Jai stumbled onto a murder, while Annie is trying to make sense of the world around her. As they delve deeper to untangle this web, will they be able to unravel the mystery? Presenting first of the three parts of this suspense story, ‘That Girl on the Highway’
His gaze never moved.
Jai was constantly staring at what lay ahead of him. His team was busy, they knew the protocol and were seasoned enough not to wait for instructions from their boss. Jai kept staring, as if a clue would reveal itself. Varun from forensic was standing beside him, “No trace of any strangulation, resistance or mark of any kind. The body is clean.” Jai spoke as if he was in a trance, “Hmm… The killer was known to the subject; he didn’t barge in, but was welcomed. Make arrangements for a post-mortem.”
Jai usually spoke less and when he did, it was all work. The 2BHK luxury apartment in Gachibowli, Hyderabad was currently abuzz with investigators combing every space. It was on the 20th floor with a spectacular aerial view from the balcony. A beautiful Frida Kahlo painting was hanging on the white colored rectangular wall of the drawing room. One side of the room made way to the balcony through a wooden door standing in the middle of wall to wall glass windows on either side. On Jai’s right, just opposite the Kahlo piece, lay the lifeless body of Greg. The house was extremely clean, with not even a speck of dust, nothing, absolutely nothing felt out of place. No sign of struggle on the sofa, which bore the burden of Greg’s body since last night. All the items, the glittering artefact on the centre table, the cutlery on the dining table – everything appeared perfect. Either Greg had OCD, or the killer was just too damn nice.
“Did you read the news today?” Annie was exasperated while Jamie calmly sat in their favourite coffee shop. “You hated him anyhow.” said Jamie. She noticed him being engrossed in the live cricket match on the wall mounted TV. She continued “Yeah, I hated him but still, he was my uncle. I mean, what a coincidence, we were just talking about him a week back and…” “Yes and he deserved this for what he did to you” Jamie interrupted Annie and smiled at her. Her eyes had strayed for a while, but now rested on Jamie once again. There was rage, anger, fire and revenge mixed with love and passion. Though taken aback by his comment on uncle, she was still fixated by his love for her. Jamie wasn’t much of a talker but when he did speak, the whole world fell silent for her. He liked her too, ‘love me back and get married’ kind of a liking.
An urgent meeting had been called. All three of them were sitting in the meeting room, totally confused and unaware of what had transpired. It had been four years since Raghu and Manish had started working on ‘the project’ and Annie had joined the team a year back. None of them had any idea why they were there, till their boss, Vikram entered briskly. There were very few things that bothered Vikram, he was always in control of himself. He had witnessed enough roller coasters in his life and nothing really surprised him. But, today was different, he looked disturbed. The frown on his forehead looked even more exaggerated because of the receding hairline. He sat on his chair, took a sip of water and looked at his team.
Vikram came straight to the point “Guys, our project has been put on hold due to major cost constraints, we have been asked to wait; don’t worry, you all will still be on the payroll with no impact on your job.” Raghu pitched in “This was supposed to be a high-profile project; you went to great lengths to get us on-board and now you want us to wait?” “I don’t understand it,” added Manish “You spent a lifetime on researching this and when we are on the final stage, you let them convince you to shelve the project?” Vikram was quiet, he had expected a rough pushback. It was a team of highly passionate and skilled people that he had been leading, until now. Vikram looked at Annie expectedly, hoping she might support him. She was trying quite hard to maintain her calm. She breathed deeply and in a very concerned tone said, “Vikram, screw the cost. You know the results that we have got can alter a billion lives. We can’t stop now; we have the right momentum.”
“Annie we can’t ignore the cost. Research is expensive. You guys need to remember we are a private research company so funding will always be a concern. Fortunately, the management still considers our work as important and have asked us to wait.”
Disappointed with the news, Raghu and Manish left the room. Annie waited till only Vikram was in the room with her, “What is the truth, Vikram?” He sank in the plush cabin chair, his head throbbing with pain. He rubbed his temples and asked Annie to take a seat, “We have not been able to keep a low profile. The secrecy of our project has been compromised. Before it gets too late, it’s imperative that we wind up, at least for the time being.”
Annie felt dizzy while waking up the next morning. She had been trying to call Jamie but the recorded line said ‘the number did not exist.’ She was totally flummoxed at this, there was no other way to reach out to him. It had been just three months since their first rendezvous at the office parking lot near the Gachibowli Highway. Both felt the connect instantly. The engrossing discussions over coffee, innumerable dinners after office and much awaited weekend plans had made her grow extremely fond of him. Like her, even he didn’t have any family to rely on. Annie was still in the flashback mode when it dawned upon her, that, she hardly knew anything about Jamie. She did not know anything about his past. She was always overworked and very lonely. The need of having someone around her, had overcome all the logical reasoning.
Anxiety started to build up as she realized, Jamie was the only person who knew about ‘the project’. He never spoke much, but was always a keen listener, thought Annie.
It was the third day since her project went on ‘stand-by’. She stayed put in her apartment, all alone. “Is it a mere coincidence that Jamie went off the grid since the news in office? Does he know something which I don’t?” Just then her phone rang, the voice on the other side made her very uncomfortable. “Hello Ms. Annie, I am Senior Inspector Jai from Telangana Police, Crime department. I am investigating on a case related to your uncle’s death, Mr. Greg, we need to ask a few questions.” Annie stood frozen, she wanted to speak but her vocal chords did not allow. She was breathing heavily; her body was shaking as froth oozed from her mouth. “Why is he talking to me? Was uncle Greg involved in something? Do they know something about Jamie? Why am I feeling so dazed, is there something wrong with my body?” A lot went through her head, and she wasn’t used to this experience before. She felt stiff for a moment and fell down with a loud gasp.
The sun streamed down from the window, it was a wonderful day outside. Jai didn’t bother observing the day, or analysing the beeps of equipment around him, or the serene, beautiful face in front of him. Even if it looked like Jai was lost in thoughts, that was far from the truth. The sharp and alert cop was processing all the information that he had accumulated about Greg’s murder. He kept staring at the hospital bed, as if looking for clues. His gaze altered when he heard a small creak originating from the bed. It was Annie, she was finally awake.
“Good Morning, Ms. Annie, I am Jai, we spoke on the phone last night.” Annie forced a smile on her face and was confused to observe her surroundings. Jai continued “Don’t worry, you are fine now, thankfully you had not put the phone down. I could hear on phone that something was wrong. So we came rushing to your apartment and got you to the hospital.”
“Mr. Jai, as much as I am grateful for your help, do you feel I am fit for questioning now?” asked Annie.
“No, not at all. However, since no one asked for you, neither did anyone come to visit, so I took it as a personal responsibility to take care of you.”
As soon as he said that, Annie remembered Jaime and cringed at the very thought of him. She was still looking for an excuse, she wanted to be left alone. Just then, the doctor entered.
“What is it Doc?” asked Jai. Doctor took Jai aside and replied, “The tests don’t point towards any ailment, physically she is absolutely fit. However, her blood reports show a high residue of Benzodiazepine.”
Jai was still confused “What does it mean?”
“Benzodiazepine is usually taken by patients who face high levels of anxiety.”
As the doctor left, Jai muttered under his breath, ‘Another bloody twist.’ Annie lay there silently, not knowing what to expect next.
“So Ms. Annie, we know that you work for Meta-Code, private research company?”
“What kind of work do you do there?”
“Are you talking about the same project work which got shelved?”
Annie’s heart skipped a beat and she shifted uncomfortably. Her eyes were afraid to meet Jai’s. He pulled his chair close to Annie and said, “Listen Annie, it’s important that you cooperate with us. You should know that I am placed well enough to pull a few strings and get information which you are trying to hide. I am not really keen about walking that path now. Any information that you hide from me means you are withholding proof, making you an aide to the crime. Which I am afraid is good enough to get you jailed for a long time. A. Very. Long. Time.”
Annie gathered some courage to look at him, but she felt weak again. She had seen those eyes before. She had felt the same look before. The same rage, anger and revenge which she could not bear anymore. She started trembling. Her breathing became heavy again, she felt paralysed with shock and she started howling in fear. She saw doctors and nurses rushing to calm her down, but her eyes were still fixed on Jai. As they began loading her on the stretcher, he came close and smiled. She recognized that smile. The smile which she had liked every day, for the past three months.
“Jamie misses you ….” he whispered.
TO BE CONTINUED…
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.