“WHAT? Who…. I didn’t… it’s a m…m…mistake.” Gaurav stuttered.
“Mr. Chopra you have to come with us now. You are entitled to a lawyer. But for now, come along.”
Gaurav turned to Keith but before he could say anything, Keith said, “I will follow you, sir. I will call Manek on the way. He will come to the police station with the lawyer.”
“Keith, see that my folks or people at work don’t get to know… for now” Gaurav stated with a neutral tone. He then followed the police to their vehicle downstairs. Fortunately they hadnt handcuffed him… it would have been a terrible reminder… But he didn’t miss the curious glances sent his way by his neighbours in the building lobby. Suddenly there seemed to be a lot many neighbours that day. He avoided their suspicion laden glimpses and hid his face to avoid being pictured and continued to follow the police outside. What was wrong with these people… sharing a man being taken by police made great pictures to share online… Bastards. He couldn’t shake the sense of deja vu. He looked like he was in control but from within he was facing a total breakdown. This was a bad dream… a major misunderstanding. He was sure. Wait… was he in a nightmare….?
It had to be.
As soon as he reached the police station, he was taken into a holding cell. He had to surrender his things…his new mobile phone which Keith had got him a couple of days ago, wallet, his gold chain and wrist watch. He couldn’t help but feel the hostile glances coming his way from the constables and other police staff members. He knew this place… it was only second to Yerwada and his hands trembled as he performed the tasks required of him… trying in vain to control the rising anxiety. Keith was there immediately and was soon followed by a harried Manek and Mr. Khatiyal, his family lawyer. Gaurav blanked out everything that was being discussed. Could they just arrest him like that? He was now on the verge of getting a panic attack every breath becoming labored with every passing second. From what he could make out, he was a suspect in the rape of Swara Sawant… Oh God the receptionist? And there was something remotely familiar about her…. According to the reports i.e the FIR, she had mentioned his name specifically. He had never even met her in person… but…the police had evidence and had applied for his official custody. He realized the arrest was today…. on a Friday. It was a court holiday next day due to some anniversary event and he wouldn’t get a bail hearing before Monday. Most probably he had to spend three days and nights in police custody. He was put in a cell away from the main cells… why? What was going on?
Mr. Khatiyal came up to his cell. “I am sorry Dr. Chopra… they have applied for five-day custody and the evidences are… they are strong enough to be granted….”
“…Mr. Khatiyal, I didn’t do it… try for the bonds… how can we get the bail… wait… what evidence are they talking about?”
Manek who was standing with his back hunched… in a corner walked up to them. He held Gaurav’s hands on the bars as Mr. Khatiyal continued. “Uh… Dr, Chopra they have applied the IPC 376 so… this makes it non bailable… and the considering the case sensitivity and incriminating evidence the Judge gave a fast track verdict of a 5-day custody… we ..we… will try to get this settled out of court and get the FIR squashed…”
“…I DIDN’T DO IT…” Gaurav yelled. “…Don’t you fucking understand… wait…” It just dawned on him. “.. I now remember… I think it was the same woman in my bar the other night…”
Manek now straightened. “…Wait a minute… what the hell are you talking about…?”
Gaurav then told them the details of Tuesday night at the bar and Keith who had been standing watching everything unfold corroborated his version.
Manek looked furious. “What the hell is wrong with you Gaurav…? All this happened on Tuesday and you didn’t even bother to tell me? We should have got the police in right then… This fucking reeks of a set up… by the way they say this happened on the 29th of July at night… where the fuck were you that night?”
Oh hell, it was the same night he had found an injured Ria in the old hospital building. A cold dread settled on him. If he revealed anything about the rendezvous that night Ria would get dragged in the proceedings… probably as a material witness. He couldn’t subject her to that misery and not to mention Parijath which he had kept relatively hidden from public eye. The safety of those women mattered a lot. No… Nobody… not even Manek could know all that.
“I… I have no idea… I seem to have drawn a blank…” He spoke…unable to control the quiver in his voice.
“Goddamn Gaurav…” Manek rubbed his hand down his face. “…Your phone was found in Swara’s bedroom lying under the bed… apparently fell as she struggled. She apparently hit you after the rape and you fell easily since you were drunk. She then took pictures of you on her phone… What were you thinking Gaurav… Since when did you start drinking so much again…?”
“…I dint do it Manek… you have to trust me…”
“…I do Gaurav…I do… You are too honorable to do it. But just realise this is IPC 376 we are talking about… Get the hell out of your fudge state from that day and try hard to remember where you were on 29th evening…”
“…I …I don’t remember…” He looked at Keith with the corner of his eye. He was fuming as he stood quietly in a corner staring at Gaurav.
Suddenly there was a clanging sound as they all looked towards the burly inspector move towards them with a strange gleam in his eyes. “Well…well… your time is up and… you can have your next meeting tomorrow… Meanwhile we have secured the official non bailable custody for our…investigation….” He gave a look to Gaurav and looked back at Manek and Khatiyal. “…So, you may all leave now and see what bytes you give to the press parked outside… If I were you, I would refrain… sub-judice you see!” He gave a bone chilling smile to Gaurav narrowing his eyes. Gaurav didn’t leave eye contact, though he had all but clammed up…
Manek and Khatiyal left behind the inspector but Keith quickly came up to him. Before he could speak Gaurav spoke. “…Not…not now Keith… just see to it that they don’t reach Ria or Parijath… Press involved means everyone at the hospital will now know… Just… handle it Ok? Parijath shouldn’t be exposed…”
Keith nodded slowly and left with downcast eyes.
The seconds converted to minutes which in turn converted to hours… every passing hour bringing in with it loads of mounting uncertainty. He knew they were delaying the questioning to weaken his resolve… Gaurav gripped the cell bars tightly. This was not happening. Not again. He was still in a nightmare…. and would wake up soon… wouldn’t he? His heart started pounding hard and he was perspiring. He didn’t even know who the lady was except that she worked at the hospital as one of the receptionists. His only interaction was the smiles he passed their way or an occasional etiquette talk. What did he ever do to her? Why was this happening to him? What would his folks think of him now? His parents would be devastated. They had suffered so much because of him already…. probably cursed the day he was born. What would…. Ria think about him now? His heart beat slowed down and his panic subsided.
He knew the reason. Ria.
Finally, later in the evening, the police started their interrogation. The interrogation officer was a rough man in his 40s. He sat across a table where Gaurav was made to sit. “So, Chopra, we hear you are not new to interrogations… am I right?” The officer said with a smirk.
Gaurav clenched his fists and just stared ahead.
The officer continued, “Well…. so, tell me why did you do it?”
Gaurav looked up and said softly, “I didn’t do anything that you are accusing me of”.
The officer sat straight up and glared at Gaurav. He said, “Cut the crap Chopra. I have read you old classified case file. Acquittal doesn’t mean you are not a criminal. This time we are lucky. The victim is alive. She has identified you. We will now join the dots. So… let me ask you again…. Why- did- you- do- it?”
How did the Police have the custody of those files… They were classified. His father had seen to it. Gaurav was stone faced and said, “I didn’t do anything. I don’t even know who this Swara is… except that she worked at the hospital…?
“Where were you on the night of 29th of July? Just to refresh your memory, it was the day the city was flooded. I know you were not in the hospital that day nor were you at your residence. So…. where were you?”
Gaurav stared at his clasped hands on the table. He was sure his lawyer would sort it out. For one he was innocent and two he paid him a hefty retainer. It was time Khatiyal made it worth the money. He looked at the officer and said, “I don’t remember anything.” Thankfully except Keith no one knew about his connection to Parijath on paper. The NGO was run under his maternal grandmother’s maiden name to honour her legacy.
The officer visibly offended by now stood up and held his collar. Spittle flew off his angry mouth as he got his face closer to his and spoke. “Oh…then let me refresh things for you. When this city was under water you were busy trying to bang a lady, who was unwilling. You were drunk but not drunk enough to use a condom… So, Chopra am I right or Am I right…?”
Condom? What the fuck? He hadn’t even got it up for years until Ria came along and the only way, he had relieved his pent-up tension all these years… even recently, was… using his hands. This was going to be easy for Khatiyal. “NO officer… nothing of the sort happened… “
“Oh, really asshole…?” He pushed him even as the chair moved and Gaurav had to hold the table to prevent the fall backward. “… Ok let me list the evidence… your moneybag cronies would have enlightened you by now. Your phone, your inebriated pictures, and a used condom with your sample in it… Had too much to drink is it? Forgot to throw it away… somewhere it couldn’t be found…eh?” The inspector chuckled, the sound pricking his entire being like an armor of thorns. He closed up the distance again and sat partially on the table. “… Well Chopra old habits die hard… don’t they? Alcoholism… Rape… Still having the amnesia…”
“I said, I don’t remember anything. My lawyer will handle the rest” Gaurav stated with clenched teeth.
Suddenly the officer’s fist connected hard with his face from the left and he only felt the fall on the hard ground, before everything went black.
Gaurav woke to the sound of dripping water the stench of urine making him want to throw up… His left eye was closed shut and in pain… definitely swollen. He was lying on that side so he tried to sit up. He opened his other eye and looked around and the grim reality crashed in. The darkness and extraordinary silence in the lockup indicated late night… He had spent almost a day behind bars. He felt his palms sweat and heart pounding out of his thoracic cavity all over again and before he realized he had a full-blown panic attack. He tried his breathing exercises just like he had learnt those earlier days. He tried to rationalize his situation like how his therapist had taught him, but nothing was coming of it. He tried visualisation techniques to calm himself… God Freud would have been so proud and he would have made a great candidate for psychoanalysis…. Even the minute chuckle was momentary but nothing could control the panic laden constriction happening at his throat. Was he dying…? He then thought of her…. Ria looking at him with her beautiful kohl laden almond eyes and almost the next moment the panic attack started to subside.
For once he was glad, he didn’t encourage her feelings for him. She didn’t need all this crap. She would always remain a beautiful memory for him…. She was his angel… but just in the visuals… that’s all.
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