Monday, October 29, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 43

Pat sat down with the notes that she’d made from Khushi’s conversation. She dismissed all the women in their early 20s and the women above 45. A very small list of names stood out.

‘Ratan,’ she said, ‘would it be possible to get backgrounds on these three women?’

‘Just three?’ he said.

‘Yes. After what Khushi told me, and given the timelines they came into her life, these are the only three that fit the profile so far. I need to get some background on these women. One of these is Rani Sahiba. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but I need as much information as possible,’ she explained.

‘Luke,’ he called the agent over. ‘Can you help Pat with these? She needs the CVs of these three women.’

‘Sure,’ he said agreeably. ‘What do you want on them?’

Pat moved over to sit next to him. ‘Date of birth. Place of birth. Current residence. Profession. Financial status. Employers,’ she listed.

‘Not a problem,’ he stated, his fingers flying over his keyboard.

She sat back, allowing him to do his work. This was how it was with Joe, too. The man could work magic given a keyboard, a screen and a server. Half an hour later, the printer spat out six sheets of paper. She picked them up and sat down to study them. Two of them she set aside almost immediately. The third though, was interesting. She read through it carefully and then re-read it. Her profile was almost hundred percent accurate. This woman fit the bill. She was holding the identity of Rani Sahiba in her hands.

‘Ratan,’ she said, calmly, although her heart was pounding, and her hands were clammy. ‘We’ve got her.’ This was the moment that any law enforcement official waits for - to say those words! Now, it was a matter of cracking the case wide open.

They all crowded her as she spread the two sheets of paper in front of her.

Gauri Virdi. Female. Mid-thirties. Owner of one of the biggest modeling agencies in India. Tie-ups with the best modeling agencies in the US and Europe. Self-made woman. Came into the limelight about six years ago. Was contracted to AR Group for the upcoming Madrid-Raizada Fashion show. It couldn’t fit better.

‘Yes!’ said Ratan as the group high-five’d each other. ‘Luke, dig up everything you can about Ms. Gauri Virdi. And I mean everything, her finances, her properties, her travel, even when she goes to the bathroom, if you can.’

‘Sure!’ said Luke, grinning widely. He sat down immediately at his computer. This was the second break they’d had. He did a search on the internet, found a picture of hers and quickly printed it. Now all they needed was a good print of Shyam and they were ready.

Ratan pinned the photo up on the wall with satisfaction. ‘And now, Rani Sahiba, all you have to do is make one mistake,’ he said. ‘That’s all I need.’

*****

The blue Honda City sat by the side of the road diagonally across from AR Group. The two men had been there for over two hours and were getting bored sitting there. The white SUV had gone into the underground employee parking lot and they couldn’t follow it in. Once in a while, one of them got out for smoke. What they didn’t know was that the exit from the parking lot was on the other side of the building. So they were vastly astonished when they saw the SUV coming up the street with two occupants in the front, and turn into the parking lot. They looked at each other in consternation. What the hell? How had they gotten out?

Just at that moment, there was tap on the driver’s side window. A policeman stood there, gesturing at them to lower the glass. The driver rolled down the glass.

‘What’s going on here?’ the policeman spat out a brown stream of tobacco. ‘What’re you doing here?’

‘Nothing, we’re waiting for someone,’ the driver said.

‘Really? People are complaining that this car has been sitting here for the past two hours. This is not a parking zone, so get moving!’ he rapped his baton against the body of the car for emphasis. ‘Come on, Move! Or I’ll get you towed.’

‘Look if you need something for tea...’ the passenger offered a bundle of notes to the policeman.

‘What? You’re offering me a bribe?’ the policeman was incensed. ‘Shall I put you away?’

‘No, no... ,’ they backed away. ‘We’re leaving, we’re leaving.’ The driver quickly started the car and they drove away. The policeman watched them go with a satisfied smile. He walked over to a white car parked a few yards away.

‘Good job, havaldar,’ Amar clapped him on the shoulder, before getting in the car and driving away.

The men drove down the street looking for a turn-off. Finally they found one about a kilometer away and turned down the side street before coming to a halt.

‘Shit!’ said the driver. ‘What do we tell boss?’

‘Rocky, we have to call him. And we’ve got to find out how they got out without us knowing,’ said Mannu.

Rocky nodded. He took out a cell and dialed. ‘Boss,’ he said, when the phone was answered. ‘We had to move the car. We can’t sit there. A policeman came by and..... no boss, he wasn’t taking bribes.... yes boss...’ and with a few more ‘yes boss’es he hung up.

‘Boss was not happy,’ he told Mannu. ‘Let’s go find that exit, and then find a way to keep an eye on them.’ He started the car and they doubled back towards AR Group, circling the building till they spotted the exit. For once their luck was with them. Across the street was a public parking spot. They drove in and left the car there, glad to be able to stretch legs.

They settled down for a long day.

****

It was almost three in the afternoon, when Arnav got a call from Ratan. He’d been working through the day, catching up on the innumerable details that had fallen by the wayside during his on and off presence. He hadn’t even had time to dwell on the ramifications of what his feelings for Khushi meant and what he wanted or needed to do with those feelings. For now, he moved it aside and focused on his work. Lunch had been a brief hurried affair at his desk with Lavanya, working through the details of the show. His jacket was off, slung over the back of his chair and he was pacing in his office, firing off dictation to one of the secretaries, when the call came in.

‘Arnav Singh Raizada,’ he turned on his bluetooth. On hearing it was Ratan, he gestured to the girl, we’ll pick it up later. He waited till she was out of the room before he said, ‘Yes, Ratan?’

‘We’ve identified Rani Sahiba.’

He was quiet for a moment. ‘Who?’

‘We’re working through the details right now.’

‘Who is it, dammit?’ his voice was cold.

‘We can’t tell you that right now. Try to understand, Mr. Raizada, we’re still planning our strategy right now.’

Arnav nodded his head. ‘Okay. I understand.’ They spoke for a while more, Ratan making sure they were okay before hanging up.

His head was pounding. He sat down at his desk, thinking things through. Khushi had to get home, now, he thought. At least he’d know she was safe. Picking up the extension he asked Lavanya to come to his room.

‘Lavanya, can you give Khushi a ride home? I’m going to be staying late and I don’t want her delayed because of me.’

‘Sure, ASR,’ she said. She looked at his hard face, hesitated and said. ‘Is everything okay, ASR?’

‘Yeah,’ he raised his eyebrows. ‘Why?’

‘Nothing,’ she said. She turned away and said, ‘I’ll drop her home. No worries,’ and walked out. At around four o’clock, she told Khushi, ‘by the way, ASR said he’d be late, so he asked me to drop you home.’

If Khushi was surprised, she didn’t show it. She knew ASR and what a workaholic he was, but with Rani Sahiba out there he’d been almost paranoid about not letting her out of his sight. Yet, he wanted her to go home with Lavanya? Well, that was his call, she thought, feeling a bit miffed. They left soon after.

Across the street, Rocky and Mannu watched the red Lexus exit the parking lot, but didn’t pay much attention to it. About two hours later, they watched as the white SUV exited the same lot. They dashed to their car, and screeched out of the parking lot, falling in behind the car. Rocky was driving, his attention on the road and the car ahead. Mannu called their boss.

‘They just left AR Corp, sir. We’re following them.’

‘Stay on them. As soon as they reach the mountain road, grab her,’ were their orders.

Arnav Singh Raizada drove slowly through the thick traffic, wanting to make better time. So much was churning through his head, but he tried to keep his focus on the road ahead. He halted at a signal and out of habit looked in the rear view mirror. A sea of cars were there behind him. Once the light changed, he was able to open up a little. As he sped up, he glanced once more into his rear view. A dark blue car was hopping lanes, trying to get through the thick of the traffic. He took a right turn and kept up his steady speed, luckily hitting all the green signals. He glanced at the rear view and saw that the blue car was now about two cars behind him. He resumed driving, the traffic thinning out. The blue car was still behind him, still two cars behind. He frowned. Was he imagining it? Was the car following him? He unbuttoned his jacket, making sure his gun was easily accessible.

Turning onto the mountain road he glanced once more in the rearview. Nope. There it was. He wondered what they wanted, and then it struck him. This was an ambush! He smiled grimly. Their victim had long since reached the safety of Raizada Mansion. He slowed down. The car behind him sped up. It went past him, the two men in it looking straight forward.

He hit the accelerator and came up to their rear. They slammed on their brakes, the car fishtailing as the driver fought for control, tires slipping, struggling for traction. The ABS system in the big SUV kicked in as he shifted down and applied the brakes. It halted smoothly. He leapt out of the car, leaving the door hanging open. He pulled the gun out and was running to the Honda before it had come to a complete stop. He stood at the drivers side, gun aimed straight at driver’s head.

‘Out!’ he said to the passenger. ‘Don’t make me repeat myself. Out! And your hands where I can see them.’ The passenger held his hands up and crawled out of the passenger seat. He came and stood in front of the car.

‘Now you,’ he gestured to the driver. ‘Out!’ Keeping his gun trained on him. The driver got out of the car, hands above his head. ‘Stand next to him,’ he said.

In the back of his mind, he heard the sound of an approaching car. His phone rang. Without taking his eyes or his gun off the men in front of him, he tapped on his bluetooth.

‘Mr. Raizada? Ratan. Don’t shoot. My men are just coming up to your location. Let them handle it from there.’

He could hear the car approaching, very fast. He flicked a glance towards it, and one of the men made a small move.

‘Please ... make me,’ he growled menacingly, his eyes flat and cold. One look at those cold eyes and the men stayed put.

The car braked hard next to him, and two agents leaped out of it, running up to Arnav, who had his eyes and gun still trained on the men from the car.

‘Mr. Raizada, it’s Amar. Let us take it from here.’

He nodded. The agents walked over to the two men, and he lowered the gun only when they were cuffed. They dragged them to their car, and locked them in. Amar came over to him and said, ‘Mr. Raizada.’

‘How did you know to get here in time?’ Arnav asked mildly, putting his gun back in the holster and buttoning his jacket again.

‘We ... were following you .. and them,’ said Amar.

‘I see. So you knew about these people?’ his voice was still mild, but there was underlying steel as he raised his eyes. They were molten with anger.

The agent was a little taken aback, but he stood his ground. ‘Yes, we did. And Mr. Raizada, at no time were you or Ms. Gupta in any danger.’ He looked at the SUV but couldn’t see her. ‘Where is Ms. Gupta anyway?’

‘I sent her home with one of my colleagues,’ the corner of his mouth lifted in something that wasn’t exactly a smile, more a sneer. ‘I think that was a good decision on my part, don’t you?’

Amar nodded. This guy was sharp as well as dangerous. None of them knew that he was capable of pulling a gun on the bad guys, in fact they didn’t even know that he was licensed to carry a gun! He watched as ASR nodded at him and headed back to his SUV. Time to call Ratan, he sighed. This big shot was going to be blowing his top very soon.

In reality, the big shot was smiling on his drive home. As he neared his house, he called Khushi,

‘Arnav?’

‘Hi,’ he said huskily the smile growing wider as he heard her voice. His pulses raced just to hear it. He couldn’t wait to get home and see her. ‘You at home?’

‘Yeah. Where are you?’

‘Almost home,’ he smiled. I can’t wait to see you, the imp said. For once, he ignored it. ‘I’ll see you in a bit, then,’ he said.

‘Sure,’ she said and hung up.

As he walked into the hallway, he saw his sister sitting with Dilip and Akash in the lounge.

‘Chotey, it’s good you’re back early!’ she said. ‘We’re all going out for dinner. In about half-an-hour. Payal’s parents and NK and Jamie will also be there,’ she informed him.

He nodded, ‘Okay, Di.’ Damn! He wanted Khushi to himself tonight, but looks like it wasn’t happening. Running up the steps, he absently started unbuttoning his jacket. Looking up, saw Khushi just coming down the stairs.

She was obviously coming from Payal’s room and was all ready to go out. Today she was in a sari, the same color as her eyes, but three shades darker. The shade they got when she was aroused. He stopped to take her in. The chiffon clung to her curves. The sleeveless blouse she wore with it was embellished with tiny crystals that glittered on her shoulders. Her flawless skin glowed through the folds of her pallu. Her hair was down and she’d done something with her makeup that emphasized her eyes and brought out their unique color.

He smiled at her, and she smiled back, her gaze traveling down his body and then he saw her eyes widen. He looked down at himself. The barrel of the gun was just visible under his arm. He took the stairs two at a time, and grabbed her arm, leading her to his room, shutting and locking the door behind them. He pulled the curtains to the windows closed, before turning back to her.

‘Arnav, a GUN?!!’ her voice rose three decibels.

He strode forward, one hand jerking her close, the other clamped over her oh-so-delectable mouth.

‘Keep your voice down,’ he hissed.

‘mmmff... mmfmarhhh!!’ she was trying to pull his arm off.

‘Khushi, if I let go, will you promise not to yell?’ She nodded, her eyes round as saucers. ‘Okay,’ he said, before slowly removing his hand.

‘What’s with the..’ he made a move towards her as she raised her voice again. She stopped. ‘Okay, okay..’ taking deep breaths. ‘A gun, Arnav? You’re carrying a gun?’

‘You know why,’ he sounded exasperated, turning away to take off his jacket. Automatically, she walked over to him, holding the jacket while he slipped it off, taking a hanger out of his closet and hanging it up. He took off the holster and saw her hanging up his jacket and for a minute the picture it painted in his head shook him to his core. It was so intimate ... and yet, so ... so .... right. He came up behind her to hold her shoulders and turn her around. Looking deep into her eyes, he said, ‘you know they’re out there. I can’t let anything happen to you. If they try anything, it’ll be over my dead body.’

She clapped her hand over his mouth. ‘No! Don’t talk like that.’

He gently removed her hand and pulled her close, cradling her head, one arm around her waist. They stayed like that for a bit, before he pulled away. ‘I need to shower, you need to go downstairs. Di said something about dinner tonight.’

‘No gun?’ she asked.

‘No. I promise,’ he dropped a swift kiss on her cheek before turning her around and giving her a push towards the door. ‘I’ll see you in ten minutes.’

She looked over her shoulder, ‘Okay.’

‘And Khushi?’ she turned around fully. ‘You’re going in my car, okay?’

She just smiled at him and left the room. He smiled to himself, picked up a towel and headed to the bathroom.

***

7 comments:

  1. Loved it Mads... Arnav can & never cld push her far... so we are expecting a big dhamaka as a treat for diwali? ;)

    These small small stolen moments add spark & keeps up the flow.. thanks for the good chapter... :)

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  2. Haila..... Rocky & Mannu !!!! Ooohh.... Loved them.... I so miss them !!! Superb Mads.... Absolutely loved it.. the pace, the track.... the characters.... including the imp... just at the right moment and right amount.... to the tee !!!

    Rani Sahiba's identity revealed to the cops... Now we need to see how they catch her !!!

    And that scene in the bedroom... just like the breakfast scene in last chapter... so normal... yet so intimate !!!! Loved the subtleness !!!

    44 please !!! :p

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  3. Wow!!! ASR with a gun.......deadly combination....& he used it to his adv.....wanna c more of tht....!!!

    RS & S r going down......y do I have a feeling tht S is going to b singing like a canary soon!!!!

    Can't wait for more!!!

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  4. Loved the curtains closing slowly on the intense intrigue mads .. hmm .. so this chap rani sahiba is out .. mayhap next we see shyam get his cover blown off .. ne ways .. loving the pace .. & yea like ritsy .. loved to see rocky & mannu here too .. those 2 guys made an indelible impressions on our minds ;) ...
    the romance in this chap for me was really nice .. i know many wud say what romance .. but the confidence in love is now openly coming out .. its not just about acknowledging love .. its about embracing it ..which is the phase arnav seems to be in now .. so kudos hun .. as usual a sublime read ..

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  5. by chance i stumbled on your ff ..wow....i am read up to ch 43...and what a reading....what a gripping story your whole writing is wonderful

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  6. every body need a man like arnav

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  7. Yes! Go Arnav...I cant just imagine it, suit him to be a cop... maybe in the us the navy blue :P

    These hench men.. dopey and dumbo you would have thought that they checked the entrance and exits... I love the way he is being very protective of her, quite rightly. But the scene in the bedroom with the jacket. ? Aww so sweet, only a woman in love

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