[if this is the first time you have landed here, I strongly recommend, you check this out first]
“Hello Mr. Bhooshan. I want you to listen to me very carefully.”
Bhooshan definitely did not expect to hear those words when he picked up the phone. He was wrapping up from his latest lecture, his laptop and bag all closed, his blazer on his arm and his spectacles in his breast pocket. All the students had left and he was alone in the conclave lecture hall.
“Who is this?”, Bhooshan spoke strictly. It was not the first time a student was playing a prank on him.
“Mr. Bhooshan Rastogi, Believe me when I say that, I am not one of your students. Your life is in grave danger. As stupid as it may sound my instructions may be the only thing which could save you.”, the voice was stern and confident this time. This was definitely no student.
“You still don’t believe me. Alright. Mr. Rastogi in the past few weeks, there have been 3 murders in 3 different parts of the country. Mr. N. Nandaswamy, Delhi. Dr. Salil Batra, Jaipur and Akash Sharma Bangalore. You have a smart phone don’t you.”
Bhooshan nodded his head.
“Mr. Rastogi?”, the voice spoke again, and Bhooshan realized he wasn’t speaking anything.
“Yes, yes I do.”
“Right. Open Google, and search, I will hold. Don’t disconnect and keep me on speaker.”
Bhooshan swiped to his browser and entered the names. True enough, each one had recently died, the last one Akash had died today.
“I take it from your silence that you see the truth in my statements. Mr. Rastogi we have reasons to believe that someone is methodically killing away eminent personalities, and we believe that you are his next target.”
“Terrorists?”, Bhooshan whispered. He glanced around just and then peered into the hallway. It was empty, as it should be after the last lecture on a Friday. Bhooshan had always been vocal about his liberal and democratic ideas. Maybe the Naxals, the Maoists, he had ruffled enough feathers in Guwahati. Maybe they finally had enough. He could feel his semi-bald head getting sweaty and his tongue getting dry.
“No. No. We believe its the work of a serial killer. We still don’t know why he has picked you. But we know that he has picked you, because he leaves the name and location of his next target on his last victim. Now Mr. Rastogi you need to follow my instructions exactly as I lay them out. Is it clear?”
“Yes. yes. Ok.”
“Now chances are that this killer has studied your habits for a long period of your time. I want you to empty your pockets, and if you have a bag, just abandon it somewhere for the time being. I will hold”
Bhooshan did what he was asked to. He stashed his bag into the lecture room’s cupboard and then one by one started going through his pockets. His keys, his handkerchief, his wallet, and a visiting card. It was in his Jacket’s inner pocket. He didn’t remember putting any in his pockets. “Oh My god.”, Bhooshan spoke out instinctively.
“What is it Mr. Rastogi?”
“There is a visiting card in my Jacket’s pocket. It has a name on it, that I don’t recognize. I am sure I haven’t put it there.”, he spoke out in bursts. Bhooshan could feel himself trembling again. Once again he peered up and down the empty hallway.
“Mr. Rastogi, calm down. Just follow my instructions and everything will be alright. First give me the name that is on that visiting card.”
“Gokul Das, Chairperson, Children Without Light, A Non-Profit NGO in Varanasi. That’s what it says. It also has a phone number and a website.”
“No Need for that. We will take a look. Now Mr. Rastogi. Are sure you have nothing on you, except for your clothes?”
“Good, now tell me as a force of habit, what is that you do everyday from this point on.”
Bhooshan took a deep breath, collected his thought and then replied, “Well I just finished my last lecture of the day. Normally this is the time when I would go the library and pick up or submit any books. I have a pending one right now.”
“Ok skip that. Does your building has multiple exit, and which one do you mostly use?”
“Yes there are. I mostly use the main entrance, but there are 2 more, and a connecting sky-bridge to the adjacent Mechanical Engineering building.”
“Ok, great, us the sky bridge, and then tell me if you think someone followed you as you reached the ground floor.”
In a flash Bhooshan was out. It could still be a prank, and if it was somebody was going to pay. But deep inside Bhooshan felt this was real. He ran up to the third floor where the sky-bridge was and made his way across. He then made his way down to the ground floor, frequently looking behind to check if someone was following him.
“Ok, I am on the ground floor of the Mechanical now. Nobody followed me.”
“Great, now tell me the layout, what is the nearest exit of the college from this building. Again it should be a route you don’t normally take.”
“Well, I live inside the Campus, which is towards the north of the IIT. There is an exit right behind the Mechanical, that leads to a student market. I can’t remember the last time I took that path.”
“Excellent, take that exit, could you find a Taxi easily there. Also is there any hotel nearby?”
“Yes Yes there are some taxis which are always around. Yes there is also a hotel nearby.”, Bhooshan answered enthusiastically. He was panting. 20 years of teaching had done his fitness any good.
“Great, get outside. Hire a taxi, reach the hotel and book a room.”
Bhooshan was going to discuss the loop hole in that strategy when he got his answer.
“If they object, give them the phone I will talk to them. Before entering the hotel, give me its name, and one of my team member will talk to them.”
Satisfied with the plan, Bhooshan started to make his way outside. He was tense, he could feel his blood pressure rising, but he wanted to appear calm, and hence walked with a stubbed pace. He greeted the familiar faces along the way and shunned the strange ones. Once outside, he looked around. The student market at this time would be amazingly crowded. Students having food, buying books or just hanging around, the time after classes was when it would be at its fullest.
He spotted a taxi, on the far end, in his impatience to hail the cab, he dropped his phone, and the call got disconnected. The guy was calling again before he could pick it up though. Bhooshan picked up and answered the phone again.
“Hello Mr. Bhooshan. I want you to listen to me very carefully.”, the voice paused for a few seconds. Bhooshan was confused, this guy didn’t sound like the person he was speaking to at all.
“I am. I have done everything that you have said so far.”
“Mr. Bhooshan, I am Agasthya, special agent National Intelligence Agency. This is the first time I am calling you.”