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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What’s in a Surname?

He wiped the sweat on his forehead with his leather – enclosed hand and placed it back on the trigger. His eyes flickered. Thoughts running faster than his heartbeats.

“Anything?” he asked dryly.

“No,” answered the man next to him. Max, was his name. Maximilian actually, Maximilian Hurst. Everybody called him Max, not because they liked it, but because he despised Maximilian. For some reason he never spoke of. He was the eyes, squatting by the guy with the sniper rifle, his right eye squinting into the scope, occasionally monitoring the wind speed and direction.

The man on the gun took a swig of water from a bottle to his right. A couple more sips and it would be empty, although they didn’t expect to stay much longer.

“Travis, what’s up with you?” Max inquired.

“Huh? Nothing. I’m fine.”

Max had noticed his ‘partner’ had been sweating much more than himself and had been having much more water too. Max’s bottle was still half full.

“Just make sure you’re in the game when it matters. We ain’t got much time here.” Max could see Travis was shifty and nervous, had been that way all morning. He looked at him once again and then quickly looked back into the scope.

Four minutes later, Max perked up. “He’s here,” he announced. Travis quickly positioned himself correctly, looked into the scope and placed his finger ever so lightly on the trigger. “Second bench from that big tree on the left,” Max directed. “Yeah, yeah I got him.” Travis assured.

“Have you?”

A pause.

“Yeah.”

“Be cool, now. Dude’s gonna be here for ten minutes at least,” Max tried to calm Travis’s nerves a bit.

The sweating intensified. “Wind?” he asked. “10 k’s towards the west,” Max informed. Travis adjusted his rifle accordingly.

Seen through the scope, a certain gentleman by the name Gerry Barton sat on a bench by the river. It was an early summer morning and nobody was in sight yet. The music of an ice-cream cart could be heard in the distance. The vendor had been bribed to stay away from this area for an hour. Suddenly a child came running from the other end, clearly running towards Gerry.

“Who the hell is that?” asked Max as the kid got closer to Gerry.

“Some kid.”

“Yeah, well, I can see that. Who the hell is he, Travis?” Max was clearly mad.

“Its his grandson. David. 8 years old.”

“He isn’t supposed to be here.”

“Yeah, no shit Max! Look, I went over everything, everybody. Trust me. I know he isn’t supposed to be here. I kept checking on everybody up until we left the room an hour back.”

“You know, if you’re lying, I could shoot you right here.”

The kid was now sitting in Gerry’s lap. The two were smiling and chatting away, oblivious to the two eyes looking at them through scopes that had seen lots of bad things. David was blocking almost all of Gerry’s torso from the view of the two men and aiming for the head was risky too.

“Take the shot, Travis. We can’t know how much longer he’s going to stay here,” Max said.

“There is no shot, Max!”

“You see his head? Because I sure as hell do.”

“There’s an 8 year old kid in his lap that’s moving about too much. I can’t do it!”

“Take the goddamn shot Travis, while you still have one, or I’m gonna have to take it for you. And you don’t want it to get to that.”

Travis swore under his breath and adjusted something in his left pant pocket, before looking back into the scope. He switched off the safety with shaking fingers. His hands shook relentlessly. “What are you waiting for?!” Max said.

Travis moved his rifle ever so slightly to the right, steadied himself and pressed the trigger. The bullet whizzed by David, scraped some t-shirt and skin off Gerry’s left shoulder and went right through the bench behind. Travis turned the safety back on. David and Gerry were both very understandably dazed and the ice-cream guy could be seen running towards them, worried, but the two of them got to their feet quickly and started running.

“What the…,” before Max could complete his sentence, Travis had let go of the rifle, pulled out a knife from his left side and swung it in Max’s direction. It landed in his right arm and rendered it unusable.

“You fucking asshole!” Max exclaimed as he scrambled to his feet and punched out at Travis with his weaker left arm. Travis easily dodged it and then took another swing of his knife at Max, which was aimed at his chest but could only tear a piece out of his t-shirt. Max reached for the holster on his right but before he could take the gun out, Travis kicked his hand away and snatched the gun from its holster and in one swift motion, put the knife back, turned off the safety on the smaller gun and pointed it at Max.

“Why the fuck are you doing this Travis? You really want to go down this road?”

“Yeah, I don’t care.” Travis was sweating profusely.

“You look nervous, Travis,” Max taunted him.

“You know I’m going to have to kill you now, Max.”

“Either way, you’re dead too. Our people will find you. One way or another. Today or tomorrow. And off you pop,” Max had a weird concoction of anger, passion and loyalty in his eyes.

“You don’t know anything about me, Max. You never have.” Travis put on a camo-coloured cap on his head, with the initials, T.B. printed on one side.

“Yeah, you know what, it doesn’t matter because our people do. They know what you look like, they know your name, they know you, Travis. Speaking of, what does that ‘B’ stand for? ‘Travis .B.’?”

“Barton,” Travis replied grimly. Max’s eyes widened.

A bullet shot resounded in the area and Maximilian Hurst’s body fell to the floor with a soft thud. Travis Barton looked around, gathered his equipment, put the shell of the bullet he had just fired in his bag, looked around again and walked away.

The Incidental Phone Call

His phone rang noisily through the quiet apartment. Sunlight streamed through the windows. He’d been too dazed last night to remember drawing the curtains. He grunted as he kicked the covers off. His phone rang noisily.

“Get your ass out of bed.”

“Did you call me just to say that? Besides, I’m not even in bed anymore.”

“Nice try, big guy. I called to say you’ve got work to do and you’d better get down here as fast as you can ’cause I’ve got you twenty minutes with that lady at the hot-shot law firm downtown.”

“Whoa, whoa, slow down there. My head’s all fuzzy.” It was very fuzzy and it had really bad timing.

“Well, that’s usually the case when I have to call to wake you up at nine thirty on New Year’s morning. I’ll bet your pants are hanging from the ceiling fan and you’re looking at them right now.”

“That was a one time thing, Frank,” he said, staring at the mess that his room was.

Continue reading “The Incidental Phone Call”

What I See Today

It is human nature to be attracted to something we’re clearly instructed not to go near.

A child walks into the kitchen, minding his or her own business, looking around, completely oblivious of the piping hot dal lying on the table, right up until you tell him to not touch it. He knows that something dangerous now exists in the vicinity. That doesn’t necessarily make him lunge at it but it rouses his interest, and will make him want to inspect it. This isn’t about right or wrong. It’s about instilling the knowledge of things and more importantly, fear, from a very, very young age.

Children don’t need to be taught fear. Its existence doesn’t need to be reinforced to them. They already know fear. That’s why they cry.

Drawing a parallel from this, are people similarly attracted and intrigued by what has been deemed wrong, immoral, simply out-of-bounds? The position of the line between right and wrong is highly subjective and the line itself is often blurred. However, it couldn’t be any more important than it is in today’s day and age.

Continue reading “What I See Today”

The Early Break

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“Cameras at the front of the store and those at adjacent streets that he used, got satisfactory photographs of the culprit’s face and the number plate of the car he used”

The whole room was a mess. Papers covered the desk and much of the floor. The cabinets were overflowing. Files were precariously stacked on top of said cabinets. The whole scene indicated utter laxity.

“So, here it is,” said the hefty lieutenant.

“This is my cabin, sir?” the young policeman was apprehensive.

“What is it? Too cramped for your liking? You’ll get used to it, boy!” The lieutenant thumped his fat palm on the youth’s back and waddled off, still laughing at his own joke.

“Sure I will.”

Sarcasm. It was Mayank’s alter ego. Sometimes he used it more often than he knew. It’s probably a mixed bag when you want to be a detective. Useful at times and sometimes sarcastic is probably the last thing you want to be.

Mayank looked at the state of the room, wondering how its previous occupant managed to not choke on the dust. As he recollected, he had in fact choked. Not on the dust, obviously, but at the hands of a drug lord who the said occupant had tracked down. The family pleaded in court but the evidence, thanks to the drug lord’s heavy bribes, had been burnt. That’s just how the criminal law system works nowadays. You either deal with it or it deals with you.

Most of the files were outdated and many more were filled with cases that had been closed. They had to be moved to the archives. Mayank found a cardboard box under the desk and filled it with all the files he could fit in it.

“Hey! New guy! The boss man’s calling you,” said a fellow employee to Mayank just as he was emptying the cardboard box in the archive room.

“Oh. Okay thanks.”

“I’m Jai, by the way. Over at forensics.”

“Hi! I’m Mayank.”

“I know. Everybody knows. You topped the test.”

“Yeah. You’re new too?

“Pretty much. Been here two months.”

“Okay then. See you later!”

“I’ll catch you at lunch if you’re free. Vada pav?”

“Yeah that’s cool”

Mayank felt slightly less tense now that he’d made a friend on the first day. He knocked on the Inspector’s door and went in after a resounding “COME IN” emanated from within.

Continue reading “The Early Break”

All’s Well That Ends… Oh Wait…

Image Courtesy - www.wallmild.com
Image Courtesy – http://www.wallmild.com

There can only be two reasons for looking at the sunset. And by looking, I mean actually sitting there, enjoying the breeze and appreciating the alluring, vibrant hues of yellow, red and vermillion. These reasons are: 1. When we’re really happy and 2. When we’re not. In rare cases there is a third (like, you’re out at the beach with your family so instead of building lousy old sand castles with your younger sibling you’re looking at the sunset), but the state of mind ultimately boils down to these two reasons.

The other day I found myself looking out at the sunset. A lot of thoughts drifted through my mind and I usually have a pretty long train of thought that doesn’t last beyond the moment so I can’t really recount those thoughts here. Surprisingly, I don’t remember whether I was particularly happy or not at that moment. It was definitely a mix of both. The circumstances in my life would make me think that it was more of not-happy than the opposite (my 10th Grade results are under a week away).

I’ve always had a positive approach to life to the point of being called an unabashed optimist. I’m certainly not ashamed of that despite my optimism not materialising in various situations.

I believe failure doesn’t deserve the amount of hate it receives. People are not supposed to fear failure. They are certainly not supposed to go hunting for it with axes and clubs but at the same time one must always reserve a margin for possible failure. It is in this aspect that I regret being the brazen idealist that I was.

I used to believe that even when I did not give my best effort, everything would turn out fine and that my effort was ‘just enough’. Obviously, it turned out to be far from enough and this would make me doubt myself. This self – doubt would deprive me of self – confidence and anxiety would creep in. I started setting unrealistic goals for myself and I always thought that whatever I did was not enough. It was a vicious cycle. It had to be broken sometime.

Like the hero in most movies, I fought my demons (and I’m still fighting them), but life’s been much better since that teensy – but – oh – so – ginormous epiphany about a year back.

Well, this ain’t therapy and I’m definitely not looking for a shoulder to cry on (like I would ever do that). Usually I just keep writing when I do, so one thing kinda led to another.

Anyway… thank you for bearing with me and here’s a little story (like a potato at the end of long memes :P):

Continue reading “All’s Well That Ends… Oh Wait…”

The Foiled Robbery

Hoodie-2
“He was hard to miss, with his neon hoody.”

“I will be back before you know it, Maxie,” I said cajolingly to Maxwell. Maxwell was my dog, and sole companion in my apartment. I could not close the door to leave for the bank because his head stuck out. After a few shoves from my side and a few grunts from his, I managed to shut the door.

I did my routine check of the mailbox and patted a boy who seemed to perpetually be playing in the lobby, every time I passed it. I needed to draw a few thousand rupees from the bank as I was low on cash. I fished around in my pockets for my credit card and found it in my left shirt pocket. Another perpetuity in my life was that the nearest ATM was always out of order and I had to go to the bank to draw cash.

Naturally, there was a long line at the counter. I stood in line behind a tall woman, in and office outfit. She was presumably very well-to-do. She wore a white skirt, a pink shirt and a white jacket over it. She had a light complexion, brown eyes and brown hair to go with them. A beige coloured purse was slung over her right shoulder and she held a large mobile phone in her left hand.

My attention went to a man behind me in the line. He kept taunting the fish in a huge fish-tank that was apparently a new addition to the bank’s interiors. The woman ahead of me drew one lakh rupees and I cursed myself for listening but there was only so much you could do for privacy when the ATM was out of order. I drew five thousand rupees and sat beside the woman, recounting my money.

The woman left before me and I saw her in the distance, walking swiftly. What caught my attention was an incongruous figure walking behind her. He was hard to miss, with his neon hoody. Co – incidentally, the three of us took the same turn on Main Street. He followed her everywhere. I managed to get closer to the man and saw the figure of a gun in his pant pocket pressed against his body. He moved up beside the woman, caught her left arm, and moved her into an alley.

Continue reading “The Foiled Robbery”