A fast paced suspense thriller called 'The Sixteenth Hour' from the highly enthusiastic team members of Team 'Supernova'.
Read the previous part of the story here. To start reading the story from beginning, check the first post here.
The sun had set across the Mumbai skyline and Shekhar and Tara were perched on their drawing room couch on the 12th floor of the Rustomjee Towers watching the evening news bulletin. Roohi was cuddled in Shekhar’s lap, after hours of not knowing what had kept her parents running across the city the whole day. The little girl was even told that she would be missing school today.
“After what could be termed as a huge black letter day in modern Indian history, unexpected events now seem to be taking a closure. The Mumbai Rajdhani Express that was hijacked last evening a few minutes after starting from New Delhi, was safely brought to a stop at Mumbai Central Station today morning. The railway minister has accepted the negligence and announced that all the passengers would get refunds for their tickets within 48 hours…” the news reader said.
“The accident in Mumbai’s suburban railway’s Western line yesterday has been attributed to sheer driver and signalman negligence that brought two trains running in opposite directions on the same track. The drivers of both the trains died in the head-on collision along with nearly 200 other people as per the latest numbers coming in. Although initially there had been rumours of a connection between the accident and the Rajdhani hijack, the railway minister has confirmed that both are completely non-related incidents…” she continued.
The door bell rang and Shekhar went to get it. Cyrus had agreed to be their guest for dinner this evening. Tara made an attempt to rise from the couch to make space for everyone. It was needless to say that after all that happened over the last 24 hours, they were all eagerly waiting to get a good long sleep. But with so many things running in their minds, they surely needed to discuss the matter to get a clear sense of everything that had happened.
As Cyrus and Shekhar took seats in the drawing room, the news reader continued, “…Investigation has been launched in regard to corruption and cyber crime charges against deceased Union Home Minister Purohit Sarkar. Sarkar along with three other people has been accused with the masterminding of the Rajdhani hijack and several other cyber crimes, although it remains unclear how far Sarkar was personally involved in the entire operation. The other three people that were arrested by Mumbai Police this morning are Shekawat Sarin alias Sasha, who is said to have got finances arranged for the operation, Jennifer Joseph, a 25 year old professional photographer from Kochi who has had a family history of cyber criminals on the loose, and Aryan Ahuja, a middle-aged business man with vast estates across the country and abroad…”
As the newsreader continued reading from the teleprompter, photographs of all the accused flashed on the screen. Roohi looked around the room and thought she was the only one who seemed confused.
“Why are they showing Sasha uncle’s photo on tv, daddy?” she asked.
“He did something bad Roohi. He was the one who hijacked the train,” Shekhar replied.
“But wasn’t he dead--?” Roohi wanted an answer, but seeing her mother indicating to her to keep silent, she stopped. That’s how it had been the whole day. Everyone just seemed to be silencing her. She didn’t like it but she knew it was something serious and her parents will tell her everything later probably. Right now everyone was keen on watching the news.
The newsreader continued, “…while Shekawat Sarin was caught in the train before the train was brought to a halt at Mumbai Central, Jennifer Joseph was brought in from Lonavala along with her accomplice Aryan Ahuja. Jennifer had escaped from the train with a planned airlift in a helicopter and was rushing to the hill resort to get Ahuja. Before they could have made an escape plan, the helicopter was tracked down and both caught. All the accused are in Mumbai Police custody and sources inside the railway ministry reveal that there had been a compromise with the entire railway network. More information on the hijack and why it happened are awaited.”
“A train hijack and no demands from the government or authorities. That’s a first!” Cyrus beamed.
Shekhar and Tara just smiled.
“They were clever enough to hack into the railway network. It’s been hardly two years since the entire system got digitized and we already have a big mishap. No doubt the railway minister isn’t accepting it openly. I am sure even the Local train accident was due to some error in the so-called hi-tech digital network,” Cyrus said.
“I actually had a tough time convincing my journalist friends across the media channels to remove Shekhar’s name from the hijack thing. ‘The culprits are cyber criminals and they are caught’, I insisted, but I can tell nobody believes that Shekhar and I have nothing to do with the entire thing,” Tara added.
“What are you guys going to do now?” Cyrus asked.
“I am sure things will work out. We are not at fault. Our names are involved, so some rounds in the high court are sure to come in the next few days, we being the primary witnesses,” Shekhar answered.
“Okay, but Tara, you did your research work as a journalist, I am sure there is nothing wrong in that and they can’t suspect you of anything. What about the information on Xombie? You have it right?”
“Of course we couldn’t have revealed the Xombie information to the media. It would have led to huge chaos and security threat for the country, especially with China’s name appearing in it,” Shekhar said.
“A good friend is at an influential position in the Intelligence Wing of the Mumbai Police. I have handed over all the documents and information to him. He is going to take care of it. We needn’t worry about it now. And they are going to recover the copy of the data that I sent to my editor this morning hopefully before it reaches the wrong hands,” said Tara calmly.
The newsreader continued, “Eminent journalist and Editor-in-chief of one of India’s most popular news organizations, Sarit Ray, was murdered in the early hours of today morning in his office. Sources have revealed that Sarit received a mysterious package in his office in the morning and just a few minutes later gun shots were heard in the newsroom. The package and its contents were nowhere to be seen and Sarit Ray lay dead when his colleagues reached his room. The Mumbai crime branch has launched an investigation into the matter.”
“Do not hold yourself responsible for Sarit’s murder Tara,” said Shekhar looking at his wife’s despondent face.
Tara nodded. It would take some time to accept the recent events.
“But I still don’t get it. They hijacked the country’s most premium train just for these documents?” Cyrus asked.
“We can safely assume that. I am sure Jennifer and Sasha thought I had the documents. That’s what we had mentioned in the fake Xombie-related communication that I had with Tara. We had hoped for them to take the bait, and then they planned this whole hijack thing which we were unaware of. We did expect a threat to both of our lives and that’s why we had added the extra layers of security to our farmhouse. And on this specific short trip to Delhi, Tara had leads to suggest that the chiefs of the organization could be tracked down. The Police Commisioner had been informed and I had a few policemen in plain clothes around me during the entire trip,” Shekhar said.
“But the documents were actually with Tara and you baited the Xombie guys to reveal their leaders,” Cyrus said with a smile.
“Exactly! And in effect, it wasn’t us isolated from the world. It was Jennifer and Sasha who were caught in their own plan,” Shekhar finished.
“Madam, the food is ready. Should I serve it now?” the maid hurried into the room and asked Tara.
“Please do. I am starving,” Cyrus answered before Tara could say a thing. Roohi immediately rushed towards the dining table.
“Yeah, let’s talk over dinner,” Shekhar said.
As the food was served and everyone took seats, Shekhar remembered those words in the paper from the dinner tray last night: ‘Don't over-think. All will be well’. Of course, it was Sasha who used to say those words back in Lonavala. He had been such a father-like figure to Roohi in those days until the news of his sudden demise came during one of Roohi’s summer vacations when they had been away from home. He hadn’t died but had gone underground with his association with Aryan Ahuja.
“But he had made sure nothing would hurt Roohi,” Shekhar said half conscious of his thoughts.
“Who?” Tara asked taken aback.
“Sasha. He confessed in the train.”
“I am actually surprised at how they got both of us to book seats in the same train and in the same compartment. I had a change of plan just a couple of days back. I intended to take a flight to Mumbai earlier, but then the recent vanishing of those two international flights had mom terrified and I got a confirmed train ticket through an agent only when the final charts got prepared” said Cyrus.
“Ought to be Ahuja. He knows too many influential people. Wouldn’t be difficult to get you a seat with Shekhar, isn’t it?” Tara said recalling her conversation with Aryan the previous night.
“They clearly were tracking your movements considering your thesis work on their organization. And they got an easy way of eliminating you along with me in the train,” said Shekhar.
They silently started with the food and nothing was said till almost the end.
“In those last few moments with Jennifer I actually thought she had a little regret about her decisions,” Cyrus said.
“All that crying was surely a well-rehearsed act,” Shekhar said.
“I am not sure about her photography thing though. She said about some photographs from the freshers’ party that Sasha had asked for, I guess even that was some good acting. I actually forgot about those in the midst of all the discussions regarding the documents with you,” Cyrus replied.
“Well, I am not sure. But I sure do have doubts about her being a professional photographer. I mean who clicks pictures of the sunset from behind the thick-stained glass windows of a train?” Shekhar laughed.
“She was surely pretending to click photos by taking your seat while actually getting closer to your backpack which had those papers coming out of them,” Cyrus said.
“Even the most amazing villains have the tendency of leaving unexpected clues behind that would ultimately help the heroes to capture them,” Tara said and smiled as everyone got up from the table.
As Cyrus prepared to leave, Shekhar asked, “So when do we see you next Cyrus?”
“It should be really soon,” he replied.
“What do you mean?” Tara asked.
“Well, I saved the best for the last. I am applying to be the lawyer in the case. ‘The public prosecutor’ as they put it,” said Cyrus with a distinct glint in his eyes and a huge smile on his face.
Roohi saw her parents congratulating their guest as he left. Everyone seemed happy right now, this would be the right time to ask, she thought.
“Daddy can I please see one episode of Doraemon before I sleep?”