A deathly silence hung over RM and everyone was still where ASR had left them, including Dadiji. The only addition was Shyam, Arnav noted grimly admixed with relief. At his entry they looked at him with hope and dread but he refused to meet anyone’s eyes. Not even Di’s. He made for the stairs but half way through he stopped and turned to Akash. “Take them home will you?” He made a general movement towards where Buaji and Garima sat. “And perhaps Payal may like to stay with them, it has a been a long stressful night.” He dismissed them.
Stunned they could only stare at him while Shyam and Dadi had ill-concealed smirks on their face. Even Mamiji had a satisfied look on her face.
“But Bhai,” Aakash didn’t like the vibes and wanted to be sure he wasn’t misinterpreting.
ASR glared at him and reiterated, “Just do it Aakash, just do it.”
“But Chotte!” Nani spoke up. “Why are you sending Payal? And what about Khushi? Did you find her?”
“I don’t want to talk about Khushi and I don’t want anyone else to talk about her either.” He strode off to his room.
Speechless, they all stood there just looking at him. Amma and Payal went off into a fresh paroxysm of tears, swiftly followed by Anjali. Shyam gleefully rushed forward to comfort her.
Aakash gently touched Payal on her shoulder. She controlled herself and nodded her head and they slowly moved out of RM.
Nani slumped down on the sofa and Mami tried her best to console her.
NK stood staring at ASR, and then suddenly he appeared to come to a decision and charged off behind him.
“NANNAV! Would you please tell me what the hell is going on? Where is Khushiji and why are you behaving like this?”
ASR pulled NK into the room and said, “Where is Shyam?”
NK was suddenly alert. “Downstairs with Di, why?”
ASR, closed the door and said, “NK, I think Khushi has been kidnapped and I believe that Shyam is behind it. I had to pretend I am angry with Khushi so that he doesn’t suspect I am on to him. The police are working on a few leads,” He nodded grimly at NK shocked gasp. “NK will you keep an eye on Shyam? If he moves out let me know.” He clenched his fists. “I don’t trust myself around him.”
“Sure.” Even NK looked as if he could cheerfully murder Shyam.
“Oh and NK, can you tell me why you guys thought Khushi was with me?” He questioned. “I mean something must have made you think so?”
“I don’t know,” NK scratched his head. “I can’t remember,” He frowned, “Just a general impression I think, oh yes now I remember.” His brow cleared. “Nani asked HP if he had seen Khushiji and HP said that you had called her to the poolside”.
“But I didn’t. So why did HP say so?” ASR wondered. “Just send HP to me… umm tell him to get me some coffee.”
NK went off to do Arnav’s bidding.
“Arnav bhaiya coffee.”
“HP why did you tell Khushi that I wanted her to go to the poolside?” He pounced. “I didn’t tell you did I?”
HP shook his head. “Nahi of course not. One of the numerous waiters who had come to help out at the wedding, he told me to pass on the message to her.”
“Would you recognize this man if you saw him again?”
HP nodded confidently. ASR waved him away only to call him back. “Dont talk about this to anyone. I mean anyone. Understood?” HP nodded.
ASR walked to the poolside and called Khushi where are you Khushi? I hope you are safe! Restlessly he walked around the pool trying to retrace Khushi’s steps. She would have come from here and if someone wanted to kidnap her, he would have to take her out from here and then he saw – a brown spot on the white edge of the pool. Blood, Khushi’s blood, he was sure of it.
A shadow fell on ASR. He swiftly straightened and relaxed. It was Aakash. “Woh Bhai,” he looked strained. “I dropped them home. Payal…” He trailed off.
“Where is Shyam?”
“Uh…I think he has taken Di to their room to rest.”
“Ok, look Aakash,” he opened up, “I am sorry for boxing you into a corner. I had no choice. I couldn’t risk alerting Shyam.”
“What happened Bhai?”
ASR took him to his room and briefed him. “Aakash, that man has kidnapped Khushi. She is in danger. The police are trying to locate her from the phone call she made to me a while ago. Look, can you do me a favor?”
“Anything Bhai,” averred a shocked Aakash.
“HP just told me that one of the waiter’s had asked him to pass a message to Khushi to meet me by the poolside, which I didn’t. So who did? I want you to take HP to the catering company and ask HP to identify the waiter who passed the message and then take him to Raman and have him interrogated. I will call Raman and brief him and ah and take a couple of photographs of Shyam along with you.”
Aakash nodded his head and turned to go.
“Aakash, be discreet,” Arnav warned him. “Don’t let Shyam suspect anything and perhaps you could call up Payal and explain the situation and perhaps (wonders of wonders) apologize on my behalf. I didn’t mean to be rude. It was all an act for Shyam.”
Aakash reassuringly clasped his shoulder. “It’s ok Bhai. I will explain. They will understand.”
ASR paced restlessly up and down the room, pausing only briefly to freshen up and change his clothes. Dadi came to gloat but he turned his back upon her and refused to entertain her. She passed a few acidic remarks, which ASR bore with remarkable restraint. Defeated she left him alone. Soon afterwards Nani too came, she was in tears and clearly on the point of collapse. ASR turned his back to her as well yet the emotions were in deep contrast.
Unable to extract any information or reassurance from him, she turned to go. Suddenly Chotte came forward and hugged her tightly and whispered, “Everything will be alright. I promise.” She stared at him unbelieving. He nodded his head and then put a warning finger on his lips. She looked startled but comforted she went out of his room.
Nervous and impatient, he gave a zillion calls to Raman. Irritated, Raman finally stopped picking up his calls, instead sent a terse SMS, ‘STOP calling… will contact’.
Aakash returned a couple of hours later and informed him that the waiter had passed the message to HP had also been instructed to pass on the message by another waiter who was now missing. However, luckily, another waiter could provide the address of the missing waiter as they were neighbors and the police had gone looking for him.
ASR was getting more and more fidgety and antsy as time passed, unable to wait any longer he went off to meet Raman. Half way through, he received a message from NK – S preparing to leave RM. ASR alerted Raman so that he could put his men on Shyam’s tail.
Soon he barged into Raman’s office. “Did you send somebody to follow Shyam? Could you trace the phone call?”
“Whoa buddy!” Raman looked up. “Hold your horses, yes to both questions. I was just about to leave.”
“Leave? Leave for where?”
“The hideout, where else?” He stood up and slid the gun into the holster, “And yes there is a temple nearby. Smart girl that bride of yours, or maybe not,” He mused, “If she is actually wants to marry you.” He chortled.
“Cut the jokes Raman, let’s move.”
“Let’s move? You are not coming.”
“Oh yeah?” ASR thrust out his jaw pugnaciously. “And who is going to stop me?”
A wide grin split Raman’s face. “YESSSS! Finally I have the answer to that ASR!” He was rubbing his hands in glee. “Oh boy I waited years for this one.” His entire face shone with delight.
Raman schooled his expression to a disdainful one and folded his arms with an attitude and drawled, “Seriously ASR, I got the whole police force with me.”
ASR grimaced but backed down. “You wouldn’t.” He said confidently but with little heat. “You owe me one.”
“What!? Owe you one? What the hell do you mean?”
“Remember class 9?” ASR prodded. “Maths exams? You would have flunked if I hadn’t…”
“Ok, ok,” Ramain interrupted hastily. “But no histrionics ok? Just a quiet sober, silent spectator. Ok?
“Sure Chief.” Having gotten his way, ASR was all goodness and compliance.
Click here for Chapter 7