It was a dark, moonless night. There were very few vehicles on the road leading from Gwalior to Bhopal through the Chambal valley. A white Contessa was speeding as its headlights pierced through the darkness of the night.
Mr. Praveen Joshi, a bank manager, and his close friend, Mr. Harish Bharadwaj, were in the backseat while the driver was at the steering wheel.
‘Perhaps it would have been better for us to travel by day. We could have done with some guards to protect us and the box we are carrying,’ said Bharadwaj. ‘The ravines in the Chambal make for excellent hiding spots for dacoits.’
‘That’s an old story. Most of them have surrendered,’ said Joshi. ‘Besides, it’s better to travel unobtrusively. Guards would have attracted unnecessary attention.’
‘It’s okay as long as your money is safe,’ said Bharadwaj. ‘You have a responsibility to your depositors, you know.’
Joshi nodded as the two men lapsed into silence.
However, the car stopped abruptly. Both of them sat upright to gaze at the huge stones blocking the road. ‘Thank God the driver was alert,’ said Joshi.
‘I won’t be long, sir. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes to make enough way for our car to pass,’ said the driver as he got down from the car. True to his word, he was back in no time.
‘Let’s go,’ ordered Joshi through the car’s open window. The driver, however, was in no mood to listen to him.
‘Sir, it’s very cold and I must have a smoke,’ he said, turning away. Shortly thereafter, they could see a match flame as the pungent cigarette smell pervaded their surroundings.
‘God, I hate this smell,’ said Joshi, raising the window. ‘And what a rude driver!’
Bharadwaj advised Joshi to ignore this impertinence on the driver’s part, for he needed to recharge his batteries for the long drive ahead.
‘Yes, but we’re sitting ducks here,’ quipped Joshi.
Even before the echo of his voice had died down, the silhouette of a man appeared by the window. He tapped the glass, indicating that they needed to lower it. When Joshi dithered, the man pointed a gun at him.
‘Oh my God! We’re surrounded!’ said Bharadwaj, both his voice and body trembling.
It was all over in a few minutes. Four men showed up, one after another. They all had their faces covered. At gunpoint, they ordered Joshi to empty the cash box into the gunny bag one of them had on them. Joshi meekly obeyed as the gang decamped with their loot.
Still trembling, Bharadwaj switched on the pen torch he was carrying in his pocket. He got down from the car to gauge their surroundings. The tenuous flashlight dully illuminated the driver, who was neatly tied up. He was also gagged with a handkerchief.
The friends untied the driver, who began rubbing his hands and feet to get rid of the numbness. He then silently opened the car door for his master and the master’s friend. No one said anything over the remainder of the journey. Joshi knew he had to report the matter to the police.
‘Was the money insured?’ inquired the inspector.
‘Yes, it was,’ said Joshi. ‘Transit insurance. The bank won’t lose any money. They’ll get it in time from the insurance company.’
‘Perfect. Is there anyone you suspect?’
‘No, not at all. There were only the three of us. The driver is trustworthy… and Bharadwaj is an old friend of mine.’
‘Well, the dacoits – if they really were dacoits – must have have had some tip-off about you carrying such a large amount of cash.’
‘We really needed to get the cash to our Bhopal branch,’ explained Joshi. The inspector reassured him that they would do everything it took to nab the dacoits.
At this, Joshi replied that he had hired a detective to prove that this was a straightforward case of banditry, and not some far-fetched conspiracy. The inspector, who knew the private detective Ajay Sharma, nodded.
A month later, the police still had no clue about how to approach this case. They had all but made their minds to close the file for good. Capturing the bandits was easier said than done. They were, after all, wanted for much bigger crimes. While many of them had surrendered over the years, a few stubborn dacoits would still cause the police the occasional headache.
Meanwhile, Ajay Sharma started thoroughly investigating every bank employee. While most of them had nothing relevant to contribute, Sharma did manage to get a useful piece of information – Joshi did have an enemy. Vijay Singh, who had been dismissed by Joshi for non-performance and disobedience, had openly vowed to take revenge on Joshi.
Ajay tried hard to trace Singh but to no avail. He presumed that Singh had simply made off with the money. There was no other explanation. However, one question still needed to be answered. Who was his accomplice?
Ajay went to see his friend, the inspector, and told him what he suspected. The driver was immediately arrested and brought over to the police station.
The inspector revealed, ‘Vijay Singh has been arrested and put behind bars. He has indeed confessed to his crime. I have his statement here,’ he said, tapping a file on his table.
The driver turned pale and began to tremble.
‘That idiot!’ he stammered. ‘I had asked him to head South, to Trichy or Madurai, but the fool just wouldn’t step out of the Hindi belt.’
Sharma recorded the entire interrogation in his pocket recorder. All it took was some rough treatment by the inspector for the driver to divulge all details about Vijay Singh’s hideout. As per the plan, the driver was to get part of the amount. Tying him up was part of the ruse to make everyone believe that it was actually the dacoits to blame for the fiasco. Those ‘bandits’ were petty crooks hired by Vijay Singh. Lighting the cigarette had actually been a cue for them to attack.
The police managed to apprehend Singh the same day. The money was recovered as well, except for a few thousand rupees that Singh had spent. Joshi and Bharadwaj couldn’t have been more relieved.
However, they weren’t the happiest people around, for that pleasure went to the insurance company.
…now that you’re here
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As fond of writing a good story as he is of reading one, Pravin is one of the most promising writers at Ameya. He can be contacted at email@example.com.