I thought of sharing a short story which I wrote a year ago. I hope you like it.
The sixth day of the month almost ended without a second threatening phone call from Mugembo. I hope the intelligence department will find his whereabouts soon before he plants the next time bomb and challenge us again to trace it.
I finished my coffee, heaved a sigh and placed the cup on the table. The caffeine rejuvenated me. I longed to walk out of my high-rise office after a hectic workday. My secretary Simi would bring the case file soon, and I would leave after signing it. I had promised my wife a movie date and I didn’t want to disappoint her.
The previous month was tense for me and Inspector Prakash. If it weren’t for Prakash’s heroic act, we wouldn’t have saved the schoolchildren from the terrifying act of Mugembo. I won’t rest until the intelligence officials traced the place from where Mugembo called me. The ugly bastard gave so little time to crack the secret code and locate the bomb. The job performed by both Prakash and the bomb disposal expert Robert was commendable.
I picked up the paperweight and twirled it in my hand. My phone rang with an unknown number. I observed the last four digits – 6666. Didn’t Mugembo’s phone number last month ended with 4444? I grabbed my phone from the table and tapped on the answer key. “ACP Satish here.”
“Mugembo Kush Hua,” Mugembo said.
Damn it! I didn’t expect his call so soon. What had he planned now? “Mugembo, do you think you’ll escape this time?” I straightened in my seat. “Start counting your days. You are hitting the dead end very soon.”
“ACP Sahib, before I count my days, you better save your nation from turning into a pile of ash.”
My adrenaline rushed through my veins. Mugembo might take everything for granted if I become soft on him. “Do you think you can defeat us by such cowardly acts? Never ever think you can get away with your crimes.”
“Commissioner, it’s time for you to worry about your citizens. If not, you’ll see your nation perish in no time.”
I pounded a fist on my table and leaned forward in my chair. I needed to be patient and unearth Mugembo’s plot without taking chances. “Spill your dirty code. We will get there and see what you are up to.”
“Mugembo Kush Hua. You’ve just half an hour to save your nation after you receive my SMS. Crack the code and get there. Good luck, ACP Sahib.” The line went dead.
“Hey, listen.” Damn it! I looked at my phone once then tossed it back on the table. Should I call Prakash? Mugembo gave only thirty minutes and I needed to hurry. I took my phone back and called Prakash.
“Good evening, Sir.”
“Prakash, Mugembo has struck again.”
“Damn it!” Prakash said. “What has he planned now?”
“I need you in my office. Now.”
“Right away, Sir.”
The phone jingled with a new text message. My heart pounding in my ribcage, I read the message – ‘COBRA’. The time stamp was 6:15 PM. COBRA? The code was much shorter than the previous one.
I summoned Simi with the intercom.
A moment later both Prakash and Simi walked in. I waved them to seats in front of me. I showed my phone to Prakash. “What do you make of this?”
Prakash frowned, a deep furrow growing across his brow as he handed the phone to Simi.
“We have less than thirty minutes, Prakash,” I said. “We need to do something fast.”
“Mugembo usually targets the major Indian cities,” Prakash said. “The last time it was Bangalore. I suppose it is again a metropolitan city.”
“But what the hell is COBRA?” Simi asked.
“Did he mention anything else during your conversation?” Prakash’s eyes narrowed. “He told us to save the pupils in last month’s threat.”
I stared at the window, trying to come up with a solution. “Mugembo said our whole nation would become a pile of ash if we fail to trace the bomb.”
Prakash heaved a sigh with his brows knotted. He took out a pen and a sketch pad from the table. He scribbled something on the page then glanced up at me with a look of triumph. “I guess Mugembo had a nuclear bomb in his mind. Look at the code – COBRA. If you take out the letter ‘O’, we are left with CBRA. Can you guess it?”
I looked at my watch. Twenty minutes left. “Come on, Prakash. If you’ve cracked it tell us.”
“Sir, I suggest that we advise the security at Bombay Atomic Research Centre to search for anything suspicious,” Prakash said.
Simi straightened in her seat. “No doubt it is BARC. I got an intelligence report this morning which deciphered the phone and email messages targeting Mumbai.”
“Simi, let the BARC know,” I said. “Have them get back to us in five minutes. Also inform our Mumbai branch about it.”
Simi rose and walked towards the window with her phone in her hand.
Prakash called Robert and told him to join us immediately.
Simi ended her call and came back to her seat. “I have informed the Mumbai Police to get back to us soon.” She glanced at her wrist watch. “Sir, time is running short. How can we defuse the bomb by being here at Delhi?”
“I want to talk about it with Robert,” I said. “I’m hoping he can arrange for someone at Mumbai to go to the spot and defuse the bomb. Prakash, can we monitor everything from here?”
“I think so, Sir,” Prakash said. “If the place is confirmed, we can plan for it.”
My gaze went to the door as Robert entered. His look of concern cast a shadow over the room. He took a seat beside Prakash.
I showed him the text message. “Mugembo has struck again. We have less than fifteen minutes. We suspect the place to be BARC in Mumbai.” I turned to Simi. “Simi, call the Mumbai police again. I need to know if they have found anything there.”
Simi tapped on her phone and listened intently. Her frown worried me. She shook her head. “They haven’t gotten the response from BARC.”
I clenched my fists. We had only twelve minutes and we hadn’t located the bomb. “Robert, if the bomb is planted in BARC, can the security personnel there defuse it?”
Robert shook his head. “I don’t think they are trained for it, but if someone follows my instructions, we can achieve it.”
I ran a hand over my face. “We don’t have enough time to operate that way.”
Simi’s phone rang. Everyone shifted their gaze to her.
“Simi here.” Her face went pale as she handed the phone to me. “Sir, it is Mumbai Police officer. The bomb is planted in BARC.”
“ACP Satish speaking.”
“The BARC security has traced the time bomb using their CCTV camera,” the officer said. “It is planted in the main hall.”
“Listen,” I said. “We have less than ten minutes left. Get me the head of the BARC security over the phone.”
“Stay on the line and I’ll patch you in.”
I turned to Prakash. “They have traced the bomb through their CCTV camera.”
Prakash sat leaning on the table, his face tense. “Ask them for their IP address to the DVR. We can check the CCTV footage through our computer.”
“Is that possible?” Simi asked.
“Yes.” Robert jumped up from his seat. “I can defuse the bomb from here remotely.”
I listened to the Mumbai police introducing me to Himanshu, the BARC security head.
“Sir, the bomb is fixed to the wall in the main hall,” Himanshu said. “I am seeing it through CCTV footage. The clock on it is currently showing six minutes.”
“Where are you now?” I asked.
“I am in my room near the main entrance,” Himanshu said.
“Can you go there soon?”
“Yes, I can,” Himanshu said.
“Take a wire cutter with you,” I said. “And can we know the IP address of your DVR?”
“Stay on the line,” Himanshu said. “I’ll ask our technician.”
“Sir, they must turn off their internet firewall,” Prakash said.
After a muffled conversation, Himanshu said, “Sir, it is 22.214.171.124.”
I wrote the IP address on the notepad and turned it towards Prakash.
“Himanshu, tell your technician to turn off the internet firewall,” I said. “Robert will guide you now.” I turned on the speaker of my phone and placed it in front of Robert.
Prakash adjusted the computer monitor to enable everyone see it. He opened the internet explorer and typed in the IP address.
I stared at the monitor with my teeth gritted. Would we succeed in time?
It took forty seconds for the internet explorer to load with the live videos. My heart raced as four tiled videos appeared on the screen. The first tile showed the outside premises of the BARC. The second video was of the lobby, and the third one showed the main hall.
Prakash pointed to the third tile. “Here is the bomb.” He zoomed in the screen.
The red timepiece on it showed 1:24. Damn it! “Himanshu, where are you?” I shouted.
“I am on my way,” Himanshu said.
I continued staring at the first tile for Himanshu to appear. A couple of seconds later, a man in a dark blue uniform and wearing earphones pulled opened the main entrance.
“Hurry up,” Robert said. “We are running out of time.”
Himanshu entered the lobby. Robert instructed him to cut the red and yellow wires as soon as he approached the bomb. Inside the lobby, there was a wide door on the left side of the help desk.
My eyes were glued on Himanshu on the screen. I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that the time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…..”
Himanshu pulled the door, stepped into the main hall and ran towards the time bomb.
“Come on, hurry up,” Robert said. “Cut the damn red wire first.”
Himanshu cut the red wire. The clock stopped at three seconds. I heaved a sigh in relief. A sense of reprieve rushed through my blood.
“Cut the yellow wire too,” Robert said.
The clock went off as Himanshu cut it.
Robert turned to me. “The bomb is defused, Sir.” He looked back at the phone. “You did it, Himanshu.”
A smile crossed Simi’s face.
Prakash leaned back on his chair, exhaling.
“Your guidance was well-timed, Sir,” Himanshu said.
I didn’t want this to happen again. “Prakash, I want Mugembo, alive or dead, before he strikes again.”