Burning Bridges – Chapter One


 

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Jason Fernandes rung the slightly rusty bell on his bike before turning right into the old brick building. The old guard, smoking a cigarette to drive away the early morning chill, stood up, startled, as the 25-year old whooshed by on his bike.

“One of these days I’m going to stick out my cane when you waltz in like that on your rattle-y old bike and you’re going to get a good ol’ smacking in the head.”

“You can’t!” Jason shouted back. “They’ll fire you!” he said, beaming a smile as he took another right, heading to the parking lots.

“Smartass. Pfft.”

The brick building housed the newspaper agency that Jason Fernandes worked for. It may have looked old and dreary from the outside, but the building was very well-furnished, spacious and airy on the inside. It was very old, though. Close to 150 years old, some said. Built when the English still had an iron fist over India, it stood there, evidence to having sustained the test of time. That’s how a lot of South Mumbai is; historic, memorial. You step out of Churchgate Railway Station, have a walk around and look at how different this part of the city is from the rest and you get a vibe of just how majestic it is. A Mumbaikar knows this vibe.

Jason wasn’t even six months into the job, but people liked him. He was enthusiastic, curious, smart, good with words, and tried hard at the job. Came in early, stayed a little long most evenings, and looked for new stories with vigour. Barely six months in, so he was still low down on the pecking order and hadn’t really worked on a lot of big stories but he had been sniffing close to the action. He’d made friends on the news circuit, friends that were fairly well-connected themselves. Influential, reliable. Well, most of them. There were at least three dudes who were compulsive stoners. And, he figured his boss was beginning to develop a liking for him. That’s always a huge plus.

The air-conditioners hadn’t been turned on when he got into the big office full of cubicles, and surrounded by glass offices of the superiors, all smelling a lot of coffee and paper. Among all the identical cubicles was one that didn’t quite conform. It had a little white handmade sticker stuck on the wall that stood in the aisle. ‘J. Fernandes’ proclaimed the sticker. Jason was quite certain there weren’t any other J. Fernandeses in the same room. The sticker would have more written on it, but Jason didn’t quite have a title. Yet. He walked over to his distinctive corner in the office, placed his bag under the desk, switched on the computer and went to help himself to a cup of coffee until the machine came to life. Put quite simply, the coffee tasted like catpiss, not that any sane man’s ever tasted catpiss, but Jason tolerated it. Frankly, the caffeine and the metaphorical early-morning-kick-in-the-balls is all he needed.

The cursor was dragged to the little red, yellow and green circle in the bottom left corner of the screen. Google Chrome opened up. It suggested ‘gmail.com’ as soon as Jason had typed in ‘g’ in the search/address bar. He typed in his account details and was scanning his inbox by 8 A.M. Scam, scam, scam, newsletter, scam, family photos, and then finally something useful on a morning such as this. An email from Wayne Polk, titled ‘Important. Or Maybe Not.

Polk was a newsman himself, much like Jason, but five years older and much more senior at the foreign news agency he worked at. The two had met at a conference – cum – seminar a few months back and Jason’s boss had introduced the two. They shared a sort of weird love for the job they did. “Youthful curiosity. Wait till you see some blood, some of the corruption going around, that’ll all die down. Trust me,” Jason’s boss said. Either way, Wayne and Jason got to know each other and stayed in touch, trading knowledge, with Wayne almost always learning as much as he taught Jason himself. Occasionally Polk dropped a nugget here or a tidbit there of some story he’d picked up somewhere.

Jason opened up the email.

“Yo, Fernandes.

Got back to Manchester from Beijing a day back. Got to be the press for the China – Pakistan deal that went down. It was pretty textbook. Boring, tbh. 

Sidenote: Do not got to China. The pollution is crazy as fuck. When I say crazy, I mean crazy. I mean, yeah, sure it ain’t everywhere but most of the big cities, well, they’re screwed.

So, yeah, the Pakistani PM arrived, Chinese showed him around and stuff. The usual stuff. Went in the room to get down to business the next day. Sat there for 4 and a half hours straight. When the PM left, it seemed more like he was storming out, because it took the Chinese a minute to follow. That was all that was unusual. Of course, we press are obliged to make a big deal of it, but the PM and all really made it seem like it was all rosy. They did get back in the room and as it seems, came to terms.

Ask me, though, I heard whispers about some real shady shit going down in those talks. And it should draw your attention. I don’t know anything for sure but there’s been rumours something went down, and wasn’t exactly revealed. My best bet would be to say it is somehow related to the tensions between China, Pakistan and you guys. Nice little three-way you got going there. Tense shit. Keep your ears up, something about this is got to trickle out on your end as well. 

Be in touch.

W. Polk.”

Jason was immediately intrigued. He realised he hadn’t had a sip of coffee while going through that email. He took a deep sip, felt the heavenly feeling of the warm liquid at the back of his throat, and proceeded to Google all he could about the China Pakistan deal.

***

The two bikes swerved this way and that, trying to weave their way through the horde of cars between them and the toll booths and subsequent entry to the huge, white bridge in front of them. Its slight arch to the left, and its tall and elegant pylons accentuated its already flamboyant figure in front of the majestic city of Bombay.

Both bikes were occupied by two members each, both wearing black jackets and blue trousers with black helmets. Their jackets concealed the handgun tucked underneath. The passengers on both bikes had big black duffel bags slung over their shoulders, which housed all sorts of equipment required for the effort underway.

As they got closer to the toll booths, two more bikes joined them from a narrow entrance to the highway, on their left. They were all similarly dressed and each rode the bike as recklessly as the next.

Then suddenly, all four split up and each went to one of the four functioning toll booths and patiently waited in line. People in cars around them cast curious glances at them, but they looked straight ahead. None of the toll booth attendants knew anything about them and it was essential that it stayed that way. Each rider co-ordinated their approach to the toll booth with that of the others’. It was apparent that they all intended to reach the toll booths simultaneously. If one was left behind, the others dropped behind by a vehicle or two to make up for it.

It was close to 9 in the morning and traffic was starting to roll in. As the bikes approached the booths in their queue, the four passengers moved their duffel bags to their front, and opened up the zip in such a way that it was convenient to get out whatever was inside, while concealing it from onlookers until it was outside. They were very casual with the whole movement.

At 8:49 AM, all four bikes rolled into the four toll booths and the attendant held out and open palm in which they were supposed to place the toll money. The riders turned off their bikes.

In a swift motion, the drivers of the bikes pulled out the guns out of their holsters and four distinct gunshots were heard and four toll booth attendants held out their hands to motorists for the last time. Commotion ensued. Some cars tried going around the toll booths and escaped onto the bridge but did not know of the existence of three similar riders in the middle of the bridge and four more at the other end. Others tried reversing out of the toll lanes and what resulted was a frenzy of hitting the reverse gear, and lots of screeching tires.

Three policemen stood by the toll booths, leaning on their armoured cars. As soon as they heard gunshots, they all threw the doors open and scampered inside. The roof hatch was thrown open and one police officer immediately positioned himself to use the submachine gun if necessary. One police officer slowly drove the giant vehicle towards the booths while the third one contacted other patrolmen.

“Shots fired at BWSL toll booths! Shots fired! Assistance requested!”


Whew, this was the first chapter to the story I’ve been working on for many a month. It took me this long because there’ve been a lot of roadblocks. My preliminary exams came up, then my Boards and then I’d been away on holiday for a couple of weeks, but now its finally here.

I’d published a prologue of sorts to this, which you can check out by clicking here.

I’ve thought quite ahead on this story, unlike the Traitor series on my blog which I started and then it sort of just faded away because I didn’t really plan ahead on it and made stuff up as I went along. This is different. So, there are going to be more chapters. At least another four chapters. Yeah, a total of five chapters sounds good enough.

I hope you guys liked what you read, because I had a lot of fun writing it, and I’m sure its going to be a lot of fun writing this story. Let me know what you think down in the comments!

I’ll see you next time.

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