As sleep claimed her the last thought she had, was the vision of watching her tayaji and father trying to force Yash to try to shoot. Yash could never learn for nuts… but the crackle of the rifle…. Crackle…Oh God… She woke up with a start.
“GAUTAM…Gautam…” he was fast asleep. He woke up with a start.
“What… what is it Preeti?” his face etched with fatigue and worry.
“That crackle… that sound…shot…I have heard it before…. So many times…oh God how could I forget…?”
“Wait a minute…Preeti…you aren’t making sense…”
“Gautam… I heard a sound…like a crackle…before…before I was shot that day in Kota…”
That got him all alert. He sat up straight. He held her hand nodding his head.
“Gautam… I…I know that sound…very well. We had a couple of those rifles at home. My bapu and tayaji used to practise their targets…I have seen them trying to teach Yash for years…H ecouldnt learn for nuts. But though I wasn’t allowed I used to watch hidden from their view. I loved that sound… I can recognise that distinct crackle anywhere… That was our rifle…” She held his hands tightly as tears flowed down wetting his t shirt. “… Gautam someone used OUR rifle to shoot at me…”
Gautam held her till she calmed down and immediately placed a call to both Bhim Singh and Tanveer Raisingh. Tanveer was awaiting the ballistic reports whatever the forensics could manage. But it was difficult because they couldn’t find the shells or any casing of the bullet. Besides it was tiny and grazed her hand… He promised to check with her folks if they had lent the rifle to anyone. Meanwhile he said he would also help local police get call details of the mysterious text sender.
Finally it was 6AM when they finally went to sleep.
Gautam woke her up at around 11AM. She smiled as he kissed her good morning. She looked into his eyes… the storm was missing but the sadness still remained. She held his cheeks. “Gautam… we will find your mother. Do you remember her face? Anything?”
He looked at the wall in front lost in thought and after a stoic silence he shook his head. “..I just remember her anklets. She loved them. She had brown eyes which always shone whenever she hugged me…That’s it. I don’t remember her voice too…she had me young… so she should be somewhere between mid to early 60s…”
“But Gautam…how does RomilaDevi know about her where abouts?”
“…Preeti…I know this is all fucked up…but my mother was my mentor’s keep. He once told me in a drunken stupor when Vikram had attempted to rape Narmada. Mentor was upset that his son turned out like that and spilled the beans. So apparently I was his son from another lay who wasn’t his wife. A lay that he was apparently in love with…weird isn’t it? But that’s why he insisted on bringing me up. Romila Devi had known that all along and after he died twelve years ago she told me she knew about my ma. She wanted Gagorn in return for….”
“…We will find your mother… Tell me when do we go to Kota?”
“I have texted Mr.Ranawat…he will set up a date at the earliest. It should coincide with the day registrations are done. Otherwise we have to make two visits for nothing…”
His phone buzzed. It was Tanveer Raisingh. Did the man ever sleep she wondered… Gautam answered the phone and clicked on the speaker. She sat close to him as he hugged her.
“Hello Tanveer, Preeti is here too…anything come up?”
“Ya… Listen carefully. The texts had been made from Ms. Sengar’s house… the number though was a burner. It’s no longer in use. But the same number was active in Kota near the district court the day you guys were there. The local police team is on its way to Sengar house to question people there…. You two take care.”
He disconnected the call and Gautam held Preeti tightly as if she would disappear. After the shitty news she wanted the same.
“I don’t believe this Gautam… why does my family want me hurt or…dead?” Preeti was numb with the revelation…she didn’t even feel like crying anymore. She was deriving strength from the gorgeous man next to her. She hugged him back and digging her head in his chest took in his scent…
They stayed like that for a while. Preeti suddenly sat straight and asked, “Can I ask you something Gautam?
“You had said Rewa didi was in love with Vikram twelve years ago. But where did they meet? I mean…we didn’t have any mobile phones with us. Our visits to any place were taken care of by the Sukhi Uncle… how did she get to leave the house?”
Gautam sighed. “Preeti… Vikram had this insatiable lust for sex but with a distorted mentality… He had hyper sexuality…I found out later…” he must have seen confusion on her face and explained. “… It’s like a bipolar disorder in itself. It’s a dysfunctional preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviours that are difficult to control. Rewa realised this but only after dating him for two months. Vikram had this dashing personality which drew young women towards him like ants to sugar… Rewa never told me how and where she met him. I have no clue about the women he dated either… He never spoke about that at home as the mentor didn’t like it…”
“Gautam…there has to be some way she made it to meet him. Because we girls were never allowed to leave home and if we did I was always with her…” Preeti tried to remember but drew a blank.
“Gautam… That monster…er Vikram also asked me about the key to some locker and map…. What was all that?”
“I have read your report Preeti…all over again when I met Tanveer yesterday. I tried to figure out but have no clue.”
“Gautam…why did you meet Tanveer yesterday…all of a sudden?”
GAutam held her tightly and then released her. He stood and started to pace the room.
“Preeti my mentor had this twisted idea of changing the world. He had trained Vikram and me from childhood…er… in use of firearms, combat skills, wrestling etc. He also trained a few local boys. But they were not as good as us. In fact Vikram and I were on par with regards to strength. But considering that he was impulsive, mentor gave me the responsibility of purely coordinating and planning missions. He started with small tasks like hitting a chain snatcher or wife beater…something like that. Later that year in 2008 he took up clandestine jobs for some people in the government to get rid of the dangerous criminals out on bail. Made quite a fortune in the process. What mentor didn’t realise in his twisted quest to make money and clean the streets of those thugs was, he was creating a monster at home. Though VIkram was supposed to only beat the shit out of them and maim them for life he went for the jugular. He loved the feel of the kill. We were taught to kill without leaving traces behind…to make it neat as well. Vikram grew more and more confident with every kill… That day when he went after you, I wasn’t aware of the fact. It wasn’t a planned mission. In fact mentor called me to check on him and I found he had gone on some mission without informing us. Mentor sent me after him…and the rest you know. Preeti, Tanveer said he had told you about those other murders …they were carried out by Vikram…I was involved in identifying the target and fool proofing his entry into their homes. Actually like I said, the plan was to disable the prey but Vikram killed them and… before killing… he…he raped them…” Gautam rubbed his hand over his face for the umpteenth time. She knew he was upset but he had to get it out… He needed the release too.
“Preeti…I met with Tanveer to prove my innocence in those murders. The biggest proof was Vikram was left handed and I am right handed…. But I admitted… eliminating Vikram…”
Preeti stood up gasping. “Gautam… will you… will you be arrested?”
“I don’t know Preeti… I really don’t know… But I have requested him to delay things till we find out the mastermind behind that incident…”
Preeti’s heart fell but now was not the time for remorse or feeling bad but to gear up and fight. She had to have the closure.
One question was still troubling her.
“Gautam…why did you say it was a matter of life and death when the signature didn’t take place? I know you wanted to know about your birth mother…”
“…Preeti my mother … my birth mother is very sick apparently and Romila Devi is the one keeping her alive. I don’t know how, where… She will give me the details only when we hand over the deed to her… she threatened… if in the next one month the deed wasn’t done then she would withdraw the treatment… and…”
Preeti rushed to him and hugged him tightly… “We will find your mother Gautam… promise…”
Their love making that morning exceeded all limits of passion sending them to new pinnacles of euphoria…they would remember for ages to come…
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