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Prey on the Prowl - A Crime Novel
Reaching 9, Castle Hills, Dhruva was nudged by Rani into the drawing room, where Raju laid the drinks for them - Old Monk with Thums Up for him and Gin with Sprite for her. Even before he had had his first sip, as she pressed him to blurt out, tuning into TV9, he told her that she should first hear it from the horse’s mouth at 9. Lighting his cigar as he savored it along with the rum, she told him that in the excitement of the moment, the aroma of the lanka pogaku was more exhilarating than ever.
Soon Shakeel was seen on the TV screen along a handcuffed youth, whom he named as Pravar the kingpin of the fake-note racket that he had busted that evening. As Karim laid bundles of thousand-rupees notes on the table before a dazed Pravar, Shakeel boasted that the police would catch the other members of the gang sooner than later.
“I don’t believe a word of that cop,” said Rani. “Why his body language spoke all lies.”
“Given the stock of the khakis,” said Dhruva, “you can’t be faulted.”
“But I will fault you,” she said coyly, “if you default in telling the truth.”
“What struck me in the ransom note was the kidnappers’ choice of a rendezvous that too at a time when it gets crowded the most,” he said, switching off the TV and lighting a fresh cigar. “Maybe the idea was to enable the kidnappers to spot the cops in mufti, if any, but still, it was risky as the police could lay in wait for them on either side of the Tank Bund. Wouldn’t have the kidnappers taken that into account? It only meant that they could hit upon a foolproof plan to facilitate the Operation Exchange. Why were they specific that Ranjit waited near the Tanesha statue? When I focused on the location, what came to the fore was the nearby ‘vaulted staircase’ that led from the Tank Bund down to the roadside Maisamma temple.”
“When we were in Gaganmahal, I used to climb up the stairs for my morning walk on the Tank Bund,” she said reminiscently.
“How I wish I had met you then,” he said winking at her.
“Better late than never, isn’t it?”
“Not in the affairs of heart; thank god we have aligned before it was too late to write home about it,” he said squeezing her hand. “Well, given the location of the staircase, it was easy to visualize the contours of their envisaged plan; while the male interlocutor would deal with Ranjit on the Tank Bund, his female accomplice would hold Kavya on the road below, desolated at that hour. Once Ranjit got down the staircase with the ransom Kavya could be led up for the operation exchange midway with the captors blocking the way both ways. Even if someone were to use the staircase then, the Ranjits could be silenced with advance threats, and what is more, the double entry or exit as the case may be, affords the kidnappers a two-way get-away either in their Zen or in their Santro.”
“Isn’t it foolproof?” said Rani, “But how come they came a cropper.”
“No denying that but ironically it’s the brilliance of the idea that betrayed their plan,” said Dhruva. “I thought of freeing Kavya, by arraigning her captor without her partner on the Tank Bund getting wind of it but as you know by then, Shakeel laid his hands on those fake notes in the Operation Moolah though the culprits gave him the slip. I don’t know why, but I got a naughty idea; what if the fake money was clothed as ransom amount and the kidnapper pictured as the kingpin of the counterfeit racket? Though Shakeel was excited at that prospect, yet he was afraid of the pitfalls, and it took a great deal of effort for me to make him fall in line.”
Rani admired him for his ingenuous idea but Dhruva said that on second thoughts he felt that it was morally dark and conceptually unethical; turning remorseful as he said that, given a chance, he would not repeat it for sure, she told him that the episode brought to the fore her own guilt in a cynical act, and like him, she too would not like to repeat it. Puzzled by her mane and manner, he pressed her to confide in him but smiling sweetly, she said that he might wait as she was not running away from him right then. When he said in jest that he would break her legs to stop her from leaving him, she coquettishly reminded him that she was within his arms reach, and as he took her into his arms, he received a call from Shakeel.
Complimenting Shakeel for the finesse in the execution of the Operation Checkmate, though Dhruva invited him to come home to exchange notes, the cop excused himself, as he had to rush to his native place to see his ailing mother
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