The Dust Will Never Settle

The Dust Will Never Settle

 

 

 

MUKUL DEVA

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to those millions of people
the world over, whose lives have been disrupted by
the senseless violence that mankind is so fond of
inflicting on itself.

Author’s Note

T
his book is a work of fiction although some of the events mentioned here may have actually taken place.

All the characters, countries, places and organizations described or mentioned in this book are fictitious or have been fictitiously used and any resemblance to any place, organization, country or person, living or dead, is absolutely unintentional.

In several cases, artistic license has been taken with the places mentioned in the book, distances between places and the general topography.

In order to prevent an actual attack being carried out on any monument or building, the location and layout of all monuments and hotels mentioned in this book have been suitably altered. Similarly the security arrangements of all places have been fictitiously described.

The technical details of the various weapon systems, the specifications and methodologies of bomb making and weaponry, as well as the tactics and security procedures employed by any police, military, intelligence organization, and/or militant organization, as also all criminal, forensic and investigative procedures, have been deliberately kept slightly vague, inaccurate and/or incomplete, once again to prevent any misuse, accidental or otherwise.

There is no slur or malice intended against any religion, race, caste, creed, nation, organization or people.

Preface

O
f all the books I have written, this is the one that gave rise to many conflicts within me. With every page I wrote or person I interviewed, I felt a strange, almost irresistible, emotional connection developing between the characters in the book and me.

I must also confess that with the success of the
Lashkar
series, I await reader and media response to this book with some anxiety. This pressure has also been instrumental in ensuring I’ve put my heart and soul into this book, so that it lives up to, if not surpasses, the praise received by the previous ones.

While researching and writing this story it became clear to me that race, region and religion notwithstanding, the human race has displayed an amazing and inexplicable proclivity for violence. This is despite the fact that we facetiously call ourselves an
intelligent
life form. Any species that is willing to kill so easily can scarcely be considered intelligent by any yardstick.

We, as individuals, teach our children the virtues of caring and sharing, yet as nations and religious groups show so little tolerance for others. That is why guns continue to roar, bombs go off everyday and the dust never settles.

Mukul Deva

‘Negotiate as if there was no war and fight as if there was no negotiation.’

– Menachem Begin

Day One

S
he blinked as she emerged from the aircraft into the bright Sri Lankan sunlight. Though it was still early in the day, the light was harsh. As were the thoughts clashing in her head. Lowering her wraparound shades over her big, almond-shaped eyes, she paused at the top of the stairs and surveyed Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport.

Stark brown fields with intermittent patches of green stretched beyond the barbed-wire fence ringing the runway. Scattered along the fencing were security posts with tall, searchlight-mounted sentry towers, grim reminders of the insurgency that had torn apart the island state.

Barring the odd airport vehicle and the luggage trolleys snaking around, the runway was devoid of life. An air of despondency hung over it. She shivered, trying to shake it off.

As she descended towards the bus waiting to take passengers to the squat yellow terminal, she saw a Finnair jetliner swoop down like a hawk, its blue and white logo sparkling in the sun. She heard a distant thud, followed by the smoky blistering of rubber as the jet’s wheels made contact with the tarmac. The roar of engines faded as it vanished down the runway.

It was a short walk to the bus, but she could already feel sweat in her armpits. After the London chill, the heat annoyed her, causing her to hurry into the air-conditioned comfort of the bus. It did not take long for the bus to fill up. Soon they were on their way. Almost everyone was switching on mobiles, several were already in animated conversation. The young girl standing beside her had tuned out the world with her iPod and was swaying to a silent beat.

With practised eyes, she scanned her surroundings. She had done this many times during the flight, but conditioned by her training, she did it again. Her danger antennae remained quiet. Nothing seemed out of sync. Yet.

Those who did not know her would have assumed she was just another thirty-something attempting to mask her femininity, although the shapeless, almost masculine clothing did little to conceal her breasts and voluptuous figure.

The baggy black jeans and equally loose, full-sleeved blue cotton shirt would let her swing into action if the need arose. She never wore skirts or dresses on the job; they were not practical, and did not quite suit the male-dominant world she worked in. Besides, skirts and dresses were not designed to carry the armoury of an MI6 agent, which comprised a cell phone, a BlackBerry, a weapon, spare magazines and, very often, a secure digital radio. Nor could they conceal her backup, the .22 pistol in her ankle holster.

Today, of course, she was weaponless. Also missing was the protective, standard issue Kevlar vest. She felt naked, the feeling intensified by her hyped up state. She tucked away a strand that had come loose from her neatly pinned-back hair. Black patent leather loafers completed her attire. The one-inch heels and rubber soles ensured she could move swiftly and soundlessly. She wore virtually no make-up. She always dressed down on a job.

As the bus screeched to a halt outside the terminal, she jumped out and headed for the immigration counters. She carried herself with the ease of a professional soldier. And she knew she looked good. The number of heads that turned as she walked past confirmed this.

While waiting in line at immigration, she ran through her operational checklist. She could not afford any mistakes. Time was short and there was a great deal to be done.

Nothing in her demeanour gave away the turmoil in her mind. No one who observed her could imagine the immensity of the mission she was on. Not that she was dismayed by the obstacles that lay in her path – far from it. Though she did wish she’d been able to run a detailed background check on her targets and adversaries before leaving London. But time had been short. Despite that, she felt ready and committed.

‘Never forget your purpose in life. You’re our weapon of vengeance,’ her mother Rehana’s words echoed in her head. ‘Never forget the blood your family has shed. Never forget what we have suffered, are continuing to suffer. No matter what, you must not let our sacrifice go to waste.’

For a moment, the memory of her mother made her falter. The sight of her shattered, decimated body ripped at her heart. But it was a fleeting lapse.

All these years she had prayed for the day she would finally strike down those who had inflicted misery on her people. And now the day of reckoning was almost at hand. Ten days more and she would demolish the Israeli–Palestinian Peace Summit.

Ruby Gill strode forward. Eager. Focused. Nothing would stop her. She knew.

Ravinder Singh Gill, the tall, lean Inspector General of Police and head of the Indian Anti-Terrorist Task Force, was on his way to his third-floor office at the Delhi Police Headquarters. Conscious he needed the exercise, Ravinder went past the elevators and took the stairs.

Though well past fifty, the years had been kind on him. With a neatly tied turban, flecks of grey dotting his moustache and beard, he cut a dashing figure in black pants, a sky-blue shirt and patent leather shoes. A Mont Blanc pen peeped out of his breast pocket. Black cufflinks embossed with the family’s double-headed lion crest completed his attire. The lion had one paw raised, ready to strike. It resonated with his mood.

His day had begun with the never-ending mother– daughter discussion about marriage. It was all they talked about ever since Jasmine’s twenty-second birthday. It took only minutes for the discussion to degenerate into an acrimonious harangue. Today had been no exception. Ravinder was in a sour mood when he left the breakfast table and headed here.

He sensed that the day was not going to get better when he came out and saw the driver changing a tyre on his Scorpio SUV.

‘Sorry, sir,’ the man called out when he saw Ravinder emerge. ‘There must have been nails on the road near the metro construction site. Both front tyres are punctured.’

‘How long will it take?’

‘About half an hour, sir.’

‘Damn! I am in a rush!’

‘Why don’t you use our car?’ Ravinder’s wife Simran called from the door. ‘I will send the Scorpio when it is fixed.’

‘I guess I will,’ Ravinder replied, looking at the black BMW 750 Li parked in the porch. Jagjit Singh, the family driver, in his bright red turban and pristine white uniform complete with the family crest, was polishing it. Simran loved these royal trappings and ensured they were displayed wherever possible. Ravinder, however, preferred to downplay his wealth and royal background, which was not easy when he was being driven around in a spanking new Beamer. He got into the car and they took off.

As he entered his office, Ravinder dragged his fingers back along his temples, trying to push away a budding headache. The phone rang and he reached for it, relieved to have something intrude on his dark mood.

‘Gill?’ The Indian Home Minister Raj Thakur’s nasal, raspy tone was unmistakable. It felt jarring, which Ravinder thought wryly, went well with the man’s personality. Though this assignment was new to him – the previous ATTF Chief ’s heart had suddenly given up on him – Ravinder had already had some disturbing meetings with the minister. Raj Thakur was not an easy man to like, nor an easy boss.

Though clueless about security, Raj Thakur had a know-all’s self-confidence which, coupled with his belligerence and an eagerness to interfere in operational matters, could be dangerous. In their brief association, Thakur had already countermanded several orders given by Ravinder, mostly without bothering to inform him. Consequently, Ravinder now felt he was walking on eggshells, always peering over his shoulder, wondering what would hit him next.

Still not fully settled into his new role, and with his responsibility for the security of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Summit and the Delhi Commonwealth Games weighing on him, Ravinder wished he had a more reasonable boss. And he was not the only one. Even the Prime Minister was said to be concerned, but was forced to give Thakur the Home portfolio to keep his majority in Parliament intact.

So be it.
Ravinder consoled himself. As a professional cop, what choice did he have but to go with whatever the dice threw up? With only ten days left for the Peace Summit
and
the Commonwealth Games to kick off, he had more concrete issues to deal with.

‘Good morning, sir.’

‘I want you to come to my office, Gill. Immediately. I now have all the updates for the Peace Summit.’

‘Right, sir.’ Ravinder, with a mountain of urgent tasks to attend to, wished he could tell him to fuck off. ‘I will be there,’ he checked his watch; it was a good one-hour drive to South Block, where the minister’s office was, ‘by eleven.’

‘Do that,’ Thakur commanded brusquely, ‘And bring Mohite with you.’

As Ravinder replaced the phone, with a cursory knock, Deputy Inspector General of Police Govind Mohite walked in. Though not tall, Mohite had a well-muscled body. He was impeccably dressed in dark khaki trousers, a matching earth-coloured cotton shirt and brown suede shoes.

‘You have a long life, Govind. I was about to call you. The home minister wants us right away.’

‘I know, sir. He called me half an hour ago.’ Mohite gave a wide grin.

‘But I just got off the phone with him.’ The words were out before Ravinder could rein them in. He felt like kicking himself.

‘Oh, you know how Thakur sahib is…’ Mohite pronounced the ‘sahib’ with an elongated double-a sound, the way Maharashtrians tend to. ‘He likes to sound me out about everything. You see, we became close when he was in the Maharashtra cabinet and I was in the Mumbai Special Crimes Unit.’

Ravinder heard him ramble on about what a great chap Thakur was, something Mohite was prone to doing. He wondered if Mohite knew what the meeting was about and contemplated asking him, but shelved the thought. It would give out the wrong signal. Ravinder was aware that Mohite was gunning for his job and he needed to watch his back, considering Mohite’s chumminess with the minister. There had been rumours that the two had been in cahoots in several questionable deaths of members of a particular crime mob. It had raised a lot of media speculation, including insinuations that the murders had been carried out at the behest of another mob boss in Dubai and that large sums of money had exchanged hands. Ravinder shrugged. Whatever the connection, he knew it would be nasty. Since his predecessor had checked out without a formal and detailed handover, Ravinder also knew he needed both his primary lieutenants, of whom Mohite was one, till he had settled in properly.

‘You are travelling in style today,’ Mohite remarked when he saw the Beamer. ‘Might as well come with you,’ Without waiting for a reply, he told his driver to follow and hopped into the back seat of Ravinder’s car.

‘Why bring your car if you’re coming in mine?’ Ravinder asked. ‘Why not save some gas?’

‘Oh, just in case we need to come back separately afterwards.’ Mohite waved airily. ‘Thakur sahib might ask me to stay on. He likes to consult me on many things.’

‘Right.’ Ravinder kept the sarcasm out of his voice. Not that it mattered; Mohite was oblivious.

Tuning out Mohite’s non-stop banter, Ravinder’s thoughts returned to the meeting. The sudden summons had caught him unawares. He felt worried.

When Ruby emerged from immigration, her accomplice was waiting near the baggage carousel.

Over six feet tall, the over-sized Mark Leahy occupied an unfair amount of space. Also in jeans and a cotton shirt, his sand-coloured hair was closely cropped and his skin was leathery from having spent most of his life outdoors.

They had travelled on the same flight, but unlike Ruby, he looked rested and refreshed. Not surprising, since he was unaffected by her emotional state.

Good!
Ruby smiled.
At least one of us is cool.
She sure as hell was not.

‘Feeling distraught is normal when one has been subjected to severe trauma,’ the agency shrink had told her when she had returned to London after Rehana’s funeral. Ruby’s erratic behaviour had prompted her boss to send her for therapy post-haste. ‘There is not much you can do about it. Just be aware that your mind may wander and try to control it. Everyone has a different way of processing grief. This is your way.’

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