Read Chapter XX here.


Pankaj Holwani had spent the evening going through his account books before he set out for his routine walk down Marine Drive. Earlier that day, he had reviewed the new security arrangements in place for his various building projects in the city. Holwani and Sons had promoted the Garden of Eden and its destruction had cast a pall of gloom on the Holwani Empire.

If only the building had been destroyed after possession of the flats had been handed over to the buyers, the Holwanis would not have suffered any loss. It had turned out to be a very big slip between the cup and the lip. Of course, the Holwanis were big enough to survive the disaster, but it was a disaster, there was no doubt about it. They had other projects in the pipeline and their bank balance was healthy, but Pankaj Holwani did not stop worrying.

Just as he left his flat, his mobile phone beeped once, indicating the receipt of a text message. Not many people had Pankaj Holwani’s phone number and some of those who did were not expected to call him on his mobile phone. As he fished his phone out of his kurta’s pocket and looked at the SMS he received, he smiled. It was a message from his granddaughter. ‘Nanoo, surprise 4 u. Pls do what I say.’

If there was one person in the world Pankaj Holwani could not refuse, it was his granddaughter, all of twenty years old and studying something irrelevant at an arts college in Pune. ‘ok’ he replied.

‘walk to the Oberoi.’ Pankaj was surprised at the request and then he remembered that his birthday was hardly a week away. The Oberoi was at the end of the Marine Drive and his evening walk took him there in any event.

‘ok’ he messaged back once again.

It was a ten minute walk to the Oberoi from his flat and Pankaj walked fast along the familiar footpath. He was well-known at the Oberoi which he used very often for his various meetings and the security pat down was perfunctory.

He took the elevator to the first-floor lobby and looked at his phone. Before he could ask to do next, he received another message.

‘Go to the Trident shopping area.’

Bloody hell! Was the girl following him? She was supposed to be in Pune. If she wanted him to go to the Trident’s shopping area, why not say so in the first place? The Trident and the Oberoi were in two separate buildings connected by a passage and he had walked past the Trident to reach the Oberoi. Pankaj grumbled and started to walk down through the familiar passage from the Oberoi to the Trident.

The Chopard showroom came first on his left, then Piaget on his right, after which the walls of the internal passage were decorated with expensive works of art interspersed with glass boxes exhibiting products such as Jimmy Choo shoes. He walked fast, looking neither to the left nor to the right, as his footsteps fell noiselessly on the carpeted surface and his breath came out quicker. He went past the Trident’s Reception and turned right just before the main door to reach the Trident’s shopping area.

‘Go to Pawan’s Pashmina’

An Arab tourist was walking around aimlessly, a mobile phone in hand. He wouldn’t be surprised if the girl got one of her friends to dress up an Arab just to give her Nana a surprise. He grinned at the Arab who refused to make eye contact. Maybe he was wrong.

There were very few people in the air-conditioned shopping area which had a number of shops selling overpriced, touristy items. Many of the shops had ‘closed’ signs on them. Pawan’s Pashmina was easy to find and it also had a ‘closed’ sign outside. Was there a mistake?

‘Go inside. the door is open’ a new message arrived. Surely, he was being watched, such coordination would otherwise not be possible.

As he entered the shop, Pankaj saw an Arab man standing inside, twiddling his thumbs. Was it the same person he had seen earlier? No, this one was smaller in size. The shop assistant seemed to be sleeping at the counter. Pankaj wanted to laugh. It was all part of the game and it kept his mind off many painful matters he had to attend to. What was the surprise, he wondered.

In all probability, his granddaughter would be hiding somewhere inside the shop. If so, the entire game would be worth it. At that moment, the Arab he had seen earlier came inside the shop and shut the door carefully behind him. Both Arabs seemed to ignore each other, though the smaller one came up close to the new entrant. The Arab who had entered behind Pankaj took out a dark blue ruler from his pocket. Pankaj smiled.

He saw the ruler being broken into two sharp triangular shards and alarm bells started ringing. ‘What’s happening?’ The two men looked at him in a strange way, as if he were an insect to be killed. There was something fake about their Arabness. They were not only a shade darker than the Arabs he had seen, their skin did not have the smoothness brought on by easy living. He rushed towards the door, a scream forming at his mouth, but it was too late for him. Why can’t that sleeping man wake up and save me, was the last thought that went through his mind, not knowing that the shop assistant had been killed minutes earlier. Someone grabbed him from behind and cupped his mouth as one of the knives slid into his heart. The second one was unnecessarily shoved into the base of his throat, though he was dead by then.

The two men picked him up and put him down on the other side of the counter so that he would not be seen easily. They carefully wiped the blood off their hands and the ruler using wet wipes they had thoughtfully brought along, took his mobile phone and wallet before walking away quietly.


Featured Image (Cover) by Nisha Joseph

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