Friday, December 16, 2011

'Red-faced and all..'

Ok, these things normally don't happen...to me at least, but when they do, I'm all tongue-tied.

So, uh, thanks PV, for this:












(I'm sorry, I'm just horrible at formatting all this stuff on the web, so guys, please ignore the alignment, composing of the image etc. Maybe you can help me out here, PV?)

I'm really bad at receiving these accolades. I just don't know what to say! But I'll say this.

PV's a helluva writer herself. If you guys don't believe me, just go here. There's something 'spidery' about her writing. I know, that word sounds morbid, but what I really mean is, her stories just pull you into a web of feelings and thoughts.

So, thanks once again to the PS girl! You continue socking those rocks, huh? ;-)

Smoked out (55)


Rishi lit his third cigarette and stood in the cemetery. He looked at his watch. 1.30 am. Fifteen more minutes. He chuckled. “One thousand rupees, here I come”. That was the bet.

“Excuse me?”

Rishi almost swallowed the cigarette. Heart pounding he turned.

“Could you please put that out? That’s what killed me you know.”

*****

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fifty Five(s) - 1

For the next few days (or probably weeks, don't know) I plan to try out this 55 word thingy. It's kind of like having a tequila shot to rid you of writer's block.


**********

Game over

Hostel basement. The TT room noise was getting to Saurabh, who was trying to study in the adjacent hall. It was nearly 1 am and these guys were still playing? Enough with it, he decided and marched to the TT room.
"Hey fuckers, why don't you...?" He stopped.

There was no one in the room.

*****

Monday, December 12, 2011

Spoilsport

The cop knocked loudly. "Open up. Police."

"Yes, sir?" The house inmate peeped through the partly open door.

"I need to come in. This man here says you're trying to kill someone, says he watched it all from the opposite building. Said you'd tied someone to a chair and...what's up anyway?"

"What? what nonsense..." Then loud laughter. "Oh, that. We're practicing for our office annual day play, sir. It's a murder mystery."

Cop hadn't expected this. He frowned and turned to the other man. The neighbor cringed and then said, "Oh...but..."

"You just did what you had to, sir. Not to worry, it's ok," the house inmate said, smiling. "Happens all the time."

"Sorry,I...well, from the window it looked so real..." muttered the neighbor, barely audible now.

The man inside laughed some more and stepped back. "But please sir, why don't you come in and check for yourself?"

"No, don't bother. Carry on," the cop said. He glared at the neighbor and walked away, scratching his crotch, muttering something about jobless fellows.

The neighbor turned to leave too.

"Sir, why don't you come in for some tea at least?" The man from inside said, stifling a laugh, or so it seemed to the neighbor.

"Uh, no..it's ok. I'll be off," he said sheepishly. "Sorry once again, for the confusion."

The other man winked and waved his hand. "Tata."


*****'

"Can you beat it? They thought I was trying to kill you, even called in the cops."

Chuckle.

He pulled the curtains and turned to the other guy again. "Ok, I think we should continue like this now. Too many peeping toms around I see."

He adjusted the silencer over the muzzle and pointed it at the tied man. "This'll win you a filmfare award. And this..." he said looking at the muzzle, "..will make it look authentic, what say?"

He pulled the trigger. A second later he was looking at the brownish red mess on the wall behind. Oh well, he had lots of time to clean up. But sometimes he hated this job. So much more cleaning to do when you killed someone inside the house. He preferred doing it outside - point blank, out in the open. Let the cops clean up after. Sigh.

He looked down at the body. "Too bad, you can't do this once more. You know, like in those village dramas, where the audience shouts 'once more, once more' when a guy dies very convincingly?" He laughed at his own poor joke.

******

Thursday, December 08, 2011

"Gaadi bula rahi hai" - Part 3 (concluding part)

Read part 1 / part 2

Arati swerved left to avoid an autorickshaw who suddenly, for no good reason, tweezed himself in between a biker and her, and now trying to overtake.

"Moron," She scowled at the rick guy as she passed him. He growled back.

It was too late, she was already at the turning and there was no way she could apply the brakes. The huge truck was blaring, but it was somewhat muffled due to the loud music she was playing. She brought both her hands up to her face, screamed her lungs off and passed out.

*******************
"This had to happen. Why did that idiot Nikhil agree to keep the car if he couldn't keep it safe for two weeks?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe we can do some fire fighting here. What does her log say?"

"I don't know."

"What do you know?"

"I don't...err..wait, let me check." A brief pause and a soft whistle followed. "It says here 84. 86 at best."

"Now what's that supposed to mean, 86 at best?"

"Can't accommodate beyond 86, is what it means. But we could appeal, right?"'

"For what - like 86 minutes? You were supposed to keep a watch on her. It's what we all do. We don't mess with that."

Grumbling followed.

"What?"

"Nothing. Yeah, let us keep a watch. And the car?"

"I don't know, we should try to spook her somewhat. Make her ditch the car. It's not good for her."

"Meaning?"

"You know what it means, right? Those guys will come after her. Sooner or later. It's all there in the book, isn't it?"

"yes."

****************

Arati could hear someone banging at a door from somewhere far away. The ringing in her ears hadn't died down yet. She slowly opened her eyes, ready to face heaven. Wait a minute. It looked very much like earth.

She turned. There was a mass of metal piled up on her left. People were milling around it. But a huge crowd was onto her, ready to torch the SUV.


****************

"Oh great. Now it'll all be over in 86 seconds. You know, for an angel you're quite something. You were supposed to make that accident not happen in the first place. Now look what you did."

"What'd I do?"

"She's unscathed. BUt the truck's a mess. That never happens, you know. It's not destined that way. And you see Simon there? The truck driver's angel. I can see that frown on his face turning into a red mass of fire."

"What do I do?"

""I don't know, and what do I do"- is that all you know? I think I'll have to handle this myself. Get me the rewind hand-set. I'm going to get penalized for this, I'm sure. Newbie" He grumbled under his breath.

***************

Arati opened her eyes slowly and found herself parked in the same place where she'd started out from.

She looked around. This couldn't be happening. Where was the huge truck crash. The mob? Where was it? Was she dreaming this whole thing? When did she doze off? Last she recollected was cursing the autorickshaw

....and just then the autorickshaw passed by, the biker behind him. But...

She was shivering. She called Nikhil again.

"Where are you?" Nikhil asked gruffly.

She gave him directions and got out of the car. Nisha called.

"Nishu, you won't believe what just happened to me..I'll be there in a while sweety." She hung up and sat down at the culvert, still shaking. She looked up. She was sure she was going to die. It was all so real. How could it have been just a dream, for God's sakes? She looked up and thanked her lucky stars.


**************

The senior angel muttered, "You're welcome."

Then he turned to his junior. "As for you...be alert. For the next 86 earth years, yeah?"

********

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

"Gaadi bula rahi hai" - Part 2

Read part 1



Arati felt like she wasn't alone in the car. She looked at the rear view mirror and her heart stopped for a minute. Was it her imagination or did she just see someone duck in the last row of the SUV, as her eyes fell on the mirror?

"Any...anybody there?" She mumbled feebly, feeling stupid the moment she said that.

She slowly pulled the vehicle over near a park and killed the engine. She lowered the window and looked around. It was a bright and sunny day, traffic milled all around her, pedestrians walked by, giving her and her ride the usual curious looks, doing as they normally do looking at something different on the roads. She just sat there for a minute soaking in the atmosphere, feeling normal.

She chuckled. "Aru, you're a nut case," she said out loud. What could possibly be wrong in the car?

Her brother's call again startled her. She cursed him under her breath and picked up the phone this time.

"Aru, I'll kill you...where are you?"

"Relax, chotu - am fine, and..what's with you? What's the big deal if I took the car, huh? Your friend's not gonna return today and snatch it back, right?"

Nikhil was the younger sibling. And she could bloody well take his car when she wanted. She shook her head and disconnected even as her kid brother was shouting on the line.

She looked at her cell phone for a moment. What if he actually had a good reason to stop her from driving it? Nikhil was known to have some rich kid friends who she suspected were involved in what would otherwise be perceived as nefarious. Could be anything - incriminating evidence...maybe controlled substance of some kind. Boy, this kid.

She turned and looked around the SUV. It smelled nice, surprisingly. She hadn't noticed it. She'd have thought it reeked of alcohol or cigarettes. None of that. Pleasant fragrance. Manly, she noted especially and smiled. On a hunch she released the boot and got out.

She looked around and slowly walked over to the rear of the car. She clutched the handle and slowly opened the door. Nothing. It was clean. Hmm, that was strange. She could've sworn there was someone. "Shit, Aru, now you've really lost it. That happened only in movies."

The cell phone on the front seat rang out again. She swore and walked over to the front again.

It was an unknown number.

"Hello?"

"Get out of the car now, and walk away."

"Excuse me?"She frowned and turned. Was someone watching her?

"listen girl..you don't want to be in that car now. Just walk away."

"Hello, you listen. Just fuck off ok?" She hung up and dialled Nikhil's number.

Funny, now he wasn't answering. She looked around for some more time, then got in. She half expected cops or commandos, or whoever it was they showed in the movies, to surround her from all over and command her to exit, their machine guns pointed to her. She laughed at the absurdity. "Too many films, Aru, too many..." she chided herself.

She sighed and brought the car to life. Sweet. Oh boy, what the heck. She'd always wanted to drive one of these. She stepped on the gas and roared into the main road, leaving behind a cloud of dust.

(Now...what could happen next? Watch this space)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"Gaadi bula rahi hai"

"Ma, I'm going to Nisha's house," Arati announced, as she tumbled out of her room as usual, her sling bag in tow.

"Ok, did you hand over the cheque to Pa?" Mom shouted from the kitchen.

"Shit," Arati muttered under her breath. "I'll do it on the way, ma..."

She could hear her mother grumble something inaudibly from inside, but she was way past the living room to the corridor that connected to the garage.

She pushed through the door and flicked on the light of the garage. Her favorite hatchback of 3 years sat gleaming in the tiny bulblight. She patted the bonnet lovingly and was about to get in, when she stopped. Turning back slowly she discovered something. She looked at it, and then at hindsight went back into the house.

Her mother, oblivious to the world...turned and jumped when she saw her daughter standing in the kitchen doorway.

"Aru..please tell me when you come and stand like that," her mother said, a hand on her chest, breathing heavily. "You scared me. I thought you'd left."

"Ma, whose car is that?" Arati said, ignoring her mother's protest.

"What car?"

"Ma,come on...that one sitting beside mine."

"Oh, that. belongs to Nikhil's friend's. He's handed it over to your brother temporarily."

"Meaning?"

"The friend has gone to the Us for a few weeks, so he wants Nikhil to take care of it." she mumbled something else and continued her work.

Arati looked thoughtful.

"Why has Nikhil not taken it to work, then?"

"Arre I don't know. Ask him."

Arati turned back and headed to garage, dialing her brother's number.

"Nikhil, can I use your friend's car for today?"

"Aru, no, no no...don't touch that car - I can't give it to you..." he hadn't even completed the sentence. "thanks," Arati said and giggled.

She pulled the keys from the key-chain hanging by the garage door. All car keys hung from there.

She blew a kiss at her car with a short 'sorry baby" and got into the friend's car. It was a huge monstrosity she'd always wanted to drive ever since she'd learned driving a couple of years ago.

She revved the engine and let out a long whistle. Her mobile rang. It was her brother. She disconnected it and backed the car out.


*********

A little past the first traffic circle, Arati turned right. That was when she noticed something was wrong.


(I know, I know....but to be continued)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Between the lines (concluding part)


Read Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

Akanksha and three others sat at a table facing the door. Akash suddenly felt like a bumbling college student appearing for an admission interview. What was this pretty young thing doing with these no-nonsense looking men? Wait a minute, she’s alive. What the hell was going on?

“Akanksha…?” was all he could muster.

“Yes. But now, she’s no longer known by that name.” The guy in the center spoke out.

“Who’re these …?” Akash started, when Akanksha put up her hand. “Come, sit Akash. And from here on, we’ll do the talking. Ok? Let’s get it over with now. Not much time.”

Akash sat and looked at all of them.

“You’ve been taking your ‘mystery writer’ role a bit too seriously, I see – at least the last few months.”

Akash laughed nervously. “But..I thought you had..”

“Died.”

Akash didn’t know what to say.
“Ok, let’s keep it at that. I’m dead – at least on paper.” Akanksha looked at the other men and continued.

“It wasn’t meant to be like this, you know. But you involved my sister, so I’ve had no choice but to make things clear.” She paused. “..and also because, well, we don’t want to jeopardize innocent civilian lives.”

“What do you mean?”

The burly man on the far left spoke now.

“Mr. Akash – your curiosity, and to a certain extent Ms. “Akanksha’s” friendly banter with you…” he looked at Akanksha, who shrugged, “…has, for want of a better word – made our ongoing work, a little difficult to progress.”

He went on some more about patriotism and national security. Akash sat blankly, not sure if he wanted to be there anymore, pretty girl or no pretty girl.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of RAW, Mr. Akash,” the man said. Akash broke out of his trance. “Huh? Yeah.” He looked at Akanksha. “I’ve heard of it.”

“Akanksha is a field agent, involved with collecting intelligence information involving external threats to the country. Just like how terror outfits have sleeper cells, we have counter-intelligence outfits monitoring their moves. It is too complicated for you to comprehend all this now. Just know that we’re on a mission. And we want you to stop your curious moves, starting now. Clear?”

Akash nodded sagely.

“But, that car accident, and...your sister? Does she know?”

Akanksha cleared her throat. “No, she doesn’t – but dad knows. He’s an ex-serviceman. For now, my mother and sister could pose serious problems if they come to know I’m involved with RAW. They’ll also know in good time. But from us. Me – not from you, if you know what I mean.”

“Ok.”

Then he remarked. “But Deeksha seemed to know what I was upto, so…”

Akanksha smiled. “I know. She did some background work behind your back. She called Benny, the lobby manager at the Planter’s Haven resort. Benny, is in fact a RAW officer himself.”

“So, you were in that resort on a mission….” Akash started and trailed off, suddenly remembering he wasn’t supposed to be speaking about this a lot. “Ok, I get it.”

“Thanks.”

“You are advised to cut off all contacts with her sister and be to yourself.” Burly man said.

“But Arun? Why was he killed?”

“Ah him,” the burly man continued. “We need to thank you for that bit, though. You know of course, that we’ve been watching you and Akanksha’s sister. And we were glad you guys stopped this ‘detective’ work for a while. We were almost convinced you guys had given up, when you went and contacted this journalist. And we found that he was in fact with the other guys. He wanted to alert them about us, as he was doubtful about the accident himself.”

“And you …,” Akash wondered.

“We had to eliminate him, Akash,” Akanksha said.

Akash whistled. “Oh boy.”

“Real life, as you know it, is no mystery novel Mr. Akash. We mean serious business here. And you, were almost in the cross-fire.”

Akanksha interjected – “but not anymore. Please go back to your life – get your book published and well, do well as an author.”

Akash sighed. For a minute he wanted to pinch himself. He was talking to real agents, and instead of feeling elated at the opportunity, he wanted to scoot from here. His mind was filled with questions, about Shashank, and the other occupants of that burnt car – but he knew what the answer would be. He thought it best to leave these agents with their work that they knew how to handle.

“Ok, I get the message. But you know Akanksha…I was ..you know, thinking,”

“Don’t think Akash. No point thinking anymore. This is beyond you. I only wish I hadn’t spoken to you that evening.” She looked at her seniors who looked on grimly.

*******

Six months later, Akash sat at his book signing. The usual drill, interviews with papers and magazines. His book was received well.

A couple of weeks later, he received an email from an unknown sender – spirited_reader@gmail

“Nice book, Akash. I hope you win the booker for it. All the best for your future.”

He smiled and shut the message window.


The End

Between the lines (5)


Read Part 1/Part 2/Part 3/Part 4


Akash completed the final draft of his book a couple of weeks later and took it to the publishers. He hadn’t met Deeksha the last couple of months citing health reasons and professional commitments. She had conceded and agreed to meet if any developments happened in the mean time. After that innocent statement, Akash was wary of her and now didn’t trust her as much. Deeksha hadn’t shown any interest in the matter either. They decided it was a one-off incident, though Akash didn’t think so. But he didn’t want to involve himself beyond a point. After all, it wasn’t something he asked for.

Priyadarshini, his editor, asked him to relax in the lobby as she had to wrap up a meeting with an international publication. “Roopa will take it from here, Akash. I’ll meet you in a half hour, yeah?” Apparently, she had taken a look at the soft copy he sent her earlier on request, and had some pointers to polish the draft. She said her staff would take care of it, but that he should be aware of the changes. He’d agreed. First timers don’t have much of a say, anyway. He was just glad his book was on its way to the shelves, finally.

He opened his laptop and launched a browser. The office was wi-fi enabled. After browsing for a few minutes, he went to his favorite online newspaper for the days headlines. On a lark, he decided to look into the archives. What was the date Deeksha had mentioned? Ah, yes – July 26th, 2009. He was registered with the paper and logged on. He smiled at some of the headlines from back then. He was about to scroll down, when the link caught his eyes. “Car crash on the Mysore-Bangalore highway”. He clicked.

Nothing out of the blue. Four occupants, he noted. Akanksha, Shashank, Roger and Fasal. Those were the names. He quickly read the report, and then some related links. He frowned. Some accident that. But it was just an accident. What did Akanksha’s spirit have to say outside of this accident, he wondered. Come to think of it, the whole incident seemed weirder and weirder. Why hadn’t her spirit made contact again?

The more he remembered her face, the more he got drawn into it. He sighed. He read the story again. Wait a minute.

The car was on its way to Bangalore, when the accident occurred.

But didn’t Deeksha say that Akanksha was on her way to Mysore? A lot of things didn’t quite fit here, but he wasn’t able to put his finger on any one. Unless he had access to the investigation files. Which was next to impossible. Then he remembered, Arun, his friend from college, worked at one of the reputed papers in the city and covered crime. He used to at least a couple of years ago. Could he pull some strings? He wondered. But for that, he’d have to tell him the truth. Would he believe him? Would he laugh at him? He might outright refuse him. But it was worth a try.

******

The number you’ve dialed, does not exist.

Damn.

He decided to visit Arun personally.

He found Arun and a colleague smoking near the stairway, when Akash waved at him.

“Akash. Hey,” Arun said, throwing the butt out.

They pumped hands and clapped shoulders. “Long time, man.”

Akash nodded and laughed.

“So, what brings you here? Still with that company, umm…,” Arun tried to recollect.

“Yeah, still there. But I’m writing a book, and …”

“wow, cool. Really?”

“Yeah. And I wanted your help on some research.”

“Sure – shoot.”

“Umm, it actually involves a real case, happened a couple of years ago.” Akash feigned vague remembrance.

“Yeah? Here, in Bangalore? Which one?” Arun was all ears now.

“Yeah, related to Bangalore. You still doing crime?”

Arun sighed and smiled. “Stuck to it like glue.”

“Good,” Akash said.

“Hmm,” Arun said. “Chalo, let’s go to the canteen to grab a coffee”.

In the canteen, Akash told Arun about the accident, and Akanksha, skipping the parts.

Arun tried to rake his memory. “I do remember faintly about that one. I got it from one of those press statements they give us at the Commissioner’s office.”

“ok, do you remember the cops doing any follow up investigation?”

“Don’t see a reason why they should have. These guys have enough of crap to deal with inside the city, than to waste their time on a pretty straight-forward accident. Highways are, well, you know – accident prone, and they can’t do much about it.” Arun scratched his beard.

Akash nodded. Arun continued – “unless, the accident involves a politico, or some public figure. You know.”

Akash again nodded. “But you know, from what Deeksha told me, it didn’t quite match. She said her sister was bound to mysore. But the report says the car was on its way from mysore.”

Arun laughed. “Akash, I can’t believe you’re asking this question. Printing errors happen all the time. Even names get mis-spelt. Ages are written wrongly at times. It happens.”

Akash got a sinking feeling this wasn’t going down too well. Arun shook his head. “Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’ll try to find out who the investigating officer was on that case, and put you through. That work ok for you?”

Akash nodded. “that’ll be great, man. Thanks.”

Arun winked. “Anytime.”

******

Akash learned that a certain Inspector Dinesh Singh of Maddur District, was the primary spot officer for the accident, and the case was then handed over to ACP Bhargav, Traffic, South Bangalore – as the car was registered under the Southern RTO in Bangalore. ACP Bhargav was not in office currently.

Akash went over several newspaper stories from the public library, carrying the accident story and gathered mixed reports. Some reports said the car caught fire near Maddur, others even said near Mandya, a town about 16km away. He was confused now.

He visited the Bangalore South traffic police station, and met the public relations officer.

He stepped out of the police station, a while later, flustered, and confused even further. There was no record of such an accident, and the PR officer outright refused to comment on the subject.

“Please, sir, I have a lot more work to attend to now.”

What was the big deal about a road accident anyway? He learned about the deal the next day when he read the papers. The headline was buried in the third page, city crime news, but when he looked closer, it took his breath away.

“City crime reporter found dead in his apartment.”

Akash had to rub his eyes and read the report all over again.

“Arun Jadhav, a senior crime reporter was found murdered in his apartment, in the early hours of Monday. His wife and son were out of town and learned of the incident later. Arun was on the crime beat of this renowned paper for the last seven years…”

He almost jumped when his cell phone rang.

“Hello?”

No answer. All he could hear was a hissing sound, like static from a television.
“Hello?”

The line went dead.

He was perspiring now. A few minutes later, his cell rang again.

He looked at the display – it was an unknown number. He slowly pressed the green button.

“Akash?”

“Yes?”

“Don’t ask any question. Meet me at…”, the caller gave him the location and hung up.

Akash tossed the phone on the couch and looked up at the ceiling. He quickly bathed and changed. He had exactly three hours to be at the location.

Three hours later, a blue van slowed down by his side as he was waiting for the caller.

The door slid open and he was asked to jump in. Before he could even notice the occupants of the van, he was blind-folded and asked to keep quiet. His heart pounding, he obeyed silently and sat for what seemed like eternity. None of the occupants spoke during the journey.

When his blind-fold was finally taken off, he had to squint hard at the harsh light. It was late afternoon, he presumed. He was asked to alight. The van sped away leaving him standing in what looked like a school building.

A friendly looking elderly man approached him from inside the building.

“Come with me.”

He was escorted to a class-room. The door was open. He stepped in.

“Hello Akash.”

Akash stood mortified for a second, as he saw the person in front of him.

Concluding part here...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Between the lines (4)


Read Part 1/Part 2 / Part 3

The hatchback sped past a small town , splashing muddy water from a puddle. A stray dog got out of the way in time.

Inside the car, Deeksha dozed, oblivious to the steady drizzle outside. Akash was silent as well, his mind going over the events of the past weeks, both at work, his book and now – this. They’d decided to take off on a weekend and make a single day trip to Sakleshpur.

A rough patch on the road woke up Deeksha.

“Where are we? I’m sorry, I think I must’ve dozed off,” She said, her voice a bit groggy.

“Hey, perfectly ok. Umm, I think we’re nearing Hassan.”

“Oh, already?”

They started out at day break. Not that it made any difference outside. It still looked like daybreak, what with the wet weather outside, and the Sun deciding to take the day off himself.

“Do you have any plan in mind? What are we looking for there?”

“I have no idea. Thanks to my publisher, I could get a member reference, so we’re allowed to go and just look around.”

Deeksha nodded, looking out.

They stopped at Hassan for breakfast, and got to know a little about each other for the rest of the journey before reaching Planter’s Haven around eleven.

******

The lobby manager smiled as they walked up the stairs in the portico and stepped into the waiting lounge. Not many guests were around, spare the usual staff, walking around with the same look of urgency Akash had noticed several weeks ago.

“Ah, the author. How’re you, sir? A very good morning to you…and to you, ma’am.”

Akash smiled, wincing slightly at the reference. “How’re you?”

“Great, sir. I was told about your arrival. Mr. Rao personally called me. Make yourselves comfortable, sir. Ma’am.”

He then left to attend to his other responsibilities.

Deeksha immediately decided she wasn’t going to like the pesky fellow. She smiled artificially and looked around. Then her eyes caught something at reception desk, and she tugged at Akash’s hand.

Akash turned to her and she motioned at the large garlanded photo.

“Shashank,” She whispered.

They stepped closer to get a better look. The lady at the counter straightened up. “Yes, sir?”

Akash just smiled without replying. She went back to her work. It was obvious they weren’t interested in checking in.

Akash looked at the photo for a few moments.

Later they walked by the pool-side, each carrying a glass of juice they got from the restaurant. The rain had stopped for some time now, and the Sun was peeping from the clouds.

“He definitely looks familiar. Wonder why I didn’t notice his portrait before.”

They went to the patio where Akash ‘met’ Akanksha, and took a table facing the mountains, and the serpentine road leading to the resort. It was a beautiful sight.

“It’s funny how real she looked. I still can’t believe she’s…”

Deeksha smiled vacantly at him. “Dead.”

Akash nodded. “I do think she wanted me to meet you, though. I don’t know why. But she did.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes. Just think. She used your name, gave me clues about where you worked.”
“Yeah, but if she really wanted, she could’ve just told you where I worked, right?”

“Hmmm. True, now that you mention it, she could have. I just presumed it was the usual girl act – playing hard to get, and all that. Or, maybe she didn’t want to reveal a lot about herself. After all, I was a stranger.”

Deeksha nodded.

“Hey, while you were here, you ate and then sat here, right? How come nobody noticed it? I mean, you both must’ve ordered something. Somebody’s bound to have seen her, right?”

Akash turned serious now. “You know, I’ve been thinking about that right from day one. After the dinner, we didn’t order anything. We were pretty much to ourselves. It could’ve been just me they saw.”

“Yeah, but maybe the pesky manager can tell.”

Akash chuckled at the reference. “Pesky. I like that. And that he is…”

“He did deny anybody checking into her room 207, right..and ..” her voice trailed off.

“Yes, he just told me that to get me off his chest. The club policy is they don’t share information about their guests unless it warrants a police investigation. Then the red tape…you know the drill”

Deeksha frowned. “Damn.”

*****

They left the resort at around four in the evening, disappointed. Deeksha didn’t want her mother calling her; as it was, she’d already called her a million times.

It was close to nine by the time Akash dropped Deeksha and headed home. He just hoped it was all a dream and that he didn’t hear or see Akanksha again. She hadn’t made contact the last few weeks, so it was fine with him. He suddenly wanted to get on with his life – though he felt guilty for thinking like that. But well, it wasn’t his fault, right? And maybe Deeksha and her folks also would forget about her. It could’ve been a one-off case. Maybe the place somehow brought out some sort of a psychic power in him, which would go.

He parked his car in the basement of his apartment building and walked to the elevator. His mind went back to the events of the day – the ‘pesky’ manager (he smiled at that).

As he stood waiting for the elevator car to come down, he realized, though he told Deeksha he’d met Akanksha at the resort, he’d never really told Deeksha about his ‘search’ for Akanksha that day – him walking up to Room no. 207 and the manager shooing him off.

“He did deny anybody checking into her room 207, right?” Her words rang in his ears.

Continued here...