Rafiq hurried through the tiny bylanes or whatever they called the sparse space between the slum lines. He had grown up here and knew this place at the back of his hand and could navigate it even in his sleep. He wore his trademark black outfit with the black cap easily camouflaged among the sea of black tarpaulins adorning the shanties.
He held a small backpack which he had kept ready, knowing this day would come. It helped to play dumb. Saabji always thought he had a low IQ based on his so-called history of poor academic performances. The truth was he wasn’t interested in studies. He never wanted to go for some stupid regular jobs. He wanted to make his own money and someday open his business. Saabji had promised him the moon, but despite giving him over 15 precious years of his life, he treated him like a doormat.
Rafiq wasn’t a fool… but far from it. He had all the evidence from 10-12 years ago when he was in charge of doing the dirty work for Saabji and that other man called Batra. Money was good, but so was the risk. The way Saabji knocked off the obstacles in his path, Rafiq knew he would soon be a liability for Saabji too.
The very fact that Saabji didn’t include him anywhere in the vast consignment meant it was his end. But no… he wouldn’t go down alone. He would give the evidence to the police, but only after he confirmed they weren’t rotten like his Saabji. He had kept his eyes and ears open and had known what Saabji had planned all along. He was the final nail in the liability coffin that Saabji wanted to get rid of. He had waited, and finally, he had seen the men outside the brothel last night. He was a pro and knew they were the police. He could have surrendered and turned witness in exchange for lowering his sentence. But again, he didn’t trust anyone.
He had run back to his place and just picked the backpack and rushed out. He had hidden in the crevices after reaching about half a kilometer and watched the men barge into his home and ransack it. He chuckled at the fools.
There was only one way he could save his hide… hand over the evidence to that star… KB or his brave wife, Kajal. He didn’t have a conscience and never felt any emotions, but something stirred in him when he saw Kajal fiercely protect KB. For once in his life, he wanted to apologise to her and give her closure about her mother.
He took out a burner stolen from Saabji’s residence last night. Saabji didn’t know he was good with numbers… lol… Saabji didn’t know anything about him. That Rajani madam had been so good to him just like Uma madam. Brought him, sweets, too, whenever she came home. Gave him baksheesh… she was so beautiful and he had liked her so much. For once someone didn’t treat him like dirt. It had destroyed him to kill her but he had no choice. Even today her eyes as she recognized him before he struck… haunted his sleep.
Today he wanted to repent and dialled the number he knew by heart. The lady answered on first ring.
“Hello Kajal madam… this is Rafiq…I have something for you…”
There was a long pause; probably Kajal was shocked. And expectedly so.
“Hel… hello… Rafiq. What is it now?”
“Kajal madam, I only wanted to give you the evidence you all need. I don’t trust the police so I want to give this to you and disappear.”
“Rafiq… I… I don’t trust you as well… what if this is a trap?”
“Madam, I wouldn’t have called you if I was laying a trap… you wouldn’t have known what hit you… why do you think I didn’t kill you in Mahabaleshwar? It was easy for me to do it and then kill KB too… there was a reason…”
“Fine… where are you?”
“Kajal madam, there is a place near Dongri called Dongri fort. It will take you an hour to get here. It will be pitch dark but come to the North end. There is a gate-like structure enveloped with thick overgrowth. Once you get there, I can see you and will call you. Do not… I repeat… DO NOT get the police. I know KB will be there but no one else. Else the deal is off…”
“Ok Ok… I will be there…”
Kajal disconnected and he heaved a sigh of satisfaction. He couldn’t return her parents to her but this would do… He patted his backpack and rushed towards the fort… it would take him about half an hour to reach there and he knew the hideout where he could wait and watch the world without being seen.
He smiled at his plan coming in motion and jogged towards his destination. As he emerged from the huts and took the narrow road leading to the fort, he heard vehicles… he turned around even as the bright headlights shone on him. He recognized the jaguar… it belonged to Saabji.
Without thinking, he ran into the shrubbery and crossed the barbed fence, not bothering about the fresh cuts in his hands and face. He kept running… he felt bullets whiz and mentally chuckled at the morons… He wouldn’t have missed a shot but he was an expert at dodging bullets. He kept running till he was out of breath… in his younger days he could have run for an hour and not panted but now age was catching up and so was the breath. He sank into the huge bush only hoping he didn’t disturb snakes or the like…
After a few minutes, he could feel the sense of being alone and slowly emerged from the bush. He walked a few steps and then increased pace; he had to reach the spot before Kajal came by.
He finally reached the place just in time for the hour to lapse. He knew a pit there where at one time he could conceal guns when the police came after him. But today he removed a box from his backpack and placed it in it before covering it. He looked at the mango tree… which grew with him, but it looked more like an enormous enemy than the friend in the dark. He saw the white flag he had tied to it years ago to mark his territory amidst his friends… all of them were now dead in different gang wars. He shook his head… he was the only one who had survived so far and would continue to do so. Then, holding the backpack, he moved towards the edge of the tiny hillock and lay in wait.
In about five minutes, he saw them. Kajal and KB were visible as two dark silhouettes. They thought they were careful, but their walk was a dead give away at least to him. Nothing escaped his eyes.
As he rose from his position, he heard the unmistakable click and before he could react, he felt the painful entry of the bullet in his back. The pain was enormous, and his voice lodged in his throat… he saw stars. He had been shot before, but mostly, his agility prevented damage and he was only grazed… this was the first time he was hit point-blank. The second one followed and he could feel his lungs rupture… the blood gushed into his throat now and sprayed out of his mouth as he fell and rolled down the hill…
Kajal and KB rushed towards him and KB pulled Kajal away into the hill wall… Wise man, Rafiq thought despite the unendurable agony. He didn’t have much time now. The vehicle that had followed him drove away and KB and Kajal rushed back to him.
KB shone his mobile torch on him and he patted the ground next to him. He heard KB place the call to the police while Kajal bent forward.
“What was that Rafiq… oh God…..” She was weeping.
Only Rajani’s daughter could cry for a monster like him.
“i… I… sorry… so sorry… killed your mom… good lady…”
“What…?” Kajal looked stunned as she covered her mouth in disbelief.
“Sorry… I pushed your… fa… father on tr…tra… track… Shot… Bat… batra…too… You are… in dan… danger…don’t… go… to ffff…fact…factory…”
A sudden wave of spasm claimed him as he shuddered.
“Proof… tree… flag… pit…” There was yet another excruciating constriction and blood covered his mouth and the universe blackened around him as he finally muttered, “…Sorry…”
Kajal stood stunned as KB held her close. The police had cordoned off the area and the special team had taken over. They had planned to catch Rafiq red-handed but it was too late.
The ambulance and the local police team left with Rafiq’s body.
Kajla revealed the dead man’s last words to the special team in charge and they rushed to check out the trees. KB and Kajal stood rooted to the ground as each of them came to terms with the death of their parents.
After an hour of search the three-member police team located the box from the pit and escorted KB and Kajal to their home. However, given the secrecy involved, the team in charge didn’t want to get the local police involved and decided to regroup in KB’s house.
The commissioner of Police was kept in the loop and Rugved too arrived in the penthouse as they inserted the Pendrive into the TV. What they saw shocked them to the core.
It was Rafiq who gave an account of all the murders done directly under the orders of The then Police Inspector Ramanrao Pradhan. He showed receipts of various hotels wherever trafficking and soliciting took place.
But what commonly affected KB and Rugved was when he revealed the plot to cause the accident by hitting the car with the trailer on that fateful night. The only glitch that happened was the driver mistimed. Instead of hitting the car directly, the car passed through the trailer’s body, losing its roof and beheading the intoxicated occupants in the process. KB couldn’t control his tears as Kajla held him while Rugved rubbed his eyes, swearing at Rafiq.
The video ended with Rafiq even telling about the attempt on KB’s life because of the information he had from his father. Ramanrao loved spectral colours and CV Raman was the physicist who discovered the same and hence the Alais used… Kajal could now fathom. So they were right.
“Sir, isn’t this enough to arrest that monster Ramanrao?” Kajla asked.
“No Kajal, unfortunately… this is great information but not evidence that can be admitted in the court especially since the witness is dead. We need concrete evidence… With this Ramanrao will easily secure bail… He has always been careful to cover his tracks….” The team in charge said.
“That means…” Rugved spoke aloud as he tried to contain his rage. “…can we never catch that bastard?”
“Actually only if we get evidence… proper ones…some paper trail… anything of the sort.”
“What if he admits it on his own?” Kajal asked suddenly and everyone looked at her.
“What do you mean Mrs. Batra?” The police asked and the name thrilled her.
“I mean… KB and I will go to that factory tomorrow… and if we can get him to admit…” Kajal tried to explain.
“OIt may be dangerous…” Rugved said. “…Besides that, man is used to get his dirty work done by someone else. I doubt if he will come there…”
“He will if I tell him that I want to give him the evidence…” Kajal spoke to everyone.
Kajal placed the all-important call even as everyone heard in pin-drop silence.
“Hello…” a husky but heavy voice spoke.
“This is Kajal… Manohar and Rajani Shinde’s daughter… the one whose parents you had ordered to kill…. Rig a bell?”
“My sympathies with you kajal… but I have no idea what you are talking about…”
“Cut the crap… I have video evidence provided by your trusted man Rafiq whom you killed…”
“So… so what? Just because a drunk says something you think I will be arrested and put away? Are you stupid? If there is nothing else then I would like to go back to sleep…”
“Oh no… you can’t just sleep, can you? What about the new consignment arriving… it has already set sail hasn’t it? So you can’t even stop it… If I reveal the details to the police and the media what do you think will happen…? Till now you didn’t feature anywhere… but now your name will be out. What do you think about media trial… what about Uma aunty who is already so fragile…?”
“Shut up and don’t you dare…” Ramanrao roared. “…what do you want…?”
“…I want that factory land to be transferred in KB’s name and also the Mudh island property that belonged to his father, transferred to his name…I also want you to stay away from the new consignment coming up. In return, I will give you the original pen drive… and your name will not feature anywhere… when the hell breaks loose…”
“How do I trust you…to keep your end of the deal…?”
“I know you are a dangerous man Ramanrao. And you know where my family resides… you can do anything… if I choose to betray you. Besides, you will be migrating to Dubai.” Kajal wondered how she kept her voice from trembling, given that she was a mess inside. It was just KB holding her hand clasped in his that she could derive the needed strength.
“Alright… deal. Tomorrow morning at 10 am, only the two of you will come over to the factory premises. I will be there too and… no tricks or the deal is off, and you don’t get anything.”
Kajal agreed and disconnected. She was shuddering at what had transpired that night…
For the next couple of hours, they planned to wire Kajal using a high-end taped device that was invisible to anyone and could escape the electromagnetic detector.
The following morning KB and Kajal walked through the uneven pathway leading to the old factory. The unmarked police vehicle was parked away while Kajal and KB wore bulletproof vests. Kajal was trembling in fear but KB held her hand firmly.
“Don’t worry, Kajal we have come so far… we will do it well…”
Kajal nodded. “Krish… keep your cool, alright? I know we despise the man, but we need evidence and nothing better than him admitting to his misdeeds…”
They walked hand in hand, traversing the tough pathway and weren’t surprised that the place was secluded. Ramanrao had to arrange it like that.
They reached the place and saw a Jaguar, which they recognized from the previous night. Ramanrao was already here, probably with his cronies.
They waited in the open area, which was once the factory’s entrance.
“Welcome you both…I am glad we are ending this here today…” Ramanrao walked in surrounded by three of his men.
They placed a makeshift round table with three chairs around it and Ramanrao gestured them to take a seat. Not before one of the men used a detector to check them out.
“Look KB here is the property deal for both this factory and the Mudh island one… its worth a lot but I am being generous today…”
“It rightfully belonged to him Mr. Pradhan… so you aren’t doing him a favour…”
Ramanrao chuckled. “you are one tenacious woman… you take after your father with that impulsivity… good man in a wrong place…”
“Why … why did you have to kill them, Ramanrao? My mother was only there at your behest… she didn’t even know…”
“She knew everything Kajal. Rajani found out all she shouldn’t have…. It was going smoothly. But then that Batra fell for her… he ruined everything we had going in our favour. Your father should have kept quiet with the money we wanted to give him… he could have had a great life and you wouldn’t have struggled.”
“I am proud of my parents. Of course, they were patriotic, but you wouldn’t understand that would you?”
“I think that’s enough talk… hand over the evidence now…” Ramanrao dropped his smile and ordered.
Kajal opened her purse and looked at KB, who had been checking the papers. He nodded to her and she handed over the box and the ledger folder which KB had to Ramanrao. His man brought up a laptop and they checked the drive.
Kajal and KB stood up and Kajal spoke. “I hope that we never get to see each other again Ramanrao. I want nothing to do with you anymore.” They began the walk hand in hand to the exit even as Kajal’s limbs trembled in fright.
“Wait… what about my compensation?” Ramanrao asked and they both stopped and turned around.
“I am facing a huge loss because of you. It was meant to be my retirement nest egg… these prime properties are also now gone. I need compensation.”
Kajal looked at KB…
“I know you are wired… so first take those recorders off…” As Kajal and KB removed the tiny devices, his men destroyed them. “…and now take off the vest KB…. And walk here.”
“What the hell Ramanrao?” Kajal protested.
“He is just insurance for me till I leave the country Kajal… So if you or your police friends try to backstab me in any way, you can collect his dead body.”
KB left her hand, nodding at her and removed his vest even though Kajla protested. He started walking towards Ramanrao. But Kajal held his hand and pulled him back standing before KB even as the guards pointed their pistols at the duo.
“Krish isn’t going anywhere… Go to hell Ramanrao… You aren’t going to escape this time… you probably don’t know but the commissioner of police himself is involved in the special classified investigation and talks are on with the coast guard to confiscate your shipment… this is the end…”
“NO…” Ramanrao bellowed. “….this is not the end…. I will tie you both here and blast this place… Kajal you can join your mother…”
“AND WHAT ABOUT ME, RAMAN…?” a shrill voice sounded and kajal turned around along with others to see Uma standing holding her saree corner tightly in her fist, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“UMA…what the.. what are you doing here?” Ramanrao rushed towards his wife but she held up her hand and he stopped.
“This is something I should have done a decade ago Raman… it was my mistake… I blame it on my mental state but at the end it was just an excuse. Today I am here to right the wrong…”
“What are you saying Uma… lets leave first…we will go home and talk.”
“Why Raman… because this place is rigged with explosives? To cover your mess? I know everything Raman… everything that you did all these years but more than that I was shattered by knowing what you did to my brother and fiancé… you are terrible. A shame… a blot on humanity Raman…Rafiq told me everything a couple of days ago…”
“That’s all a lie… a blatant lie Uma…”
“I saw the proof Raman…”
“FINE…I DID EVERYTHING FOR YOU, UMA… BECAUSE I LOVE YOU THE MOST IN THIS WORLD…” Ramanrao pleaded before his wife.
“No Raman not for me… you did it to satisfy your ego and greed. If you had loved me then you would have let me marry my fiancé and not interfered like the way you did… you have destroyed so many families… its time you pay…” Uma spoke, panting.
Kajal saw a shadow moving in the perimeter and realized the police were already there and she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Uma lets… lets leave this place and go…we can go to your village… and… and … I shall do as you please…”
“No Raman… its too late now. You have to pay for everything… surrender yourself. That the only way to repent…”
“No Uma… I won’t…”
Kajal looked at KB, wondering where the conversation was leading to and suddenly, there was a gunshot startling her.
“UMAAAAA…” Ramanrao screamed and Kajal looked in horror as Uma fell holding a pistol. She had shot herself.
Kajal and KB ran towards her even as hoards of policemen filled the place taking the guards and Ramanrao into custody. Ramanrao wailed like a kid and had to be dragged away from his fallen wife.
An ambulance was called for and Kajla sat near Uma who was gasping for breath. She had shot herself in the abdomen. “Aunty… why did you do this…?”
“Kajal… I am sorry… for everything… remember… foundations… are important…” Uma stuttered and breathed her last.
Ramanrao screamed and needed four men to control him….By the time the formalities were done, Kajal and KB had completed the funeral arrangements for Uma as well.
A forlorn Ramanrao a far cry from his usual self stood in handcuffs, watching the burning pyre. He had turned into a stone.
The news channels were abuzz with the new arrest and everyone had thronged KB’s place for bytes. The police commissioner held a press conference and gave a gist of everything that had happened over a decade ago and requested witnesses to come forward. The case was being investigated from scratch and the court had granted Ramanrao high-security custody for a fortnight.
Kajal and KB barely slept as they sat glued to the TV as the story unfolded on the celluloid.
Something still bothered Kajal.
“Krish what did Uma aunty mean by foundations?”
“Kajal… is it something to do with the painting?”
Kajal scooted and they together brought the painting to the center table. Kajla touched the painting throughout and finally found a bulge at the place where the banyan tree roots lay.
Using a knife, she diligently cut through the canvas and a pouch was revealed. It contained folded papers. Kajal and KB were dumbstruck watching papers for the ships and consignments signed by Ramanrao…It also involved transcripts of Ramanrao’s conversation with the Russian criminal syndicates. When did Uma aunty gather this? Unfortunately, they would never know.
The next morning they handed over the papers to the police and were told that it was incriminating evidence. Kajal also overheard them discussing talking to the government officials to work with Russia to curb trafficking from their side.
Kajal’s mama-mami and Krunal visited them later in the morning being worried about what had transpired. For a change, maami was very cordial and spoke well about her parents. They left after Kajal assured them all was fine.
They later visited aaji who had been worried too. She was all praises for Kajal and KB for working towards bringing down the criminals.
Later that night as KB rocked into her soft welcome folds, she held him tight and as they came together with a bang, they couldn’t hold back tears as they cried into each other’s arms…
Finally, they had got the needed closure….