Signature Move

The pregnant clouds burst with a thunderous roar. As it started pouring, Dhan stepped out of his shanty and slipped into the slightest alley adjoining the slum that he lived in. He marched towards an indefinite destination. His only job was to head towards the self-imposed task that would be complete once the rain would diminish.

Officer Jena was close on his heels. When the case was assigned to him five months ago, he was unsure how to nab the ‘most notorious killer in the country’.

The voice of his senior DGP echoed in his ears, “they say he is a shadow; getting a hold of him is tricky.”

Jena was certain that this was his big-ticket and he wouldn’t let go of it as easily. For the past couple of months, he had closely studied the various incidents Dhan was alleged to have been involved in, his modus operandi, and his choice of weapon. How significant it was that at present Dhan was not in possession of either his weapon or his bearing. He was strolling insouciant and ignorant that he was being tracked.

After a few hours of following his trail, Jena spotted him wandering around, scanning the area, signalling the acquaintances, smiling cordially at the children scampering back to their homes. He stopped at a neighbourhood booth to grab a cigarette and moved towards the bus stop. Leaning on a pole he looked skywards as if waiting for the rain to slacken. Jena kept a close eye on his mannerisms from behind the wheel of his police jeep.

“What would have made this insignificant, trivial looking, middle-aged hippie, the most dreaded criminal in the country?” he wondered aloud. His partner, Das, gave a nonchalant glance and then returned to raking his ears with his little finger.

Just then, Jena observed Dhan douse his cigarette on the pole and move out of the bus stop. Slowly the jeep started inching behind him. Every turn that he would take, Jena and Das would be a few meters behind him, interring at every corner that he could shield the jeep behind. The rain was waning and the streetlights were beginning to light up the streets. There were hardly any vehicles on the road.

Dhan kept sauntering along the footpath all the while keeping a keen eye on the darker alleys. Jena noticed that he stopped in front of a huge abandoned cement pipe. A slight puppy whimpered from inside the pipe. Dhan lunged towards the scared, drenched puppy and pulled it out to pet him. Putting the puppy on his lap, he pulled out a few biscuits from his pockets and fed the little pup, who lapped it up almost instantly.

“That is strange,” Jena turned to his companion. “Why would he do something like that? I wonder what’s on his mind right at this moment.”

“I think we’re on a wrong trail. This is definitely not the guy we’re looking for. He looks absolutely harmless.” Das seemed the least bit interested to follow the trail of a man they were not even sure was the guy they were looking for. But they had been tipped about him from a dependable source. This guy perfectly fit the description too. Jena was in no mood to retrace now. He had been waiting for this moment for the last five months. Just because a lazy cop thought this was not his chance, did not make it so. They both looked at each other, trying to decipher their next move from here on. Das was disappointed that possibly they were on a useless mission and Jena was disappointed that Das showed no faith.

Their gaze returned to the target but the guy seemed to have vanished into thin air. “WHAAATTT!!” Jena shrieked.

Both the cops frantically spun their necks around, roving their eyes to find Dhan. Within seconds they were out on their feet edging towards the pipe they had spotted him last. A dark alley right behind the pipe beckoned them. They both gave each other a glance and pulled out their revolvers. Taking small strides, one behind the other, they paced towards the oblivion. Jena thought he heard some steps shuffling so he paused. Das paused too.

And then…THUD!

The world caved in.

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The sirens pierced the morning calm vanquishing the hustle of the activity in the area. Policemen dotted the stretch of the tiny alley where two bodies lay in a pool of blood. Jena’s skull was split open and a part of his brain wedged out. Das’ jaw was squashed and his eyes left open in incessant shock. The fractures on their face and head made it evident that massive force was exerted to finish them. The spot was cordoned as the onlookers got busy with deliberations about what might have occurred.

“They’re from the force,” said Shehla, an officer who had fished out their identity cards announced to another officer who surveyed the surroundings. ASP Biren turned towards him to acknowledge. His scrutiny led him to the blood splattered on the wall due to the impact of the heads that were squelched against it. Grabbing his attention was the boulder that lay right next to Das’ head, smudged with fresh blood.

“Doesn’t look like the work of one person,” he finally said.

Shehla joined him, “why would you think that, Biren?”

“How can one person bash the heads of two people on opposite sides of the wall and kill them with such impact, all at the same time,” he rubbed his fingers on his day-long stubble. “Let’s just collect whatever evidence we can and arrange to move the bodies,” he finally said as they walked towards the jeep and rode away.

At the police station, they presented the identity cards of the deceased officers to the DGP, “looks like policemen on a trail who got hammered.”

The senior officer shot up while scrutinizing the evidence, “Oh that’s Officer Jena, and his companion, Das. They were on a trail to nab ‘Deadly Dhananjay’. That’s terrible.” For a moment he stood there in complete shock to learn that his best officers had been beaten by a suspect.

He drew out a slender file from his top drawer and flicked the papers. “We had designated the case to Jena about 5-6 months ago. He had been studying the killer’s every move, as I was told. I guess he was on the right track and about to nab him when the killer must have struck.”

“Any other evidence that you found at the site?” The DGP turned towards Biren hopeful that they would have found some more evidence of the dreaded killer. This killer was the one who was responsible for about a series of 12 deaths in the region in the last 18 months. Well, now 14!

Biren acknowledged, “Sir, nothing else apart from a big boulder that could have been the murder weapon. They were killed due to the impact on their head that was hammered against the wall too.”

“What?” the senior slammed the file shut to look at Biren. “Are you sure?”

“Of course. But why is that perplexing?” Shehla questioned.

“In that case, this killer is not ‘Deadly Dhananjay’. It has to be someone else.”

“What makes you so sure?” Biren was now caught in the mystery. He waited for the DGP’s response with bated breath.

“Dhan always kills with a mace. THAT is his signature move. This has got to be someone else.”

Shehla and Biren stood gaping at each other.

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“What are you so worried about?” Shehla got up from her seat and walked towards the coffee machine.

“I’m not worried. I am surprised that DGP sir was so sure that it was not the work of Dhananjay.” Biren continued to flick through the pages in the file handed to him by the DGP, trying to join the dots. “Even the fingerprints on that rock did not match. And now I can see why sir felt that way.”

Shehla came and sat next to him. “You have been studying these papers for over a month. Where do you think this is leading us?” She handed a cup of coffee to him.

“There is no pattern, which is quite confusing,” Biren took a sip and walked towards the window looking out. “Dhan strikes when he does. Jena and Das seem to have followed a tip, which I am unsure where we can get from. No news of Dhan being on the prowl since.”

“We can’t sit here twiddling our fingers. I have a few snoops in that area. Let me see if I can find out something. I’ll keep you posted.” Shehla chugged her coffee and walked out of his office.

Biren was staring at the file kept on his table when his phone rang a few hours later. Anticipating that it would be Shehla he picked the call but it was not her. He wound up his office and walked out. Driving around in the city, at last, he reached the alley where Jena and Das had lost their lives. Though the area had been cleaned after a month, yet Biren walked around trying to find some other clue that they may have missed at the time of the immediate investigation.

Just then Shehla called, “Hey, meet me at Andrews crossing in 10.”

“I am already here. What’s going on?” Biren could sense the urgency in her voice.

“I’ve been informed that Dhan was noticed in the same area today afternoon. He could most likely be still here,” Shehla concluded. Biren agreed that it was a possibility. “I am on my way, will reach in 5.”

Biren moved out of the alley to meet her at the crossing. She parked her bike at the sidewalk and walked towards him.

“He is definitely around here. The address provided as his home belongs to a transgender woman. So that was a bust too. But if we have to find him, we will have to pace around here.” Her confidence gave him enough hope to nab the killer.

“We should call for backup, I say,” he said, as he fished his phone out from his pocket and called a few others.

“Should we start from the slum itself?” Shehla offered. Biren nodded.

As they walked past the bus stop, they paused at a corner from where they noticed a man emerging from a car garage. He seemed to be carrying an iron rod, that could very well have been a mace. Both of them looked at each other in disbelief. Was this good luck or ill fortune? They were about to find out in a while.

The back-up was on its way, but both of them decided to follow the lead. This could be him.

“I am sure it is him,” Shehla echoed what was already on Biren’s mind. Dhan was taking his time, deliberating each object and each person that he came across. Returning the ball to the kids playing cricket in the ground, dragging his mace to enjoy its shrill sound, getting irked by the bark of a street dog. Nothing about him seemed dubious, yet nothing seemed normal.

The duo kept pacing after him, eluding behind cars, corners, trees, hoping not to be apparent. All of a sudden Dhan stopped in his tracks as if accounting for something. And then he hauled inside a darker alley. The flickering street lights were not helpful. This looked like a trap. Biren signalled Shehla to chisel in. Both took out their guns and moved behind their prey.

The narrow alley was devoid of any street lights. A scattering of lights outside people’s homes paved the way but it was still dark for both of them to notice his face. As they went further, the scant population also diminished. About ten meters in, they noticed a curve-alley ahead, so Biren and Shehla decided to split up to herd him. Even before they could contemplate it, Biren felt someone push him from behind and he fell on the ground. He turned around to look at his attacker when he heard a gunshot and his attacker came down on him. The boulder that she was carrying rolled away. Shehla leapt towards Biren and pulled him from under the woman who lay motionless.

They had barely found composure when Shehla was hit by a mace on her wrist and her gun fell on the ground. Biren took a shot at Dhan, who was staring right at him, his eyes stinging with fury. Shehla nudged Dhan and he tumbled. Biren was quick to get a hold of his arm and snatch the mace away. Once Dhan was nabbed by both of them solid, he quit struggling from their grip.

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“Deadly Dhananjay nabbed.” Biren read the headlines of the e-paper on his phone, gleaming with pride.

“How many times will you read this?” Shehla sneered.

“All thanks to you. From a dead-end to a gold mine, this was so unexpected.” Biren looked up from his phone at her who was adding on to her report for submission. “How fascinating that an ageing serial killer now had a strong backup to keep him safe. And pretty smart of him to source a transgender woman to do that for him.”

“She was not his bodyguard. She was his wife.” Shehla looked up from her file.

“Hmm, I heard his confession,” Biren sighed as he got up from his seat to fetch a coffee. “Strange what love can do to some people,” he said as he turned around.

“It wasn’t love, Biren.” Shehla closed the file and looked up at him to grab his attention. “It was an endeavour.”

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