The footsteps of a man echoed in the narrow lane, as Arnav Singh Ranbeera turned back, sweat pouring down his collar. He looked back slowly turning his head, but as expected none was there.
He walked a few feet more, and there was an engine idling away some where and more foot steps followed him making him realize, that he was being followed.
So THEY wanted him to know that he was being followed. Point noted! He took out a hanky from his trouser pocket and wiped the sweat off his forehead and neck and reached the fourth street light on the road as specified, and waited in dark as the street light as far as he knew never worked.
An unmarked taxi stopped just in front of him and the glass was pulled down just enough for the man inside to hand over a packet wrapped in cellophane to him, and whose face Arnav could not see as he was at a disadvantage with the light.
The taxi sped away and it started to drizzle as Arnav started his walk back to the place he started! As he walked in the drizzle, which was now fast brewing into a raging storm, he realized how far he had come from the time his parents died leaving him and his sister as orphans. He had single handedly erected a huge empire at the tender age of twenty-one. It was then that he realized money made enemies too! And that money also made people commit blunders.
Mistakes were costly but blunders were costlier! He knew it the moment it was committed! So now was the time to pay back! Seven years later. He reached the pub, went in, and sat on a high chair ordering for a beer. He poured the contents of the packet on the tabletop.
There was a SD card and more photos as proof and he asked for a lighter and burnt them right there, knowing fully well that they had more of it. He inserted the SD card into his tab and a presentation flashed on the screen with the site address he had to visit.
He logged on to the site and a small, programmed presentation on third party sharing basis opened up, which said he had to do two things to get over the ugly situation. One was disclosed and the other was supposed to be disclosed after three months from the date of his knowing the first demand, which also happened to be the deadline of meeting the first demand!
As he read the first demand, he knew at once that he was not in some small case of blackmailing or fraud but in the midst of a contrivance!
Khushi Sanjyotiya looked at the man standing next to her in the local train, and moved a little to her left and stopped short of barging into another. Petrified she moved back, and found yet another man and all of them were looking at her seriously and moved towards her together.
She shook her head in negation and tried her best to squeeze out of all three of them. She moved forward and tried to ease herself out through the small gap that was there, but as she rushed forward another man walked into the group and grasped her by her waist and she screamed at his repulsive touch.
They all laughed and she screamed again as they closed on into her and she went blank.
“Hey! Get up! HEY!” Varsha Paniker’s voice made Khushi get up with a start!
“Now don’t tell me you had the dream! The same one again…Oh please!… and we are getting late ok? So c’mon move it! Get going babes.” Varsha egged her on…
Khushi got up with a start and shook her head vigorously to erase the dream off her memory. She was terrified of men! From the milkman to the postman to the taxi driver… the world was full of men and she hated them and was paranoid of them!
And contrary to what her friends and family thought, she neither had any bad experience from the past, nor remotely was connected to anything that formed her opinion about them! She was like that! Period and she started developing aversion as she got to know more and more about men. And that incident that took place …sometime ago… she shook her head to shirk it off, but it wouldn’t go! The dreams that she dreamt usually featured men harming her or some other woman and she woke up everyday with one of them plaguing her. She was scared of the male species and this was a constant source of tension to her and her family.
Arnav Singh Ranbeera waited for the woman to appear. The photos he had of her did not do justice to her beauty. She was a real beauty with skin that was absolute porcelain. He drummed his fingers on his mobile and saw her rush into the gates of the reputed commercial complex, and noticed that, as the security guard…tried to tell her something she backed off from him, as if he had a bomb strapped to him that would explode any moment. She spread her hand in her defense and moved back, and Arnav was zapped by her behavior. However he could not catch what she said, as he was too far for him to catch it. She rushed inside, and he got down from his car pulled out his goggles, put them on and walked casually into the building, as Aman Mathur his personal assistant scurried along.
“Boss is in” Sharon the receptionist tipped Khushi off, making her go still and perspire.
“He will be. Why wouldn’t he be in?” She muttered under her breath, and jumped, when Venu her colleague wished her and smiled saying,” Khushi! What’s wrong! I never get to understand you.”
Khushi looked at him nervously and said,” Good..e.r… morning…I mean …e.r… Hi!” …and ran away to her department.
She managed for three years in the women’s world section, which was a weekly supplementary of the main paper. She did that solely to be in the only all women department of the daily. But she cursed her own expertise, after leading the crime section there, as she was promoted to the general crime section of the main paper as the paper was mostly known for its sting operations and the editor nominated her of all the people, and she was in. It was her first day and she did not know how to manage all the men teaming out there, as she was the only woman there!
She walked into the boss’s cabin.
“I will sue you!” The man was screaming and her boss- Nitish Menon was smiling at the man saying, “You can’t! We are entitled to cover all the celebrities and you are one.”
The man turned as she entered in saying, “Excuse me sir”, and she gasped, “You?”
Arnav Singh Ranbeera glared at her saying,” This reporter of yours was stalking me.”
Nitish turned to Khushi and said, “Good work K” infuriating Arnav.
Arnav thought the lady looked even prettier up close. She had a very different skin tone and her hair was jet black providing for a contrast. She was wearing a deep blue long skirt that ran past her ankles and a light pink coloured embroidered top with a stole on it! No make up. Not even a lipstick! He observed. She however had glasses perched on her head. Somehow he thought that made her look very adorable.
“NItish your hounds won’t smell me that’s it!” Arnav decreed.
“Uh! Huh! No Arnav!” Nitish said making Khushi turn and stare at him in awe! He used Mr. R’s first name? Wow! That required some guts or…were they familiar? She got her answer the next minute.
“Just because you are my school buddy you can’t… Nitish was yet to finish, when Arnav said very coolly,” No! Not at all Mr.Menon. Its because I bought the major stock from your publication house and so now you must do what I tell you.”
Nitish looked at Khushi and then again at Arnav and said,” Oh! So?”
“So? Stop stalking me! I am warning you!” Arnav said and got up to leave and suddenly looked at Khushi and asked,” Why were you at the Ranbeera Mansion?
“Huh?” Khushi panicked and looked at Menon.
He nodded his approval to answer.
“I…I…was looking for…gossip?” She said exhaling and looking triumphantly at Menon. First lesson taught to a crime reporter. Never reveal the reason for something.
“Oh! I see? How about becoming the reason for one?” Arnav asked taking a step towards her…
Khushi panicked and moved back plastering herself to the wall…, “Mmmme…??? Wwwwaaaaa waaaaa why?”
She started stammering as was her childhood habit whenever she was upset.
“Coz you want news, and I make news!” Arnav smirked and frowned as he saw the lady before him shaking visibly!
“Hey…”, he extended his hand to ask what was it that made her go so very scared…in fact, she was petrified…
“N…n….no!” Khushi managed to stammer!
“Y…u…u….ou are n…na….not ….! Don’……..t….t….t….ouch me!” She stammered.
“Good Nitish! Keep it up. Few more reporters like this and I am afraid I am going to find you opening a restaurant.” Arnav smirked again.
He then turned to Khushi and said,” Listen, one more time I find you anywhere within ten Kms radius, I am going to really make my promise of making you the center of happening news come true” he said looking at her luscious lips!
God! She was pretty! He thought as he waved at Nitish and walked out…
“Sir… uh…” Khushi fidgeted with her hands.
“Sit down Khushi!” Nitish said and asked,” What’s the news?”
Khushi made an ‘o’ with her mouth and said,” But he said…uhhh…”
“He said what he wanted to. We do our work.” Was Nitish’s crisp retort.
“But he bought stock…”she wailed. She needed the job plus she wanted to be an editor…ok sub-editor, very soon like in three years?
“He bought a stake. Not the whole thing. It would take another year. Till then we need to draw a salary.” Nitish said peering at her from above his glasses and she immediately felt uncomfortable.
“Relax!”He said smiling at her which made her even more tense.
“Sir I shall submit the clue and I got no reports!” She stammered and then corrected herself saying,” I have no clues but I shall submit a report.”
“What?” Nitish was furious.
“You ought to. It’s a week since you were assigned this job K.” He yelled at her.
“True sir. But ASR is very smart…” Khushi said weakly.
“I don’t care!” He said adamantly.
“Sir?” She was taken aback by his nonchalance!
“Yeah! That’s your problem. I got a tip off from someone close to me in the underworld that he is being blackmailed and I want to know what why and how of it.
I am not using my ace reporters as they are all well known. We need a fresh face and you are perfect for it I thought…. But I think I am wrong. “He said shaking his head in defeat.
“Yes sir! You must assign it to someone.” She said seriously.
“And you will go back to write pickle recipes?” He bellowed at her making her shrink in her chair.
“See Ms.K… I give you two more days! Get to the base of things or quit.” He said sternly.
“Aman the lady on whom we have a dossier…” ASR said as Aman confirmed with him… “Khushi Sanjyothiya!”
“Yeah! Just gimme the details” he asked a stunned Aman.
“Yes chief!” he handed over her file to the boss.
Arnav peered through the file. She was a masters in journalism and it’s her fifth year and she had an impressive CV.
“Good.” He smiled and looked through the window throwing the file at Aman saying,” I found a very interesting person to take us forward” and closed his eyes.