KB walked back as he watched the tiny version of Kajal get into the cab. He felt like a piece of his heart had been taken away. No… he couldn’t… he had no right to feel the emotion. He knew Kajal felt something for him… maybe a tiny bit liked him as well.
But he didn’t deserve a pure soul like her. So he tried his best to stay away. But he couldn’t help it… Kajal had only been kind, and every gesture of her, whether caring for a drooping plant or preparing a quick lunch for him… she had cemented her way into his heart.
He walked into his bedroom and lay on the soft bed staring at the intricately carved false ceiling. This was his prominent extravagance in this house. He had wanted to look at something appealing rather than a blank ceiling reflecting his life. He was KB the small screen superstar for the world, but in reality, he was lonely… always had been.
He decided to take a little nap before getting back to reading scripts. As he turned to dig his head into the pillow, his eyes fell on the Zone-in visiting card he had kept when he had come in to change clothes earlier. Sleep all forgotten he remembered the day he had contacted the investigative agency a year ago.
Last year, he had been shooting for a hit TV series when he had received a package from the current owners of the Mudh Island plot where he had once lived. He had the dream to buy back the entire land and some more along with his father’s factory in Virar. However, he was falling short of capital because the factory was a dilapidated haunted unit, and he had to involve and bribe municipality guys. That would call for attention and link him to his father and everything in the past. So he had let it pass for the time being and focused on buying land in Madh island. He had bought land near the waterfront and it was still a vacant plot. So he had to buy his old home property close to it, which was now with a bureaucrat.
KB’s father had purchased the vintage bungalow during an auction years before he was born. How the man had acquired the money for that was still a mystery. He had seen his father live extravagantly and when he grew old enough, he realized his father had been busy with his alcohol and women in and out of his life.
He had always wondered what his father did for a living… was it textiles as the textile factory was their only source of income. His father had come from nowhere. He didn’t know his paternal grandparents or anyone else. He remembered the frequent phone calls towards the last days where his father would fight and abuse. Then in a fit of rage, he would throw away the bottles… in the last year before his death, they barely had servants in a house which at one time buzzed with them… He knew they had gone bankrupt, and that was what coaxed his father to pull the trigger on himself.
KB had been in touch with the owners whenever the house changed hands, hoping to buy him out someday. However, the current owner, though cordial, had no intention to sell the place unless someone offered him something extraordinary, which was beyond KB’s means at the moment. The owner, however, had promised to ask KB first before he sold it though.
Last year, when the house was remodeled, the current owner found a leather pouch containing receipts and bills and a ledger hidden in the basement. He had, as a goodwill gesture, handed it over to KB.
KB had been through it all… they were all hotel bills for different five-star hotels amounting to lakhs, and the ledger has transaction details. In addition, there were a few initials commonly next to the credits.
One name, which was an alias, stood out, however. It only said ‘the rain’. Some names, including this one, had the Swastika symbol next to them with one of the bars bent.
Nothing had made sense to KB, and he decided to find out more. He had taken the help of the investigating agency, which Mr. Mehta recommended when he said he had to trace a long-lost friend. But, of course, the NDAs were airtight, and the agency couldn’t reveal anything and face his ire. He had handed them all the information and numerous tidbits he could remember.
Then for a month or two, he had followed up, but they hadn’t faced success. Instead, he had pushed it under the carpet given his PR voes and work commitments.
But suddenly they had got back after almost a year… what could it be? Did they find something?
He placed a call to the man who had come to meet him and the agency owner.
“Hello Raj, it’s KB… what was it?”
“Hello Sir, we have to meet… there is some information I have unearthed, and I can’t even share with my colleagues… So I have to see you and you alone…”
An hour later, they both sat in a café, in the corner most seat, which offered the needed privacy. KB was skeptical about being seen in the public, but the down-market area was perfect for his camouflage. The likes of him didn’t visit the place infested with flies and the constant rotten fish odor.
“So what was so important? Could you get any information about those bills and the ledger?”
“I am not sure, sir, if the information I have is credible enough, given my source.” Raj looked scared and roved his eyes around.
“What do you mean?” what was so scary in a few hotel bills, KB wondered.
“Sir…” Raj spoke softly, and KB had to strain to hear. He bent his head further despite the foul-smelling smoking odor emanating from Raj’s breath. The guy was killing his lungs. “…Sir, I hadn’t received any kind of information for your stuff and had closed the file. But a month ago, I was following a man for his wife, who is our client. They are in a divorce settlement case, and she wanted dirt on his wayward ways. So he entered this hotel on the outskirts of Pune, and the logo sounded familiar. As I waited behind him in the lobby, it struck me that the logo was against one of the bills you had provided, but the name was altered… I remembered because the original name was Hotel Indra Plaza, but it was now ‘In drop Plaza’ with the same logo tilted… it was a huge drop of water model with a building in it which was unique, so I remembered….”
“…You mean to say the hotel names are now changed?”
“It’s possible sir. So I followed this man, and I saw he was taken to a special suit and very soon a young girl barely out of her teens walked into his room. There was a ruffian-like man with her, and another one waited back in a car. I don’t have to tell you what was going on in the room. I hid in the shadows… and I am very good at camouflage…. I heard screams and wails from the room. A while later, the man laughed ad left the room, and a little later, a doctor rushed to the room. After a while, the girl limped out all bandaged and she was taken by the service elevator back to the car.
I bribed a waiter there, and later, he spilled the beans that a part of the hotel was meant to supply girls to these men who had violent tendencies and had wanted more than a lay…I was also told the group of suppliers aka pimps was way too dangerous….”
KB couldn’t believe what he heard. Nothing made sense, however. “What is the relationship of this incident with those bills?”
“Sir, these activities were rampant during the period mentioned in those bills. The same group was involved… they were silent for a few years but have restarted operations stealthily right under the noses of the Law Enforcement. Besides, I am told these girls go there with their free will or perhaps are too scared to file complaints…”
“Sir I checked for other hotels too and found two others with similar name changes. I worked in one of them for a week and befriended an old guy… from housekeeping. He revealed something sinister too that had happened years ago, however, currently, that hotel was clean. But the owner of that hotel had kept a backup in the custody of this man. It was CCTV footage from those days. The old man hadn’t spoken about it because the topic never came up, but I had to pay him, and a few malts did the trick… he gave me the footage, and I made a copy of it…”
Raj pushed the pen drive towards KB. “Sir, I went through… it doesn’t have clear faces to incriminate anyone as such…, but there was something that caught my eye.”
“What… what is it?”
“All those men, including the ones I saw in that Pune hotel, had the Swastika tattoo on their arms… the one with the bent arm.”
“Oh… you mean… my father had something to indict these people?”
“Sir… I don’t know how true this must be, but I enlarged a picture from the footage… it took me two days, but here it is… this man looks like your father. The one, ordering the guys in the tattoo…”
All blood drained from KB’s face as he saw the picture. There was no doubt the man in charge was his father. What the hell… ? His head reeled, and he had to grip it in his palms.
“Sir… may I suggest something?”
KB didn’t react, too stunned to fathom anything.
“Sir… please stay away from all this… pretend you never heard about it. It won’t bring back the dead or stop anything. These guys have political clout and are dangerous…”
“Why do… why do you say that…? We can give this to the police…”
“Sir… don’t ever do that. The waiter who spoke to me in that Pune Hotel has gone missing… no one knows his whereabouts… and the old man who gave me this footage…”
“Wha… what happened to him…?” KB asked with a pounding heart.
“…that old man is dead… fell off the stairs and died instantly… how can it all be a coincidence?”
“KB Sir, let it go… destroy this… I only gave this to you because of our commitment, and I keep my word. I am out of this… Let’s not meet again.” Raj stood up and left the place like a breeze.
KB stood on wobbly legs and walked towards the main road where he could catch a cab.
As he passed the innumerable hawkers screaming out offers on their wares, the hair at the back of his neck pricked. Someone was watching him… he turned around but couldn’t make out. Speeding his steps, he walked fast towards the main road. The signal turned red, and he stood with the other common folk waiting to cross the busy highway to go to the other side from where he could hail a cab. The uncanny sense of being watched refused to go.
His father’s words suddenly rang in his ears from the night before he ended it all. ‘I shall not go down alone, you bastards… I told you I was framed… I didn’t betray you guys… you have to believe me’. He thought his father had sobbed that night… but given his mood swings those days, his father could do anything.
Someone was watching him for sure…
Suddenly he felt a push from the back and before he could realize it he lost his balance and toppled on the street. The rubber screeched mercilessly as the approaching car tried to break, but it hit him hard, throwing him up, and he crash landed on the car’s bonnet…
The world blurred before him as everything got numbed, and he fell into the dark abyss.
The world isn’t what it seems
The past and the present make the future gleam
Letting go of the tough veneer and staring into the soul
The only way to retain sanity and not lose control