By: Shreesha S Bhat, HED Vizag
The heavens seemed to be furious at the Earth, and poured out their emotions in the form of a cascading downpour. The street leading up to the Mumbai Crime Branch office was almost under waist-deep water, and all one could see of the scores of parked two-wheelers were the handle-bars which protruded out of the water surface like forlorn beasts.
The city had come to a complete shutdown, with the total absence of any mode of transport leaving lakhs of commuters stranded at their workplaces. I was one of the unfortunate ones who had to stay back late long after regular working hours (well, there were practically no such things as regular hours for a Crime Branch officer) only to be greeted by a cloudburst as I was getting ready to leave, which took all night to subside, leaving in its wake several feet of water all over the city. But I had all the reason in the world to be over the moon in joy that bleak morning. I was on the verge of making the biggest arrest of my thirty-year-old career with the Crime Branch. The noose was tightening around Pablo Almeida, and the icing on the cake was that he would not be able to feel it until it had wedged his neck firmly within its fatal loop.
Pablo Almeida was one of the city’s leading businessmen who had as many millions of rupees in his coffers as Mumbai had people. Armed with charismatic good looks inherited from his Portuguese ancestors, he never failed to be the centre of attraction at any social events, and graced both the business sections and Page 3 sections of the newspapers with his presence in equal measure. He had built a vast business empire whose boundaries stretched from real estate to retail markets and from the film industry to aviation. He was easily the most well-known and most sought-after celebrity in the city.
But hidden beneath this charming façade was the face of a cold-blooded assassin: over the past decade, Almeida’s growth to glory had been achieved by his ruthless elimination of business rivals and anybody else who dared stand in his path. What was more appalling about the murders was the fact that unlike a typical businessman who wanted to bump off a rival, he never had hired contract killers: he had executed the murders himself, personally. The crime branch had enough material to attribute about a dozen murders to him, but had been unable so far to garner evidence concrete enough to force an arrest itself, let alone a conviction in court.
I had been the lead investigator in nine of those dozen murders, and had suffered the agony of watching my quarry evade the law as easily as he would eat a sandwich. He was fully aware that the crime branch was always on his hot pursuit, hence his murders were so meticulously planned that there was always more evidence denying his involvement than whatever we had been able to collect. It was either somebody who had had a business meeting with him in New Delhi at the exact time of the murder; or had dinner with him at the Oberoi, or was playing golf at Amby Valley. Apart from these alibis there would be restaurant receipts and club member registers which provided undeniable evidence that he was not within a hundred miles from the crime scene when the murder had taken place. Every time he evaded the law was like a stab right into my heart. I had borne nine stab wounds so far, and I was sure a tenth would kill me.
But this time I had hit paydirt: I had advance information about his next murder. He was going to kill Govind Zariwala, a jewellery tycoon, the following Tuesday evening. This was absolute, unquestionable information which I had been able to lay hands on after a lot of blackmail and threats issued to Almeida’s closest aide, who had seen the handcuffs tightening around his arms and had agreed to turn an informer for the police to escape a long sentence for his illegal activities. It had been just the opportunity I had been waiting for.
I was going to make sure that this time Almeida would go straight to the gallows, even if the means I was going to employ to achieve this were not ethical by a long distance: I was going to allow him to murder Zariwala, capture the murder on video, gather a lot more evidence and throw him behind bars, and the evidence would be so strong that even a rookie lawyer would be able to prove his guilt in court.
My partner in this planning was my deputy Kadam, whom I had managed to convince that this was the right thing to do. “If we provide police protection to Zariwala, you can still be rest assured that Almieda will still get him some day or the other, and we’ll be left watching him get cleanly out of it. If we do this my way, we may be sending somebody to his death but we can avoid future deaths! Zariwala is a sacrifice which we’re making to ensure that there are no further victims, and we’ll also be delivering justice to his twelve previous victims. Any other way is going to fail; Almeida will just get away and continue to murder as he pleases. And I do NOT want to spend my retired life thinking how I failed to arrest a murderer.”
Kadam had fallen into my reasoning and had agreed to play along. Sitting in my office through the deluge outside, we had made our final draft of the plan. There would be dozens of high-definition cameras, flown in from Japan, covering his murder from every angle, with sufficient clarity to pre-empt any questions about the identity of the person caught on video.
“How do we explain the existence of these cameras in his bedroom? Won’t it be obvious then that we knew in advance that the murder was going to take place?” Kadam asked.
“That is easy. We cook up something like Zariwala being suspicious that his wife was cheating on him, so had installed cameras to gather evidence against her. You can think of a lot more stories.”
“But there is again going to be some alibi.”
“We’ll make sure there is enough evidence to prove that he was going towards the crime scene: right from the time he leaves his house, all the way to Zariwala’s residence where he’ll be murdering him.”
“Almeida stays at Hiranandani in Powai, and Zariwala in Worli.”
“So we should be able to prove that Almeida was in Powai until a particular time, then was heading towards Worli, and all the way to Zariwala’s residence. You know, record the time when
Almieda leaves his home, make him fill fuel at a certain fuel station on the Western Expressway, then make sure he takes the Bandra – Worli sea link and pays the toll, capture him on the CCTV camera of the toll booth, and record the time when he enters the building where Zariwala stays. Thus we’re setting up a trail of evidence that he was on his way to the crime scene and not to some resort in Lonavala when the murder was committed.”
“A few seconds after he kills Zariwala, we jump into the scene and arrest him.”
“How do we explain our presence there seconds after the murder? Why couldn’t it be a few seconds before the murder?”
“We had information that Almeida was up to something, so we were tailing him, but were too late to avert the tragedy. When we entered the apartment he had already killed Zariwala. Too bad.”
We spent the next several hours looking for loopholes in the plan, and when we reached the stage where we could not find any, we wound up the planning session. Now all we had to do was to wait for the following Tuesday.
Tuesday arrived not a day too soon, but we had all arrangements in place. It had been easy to install the cameras in Zariwala’s bedroom, as he was away at Ahmedabad on some business, and his wife was away visiting her parents. The domestic help had all been sent on a week’s leave. Zariwala was scheduled to arrive in Mumbai that afternoon, and was going to head straight to his residence to grab some rest. To help us with the entire operation, we had enlisted some rookie agents, causing them to believe they were on a training mission.
That evening, after we had confirmation of Zariwala having arrived at the airport, we turned our attention to Almeida, who left his apartment at around 10 pm. As he was leaving the housing complex, an agent stopped him. “Sir, could you please sign this document which records the time of your departure from here?”
“Why?” he demanded.
“It’s a matter of national security, sir. We have information that terrorists have entered Mumbai and are planning another 26/11-type of attack, and all we know about them are that they’re driving a silver Honda Civic. So we’re keeping a note of everybody we can find driving a silver Civic.”
“Oh. I’m always happy to co-operate. Where do I sign?”
“Here, sir. And if I can have your licence I’ll just affix a photocopy along with this, so that we don’t have to bother you with this again in the future.”
“Sure.” He handed over his driver’s licence, which was promptly photocopied and attached to the document along with Almeida’s signature. He drove on, unsuspicious.
The next checkpoint was a fuel station on the Western Expressway in Andheri. That afternoon, an agent had leaked out the fuel from Almeida’s fuel tank, thus making sure he would have to stop at this station. As he drove in and had his tank refilled, another agent posing as a worker at the fuel station walked up to the Civic.
“Sir, we have an offer which will get you a 60% discount on your fuel if you make the payment using an ICICI Titanium card. Wouldn’t you wish to avail this facility?”
“60%? What’s the catch here?”
“There isn’t any catch, sir. It’s just a promotional offer for a Titanium card which has been launched recently by ICICI bank.”
“Cool. Here you go.” He handed out his card, and the payment was recorded.
Further down the way, Almeida was informed by another agent that the highway was closed due to an accident, and the only way towards Worli was the sea link.
“The sea link would require me to take a detour. That’s not where I want to go.”
“I’m sorry, sir. The sea link is the only way to Worli.”
Almieda turned towards the sea link and paid the toll at the entrance, and the CCTV camera recorded him driving past. Any other assassin would have developed cold feet by then, looking at the trail he was lighting up all along the way. But Almeida’s ruthlessness was matched only by his audacity: it was this part of his character on which we had based our plans. Almeida would never be scared off by some agents collecting his personal information. Even if he had been caught at the crime scene, he would simply claim that he was just visiting his close friend Zariwala, and had been shocked to find him dead. He would probably commit the murder and inform the police soon after about finding the body. But there was no way how he could expect to have a dozen Japanese cameras capturing his act.
After a few minutes, he reached Worli, and headed straight to Zariwala’s residence. By then we had concealed ourselves carefully in his bedroom, which was adorned by a giant bed on which Zariwala was enjoying what would be his last sleep. The lighting in the room was dim but enough for the cameras to get a clear view of the murderer’s face.
We held our breath as Almeida entered the bedroom. He calmly walked up to the bed, took out his gun from his pocket, attached a silencer to its barrel, and shot thrice at the sleeping Zariwala point-blank. We waited for a few more seconds, and then burst on the scene yelling “Police! Put down your weapon! Freeze!”
* * *
The media, starved of any ‘breaking news’ over the past few days, had a field day the next day. The sensational arrest of one of the city’s most high-profile businessmen had made the anchors and the reporters go berserk, and I had shot to celebrity status. To ensure the public support was on the right side, I had leaked the video footage to one of my close aides in the media, and the face of the cold-blooded murderer was now being splashed all over the scores of news channels.
The world would soon have one criminal less. Watching Almieda hang would be the perfect retirement present for me. The media glory was the icing on the cake. I could now write a book about my life with the crime branch. It was already a bestseller even before I had planned to write it. I would also probably land some movie deals, as special adviser for some cop movie or something like that. There would be a biopic made on me. I would insist that none other than Nana Patekar would play my role. I could host a TV show like Crime Patrol – which would have more authenticity, being hosted by an ex-cop. After all, I was the supercop who had nailed one of the most dangerous criminal who had roamed the city freely for years.
My deputy Kadam woke me up from my reverie. “Here’s the autopsy report on Zariwala.”
I burst out laughing. “Oh yeah! I’d love that. Oh, on second thoughts, I just realized I had witnessed the murder taking place right in front of my eyes! Why on earth would I care for the autopsy report.”
“I think you should look at it.” Kadam was adamant.
“What the hell for? You read it out to me, if you’re so keen on it.”
“It indicates Zariwala committed suicide.”
“Kadam, I know your sense of humour is pathetic, so spare me these stupid jokes.”
“Zariwala overdosed himself with some drug and went to sleep in his apartment. Death occurred at about 8 pm. We now have video evidence which shows Almeida turning up there three hours after Zariwala’s death, and shooting thrice at a dead body. I don’t know what shooting at a dead body amounts to, but there’s no way we’re going to get a conviction for murder. Not even manslaughter. Maybe nothing at all, considering the best criminal lawyers of the country will be defending Almeida.”