Sunday, November 4, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 46

When Payal had told her story, Ratan asked her to come with him to the store where she’d found Khushi’s cell phone. He wanted to hear the details of the pickup from the storekeeper.

Arnav stood with Pat, looking grimly into the distance. He was going to have a long talk with Bhardwaj later, telling him how incompetent the CBI was. Just because they got two guys yesterday, they assumed that Shyam and Rani Sahiba would give up? And THEN he was going to have a talk with his sister and Payal when they got home, but first, where was Khushi? His fists clenched in frustration.

Pat was on the phone with Luke, who was working on tracing Shyam’s phone. He wasn’t getting a hit. The phone seemed to be off.

Anjali got out of the car and came to him. She laid a hand on his shoulder, and quietly said, ‘Chotey?’ He looked at his sister, the anguish in his eyes visible even through the aviators. ‘Did you know Khushi was in danger?’ there was an almost curious note in her voice. He nodded. ‘And you wanted to keep her safe, that’s why you insisted she stay with us, isn’t it?’ He nodded again, looking down at the ground. She put her hand up against his cheek. ‘She’s going to be okay, Chotey,’ she said, an almost fierce look on her face.

‘I hope so, Di,’ his voice was hoarse.

‘Go find her,’ she said.

‘I don’t know where to begin,’ he swallowed.

‘Perhaps they do,’ she said, nodding towards Pat who was pacing up and down on the sidewalk, constantly on the phone with Luke. ‘Trust your love for her, Chotey, you’ll find her.’ He stared open-mouthed at his sister as her words hit home. She patted his cheek before moving back to the car.

Just then, Ratan came up, Payal in tow. ‘Well?’ asked Arnav. Pat joined them as well.

‘As far as we could gather, Khushi seemed to have gotten into a van with two men. A white mini-van, with no windows. Don’t have more than that to go on,’ he stood arms akimbo, deep in thought.

‘Who is Rani Sahiba?’ asked Arnav in a deathly quiet manner. Ratan and Pat stared at him. Payal looked from one to the other.

‘They know who Rani Sahiba is?’ she sounded horrified as she looked at him.

‘And they won’t tell me who she is,’ his voice was still cold. ‘Perhaps if they do, we could find your sister faster, Payal.’

Ratan debated with himself a minute before speaking, ‘Gauri Virdi.’

‘What?!’ Arnav was shocked. She had been in his office, multiple times, she’d seen Khushi there. In fact, she’d also been at the wedding. But... no.. it couldn’t be, he shook his head. ‘Are you sure?’

‘She’s the only one that matched the profile from your list of guests, Mr. Raizada,’ Pat intervened calmly.

‘You knew .... all this while you knew and you didn’t tell me?’ he snarled in anger,  wanting to strangle the man in front of him, his hands pawing the air at his sides, as if, if he brought them up, he would smash his face. The soft touch of a hand distracted him. Payal was holding on to his shoulder.

‘It’s not the time to get angry, Arnav. Find Khushi first, and then you can do what you want,’ she said, her eyes still teary, anger lacing her voice, but giving Arnav silent support. After all, Khushi was her sister, too. He nodded. She was right.

‘Payal, go home with Di,’ he said. ‘I’ll bring Khushi home,’ he promised more to himself than to her. ‘If anybody asks, I took her out to lunch.’ She understood. She walked away to the car, getting in and shutting the door quietly. Mohan drove them home.

***

Khushi had been conscious for a while. She’d woken up in the van, on the drive to this place, wherever it was. They’d put her in a wooden crate with holes drilled into the bottom, so she could breathe. The van had stopped and men had lifted the box down, and carried her. She could hear muffled voices, but she couldn’t make out what they said. Her hands were tied behind her back, and a gag was on her mouth. The crate had her sitting up, her knees doubled. Her feet weren’t tied, she noticed. She had to keep her head bent, because the crate was too small to sit up straight.

She was set down and they began opening the box. She let herself go limp, closing her eyes, breathing regularly, feigning sleep. Where was she?

The crate opened and behind her eyelids she knew there was light around her.

‘Put her on the bed,’ her blood chilled when she heard that familiar voice. Shyam. If she’d guessed it before, now she was certain. He had finally gotten to her!

She was lifted up and put on the bed. They untied her hands, she could now make out three other people’s voices, all men. She didn’t know those voices. Her hands were spread and tied to something. Her ankles were being bound. They took off her gag and left her. She heard the door closing. For a while she lay still, wondering if someone was still in the room, then slowly opened her eyes. She was in a bedroom - a beautifully appointed one. Stark white with black furniture and bright red accessories. The bed was an old fashioned European wrought-iron bed, and her hands were tied to the head board. She twisted around, trying to get a good look at what was around her. What time was it? she thought. From the windows, all she could see was the sky. A blue sky with white clouds floating by.

The door opened slowly and she turned her head towards it. To her surprise, it was Gauri Virdi. Gauri Virdi? What was she doing here? And why was she here anyway? Gauri walked across to the bed, and leaned down, running a finger down her face. She spoke. In a whisper.

‘Awake, my beautiful one?’

Gauri Virdi was ... Rani Sahiba? Her eyes widened as the realization struck. The older woman smiled, a cat-like smile that stretched across her lips, but didn’t reach her eyes.

‘Yes,’ she replied in a small voice, her mind racing a mile a minute. ‘Can I have some water? I’m thirsty.’

‘Of course, you can.’ Gauri walked across to the bedside table and poured her a glass of water. She helped Khushi sit up and held the glass to her lips.

Khushi drank thirstily, her eyes on the glass. She finished and moved her head away. ‘What am I doing here? and what do you want?’

‘What I always wanted. You.’ A hand reached out and cupped her cheek. She leaned forward and kissed her other cheek, lingering on it.

Khushi turned her head to look at the woman squarely in the eyes, then she let a smile come into hers. ‘Why tie me up?’

Gauri’s eyes widened as she noticed the look. Something was different about this Khushi. She was maturer and seemed a little less reserved about this whole thing, more accepting. There was no fear in her eyes. ‘Darling, you know I can’t have you running around any more,’ she drawled. ‘I have to keep you where you belong. With me.’

Khushi smiled then. A slow smile. ‘You can’t tie a free bird, you know,’ she said in a low voice. Gauri laughed and stood up. She wasn’t sure what game Khushi was playing, but .. she would have to see. Four years is a long time. People change.

The door opened just then, and Shyam walked in.

‘So, Rani Sahiba, are we happy now?’ he asked, hands on hips looking Khushi up and down, undressing her with his eyes. She suppressed a shudder and looked at Gauri.

She was smiling, happy. ‘Yes, I am, Shyam.’ Her long fingers lightly raked across his cheek. ‘You came through.’

‘For you, Rani Sahiba, anything for you,’ he said. He looked across at Khushi and said, ‘by the way, that Raizada must be going mad by now, looking for you. But he won’t find you here, you know that, right? You see, he doesn’t know anything about Rani Sahiba.’

She didn’t say anything. Just looked at him blankly.

‘Shyam,’ Gauri brought his attention back to her. ‘Did you want something?’

He licked his lips as his eyes remained on Khushi. ‘Of course, I did.’ His meaning was clear. She almost gagged, but swallowed it down, keeping her face blank, her eyes unblinking on him. He looked away, at Gauri. ‘I need the payment,’ he told her.

She nodded. Giving one last look at Khushi, ‘Let’s go.’ They left Khushi alone.

She waited as she heard the door being locked from the other side and their footsteps walking away. Then she slumped against the headboard. She breathed in deeply, rapidly, tears finally coming into her eyes. ‘Arnav,’ she whispered. ‘Find me, please.’ Her heart was crying out for him. ‘I’m scared! Find me, Arnav, please, oh please!’

***

They drove back to the CBI headquarters, Arnav in his SUV and Pat and Ratan in their car. The drive seemed to take forever to Arnav. He honked impatiently at the innumerable obstacles in his way. Finally they arrived and rushed upstairs. Luke was still trying to get a fix on Shyam’s phone but it was still switched off. Amar and Sachin joined them in the war room.

Arnav looked at them, heard them making plans, what they didn’t have was a clue as to where Khushi could be. They didn’t doubt that Gauri was behind the kidnapping .. but where would she be holding her? His brain was ticking over everything he knew about Gauri.

Suddenly, he said, ‘Stop!’ rather loudly. They all quietened looking at him. He picked up his cell and called Aman.

‘Aman,’ he said, when the phone was answered. ‘Put me through to Gauri Virdi’s office, now.’

‘Sure, ASR,’ that loyal man answered. Music played for a bit, and he turned on the speakerphone.

A click. ‘Ms Gauri Virdi’s office. How can I help you?’ the sing-song voice of a woman came the phone.

‘Arnav Singh Raizada here. I need to speak to Ms. Virdi, right now,’ he said curtly.

‘Mr. Raizada, sir,’ the girl was practically simpering over the phone. If they had video they’d probably see her bat her eyelashes. ‘I’m so sorry, but Ms. Virdi is not in. Can I take a message?’

‘Look, Ms...?’ he paused.

‘Gupta,’ she said. He felt something go through his heart at the name. What the fuck? The others jerked their heads at the name. Pat raised an eyebrow. This was .. bizarre to say the least!

He cleared his throat. ‘Ms. Gupta, I need to speak to her urgently. Where can I find her?’

‘She did say she had an emergency, so she would be working from home today, and could be contacted on her personal number,’ the secretary said, not giving much away, keeping her boss’ privacy intact, even if it was from the delicious Mr. Raizada.

‘Okay. Thank you,’ he said, before hanging up.

The others looked at him, with a little admiration in their eyes. Just like that, he’d found out how to get hold of Rani Sahiba (they still thought of her that way - Ms. Virdi was not quite their cup of tea!)

‘The penthouse,’ said Luke, going through her details. ‘It’s the top floor of the same building where her office is.’

Ratan quickly organized two more agents to go with them. They didn’t know how many people would be there or how well armed they’d be. It was best to take along a few more crack shots.

‘I’m coming with ...,’ Arnav started to say. Then stopped. He was feeling a bit dizzy. Somewhere in his mind, he could hear her voice, calling to him, ‘Arnav!’ He paled and they looked at him swaying slightly on his feet.

‘You okay?’ Pat was looking at him concernedly.

He nodded, yes, deep breaths. ‘I’m coming with you,’ he repeated.

The agent looked at him for a second, saw the raw fear and fury in his eyes and said, ‘Yes. Come along. Pat you ride with him.’ She nodded.

They rushed downstairs, piling into three cars, and pulling away in a convoy. Luke would be staying behind as communication coordinator. Half way there, Ratan was startled by Luke in his earpiece, ‘he’s on the move, finally.’

‘Where?’

‘Seems to be in the same location you’re headed to.’

‘Good.’ We can finally wrap this case up, he thought They had all they needed against these two for the slave trade, but they needed the rest for the kidnapping cases, not once but thrice!

Luke had checked the floor plans, and the building plans. The entire top floor was the penthouse and was accessible only by a private key to the elevator and the fire escape. If the elevators came up to the penthouse, the occupants would be alerted by the sound. So the plan was to ride the elevators to the floor below the penthouse. Then use the stairs to get to the top floor.

The cars stopped in front of the tall high rise and they leapt out of it. Ratan walked to the reception and held out his ID. The others stood around in the lobby, Arnav standing a little apart.

His heart was beating faster and he knew it. She was in this building. He just knew it.

****

Khushi didn’t know how long she had lain there, awake, alone. Finally, she heard the clicking of heels. Rani Sahiba was on her way. The door opened and Gauri stepped in. Clad in casual jeans and an emerald green shirt, with flat moccasins on her feet, she looked the epitome of casual chic. Her hair was held back by a headband, falling down her back, straight as a broomstick. She watched as the older woman came across and sat down on the bed next to her.

Gauri drank her face in. This was the face that kept her awake at night. She didn’t know what it was about this girl, but she had to have her in her life. She was obsessed with her - she freely admitted it - and she would go to any lengths to have her, destroy anything in her path to get to her. She wanted to hurt her for the pain she had given her by being away these last four years. Her right hand caressed Khushi’s cheek.

Khushi closed her eyes, not willing to let Rani Sahiba see the loathing in them, and leaned into the hand on her cheek, pressing into it, hoping she would get the message she was trying to convey.

Gauri’s eyes widened at the sudden response. She stayed still for a minute, then rubbed her thumb lightly over Khushi’s lips, eyes widening even further when Khushi’s lips parted and she sighed. Her own lips parted at the sight in front of her. Khushi tied up, and wanting? Suddenly a cold gleam came into her eyes. Was the girl playing her? She slapped her hard, on her cheek.

Khushi was unprepared for the sting of the slap, an involuntary cry came from her lips. Her eyes flew open and she looked straight into Gauri’s. She smiled. ‘Is that all you got, bitch?’ she said softly, menacingly.

Gauri smiled. So .. the worm had turned, or had she? She slapped her again, back-handed, a loud crack.

Khushi took it straight on, not a sound came from her lips, a trickle of blood in one corner of her mouth, a smirk on her face. She felt Gauri’s hand on her breast, squeezing it hard, and smiled even wider. ‘Kiss me, now!’ she commanded. Gauri leaned in, her mouth opening, devouring Khushi’s, her tongue diving deep into her mouth. Khushi let her tongue roam inside Gauri’s mouth for a second, just a second, before she almost gagged, but she had to do this. She had to get Gauri to free her hands. She pulled away. ‘Untie me,’ she ordered. Gauri smiled a predatory smile, and reaching forwards, untied her hands.

Khushi dug her fingers into Gauri’s scalp, throwing away the headband, and holding her hair. She pulled it. Hard.

Gauri flinched, and her breathing deepened. She could feel the wetness flow between her legs as Khushi ran her tongue over her face, holding her head gripped tight, not allowing her to move. Khushi pulled back and then dipping her head, butted Gauri’s nose with all her strength. It was brutal, and she heard the satisfying crack of bone.

Gauri screamed in rage and pain, rearing back, holding her nose, blood flowing freely through her fingers. Khushi scrambled to untie her legs. She quickly undid the rope, jumping up to run to the door. Gauri screamed again, a long drawn out, ‘Biiiiitch!’ before running across the bed, trying to cut off Khushi. Khushi saw her coming and side-stepped. Gauri was fast. She landed on her feet and came at her, both arms stretched out with her hands like claws. She grabbed Khushi’s sleeve and pulled. Khushi pulled away desperately, hearing the blouse rip.

Gauri grabbed her hair, she grabbed Gauri’s hair too, both tugging and pulling, grunts and squeals punctuating their battle. She pulled a fist back and landed a blow on Gauri’s solar plexus. Gauri doubled up, trying to breathe. She ran for the door again. Gauri came after her, grabbing her shoulders. She twisted around, trying to break the hold, kicking with her feet, barely connecting.

She shoved her back, retreating two steps closer to the door, Gauri charged her like a bull her full body weight hitting Khushi. Her back hit the door and it flew open. She went down to the floor, Gauri on top of her, rolling, punching, kicking, scratching.

*****

Ratan asked to see the manager of the building. He showed his ID to the man when he came up, and said, ‘We need to get into the penthouse, and we don’t want anybody alerted. We’ll go up in the elevator to the floor below, and you’ll open up the fire escape and the top floor.’

‘Sure, sir,’ said the manager. ‘But Ms. Virdi..’ he trailed off.

‘We’ll handle Ms. Virdi. You see, we have reason to believe Ms. Virdi’s life is in danger, so we have to take precautions.’

The man’s eyes opened wide and he said, ‘Sure, sir. Give me two minutes.’ He hurried off to get the keys.

How long was it taking? thought Arnav. Geeze. He could've just gone to the penthouse, and rescued Khushi, but not knowing how many men were there, would put her life in jeopardy. He understood that. But this standing around and waiting was getting to him. He raked a hand through his hair, destroying the carefully styled gel-set and it flopped across his brows.

****

Shyam had walked to the end of the street where Lallan and his men were waiting. He handed over the bundle of notes, patted their backs and started walking back. He didn’t notice the white SUV or the two unmarked CBI cars. As he reached the revolving doors, he pulled out his cellphone and started dialing. Then he looked up.

Standing in the lobby was Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada. He was looking away to his right, but Shyam couldn’t mistake that face, that arrogant I-own-it-all attitude. Next to him was the white lady he’d seen at the wedding, and standing around were three or four other men. You could see they were police, some sort of police. Another man was talking to the manager, showing him something from his wallet.

As ASR’s head started turning towards him, Shyam turned away, retreating down the street. He almost hit the call button on his phone when he looked at it and something struck him.

The cellphone. It was traceable.

He opened the back and took out the SIM card, and threw it on the street. The cellphone he dropped into a nearby trash can. Then he continued walking down the street, finding a bus stop and sitting down with a newspaper he picked up, so he could keep an eye on the front of the building.

Somehow the police had known where to find Rani Sahiba. Too bad, they wouldn’t find him. He chuckled to himself. But Arnav Singh Raizada would pay if anything happened to Rani Sahiba; and that Khushi girl, too. Ever since she had come into Rani Sahiba’s life, his own life had become hell. Not to mention the six months he’d stayed in prison. Oh ho! They both would pay and pay dearly.

****

3 comments:

  1. Mind Blowing... Loved the new and improved... the daring Khushi !!!

    So.. Arnav again had his premonition about Khushi... his saansein ruk gayi moment !!! And Shyam got away... but for how long !!!!

    Can't wait.... 47 please !!!!

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  2. Forgot to mention... so let me add... totally felt Arnav's frustration when he said... "I don't know where to begin Di" ... I mean... this coming from The Mighty Arnav Singh Raizada is Huge... To accept, to admit he doesn't know the next step ! Could feel his helplessness ! Also, thanks to Anji baby... he finally got the right word for his feelings for Khushi... Love !!! :-)

    In the last scene... right from where Shyam turned away from Arnav and realized the cell phone trace... I could hear "Daiyya Ho" playing in the background !!!! And ASR background music was on full swing in the CBI office while calling Virdi's office !

    Superb, once again Madhs !!!

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  3. Go Khushi, shes been doing her homework, aswell as eorking out. Good its better to have a sense of self defense, than nothing at all. I hope she kicks this womans a*se.. pardon the language but you know what I mean.

    What a coward Shyam is, he knows the police are about to get his RS, but doesnt warn her? I cant wait until Arnav bets hold of Shyam!

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