Editor: Read Chapter XXXIII here.
Ravi was irked by the Maoists’ suggestion that they observe the building for an hour before moving in. However, he had no choice but to obey them. Teji and Holambe had made it clear that neither disobedience nor dissent was an option, if he wanted their help. They were dressed as migrant villagers in dhotis while Teji was in a saree. Their visage was supposed to convey the sense that they were trying to search for something useful to do in the big city even as they took up positions all around the building to which Swapna had directed Ravi. Their weapons were concealed in the same cloth bags while Ravi also had two large bunches of keys and other tools with him.
After observing the building for an hour, they re-grouped under a tree, out of sight from any of the windows in the building.
‘All clear right? Let’s move,’ Ravi suggested, eagerness personified.
‘Hold on brother. You’ll get us all killed.’
‘How come no construction work is going on?’ Teji wanted to know.
‘There are a number of buildings like this, all over Mumbai. Still under construction but with little activity taking place because the builder has run out of funds or because they haven’t got the necessary approvals,’ Holambe explained.
‘One of us needs to go inside and take a look. Just a look, till someone chases us away.’
‘I’ll go,’ Ravi said and got up.
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Holambe pulled him down. ‘If this is a trap, Tarun will be there and if he recognises you, the game’s up.’
The man who had pretended to be a guava seller during the Sampat raid said, ‘I’ll go. Let me get the address ready.’
‘What address?’ Ravi wondered, and the others laughed. ‘Brother you have so much to learn. You see, we are ignorant villagers trying to find our way in this big city.’
An address was scribbled on a piece of paper and the man left, holding it.
‘What will he do?’ Ravi asked Holambe as his phone rang again. ‘I’m stuck near Kandivli. Another half an hour I think,’ he told Swapna.’
‘That piece of paper with an address scribbled on it is an excuse to go wandering around, as if he has lost his way,’ Holambe kindly explained to Ravi.
Ravi waited impatiently, and the Maoists looked at him with a mixture of sympathy and scorn. The Maoist with the long, bushy beard was now clean shaven and his fingers frequently kept rubbing his clean-shaven face as if he was missing something.
In less than five minutes, the former guava seller was back. ‘Something’s up. There were three guards, none of them in uniform, and as soon as I walked in, they stopped me and chased me off.’
‘Any security guard would do that.’
‘Those men are not your ordinary guards. They are killers, I know the type.’
‘Let’s split up and leave then.’
‘Hell, we can’t leave just like that,’ Ravi protested, still obviously concerned about Swapna.
Holambe blew up. ‘Get a grip on yourself man! That girl is in love with Tarun and she doesn’t give a damn about you. This is definitely a trick by Tarun to draw you in. Isn’t it obvious?’
Ravi stared at Holambe furiously and then his phone rang again.
‘Switch it off. Don’t take her calls. We are leaving,’ Holambe announced. Ravi dropped his shoulders in surrender as they broke up and walked off towards the railway station in a single file, a decent gap of fifteen feet separating each from the one behind. Teji walked in front and Holambe brought up the rear, as he kept an eye on Ravi.
At the station, Holambe took out a small booklet with ticket coupons and tore off a number of coupons of different value. After validating them in the small red box kept for that purpose, he distributed the stamped coupons to everyone. Then, two of the men got into the first train which came from Virar towards Churchgate, taking care to be in different compartments. The former guava seller took a train towards Virar. He would change at Bhayandar, the next stop, and travel backwards towards Dadar. When the next Churchgate train came, jam-packed as usual, Teji shook her head and so Holambe and Ravi took it, each getting into a different compartment. The next stop was Dahisar and Ravi could see a mob of people waiting to get in. Even before the train stopped, Ravi jumped off and took a train back towards Mira Road, not bothering to buy a ticket for the journey.
‘Swapna won’t betray me,’ he told himself.
As he walked towards the building, he called Swapna. ‘Are you okay? I will be there in ten minutes.’
‘I’m still alone, but he’ll be back any moment. Why couldn’t you come earlier?’ Swapna asked, genuine anger in her voice.
‘That bloody train! It stalled on the way and wouldn’t move,’ Ravi lied. He promised himself that he would explain the whole truth to Swapna when he got the opportunity.
He exited Mira Road Station from the west and took an auto-rickshaw to the flat. As the auto rattled along, he sent another sms to Swapna saying he was in an auto and that he would be there soon.
‘CU’ Swapna texted back.
Ravi’s phone rang. It was Holambe. Ravi rejected the call and turned off his mobile. There would be time enough to talk to Holambe later.
No one stopped him as he walked into the building. An old man sat in the lobby all by himself and asked him what he wanted.
He pointed a finger towards the stairs. ‘The lifts don’t work,’ he said. So, Ravi took the stairs. Where are the killer guards, he wondered and chuckled to himself. He called Swapna once more and said, ‘I’m just outside.’
‘Open the door somehow. He’ll be here any moment.’
Inside the flat, Swapna gave Tarun a wan smile as he stood ready to slip away once Ravi picked the simple pin and tumbler lock. An unopened pizza box lay in a corner, waiting for Ravi to claim its contents.
Ravi took one look at the lock and smiled. He took out a long needle from his bag and within seconds, opened the lock. Inside the flat, as Ravi started to push open the door, Tarun grabbed Swapna by her waist and neck and pushed her roughly towards the door leading towards the master bedroom.
‘Don’t make any noise, we’ll surprise him,’ he said and cupped her mouth as well with his right hand. Swapna was so shocked that she did not put up any resistance until she was almost out of the room. Ravi entered the flat and saw Swapna being dragged away by Tarun. He charged towards the couple, at the same time reaching for the Colt M1911 inside his bag.
However, a few seconds earlier, just as he had opened the lock, the door to the opposite flat had opened and three men had come out stealthily, pistols in hand and followed Ravi into the flat.
Even as Ravi pointed his pistol at Tarun, he sensed the presence of the three men and he jerked around. He was too late. Three pistols poured fire at his thighs and legs and he was thrown to the floor in a pool of blood. His pistol fell to the ground.
Swapna finally managed to scream, which made Tarun release his grip and slap her hard across the face. He laughed at her shocked look and then told one of the men to take her inside and tie her up. Swapna was dragged into one of the bedrooms by two of the men. Tarun then turned his attention to Ravi who lay twitching on the floor.
‘You wanted to save her, didn’t you?’
Ravi tried to reply but could only manage a mangled sound as frothy blood coagulated around his mouth.
‘I don’t want to waste another bullet on you,’ Tarun said, taking out the knife which Yaroslav had gifted him. He broke it into two and carefully put one triangle into his pocket. The other’s base, he flicked shut to form its handle.
Ravi used his last ounce of strength to take a swipe at Tarun with his right hand. Tarun stepped back with a silent laugh.
‘Goodbye Ravi. May God give you some more intelligence and luck in your next birth.’ Carefully, but with as much force as he could muster, he bent down and stabbed Ravi in the chest. Within seconds, Ravi stopped moving and lay still.
‘Get rid of him,’ he told Umang who was standing by his side and quickly went to the bedroom to check on Swapna. He realised with shock and surprise that he had grown fond of her and he did not want her to suffer unnecessarily.
The two men had trussed up Swapna and had ripped off her clothes in preparation for what they had been promised. Swapna had shut her eyes, as though she could make herself invisible by doing so.
‘Do you want to go first?’ they asked him.
‘Go help Umang get rid of the body and come back,’ he told them firmly. ‘This can wait.’
Swapna opened her eyes on hearing Tarun’s voice. Her eyes bored into Tarun’s and he returned the incredulous look with one of tired nonchalance. He started to take out his pistol and then changed his mind. A shot would make the men coming rushing back. Instead he took out the other triangle in his pocket and flicked open its base.
Without further ado, he pressed it into the base of Swapna’s throat, cupping her mouth at the same time as she prepared to scream. The men would be furious with him he knew, but he would give them money to buy in the market place what they planned to extract from Swapna. He pulled the knife out of Swapna’s neck, swiped it on her dupatta and left the room with a shrug.
Featured Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
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