Gaurav stepped into the pent-house early that evening feeling victorious. He hadn’t told Ria yet, but he had met up with Manek, Naren and a top official in the Crime Branch. Actually, just last evening Naren had cracked the software and had unearthed classified information on Gaurav’s case in Dubai. He had tried to keep thigs as legal as possible for a long time and finally about fifteen days ago the Crime Branch had stepped in. Gaurav’s recent case had brought him in their radar especially when they got to know about his Dubai past. They had helped secure the necessary permissions for Naren to gain entry to highly restricted territory and he hadn’t disappointed. They were in collaboration with the Interpol apparently and were after Ansari too. So far, the man had been on the run giving them a miss every time they had some clue about his whereabouts. It was as if he had disappeared into thin air. They couldn’t wait to apprehend him and in fact, Gaurav wanted Ansari to come after him. He had just made plans with the Crime Branch to become the bait to lure the lion out of his den. He wanted to end this chapter of his life…for good. Ria was right… he had to face the demons and defeat them. Nothing more could snatch his life…his control. He hadn’t stopped smiling the entire time after the officers had left his office.
Ria was in her room and that was surprising. She barely spent time in her room which was now her study. He pushed the door open a bit and saw her silhouette lying on the bed in the dim light of her room. Today’s emotional roller coaster must have exhausted her, he thought. He let her rest and hoped his plan would bring closure to her as well and he couldn’t wait to start a new life with her. He and Keith had a conference call with Manek and discussed his case and its progression. They knew Ansari would strike soon and were making plans to nab him in different possible situations. Manek had arranged additional security around their building and the hospital too was a fortress.
The call went long into the night and when it ended Keith left for the guestroom. He was staying the night as it was late and he had to be up early morning. Gaurav stretched and yawned as he looked at the clock. It was 11PM. He didn’t keep the track of time today at all… And Ria hadn’t bothered with the dinner when he had called out to her earlier. Keith had mentioned she was very upset and drained out when she had gone into her room earlier that day.
But that was hours ago…
It rang alarm bells in his head. Was she, all right? This was all new to her and for all her bravado, she was anxious to the core. He had sensed that even on the phone today afternoon. Enough… he ha dto talk to her and get her in the loop. He knew she would be dead against him going as a bait and smiled thinking about how she had his back. He went to her room and stood outside. He paused and gently knocked at the door.
He knocked louder. “…RIA…are you sleeping still… Are you OK…?.”
Again, no answer…
His heart was beating loudly now… he held the door knob and turning it slowly he opened the door and rushed in… Ria was not there.
Flabbergasted, he looked around and opened the bathroom to check if she was there. He was getting frantic by the minute. He saw her mobile phone on the bed. It was switched off and had no battery in it. Really??
He was stunned and glued to his place…fear creeping into his body cells. “KEITH… KEITH… COME HERE IMMEDIATELY….” He yelled drawing his fingers through his hair.
Keith was there in an instant. One look at the room and he understood the situation…
“… Wh…Where is she, Keith…?” He asked him in a neutral voice. Keith nodded and opened his suitcase. Keith went back to the garden and came back with his laptop. Joining Gaurav in the drawing room he typed in some keys and the screen showed the 12 camera screens together. He connected it to the TV in the living room. Gaurav had installed additional cameras a couple of weeks ago and though he hadn’t put any cameras in their bedrooms he had covered every inch of the house. The PTZ cameras were camouflaged and no one except Keith and he, knew their locations. There were motion sensors attached which sounded an alarm whenever anyone crossed the path of the invisible electromagnetic beams. Keith had devised the high-tech system himself but the sensors were switched on only when they retired for the night.
Gaurav asked to see the main door camera footage, from the time Keith and Ria had entered in the afternoon. The screen was now filled with one camera footage. He saw Ria enter followed by Keith who set the door alarm. There was no movement in that area and they fast forwarded to every half an hour…they didn’t have much time to waste. Gaurav’s head was pounding with the tension building up… his anxiety was eating into his heart. It was at that moment he saw her on the screen… Keith paused. It was at 9PM. He and Keith glanced at each other. He knew Keith was thinking along the same lines. At that time earlier, they had paused their discussion. He had gone to his room to take a quick bath and Keith must have gone to the kitchen to heat up the dinner he had cooked earlier in the evening.
Ria was looking extremely tensed and she had worn casual clothes and sneakers. She was blinking tears as she typed in the alarm code. He had given her the code when they had come back from their honeymoon as he had wanted her to feel that she was an integral part of the house. He swore loudly his voice radiating fiercely throughout the house. The door lock had a system to set back the alarm code within two minutes of shutting. Just in case they forgot to set it after they entered the house. Before retiring to bed, he only had to check it for the red light and later, switch-on the sensor button which was near his headrest. No wonder it had escaped their attention. Keith looked at him questioningly. He nodded. They ran to her room…. There had to be some clue there.
Ria’s bed looked slept in…. Nothing else was out of place. Only her purse was missing. But they already knew that from the footage. Her laptop…. As if hearing his thoughts Keith rushed to her study table and took the laptop. He opened it and switched it on. It was password protected… Keith worked on it and it was open in a few minutes. He checked her folders… Gaurav saw all the information she had. He cringed…. His eyes welled up as he realised, she had chosen to believe him in spite of all that. He was dying inside now…. he had to know if she was fine. He would kill Ansari with his bare hands if something was to happen to Ria. Leaving Keith to his work, he rushed to his room and changed into black jeans and full sleeved black T shirt. He wore a black baseball cap and black sports shoes. He took a black handkerchief, just in case he needed to cover his face.
He came out just in time to meet Keith who was rushing towards him with Ria’s laptop. Keith showed him the Email. It was retrieved from her recycle bin… she had left her email right window open… probably for them to see. Oh God… he had to hurry. His blood chilled when he saw the video clip of her sister held captive. So that was the reason for her rush. She must be so scared….
Keith left to get ready as he called Manek. They also contacted Crime branch…. Gaurav went hoarse yelling into the receiver on the importance of sleuthing and not calling for attention. He just wanted Ria and her sister safe. Within minutes Keith and he were out of the door. Keith had his special duffle bag and Gaurav didn’t ask him what it contained. He didn’t have to tell Keith anything…. He knew the man was also very fond of Ria and he would do anything to get her back safe.
Ria was a bundle of nerves as she stepped into La Cordona. She had left home as early as possible trying to avoid Gaurav and Keith. She was worried about being caught… she had held her breath lying on her bed when Gaurav had checked on her earlier. Thank God he hadnt come closer or worse asked her anything. She couldn’t lie to him… She had earlier deleted her mail, removed the battery of her mobile phone and hidden it in her cupboard. Hopefully they wouldn’t be able to restart her phone and by the time they retrieved her email… she would have saved Pooja. Luckily for her she had the codes for the alarm. She blinked back tears as she remembered how Gaurav had entrusted her with the codes… never in her wildest of dreams had she envisioned using them in this manner. She had rushed out of the building and struggled to find a rickshaw. The traffic was horrible because it was Friday night. She was so used to be driven around by Keith that she was finding it difficult to focus on both, the GPS and task at hand. The song playing on the autorickshaw speaker didn’t help either…. It was one which touched her heart and was just something she wished….
Somehow, she made it there with ten minutes to spare. She took deep breaths to calm herself knowing this was her only chance to save not only her sister, but Gaurav as well. She just hoped she would get out of this alive…. she wanted a lifetime with Gaurav and not just these few months. Her throat clogged with emotions remembering those beautiful blacks staring at her…. She couldn’t lose focus. Pooja’s and also her little baby’s life was at stake. Her parents would be worried sick too… did chitthappa know…? She wondered…She pushed all personal emotional thoughts away.
She entered the Boutique at 10PM sharp. It was filled with few shoppers, but the lights… she just hated them… they were irritating to her eyes and the room freshener… it was so pathetic she wanted to throw up. Looking around she found the rack with the dress in the said row. She looked at the people around her and everyone looked suspicious. She let the thought go away and tried to focus. She entered the cubicle as instructed and changed into the new suit. She covered her head and saw herself in the mirror, hanging in the cubicle. She couldn’t recognize herself with the glares on. She folded her clothes and put them in the polythene she had carried in her purse and slipped it beneath the seat kept inside the cubicle. She hoped and prayed Gaurav would find it. She knew…. he would come for her.
She quickly exited the boutique from the back door and as told there was a car waiting for her. She walked cautiously towards it. There weren’t many cars around and the lane was pretty deserted. She got goose bumps and she wasn’t sure whether it was because of the chilly night or because of the chill that had permeated into her body. As she neared the car she saw someone sitting at the back. The back door opened and she was gestured to enter. As she got into the car, she saw Sujata…though she was not disguised now, Ria recognized her. She sat in and closed the door behind her. The car started and they moved out of the lane towards the main road. Traffic was slowing them and she was getting impatient.
“Where is Pooja…?” She asked, looking at Sujata.
“She is fine…so far. You do as you are told… and she will continue to remain so.” Sujata replied with a smirk.
“How… how can you do this Sujata…? You know what the loss of a sister means….” Ria tried to talk more. She was desperate to know Sujata’s intentions.
Sujata suddenly turned towards her. She was annoyed.”…Did you understand me when I told you about my sister? NO… you didn’t. You did nothing about the documents I gave you. You want money and the rich life so you have continued to stay with him isn’t it…?” She glared at her and pointed towards her “…. You know what, Ria? You are a bloody gold digger. Gaurav will also see through that facade soon… That …if he lives….” Sujata looked away and chuckled.
Ria shuddered hearing her words. Was the lady insane? She couldn’t rile her up now. She was worried about Pooja.
After an hour-long drive where neither of them spoke anymore, they reached a secluded area. Ria had never even heard of any place like this in Pune before. There were few under construction buildings. The car finally stopped in front of an abandoned dilapidated structure. She was asked to get out of the car and Sujata climbed out too. Ria looked around. The place reeked of urine and faeces…the purgatory odour making her want to throw up… Luckily for her she hadn’t eaten anything for hours… but still she dry heaved while Sujata gave her a disgusting glance. The stench was unbearable and she covered her mouth and nose with her stole as she followed Sujata inside a dimly lit passage. It was like a tunnel and at the end of it they reached a room. The stench had reduced but was still lingering. Sujata opened the lock on the door. It was dark except for a light Bulb hanging over a chair. Pooja still lay slumped and tied to it…. Oh God was she sedated in that condition…? She was blindfolded. As Ria tried to rush towards Pooja, Sujata held her back.
“Not so soon dear…. Not so soon…” Sujata laughed a menacing one.
Ria looked at her. “…You have me now Sujata…. Let her go… just look at her condition…” she pleaded.
Sujata snickered. She moved close to Ria sideways and whispered, “She is sedated and…don’t worry… it’s prescription… I have a heart too. But we can’t give her more… can we…?” She squinted at Ria and continued looking back at Pooja. “…So the faster we get moving the better it is… We will drop her in a safe location, mostly near your house. She will come to soon and then she won’t even remember the event….” She turned to face Ria, pointing towards herself and continued. “…You see…I am not so bad after all…” and she laughed again. She was a basket case indeed, Ria thought as the laughter squealed and boomeranged viciously amidst the dark walls…Sujata was a dangerous basket…
Right then Sujata received a message in her mobile phone. She smiled and looked at Ria. “…Common Ria… its show time….”
“Wait…. what about Pooja? I can’t leave her here…”
“…like I said…We are taking her with us. She will be dropped on the way…When you, my dear, are with me …I don’t need her… Your parents must have raised a hue and cry by now. We don’t want attention, do we…?” She laughed at her own joke.
In the next ten minutes they were out of the place and drove in an uncomfortable sedan with Pooja. There was another guy this time along with the driver. Both of them had helped lift Pooja who was still out but occasionally stirring and put her in the car. Ria sat at the back with Pooja leaning on her, hoping that she didn’t come to her senses completely till they dropped her at the location mentioned. Sujata squeezed herself next to Pooja and shut the door. As they came to the other end of that road towards the main road Ria recognized the area close to her house. They were right there all this time…?? The men left Pooja on the seat near the gate of her housing society and before anyone could come out…they left.
Ria was a little relieved that Pooja was safe. Her parents would see to it…. She just hoped they would find her ASAP. As for her she didn’t know what was in store. As the car sped on the main road the quick flickering of the passing street lights falling on her face which was covered with her silent tears, she shut her eyes and visualised a paradise of her dreams… a place where she and Gaurav had their happily ever after…
The car jerked violently causing her to swear and dry heave into her stole yet again… the nausea wasn’t subsiding, motion sickness making it worse. She shut her eyelids tightly as another nauseating bout of anxiety hit her and the only vision which calmed her racing heart was the pair of beautiful black eyes filled with over-pouring love… would she ever get to see him again…?
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