IMF, New Delhi
An accidental death
The next morning, pushing aside his worries about the anomalies in the Nun expedition reports, Raghu headed for the Army Headquarters for the presentation. It was only when he returned to the office from Army Headquarters that he remembered the Nun files of 2015 he had asked the office boy to fetch from the clerk. They had not reached his table. He pressed the buzzer.
'What happened to the files I had asked for?' he barked at the office boy.
'Sir, the clerk left early yesterday.'
'That's no excuse. Get them now.'
An hour later, the files had not reached his desk. Exasperated by the delay, Raghu strode into the clerk's office.
'Sir, the files cannot be found', replied Revathi, a perplexed look on her face. 'I have hunted everywhere.'
'Since when have files begun disappearing from the office?' Raghu thundered. 'Those reports are important. If you can't locate them in the next ten minutes, call for their copies.'
Something was very wrong, he could feel it in his bones. First, the reports indicated disruptions in communications and now the crucial files were missing. Raghu made up his mind. He would discuss the matter with the Director.
'Sir, I have to see you regarding an important matter,' he told Colonel Sandhu.
'I am afraid it will have to wait till tomorrow. I have been called by General Pandey for a meeting.'
'It will take just a few minutes...'
'Sorry, Raghu, I am in a hurry. First thing, tomorrow, I promise.'
Worried, Raghu went through the Mount Nun files one last time before calling it a day. It would have to wait till the next morning.
Stepping out of his office, Raghu was relieved to find Revathi Nair had left the office with Malik. Raghu had informed her that he would be taking a shorter route home as he had to drop his wife and daughter at the airport. They were leaving by the late evening flight to attend a wedding at Chennai.
'I will drop you at the airport,' he had promised his wife, at breakfast. The long drive from work to his residence and then the airport after a hectic day would be exhausting, but he was willing to pay the price. Lately, the pressures at work had driven a wedge between the two of them.
'There is no need for you to do that. We can take a cab to the airport,’ Nalini retorted. 'I don't want to take you away from your beloved IMF.'
The faint lines of cynicism of her face had deepened in the past few years, he noticed. She vented her grievance as he drove them to the airport.
'You must be happy to get rid of me for a while,' she said. 'It will give you a lot more time at work.'
'That's not true.' Raghu had no wish to get involved in an argument after the long day at work.
'Don't be difficult, Nalini.' He tried to remain calm. 'I promise to take the two of you on a vacation, next month.'
'Promises, promises and promises, that's all I have had since our marriage. Not many of them were kept, though.'
'I am going to prove you wrong this time. In fact, I have already planned a peaceful vacation for the three of us. We will spend one full week, lazing on the beaches at Goa.'
'Goa be damned! I would have preferred you to attend Suma's wedding.'
'Look, Nalini, I told you that the federation...'
'It's always about your work, isn't it? The problem with army chaps is they think the country can't run without them.' She cut him off.
'You are leaving for a happy occasion,' he said, trying to control his annoyance. 'I want you to leave with a smile. We will discuss everything when you return.'
The long drive turned into a silent one as Nalini simmered and he concentrated on driving. Their daughter continued to tap her fingers to the music pouring through her headphones. The pill he had popped in the afternoon was proving inadequate. The nasty headache compounded his tetchiness.
It was 10 PM by the time he dropped his wife and daughter and headed home. The 50 km drive from the Domestic Terminal to Greater Noida would take him no less than an hour and a half at that time of night. With the soothing strains of Chitti Babu's Veena playing on his stereo system, Raghu joined the flow of impatient passengers streaming out of the Domestic terminal.
After a nerve racking drive of about twenty minutes, he let out a sigh of relief as traffic began thinning. The exhausting day had not veered his mind off the Nun reports. With Nalini and Nayana gone, he would have plenty of time to study the reports before meeting the Director.
Raghu crossed the Delhi-NOIDA flyover, made a neat loop and turned into the Main Dadri Road. He was too distracted to notice the vehicle that had been following him for a while. His car suddenly veered to a side as he reached a turn on the road.
Cursing, he got down and inspected the tyres. The right rear tyre was sitting flat on the road with a thick metal nail lodged in it. It was not the best of times to deal with a flat tyre. He kicked the tyre angrily and chided himself for not heeding Nalini's advice to replace the worn tyre.
The road was deserted, except for a laden truck that lumbered down the road and disappeared around the bend. The puncture couldn't have come at a worse time. Totally spent after the long day and exhausting drive, all he wanted to do was to hit the sack.
Shrugging his shoulders wearily, Raghu went to work. He switched on the parking lights, loosened the lug nuts and jacked up the car. From the car boot, he pulled out the spare tyre and began fixing it on the hub.
The officer had barely begun tightening the hub nuts when a truck loomed up in the distance. Driving speedily, the vehicle thundered towards Raghu's car, ignoring the blinking parking lights and his desperately flailing arms. Blinded by the blazing headlights, the Colonel shielded his eyes and shouted.
His words were lost in the loud noise as the heavy truck rammed into him. It ran over the officer, crushing him under the wheels and damaging the car. Minutes later, the driver sped off without pausing to see the damage caused by the collision. Raghu's body lay spread-eagled on a corner of the road with a pool of blood increasing steadily around it. Bizarrely, one of the parking lights of his wrecked car continued to blink faithfully.
A tiny news item on the City Page of the local newspaper announced the death of a retired army officer in a hit and run accident on the Dadri road. It added that the police were trying to trace the errant vehicle.