Saturday, October 27, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 42

She narrowed her eyes. ‘What happened yesterday? Why’d you leave so suddenly?’

‘I.... I think Khushi spotted me,’ he said. He’d been thinking about the story he would tell Rani Sahiba, since the night before. There was no point in telling her what had happened. It had been his own plan and it had failed miserably. He wasn’t going to tell her that. She’d kill him. He’d seen her go into rages and he didn’t want to see it directed at him.

‘What the hell made you decide to be a waiter, of all things? A WAITER?’ she shrieked.

‘How else was I supposed to get in there?’ he whined.

‘With me, you idiot. Your disguise was perfect. I didn’t spot you. How d’you think Khushi would have? You could’ve stayed out of her way.’

‘She almost saw me, Rani Sahiba,’ he was sulking, looking away from her. ‘I had to get away.’

‘And do you know that both ASR and she were missing for the better part of an hour?... ‘ she paused, ‘and when they came back, she had changed out of what she was wearing?’ she was trying to read his eyes, but he kept looking away. ‘And from that point on, they were inseparable!’ she finished.

‘Really?’ was all he said.

‘Really. You wouldn’t happen to know why that happened, would you, Shyam?’

‘Rani Sahiba, how would I know?’ he was looking anywhere but at her now.

She slapped him hard across the face. He jerked and looked at her. ‘If I find out, that you had anything to do with that, I will kill you, do you understand?’ her voice was low and menacing. He nodded, one hand up on his smarting cheek. He was looking down, and if she could have seen into his eyes, she would have seen the flare on intense hatred in it. It would have given her pause. But she didn’t see anything.

He swallowed, before looking up at her slyly from under his brows. She was frowning, thinking.

‘What do you want to do now, Rani Sahiba?’ his tone was conciliatory, servile.

‘Get two men on the Raizada house. If she steps out, I want to know about it, immediately. I’ll tell you what to do after that. Just have the men ready to move right away.’ He nodded.

‘How do you know she’s at the Raizada house?’ he asked.

‘Where else would she be? He never moved from her side the entire party. Even when I asked him to dance, he barely did so. Next thing I know he's standing by her side,’ she hissed. ‘I don’t think she’s at the hotel. I think she’s at the house. He couldn’t keep his hands off her,’ she said in disgust.

‘Alright then, I’ll get the men to follow her,’ he said, turning away to leave.

‘And Shyam?’ she called. He turned around. ‘Please don’t let me find out that you had anything to do with yesterday,’ her voice was pleasant, almost friendly and it sent a chill down his back. He left quietly, not wanting her to see the worried look on his face.

***

Pat Cromley sat back with a sigh. Dinner had been good. She’d been too tired to dress up and go down again to the dining room. She’d decided to stay in her pajamas and just watch TV. The plethora of channels in India had frankly amazed her, and she tuned into CNN International, absently watching Anderson Cooper. She wasn’t really watching the show as much as she was thinking. At the back of her mind something was niggling at her. Was it something she had said? or someone else had said? Something... She decided to give it a rest and let it bubble up naturally. She lay back against the pillow, switching her attention back to Anderson Cooper.

‘Four years ago in Denver, then presidential candidate Barak Obama promised that he would change America...’ AC’s voice faded as the pieces fell into place. That’s it! She jumped out of bed and grabbed her case. Going through it she found what she was looking for. She spread the papers on her bed and hunkered down, going through them one more time, just one more time. She wished she had her systems analyst with her. They would have crunched through this in no time, but now she’d have to do it the old-fashioned way. Wait a minute! Maybe there was a better way! What time was it in the US? She looked at her watch, 7:30 p.m. - which was around ten in the a.m. in DC. Oh well! She needed his help, and she was just going to go for it. She dialed a number from her satellite phone.

The number rang in an apartment in Washington, D.C. A tanned muscular arm came out from under a comforter and picked up the phone. ‘Hello?’ his baritone was ragged with sleep.

‘Hey babe,’ she said.

‘Pat?’ he sat up in bed, the rest of his muscular body as tanned as his arms. His brown eyes were blood shot with sleep but the smile tugging on his well defined lips was one of pure pleasure.

‘Are you still in bed?’ she asked.

‘Mmmm and missing you next to me,’ he said. She laughed a little at that. ‘How’s it going in India?’

‘It’s an interesting case but I need your help,’ she explained. ‘Hence the early morning call.’

‘Ah! and here I thought you were calling me for some booty time,’ he drawled. She grinned into the phone.

‘Get serious, Joe,’ she said.

‘Okay, babe, tell me how I can help you.’

She explained what she wanted him to do. He listened carefully, frowning and paying close attention. When she stopped speaking, he said, ‘It’s fairly simple. Scan the pages and send them to me. I’ll do the cross check and have it out to you by late evening, my time.’

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I’ll send them to you in a bit.’

She pulled on some warm ups and went to the business lounge on the top floor. The receptionist was quite polite. All the staff had been alerted to the fact that Ms. Pat Cromley was to be given access to whatever she wanted, no questions asked. Pat told her what she needed. The receptionist led her into a tiny office. A printer/scanner stood at one end. She showed her how to operate it and left. Pat scanned the papers in, sending them to Joe in Washington, DC. It took her almost half an hour to finish the scans. Thanking the receptionist, she came back to her room. If what she suspected was right, then they should have Rani Sahiba’s identity by morning! Back in her room, she shoved all the papers aside, fell into bed and slept almost immediately.

***

Arnav had woken up early so that he could swim first thing. But Khushi had beat him to it he saw, when he went out by the pool. There were wet footprints by the poolside. Somebody had just been in the pool. He knew it had to be her. He was still feeling sore about the argument they’d had yesterday. It had started off with him telling her to go to the US, and somehow it had flared into something that he didn’t want to dwell upon. They’d barely spoken to each other since. Even his going to call her to meet Payal had met with stubborn silence on her part. She’d avoided his eyes and left.

He swam his ten laps and sat by the pool allowing the water to dry on his skin, feeling more and more annoyed with himself. Then he hauled himself out of his chair and went to his room. A quick shower to wash away the chlorine, before he chose his clothes. A slightly looser fit of jacket was what he needed today. The suit was charcoal grey and the vest was just a shade lighter. He chose a white shirt and white tie to go with it, and black wingtips. Before putting on his jacket, he unlocked the safe in his room and pulled out the box. He opened it to reveal the dull gleam of a black .32 that he hefted easily in one hand. The barrel almost disappeared in his big palm. He reached into the safe and pulled out a box of ammo. Deftly he removed the magazine and loaded it with bullets. The semi-automatic held 8 rounds. He didn’t think he’d need more than that. He took the shoulder holster out and put it on, it fit snugly without a wrinkle on his shirt, the straps criss-crossing across his back. He made sure the safety latch was on before he tucked the gun into it, and put on his jacket. Perfect! There wasn’t the slightest bulge to give away the gun under his arm. He tried drawing it a few times, making sure he could slide it out easily, before buttoning his jacket. Arnav had held a gun license for the longest time.

Locking everything else away, he headed downstairs for breakfast.

Today was another rasam in the house, he groaned inwardly looking at the flowers being put up along the hall.

‘Chotey,’ Nani came out of nowhere and stopped him. ‘Where are you going?’

‘To work, Nani,’ he said.

‘Well, then I’ll just tell Hari to get your breakfast ready,’ she looked harassed with all the workers coming and going.

He smiled at his grandmother, gently holding her arms and said, ‘Nani, I’m quite capable of telling Hari to get my breakfast, okay? You do what you were going to do.’ She nodded worriedly and hurried off to wherever it was she was headed to.

Arnav stepped into the kitchen and stopped in surprise. He’d expected to find Hari there, instead Khushi was pouring herself a cup of coffee, while a bowl of cereal stood on the counter. She’d obviously been grabbing some breakfast for herself, instead of asking Hari to make it for her. ‘Khushi?’ She looked around in surprise. ‘What’re you doing?’

‘Having breakfast, what else?’ she gestured to the bowl of cereal.

‘Why isn’t Hari making breakfast?’ he asked.

‘Well, with everybody tied up in the rasam, I thought I could get my own.’ She eyed him and then said a little belatedly, ‘what’re you doing in the kitchen?’

He chuckled. ‘Came to get breakfast.’

She looked around and said, ‘what would you like?’

You, said the imp. NO! he yelled. ‘Ah! ...cereal?’

‘Sure,’ she said, turning around towards the crockery cupboard to get a bowl. He looked around quickly, and spotting nobody nearby, he moved towards her in two swift strides, placing a hand on either side of her on the cupboard doors, effectively blocking her in. She spun around in the circle of his arms, looking at him with wide eyes. ‘What’re you doing?’ she whispered aghast.

‘Still mad at me?’ he murmured, trying to look into her eyes.

‘Yes,’ she pouted, lowering her eyes, her nostrils flaring at the familiar smell of him and his cologne. He moved in a little closer, keeping just a little breathing space between them.

‘Will saying I’m sorry help?’ He couldn’t help smiling. She was wearing D&G!

‘No,’ she said, looking up at him, but her eyes were sparkling and belied her words. He leaned in to kiss her, his lips brushing the corner of her mouth. She could feel her heart beginning to race. Her breathing quickened even as she flattened her hands against cupboard to stop herself from clutching at him. His eyes had turned dark, as he drew back and then swooped in again this time finding his mark. She opened up to him with a small moan at the back of her throat. His tongue darted into her mouth, tangling with hers, as his arms went around her. She clutched the lapels of his jacket, as she fought his tongue with hers. He pulled back a little, sucking on her upper lip as she sighed in pleasure.

‘Chotey!’ Nani’s voice brought them back to earth with a thump! She pulled out of his arms, turning around to get a bowl while he stepped back a pace, hoping Nani wouldn’t hear the thundering of his blood. ‘Oh there you are,’ said Nani. She looked at the scene in front of her. Khushi was pouring cereal into a bowl while Chotey stood watching her. She seemed slightly flushed, though.

‘Nani, you wanted something?’ he asked innocently.

‘No. I see Khushi is getting your breakfast anyway,’ she said. She liked this scene. Khushi getting Chotey his breakfast! He was actually pouring himself a mug of coffee while waiting for her to put together his cereal. She added sliced bananas and apples into it, along with cold milk, before handing the bowl and a spoon to him.

Nani looked on at the scene in front of her. It was perfect! She wanted this for her grandson. A wonderful girl in his life, one that loved him and took care of him and his needs, and one that fit into their family too. Most importantly, she had noticed how little she was intimidated by him. His wife needed to be a strong woman, and she had a feeling that this girl, for all her frail looks, was very strong inside, or he wouldn’t be this attracted to her, he needed someone that matched up to him.

Both Akash and Payal had given their reports to the rest of the family. His reading was that Bhai was definitely very attracted to Khushi. Payal on the other hand, knew that Khushi had strong feelings about Arnav but was unsure about his. They’d been wondering how best to bring these two together. Nothing was popping out at them at this point. Nothing that would make Arnav Singh Raizada and Khushi Kumari Gupta say, ‘I do!’

‘Nani?’ Chotey was asking her something. ‘Does Khushi need to be here for this rasam?’

‘Not really,’ said Nani, ‘why? Do you have something planned for her?’

‘Actually, I need her to come with me today, too. And this time Nani, I promise you I will feed her lunch,’ he smiled a little boy smile.

Khushi smiled at him. She knew there was something else going on, but he wasn’t telling her what in front of his grandmother.

Nani nodded, ‘Okay. Go and get changed, Khushi,’ she said. She nodded and headed off.

He was waiting for her in the lounge when she came down the stairs, carrying her laptop bag and purse. Her hair was plaited today. She was dressed in an elegant long-sleeved churidar kameez in a pale beige color, that almost melted into her skin. The pale tones of the salwar were offset by the pale green print at her throat and the bottom.
The dupatta hugging her throat, was also the same green color, with a beige border. She wore long, dangling earrings, a single silver strand, with at teardrop pearl at the end of it. She looked almost ethereal today. Thin-strapped flesh colored heels completed her outfit. 


He hadn’t realized that he’d been staring at her till she stopped in front of him. ‘Arnav?’ He kicked himself. ‘Shall we go?’ he nodded and led the way out of the front door.

From the corridor above, his sister and his grandmother had watched his reactions as Khushi had come down the stairs and walked to him. The stunned look on his face was all they could ask for! They grinned at each other and Anjali said, ‘Chotey is so ...’ she made a going-away gesture with her hand, ‘done for!’ Her grandmother laughed with her.

‘Yes, he is. Much as he tries to deny it, he is very much in love with her. Question is, will he realize it or will we have to make him realize it?’

Anjali nodded her head thoughtfully. Right now, however, there was another bride that had to finish the last of the rasams. She headed over to Payal’s room.

The white SUV exited the gates of Raizada mansion, nosing its way towards the street corner, before merging into Delhi rush-hour traffic. The couple inside didn’t notice a dark little Honda City slip into the traffic behind them.

The two agents in the car further along the street watched as the blue Honda followed them. One of them dialed a number. ‘They just left Raizada mansion, and they have a tail,’ he said when the phone was picked up. ‘The car is a Honda City, dark blue, license plate number.....’

***

They arrived at AR Group and went up the elevators to the floor on which his cabin was. He let them in, and was just in the process of putting his laptop on his desk, when his phone rang. It was Ratan. They needed to see them at the CBI offices, when could they come?

‘Lemme check,’ he said. He flipped the hold button and hit the Aman’s extension number. ‘Aman, can you please cancel my appointments for this morning? I need to go out.’ He looked across at Khushi who had been standing at the door, and raised a finger to her, one moment. He went back to Ratan’s call. ‘We can be there in half an hour,’ he said. He hung up and turned to her, ‘we need to go to the CBI offices. Can you give me five minutes?’

She went to Lavanya’s office, but not finding anyone there, she wrote a note and pasted it to her computer screen. ‘Be back later. Leaving my laptop in your cupboard. Khushi.’ She placed her laptop bag in the cupboard, before heading out the door again.

Arnav took off his jacket and his holster. He couldn’t go to the CBI offices with a gun. Moreover, Khushi would be frightened if she knew why he was carrying a gun. He locked it back in the safe and put on his jacket, before leaving his cabin.

***

Pat, Amar, Sachin and Luke sat around the conference table. Ratan had had CCTV equipment set up in the room so that they could view the hotel security tapes. She had told the other agents what to look for. Look for people that appear in the vicinity of Khushi in more than one scene. Two of them were following the actions of Shyam Jha, two of them focusing of Khushi and others. However, it was difficult given what a teeming crowd there was that day to actually pick out people who seemed to show interest in Khushi. To top it all, she was the bride’s sister. There seemed to be a lot of interest in her. Nothing jumped out at them as they pored over the tapes.

It was ten in the morning, and Khushi and Arnav hadn’t yet shown up. Pat got up to get a bottle of water. She stopped by her laptop and checked her email. There it was! The one from Joe that she’d been waiting for! The subject line read, ‘You owe me one, babe!’ She shook her head while she clicked on the email and opened the attachment. It was a list of people who appeared on both Arnav’s and Khushi’s list of acquaintances, friends, colleagues. About thirty names.

‘Ratan,’ she said. ‘Here’s the list of people that both Arnav and Khushi know. Rani Sahiba is on this list.’

‘How did you get that?’ he was amazed.

‘I asked a friend in DC for some help. He came through,’ she smiled. ‘Now if only Mr. Raizada and Ms. Gupta would show up,’ she said.

Almost on cue, the phone rang. Ratan picked it up. ‘They’re downstairs,’ he said. ‘I’ll take them to the room next door. Why don’t you join us there?’

She nodded and went to wait next door. About five minutes later, Ratan ushered the two of them in. They sat down together. Formalities over, she began, ‘Ms. Gupta,’ she pushed forward a single sheet of paper. ‘How many of these people did you know before you came to Delhi?’

Khushi took the sheet of paper and a pen and circled some names. She handed it back and said, ‘Why?’

‘I need you to tell me exactly when and where you met these people,’ said Pat, not answering her question.

Khushi’s heart was doing a slow hammer. She felt Arnav sliding his hand into hers, his fingers lacing through hers and giving it a small squeeze. Suddenly she felt better, almost as if he was willing some strength into her.

She started at the top of the list, while Pat made notes on her laptop. Against each person, she wrote the date or time period when Khushi had first met them and the circumstances around which she met them. They already knew about Shyam Jha. It was a question of joining the dots and finding the right time line for her to have met Rani Sahiba. The original list had been pared down by removing all the men, so there was a smaller subset of names to work with. Now with Khushi’s help they would be narrowing it down even further.

Khushi went down the list and finally she was done.

‘Thank you, Ms. Gupta,’ said Pat. ‘I think that will be all for today.’

‘I thought you wanted us to look at CCTV footage,’ Arnav said.

‘No, I don’t think we’ll need that,’ said Pat.

‘You mean, you know who Rani Sahiba is?’ asked Arnav. He could feel Khushi start to tremble, and he put his arm around her.

‘No, we don’t,’ Pat was stretching the truth just a little bit, ‘but we will, soon.’

He nodded, before helping Khushi up and leaving the room.

***

Khushi was shaking. She felt as if her whole body would not stop shivering. She sat in the car and stared straight ahead, arms wrapped around herself, teeth chattering. The images from those days years ago were pounding in her brain. She felt sick to her stomach, but knew she wasn’t going to be sick. That wouldn’t happen. Tears were flowing down her cheeks and she wasn’t wiping them away.

Arnav glanced over at her, and cursed under his breath. They were on a fairly lonely stretch of road. He braked to a halt, turning off the engines, taking off his seat belt before unlatching hers. He hauled her into his lap wrapping his arms around her, his face buried in her hair. She clung to him desperately, still shivering. He wrapped the lapels of his jacket around her, cradling her head with one hand, while his mouth searched for hers. He kissed her then, hungrily, pouring his love for her into it, wanting desperately for her to feel him, understand him, know that he was there with her. Nothing would ever take that away from her, not if it didn’t kill him first. His tongue reached into her mouth, tasting each corner of it, his hands roaming all over her, trying to make her understand that he would always hold her like this. This is where she belonged. Somewhere inside his head, he finally acknowledged his heart. He was in love with Khushi Kumari Gupta and he was damned if some Rani Sahiba or Shyam Jha was going to stop him from making her his!

The two agents following the car, braked almost as soon as he did. They watched the car for a little, not able to see anything through the tinted rear windows. What had happened? Why had Raizada suddenly stopped? They waited for a while, but nothing seemed to be happening. Puzzled, they looked at each other, before carefully stepping out of their car. They walked slowly over and peered in. Raizada and Ms Gupta were in a passionate clinch in the driver’s seat! Eyes closed, lost in each other, they never noticed their guardian angels, who had huge grins on their faces, barely controlling their laughter, before heading back to their car.

***

7 comments:

  1. Wow!!!

    Arnav Singh Raizaada finally acknowledged it......he loves KKG!!!!!!!

    Well these two are regularly forgetting time & place........m liking it!!!!

    RS & Sz hatred & madness is going to b their downfall.......& thy have no idea tht net is closing in on them.......

    I like the pace & cant wait for more!!!!

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  2. wow!! madhu!! loved it!! asr acknowledged it!!
    n when u mentioned the swimming pool.. i imagined beychaara arnav taking 10 laps in tat dirty dingy pool :)
    uff i hate anji even more.. n here also kinda feel sorry for shyamji :)

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  3. Loved the whole chapter... but as I told you... the breakfast scene was my favorite... touched my heart with its simplicity... and them just being there... just being normal...

    Apart from that.... need a second read... read it quickly, on the go.. on the phone... 'cos I couldn't wait !!! :p

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  4. Loved it and enjoyed it throughly... Loved that both ASR and Khushi are in character.

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  5. Mads - loved it to bits.... as I mentioned I read the entire story in one go & I just fell in love with it again & again with every chapter... pls dont stop it soon.. continue it.. wld love to read more... I cld visualize every sentence u wrote...

    Hats off girl!

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    Replies
    1. My sentiments exactly , lovely chapter Arnav finally admitting to himself and imp that ne was in love with KKG. Encounter over breakfast, with nanni almost walking in and them pretending nothing was happening, can see that happening in thr future too... better start taking notes guys ... but thats the fun of being in love I suppose can keep your hands of each other but dont want anyobe else to see;)

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  6. Lovely ending! These two (actually Arnav), don't really think where they are before getting in lip lock.:). The morning scene was so sweet, nanni really like Khushi, and she is spot on, Arnav needs someone to stand up to him, by him, with him, just as he would do for her.
    I hope Pat and the team realise who RS is, surely there cant be so many business women at the wedding, RS tall..stylish...she has already mentioned Khushi by name to Arnav, what im worried about is that she could quite easily go to SF and abduct her there!

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