Chapter 4: Iti Kaand (The Final Chapter): Boomerang

Finale of the story. Chapter 1, 2 and 3 posted earlier.

******

His head was buzzing. After trying to call Caddy for the last three hours for some work and failing to get through, he had called one of his reports. That’s how he came to know. He immediately checked in on the others. He could not get through to any of them. Sweating profusely, he checked the news articles from the local newspapers online. Four victims identified. Fifth not identified. But the photograph? No mistaking him. And her. All five of them were dead. This couldn’t be a coincidence. He immediately left the office. He felt like puking. But he had to get away. Before anyone noticed. He took a taxi to Marine Drive. On a weekday afternoon, it doesn’t take long to get there.

He had been staring at the ocean for the last eight hours since then. But all he could feel right now was a dark emptiness. And fear. He had gone through all the details a few times over. Finally, around midnight, he felt convinced that his living in a narrow street of Mumbai, as against the others being in different parts of US would make him untraceable. It was easier to track bloody Americans. Serves them right.

He took the last train back. Usually, these trains are deserted. The compartment he picked was quite, and there were 5-6 passengers sitting in different corners of the compartment. He stood closer to the gates trying to get some fresh air. The distance between Churchgate and Andheri can be quite a bit when time is not on your side. The world seems to desert you at Dadar. Or join you. Tonight, it didn’t. By the time, the train inched into the Bandra station, there were only three of them left. As the train left Bandra, the other two had moved closer to each other. For a moment, he wondered if they were after him. They were having a conversation in hushed voices. At Vile Parle they got up. By the time, the train left the station, they were standing very close to him. He could see that one of them had his hands in his pocket. His mind was playing tricks with him. Or not. The limbo can kill you, without really doing nothing. Or, by doing nothing. The train had gained momentum. The two had started necking. He felt comfortable. At Andheri station, he got down. They did too.

He walked hurriedly to catch an auto-rickshaw. Just as he was about to get down at his apartment in a not so dreamy suburb of the city of dreams, his cellphone started ringing. He hated the default ringtone. He did not know how to change it though. He took out his wallet with his right hand as he picked the call from his left hand. He did not recognize the voice at the other end. Just as the voice asked him to, he turned around. He could see two autorickshaws comings. Both of them stopped right behind his autorickshaw. From the first one, the couple from the train got down. They either were a couple that had a fight before they came aboard the train at Churchgate, or there was a price tag. It would be good to know the price tag. The other auto had an old men getting down. Is he the one? How long do I need to wait? “The couple”, the voice on the phone answered the question he did not ask.

His heart skipped a beat. The couple came closer. The man had his hands in the pocket. He could feel his heart beat louder, and the world around him slowed down to a dramatic slow-motion as the man started taking his hands out of his pocket. He was aware of everything. The old man moving towards the main entrance of the building, the red ford escort pulling over in a distance, the security guards sitting by the tiny fire not expecting any visitors at this time of the night, the girl chewing on a gum which had most likely lost its taste if one were to observe the the wider and rhythmic motions of her mouth, and pulling something out of the hip pocket of her faded navy blue jeans, his own autorickshaw about to take a U-turn and the driver bending down to spit on the other side of the road. He wanted to focus on the guy’s hand just as much as he wanted to run inside the building, but something about the twitch in the girl’s eye made him look at her. She was handing him a small piece of paper.

“Money was lost, Money was found.
What goes around, comes around.
1 played 5, but 1 played 6.
5 are dead. Are you in a fix?”

“Gotcha!”, the man said.

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Chapter 3: Adi Ityaadi (Etc. Etc.)

Chapter 1 here, and chapter 2 here.

**

Adi had just turned around and left. His lack of bitterness seemed bitter than the anger that the others had felt. She watched him go towards the other apartment down the street. Just as she was about to close the door, she saw another person walk up to the doorstep.

“Found You!”

**

He turned around to leave. Lisa seemed to have left something unsaid. But he neither had the time nor the desire to know. It didn’t seem like anyone else was at home with Lisa. Adi had to hurry. And he hurried. The weather had not changed. The gloomy weather was not helping him at all.
He found 215 soon enough, across the vacant patch of land right next to 214. Just as he was getting inside 215, he thought he saw another man outside 214. He did not pay attention. He went in.
Thirty minutes later, he came out feeling better. He had got the job. Of a driver. Engineer by education. Driver. Seemed about right. As he walked past 214, his eyes followed the door of 214, and it was open. He looked down, to avoid making eye contact. The trickling blood was unmistakable. He traced it back to the door. Lisa was there. Dead. He couldn’t breathe. He stood transfixed for what seemed like an eternity. And then he noticed the guy coming out from the house.
“Gotcha too! Ain’t this my lucky day?”

**

Two men stepped out of a restaurant. As they walked down, they laughed at their shared joke. Happens a lot with people who’ve known each other for over a decade. Their jokes don’t seem funny to the man wearing the flat cap. The man in the NorthPoint jacket seemed to be smiling though. He would have plenty of time to explain/ tell the tales. Both of them, however, knew that they did not have time right now.

“Adi..”

Both of them turned around. Lifelong habit, this.

“Missed me?”, the man wearing the golf cap said.  Three muffled gunshots. Three dead bodies. And a flat cap by the pavement.

**

A cell phone was ringing somewhere. It was a distinct ringtone, the kinds that kids set up on their parents’ mobile phones when they are trying to record their own screams and shouts. He had three kids, most likely. At least, three young voices could be heard. He was a tall man. Wore Ferragamo shoes, swayed as he walked, expensive cufflinks on a custom stitched shirt. The carpet was an intricate Kurdish hand made work, which he had picked on one of his leisure trips to Turkey. He almost instinctively wiped his right shoe at the back of his left leg, arched his back suggestive of lower back disorders, and bent down to pick his mobile. He smiled as he recognized the number. He checked his watch, as he whispered dangerously.

“About time…”

The call lasted thirty seconds. He seemed visibly pleased. The only thing he said during the entire conversation was, “Make sure he knows…”

**

In the shadows of Mount Everest, there are several small villages closer to the India-Nepal border. These borders are so porous, that even the inhabitants don’t realize at times if they are a resident of India or of Nepal. People here will tell you that the mountains have memories. Elephants have long memories. Mountains, longer.

**

 

 

Tomorrow: The Final Chapter (Boomerang)

Chapter 2: Adi Kaand (The First Chapter)

Continues from Part 1 here
Note: I had earlier thought of leaving Part 1 as a standalone. But I felt like adding more to it. So, it is no longer a short story 🙂 ).

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“So, you shot her?”

“No. I only agreed that I had good enough reasons. That does not mean I did. I have reasons to lose weight. That does not mean I have gone ahead and done anything about losing weight.”

“Funny?”

“Nah. Problematic.”

“Hmmm… Let me…”

He interrupted, “Let me complicate things for you a little more. There were five of us that night. All of us, potentially, have a motive.”

He hated his pedantic style. “Five? I thought only three…”

“Three were in the city that day. OR, so you thought. Way I see it, you were able to trace three of us. I was sure of the fourth being here as well. Fifth…”, his dramatic pause seemed like an eternity as he picked up the cup of coffee offered to him, took a long swip, and then slowly wiped the foam of his moustache, and slowly spoke, “ is here. Now I know it.”

He took a look around the room. He liked the cabin. He would have loved to have such an office. The large wooden desk, the expensive stationary, the digital photo frame on the right side of the table where he could see the entire family history of the man in front of him (not that he needed to). The ceiling was high enough, and the ambient lighting lit up the chestnut brown and white texture of the room quite adequately. This cabin was a geek paradise. With the exception of a neatly coiled power cable for a laptop vanishing into the recesses of his desk through a tiny carved out hole, he could see the entire room being completely wirelessly equipped. Expensive audio visual equipment, videoconferencing systems, a large LCD television, a zeppelin dock, a 20-inch screen connected to the laptop docking station, a gaming console and a neatly laid out stack of games, a duplex color laserjet printer,…

“Hmmm. And here I thought I was about done for the day. I know you’re not married. So, I don’t think you understand why I need to get out of here. And anyway, why the hell should I care?”. That seemed like his longest rant in many years. To his own ears. Once more, he wondered, how much he had changed in the last three years.

He did not like the interruption of his admiration.
“Well… sadly, you do.”, he coughed. And his voice trailed a little, “ And that’s your problem, not mine. My problem right now, is that you’re holding me up here. And so, let me just add one minor thing Adi.”

“Don’t call me Adi!”

You are a suspect as well. You can act all high and mighty right now with your attempts to trace a few things. But deep down, you know as well as me, that you are one of the five. Had you not called me here today, I would not have met the fifth, would I?  Yes Sir. Now the benzene ring is in place. I wish I could smoke here……. So, what were you asking me then?”, he continued as if he did not hear his protest.

“How did it start that night? I want to know the details Adi. Everything.”

“Funny you’d call me Adi. Far as I remember, there was only one person in our group who’d call me that. I prefer Maddy. Still. To your question though, that’s gonna take some time”

“Now that my Friday is screwed anyway, shall I order more coffee? Or, something stronger?”

“Do you want to do it here? On that, why would you call me to your office?”

“Can you make it work?”

“Can I smoke?

“No”

“Then….. NO!”

“…”

“Lets go get some dinner Caddy. You prefer that, right? From me?”

“From you …. ”

Three hours later, in a quieter corner of a high-street restaurant, two shadows were hunched on a table. In the fashionable dim-light that creates a wall of apparent privacy, a waiter had just refilled a wine-glass, cleared another glass, and replaced it with another – scotch, most likely, and was setting the plates for the main course. Just as the waiter left, he got a glimpse of them. It was difficult to hear anything, but he was sure of one thing. They were smiling. That same smile. He knew what that smile meant. They’d found the answer. At least they thought so.

He smiled.

 

(Coming soon: Chapter 3: Adi-Ityaadi (Etc Etc.))

Short Story: Ittefaq (Coincidence)

He had been carrying it around for the last three years. He had given up all hopes of meeting her. Ever again.

The alley was dark and the fragrance of small town summer rain was hanging in the air. It was a melancholic mix of a green life and urban aspirations, as the smell of burning gasoline mixed with the freshness of wet tropical soil and the sweet smelling leaves of a eucalyptus tree. As he turned into the alley, he was still not sure if this was the alley he was looking for. Looking for Apartment number 215 in a street where houses are not necessarily numbered in a sequential manner or properly (or both) on a day like this was not going to be easy. The thing he knew, though, was that he could not afford to be late. He hadn’t been successful in keeping a single job for the last 3 years. All because he could not be on time. All because he always had a lead that he wanted to check on.

He hurried forward. Someone looking at him from a distance would have found him to be suspicious. The way he was looking at the houses. The way he would walk up to a door, and then suddenly turn around and leave. He seemed anxious, desperate, in a hurry, had unkempt looks, wore a ragged overcoat, sported a rude and partially grayed out beard, and his winter boots had long outlived their utility. But then, there was no-one on the street to suspect his motives.

The property on the right side of the road as he took a left turn at the end of the alley caught his attention. The number was 214. But it wasn’t an apartment. It was an independent house, an odd presence in this apartment complex laden street. His Indian-ness got hold of him, and he decided to knock on the door and see if the residents here knew where 215 was. A habit his father had instilled in him. “Why waste time when you can politely ask?”, he would tell him in his gruff and muffled voice, a sound which seemed distant due to his constant paan chewing, beteljuice filled mouth. Good thing, this was largely an Indian locality. Wondering how he had never picked up that habit of his father, while picking up almost every other trait, he walked towards that house.

He wiped his face as he rang the doorbell. He could hear the footsteps coming towards the door. A lady wearing a gray dress and a pink scarf opened the door. She was in her early thirties.
“Excuse me, ma’m….”, he stopped abruptly in the middle of his mentally rehearsed question, just as he looked up to make eye contact with the lady.
A curious expression was on her face as she looked at him. It was a frown mixed with a smile of recognition. He, on the other hand, had a smile.
“What a coincidence, Adi!!”
“Lisa….”
“I just wanted to tell you….”
“I just wanted to tell you…”, they both stumbled on their confessions, but he continued, “that I love you. And I was there that night.”

His hands were inside his overcoat pocket. He took it out. And as he lifted it in his hands, every thought, every dream, every desire of last three years of waiting came rushing onto him. He could barely breathe. He braced himself.

No-one heard the gunshots. The man in the ragged overcoat turned around, and started looking for 215 again. He needed the job now.

 

 

(To be continued… )*

*T&C apply

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