“Shakti is not going to rescue you, he would rather kill you, than see you being detained by me,” sneered Aadhirai, “Also, you should never ignore the repercussions, after you kill someone.”
Arul was gasping for breath, with fluids streaming out of his nostrils, contents of his stomach gushing out of his open mouth and tears flowing involuntarily from his eyes. On his left hand, in place of his little and fore finger, he found cotton gauze pads, soaked in crimson blood. His eyes widened, he couldn’t remember them being severed, or rather he did not pay attention to his hand when his feet were being drilled in. His body has been pumping in adrenaline, that he could hardly feel pain in his arms or the cold water used for waterboarding him. He looked around the dark room, trying to find Aadhirai, to plead her to stop it and he was willing to part with his secret.
Aadhirai walked back towards Arul, wielding a hammer in her hand. As she placed Arul’s right hand on the freezing metal table, he feebly spoke up, “I will come out with it. Spare me.”
Aadhirai paused for moment, “Speak again, loudly,” she commanded.
“Yes, I will tell you everything I know. Just stop this madness,” shuddered Arul.
Aadhirai beckoned her men to untie him. He was released, wiped clean and made to rest on a chair.
She pulled up her chair in front of him, “How did you get to know Shakti?”
“There is this Chinese guy, Guowei… Wang or Zhang Guowei, not sure entirely, he introduced Anbu and me to Shakti. Guowei is here to work on the Metro Rail project, usually handles money laundering, bribing, human trafficking and occasionally drugs. He inquired if any of our sources would help in taking out a target. Anbu was willing to help in shadowing and I offered to be the escape route,” initiated Arul. He grabbed the glass of water in front of him and tried to take in small sips, “This is the first time I am working with Shakti,” he continued, choking on his drink.
“Where can I find this Guowei?” demanded Aadhirai.
“He lives in Anna Nagar in Shanti Colony, right next to the Waves showroom,” replied Arul.
She gestured two of her men and they immediately left the room. She then made her way to the duffel bag in the corner, seized her towel, wiped herself and walked over to her men, “Let him get some medical attention and drop him off at his place.”
She turned to Arul, “Let us know if Shakti gets in touch with you.”
Arul responded with a weak nod. He was confused, dazed, tired and doubted himself as to where his loyalty belonged. He wanted nothing more than to go home.
It was almost dawn, they could hear birds chirping, cars muzzling and foot traffic from the offices above them. Aadhirai muttered something discernible to both her men and their heads bobbed in unison. The men helped Arul clean up, redressed his wounds and heaved him up the stairs.
The past few hours he spent in the basement, seemed like a lifetime. He was glad that he could feel the hot sun on his face, smell the salty wind and wished for today not to be his last. He wasn’t prepared for it, not today. He was hoping that his captors wouldn’t thrust a bullet in his head. It was almost over, just an hour or two and he might get home alive.
She felt drained out, as the hot shower struck her back, relaxing her muscles. She constantly resisted herself from slipping back to memories with her mother, but in vain.
“Henry seemed like a nice young chap,” grinned Mythili, trying to read Aadhirai’s expression.
Aadhirai couldn’t mask the change of color on her cheeks, “He’s alright.”
“Looks like you are blushing though,” teased Mythili.
“‘Ma, that’s just because of the cold wind. You keep imagining things,” evaded Aadhirai.
The sun was up and shining bright while the winds were whirling dry and cold. It was the early onset of spring and the city was filled with tourists, flocking in to see the famous Cherry Blossoms along the Potomac River. Mythili and Aadhirai were on M Street in Washington D.C., making their way to Georgetown Cupcakes.
“C’mon Aadhu, I am your mom, for God’s sake. Give me some credit. Its like… how do you young folks say it? Urmmm… Sparks flying? Fireworks in the air?” She nudged Aadhirai. The two burst out laughing and merrily walked down the street to devour some of those famous cupcakes.
Standing in the shower, her ears were ringing with Mythili’s laughter. Aadhirai felt a chill down her spine. She was not quite sure if it was the cold water from the shower that hit her hard, or the fact that she will never hear that laughter again. As she wiped herself down, she remembered her schedule to meet Jain’s team that morning. Her mom Mythili, apart from working for a nationalized bank, was a leading expert in cryptography and she spearheaded the team for R.A.W’s South Asian circuit, two decades ago. She was recruited by R.A.W in the early 80’s upon completing her doctorate from the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Madras. She had been serving R.A.W as a consultant for a few years and had a team of her own who probe into international issues, decipher messages from operatives, audit financial footprints, decode and encode data, monitor international outlaws and more. Aadhirai was hoping that her mom’s old team uncovered new leads which set the tragical events in motion.
She made her way to their hideout in the city. The team was using a jewelry shop in Sowcarpet as their front. The store was busy with customers who were trying out the jewelry, a young tea-runner delivering tea to clients and sales retailers holding mirrors for their customers, lying through their teeth to boost their sale.
She went in, looked around the store at the jewelry and addressed the proprietor, “I am here to pick up the Jodhpur’s Royal Collection.”
The oversized proprietor said, “You will need to walk to our delivery entrance which is at the side of the building,” he stretched his hand indicating where to look for the delivery door. Aadhirai walked towards the rear of the building, in a cramped alleyway, where she found the door, knocked and repeated her sentence. She was guided down a narrow set of stairs into a den where four computer desks were propped at the center with electronics, papers, empty cans of soda strewn over the small area. Upon her mom’s demise, the torch was handed down to Ankur Jain, a young cryptologist who has been on her team ever since its inception. Ankur greeted Aadhirai, found a suitable armchair for her to sit, “I am not sure as to how much you have been filled in. We have been monitoring the communications between China and Sri Lanka for a few months now. Two weeks ago, your mom intercepted a message from a target in Beijing to an unknown location in Indian Ocean, most likely a small boat. She informed us that it is of great importance and she will meet the Lion this week to discuss it. Looks like before she could deliver the message…” he stopped abruptly.
Aadhirai gently nodded, “When the four of you moved from your previous location, did you collect my mom’s belongings, anything that I could look into?”
“We photographed everything before we moved her stuff and we have something better for you. Jaspreet!” Another young female pulled up an image up on the wall, “As you can see, this is your mom’s notepad, before she left for the night, she scribbled her findings. We used some ferric oxide on the notepad and were able to find… ” Jaspreet pulled up an image which read:
“That’s French. Looks like she rephrased …”
“John F. Kennedy in the first two lines,” Aadhirai completed her sentence.
Looking at the sentences in awe, Ankur translated:
“History made us enemies, geography made us neighbors, the eagle will stand in esteemed company, it is when the coup will begin.”
“Classic mathematician, to write in French,” exclaimed Aadhirai.
Arul reached home, slumped on his bed and was proud of himself to have hurried his family down south to stay at his in-laws’. One of Aadhirai’s team mate, Salman was lurking around his neighborhood, keeping an eye on Arul’s movement. He was waiting on Arul until sundown, seemed like Arul hadn’t regained consciousness from all his trauma, he stood patiently sipping on his tea at a nearby food joint, occasionally casting glances on Arul’s gateway. Around quarter to seven, Arul walked down the alley, towards his auto-rickshaw, triggered his ignition and spurred down the road. Salman followed him on his motorcycle, keeping a nominal distance between the two, he radioed in his status and requested for updates about Arul’s location.
Arul decided to head down to Vadapalani Temple, pay his respects to the deity and if lucky score a fare ride for the day. He wasn’t anticipating on any, nevertheless, a few minutes at the temple might earn him harmony. He parked his vehicle outside the archway, near the temple and marched towards the temple. Salman parked his motorcycle across the road and scanned his surroundings. After forty minutes, he spotted Arul walk towards the vehicle. Arul sat on his driver’s seat and looked around for potential fare rides, after few minutes, an old man in a dhoti and plaid shirt, with a walking stick, inquired Arul for hire charges and haggled with him for a few minutes, he later boarded the auto and Arul sped down the road. After a couple of stop lights, few turns, petty conversations about mosquitos and ailment, Arul dropped the old man at an apartment building, in the residential neighborhood of K.K.Nagar, he thanked him for the fare and traveled down the street.
Salman lingered near the apartment for few minutes, updated his whereabouts to his team and listened keenly for their reply. Consequently, he failed to notice the faint footsteps behind him. Salman bent down, as soon as he heard the swooshing arm advancing to punch him. He missed laying a return blow on his attacker, he was quick, but not as agile as the old man in his dhoti, who swiftly removed, dismantled and tossed his two guns, and held a cane stick knife to his throat, “Call her.”
He dialed Aadhirai from his recents’ list. She responded, “Yes.”
“You need to let it go, Aadhirai,” croaked Shakti. He struck Salman on his head using the hilt of his cane stick, grabbed the motorcycles’s keys and disappeared into darkness.