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..”
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.”
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.”
“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.