Vikrant had a headache and it had nothing to do with his recent injuries.
At the crack of dawn he had been woken up by Mirza, who looked like he had a fishbone stuck in his throat. Almost whispering, he asked Vikrant if he could walk and the younger cop nodded. Mirza waited till Vikrant struggled off the bed and slipped on a pair of slippers, then left the room quietly, gesturing to Vikrant to follow him. Vikrant slowly limped behind.
As the two of them made their way to the terrace, Vikrant’s curiosity rose with each second. The two men came to a stop in a corner of the terrace and Mirza finally spoke.
“What do you know about the ’93 Cache?” he asked.
“I’m fairly sure it’s not the next Frederick Forsyth novel. Or an upcoming Ridley Scott movie,” Vikrant said, leaning against a wall.
Mirza didn’t smile. Vikrant turned serious.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“In 1993, the ISI sent firepower by the crates to Tiger Memon, which was received at Shekhadi in Konkan. Some of it was RDX, which was used to create IEDs that were planted all over Mumbai city, leading to the serial blasts. The rest of it comprised AK-56 assault rifles, fresh off the assembly lines from Pakistani arms’ factories.”
Vikrant nodded and waited for Mirza to go on. He already knew this part.
“Well, the officers who interrogated the arrested at the time had a theory, one which has since then been passed down the generations. According to this, some part of the arsenal was never used. It was hidden away safely in multiple locations known only to the ISI and those close to them, to be used at a later date. Many of us believe that it is lying ready to be used for another terrorist attack on the city, particularly the assault rifles.”
Mirza stopped and turned to Vikrant, who was staring at him wide-eyed.
“And that’s the ’93 Cache?” the protégé asked.
“That is the ’93 Cache.”
“Why don’t I know about this?” Vikrant wondered aloud. Mirza shrugged.
“You do now.”
“Why didn’t I know about this?” Vikrant snapped.
“It’s a theory, kid. There’s been no evidence to support it. Only whispers from here and there, time and again. Some say the old timers who are still in jail for the ’93 blasts case know the locations and will take the knowledge to their graves. Others say that some of them have revealed the location to their sons, nephews and such. A wilder theory is that someone prepared a map which is regularly passed around among the sleeper cells in Mumbai and Thane,” Mirza explained.
It was at this point that Vikrant’s head began to ache.
“Give me the bad news already,” he said, sighing.
Mirza reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a folded sheet of paper and handed it over. Vikrant unfolded it and held it against the light on the terrace. It was an enlarged colour photocopy of the piece of paper that the forensic technicians had salvaged from the burnt-out van three hours ago.
“Forensics pulled this out of the van at Palghar,” Mirza said.
It looked like the top half of a page from a logbook, torn in a way that suggested that it had happened in a hurry or by accident. It contained two lines of text followed by two entries, one under the other, separated by two blank lines. Both the entries were bullet points written in Urdu.
Vikrant, at Mirza’s suggestion, had taken up learning to read and write Urdu two years earlier, and hence, he could easily read the entries.
“There is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is His Prophet. May this material aid you in your noble quest as it has others before you. Sativli. Shafiq. Nephew of Raza. Green cottage. Brooms. Grains.
Narpoli. Anwar. Son of Aslam. Second floor. Blue building by the park. Soap.”
“Soap,” Vikrant said.
“Yes,” Mirza replied.
RDX is informally referred to as sabun or soap in Hindi. The ISI agents who had trained Indian Muslims in the assembling and handling of IEDs in 1993 would refer to RDX as “kaala sabun” or black soap.
Vikrant looked at Mirza.
“At least it’s not a map,” he said to diffuse the tension. His mentor shot him a look of irritation.
“What do you think?” Mirza asked.
Vikrant took half a minute before he spoke.
“It’s a list maintained and updated with each passing year. If this is about the ’93 Cache, and I’m still hoping to god it isn’t, it means that the arsenal is being passed down from father to son, or uncle to nephew, and its locations and identities of the current caretakers are being updated.”
Vikrant paused and looked at the image again.
“This, for example, could have been made any time between the last ten days to ten years. And if soap stands for RDX, I’d say brooms are AK-56 assault rifles and grains are ammunition rounds. The vague addresses are obviously a precaution, in case the list falls into wrong hands,” Vikrant finished.
“We have teams scouring for the green cottage in Sativli and the blue building in Nashik Camp,” he said. “But I doubt whether finding them is going to be of much use. What concerns me is what might be on the rest of that list.”
“As well as how long the list is. And what it contains, aside from soap, brooms and grains,” said Vikrant.
“At least now we know where the fuckers got the AKs from,” Mirza said.
“We also know that they, in all probability, have RDX too.”
Both men silently pondered over the implications of what they had just discussed.
Excerpted with permission from Eleventh Hour, S Hussain Zaidi, Harper Collins India.