and didn’t even ask for change.
The driver, glad at the generosity enquired politely,” sahib, why did you come to this obsolete, creepy building?”
Josh got agitated and shot back,” That’s none of your business you flimsy old cabbie! Take the money and get the hell out of here!”
Shocked and angry, the driver did not wait for another second and disappeared into the alley ahead, literally seething at Josh. Josh took a long hard look at the empty corridor in front of him, and after checking around for onlookers, quickly opened the latch of the gate and walked across the dark corridor, into the open glass doors of the building.
5 hours ago…
After the unpleasant encounter with Josh, Mrs. Kumar nearly forgot all about it! She sat at the dining table finishing her breakfast and reading the local newspaper. Mrs. Kumar was a normal housewife whose life centered around her family. She dealt with all the household chores that a housewife could possibly imagine, and did it with panache as her neighbors claimed. She would dismiss such tall claims with her chiming laugh but secretly took pride in them! She scanned quickly through the pages, lingering at the entertainment and gossip section for several minutes. There was no news of her interest in the papers; she certainly did not care about world affairs or national politics. She stayed on the front page a few seconds longer as it carried news about a bank whose name sounded familiar, but she did not have the patience to read the entire piece.
A sudden noise from next door attracted her attention. It was from Josh’s apartment, somebody was knocking on his door.
“This is unusual” thought Mrs. Kumar as Josh never had visitors before.
Unable to contain her curiosity as the knocks continued, she went outside and found three burly, ominous looking men in jeans and t-shirts standing in front of Josh’s door.
“May I help you?” she asked.
The startled men exchanged looks and the youngest among them spoke “Hello! We are friends of Josh. He is not at home. Do you know where he went?”
The bearded man on the left fidgeted at the pace of the conversation and stared ahead looking impatient. Mrs. Kumar hesitated, “um… I saw him leave his apartment in the morning. I think he went to office. Is something wrong? Should I give him any message?” Again the men exchanged tensed looks.
The young guy asked,” Oh! Did he look tensed or under pressure or was there anything suspicious about him today morning?”
Now Mrs. Kumar felt uneasy,” Uh… I am not sure. He doesn’t speak with his neighbors much. But why are you asking these questions? Is something wrong? Is he alright?”
This time it was the bearded man who answered,” Look lady… we are police officers! Mr. Josh here is carrying vital information regarding the National Bank fraud case and we think he might be in danger! So, it is very important that we find him. Can you give us his whereabouts?”
Mrs. Kumar stammered,” I… I am… I don’t know. He had taken a cab in the morning but didn’t mention where he was going!”
The young guy replied in a calm voice,” thank you madam you have been very helpful. Please inform on this number if he comes home and do not speak with Mr. Josh until we have met him. That is very important for his safety. Ok?” He handed a card and left with his colleagues.
As she watched her favorite T.V. serial, Mrs. Kumar suddenly realized why the news article about a bank had sounded familiar. She abandoned the remote control and rummaged through the newspaper till she found the article “National Bank Corp. embroiled in a fraud scandal” and at the bottom was a picture. Mrs. Kumar looked at it and gasped.Underneath the picture was printed
“Josh Mathews, 33, on the run with evidence against NBC”.
4 hours earlier…
A recent bollywood song rang up in front of the tea stall on the street across the Kumar apartment.
A bearded man wearing blue denims and a black polo neck took out his phone and spoke,” Hello! Yes sir. We have been standing in front of the house. No activity in the past hour. Ok… alright! Hey Jairam note down the address.” A younger man in his mid 20’s, also wearing faded jeans and a black t-shirt quickly typed an address on his Smartphone.
“Ok sir… yes… it will be arranged! Yes we will be there as soon as possible.” The man hung up his phone.
“What is it Anthony?” Jairam asked.
“Srini, you keep watch here! I and Jairam will be back in a while. Inform us if there’s any activity! Good luck.” Anthony instructed the third guy in jeans and t-shirt.
At the Kumar apartment…
Mrs. Kumar was anxious, first Josh’s weird behaviour, then the policemen and now the news about the fraud case. She paced up and down her gleaming sparkly floor, clutching the phone and peeping outside regularly.
Suddenly there was a male voice at the next door,” Mr. Josh Mathews, this is the police please open up!”
Mrs. Kumar stepped out, “Hello! I have already told the policemen who came in the morning that Josh has been out since a long time.” She stated confidently even as her knees threatened to buckle. The officers looked at each other quizzically, “sorry… did you say policemen?”
“Yes sir, the neighbor has identified them. Three men ranging from 25 to 40 years of age had been here enquiring about Josh’s whereabouts. Its the conning trio of the Siliguri case. No she couldn’t tell them anything definitive. Ok sir. Yes I will keep you posted. Jai Hind!” inspector Devarath finished speaking on the phone and turned towards Mrs. Kumar who sat on the couch, a nurse was tending to her. She had fainted when inspector showed her the pictures of three con-men! Later she had recounted her encounter with them and then fainted for a second time.
“Mrs. Kumar, Josh has been a police informant on the NBC fraud case for the past month. He has been passing us information against the bank but his inputs stopped coming in 3 days back. Concerned we checked at his old apartment but got to know that he had shifted to a new location. After a number of cross references we finally got this address. Have you seen anything suspicious about Josh lately?” the inspector asked.
Mrs. Kumar was still in a state of shock. Gulping down some water she recounted,” Josh never spoke with the neighbors and so was very unpopular among us. Then last night I had a strange encounter with him. He seemed ecstatic about something and I thought he was finally warming up. But this morning he completely ignored me when I greeted him!” Mrs. Kumar put down the glass indignantly, hurt by Josh’s behavior.
Just then a constable came in and informed Devarath that the next door was clean- no explosives or traps. Getting up from the chintz chair, the inspector bothered by something asked, “uh… one last question Mrs. Kumar… has anyone been in his apartment before?” confused, Mrs. Kumar slowly shook her head!
Outside the apartment…
Srini dialed the number on his phone, “Anthony! The police are here. What do we do now?” a voice on the phone said,” reach the old welfare office in an hour. We will meet you there!” Taking a last glance at the Mathews apartment, Srini got on his bike and rode away.
“Yes sir! Ready to break-in. Thank you sir. Jai Hind!” inspector Devarath spoke on the phone.“Alright let’s go”
the police tore down the door and broke into the Mathews apartment. There seemed to have been a scuffle inside. Papers and books lay across the floor, the couch had a cushion missing and… There was someone sitting tied and gagged to a wooden chair near the sliding door to the balcony. The inspector slowly moved towards the chair, gun held in front of him ready to shoot at the slightest threat. “Josh?” asked Devarath and turned the chair around, “Holy Gods!” exclaimed the inspector. This wasn’t Josh Mathews… It was the infamous burglar and fraudster Assad Baig!
45 minutes from the present…
Three burly, dangerous looking men gazed at an ancient building which served as the state welfare office a few years back but stared at the world now with a sorry look after the huge fire 4 years back. They opened the latch on the Iron Gate and walked towards the glass at the far end of the corridor. As they entered the door, the smell of dust filled their nostrils.
Anthony sneezed. “Who on Earth would carry out deals in such a crappy old building?”
“Intelligent men would!” a voice rang around the empty hallway. The three con-men looked around for the source and then heard sound of footsteps-three sets. The silhouette of a muscular man came down the stairs ahead. It was dragging another man along who was trying to resist this beast but in vain. Behind the two came a balding man in his late 60’s who walked with a stoop. When the man finally stepped onto the hallway, the light from the ventilator streamed down on the man… it was Mark Anderson, founder of the National Bank Corp. “Boss!” the three men saluted.
Josh sat on a dusty, rickety chair. The muscular man stood behind him while Anderson paced up and down.
“So Josh… Enough of the ceremony. Now tell us… where are the papers in this briefcase?” Anderson said waving an empty brown leather bag. Josh said nothing.
Anderson nodded at the muscular guy, “Jake”. Josh reeled back in pain and coughed out blood as the huge fist slammed into his guts! “Look Josh, we have gone through elaborate arrangements to carry out this plan. I am old and about to retire. Those papers are very important to me. So please cooperate unless…” another gut wrenching punch punctuated Anderson’s threat!
“That evidence is fake!” coughed Josh, “it will cause NBC more harm than… “
“That’s exactly what I want Josh!” interrupted Anderson, banging his fists on the reading desk in between him and Josh.
A pregnant silence followed. “All my life I worked hard to put up this bank and now the board says I am too old to remain at its helm! Those bas*ards want me to quit! Me- Mark Anderson, founder of the NBC. So I thought if I am going down… I might as well take everything along with me!” The old man continued his narration,” So two months ago when you joined the bank, I was quick to realize your uncanny resemblance to our man Assad Baig. Finally I had a plan. Assad has been passing fake information to the police since the past month under your pretext. But two weeks ago you unprecedentedly changed residence prompting the police to look into your activities as well. I sensed trouble and had you kidnapped at your own apartment. We were all set to release a final intriguing piece of evidence directly to the press instead of the police. But… you decide to get nosy and… Here we are. So for your own…” Anderson couldn’t finish his sentence. Police sirens wailed and everyone looked towards the door. The momentary distraction appeared, it was now or never. Josh dashed from the chair and leaped out of the open window.
A scarlet haze surrounded the skies as the sun set in the west. The railway platform was as busy as ever. People hustled and bustled around. No one bothered to look at the shabbily dressed man sitting alone on a bench. Josh lit the last cigarette in his pack. Anderson’s men could be there any moment now. A sudden wave of gut wrenching pain shot up his ribs as the bruises due to Jake’s punches boiled with white hot pain. The world started to blur, his head began spinning and the last thing he remembered was a man catching him around his waist as he fell. And then he passed out.
Josh opened his eyes slowly as the sunshine blinded him momentarily. For a second he thought he was back at the old welfare building, but then his gaze cleared and there was a woman sitting beside his bed, reading a newspaper.
Mrs. Kumar looked up and saw Josh stirring. Smiling, she got up and came near, “how are you feeling now Josh?”
“Horrible” replied Josh,” I am sorry but… who are you? And how did I end up… in a hospital” said Josh looking around the room for the first time.
Just then inspector Devarath entered,” hello Josh! You are finally awake! I am pleased to tell you that Mark Anderson and his associates have been arrested and will be charged with criminal offenses!” smiled the police officer, “meanwhile the fraudster Assad Baig has confessed. Plus the bank is eagerly waiting to welcome you back. If not for your courageous and timely action a perfectly well reputed bank would have been destroyed.”
“So you received the documents then?” Josh smiled back.
“Yes yes… the cab driver who dropped you to the welfare building mentioned that you had visited the post office on the way. From there on it was easy!” the inspector added,” Oh by the way, if not for your concerned neighbors” the inspector nodded at Mrs. Kumar “it would have been difficult to nab the impostor who was using your identity to mislead us!” Josh looked at Mrs. Kumar.
She smiled and said, “Now inspector, allow our friend here to rest or he won’t be able to recover in time for my special gaajar ka halwa.”
They all laughed.