September. Sunday. 10:10 p.m.
They were all screaming frantically. Colour drained out from their faces. The cold fear of death etched into their retinas.
They shrieked and hid under the tables. They ran around, trying to escape, but there was no way out. The front shutter had been pulled down 10 minutes ago; he had latched the back door. They were all trapped inside the 500 square feet restaurant with the doors locked and a mad killer who was spraying bullets.
Death was imminent; the feeling became acutely sharp as the first dead body fell on the cold cemented floor. Still they lunged towards the door, hoping they could escape. As their bodies collided with the corrugated metal shutters, the dying embers of the desire to live were rudely snuffed out.
The last day of the Ganpati procession was in full swing. The drunken devotees on the road, dancing to the tune of the latest Bollywood numbers were howling for Sheela ki Jaawani and other raunchy songs that would be playing eventually on the stereos rented especially for the occasion.
Still they yelled for their lives, desperation taking over logic. Optimistic fools; he laughed at their dependence on faith. Every time a body fell to the floor, the sound of Ganpati Bappa Morya drowned their heart-wrenching yells
It amused him. He was enjoying this game more than he had anticipated. It was a fool’s paradise and he was playing god.
This was going to be like he had dreamt. It was a ritual of his design and he was going to execute it just as he had planned. The sequence had to comprise shock, fear, paralysis, agony followed by submission to death. As the last body fell to the ground, he felt weak in the knees. It was finally over.
The white walls and the mosaic floor were painted with the blood that was splattered in the last 12 minutes. Some lay there with their eyes wide open, trying to see but too blinded by shock; some had accepted their fate and lay there in the dark, eyes closed but far from peace. The questioning, pained expressions were etched on each of their faces. All their questions and feelings now rendered useless.
He stood peering over the bodies, admiring the gruesome picture he had managed to put together with the cold, metal bullets that had been pumped in, without even flinching.
The shrill sound of a mobile phone ringing at your side while you are sleeping peacefully is a cruel way that Monday can choose to announce its arrival. Both Abbas and Jennie woke up with a start. It was his phone. The call was from the police station.
“Good morning, sir. This is Sameer. A man had called a while back to report that a few people have been shot down at Café Mehboob, the one next to the Churchgate Station.”
“How many people?”
“Around five-six people, sir. The café owner had called. He was not very coherent; must be in shock. What I could make out was that he entered from the back door to find bodies lying there. I told him not to touch anything or anyone, and then the first thing I did was to inform you.”
Sameer was in his early 20s. A young recruit and new to the station, he was always too eager to please. Now that Abbas was the boss, he would be showered with extra attention.
“Good. Call Raaste, Tiwari and DP now. Ask them to reach the crime scene as soon as possible. How many officers are there at the station right now?”
The police station was at the bend of a road near Flora Fountain, merely 300 metres from the crime scene.
“Okay, five of you reach Mehboob and alert the forensics now. I will see you there in half an hour.” Churchgate Station was crowded with heaves of writhing bodies alighting for work at the last stop. It would be impossible to keep the voyeurs at bay.
“One more thing, do this discreetly. We should not let the word out till we know what has happened.” He sighed as he disconnected the call. He did not have a good feeling about this. At that time, he had no idea how bad it was going to get from thereon.
It was 12:59 p.m., five hours since the police had reached the crime scene, one minute before the conference was set to start. They were still clueless. The investigation had not moved an inch since 9:30 a.m. when Modak had informed Abbas about the home minister’s press briefing. The room was teeming with reporters from every media agency…
... “One at a time, please. Yes, Sarthak, you start,” Sanjay Chavan, the Chief Communications Officer of Mumbai Police intervened. Being in a room handling 50 hungry reporters who were sure that their life depended on asking one trivial question was not an easy feat. Abbas watched Chavan with admiration as he readied himself to face the repetitive questions.
Q. Do you think we are dealing with a mad man?
A. Well, anyone who kills six people cannot be called sane. However, at this point we don’t know much about the killer. Abbas thought to himself that the truth was they knew nothing about the killer.
Q. How is it that six people were shot dead before they could run out?
A. The front shutters had been pulled down as it was closing time for the café and the murderer had entered from the back door and had probably locked it.
Q.Are you not asking for help for fear of any political backlash?
It was time for Munde to step in.
A. Please don’t make it a political issue. There is no politics involved in the killing of six innocent people.
R. But the opposition is likely to make noise about the law and order situation?
A. As I said, this is not a political matter and it is best if we don’t give the whole issue a political colour at this sensitive time.
Everyone present in the room knew that the opposition would be secretly salivating over the opportunity that had come its way.
Q. But how is it that the killing happened next to Churchgate Station and Marine Drive and still no one heard or saw anything?
A. As you know, it had been raining heavily last night. Mumbai received one of the heaviest downpours of the season yesterday. Then there was the India-Pakistan match and the last day of visarjan of the Ganpati Festival. We believe that the noise from all the merrymaking and the firecrackers could have drowned the sound of the gunshots or any call for help made by the victims.
Q. What else can you tell us right now apart from the fact that six people have been shot dead at one of the iconic cafés, outside one of the busiest stations in Mumbai?
A. I am afraid we can’t divulge too many details now
Q. Are you saying you don’t have any leads yet or that you can’t tell us?
A. We can’t tell you right now is what I am saying.
This was not true.
Q. How much time do you think it will take you to catch the killer?
A. Unfortunately, we can’t give you a time frame yet.
Modak stated in a slightly impatient tone. This had gone on longer than he had expected. Meanwhile, Munde was still contemplating how this opportunity could be turned into an advantage.
“In less than two weeks,” Munde chipped in. This was followed by more camera clicks and a loud murmur that was ready to erupt. This was a signal that his statement had managed to do the trick. “We will find the killer in the next two weeks.” There was a pregnant pause followed by loud cheering from the media.
Excerpted with permission from Mehboob Murderer, Nupur Anand, Om Books International.