mystery story set in an hour and thirty minutes: written for a short story contest...
10:15 pm. The LCD of my wrist watch lit up in the half darkness like a large firefly. I looked around. The road looked as deserted as a burial ground. Behind me, steam issued from under the hood of my Santro. There was no light nearby as far as I could see, and the pitch darkness of the roadside trees was almost harsh to the eyes. 10:15 pm. And I must be at least an hour and a half away from Noida.
I tried my cell phone for fifteen futile minutes. “Damn!” there was no signal. I began searching the road for some hope. Not a single car had passed since I had stopped. As if waiting for my cue, a light appeared at the distance and gradually distinguished itself into the headlights of an approaching car. It showed no response to my outstretched hand. Already tired out of the eerie silence surrounding me, I stepped out in front of the speeding vehicle. The car screeched to a stop, almost at my feet. It was a white Honda Civic.
“Oy! Go and get killed under someone else’s car!”
A head poked out of the driver’s window and looked furiously at me. His rashness surprised me, but I explained myself.
“I need your help sir. My car is broken down and I need to get to Noida soon”, I beckoned at the steaming mess behind me. The driver gave me a suspicious look, but bit back any retort at the sight of the 500 rupee note I held out to him.
”I’ll pay for your trouble.” I said.
“Ok, ok. Get in.”, he said finally. I grabbed my bag and jumped in beside him.
The car was soon speeding down the highway, which was deserted except for the occasional truck or carrier. I chanced a glance at my benefactor. A beard and massive sunglasses hid most of his huge, ruddy face. “Who wears goggles in the night?” I thought to myself. He had a massive frame which looked even more intimidating due to his bushy eyebrows and moustache.
“So, where do you live in Noida?”. His booming attempt at a conversation made me jump.
“New friend’s colony” I replied.
“Oh, really? I happen to be living at New Friend’s Colony too! Convenient, eh?”
I smiled. I looked at the man intently. His dressing sense was rather rough for an owner of a Civic. Nor was his behavior polished. He smelled slightly of alcohol. I felt nervous.
“……I run a small firm there. You know, about printing presses? I deal in those. Nailed a really good deal today. How about we stop by for a drink on the way, eh? Celebrate a bit, whaddaya say?”
But, he did not look like a business man. There had been an article in the newspaper about a gang operating on the highways around Delhi who carjacked expensive cars and looted unarmed victims. The police had cautioned against locals going on late night journeys. Maybe, there was something to heed in those warnings.
“There’s a gas station ahead. We’ll stop there for a few minutes. I need to refuel”, the stranger piped up. “Let’s catch our drink there.”
At the petrol station, the man excused himself to the toilet, leaving me with the car. The service guy was busy filling the car up. I got out of the car and bought a cola. Sipping and stretching, I glanced at my watch. Another half an hour before we get to Noida. I strolled back to the car and peeped into the backseat. A leather bag caught my eye, stuffed under the seat below my own bag. I looked around to check, and out of curiosity, pulled it out and unzipped it. It was filled with about a dozen bundles of 1000 rupee notes, along with what looked like various deeds. I hurriedly zipped it shut and shoved it back inside. Taking a long sip, I shrugged off the ominous feeling that kept creeping at me. The stranger came back in a couple of minutes and beckoned me for a drink.
“Can we just get on with the journey? I am somewhat in a hurry and need to reach home soon.”, I asked. The sooner this journey was over, the better.
“Well, ok. If it’s important.” He shrugged.
Soon we were speeding down the highway again. I was getting more and more nervous and kept glancing at his huge face. My hands felt sweaty and I put them in my pocket. He caught my eye and seemed puzzled.
“What’s the matter? You look shaky.”
“Stop the car.” He seemed surprised at seeing the gun I was leveling to his temple.
“I said STOP THE CAR!” I barked again.
The car screeched to a halt.
My victim fell over in his haste to obey me. The goggles failed to hide the terror in his eyes. I followed him out and pointed my weapon at him.
“Your cell phone and your wallet.”
His shaking hands fished them out of his pants and placed them on my outstretched palm.
“And, how about that?” I glanced fondly at the gold dial of his wrist watch. He took it off hurriedly.
“Have a pleasant night!” I wished him and got into the car. It was a beauty. As I drove off, I looked into the rear view mirror. The huge figure of my fellow traveler was obscured in a cloud of smoke as he kept staring at his now stolen car, unable to comprehend the night’s happenings.
My LCD watch lit up in the half darkness of the car like a large firefly. 11:45 pm
Nice work for one hour thirty minutes!