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Book: The Captive
The Captive is one of finest attempts by Lavanya Nukavarapu at writing a brilliantly engaging and teeth clattering crime/suspense thriller. From the plot of the book, to the setting and the characters- everything in this book keeps you engaged and hooked for more.

PROLOGUE


CLING...CLANG...CLING...CLANG...was the only sound she heard in that dark room. A high watt bulb was suspended in the center of the room which was the only source of light in the entire room. A toilet seat was fixed to one end of the wall, with a tissue paper stand next to it. On the other side of the toilet seat was a hook, to which was fastened a metallic chain, the other end of which was locked onto her ankle. The rattle of the chain resonated through the bereft and cracked walls of the room. There was a small wash basin a few steps away from the toilet seat, attached to the same wall. The room was small and there were absolutely no windows. Just a door locked from the outside.

 

Her movement was restricted, but she could lie on the bed, and she could reach the toilet seat and the wash basin. She wanted to splash some water on her face in the basin, but the water pipe of the basin was broken. So she spat in the basin. She did that whenever she felt scared, angry or terrified. Or after she was hit or punched on her face, by her captors. She was unable to reach out to the planked wooden door, neither the opposite wall facing her bed nor the adjacent side wall.

 

Today, she was bleeding. It was now 20 days that she had been in captivity. It was time for her periods. She needed sanitary napkins. She was eagerly waiting for food and water to be brought out to her, so that she can ask for the napkins.

 

And there he was. She was given a fresh towel, a bucket of water, napkins and a bundle of tissues. She also got a fresh dress, a short pale cream gown like a hospital dress which fit her loose, leaving her legs bare below her knees. He left her, placing these items within her reach.

 

The hot water rub on her body felt like heaven, as her muscles and nerves relaxed. After she was done rubbing her body with the towel wrap, she slid into the cream gown and coiled on the floor, like a baby in the womb. There were no tears today. But there was pain. Loads of it. So much had already been felt, that her body had become numb to the pain. Maybe she was getting accustomed to it, and to the idea that there will be more. There was no escape.

 

She stared at the wooden roof. Twenty days she had spent in this dark, shabby room, staring at the ceiling. How had she survived for so long? And how much more could she survive? With her bleeding, she wouldn’t survive for long now. There was a 90 percent chance that she would be killed anytime soon.

 

As her eyes lingered on the wooden ceiling, a piece of wood caught her attention. She wanted to have a closer look. She moved her bed a bit to the front. There was a plastic stool, which she placed on the bed. She tested and realized that her chain was long enough for her to climb on the stool and reach out to the ceiling. A low-level ceiling, and she was 5’7”. She stood on her toes and managed to separate out a loose fragment of wood.

 

An unexpected burst of moonlight hit her face. She saw the shining stars through the small opening. It felt divine to have a breath of fresh air, and to see that filament of light, the sky, and the stars. It was the first time in twenty days that she saw another light apart from the bulb in her room. She slept on the floor and stared at the sky through the small opening with the piece of wood that she pulled out lying next to her.

 

And then she had an idea. She did not have much time. She had to do it fast. Before he came. Resting one arm on the top of the bed, she scraped the small wooden piece against the metal of the bed with the other hand. She did not stop until one end of it was sharp enough to cut someone badly, and if applied with proper force, it was sufficient to kill someone instantaneously.


CHAPTER - 1


She waited with the sharpened tool squeezing the splinter of the wood tightly in her hand, and hoping it was enough to tear through his throat. She continued to stare at the stars twinkling through the small opening in the ceiling.

 

What are stars? They are just balloons of gas. They are hollow and dying. Is it the fear of dying or the desire to live? Which of those was stronger? Which one has kindled the flame to fight back and to burn like the stars? And could it mean that I would die soon, too?

 

She was burning within. This was a different burning, this was not the burn of pain, not the burn of helplessness, and certainly not the burn of her insides splitting into a million parts, and being aware of all those parts aching at the same time. This was not even the burn of her dignity. This feeling was different, this was the flame of hope, and this was the flame of courage.

 

The sound of the key turning in the lock, broke the chain of her thoughts. She held on to the sharpened wooden splinter tightly, her weapon, and possibly, her savior. In her mind, she deliberated over the details. She had only one chance, and she had to kill him in one blow. Now was the time. She would have to apply all her force in thrusting the sharp edge into his neck in such a way that either of the jugular vein or carotid artery or the windpipe is damaged.

 

Two years before, she’d worked as a volunteer with a relief organization for aiding the drought-affected victims in a remote village in Rajasthan. There were riots in the village for the food and water supplies, and a villager’s throat had been slit in the conflict. She had learned from the doctor at a relief camp treating that villager, about how lucky he had been, and how a severe slit of the nerves, situated at the periphery of the neck could be fatal.

 

The captor walked in, wearing the usual mask. Was he early? He never came at this time? It was still night. But it would be dawn soon. She had spent all night sharpening the wood against the metal edge of the bed. He was now inside the room and just a few inches away from her bed. He beckoned her with his index finger pointing to the floor. She walked to him, the sound of the metal against the floor reverberating in the room. She walked slowly with her hands at the back. This was her opportunity.

 

And when she got close to him, she moved like lightning to push the sharp edge of the wooden piece into the periphery of his neck, with all her strength. She continued to push it in, with all her might.

 

The captor went into a state of shock. He hadn’t expected the girl to fight back. He tried to grab her and hurt her, but it was too late. The wooden piece had severed a vein, and it was too deep in his neck now. He tried to remove the piece of wood. Instead he crumbled on the floor, screaming in pain. Her face was sprinkled with blood, a shower-burst from his neck.

 

Watching him collapse on the floor, she quickly searched his pockets for the keys. Her hands were shaking, and her heart was running at a thousand miles. Freeing herself with the key, she ran out of the room, taking with her the bunch of keys she had found in his pocket. She wanted to see his face, the face of her molester, but there was no time for that.

 

What if he is not dead and only injured? What if he grabbed her by the neck and throttled her to death?

 

She ran out into the hall, another shabby room that had a little more furniture and another high watt bulb hanging, and next to it, was a kitchen with a sink, a table and a few glasses and vessels. She ran to open the main door. She had to try two keys before the third one fit. The door opened to a grass field and twinkling stars. She saw wild grass everywhere.

 

What kind of place was this? Far away, secluded from any main road or a highway.

 

She ran for her life, like a feeble deer being hunted. She ran for a while, and then followed a mud track. She kept running, even with aches in her legs, and cramps in her stomach. She kept going until she found a dirt road. A few yards further, she saw brick houses. She couldn’t have stopped the smile that appeared on her pale face, if she wanted to.

 

A few more yards. A few more steps. She reminded herself.

 

The night was fading out. Daylight pierced the night sky, sprinkling red and orange shades everywhere.

 

*****

 

She stopped in front of a mud house, where a woman was sweeping the front of her house. The woman hadn’t as yet noticed the strange girl standing in front of her house, until a low moan of ‘HELP’ reached her ears. She dropped the broom and rushed to the wounded girl, just as the girl fell unconscious on the floor.

 ‘Oh God! There is a girl who fell down in front of our house! Is she dead?’ She shouted and called for her husband and son who were sleeping in the house. Hearing the screams, they jumped out of their beds, confused about the early morning commotion.

 

Tara Devi couldn’t stop her tears. The girl was in a battered condition. Her thighs were exposed, and the gown she was wearing wasn’t enough to cover her thighs. The back of the dress was drenched with blood. One of her ankles had black marks, as if she was chained. She had bruises all over the visible parts of her body. Her face was injured gravely and she probably lost one or two teeth. Her lips were black and swollen.

 

Tara Devi wondered about the invisible wounds, and it made her cry more. She quickly wrapped the girl in a blanket. Manjit Singh, her husband, carried the girl inside the house, and laid her gently on the verandah floor, while their son dialed 108 and then 100. The ambulance took a full forty minutes to reach and the police took thirty minutes. Tara Devi sprinkled water on the girl’s face, but the girl did not wake up. She prayed to God that the girl would somehow stay alive, at least until the ambulance arrived. They stayed far away from the town, and she hoped the distance wouldn’t kill the girl.

 

A few more minutes. Please. Don’t give up. Please. Tara Devi prayed for the girl, caressing her forehead and also cursing the sinners who caused such pain to the girl.

 

The police interrogated the husband, the wife, and the son. Tara Devi and her family told the police all that they knew. They didn’t know who she was. She just appeared in front of their house in the shape that she was in. And then she blacked out after whispering ‘HELP’. Minutes later, the ambulance arrived. Tara Devi insisted that she would accompany the girl to the hospital. She couldn’t imagine abandoning her.

 

Tara Devi waited outside the ICU and the operation theatre. She just wanted to be sure that the girl was in safe hands. The operation was in progress when the mother of the girl arrived. The mother held and kissed Tara Devi’s hands, in gratitude. Tara Devi hugged her, who cried in her arms like a little child. She was happy to find her child back. But she was also broken and shattered to find out about her terrible condition.

 

*****

 

When the injured girl opened her eyes, she couldn’t immediately recognize if it was night or day.

 

Run. Run. Run. Her ears rang like an alarm.

What place was this?

 

The injured girl opened her eyes slowly, as her mother took shape in her blurred vision. There were tears in her mother’s eyes, as she sobbed into a handkerchief held at her mouth. She was happy to see her mother’s face after such a long time. She couldn’t remember the last time her mother smiled in between her tears, asking her in a trembling voice, ‘How are you feeling?’

 

The girl did not answer. She just closed her eyes, feeling safe, opening them again to make sure that she wasn’t dreaming. It was not a high watt bulb. It was a tube light now. The ceiling was not wooden but white. It was a cement ceiling. She closed her eyes, slipping slowly into a deep and sound sleep.

 

I am a star. I retained my light. I kept my flame burning. But I am hollow, a balloon of gas.

 

Am I floating?

 

I did it. I am alive. I am safe.

 

Am I?

 


CHAPTER - 2


Dhananjay Bhide, the Sub Inspector in charge for the night was about to wrap up his work in the police station for the day. His mouth started to water, as he remembered the delicious Bhakris his mother would be making for breakfast. His stomach was growling. It was exactly 4.10 a.m. on the old wall clock. His mobile showed 4.13. Forty-seven minutes more to go. It was a quiet night. No accidents. No crime reports. He just wanted his shift to end.

 

And then there it was, a case in the morning hours, just as he was about to leave. A phone call to the control room - Surendra Singh, son of Manjit Singh, had reported that a girl in a battered condition appeared at their doorstep a couple of minutes back. She was probably in her early twenties, and her condition was critical. His parents, Manjit Singh and Tara Devi were attending to the girl. An ambulance had already been called for.

 

Delicious, home-cooked bhakris had to wait - Dhananjay sighed!  Along with two lady constables and another Sub Inspector Ratan Mishra, he took off to the crime scene, the siren of their police van screaming and piercing through the misty dawn.

 

When they reached the spot, the girl in question was wrapped in a blanket, and Tara Devi did all she could do as first aid, but the girl was in an irreparable condition. She needed to be hospitalized immediately. She had lost a lot of blood, making her look pale and dehydrated. Her face looked battered and she smelled of blood. She lay unconscious. A closer look at her triggered his memory instantly.

 

This was Kruthi Shah, daughter of Pooja Shah and late Neeraj Shah, reported missing for the last twenty days by her mother. He would never forget that face. Her photograph was sent to all the police stations in and around Delhi.  He had spent almost ten minutes looking at her picture, and had felt very bad for her.  He had wondered where she was. Was she even alive? What pain was she going through? Was she safe? Was she brutally raped? Was she sold? So many questions cartwheeled in his head, as the brilliant face and luminous eyes in the photograph demanded answers.

 

The main city police station, where the crime was reported, had done their part of the investigation. And they had done it pretty well. The missing girl was, in some indirect way, related to the Commissioner-of-Police and the Commissioner had taken a personal interest in this case. Every detail was being reported to him. The case was also kept highly confidential and no one was allowed to discuss in the open. The respective In-Charge of the police stations reported to the Commissioner directly. All the police stations were alerted, and everyone had done their part. In spite of all this, it seemed like a dead end. The girl hadn’t been found. Some said the girl must have been trafficked out of the country, some said she must be dead and buried somewhere.

 

Dhananjay remembered every detail of the case - Kruthi Shah and her boyfriend had been to a party in a farmhouse on the night of 14th February 2018. They left the party somewhere around 11 p.m., and no one knew what happened after that. Everyone at the party was investigated, the routes checked, and a search party was commissioned too. Nothing. Not even a clue. The car the boy was driving was also not found. Even with the involvement of higher officials, the case seemed to go blank.

 

What Dhananjay could never forget about the photo was the girl’s eyes; brave, intelligent and her smile full of life. She was beautiful, no doubt, but more than that, there was a sparkle in her eyes, the kind that told you that she was a brave soul, and a pure heart. What a waste of her beauty and intelligence, he had felt.

 

She was found in his jurisdiction now, a rural area far from the metro city with acres of barren, unoccupied land, fields and farms. A lot of land was unowned, and even when owned, was deserted. A perfect place to do a crime and hide it. A perfect place to keep someone captive.

 

Tara Devi’s house was at the end of the village. Beyond that, much of it was uninhabited land, acres and acres of wild weeds and grass. It was going to be difficult to find that one house, where she had been kept hidden, in the wild vegetation. He could see that Kruthi ran barefoot - he could retrace her tracks by following the footprints on the mud road, and the blood-spill from her injured foot.

 

The Sub-Inspector and the two lady constables left with the ambulance, while Dhananjay stayed back, waiting for back-up. He decided to do a small search operation of his own, as the detective in him fought to go to work. Dhananjay always liked investigating, researching and the quest for answers thrilled him. It came to him naturally.

 

Along with Manjit Singh, he decided to check out the surrounding area. They’d lose the foot tracks if they didn’t hurry. The traffic, however minimal, the wind and the animals could spoil the girl’s tracks. So he set out with Manjit Singh, on the latter’s bike.

 

The footprints on the mud road were already fading out.  Dhananjay followed the tracks, keeping his focus on the path that the girl had walked. He took photographs of the mud prints through his Redmi mobile. At one point in time, they just disappeared. So here she must have taken the mud road coming out from the wild vegetation. But from which direction?

 

The mud road was surrounded by wild grass and weeds in all four directions. His mobile rang, informing him that a back-up van was almost there. He gave directions to where he was waiting, and with the help of the other police officers, they searched the area.

 

One of the constables shouted, ‘Here.’ Dhananjay ran to the place, to find blood marks on a rock. She must have rested here, he thought. They had a direction now, and a restricted area to focus on. They looked for more blood stains, foot tracks, vehicle tracks.

 

The sun was shining brightly in the sky, making him sweat. Dhananjay wiped the sweat beads from his forehead. No bhakris today, he thought. He wasn’t sure of lunch, too. He had already called his mother to let her know that he would be late.

 

After an hour of searching, they found an old and secluded house in the midst of acres of grass and weeds.

 

Dhananjay led the search party into the dingy and shabby house, with bulbs hanging from the wooden ceiling in the rooms. The door was open, and there was a jeep parked on the other side of the old house. It was an old, rusty jeep, with no number plate. Inside, there were no windows and there were three rooms.

 

In the inner room, there was a metal cot like the ones in prison, a metallic chain with one end bolted to the wall. Next to the hook was a toilet seat. An empty bucket, used paper towels and used clothes lay next to the toilet seat. In the middle of the room, there was a dead body with a pointed tool pierced in the neck. The face was covered in blood, and there was a scattered pool of dried blood all around.

 

Dhananjay immediately called the control room, updated the station officer, and a forensic team was on the way. It was 12 p.m. in the afternoon. He handed over the investigation to another Sub Inspector to leave for the day. He had already briefed everything, how he deliberated and acted quickly to trace the footsteps, and how they found the house.

 

‘Well done.’ A firm voice spoke, as he was briefing his superior. He was introduced to Aryaveer Thakur from the head office, who had been sent to lead the investigation. Both of them shook hands.

 

‘Thank you, Sir.’ Dhananjay replied warmly. He liked Aryaveer instantly. Tall, good physique. He was the kind of Police Officer they showed in the movies, sincere and daring. The sleeves of his shirt barely managed to contain the muscles of his arms.

 

‘Go rest. You have done a lot for today. Will meet you later tonight.’ Aryaveer patted Dhananjay on his back.

 

As he started to walk back to the police car, Aryaveer called out to him - ‘Dhananjay.’

 

Dhananjay stopped and looked back.

 

‘Did you by any chance find any mobile?’

‘No Sir. Why?’

‘Just curious. We would get a lead right away. I heard you were the first one to enter, and you led the entire search.’

 

‘No, Sir. There wasn’t any mobile in the evidence we collected from the house. Everything has been bagged and tagged. They are still sweeping. Hope we find something.’ Dhananjay was too tired to speak.

 

Aryaveer smiled at him, and Dhananjay stepped into the police car. As he moved away from the secluded house, he looked back one more time at the house and prayed that the girl would survive.


CHAPTER - 3

Kruthi Shah was calm and steady. She was still in trauma, but she was doing okay. Her head felt a bit weird, because of the heavy medication and painkillers, but she could think clearly. Her body had several wounds, but her brain was functioning all right.

 

There was a major rupture in her vagina, her pelvic bone was on the verge of breaking, but both were sustained and bound by the doctors. There were several bruises, fractures, and broken ribs. Almost six months to recovery, with surgeries and medicines, and over a year for all the parts to work as a whole, per the doctors.

 

But she would never be the same old Kruthi, would she?

 

A middle-aged man, with golden rimmed spectacles and a shabby uneven beard, was recording all that she was saying. Kruthi had already explained how she had escaped, and how she had thrust the wooden splinter into the kidnapper’s neck, killing him instantaneously. The man was silent all the time. He kept recording. But the woman, who had introduced herself as the C.I.D officer, stared at her while she was answering her questions. Kruthi recognized that look. It was a silent expression of respect for being brave, woman to woman, tete-a-tete, and soul to soul.  The lady officer’s name was Madhuri Mahiwal, the officer in-charge of Kruthi's case. She was assigned after the case was transferred to C.I.D. Kruthi liked her immediately. The officer looked stern and formidable, someone who actually fit the description of Badass.

 

Madhuri Mahiwal spoke in a commanding yet soft and soothing voice, 'Let us go back to the night of 14th Feb 2018. Tell me what happened. And try to be as detailed as possible.'

 

The mere mention of that night, when she was kidnapped, sent cold waves of terror in her body. It was also the night when the love of her life, her BFF and fiancé, Nishant was separated from her. She had learned from Nishant’s mother, who had been here just a couple of minutes before the recording of her statement that Nishant had not been found yet. He remained missing. Nishant's parents waited outside with Kruthi’s mother. Inside the room, it was just the officer and her assistant, who was recording the statement.

 

Kruthi spoke in a very low voice, her tone firm but uneven, due to the trauma she had experienced. Her brain threw up images of that bloody night. She tried to remember any detail she could find in her memories. She ran the entire incident in her mind and spoke slowly. And as she spoke, she took heavy breaths, her chest rising and falling, and the pulse rate on the machine showing irregular lines.

 

‘Nishant was drinking a lot. I wanted to leave, but he kept drinking. We had a fight. Finally, he gave up and agreed to leave. We drove away from the guest house. It was about 11 p.m., I think, when we left.’

 

‘Any peculiar incidents at the party? Any rivalry, any cat fights, anything that was suggestive of harming Nishant or you? Any rogues who tried to tease you, but could not get their hands on you?’

 

‘No.’ Kruthi was lost in her thoughts.

 

‘Kruthi, what is bothering you? Something at the party?’

 

Kruthi shook her head, ‘It was not the party. The party was safe. It was outside that was not safe. I should have listened to Nishant and stayed. We should have left with the other friends. He would have been here today.’

 

She was crestfallen and stared at the floor. Madhuri broke her thoughts, ‘Then?’

 

Kruthi took a heavy breath as her ribs poked. 'We lost our way. I don't know how but Nishant missed taking the correct turn. We stopped our car at some deserted place. It was dark, I could only see trees and shrubs in the beam of our car lights. The GPS was not working. Nishant got out of the car, and he shook his phone, trying to get a signal. He cursed at the phone, as he kept checking for a signal and.....’

 

‘And?’

 

‘We heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. I heard a car stop by but did not see it. Nishant said he would check the vehicle and get help. I was scared. I did not want to sit alone in the car. But he convinced me, it was for the best. I saw Nishant disappearing in the beam of light. I must have waited for five minutes, the dark night scaring me. I got out of our car and started to walk, searching for Nishant. He was talking to someone sitting inside an SUV. I could not see who was sitting inside. But I could see that he was explaining to them, how he had missed the turn and was asking for directions.

 

Nishant then started walking towards me. He smiled and then his eyes widened. He shouted... ‘Kruthi’ ... and then two hands grabbed me from behind, with something pressed against my nose and mouth. I think it was a piece of cloth. And I collapsed. Everything went black. But just before I lost my consciousness, I saw a man getting out of the car, and with a rod or something that looked like a rod, hit Nishant on his head.

 

When I opened my eyes, I was in a dingy room. The first thing I saw was the bulb hanging, the first thing I felt was a hard mattress, and the first sound I heard was the sound of the metal.'

 

Madhuri nodded and spoke in the same commanding and inquisitive tone, ‘Let us go back. You said you saw someone hitting Nishant. Did you see the man?’

 

‘No. He was silhouetted against the car lights. I could just see his outline. Not his face.’

 

‘Did you see the car number?’

 

‘No.’

 

‘Do you remember anything else about that place - any sign, any post, any rock, anything, any detail that would help us locate the area where the car went missing.’

 

‘No.’

 

‘So, that means there were two kidnappers. And you killed one of them.’

 

‘Yes and No. There were three kidnappers. I killed one of them who was also the caretaker. He was in charge of providing me food and water and keeping me clean. He never touched me. The culprits are still free. You have to find them.’ The last sentence was imploring.

 

‘We will. We will do our best.’

 

‘I want to see the face of the man whom I killed.’

 

‘First, let us complete recording your statement.’

 

‘No. I want to see him. First.’


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