It runs in all of us, yet many swoons at the sight of it. The British swear by it and the color red is best known for it. Blood.
Fresh drops of blood lying on the floor and on the stairs above us. Glistening in the yellow light of the cheap Edison hanging above us. We had to endure yet another minute of stunned silence, something that had become a repeated exercise that night. No one offered an opinion. Our watchman, a 40 something guy who possessed none of the traits that a watchman should have, had a stricken look on his face. Thankfully, one of the others said that we’d better go up and have a look. I didn’t like it at all though I knew that that was the right thing to do. So, we traipsed up the bloody stairs wondering what lay above us.
There was no light on the terrace and we had to contend with the eerie flashlights of our mobiles. We slowly went around the whole place looking for any wounded people left behind or more blood. People, there weren’t any, but blood, yes. At numerous places throughout the terrace, there were drops of blood and the scene looked ghastlier, through the light from our cell phones.
We were clueless and looked to the others for advice. One man suggested we call the police. A call was made promptly and a member of the police fraternity picked up the call. He seemed drunk but listened attentively. And promised he would send a couple of people right away. We came down and looked around the cellar. More blood. The guy, whoever he was, seemed to have been battered around quite a bit. We went out of the apartment and stood near the gate on the road outside. I looked at the time on my mobile. It was close to half past one. I sighed, remembering that I had to rush off to work tomorrow.
Everyone had tons of questions but hardly any answers. We tossed the whole thing around this way and that, to no avail. After a debate that led nowhere, we were joined by the Indian Police Service.
The first thing we heard was the rumble of the erstwhile Indian Police vehicle-the Mahindra Jeep. As I saw the vehicle plough its way towards us, smoke seeming to come out of every corner of the vehicle, I was wondering as to what the much criticised and notoriously incompetent IPS would do to offer any semblance of meaning to the apparently senseless and mysterious incident. How wrong I was to even doubt it!
As the vehicle halted to a clumsy stop, we almost gaped at the sight before us. There seemed to be at least close to a dozen khaki law enforcers in that ancient vehicle. All we did was report a mysterious incident! What on earth were so many policemen doing at our place? Yes, of course! Only that day the Ayodhya verdict had come out. Not surprisingly, they were jumpy and didn’t want to take any chances.
Out came the guys, some too conspicuously drunk, almost staggering while the rest seemed sleepy. But the best was saved for the last.
A monster of a man emerged from the Jeep, smartly dressed even at the late hour, wielding the most ferocious looking piece of wood I had ever set my eyes on. A bit of history here. About a couple of years back, while jumping around with half of the city on Dec 31st at our good old beach road at Vizag, my innocent shins among many others were caned mercilessly by a lathi. So, I had an inkling of what a lathi was capable of and why even after Kalashnikov’s and AK 47’s were deemed modern deadly armory, the police still arm themselves with this simple, uncomplicated yet beastly weapon. This man though had the meanest looking lathi. That piece of wood looked like it could beat your bones to a pulp with a single strike. However, it was only an accessory to the mean, mean policeman.
The Circle Inspector of the Crime Department and looking every bit the part. Over six feet in height, a hefty build coupled with muscle at all the right places and a severed head, yes, not a single strand of hair on his scalp. He was dark and looked like he came from the dark. I was instantly reminded of the police villains of yesteryear Telugu cinema. Boy, I thought, let the games begin!
It was crystal clear that he was the guy in charge. He gave his lathi to a constable and almost charged at us. He went straight for our watchman. I had never seen a grown man cower so timidly before a younger person. For our watchman, that incompetent man I had talked about previously, was almost shaking with fright. The CI towered over him and asked a simple question, “What happened here?”
True to his nature, our watchman blabbered incoherently much to the anger of the CI. He nevertheless listened for a while, made out that there was an intruder and asked him in that thunderous voice of his, “Did you see anyone go up after you had bolted the gates”?
The stupid guy promptly replied, “I saw someone run out of the apartment building”.
The CI was patient enough, asked again, “Did you see anyone go up”?
We were aghast at the audacity of the imbecile, “I saw someone run out of the apartment building”.
The seething CI raised his arm and the trajectory was about to complete its deadly course and crash on the watchman when he shouted pleading, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I was asleep!” The CI did not finish what he had started to do, physically. But he started on a barrage of expletives that was most remarkable, permutations and combinations of all the foul language, correct in grammar, awful in meaning. It made us choke in fright and disgust. The watchman looked ready to fall to his knees.
This was when the mobile phone saved him. The CI’s cell rang with a screeching tone and he went to attend to it. Having got a reprieve, we looked at each other while the watchman looked at his feet.
After a conversation which mostly involved the CI listening and replying with just a frequent “Yes”, he finally came back to us. Armed with a glint in his eye in place of the lathi, he asked a definitive question, “Who is Hemanth here”?
A guy from one of the other bachelor rooms replied almost trembling, “It’s me, Sir”.
The Circle Inspector barked, “Band ekku ra!”*
* Get in the bloody jeep!