[color=#0000BF:30js0k1r][size=150:30js0k1r]Suspense Short Story – At First Sight
The car moved at a steady pace, making its way down the rocky, winding road. It shuddered and gasped as its old suspensions shook up and down. The road was in bad shape, with potholes seemingly appearing out of nowhere. There were two people inside the car. The driver was clean shaven, and was wearing a khaki uniform, and the tell-tale insignia of three stars pinned to his shoulder gave away the fact that he was a police inspector. The man sitting the back, was however a contrast. He was handcuffed and a handkerchief covered his mouth, rendering him unable to speak. He had a dark stubble over his chin, which gave him a wild and unkempt look.
The name tag on the inspector’s chest read Mahesh Rawat, and as he looked at the fuel indicator on the dashboard, his face creased into a frown. The car was practically running on empty. He glanced outside and took in the beautiful mountain scenery. He rolled the window down a bit more and sighed as the cool mountain air ruffled his hair, and he breathed in deeply. He looked at the rear-view mirror and smiled wryly. “I think there’s a gas station a bit further down. No funny stuff, do you hear?” he said gruffly, looking at the man in the back seat. The other man gave a stiff nod.
The criminal smiled to himself when the inspector was not looking. His plan was going perfectly so far. He just had to go down the mountain, where he would dispose of the inspector and run free, like he used to. Back to his old ways. He tried to conceal a grin, but failed. His hands itched for the opportunity to wring the inspector’s neck and squeeze the life out of him. But no. The time was not right. He had to wait. That he could do very well.
Inspector Mahesh Rawat turned a particularly tough bend and saw the distant sign of a gas station up ahead. The car was wheezing violently now, and he thanked his stars he had made the station in time. He drove up the aisle to one of the petrol pumps, and rolled to a stop. There was no one there. He honked twice and waited for someone to show up. The gas station was a small one, but usually, the ones at hill stations all were. The place had a shabby look to it, with discarded bank receipts and petrol stains on the rough floor. There was a slow shuffling noise and Mahesh looked up. An old man was hobbling towards the car, wearing a decrepit uniform and a peaked cap. He had a shock of white hair and a droopy moustache. He loped towards the car and stood there with a blank expression on his face. Mahesh leaned out of the window. “Are the pumps working?” he asked loudly, wondering if the guy was hard of hearing.
“Yes, they are. How much do you need?” asked the old man, squinting to look at Mahesh, though there was no bright sunlight. “Fill me for two hundred rupees, then.” He said. The old man hobbled towards the pump and picked up the hose. He set the rupees indicator for two hundred as Mahesh stepped out of the car open up the diesel tank lid. As the old man brought the hose closer, his eyes fell on Mahesh’s uniform for the first time.
“Oh, are you a policeman, sir?” he asked in a hushed voice.
Mahesh smiled and nodded. “Yes, I am. In the middle of a very important mission too,” he said and pointed to the back of the car. The old man peered into the car, simultaneously filling the car up with diesel. “Watch it there, old man.” Said Mahesh sharply. The man looked back at the hose and waited till the tank was filled up, and slowly took the hose out. He then looked up at Mahesh again.
“What do you mean important mission, sir?” he asked again.
“I’m escorting a dangerous criminal out of the state. He is to be transferred to another penitentiary, and I was given the job to take him there,” said Mahesh, pointing to the car again. The old man shuffled across to the car and peered through the back window, looking eagerly at the man sitting there, handcuffed and gagged.
The old man is taking too much time, thought the criminal. He was still waiting to strike. His gun was still safe, and he suddenly wanted to pull it out and kill this old fellow. He sighed softly as he imagined the blood rushing out of him. How long it had been since he’d killed. Soon, he said to himself. He would kill again. Starting with Inspector Mahesh Rawat.
“What’s he guilty of?” asked the old man, looking curiously up at Mahesh.
“Serial killing. Seventeen murders in six states. He’s going to serve a sentence. Shame he didn’t get the noose is all I can say.” Said Mahesh.
“Ah, don’t say that, sir. A life is a life, after all. Nobody has the right to take life. Nobody.”
“But for people like him…” started Mahesh, frowning down at the man in the back seat. “Anyway, here’s the money.” Mahesh reached into his pocket and took out two new hundred rupee notes, and passed them to the old man. He took it in both palms.
“Please wait till I get you the receipt, sir.” He said and turned towards the pump.
“No, don’t bother.” Said Mahesh hurriedly. “I’m in a hurry anyway. Oh, and take this,” he said and offered the old man a fifty rupee note. The man stared at it like he had never seen one before.
“Take it,” he said again. “Buy yourself a hot drink. It must be freezing at night.” The man was smiling widely as he started to accept it. Then he stopped.
“Sir, did you hear about the construction going on down there?” he said, his face creasing into a frown.
Mahesh raised an eyebrow. “What construction?” he asked.
“I’m not sure about the details sir, but a man came up here early this morning and asked me to provide road maps to all the vehicles that passed by this area. Have you got one?”
“No, I haven’t. Could you give me the map? He asked. The old man nodded earnestly.
“Of course sir, of course. It’s in my cabin, please wait here.” He said and hobbled back to his office. Mahesh sighed and walked to the car. He stared at the man sitting in the back and smiled slowly. You’re going to pay for what you did, he thought. He glanced up at the sky, which was a bright and vivid blue. The mountains added to the beauty of the scene in front of him, along with the slow rustling of leaves as he took in the panorama.
Crunch-crunch. Mahesh froze. He knew that sound very well, and it had come from right behind him. He turned slowly on the spot, and looked right into the barrel of a shotgun held by the old man. The crunching sound had been the shotgun loading.
“Don’t move,” he said, eyes locked into Mahesh’s. His grip was steady, and the gun was aimed dead at Mahesh’s head. Mahesh’s palms were sweaty, and his knees started to tremble.
“What are you doi…” started Mahesh but the old man shoved the gun towards him. “Shut up, scum.” He barked, his voice a guttural bark. The old man pointed to the back of the car with the gun. “Open the back door.” He said. Mahesh hesitated.
“Open it, or I’ll have to tread over what remains of your head to open it myself.” He said. Mahesh stepped back immediately and opened the back door of the car. The old man glanced at the man in the car. “You okay there?” he asked. The man in the car nodded curtly.
“Uncuff him.” Said the old man, looking at Mahesh again. Mahesh didn’t need a second telling. He quickly brought the keys out from his pocket and uncuffed the man in the car. Within minutes, Mahesh was cuffed, tied and thrown unceremoniously inside the car, as the man who had been inside stepped out, stretching his legs. He rubbed the side of his aching neck and looked over at the old man, who was still holding his shotgun upright.
“You can put that down, you know.” Said the man. The old man immediately lowered the shotgun, looked the other man in the eye and flashed a crisp salute. “ Good afternoon, sir,” he said. “You’re the real Inspector Mahesh Rawat, I believe.” He said.
The other man nodded. “Yes, I am. But how did you…”
“Know you were the inspector and he was the criminal? I knew at first sight really. Things he said, things he did. Didn’t add up.” Said the old man.
“He jumped me in the middle of the drive.” Said Inspector Mahesh – the real Mahesh, rubbing his wrists where the handcuffs had bitten into. ”Acted all strange and dropped to the floor of the car. I stopped it and went back to check, and he was turning blue. So I uncuffed him to straighten him out, and he pounced. Knocked me out and the next thing I knew, he was wearing my uniform and driving me. Said he was going to kill me as soon as we descended the mountain.”
“Is it true what he said? Did he really kill seventeen people?” asked the old man. Mahesh nodded. The man spat into the ground. “Scum,” he said.
“But how did you know, exactly?” asked Mahesh.
“The gag on your mouth gave it away first up. Police officers are only allowed to cuff criminals or suspects. Do anything else, and the opposition lawyers will be all over them for mistreatment. At first, I just thought the guy was rookie, and he didn’t understand the system. Then, he slipped up big time. He refused the receipt for the diesel. This whole criminal extraction process is done on the government’s money. Every police officer needs to show the bill for each rupee he has spent. No chance in hell he was going to pay for diesel out of his own pocket. By that time, I was almost sure he was an impostor.”
“Almost sure? But what was the clincher?” Mahesh asked as he looked at the old man in admiration. The man blushed. “Well, he gave me a fifty rupee tip. Which was twenty-five percent on the total amount. In fifty years of service, I have never seen a policeman tip more than ten rupees at most. Stingy imbeciles. No offense, sir.” He added quickly.
Mahesh laughed loudly, resting his hand on the side of the car. In twenty minutes, he had stripped the criminal and was into his uniform, the three stars on his shoulder gleaming. He asked the old man for the receipt for the diesel, tipped him ten rupees, and was on his way.