The Toymaker

Shobhit Dabral posted under #AprilThrill Short Stories on 2020-05-02

He'd been tailing him for two weeks. The intelligence was absolute, and his observations had been fruitful. If only he could arrest him now. 'Damn the bureaucracy,' he thought to himself. 'In the act - my foot! In a case this sensitive, they should at least think of the consequences of inaction.' He saw him walk to the kiosk and began talking on his phone. 'Tell me what he's buying guys,' he said. 'I need to know what he's buying.' He followed him through the stairs out of the station and was on the street, five paces behind him when his phone rang. 'Tell me something good... He what now? But why would... OK.' He hung up the phone. 'What kind of man buys train tickets to the place he's going to bomb?' he whispered to himself, shaking his head. The man he'd been following had now not used his phone in two days. They had hacked it, obviously, but he hadn't sent or received any text or call from anyone at all. Until two days ago, even though sparingly, he had used his phone every day. The chatter they had picked up confirmed beyond doubt that plans were afoot for the Central Station. The powers that be, however, decided that it was all hearsay unless they had him in the act. That was the trouble with deciphering chatter. If things didn't happen as deciphered, it would point to everything having been normal conversation inferred to be something sinister by an over-enthusiastic analyst. Not using his phone definitely made for radio silence, though. He was definitely up to no good. The man went upstairs to his apartment as he watched from the street. He watched his silhouette move around the house and lit up a cigarette. They had swept his apartment earlier that evening and found nothing. 'Where's the bomb you miserable piece of shit?' he whispered to himself again, eyes on the windows. Had they found the bomb, they could have arrested him and not have had to wait 'for the act.' A couple of cigarettes later, two men approached him.  'We've got this now mate,' one of them said. 'You go rest - tomorrow is a big day.' He nodded. 'Let me know if anything happens,' he said. 'Anything at all, however mundane.' He walked to his car and drove away. On the way to his house, he couldn't stop thinking about how the man would acquire the bomb. He had to meet the toymaker somewhere. The toymaker was an ID this man had started getting spam from when they first began shadowing him. It was the only spam in his spam folder that he checked without fail. The analysts at the office had concluded this 'toymaker' to be making a dirty bomb. The man never replied to these emails but read them nonetheless. It was by deciphering these emails and texts he sent to his contacts after, that they were able to pinpoint the location and day of the bombing. The tickets that he bought earlier were for the central station the following morning. Everything was falling into place - except the bomb. Now they were left with four scenarios. Either the bomb would be delivered to his home before he left in the morning, or he would pick it up on the way to the train, on it, or at Central Station. He couldn't sleep all night. He had received a call from the office about the man getting another spam from the toymaker. The mail pointed to five past nine in the morning. 'Five past nine,' he had repeated. 'How queer that our man's train arrives at Central Station at nine in the morning, don't you think?' It was certain that they had their guy, but they still needed him to be in possession to apprehend him. The men under his building wouldn't let anything pass without them knowing; he trusted them with that much. Yet he kept turning in bed, unable to sleep, playing all scenarios through in his head. When the alarm bell rang in the morning, he was already up and about his business. He reached to relieve the men earlier than he was supposed to and took up a table at the cafe further up the road to have a clear view of the building's entrance. Tailing the man was easy as usual, and there was no activity during his walk to the station near his apartment. Nobody even came close to the guy. 'On the train,' he thought to himself, 'he will do it on the train.' He took out his phone and called a number on speed dial. 'I want at least one of our guys in every compartment on that train. I will follow him to whichever compartment he enters, but I want the train completely covered.' He had to be closer to the man at the station, should anyone pass too close to tell him something or hand him anything at all. There were others that handed over the tail to one another in order not to get made. He followed him to the platform and stood close behind him in wait for the train. Not a single person had come close to him since he left his apartment. He wondered what turned a young man such as this one to choose a path so destructive and be so calm about it. As he stepped into the compartment behind the man, he looked at gates to either side of him. His people were in position. Once inside, he took a seat diagonally opposite to the man. He looked around to see anything suspicious while the man read the newspaper. A teenager with his laptop half popping out of his bag, and earphones in his ears, was nodding to whatever music he was listening to. A woman sitting with her little girl was busy stitching something. The girl was watching something on her mother's phone and pulling her hairband out to see if it matched perfectly with her hello kitty bag; which it did. Next to them was seated an old man with grocery bags on his lap and at his feet, muttering something to himself. The man he was tailing was reading the newspaper across from the old man, and the seat next to him was vacant. A kid was running in the aisles, and he could hear her mother calling out to him, offering him things to eat. All these people were at risk from this man and didn't look suspicious, but he nodded to his colleague at the end of the compartment to stay vigilant.  The seat next to the man remained for a while, till a skinny young female occupied it about halfway to Central Station. She was carrying a large tote bag that she kept between him and herself.  'Could the girl be the messenger?' he thought. The kid running in the aisles now came running back with chocolate and offered it to the little girl. She looked at her mother, who nodded. Happily grabbing the chocolate, she put her hairband back in place. 'What do you say?' asked her mother. 'Thank you,' she said to the boy.  The old man got up and started to leave. 'You left your bag here, sir,' the woman called out to him. The man put his newspaper down and offered to help. One quick look to both other agents in the compartment saw them narrowing to nab him. But the man picked up the bag and handed it over calmly, to a joyful 'thanks' from the old man.  The agents' heartbeats started easing, but they were highly alert. He wondered if they'd been made. The man went back to reading his newspaper. 'What the fuck is going on?' he asked himself. The man had to have the bomb soon - they would be in Central Station in the next 10 minutes. He stood up and took a position by the door, looking directly at the bag between the skinny girl and the man. No one moved till the train started slowing down; then they all got up. He lost line of sight but saw his man nod at him from right next to the girl and the man in question. When the train stopped, he followed them out. The man looked in all directions as the girl with the bag left. 'Get her at the exit and search her bag,' he whispered into his sleeve. The man just stood looking for someone as other passengers began to alight, till his gaze caught something. He followed his gaze to see a boy looking back at him. The boy was sweating and was carrying a backpack. 'Narrow down over here,' he spoke into his sleeve again, 'boy in red t-shirt with a backpack. Stay sharp and ready to move.' The boy jerked his head to one side, signalling the man over away from the platform, and he went straight for it. They shook hands and started talking. 'Wait for my order,' he said to his sleeve. 'Do not move in till package is exchanged.' The boy looked really nervous, and the man seemed to be calming him down. He looked at the man intermittently and kept shaking his head. After some words were exchanged, the boy put his backpack down.  'Nab him if he goes for the bag,' he advised all agents. The moment his fingers touch that bag, I want him pinned down.' The man bent to pick the bag up and sure as they had been advised, agents pounced on him and pinned him to the ground. One agent caught hold of the boy as well. He kept yelling that he was coerced and didn't want to have to do anything with it, but he didn't try to escape. The man wasn't putting up a fight either. He knew he'd been caught red-handed. 'Go easy on the boy, man,' he finally said to the agents, 'he really had nothing to do with it. The weed was in my parents' house, and I just wanted him to bring it to me, that's all.' 'Weed?' he asked, taken aback a little. 'Of course weed. Do we look like heroin addicts to you?' 'Check it,' he said to an agent. The agent opened the bag and looked inside. 'Marijuana,' he replied. 'Were's the bomb?' he asked the man.  'Bomb... what bomb?' The man looked terrified. 'I swear to God there's only weed, no bomb... Who puts a bomb in weed?' 'I don...' he was interrupted by a huge bang. One that shatters eardrums if you're close enough. Debris went flying past them, and some got them too as they all fell to the ground. The blast was in the compartment they had travelled in. The train had now been full of passengers travelling from Central Station. Several passengers - all dead. The blast ruptured the top of the tunnel and the floor above collapsed as well. More death poured from above. Everyone on the platform was dead too, or dying. People who were past them on the stairs to the exit were safe but in panic. Bodies were slipping, tripping and falling as more of them rushed to get out as quickly as possible. Barely able to move his body, he saw the little girl from the train clutching to her hairband and a rag doll with one hand and her mother's hand with the other. She was crying her lungs out.  'Take her away,' he said to her mother. She nodded and left him with a smile. He looked back at the train. What had he missed? What was he missing? He ran everything that had played out in the train through in his head again. The rag doll - that was the toy her mother had been stitching. He turned over to see an agent standing at the foot of the stairs. 'After her,' he shouted. 'What?' the agent replied. 'The toy maker's girl didn't have her hello kitty bag on her at the stairs.'