Ria was up on Tuesday early morning after a good night’s sleep and as she entered the drawing room, she was greeted by the strong aroma of her favourite filter coffee… Keith was busy preparing breakfast… OMG idli-sambhar… her all time favourite. Take a girl away from south India, but you couldn’t take south India away from the girl!!! It didn’t matter, she had almost the same breakfast for years at home, she loved it every time it was served. Her mother made the best sambhar on earth the aroma of the assorted spices always waking her up early morning. Her mom used special combination of select lentils, green gram and spices while making the sambhar powder which had come down to her traditionally. Ria too helped her in the elaborate process but she had never come even close to her mother in texture and taste. Her eyes welled up remembering her mom… the lady was always sandwiched between customs, traditions and her love for her daughter… at least that’s what Ria wanted to think. She just wished her mother could stand up to her father especially when he hurled insults on her as well. She would be his verbal punching bag for releasing his frustrations. Her mother always believed that the head of the family made the decisions considering the well being of all the family members and she had no right to question him. Ria shook her head of the thoughts and walked towards the kitchen even as Keith dished out the fresh batch of idlis in the moulds. There was one kept for cooling and as she sipped her coffee offered by Keith, she started to unlodge the soft idlis from the moulds into a bowl taking care not to break them.
“Hey Keith… is sir still sleeping…?” She asked. She hadn’t seen him after she had left his room last afternoon and then she had retired to bed early after the days of exhaustion took their toll. She had reheated her lunch and had a quick dinner. Keith had just been back and had been arranging groceries when she had gone to her room.
“…Uh… Yes… Actually, he was up late last night doing something on his laptop… I think he was doing his little research… He then had dinner and was still working when I retired to bed… So, must have slept late… By the way he loved the pulav… and the kheer too…”
She blushed and looked away.
“Ria…” Keith called out to her and she stopped her work to look at him. “…Ria…I … haven’t still told you… well… thank you for all what you did… We had lost hope… and by the time we would have come up with something to counter the allegations it would have been quite late… God knows how much more he would have had to endure in that lock-up…” Keith’s expressions were somber and she was glad Gaurav had people in his support.
“…Siding with the truth isn’t something great Keith… we should all do that… As for what I did, Keith, he saved my life without caring a damn… trusted me with Parijath just to take care of me. I can never forget that as long as I live…” She blinked back tears.
Ria and Keith had breakfast as they watched the news on TV, where there was only speculation about what was the latest development in the case. As she had her second cup of coffee, she heard Gaurav open the door of his room and step out fresh out of sleep, his hair tousled and yawning as he came to the table to take the hot cup of coffee held out by Keith. He sat next to them, making her heartbeat soar even as she helped Keith serve him breakfast. Keith left to the kitchen to start preparations for lunch while Gaurav was glued to the news. She only wanted to stare at the range of expressions crossing his face, lined by the day’s old stubble, as he reacted to the howling anchor… She wondered how he could bear the blatant character assassination taking place without getting angry while she was losing her cool. As she stood up to collect the plates the landline phone rang jarring her out of her thoughts. Keith walked out form the kitchen to answer the call as Gaurav muted the TV.
Keith was silently listening to the speaker on the line but if looks were any indication, he was furious.
“I will be there in an hour…” He banged the receiver and looked at them.
“What is it Keith…?” Gaurav asked.
“…Uh…Sir… it was the security guy from the garage…uh…the other one…” Keith rubbed a hand over his face and looked away.
“Out with-it Keith…” Gaurav sounded impatient.
“…Sir… the Benz has been vandalized…”
Gaurav walked towards Keith… towering over the bulky man by a good two inches. “…What was the guard doing then while all this happened…? Why the fuck do we pay him a bomb? Any idea who did it…?”
“…No sir… he had apparently gone to take a leak when this happened… and… the police are on the scene… I will go there right away and check the house…on the way back. Will call Manek as well…”
“…I am coming along Keith and don’t have to call Manek for this one… The guy needs to spend time with his wife and needs his rest too… Let’s go…”
“…But sir… it won’t be advisable for you to go…not safe…”
“…KEITH…. Let it go… come on… You know what that Benz means to me… meant…” The lethal tone did it and Keith didn’t argue.
He only nodded and as Ria looked on, they left in the next ten minutes. What the hell was happening…? Did it have something to do with the case? If so, were her folks in danger too…? Ria was suddenly worried… But at the same time her name wasn’t released in the media. So maybe till then her folks were fine for sure… She started to breathe easy. She worried for Gaurav too… the man was suffering because of the case and now this…? She hoped to God the two were not related. She had heard about people taking out their anger by personal attacks, like attack the captain’s home when the cricket team doesn’t do well… who knew… someone wasn’t happy that Gaurav had made bail…
Gaurav’s head pounded as he sat on the passenger seat of the Ascent. Keith was silent and focused on the road ahead as he drove beyond the speed limit but trying not to kill anyone… Who the hell could have done this? His Benz was his only memory of his grandmother, besides Parijath. Girija Devi had been more than a grandmother… she had literally brought him up when his parents had been too busy to care for an overactive toddler or a meddlesome teenager. She had nursed his little crapped knees and even his broken heart when his parents forgot his birthday or school events. She had been the only stability in his growing up years. But like everyone else in his life he had disappointed her as well. She had suffered her first heart attack when he had been caught for driving under influence. He had never felt so guilty in his life before and even later when he had been through hell in Dubai, he had seen to it that she hadn’t known. She had anyways been heartbroken when he had left India for good… but in a way it was a blessing in disguise that she was ignorant of his life; she wouldn’t have been able to take it. She had died a little before he had come back to India and had left him Parijath… then a little building and the Benz. Her memory and the guilt of not being there when she had breathed her last had forced him to work hard towards Parijath and in five years he had built it up in a way that would make his grandmother proud. He had poured every ounce of his income from the Hospital group into it and Karma had off late started to yield results most of which he pumped into the development projects in Parijath. He had more than enough money to live life and for him… money had lost its luster ages ago when he had realised the damage it could do. …
The loud honking of a passing vehicle jolted him out of his reverie and he rubbed his face. Who on earth knew the location of the Benz? The car wasn’t running since ages but he had kept it in his grandmother’s memory, in a garage belonging to a friend who didn’t stay in the country. Only he had the access to the place… in fact baring Keith, Manek, his parents and a few close relatives, no one knew about the Benz. He knew this wasn’t a random act… it was personal… was it…? No… it couldn’t be…. NO…NO… NO…GOD NO… His breathing accelerated and he had to clutch his chest to calm down so that Keith didn’t panic.
Soon they reached the location swarmed by curious onlookers taking pictures and the local police. They had cordoned off the area around the garage… well what remained of the damaged unit. He moved on shaky legs towards the vehicle… if one could call it that… A piercing unmistakable odor of toluene indicated the use of the chemical to mar the beauty of the classic. The front headlights were broken and the seats ripped off… The police officer in charge came up to them and spoke. “…So Dr. Chopra… know anyone who likes you so much to leave you a gift like this…? Maybe this can help you think of something…” He held up a piece of paper in a zip-lock labelled ‘evidence’. “… We found this tucked into the wiper…. And no fingerprints…”
Gaurav looked at the plastic and his heart skipped a beat.
He tried his best to contain himself… This wasn’t possible. “…I have… no clue inspector… Don’t recognize it. Please update me whatever else you… find…”
The inspector squinted at Gaurav and went back to his crew. Keith and Gaurav moved to the open space behind the garage which was clear of people.
“Sir… who is it…? I know you recognised that… but it was written in …Urdu…?”
“…No…Arabic…” He completed with a worn-out voice. “…Keith look at it…” Gaurav showed him the picture of the evidence the police had allowed him to take. “…Keith, we have to rush to the penthouse and check there as well…”
Keith drove like a maniac and in the next hour they were at his home where a few reporters were stationed eager to get bytes. But Keith and another security guard kept them at bay as Gaurav made his way to the elevator. They entered the house and ran a check through all the rooms. Nothing seemed out of place but Gaurav knew that this wasn’t it… there had to be something and then his eyes fell on the security guard holding a parcel. It was addressed to him and was apparently left at the gate today morning. But because the guard didn’t have the contact number for the apartment above Karma, he couldn’t call him. Gaurav knew it would be futile but asked the guard to recover the security footage of the CCTV camera at the entrance lobby.
Keith returned with a box of his ‘tools’ and plugging something into the electrical socket ran a scan in the area. There was no beep. “It all safe sir… No trackers or any surveillance pieces here… I have texted Manek. He will be here soon with Naren… I feel its high time we involve Naren’s services…”
Gaurav nodded and with trembling hands he opened the light weight parcel. It contained a fresh baby diaper and a milk bottle… there was another piece of paper written in Arabic as well.
Gaurav sat on the sofa with a thud. Keith got him water as Manek reached the house with another man in tow. As Gaurav sipped the cold liquid feeling the bout of nausea pass, he held his head threatening to pound its way out of his skull. Keith updated Manek and Naren with what transpired in the garage and then all three sets of eyes looked at him… waiting for him to say something.
“Sir, what does it mean… the writings…?” Keith looked confused.
“… the garage one… its… qatal alzawja… one of the few things I recognize… actually sight read because I had seen lots of it in Dubai… particularly for me… and this one in the parcel is…. qatal al’atfal…”
“So… what is it…?” Manek asked.
“The first one means…wife killer… and the second one means ba…ba…baby killer…” His voice cracked and taking in a deep breath he continued. “…Manek…Keith… they are back… I can feel it….”
“…FUCK… Gaurav this is messed up man… I am sure this case is linked too…” Manek sounded grim.
“Talk of dredging the past…” Gaurav spoke with a poignant ache setting in his heart.
“We need to get the hell out of this place and check on Ria… Naren… mobilise your guards with immediate effect and start your investigation…everything… this ongoing case inclusive, even after we are done with it…” Manek blurted orders while Keith ran inside to pack a bag.
As Keith, Manek and Naren rambled Gaurav blocked them out. The flashes of the jail with the torture he had endured which often shined in his nightmares… came back to haunt him again, tightening his muscles to painful levels. The only rational thought in his mind was… Ria… Was she safe in getting involved in his mess?
His past was back… and this time it was back with a vengeance…
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