Team Name : Maximus Dramaticus
Read the third part of the story The Enigmatic Exploration before proceeding please
Meanwhile, the days were rolling slowly in yet another part of the country. Shekhar sat stooped forward in his study drenched in the caressing gaze of the setting sun.
The mellifluous twitter of the birds outside had transformed unfailingly to a hullaballoo at the mere cue of the changing shade, from a vibrant golden to a subtle grey. The playful chatter of Roohi hung loudly in the otherwise silent house so much so that it had almost become an imminent ingredient of any day
He sat staring at the blank screen infront of him, the silver rays emanating from the laptop screen dancing gleefully inside his eyes. Being a freelancer wasn’t easy. It had its perks- like his hands brimmed with one of the most precious assets in any writer’s life – time. But lately, the burden of inactivity had started to take a toll on him, he knew. Bouncing from one project to another, he was earning quite a decent sum every month, but then there always existed a tempting tug at the back of his heart to come up with a stupendous first novel, one that would take the literary world, or rather the commercial league of the same by storm.
‘ Papa, come play with me !’
Roohi’s enigmatic voice pulled Shekhar back from his reverie. He waved at her hopping outside, her pigtails jerking vigorously in the pale evening light.
‘ Don’t go far, Baby’ He called out to her through the window smiling, wondering whether or not to hover over to her for another game of hide and seek.
Tara – Where was she! One whole monotonous day had passed since she called him up to discuss about the whirlpool Cyrus had dragged her into. ‘I’ll be back soon’ – Her words echoed through him as a slow pang of pain slithered through his heart, urging him to reach for his phone in a jiffy. Being a journalist, Tara used to leave in search of scoops at the most unlikeliest of the moments. Yet, Shekhar felt an inexplicable uneasiness this time around, the reason of which he couldn’t fathom.
Just that very moment, Shekhar’s phone breathed his favourite song signalling a call, the timing of which startled him given the torrent of dark images that hammered their way through his head since the day he knew Tara was out in a sinister world.
‘ Mr. Shekhar?’
‘Yes. Who is this?’
‘ I am Paresh – Cyrus’s professor’
‘ Oh. what is it professor?’
‘I had been to cyrus’s place a couple of times and came to know that he is staying at your house in Chuna Mandi now. You two are really good friends isn’t ?
Shekhar nodded in reply bringing voice to his gesture with a soft grunt of approval.
‘And that is exactly why I called you now. Have you talked to Cyrus lately?’ Shekhar couldn’t help but notice the shade of apprehension that lingered in his words, quite unlike something he would expect from a person of Paresh’s stature.
‘Yes, I talked to him just yesterday. What is the matter, Professor?’ Shekhar lied in an impulse, not knowing why the words slipped through his lips hurriedly.
‘Nothing serious, Shekhar. Its just that Cyrus has been missing a lot of classes lately. Being a law student out on an assignment this is not something odd, but what bothers me most is the air of tension and apprehension shadowing his movements and words since around a month and half back’
Shekhar breathed heavily through the speaker, his heart beats thudding so loudly that he feared those would be audible enough to be transmitted all the way to Delhi.
‘ Having gulped down book after book, facts after facts over the past few months, it would doubtlessly be a different endeavour altogether to be out on the front cracking a case for real, i know. I have seen students falter too many a time. But then, it should be part of the growing process right, a crucial part in his metamorphosis’
‘ Sir, could you be a bit more specific here. Is Cyrus out on an assignment? What assignment? I am sure he hasn’t mentioned anything of that sort to me’
‘Oh, I am very sorry, Shekhar. I deduced you to have known that Cyrus and one other student of his group are on a practical assignment right now, strictly speaking for the past three months. I had warned them sternly to work undercover, not to expose themselves or to attract too much attention considering the graveness of the case. I hope Cyrus sticks to my words for it is definitely a dangerous world out there. And that is precisely why i called you up, to talk to him to pacify his self to go slow and never to be over enthusiastic which a fresher like Cyrus tends to be given the authority and the privilege that comes with being granted the first case . Also like never before the academy has now come up with a new scheme which Cyrus knows well enough- Brownie points based on their performance for the scholarship which they are offered for their internship abroad at the end of the last semester. Quite a temptation to work all the more, isn’t it?‘
Shekhar mumbled in reply, ‘And what case is he working on now, may i know professor, if that is something which can be disclosed’
‘It is a wrapped up case. Something which happened two years back. The vital clues got erased away one fine day forcing the judiciary to discard the case sans verdict. It was a murder case and it was no secret how the mafia dons showered their usual nastiness to cover up the proceedings of the case. ‘
The soft rumble of the ceiling fan was all that could be heard in the overstretched silence that followed. Having promised Professor Paresh on having a sensible conversation with Cyrus, Shekhar hung up the phone.
‘See this papa!’ Roohi’s enthusiastic voice was what brought Shekhar to his cheerful self once again.
‘What is it , baby. What do you have here? Is that a puppy that you are holding? Eh, it is a big brown dog or what. From where did you get it Roohi?’ Shekhar’s voice deepened which erased the smile that had dangled on Roohi’s lips.
The golden tinge of the accessory that was clinging onto the toy’s neck from a dainty chain brought a fresh tinge of pink to his cheeks – A razor!
‘ One uncle left this at our gate while you were talking on phone’ Roohi looked down at her feet, visibly scared to look directly at her dad’s face which was crimson with an implicit emotion she couldn’t decipher.
‘Haven’t I told you not to take anything from strangers!’ Shekhar almost yelled, his voice fluctuating with fright as he ran to the backyard to throw away the stuffed doll as far as his almost drained body could .
‘But he is not a stranger ,papa. I have seen him somewhere’
Shekhar stared at his daughter who stared back at him, her beautiful large eyes welled up with tears which started rolling down her flushed cheek in torrents smudging the kajal lining her eyes.
Cyrus winced as the sharp needle pierced through his flesh insinuating the fluid inside the syringe into the curvy crevices of his vein. A sudden bolt of pain shot through his head as he jerked it to glance at his hand which was being deftly handled by the woman in white. The nauseating odour of the room cleansed diligently with lotion and dettol irked him more than the wound on his scalp that was sutured tight. His senses slowly returned back to normal and his bleary eyes were welcomed by the sight of Jennifer resting her head on the table next to his hospital bed.
In no time, the images of the morning rushed back to his head uninvitingly.
Listening to Tara he had gone back to his room to lie down alone for sometime. Jenny’s arrival had brought an unprecedented joy to his otherwise weathered mind. Jenny’s presence felt like an oasis amidst the the desert the pandemonium inside his head was, which had been bogging him down for the past two months. How he wished she was single! The tattoo of the fluttering butterfly on her arm was the first thing he had noticed about her . It so suited her attitude – vibrant, alive, always on the prowl for beauty in all its forms to satiate the photographer in her.
Nestling her thoughts inside , he had washed his face from the sink, the ice cold water easing the stress out of him when a dash of movement on the mirror prompted him to turn back.
The scene unfolding swiftly before him had knocked the senses out of him!
Illustration sketched by Arvind Passey, team member.