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Chapter 22: Three is some bad company...
Yet another day had gone by, of doing nothing, absolutely nothing.
Jennifer was bored to her wits end, the restless soul that she was. Mumbai offered so many exciting opportunities to explore. There were parties they could have attended and premieres they could have been at. She only had to tell her Paparazzi friends in Mumbai that she would be arriving with the Super Model Aryan Ahuja and they would have got her as many passes as she would like.
"Oh! What fun it would have been." Jennifer was daydreaming of being in Aryan's glamorous company.
Her face soured as she remembered how Cyrus seemed to have completely forgotten all about his promise. The previous evening, after a brief and quite cold introduction, Jennifer had been left by the two guys at the Dutta home. Aryan and Cyrus had just simply turned on their heels and walked out. Jennifer hadn’t been invited over to Aryan's apartment at all, by either of them.
"How rude!" Jennifer felt insulted by this behavior and retired to her room. She had begun to feel a rage rising within her, embittered, almost feeling like she'd been jilted.
The two guys seemed to have disappeared into their own bubble. There had been no sign of them after that sudden and abrupt exit. Shekhar had also seemed clueless about their whereabouts and seemed equally disinterested in keeping track of them.
"He must have other things to worry about" Jennifer sighed.
'..but where was the camaraderie Cyrus claimed to have had with Shekhar? What had happened to that great urge to reconnect with Shekhar which had been the main reason for Cyrus to accompany her to Mumbai?'
The setting sun had sent an orange glow washing the cool floor of her room, as the thin curtains blew in the light evening breeze. Jennifer rose from her bedside perch, to stand in the window. The sight of the round peppermint-like sun sinking lower, behind the clouds, dipping to the ground made her feel more despondent. She rested her head against the wooden window frame in resignation. The tilt of her head now granted her a view of the small garden in the apartment compound.
Jennifer spotted Roohi on the swings. Alone but she dint look lonely. Clutching her 'Chennai Express' Barbie, as she called it, Roohi seemed to be humming some song because her lips were moving. Jennifer bent a little further, over the window-sill to get a clearer view of the chubby little girl. She gave a short gasp at what she saw.
Roohi hadn’t been humming. She was actually talking. To the tall and lanky Aryan Ahuja who stood looming over the girl, with his back towards their apartment building.
'So finally I get a glimpse of the hunk, again!' Before Jennifer could even begin to smile, a dark thought crept into her mind, as she realised Aryan was beckoning to the girl. Roohi had jumped off the swing and allowed him to lift her into his arms.
Jennifer could hear high pitched voices from the living room. It was Tara's shrill shrieking and Shekhar's low-throat retorts. Tara and Shekhar clearly weren't watching over Roohi. It however seemed impossible that they would ask Aryan Ahuja to go fetch her.
Tara had clearly written both Cyrus Daruwala and Aryan Ahuja as strangers with doubtable characters.
"How much do we know about them, actually Jen?" Tara had protested.
Jennifer felt the floor of her stomach sink. Tara's hunches seemed to be frighteningly correct, at this moment.
'What was Aryan Ahuja up to? Where was he taking Roohi?' Jennifer's head had begun to whirr with a million ugly possibilities.
"There certainly seems to be something fishy happening here." Without wasting a single more moment, Jennifer picked up her DSLR and shot out of her room like a blitzing arrow, past the mindlessly arguing couple. Tara and Shekhar were engrossed in their long-drawn tiff, busy throwing sharp words at each other. They failed to see Jennifer cruise past them.
Jennifer stopped in her shoes, shocked to see that the door to Aryan Ahuja's neighboring flat had been pad-locked!
'That meant Cyrus Daruwala, wasn’t inside. Where was he?' Jennifer saw even more reasons to worry. She rushed down the stairs, taking two steps at a time. She had not time to waste waiting for the elevator. Anything could happen meanwhile.
"If they've locked the flat they definitely aren’t headed home. Are Cyrus and Aryan together? Where are they taking Roohi?" Jennifer started crying loudly as she tore down the stairs at break-neck speed.
Jennifer finally reached the ground floor and stopped to catch some breath. Just then there was a sudden blackout. Something told her that she should prep her camera ready to flash. That was the only way she could catch the culprits red-handed. Her sixth sense, like Tara's, had already written the two men off.
She rushed to the back gate, adjacent to the children's play area, weaving between the cars and bikes in the parking lot. She moved stealthily, quietly, towards the gate in the moonlit evening. It wasn't pitch dark. She could see a vehicle parked across the road, in the lonely by-lane outside. Squinting in the dark, peering at the car, Jennifer could see there were figures, shadily busy, inside it. The old, almost dilapidated Wagon R seemed to be trembling with activity.
Jennifer ducked and waddled over to the other side, approaching the car from its rear end. She could hear muffled voices from inside as she reached the left rear tail end. Bravely Jennifer rose, with pre-meditated and defined movements. The skilled photographer had flashed, rapidly, running around the car front over to the other side, with her camera aimed at the people inside the car.
"Sorry guys! This party is over." Jennifer shouted at the Wagon's occupants, menacingly going for one last and final shot.
The flash shone on a third figure in the driver's seat. Jennifer realised that there was a tall and robust guy, a third companion in this plan assisting Cyrus and Aryan. She was clearly out-numbered by them, if they decided to make their move. She hastily retreated and raced for the apartment gates again, yelling for help. As she rushed in and ducked between a couple of cars in the parking lot, Jennifer was surprised that Aryan and his aides hadn’t driven off with the girl, yet. She stayed hidden there. And soon she heard a lot of feet running towards the gates from where they'd probably heard her call for help. The Security guards were whistling and leading the gang..
And soon she heard Tara's voice over the crowd's surprised gasps, "It's Roohi!" The mother's exasperated crying rose over the loud discussions that ensued between the people.
Jennifer rose from her hideout and rushed towards the gates again and saw Shekhar rush in with Roohi's limp figure in his arms. Neighbours were soon crowding around the trio as Shekhar had put Roohi down on the table in the lobby and Tara was desperately trying to wake her up. She was splashing water on the little girl's face and rubbing her hands vigorously while the neighbours continued to liberally shower them with unsolicited advice. Nobody had bothered to wonder who must have alerted them with her cries for help? Nobody had ventured beyond to investigate or chase the assailants.
"Whose car was it by the way? Anybody has any idea? Does it belong to someone from our apartment complex?" Tara was heard asking as Jennifer began pushing through the crowd to reach Tara, Shekhar and Roohi.
"No Madame, I've definitely not seen it around here before." The security guard seemed reliable in his observations.
Jennifer thrust the camera under Shekhar's nose, with its playback mode switched on. She'd caught many snaps of Cyrus staring into the camera, dazed by the flashes, like a deer in the headlight. Aryan had been caught, huddled over Roohi, pressing a kerchief to her mouth as she struggled to free herself. Roohi's clawing had caused him to wince into the camera. Jennifer had caught the third face in the photographs too.
Jennifer saw Shekhar's eyes grow wider and his mouth fall open in a mixed reaction of utter shock and dismay. Jennifer had herself been very shaken to see the results of her own spying. For her, that third face had been the most disturbing discovery of the evening.
Roohi had begun to stir and murmur. Tara pulled the camera towards herself. The last frame with the third assailant's face was still staring up at them. And it was Tara's turn to faint at the sight of what had fallen before her eyes.
"…but why?" She asked feebly, before beginning to collapse into Jennifer's arms, her face draining all colour.
Read the next Chapter 23: Confusion by Babitha D'costa.