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Mysterious Disappearances
Chapter 19

By Nirupama Akella

Back to Previous Chapter - 18

What is Happening?

“What’s happening?” asked a white pale faced Jyotsana, looking quite frail in the huge white covered bed.

“Circus!” said Parul scowling. “A full fledged circus -- the only things missing are some trapeze artists and elephants…”

“Calm down, Parul,” Lata said shaking her head. “If we talk loudly, the nurses will chase us away…”

The two girls had come to see their invalid room mate who taken to bed again, after the shocking news of Shiksha’s disappearance. The virus had not abated yet, but was subsiding slowly. Jyotsana had spent the whole of the past week in the Sick Bay and was quite literally fed up of cooing sympathetic nurses and white capsules. She sighed deeply thinking -- while she had been lying here, her friends had been in the thick of all happenings. The previous day, Lata had popped in on her in the evening and brought her up- to- date with the latest and today morning, both Lata and Parul had come to see her.

“So, have the police found anything yet?” she said.

“Nothing,” said Parul rolling her eyes. “That donkey of a chief from Delhi,, asked me stupid questions again this morning…”

“What?” queried Lata now turning away from the window to look at Parul.

Parul, in the process of rolling up her long shirt sleeves -- made a face and said, “Oh, the usual -- much repetition -- where was I? Did I see anything? The usual routine questioning and I am getting pretty tired of it all… Why don’t they do something, instead of just lolling about in their seats?”

“I expect they are checking out all possibilities,” said Lata stroking her chin.

“Excuse me,” said Parul looking at Lata. “There are no possibilities -- I tell you they should tear down the Old Church and then they will find everything…”

“Find what?” asked Lata now fingering the thick curtain material

“The bodies, what else?” said Parul sighing.

“Then you think she was murdered?” Jyotsana jumped into the dialogue.

Parul stared at Jyotsana and said, “Of course.”

“Have you told the police?” said Jyotsana.

“Thousands of times -- that stupid inspector thinks that I may have something to do with it…”

“Parul…” exclaimed Lata

“Yeah -- they did some background check on me…assholes, all of them!”

“Certainly seems like they are looking in the wrong direction…”

“They always are…” said Parul waving her hand as if warding off an irritating fly. “Do you realize its now one week since Shiksha disappeared?”

“I spoke to her uncle and Grandmother yesterday,”said Lata slowly. “Poor people, and the police have found nothing till now.”

“I ran into them day before yesterday…” said Parul.

“You said nothing to me…”

“Well…. it wasn’t anything to rave about Lata! Pretty depressing really,” Parul said. She paused for a minute and then announced, “And so I have decided to do my own investigation!”

“Parul,” exclaimed Lata. “Don’t tell me you are serious?”

Parul Desai nodded slowly.

 Lata continued in shocked tones, “You mean you will go inside that building again?”

“Well…someone has to find her and the police are certainly grown fond of their chairs..”

“Well…I am going with you…” Lata said standing.

“Hey, don’t forget me…” said Jyotsana now getting out of bed.

“You have flu,” Parul said screwing her eyes behind her spectacles..

“You are not supposed to leave the bed,” said Lata.

“Nonsense,” said Jyotsana putting on her sports shoes. “The nurses won’t come to my room for another hour or more! And besides I feel fine.”

“It is your choice!’, sighed Lata, as Jyotsana confidently marched towards the door, opened it- looked about cautiously and then signaling to the other two sneaked out.

Outside, the atmosphere was a little sober- classes were going on at their usual pace. Sounds of dishes clanging could be heard in the kitchen and there was a crowd hanging around the canteen benches sipping cokes and eating snacks talking in hushed whispers. All faces were grave with traces of uncertainty, suspicion and doubt. The trio came out of the Sick Bay and headed for the Old Wing.

‘I hear that Ms Batiawala took premature retirement!’, observed Jyotsana, ‘Its so sad for her family and here people seem to be thinking of only themselves…!’

‘Yeah- said it was too much for her nerves……..!,’ said Lata shortly.

‘Nandita Sharma- Sister’s secretary….well I ran into her this morning just before we came to see you, Jyot. And she told me that some construction supervisor of that construction company who was down here for a month for the renovation, had also disappeared………’, the other two girls raised their eyebrows, and Parul continued, ‘seems he had lots of money before he vanished- Nandita saw him that evening when Shiksha and I were down there, with some bag….she is sure he killed her…..!’

‘But now even he had disappeared, ‘ reasoned Jyotsana softly, ‘So, maybe he knew something like Shiksha and then the murderer, lets call him X, found out and killed him too!’

‘But did X then kill Shanta too?’, queried Lata fascinated.

‘Maybe…but that would have to be in the beginning….so these three people, Shanta, Shiksha and this guy found something which X didn’t want to be found, and so they simply disappeared off the face of the earth!….Am I making any sense?,’ Jyotsana ended lamely looking flushed.

‘Are you feeling all right?,’ asked Parul concerned, ‘maybe you should go back!’

‘Don’t be silly!,’ said her room mate sharply, ‘Its just the excitement and the tension- I am alright!’

‘So,’ resumed Lata gravely, widening her eyes, ‘if we find Shanta, we are bound to find Shiksha and this construction guy?’

‘I think so!’, faltered Jyotsana.

‘OK, here we are, ‘announced Parul, a false note of cheerfulness in her voice, ‘Come on people, stop looking as if you are about to attend a funeral! We are going to find everything once and for all!’

‘We are not the police!’, Lata said slowly.

‘Thank Goodness we aren’t!’, Parul remarked, ‘Look are you coming in or not?’

The two girls nodded and then they all went in- the small frail girl- the tall gaunt one clad in faded jeans and the plump shoulder length haired girl clutching a notepad and pen!

‘Oh NO,’, exclaimed Parul in dismay, ‘they are already here!’

Sure enough, the three stooges of the Dehradun police as Parul called them, and the experts from Delhi, were busily leaning on floors and tapping walls, searching, looking very important and serious. K.S. Singh, the ex- police chief from New Delhi and a family friend of the Malhotra family, spied the three girls standing at the entrance and approached them, tugging his grey beard thoughtfully- what were these girls doing here? He knew of course that they were room mates of Shiksha, and one of them, the tall girl now wearing a scowl, had been grilled with probing questions for an hour. After she had left, he had bumped into the secretary in the hall, wearing a very confused and puzzled expression. Without cue, she had plunged into the nitty gritties of some travelling bag which she had seen with Ghosh that evening but, now had seen it in Sister’s room! Thankfully, he had managed to get her to talk slowly and had come to learn that the dark navy blue travelling bag which she had seen under Ghosh’s arm that fateful evening, was now sitting comfortably in the Principal’s office in a corner. He had gone to ascertain but had seen no such bag even after thorough search of the room- even asked Sister about it who had denied the existence of such a thing and blamed it all on Nandita Sharma’s overactive imagination- “you must not completely believe her, Mr. Singh- Nandita has a marvelous imagination, seeing things which are not there- Please give me a full report of your investigation in the evening after I return from the charity function!”, and he had felt like a fool! But pleased all the same because now he did not have to request permission to conduct another search of the Old Church!

Mysterious Disappearances-19 ...continued here ....