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Mysterious Disappearances 
Chapter 20

By Nirupama Akella

Back to Previous Chapter - 19

Three Dead Bodies and Gold!

‘So, what are you doing?,’ asked Singh in his reassuring gentle Grandfather tone.

‘Helping you!’, replied Lata shortly chewing her gum.

K.S. Singh surveyed her quietly- out of all three of them, he had found Lata Naidu to be the reticent one—not at all cooperative in any way! In fact she had been positively rude to him!

He sighed, ‘So, you were giving a Presentation that evening?’

‘Yeah, on Globalization and Technology- for nearly an hour- in the Audio Visual Room, upstairs above the bookshop!’, she looked questioningly at Singh- who swallowed and thought angrily- did she think he was a blinking idiot?

‘Who were there?’

‘Don’t you know all this? One of your men grilled me with questions for an hour as if I made Shiksha disappear!’

“Patience, Kundan, Patience,” Singh told himself and smiled between clenched teeth- this girl needed a good spanking!”

‘Yes, but you wouldn’t mind telling me again, would you?’

‘Sure! I don’t mind- not all were there….you see the fete was over and so was our festival! The evening was reserved only for seminars and presentations- and only some had been invited with embossed passes and all that! The entire staff was there- Nandita, Sister’s  secretary left early and I thought that my presentation was going awful! Then…,’ here she frowned and Singh waited patiently, ‘Someone else left- lets see…….hmm Sister! That’s it, Sister Prudence left at around six minutes before the presentation ended! Do you need to know anything else??’

‘Have you also seen this light?’

‘Oh, the basement light! NO! We- Jyotsana and I and Shiksha woke up that Saturday morning at four just to see the light but it didn’t appear…..and someone said, it was me……it was weekend shy, ‘her Lata giggled hysterically, ‘You see, she had told us the previous night about the light and I had said it was a ghost!’

‘Was she worried?’

‘Hey, I told that Constable all this but evidently you like to hear repeats!,’ Singh gritted his teeth, ‘Yeah we all were worried!’

‘Who normally goes to the building?’

‘Well…the cleaning ladies do! What they clean, they only know! Shiksha and I were always saying that  it didn’t matter because the floor always looked the same- hmm….Shanta used to clean this place but now Shalu does! Then sometimes, all of us, the entire college comes here for mass prayers but usually it is Sister and her group who come here every morning at six to pray!’

‘Anyone could walk in here without anyone knowing!’

‘I guess people do see, I do but it always gets stuck in the back of the mind! Hey,’ she bent down to remove a shiny scrap of paper wedged between the two floor tiles, ‘Is this a clue?’

Singh carefully weighed his answer, ‘I don’t think so…….!’

Lata Naidu sighed and went back to her searching.

‘Sahib!,’ Bahadur whispered patiently, ‘what are we searching for?’

‘Your truncheon……..’, replied Junior Constable Kishen Pathak irritated- Bahadur was proving to be a smart pain!

‘I have it in my hand, Sahib!’

Pathak straightened and forced his face into an expression of unlimited kindness, ‘Bahadur,’ he began softly, ‘we are looking for something that Shiksha Malhotra found that day! Do you understand? Do you?,’ Pathak thundered.

Bahadur kept a straight face, ‘Yes, Sir but what was she searching for??’

Kishen Pathak sighed- he must have done some great unforgivable sin in his previous life- that’s why he had to put up with Bahadur!

‘I don’t know- if we look, maybe we will see a clue!’

Bahadur nodded somberly- if the CID were at sea what was he, an ordinary police chowkidaar going to find? He turned his attention to the wooden panels and began tapping them one by one, humming an old folk song. Kishen Pathak was behind him bending at the floor. “Maybe he ought to take up cleaning floors as a professional career,” chuckled Bahadur to himself, going forward methodically. “This was a complete waste of time- they were,” he reflected, “doing this for the seventh time!”

He bent over a small wooden panel below the pulpit and tapped- it sounded hollow and so he tapped again, this time pressing hard- “and next time,” he thought savagely, “I will use me truncheon!” He didn’t notice that the wall next to him had slid open invitingly but still humming, he straightened and then looked in surprise! He wasn’t standing in the Old Church anymore but had flown and taken position in some old brick fortress- he was for the first time hallucinating! He blinked hard and looked again- no, he wasn’t hallucinating but was still in sound mental condition! It was just that the wall next to him had slid back making it look like A completely different place!

‘Sahib, I have found something!’, he delivered this piece of information to a scowling Pathak whose tie had become wedged in between two loose tiles. ‘Absolutely fantastic! Now come here and help me!’

‘Sahib, I think it is the basement!’

Kishen Pathak forgot about his silk tie and tried to look up which was quite difficult considering his neck felt constricted and he felt like a noose was tightening around him- ‘it is the entrance down to the basement,’ he croaked, ‘Very good Bahadur! How did you find it?’

‘I pressed this panel and it just happened, ‘said Bahadur pointing to the small panel located on the stem of the pulpit, ‘Come on, Sahib!’

Kishen Pathak reluctantly freed himself on his silk noose and followed the chowkidaar inside- down the dusty steps and then Bahadur exclaimed, ‘A dead body, Sir!’

Kishen Pathak strained forward and pulled up the back mask to reveal the pleasant surprised face of Rajeev Ghosh. ‘Looks like the attacker surprised him which means he knew his killer!  And look at his hand he was clutching something! Fascinating!’

Bahadur nodded- feeling squeamish- the sight of a still body of a fellow human being was not fascinating to him!

‘Sahib, I am feeling sick!’, he squeaked.

‘Shut up and lets go inside that room!’

Bahadur sighed but followed reluctantly. Pathak opened the door and grimaced, ‘Here she is!’

‘Who, Sahib?’

‘The Queen! Bahadur, Shiksha Malhotra----- remember, the girl we are looking for!’

Bahadur didn’t rise to the bait uncharacteristically- he was feeling sick- the sight of the dead girl looking so terrified, fearful was disconcerting to him!

‘Come on!’, Kishen Pathak side stepped and went in further.

“All this is obviously fun for this donkey!,” Bahadur thought standing firm near the dead body of Shiksha Malhotra. His feet were refusing to budge and he was not going to persuade them! He was remembering the menace of evil spirits and his village folk tales of the haunted spirits of the dead who had been brutally killed before their time! He shuddered and closed his eyes, muttering holy chants to himself to ward off the evil spirits!

‘Look, Shanta Ganshyam! She’s dead too!’

There was a silence as Junior Constable Pathak surveyed the third dead body then nimbly skipped, ‘Bahadur, you stay here…..while I go and get the others!’

‘Sahib, I am feeling sick!’, Bahadur vainly tried to communicate his fear of dead bodies but Pathak was not listening and on his way out opening the door. Bahadur sprang into action- he desperately clutched Pathak’s hand and shrilly cried, ‘NO SAHIB! DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!’

Kishen Pathak enjoyed Hindi dramatic movie scenes where the pretty heroine clung to the arm of the angry hero professing her undying love for him and begging him not to leave her- these, he had often felt- constituted the unique distinguishing feature of Hindi movies! Bahadur, he now thought had probably seen too many of them! The way he was clinging on to his hand was shameful- at any moment now he expected Bahadur to enact the second step of the scene- to burst into a tearful romantic song! There was one major problem- Bahadur did not in the least look like any pretty young Hindi heroine!- and Pathak himself had no intention of playing the dashing angry hero to his old whining chowkidaar! There were a few other minor points of order also, Pathak reflected- the scenery was all wrong! There were no trees and no blue skies  above! There were not actors but serious responsible policemen conducting a murder investigation- also, Pathak added mentally, there was no audience!

‘Bahadur! Get a hold of yourself- this is not theatre OK! Leave me, Leave me,'  and he vainly tried to shrug off Bahadur’s hand who now spoke perfect gibberish, ‘NO Sahib, don’t leave me with the dead! I know evil spirits are her and they will kill me too!,’ here his voice shook with fear and Pathak sighed, ‘Sahib, if you leave me here, by the time you come back, even I will be dead with blood all over me!’

Don’t be silly!!!’, Kishen Pathak sternly admonished his chowkidaar, ‘you are talking complete nonsense. I don’t want you to walk on air man, I just want you to sit here whilst I go and get the others, OK,’ then more kindly, ‘see its all in the mind- if you keep on saying to yourself, I am not afraid, you wont be afraid at all!’

And Pathak freed his wrist from the desperate tight grasp and went out. Bahadur wiped the perspiration beads from his forehead and squatted on the floor, mumbling all the time, “I AM NOT AFRAID, I AM NOT AFRAID, I AM NOT AFRAID!- but now strangely now he was feeling more afraid! Like evil spirits were dancing all about him! He swallowed hard- what was the idiot doing? The rest of the men were just upstairs…he did not have to go Mumbai to call them!” He shifted his weight from one foot to another and peered more closely at the body of Shiksha Malhotra, then shivered slightly and went in further- walking, he thought, might actually calm his nerves!”

Mysterious Disappearances - Chapter 20 continued here...