Wilma woke up in the dead of night to use the washroom. Even at the ripe age of eighty-one, she was fully in control of her senses and could move around unaided. As she was returning to her bedside, she happened to glance through the open window. A glimmer of light probably five hundred metres away, drew her closer to the window. It was a clear night with a full moon shining above in a starry sky. The light source appeared to be a powerful torch and Wilma could now discern with the help of a pair of field glasses, which was always kept handy and ready for use, about four or five figures in the proximity of a van. They were involved in a co-ordinated action of passing on sacks being picked up from somewhere behind some bushes and being loaded on to the van. Wilma looked at the clock in her room; it was 3.15 a.m., just the time when everyone is normally in deep sleep and even the traffic on the road would have petered out. The operation of transferring the sacks to the van continued for ten more minutes and then the persons boarded the van and were away.
‘What could have been in those sacks?’ she thought, as she moved away from the window towards her bed. ‘And why should someone come in the middle of the night for some presumably urgent and secret purpose?’ It all seemed very devious and intriguing for Wilma. Her father had been with the Scotland Yard and her exposure to several of the crimes that he was privy to solving, had ingrained a special investigative trait in the innermost recesses of her brain, which would manifest itself in situations such as the present one. With a great deal of effort, she convinced herself to catch up on sleep and deal with her doubts in the morning.
Her disturbed sleep caused Wilma to wake up early and get ready before Rachel, her daughter, and William, her son-in-law, were up and about. The couple was a trifle surprised to see her sitting in the patio, staring into the distance, all ready to venture out at the earliest opportunity.
“Did you sleep well, mom?” inquired Rachel.
“Yes, I did till around 3.00 a.m., but after that was flustered by what I saw and could not sleep well thereafter,” replied her mother.
“Why, what is it that you saw?” asked her daughter, her curiosity now aroused.
Quickly, Wilma narrated what she had seen and expressed her intention to go over to the location and ‘investigate’ what secrets were contained there.
“But mamma, they could be murderers or bootleggers or whatever. Why should we get involved in their murky affairs?” exclaimed Rachel, bewildered at her mother’s eagerness and insistence at going over to check the place.
“Whatever it is, I need to get to the bottom of this. No man or woman shall invade the privacy of my immediate precincts with some mysterious doings and get away with it. My father would have had none of this,” replied Wilma emphatically, the urge to investigate rising in her veins even more vehemently, more out of a feeling of rectitude than out of curiosity.
By this time, William had come to the patio surprised at the relatively loud conversation between mother and daughter. He realized that something was amiss and looked inquisitively at Rachel.
“Mom, it seems, saw something fishy happen in the dead of night some distance from here and now wishes to enquire or rather investigate into the episode. I have been trying to convince her that it’s none of our business, but she would hear none of it,” said an apparently distraught Rachel.
Wilma gave a sidelong glance at William which was enough to convince the latter that she would have her way. So William called two of his trusted friends and then along with their gardener, who came with his hoe, spade, spike and wheelbarrow, the small party set out to the area indicated by Wilma.
“It was around this place that I saw the people loading the sacks on to the van,” said Wilma with confidence, all the while looking back at their modest home and the window of her bedroom and trying to fix her bearings. Now this area, although easily accessible from anywhere, was in the midst of a piece of land which extended for a few Km on three sides with no habitation at all. It was only Rachel’s home, apart from a small cluster of houses a short distance away, which provided a semblance of human presence in the vicinity.
William and his two friends, Mark and Dudley looked around but did not see anything that looked suspicious. The three of them and the gardener walked in different directions for about a hundred feet but still were not able to spot anything that lent credence to the fact that something mysterious had happened the night before. Just when William was about to call it quits Stephen, the gardener, gave a yell which knocked everyone out of their wits.
“What’s up, Stephen?” asked William, a trifle surprised, as Wilma and the rest of the party looked in the direction of Stephen. The latter, because of his trade, was better equipped than others in examining the earth and, in his scrutiny of the same, had come across recently dug-up grass and mud behind a dense clump of bushes and undergrowth. He had proceeded to clear the shrubs and mud and now after his singular effort had uncovered a metal lid with a latch, which probably led to a passage below the earth. He looked on gleefully as the others, who had by this time come over to where he was standing, looked towards where he pointed his forefinger.
‘What in thunderation could this be about?” exclaimed William, using a characteristic American word for surprise as well as a degree of petulance. “Lift the lid, Stephen and let’s see what’s below,” continued William, now eager to get to the bottom of the matter.
Stephen grasped the latch and mustering all his strength, he gave the lid a mighty pull. It was unnecessary because the lid opened up easily, as if it had been regularly oiled at its hinges, revealing a fairly large opening in the ground. The cavity widened after the lid folded back to open another lid of the same size. A sturdy metal ladder had been fixed to one side of the rectangular orifice which apparently was being used to store something. On another side of the opening was fixed a system of rope and pulleys obviously to haul something up. It looked very dark and eerie below so William took out a torch which he always carried during expeditions and shone it into the dreary depths below. What beheld him was an underground cavity which was fairly deep and mysterious. His face became taut and a nerve jumped in his jaw. This vault, large as it was, definitely had a story to tell.
“We’ll need to go down and see what’s in there,” said William in a tone which bordered on a degree of trepidation. Mark and Dudley looked at him and then at each other and then back at him. Neither spoke. William garnered that they were a little reticent to be the first to go down.
In the midst of this, Stephen volunteered, “I’ll go down first and tell you if the coast is clear.”
William heaved a sigh of relief and motioned to Stephen to descend into the vault while he held the torch above him. Stephen must have gone down about thirty rungs of the ladder when his feet touched on hard ground. In the light of the torch that was held above by William, he could see a container fixed to the wall which held a large candle with a box of matches beside it. Stephen lit a candle and immediately the radiance of it shone through the vast interiors. He looked around and seeing a huge dump of skeletons in one corner, realized he was inside a long-forgotten crypt. There might have been a church above at some point in the past which had now ceased to exist, possibly destroyed in one of the earthquakes that took place decades or even centuries ago. Stephen walked around a bit and saw there were other candles fixed to the walls and he promptly lit these too. Now, there was ample light around him and he could see more clusters of skeletons strewn across the floor. At one end of the vault he saw filled sacks piled up one on top of another but done very methodically to prevent falling. Satisfied that there was nothing to fear, he called out to William, “All clear.”
No sooner had William heard Stephen’s confirmation which came as a bellowing echo, than he signalled to Mark to descend. He asked Dudley to be with the ladies as he went down the cavity after Mark. The three men then scouted around the place to see if, apart from the sacks, there was anything else of material interest. Very soon they realized that, besides the myriads of skeletons lying all over the place, there was nothing else except the sacks.
William led the way to the corner where the sacks were stacked. There were at least fifty of them by Stephen’s estimate. He bent over one sack and looked at the markings. These were in a language that he had not encountered before. He poked one end of the sack with his penknife and he felt it hit something solid. His curiosity aroused, William slit one corner of the sack and looked inside; what he beheld made him cry in amazement, for the sack contained a sizeable number of automatic weapons. William, Mark and Stephen felt the other sacks as well and, by all accounts, these also seemed to contain weapons. The three men looked gravely at one another. They realized this was serious business and something no sane person would wish to get involved in.
“Let’s leave,” said William. “I believe this is the warehouse for some terrorists to store their armaments. We better not get involved with this, ourselves. Maybe I’ll contemplate whether I should inform the police.” So saying, he led the way to the opening and shinned up the ladder in a jiffy. The other two followed suit and now the ladies and Dudley were eager to know from the three men, what had transpired below.
“It’s all very murky,” began William, after a stoic silence. The sobriety of the situation was grasped by one and all as William continued, “there are about fifty sacks and they all contain different types of armaments. I am able to presume this after having opened a portion of one sack and checked its contents.”
“I felt that those persons whom I had seen last night were up to no good. Now I’m convinced,” exclaimed Wilma emphatically. “Just imagine, a terrorists’ nest within shouting distance from our home. We need to inform Scotland Yard about it. They’ll do the needful; oh yes, you can bet on that.” The octogenarian was bristling with anger coupled with the urge to see an imminent closure to the episode.
“We’ll sit and decide what has to be done,” said William with a swift nod of the head and a concerned look in the direction of Wilma.
They reached home after a short while and Stephen took leave of the others. The rest trooped in through the door and settled down on the sofas in the drawing room.
“So now what’s our game plan?” enquired Wilma after a while, looking at William and the others in turn.
“I think it’s best to inform Scotland Yard right away. They’ll be here in a jiffy. We must, however, insist that as whistleblowers, our identities would be kept secret. Besides, we’ll ask for police protection around our home till this entire situation is brought to its logical end,” remarked William, with a great degree of thought on the way forward.
“That’s a brilliant strategy,” said Wilma gleefully, her adrenalin rising with the thought of seeing the alleged terrorists booked by the law enforcement agency.
William looked around for consensus and everyone nodded in acquiescence.
“So then that’s settled,” said William as he rose from the sofa to reach for the phone. The call was immediately attended to and, in no time, Inspector Warden and Sergeant Michael were at their doorstep. William narrated the entire story to the two policemen who jotted down the pertinent details.
“Not a word of this to anyone,” cautioned Inspector Warden, looking at everyone. They all nodded in assent after which the policemen left with the promise that all of William’s concerns would be addressed immediately and he and his family would not need to worry on what they had experienced.
Sure enough, within an hour, four plainclothes policemen were posted outside their home at strategic locations and another posse of cops descended in the area and who, with William’s help, inspected the crypt and its contents.
Chief Inspector Raymond emerged from the opening of the crypt and complimented William, “Great job, son. It seems like there’s enough weapons and ammunition in there to blow up a town. We’ll handle this from now on. Not to worry. Should you need any further help in terms of your security, please feel free to ask.”
“Thanks,” replied William, and then taking leave of the officer, he was on his way home.
By evening the same day, plainclothes policemen occupied all the available rooms in all the hotels in an area of three Km around the crypt. Besides, another batch of plainclothes policemen was posted at strategic points about two hundred metres away from the crypt. This arrangement continued throughout the day for several days.
The continuous vigil by Scotland Yard did not yield any dividend. It appeared that the alleged terrorists had got wind of the fact that there game was up, till one night around 3.30 a.m. the van reappeared on the scene. Five men got out and went towards the crypt. The developments were immediately flashed by the police posted in the area to their counterparts staying in the surrounding hotels. The latter lost no time in getting ready for the task at hand. They waited in their camouflaged vehicles for the next order on their walkie talkies.
Meanwhile, the alleged terrorists had completed their operation of loading sacks into the van and were about to depart. Once the van was on the move, the cops in their vehicles were notified on the direction that the vehicle had taken. Soon, all the police vehicles were headed in one direction, maintaining a safe distance from the van but without losing sight of it. The van cruised along till it made its way to a secluded jetty. Here it halted and the driver flashed the headlights thrice; whereupon, a medium-sized speedboat quickly arrived on the scene and parked itself close to the jetty. Three men lowered a raft and after boarding it, made their way towards the jetty. They then alighted and after confirming that the consignment of arms and ammunition was in the van, began the process of transferring the sacks to the raft.
Meanwhile, the police vehicles had all arrived at the spot but were parked a certain distance away. The policemen, about thirty in number, spread out in an arc around the van and the raft and waited with bated breath. Then before the first sack was loaded onto the raft, Chief Inspector Raymond gave the signal for a call to be made on the megaphone to the alleged terrorists to surrender. The latter were taken completely by surprise and made a vain attempt to escape. Some of them even fired randomly into the darkness. Thereupon, Chief Inspector Raymond gave the order to fire, with a clear intent to injure the alleged terrorists in their legs. Soon, all the eight persons were injured and incapacitated from fleeing. A couple of ambulances were requisitioned to transfer the handcuffed and injured alleged terrorists to the hospital.
In the meantime, seeing all the commotion on shore, the speedboat took off but was intercepted in due course by the coast guard. All the inmates were promptly rounded up. After a prima facie investigation, it was deduced that all the arrested persons were indeed terrorists.
The following day, the news flashed all over the country that a terror module had been smashed and all the culprits apprehended. The Commissioner of Scotland Yard complimented Chief Inspector Raymond who was presented with the highest police honour, the Queen’s Police Medal.
But the real hero of the entire episode was the steel-willed Wilma, who, having displayed a rare breed of courage and sense of responsibility towards society, received a compliment and an award from the Commissioner, albeit in a low profile ceremony. For all who were privy to the foiled terrorist plot, she was London’s favourite daughter.