An excerpt from "The Trail of Four"

By Dr Manjiri Prabhu in Stories » Fiction
Updated 12:13 IST May 30, 2017

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An excerpt from "The Trail of Four"

Stefan sucked in his breath, his heart plummeting to the pit of his stomach. The rain splattered all around the Schloss garden, the lawn underwater and everything slippery. Two of his men stepped out of the pond, hauling the body over the edge. The Hercules statue towered behind them, a large looming shadow with features invisible in the darkness. Two
others held large open umbrellas, and flashlights to light up their way.
‘Good job, boys! Be careful, this part of the pond is virtually untouched,’ Stefan cautioned, trying to keep his emotions in check. In reality, he felt an icy hand clutch his insides. If he was right, then the worst nightmare had begun.
‘It’s the dogs. They sniffed it out. Which was really lucky, because this pond is much further away from the Schloss, kind of hidden behind these tall trees, and the body had slid behind the Hercules statue,’ Kurt reported, his voice raised over the din of the rain.
‘Turn him around,’ Stefan said.
He shone the flashlight on the body as they rolled it on its back. Stefan gasped. The face was an ugly mass of mutilated skin and bones. Someone had done a thorough job on him and some hours in the water had done the rest.His stomach churned and he felt nausea rise. Quickly, he turned away. As always, he experienced a spontaneous stab of sympathy for the dead man. Just as quickly, he tamped it down. Over the years, he had taught himself to be detached.To not let his day-to-day interactions with the dreadful reality of criminal life seep into his civilian life, and take permanent hold on his conscience. If he had to retain sanity,he had to be heartless!
‘Check the pockets for any kind of identification,’ he ordered.
Kurt ran his gloved hands over the muddy T-shirt and the jeans which seemed to have sunk into the bloated body.
His fingers touched a thickened outline in the body’s back-pocket. With great difficulty, Kurt extracted a thin wallet and handed it over to his senior. The leather wallet was dripping and totally ruined. For the wildest of seconds, Stefan had an uncharacteristic urge to throw the wallet away, deep into the pond. Without ever opening it. Without ever knowing the identity of the dead man. If only he could! If only he really could live in ignorance, protecting himself from the truth. But he couldn’t! He had to face it, as always.
Stefan flicked open the wallet and stared at the photo of the man. For what seemed like eons, the world swam before him and hot waves lapped at his body. Finally, struggling to appear composed and normal, he turned to Kurt.
‘We’ll have to take him for post-mortem. And listen, send another patrol here in an hour. The first dignitary arrives at six and I want one last screening of the premises before that. Nothing should go wrong.’
‘Yes, sir!’
Stefan turned away, brushing away the moisture from his eyes. He had no clue whether the sudden tears were for the man lying on the wet ground, or for a love which seemed to disappear like a mirage.

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