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Never before was the sound of traffic so musical to her ears. As she sat blind-folded, gagged, and tied, she wanted to keep hearing that sound. Then after what seemed like an eternity, the sound started to fade, making her heart beat faster. She thought about Siddharth. Blue Nile.
Did the cops know they were meeting there? Why weren’t they watching this evening? Yes, of course. Because they knew about her rendezvous. They knew it. They had tapped her cell phone, for sure. Shit. They might get to Siddharth. She couldn’t believe she still wanted him safe.
And then it came, like a bolt from the blue.
Who are these people, then?
She felt the van lurch sideways, followed by another eternally long bumpy ride. The men were surprisingly quiet. The van stopped after a while.
The front doors opened and shut. The door to her left slid open.
“Get her down,” someone said. She waded her arms in the air, trying to get down. Someone held her shoulder and she got down. Phew. That was quite a ride.
She was taken to someplace and made to sit. Then someone pulled the blindfold off her eyes. She squinted. It took her a while to adjust to the light. She looked around. There were three men in all. Two on either side of her. The main guy sat opposite her. He had a funny hairdo. Then she remembered. She’d seen him in that video.
He was Guru…no , what was that name again..damn. Ah, yes – Babu.
She looked at him seriously.
He folded his hands. “Namaste, Priyankaji.”
He then motioned the other two to get out. Once they were gone, he looked at her and smiled again.
“How are you? I’m sorry I had to get you here, in this manner. You see, your friend Mr. Mallik..he’s a strange fellow. How do you know him?”
She looked him in the eye, trying to look and sound as fearless as possible. Never whimper in front of these bozos.
“I don’t know him.”
“Oh really? But then, you have written a two page essay about him, and what a wonderful time you had the other night, on the Bangalore-Mysore highway? Hmm?”
How on earth did this guy know all that? Is Vikram double-crossing me? Bloody cop.
“That..uh, yes, but not because I know him. I just happened to meet him. I..he, he was just dropping me someplace because my scooter was damaged.”
“Oh, I see. Ok, ok..good. He’s a good human being then.”
She didn’t know if he was being serious, or sarcastic. Good actor.
“What do you want from me?” She asked point-blank; made him laugh out.
“I like your boldness. You’re very frank.”
Straight-forward is the word, dodo.
He continued. “Ok, now, basically this guy – Siddharth Mallik. He’s a pest. And I want him to come to me. He’s been avoiding me, you see. After all, he has my money…” He looked at her and smiled. “I’m sure you remember? That bag?”
Priyanka didn’t reply.
“Yeah, that bag. Had money in it. Lots and lots. You know why?”
She shook her head.
“That was supari. For another person. But your friend – turned traitor, and killed my Guru instead. My Godfather, my mentor…” He actually became emotional.
“So..” he continued, “I want him to come to me, and give me back my money.”
“Is that all? You don’t want to take revenge, for killing your guru?” Priyanka said, wondering why she said that.
Babu was thrilled by her thinking. “That’s wonderful. You think I should do that?”
She shrugged – “Well, he’s killed your Godfather. He deserves something similar, right?”
Babu started clapping. “I like your frankness..I really do.”
Priyanka rolled her eyes. “But what, you’re using me as bait, or what?”
“Yes. Good that you understood.”
“But why’ll he bite the bait? It’s not like we’re lovers or anything, you know. Why’ll he melt for me? You should’ve just been a man, and gone shot him.”
“Don’t tell me what I should, or should not do, madam,” Babu said, his voice suddenly turning hostile. “You know, I can right at this moment…” he stopped, fuming.
Priyanka was surprised at her own calmness.
Just then, someone knocked at the door. Three distinct knocks – like a code.
Babu walked over and opened it, only to fall back, a hole in his head.
Siddharth was standing at the door, gun in hand.
Priyanka felt the blood come back to her veins. But she was equally perplexed.
“How come you’re here so soon?”
Siddharth walked over to her. “Why? You were waiting for this creep to call me, do some drama about having captured you, etc?”
She didn’t want to, but she laughed. “Yeah.”
“Well, all that happens in the movies, I guess.”
“And what about his men?”
“My men have taken care of that. And we really need to talk. But not here. Let’s get out of here, first.” He unbound her.
They were sitting at Mallesh’s farm house, about 45 km out of the city.
Priyanka looked at Siddharth, who was sitting relaxed, in the couch opposite her. She had a glass of juice in her hand. He wasn’t having anything. She couldn’t believe he and his men had just put bullets into a little less than half a dozen men back there.
“We’re safe here, don’t worry.”
“But..what about all that killing back there? You guys behaved as if it was all a video game.”
Siddharth laughed. “In a way, it is.”
“Won’t they, who?”
“They’re waiting for me and you, at Blue Nile.”
Priyanka couldn’t help laughing. “I still don’t get it. Why did you call me to Blue Nile? And instead of sitting there, what are you doing here? Babu couldn’t have possibly told you before-hand that he was kidnapping me? That would’ve been stupid.”
“Yes,” Siddharth chuckled.
“Ok..I first realized that the cops were stalking you..or rather, keeping a watch, a few days ago. That’s when I decided to find out how they knew about you. I came to know that you’d gone to the cops…”
“How..how did you know..?”
“We have our sources, Priyanka. Informers work on both sides of the law – reasons are different. Mostly. Not always.” He smiled.
She waited for him to go on.
“So, I just wanted you to be safe from all this, and not get involved. Remember what I told you that night?”
“Yeah, but how was I supposed to even dream in my wildest of dreams, that you’re..you’re..”
“You can say it. Contract killer.”
Siddharth looked into her eyes. There was something that made it very hard for her to believe that he was indeed a contract killer.
“What?” She said, uncomfortable by his gaze.
“You think I’m a bad guy?”
“Umm..no, not like that – but killing people; it’s bad no, Siddharth? It could be anyone, even a criminal. But it’s human life.”
He nodded. “True.” He then pulled out something from his pockets and threw them on the table in front of her. “Look at these.”
For a minute she didn’t realize, it looked like a picture of a slaughter house. Then, it dawned on her, and she covered her mouth in disgust, gasping.
“That’s right. It’s not a butcher-house pic, Priyanka. Those pieces of meat you see there, are my brother’s.”
“Oh my God,” Priyanka said, nauseated by it all. Siddharth quickly put them back in his pocket.
“I’m so so sorry, Siddharth. When did this happen?”
“Two years ago. His name was Anurag. And he’d come to this city, to get a job with an IT company.”
“Then what happened?”
Siddharth shook his head. “I don’t know..how he joined the world of crime. But he did. It was then that Malleshwar..took him in and tried to reform him. But by then it was too late. Anurag had gotten his hands into something from which there was no escape. So…,” Siddharth said, patting his back pocket. “that was what he got as a reward.”
“Who did it?”
“Hegde, and his men.”
“So…you came here to..”
“Yes. Mallesh loved him like his brother. And he couldn’t take revenge outright, because there was too much at stake for him, politically.”
Priyanka didn’t know what to say.
“That’s when I came in. Even if Mallesh had told me that he wanted to take Hegde down, I won’t have allowed him to. Hegde was my prey.”
Siddharth smiled sadly. “So, I came to the city, as a total stranger, known only to Mallesh, and a few of his trusted men. I made friends with Hegde and Babu, got to know a lot of their dealings, posed as a contract killer, and promised to take Mallesh out.”
“And then turned the tables on Hegde?”
Siddharth nodded. “Took me two years to do it. Yes.”
“And the money?”
“I’ve not used a single paisa from that. All of it has gone to charity. See, technically, it’s just money – I just acted as if I accepted it to kill Mallesh. But I didn’t. So, it’s not supari, according to me. And I’ve not taken any money to kill Hegde or Babu..so..”
“And the other night? It wasn’t just by chance that Chandrakanth got into the car, right?
“Yes, it wasn’t, but I don’t know why he turned on me instead. He was supposed to give me that money as supari.”
“Maybe his head turned seeing all that money.”
“Yes, that’s what Babu told when I questioned him.”
“How much was there in it, anyway?”
“How does it matter? Forget it..” Siddharth smiled.
Priyanka shrugged and nodded. “Ok.”
Siddharth looked at her. “I don’t know why I felt like dropping you to the circle that night, Priyanka. I really don’t know. I cursed myself a thousand times, once Chandrakanth turned hostile. Else I’d have dropped you to the circle, maybe even exchanged numbers with you later,” He laughed.
“Like I’d have given my number to you.”
They both laughed. Then she looked at him. “ But tell me, how did you know Babu was going to kidnap me?”
“I got a tip-off last night, that Babu was hatching a plan, so I had to make up that story and call you to Blue Nile. I knew the cops would’ve bugged your phone. And by openly announcing my plans, I knew they’d rather wait for me there, than keep a watch on you. It gave me time to follow you here.”
Priyanka shook her head in disbelief. “Are the cops that dumb?”
“No, they just trusted you and believed me easily. The gambit worked. I was ready with plan B, though.” He smiled.
“Unbelievable. You came to this city, just to kill these two people? And what happens now? The cops are crawling all over the place looking for you.”
“I’m going to have to just vanish. I’ll get help for that, don’t worry. Mallesh is there. Unless..”
“Unless you decide to turn me in.”
“Hmm. That’s a possibility,” Priyanka said, looking serious. Then she burst out laughing. Siddharth laughed too.
Then she said, “I don’t know Siddharth. I was about to turn you in back there. I..I feel lousy about it now.”
“It’s ok, not your fault. You didn’t know me well enough to..I understand.”
“And you saved my life.”
He nodded. “ I had to.”
“What’s your real name? I’m sure none of it belongs to the real you. The car, your name, your address..none of it.”
“So? What’s it then?”
“Arjun. And I’m from Delhi.”
“So, you’re parents in London..all that..”
He shook his head. “My parents died more than 10 years ago.”
“I’m sorry,” Priyanka said, softly.
There was silence for a few moments. Priyanka pursed her lips, not knowing what to say next. She sure expected a lot of fireworks in the papers the coming days, and of course, Vikram would make her life hell, no doubts. She had to think of a reason for not having gone to the Nile.
Last minute change in plan, perhaps. And well, he could go looking for Siddharth Mallik for the rest of his life. She would make friends with Arjun, meanwhile. She smiled at her own little joke.
Arjun now looked at her. “Priyanka.”
“Do you hate me?”
“Huh? Hate..? no, why?..because you..”
She shook her head. “No.”
He looked into her eyes again. “I’m going to forget all this once I return. I just did it for my brother’s soul. I want to start a new life.”
“And the cops? Won’t they try to …”
He laughed. “For how long..2, 3, 4 years? Something more important will come their way in the next 6 months, you watch.”
They laughed again.
Then he asked. “Can we be in touch?”
Priyanka looked thoughtful and then said. “Yes. I’d love to be in touch with Arjun. Not Siddharth Mallik.”