After the edge-of-seat Round 1, our team has vaulted into Round 2. Click here for my post in Round 1.
Previous Chapter XIX aka 19 (Round 2) of ‘Circle of Deceit’ by Kalakaar Colony can be read here: http://radhika-feelingfree.blogspot.in/2014/09/chapter-19-stranger-or-know-it-all.html
Round 2, Chapter XX(aka 20) : Fact is stranger than Fiction.
Blasted idiot! Shekhar’s hands were trembling on the steering wheel as he thought of Jennifer with a mixture of concern and irritation. He had enough heartache with Roohi missing. He honestly did not deserve an extra headache from Jennifer’s untimely hide and seek games.
Why couldn’t she wait? Does everyone think I’m redundant, he reflected bitterly. Mr. Gupta had swatted him away,Tara had not intervened for his sake and now the girl he considered a confidant had sprung a Houdini on him. Everyone acts as if Roohi is theirs to protect & cherish; as if she means the world to everyone but me; and as if everyone knows exactly what to do except me!
He swore as a bicyclist swerved and nearly dented his car. Shekhar nosed his car into the parking lot and hurried to the elevator.
Today was just not his day, he grimaced as he spotted Ahuja exiting the elevator. Cocky, Successful, Society Treasurer & Awardee. He always monopolized the society meetings with disgusting confidence – and disgusting competence.
“Hello,” Ahuja drawled , “My daughter was waiting all of yesterday for Roohi – some school project on Earthquake that these two were to make. Where is she?”
Shekhar held his breath. Ahuja’s daughter must have related that ugly school scene but she would be unaware of subsequent events. Did Ahuja know?
Of course not, Roohi’s disappearance was not yet public news. Shekhar had been unsure about reporting the fact because it might be a revenge kidnap for Tara’s sting operation. He didnt want to implicate Tara; while Tara had probably confided the fact to her ‘Resources’, who in turn may have told the police; unless influential Mr Gupta had stonewalled the police; or maybe …
‘I am a failure,’ he admitted, ‘I can never take a decision. No wonder Tara is so dismissive.’ He sighed as a brainwave hit him, “Roohi is visiting her Grandpa for a few days.”
As he squirmed uncomfortably, Shekhar noticed that behind nerdy spectacles, Ahuja’s flinty eyes held empathy – and speculation. He knows! Shekhar thought. An overwhelming urge bubbled within him – to unload his burden, to seek Ahuja’s help, to find his sweetheart come Death or Hell; but … he would have to crosscheck with Tara first. Nothing in life seemed to proceed without his wife’s green signal. Cuckold! he coined himself with a blush.
He waved goodbye hastily. Ahuja gazed after the yawning space that whisked away Shekhar, “He knows I know. Why the pretense?”
Secrecy could mean a lot of things – all of them unpleasant. Either there was some dirty family secret involved, or there had been a threatening phone call from the kidnapper, or the dysfunctional Dutta- Gupta union had decided to bypass the police.
In case of the latter, it could mushroom into further venomous possibilities – Blackmail? Fear of defamation? Business revenge?
He thought back, ‘The tattooed girl had come straight to me – but why Me? She had mentioned ‘Cyrus’ to Shekhar. Cyrus the Virus; Cyrus the Bakra; Cyrus the … the Legal Eagle?’ He slowed down, as the name hit home.
2 years ago, wasn’t it? He was invited to deliver a speech at a Law College. Oh! The eager questions thrown at him, the naked adulation in their eyes – and that impressionable young man who cornered him for an interview. Tall, lean, bearded. The spitting image of Jesus Christ.
Ahuja whipped out his mobile. The bloodhound had sniffed a trail …
Roohi jabbed at her sketch, “This is the one who took me away on his bike.”
Mr. Gupta carefully pried the paper away from her fingers, feeling cold fury within him. If Krishna had not been alert enough, if Krishna had missed his cue – then his precious Roohi would … he felt a sliver of fear streak through him.
“Did he hurt you?” he asked guardedly.
Roohi tilted her head, “I was scared, Grandpa. He drove so fast! Even faster than Jennifer … But he didnt hurt me. Even gave me chips – you know, my favorite American Cream & Onion.”
Mr Gupta nodded slowly, and exchanged a glance with Krishna, “Ah, your favorite flavor! I wonder how he knew, indeed. Anything else that you can remember?”
Roohi screwed up her eyes, “He was reading a book – with a dirty picture on it”, she giggled, “A woman wearing just … you know? The author’s name was Run or something.”
Mr Gupta threw Krishna a helpless glance. At his age, the only interesting dirty read was the Sensex!
But Krishna rose to the challenge, “Run? Bolt? Chase? James Hadley Chase?”
Roohi nodded and then she yawned. It had been an exhausting day.
“Time for dreams, little one.” Mr Gupta scooped her up and carried her to the bed. He arranged the covers snugly around her before he left.
“I’ve put our team already on the track of this Mr. Dirty Chase. Anything else, Sir?” Krishna asked.
Mr Gupta pursed his lips, “This has gotten more complex than I thought. We need to involve the police. I will not let this Bxxxxxd get away. Yet, I cannot afford to have Gupta Enterprises blazing the front pages for the wrong reasons. When Tara approaches the police, they will start fishing for suspects.”
His jaw clenched decisively, “It is high time, Krishna, that I receive a ransom call. It will make things look authentic. Nine pm sharp. Make it short, snappy and effective. Two million in cash. Or else … ”
Who is misguiding whom? Is anyone here NOT wearing a mask? Can Roohi trust anybody at all?
Save your nails, don’t bite them all off! Await more deception and twists in Round 3!
Here is chapter 21 (Wildcard round)