APPARITIONS OF CRIME


Somewhere around three o’clock in the night, something woke him up. He wasn’t sure what it was.

He lay in bed for a little while; then got up and went out.

He stood under the night sky with his back to his house. The night was clear and a soft breeze was blowing. Around him, the plains stretched; bare and rolling, broken here and there by isolated clumps of trees.

He crunched up the small path leading from his house to the road in front.

The road was deserted. Nothing was in sight.

He sat down on a milestone by the side of the road; took out a cigarette and lit it.

Time passed by slowly. It was quiet and the dust under his feet moved easily.

His back was to the bare plains behind and in front lay his house looking small and shrunken under the night sky. He glanced around, liking this time of the lonely quiet road.

Some more time passed by and the cigarette was nearly finished. There was an hour still left before dawn. He thought of going back and lying down on his bed.

Just as he was getting up, he saw lights of a distant vehicle approaching from his left side. He sat down again and watched the vehicle approach.

As it came nearer, its lights piercing the dark, he could make out that it was a car. Then it passed him by as he sat by the side of the road on the milestone; its tail-lights disappearing in the dark.

He was just about getting up again when the sound of the vehicle indicated that it was slowing down.

The vehicle stopped and then started reversing towards him. He stood still.

Some twenty feet away from him, the vehicle came to a stop on one side of the road.

The driver’s door opened and a man got out.

The man closed the door and started walking slowly towards him. The man appeared to be watching him carefully as he did so.

Then suddenly the man stopped; his movement uncertain. Abruptly, the man turned around, quickly walked away, started the car and drove off.

The tail-lights of the car started dwindling and its sound faded in the night.

He got up from the milestone on which he was sitting and, shrugging his shoulders, started walking towards his house.

He had walked about ten paces when he heard a loud crash.

He turned around quickly; startled by the sound. The crash had come from the direction in which the car had gone.

Quickly, he started his pickup van and drove up the road in the direction from which the crash had come.

He scanned the road on either side as he drove.

Then he saw the car. It had missed the turn and had run down the ditch by the side of the road; climbing nearly halfway up to the other side before coming to a stop.

He stopped his van and went up to the crashed car.

The night sky, by this time, had been lighted up by the approaching dawn. He saw the man lying face down in the ditch, apparently flung from the vehicle by the impact of the crash.

He stood there, under the breaking dawn, feeling the soft breeze on his face as he looked at the immobile body.

He first went towards the car and looked inside. It appeared to be empty.

Slowly, he walked over to the immobile body and turned it over. One side of the head was covered in blood. He backed away. Then, gathering his breath, he moved forward and checked for the pulse.

The man was dead.

He stood up and looked around. The plains around him were deserted. The road was empty.

He went back to the car and started checking it. In the trunk, there was an unlocked suitcase. He opened it. There were clothes and some toilet articles inside. Nothing else. He put the suitcase back and closed the trunk.

He decided to take one last look inside the car. In the half light, he looked carefully; but couldn’t see or find anything. He turned to walk away. As he did so, something caught his eye.

He bent down and pulled out a thin briefcase from under the driver’s seat. The briefcase was locked.

He walked over to the dead body. In the left pocket of the trousers, he found the key ring. When he tried the keys; one of them fitted and the briefcase opened.

His hands froze. There were wads of currencies lying inside the open briefcase. He couldn’t take his eyes away from it.

It was just at that moment that he heard a small sound from behind him.

Slowly he turned. On the other side of the road, a man sat on a milestone looking at him. A rifle lay loosely across his knees. The man didn’t say anything. He just sat there and looked at him.

It had become much lighter now and he could see the sitting man clearly.

A silent scream rose inside him.

The man sitting by the side of the road looked exactly like him.

His breath stuck in his throat. Slowly he backed away from the car; trying to build up distance between the man sitting at the side of the road and himself.

The man on the other side of the road just kept looking at him.

He was panting now. He darted his eyes to where his pickup van lay a little behind on the road.

Suddenly he broke into a wild run towards where the van lay. Panting and shaking, nearly blinded by the sweat pouring down his face, he somehow managed to start his van and turn around in a swirl of dust and screeching tyres…..

He woke up with a start; frightened by the dream. For some time he lay in the bed; his mouth dry and the tongue swollen. Slowly he regained his composure.

It looked like he had overslept again. Strong light was filtering in from behind the blinds of his window.

He looked at the clock on the side table. Nine o’clock.

He clambered to get out of the bed; and as he did so, he stumbled over something on the floor.

A briefcase lay open on the floor with wads of currencies in it…

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