The next day as they had a quick breakfast Avanti saw Keshav looking well rested and enjoying her special kanda poha. She was glad to see him back to his formal cheery self and probably even more relaxed than she had ever seen him. She hadn’t slept a wink last night and had got out of bed earlier on to prepare breakfast for him. Mrs. Sinha was unwell and was not coming over today, so she decided to go ahead and prepare something to uplift Keshav’s mood. Akshat was due to arrive in an hour and Keshav decided to finish his workout while she finished preparations for lunch… Given the situation Keshav had declined to go out leaving her alone at home today till he found any viable solution. Avanti too felt humiliated on encroachment of their privacy by that unknown intruder.
Later as they sat in the living room waiting for Akshat to show up with the PI, Avanti suddenly turned to Keshav. “…Keshav…what about the twins…?”
“…No… I mean were they tested as well… given the risk…”
“…It wasn’t necessary Avanti…” Keshav said softly and sighed.
“…Because they… actually my father didn’t sire them…”
Avanti sat up suddenly. “…you…you knew this all the while…?”
“…yes… My father was heavily medicated when he met Rohini Jaiswal and… the side effect of those medications combined with his alcoholism was… infertility… Also the womanizer, that he was along with being a businessman … he had got his vasectomy done years ago… But that wasn’t something he liked to advertise… I had seen his reports once when he had carelessly thrown them around… but thank God for that…I knew Rohini was lying through her teeth passing the twins as my half siblings…”
“…So then…. Keshav…”
“…It wasn’t the twins’ fault that they had parents who didn’t really want them and like I said it was a give and take relationship with Rohini… And Avanti… after all these years, I already love them like my own siblings… so this point doesn’t make sense anymore…does it…?”
“…Do they know the truth…?”
He nodded. “…Yes…five years ago when things fell apart with Rohini… I had to tell them… Surprisingly they chose to stay back with me… And I was touched Avanti…” He chuckled. “…relations don’t have to be blood ones, do they…? The twins are mature enough… and I am proud of them for what they have made of themselves so far…” Avanti smiled at the pride in his voice. “…And they know that I am always available for them… come what may…” Avanti patted his hand and he placed his palm over hers, turning towards her and smiling. “…Avanti…thank you for coming back….and for being there for me…”
They were soon joined by Akshat and his PI who first swept the entire house for bugs but found none. They also checked for cameras other than their own, making Avanti cringe thinking of someone watching her private moments, but fortunately there were none. They all then sat in the study each putting forward his/her findings. Avanti began and gave a detailed account of everything that transpired in Shamsunder Valmiki’s place. She could see Keshav face contorting with anger but she continued her narrative. She told them about the rotten food, the ransacked house, the diary and whatever details she could remember and Akshat made a note of it. She finally ended with her remembrance of the phone number.
Akshat thought for a while and spoke. “…Well we will get the call details but it will take time unless we get the cops involved but it may also alert the person behind all this… Mrs. Goyal…ma’am I have to applaud you for this information which otherwise would have been destroyed in the fire without us knowing about it…. But… Keshav sir, are you sure nothing is missing from this house…? Here…I have the footage. Let’s see it together…as usual its inconclusive though…”
For the next few minutes, they went through their home security footage but there was nothing except for Keshav and Avanti and Mrs. Sinha going about her chores and the cleaning maid working under Mrs. Sinha’s supervision. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Akshat was about to shut the laptop when Avanti’s eyes fell on something. “…Wait Akshat…stop…just take a look at this…” when they all came closer to the TV where the footage was being played, she pointed out to something near the French window. “…it looks like a shadow of someone standing there… take a look…” Akshat zoomed as much as possible but it wasn’t clear. And then there was a gust of wind and the curtain blew hard which was visible better in the close- up. The intruder must have opened the windows. And then they saw the silhouette of a man who touched his face and stumbled a bit and then moved to an area where the camera didn’t cover and banged against the showcase before he escaped probably from the main door… they quickly checked the camera at the entrance but it wasn’t working and instead of what they thought earlier was a technical glitch, they found the wire snapped precisely…Akshat and the PI looked around the entrance and elevator for any clues while Avanti rushed back inside the house, to the window with Keshav in tow and they tried to look around the area for some clues. They moved cautiously without disturbing the scene there and even as they gave up not finding anything, Avanti bent and picked up something. It was a shrivelled contact lens…? Must have fallen off the intruder’s eyes because of the wind… Akshat gathered it in his evidence pouch he always carried on him. Avanti shuddered at the thought… the man had come in yesterday before Keshav and she had returned back. What if Keshav had confronted him accidentally…?
The PI left with the evidence and as they sat on the living room couch Akshat began to share his findings… most of which was what Avanti already knew. “a day after ma’am visited that place…” he began. “… and it was burnt down, it was cordoned off totally by the police. However, when they dug up the area, they found a half burnt dead body buried in the backyard of where the house stood…” Avanti gasped…. It was exactly where she had been too. Keshav who was sitting beside her held her hand as Akshat continued. “… a couple of days earlier I got to know from my friend in the local police that they confirmed the dead body belonged to Shamsunder Valmiki. He was shot dead at point blank range and the person who killed him must have tried to dispose off his body by burning it. The post mortem estimated the time of death at least a couple of days before ma’am visited the place. The climate these days in that place had been volatile and, on that day, as well there was heavy downpour so the body didn’t burn well enough…. The perp must have buried the body and fled but returned to destroy any remaining evidence connecting him to Shamsunder and burnt the house down….”
“…What about Prantik…?” Keshav asked
“…He has disappeared without a trace for long now and the phone is shut as well… his uncle says he had a fight last month and left the house in a fit of anger… no one knows his whereabouts as of now… but given the history with Shamsunder…we are fearing him dead as well…” Akshat revealed as Avanti felt the chill seeping into her.
Suddenly she sat up. “…Keshav…Akshat there is something you have to see…” She led them to the terrace and pointed to the stairs. The mud patch behind the green house had footprints larger than Keshav’s and of spiked shoes. So, the intruder must have entered the house from the terrace… the door locks were picked easily. He must have been a master of camouflage to escape into the shadows to avoid being caught in the CCTV. Keshav was fuming and Avanti had a tough time controlling him. Even before they checked the building CCTV cameras, they knew they weren’t functional. The building wasn’t occupied to full capacity as yet and Avanti had a mammoth task preventing Keshav from lashing out at the gate security. Akshat and Keshav mutually decided against going to the cops at the moment and returned back home. Keshav’s frustration was palpable and Avanti didn’t want him to stress more. He was to accompany her to Kolhapur for the award function the day after tomorrow and she hoped the change would do him good as well.
Akshat promised to reinstate the private eyes on the building entrance on a 24/7 vigil. Keshav was relieved but something troubled Avanti. “…Keshav…?”
“…Yeah…” he sounded weary.
“…Why do you think the intruder came in… quite a few times and took nothing valuable…then what did he want…?” Keshav looked at her questioningly but she knew he was thinking along the similar lines. He abruptly stood up and rushed to his study even as Akshat and she ran after him. He unlocked his top drawer and shuffled through his files.
“…Its missing Avanti..” He whispered.
“…What…what is missing…?” She asked even as Akshat looked on bewildered.
“…The folder… it had the copy of my personal research based on your father’s work-up to derive the formula… I had got a copy home to take it with me to Kolhapur… I was to go anyway…to talk to your father’s mentor if he could help with the missing pieces of the formula… but it’s gone form here…the folder…is gone…” Keshav rubbed his eyes.
“…Keshav sir…how dangerous can it be….?” Akshat asked.
“That’s the problem Akshat…” Keshav started pacing the study like a wounded lion. “…the formula is incomplete or maybe even completely wrong. If the intruder was after the formula then he… will be even more lethal now… angered even since it’s not what he wanted…”
Akshat removed his pocket book. “Keshav sir here are the three companies I zeroed in based on the information you gave me… Karvy Chemicals, Benzolite pharma and Narendranath and sons Pvt ltd. These were in touch with Vedshastra at one time and the deals had gone sour… Of that Narendranath and sons Pvt Ltd had been on friendly terms with Vedshastra relatively but their fourth brother was banished by the family and jailed for seven years for corporate espionage and Mr. Dnyaneshwar Rane and You sir, had been instrumental in doing so. He is serving a jail term as of now…with two more years to go. I will check on that nonetheless. Even the other companies have shown nothing suspicious. In fact, Benzolite has recently declared bankruptcy… So, we are back to square one on that end. I shall keep digging though…”
“…Any…any news about the source of that gas…?” Keshav asked
“…It’s a complex compound with definite presence of Ethylene Oxide…” Akshat referred to his notes as he said. “…we got the analysis report yesterday….and sir… it’s the same one…”
Keshav nodded. “…I know… the office accident…”
“….Ganga dye-chem…” Avanti suddenly exclaimed. As Keshav and Akshat looked startled at her she continued. “…Keshav do you remember I told you last night about Ganga…? They had the official permits to store this chemical…”
Akshat made a quick not of it and left promising to check everything on the front. Keshav reluctantly went back to continue a conference call, the office work couldn’t be left unattended.
Avanti went to the kitchen to sort her thoughts as she finished the lunch preparations. It all seemed like a nightmare, one she wanted to desperately get out of…the perpetrator was far more dangerous that she had thought. He seemed to go to any extent to get the formula and to cover his tracks. Probably Keshav had sensed it earlier so had kept an eye on her…but what about her mother…? She shuddered thinking of her mother being alone at home… should she call…? She was to call Rahul later anyway and decided to request him to stay with her mother. She was sure, after the stunt she had pulled by going against her mother wouldn’t have gone down well with her. Suddenly she was worried about Arpita…where on earth was her sister? Why didn’t she call her after that day… the number too was switched off and she had given it to Rahul to check it out. There was a time her mother would always be worried sick about Arpita especially if she had a late-night shoot. But it irked Avanti that in spite of all that had happened, her mother never once mentioned Arpita neither was she visibly worried about her whereabouts. Why was her mother so casual about Arpita this time and why was she so against Keshav that she had come all guns blazing to the hospital and had been unreasonable…? How did she know all details…did Arpita tell her everything…? Arpita never was close to their parents and was a perennial rebel… then why did she share so much with their mother instead of talking to Avanti first as she usually did…? Avanti was finding it difficult to assimilate the facts…. why did she get the feeling that something wasn’t right…? She realised she had to work towards explaining things out to her mother. Unfortunately, if her mother didn’t abide by her decision then there wasn’t much, she could do… but the only constant in the sea of uncertainties was, she was not leaving Keshav. Not now…not in future.
She knew, just like her, Keshav would have lost his appetite after all that had happened today but he had to eat out of necessity and she would give him company. As she finished the final touches to a simple khichdi, the doorbell rang jarring her out of her thoughts. She reached the door at the same time that Keshav did and after looking through the video monitor, they stared at each other before Keshav opened the door. He mother stood at the other end and if looks could kill her mother’s piercing glare could have just blazed them both to a cinder right then…
“…Aai…” Avanti tried to speak, amidst the continuous beep of the elevator door demanding to be shut. Why had her mother kept the doors open and how…?
“…How dare you lie to me Avanti…?” He mother spoke in a lethal tone. And right then the from the elevator emerged a lady wearing a long black frilled silky gown her stilettoes making an echoing sound on the floor as each step pierced Avanti’s heart instead of the elation she should have otherwise felt. The woman stood before them hatred written all over her face as she stared at Keshav.
She then turned her attention towards a stunned Avanti and said with a snide smile. “…hello Avu…long time no see…my dear little sister…”
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