~Based on Prompt 3~
Chapter 3 - New King
The funeral of mob boss Manish Goenka was attended by all: criminals, businesspersons, politicians and police alike. For the next few days, many guests came to pay their respect to the late Goenka and to welcome the new head-Kartik.
Manish was grooming Kartik to take his place one day. No one could've imagined that this day would be upon them so soon. Suhasini deemed Kartik ready to take the throne and so he did. Akhilesh, the consigliore to Manish, was now advisor to Kartik.
The news of a young Kartik taking over meant that the rival gangs saw this as an opportunity to encroach on Goenkas' turf. Hence even in a time of tragedy, there was no peace in the house.
On New Year's Eve, Akhilesh called Naira to his office. His summon stunned her.
"Bhaisaab's passing," Akhilesh addressed his late brother, "is a big loss. He was my guide, my guru."
Akhilesh's voice had become hoarse which shocked Naira. Was he, a man feared by all, getting emotional in front of her?
Akhilesh cleared his voice, "He was poisoned."
This information astonished her.
He elaborated. "The poison was in the glass of whiskey... that you poured."
Cold sweat broke out on her forehead. Was he implying that she poisoned Manish?
"I..." she protested weakly, "I didn't do anything. I just uncorked a bottle and poured it. You all drank the same whiskey. Nothing happened to you." As she spoke, her voice strengthened since she was telling the truth.
"You could've added the poison in Bhaisaab's glass." His voice was menacing, meant to intimidate her.
As Naira had nothing to hide, she replied calmly. "I didn't know which glass Mr. Goenka would pick. I didn't even serve-." She paused abruptly, recalling the events of that night. She was in the liquor room, she had uncorked and poured 4 glasses but she never took the tray. Kartik had come in, interrupted her and then snatched the tray from her.
"What is it?" Akhilesh prodded.
She bit her lower lip, "After I poured the drink, Kartik took the tray from me."
Akhilesh furrowed his eyebrows to focus. "Yes... I remember. Kartik brought the glasses. Between you and Bhaisaab, Kartik was the only one who had access to the glass..."
"What are you saying?" Her question was rhetoric. Akhilesh's implication was clear.
Naira shook her head, "Kartik would never hurt-."
"Never hurt someone? Let alone his father?" Akhilesh mocked her naivety. "The Kartik you knew 5 years ago is not the same man who sits on Bhaisaab's chair."
Naira knew Kartik had changed. But could he kill his own father?
"Why would he?" she asked the most logical question her disturbed mind could conjure.
"For all this," Akhilesh spread his arms, "The power, the throne."
"It doesn't add up. Everything would any way go to him. He's the heir," she reasoned.
"Not the only one," Akhilesh muttered, "There is Shubham."
"Shubham's just a child."
"Shubham is 15- the same age Kartik was when he held his first gun," Akhilesh replied. "Power is a drug. You don't know how addicted you're, till someone threatens to take it away. Everyone knows that differences were brewing between Bhaisaab and Kartik, that Bhaisaab had second thoughts..."
Naira processed Akhilesh's words. If there was conflict between Manish and Kartik, with Shubham in the picture, could Kartik really... She let the thought trail off. Kartik was her friend. He wasn't the same person and she barely recognized him now but could he stoop so low?
"Why are you telling me all this?" she abruptly asked. Akhilesh had never spoken to her till date. Yet here he was revealing internal politics and conspiracies to her- a stranger.
"Because," he sighed, "I need to know who was behind Bhaisaab's attack. I need to find the truth and you are the only one who witnessed it."
"What do you want me to do?" Naira asked, befuddled, "Go to the police?"
Akhilesh shook his head, "They won't believe you without evidence but you can help me gather proof. Be my eyes and ears."
Naira scoffed, "What?" When his expressions remained solemn, she asked, "Are you serious?"
"I can't act against Kartik. If he gets a whiff that I suspect him; it'll be a full-fledged war. We can't afford that." He explained.
The image that Naira had of a cold-blooded killer was dissipating. In front of her was a man who was shaken by the loss of his brother.
"I am sorry for your loss. But I can't get involved in all this. I am leaving Mumbai. Mr. Goenka had made arrangements for me to go to-."
"Bucharest?" Akhilesh interrupted her, "Yeah, about that. Kartik cancelled it and sent Mr. Vasile away."
"What!" this time there was a rise in her tone.
"Oh! You think Kartik cares about you? About your life?" Akhilesh mocked her, "One of his first decisions after coming in power was to cancel all deals with Vasile. So if you think, Bhaisaab's passing will have no effect on your life, you are mistaken."
Naira had always kept a lid on her emotions. Goenka house did not take kindly to a display of sentiments especially by someone as trivial as her. But what Akhilesh said, hit a nerve. The one thing she had been pining for years was to leave and now at the brink of freedom, she was being pulled back!
Anger rose through her and without giving Akhilesh a response she dashed out of the office to find this new king.
Despite of living under the same roof, one couldn't just meet the boss when one wanted to. Kartik's bodyguards made this abundantly clear to Naira. She waited outside his office, her fury rising with each second. He had visitors all round the day. He came out once to escort a guest but didn't spare a glance at her. It was clear just how irrelevant she was.
She had waited 14 years for something to happen to her- for Manish to punish her.
To wait everyday and think that this is the day when he comes for me. To live a decade in fear is suffocating.
Her imprisonment was ending but at the last moment, Kartik intervened. She wanted answers. She wanted her freedom.
Despite of every bone in her body telling her not to, she sneaked into Kartik's bedroom since waiting at the office was futile.
Naira waited in the dark room for hours when at 2am, Kartik entered. He bolted the door without switching on the lights and crashed into the bed.
Naira, who was hidden by the darkness, turned on the light.
A startled Kartik jumped up from the bed with a handgun pointed at the intruder.
"Naira!" he exclaimed, lowering his hand, "What were you thinking? Sneaking up on me like that? I could've shot you."
"Why are you doing this?" she asked, pointedly.
He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion.
"Why are you not letting me go?"
His creased eyebrows relaxed and he sighed. "I've had a long day. Close the door on your way out."
He was about to get in the bed when she exclaimed, "I waited the whole day to speak to you. You owe me some answers."
Kartik slowly turned to look at her. His face didn't show any emotion.
Gathering her nerves, she reiterated, "Why are you doing this? Answer me!"
Kartik took a few steps till he was in front of her. "I don't owe you anything." He grumbled slowly, letting each word sink in.
Naira gulped, trying to keep a brave face. He was close, so close that she could feel his breath on her face. "You have to-," she tried to speak when he cut her in, "I don't have to do anything. Not for you. Not anyone else."
Up close she realized his eyes were red- either he was tired or angry. Maybe it wasn't the right time to speak to him. But then it never would be.
She firmly stared in his eyes. "You've to. Your father told me that I could leave. You can't go back on his words. The least you can do is honor him."
Kartik suddenly grabbed her arm, pulling her close, "How dare you!" he practically breathed on her face. "You all think I am weak? Since my father is no more you can manipulate and threaten me?"
Naira could infer that he wasn't referring to her. So the rumors of Kartik's position as the leader being challenged were true.
"Who am I to threaten you?" she countered, twisting her arm in his grip, "I am a nobody. Remember? That's why you can do what you wish. One moment you can free me, the next, ensnare me again." She wanted to sound strong but her voice was shaking. She could feel tears stinging her eyes.
Please! I can't cry now. Not in front of him.
Kartik stared at her and as abruptly as he had grabbed her arm, he let go. "Get out." He hissed and walked to his bed.
Naira's eyes clouded with tears. What was she expecting? That he'd listen to her, take pity on her? Time and again he had made it clear that she was nothing. Why would she matter to him?
Naira left the room, humiliated. That night, she didn't sleep. It was January 1, a new year but to Naira it was just another day. Her life would always remain the same if she didn't do anything.
A resolve started steeling in her heart. She had two options- remain in this cage or fight back. Kartik may have been her friend once but now, he was the obstacle standing between her and freedom. She needed to take him out. On her own, it would be a futile mission. Luckily she had assistance.
The next morning Naira met Akhilesh.
"I am in," she announced with determination, "what can I do to bring Kartik Goenka down?"
[Chapter 3 word count = 1661]
[Total word count = 5945]Edited by ErisedWitch45 - 2019-02-13T23:46:46Z
Chapter 4 - Death Wish
The plan was logical- Akhilesh would get Naira in closed rooms, give codes and keys to lockers. All she had to do was get proof that Kartik was involved in Manish's murder. Poisoning a mob boss's drink wasn't an easy task. One couldn't casually bring it in a household that was so heavily guarded.
Naira was the perfect mole. She lived in the Goenka house and had either full or partial access to all the rooms. She was a regular face so no one would doubt her. Her work was to get whatever Akhilesh wanted and then replace it carefully so that no one would suspect.
Hence for a month, Naira snooped around. Only whatever Akhilesh made her collect had nothing to do with poison or murder. He made her snitch pen-drives, diaries and files. Naira read some of the papers but they were filled with incomprehensible jargons and numbers.
After a month she was tired of the charade. She risked her life everyday yet she wasn't getting anywhere. She took up her frustration to Akhilesh who sternly asked her to stick to the plan.
Frustrated that all her efforts were in vain, she decided to take matters in her own hand. She was a witness in Manish's murder. She could testify to the events that had transpired that night. Why was she wasting her time on a futile task when she should've gone to the police directly?
No, it was stupid plan. Her testimony would in no way implicate Kartik Goenka. She never saw him add anything to the glass. When she had re-entered the room, the glasses were already on the table and Manish was picking his up.
Moreover she couldn't just walk out of the gates of the house to go anywhere. The landlines were restricted to calling a few numbers and she was never given a cellphone. Her contact with the outside world was only through TV and newspapers. During her school days, she was taken straight to the school and then brought back home.
With each passing day, her patience was running thin... until an opportunity presented itself.
On a February morning she was tutoring Shubham for his exams. While he was busy solving a math problem, Naira stealthily took his cellphone and went to the washroom. It was password protected but she didn't have to unlock the phone to make an emergency call. She dialed 100, waiting for someone to pick up.
The call was received. "How may I help you?"
"Ehh..." Naira stuttered. She hadn't thought this through. "I... eh... I wanted to report a..."
"Yes?" the voice encouraged her.
"I wanted to... I am a witness to a..."
"Ma'am, are you in any danger?"
"Uh... I... I don't know..."
"Is there someone around you?"
"Can you tell me your address?"
Naira hung up. She should've put more thought in to what she was going to say. She hoped that no cops show up at the Goenka House. Could they trace her location?
She stealthily replaced Shubham's iphone, grateful that he hadn't noticed.
Later that night, Naira twisted and turned in the bed but couldn't sleep. On one hand she wondered if she had missed an opportunity by prematurely disconnecting the call to the police? On the other hand she knew that it wouldn't lead to anything. Even if the police showed up what would have happened? It's not like she knew anything. It was just conjecture.
Suddenly, her bedroom door creaked and she heard it being bolted. Startled, she sat up on the bed.
"Who is it?" she called out to the darkness.
She got up from the bed and picked a vase kept on the nightstand. Arming it as a weapon in her right hand, her left hand fumbled in the darkness for the switch. She flicked the light on.
Kartik was standing in her room.
He looked grim. He took a few steps to her till he was face to face with her. "Are you stupid or do you have a death wish?" he questioned in a deep voice.
Naira observed his face. He looked dull and tired. His eyes were puffy and the area underneath was dark. It seemed like he hadn't rested in a long time.
"Tell me." His voice made her avert her eyes from his face.
He was angry, "Why did you call the police today?"
A chill ran down her spine and she looked at him, horrified.
"How..." she stuttered, fear evident in her voice, "how did you..." she let the question trail off. Shubham had hardly taken notice that Naira nicked his phone. There was no one else in the room. How could Kartik know unless...
"You've tapped in Shubham's phone?" she asked, mortified, "Are you listening in on his conversations? Reading his texts?"
Kartik's lack of response cemented her belief. Was Akhilesh telling the truth? That Kartik was paranoid of Shubham taking over? Is that why he was spying on his little brother?
This made her think whom else he was spying on? Did he know that she had been sneaking around his office?
Naira gulped and tried to maintain a brave face.
"What are you hiding?" he asked, his voice a whisper.
She shook her head. "Nothing." She lied with as much conviction as she could.
He observed her intently. Then he lifted his hand and placed his thumb on her forehead, running it down to her cheeks. Naira raised her eyes, completely taken aback. What was he doing?
His thumb lightly grazed her cheek and it stirred something in her- feelings that she had buried deep in her heart, feelings that were confusing and had made themselves visible at a very inappropriate time.
His thumb lingered on her skin for some moments. Almost as if waking up from a dream, he abruptly lowered his hand. The sudden break of contact unsettled her, for some reason.
When he spoke, he averted his eyes, "You're lucky I was the one who intercepted the call. If someone else had found out you'd be in trouble."
Naira could sense concern in his tone but she brushed it off. There was no way he'd care for her after condemning her to a prison.
His words gave her another breather that he didn't know about her deal with Akhilesh.
"If there is something," the softness had returned to his voice, "you can tell me."
Tell you what? That I suspect you killed your father?
She shook her head and lied again, "There is nothing."
"Then why did you call the police?"
"It was a misdial..." she fumbled for an excuse.
"Naira, I heard the entire conversation. It wasn't a misdial," he commented, "What are you up to?"
"Why are you here?" she countered him, raising her voice, "At this time of the night? If you want to punish me for calling the police then get on with it. Or else leave."
"You think I came here to punish you? That I would harm you?" he replied, like he was hurt. "Maybe you don't know me at all." Saying so he exited the room leaving behind a very confused Naira.
The interaction with Kartik and his unusual behavior put Naira in deep thought. He knew that she called the cops- something that could have cost her life yet he didn't do anything to her.
And the way he touched her face... The remnant of his touch still lingered on her skin... the memory of it was fresh and refused to fade way, even after days.
What did this mean?
Kartik wasn't the only Goenka who surprised her that month. One afternoon Keerti initiated a conversation about Kartik.
"Have you seen Kartik lately?" Keerti asked.
The question caught Naira off-guard. "Er..." she stammered. Did Keerti know of Kartik's visit to her room? "Umm... why do you ask?"
"I am worried about him," Keerti sighed. Naira too sighed in relief, brushing aside the image of Kartik standing close to her, trailing his thumb on her skin.
Keerti went on, "He's not eating properly. He doesn't sleep well. All day he is either holed up in the office or outside. I think father's passing has affected him very deeply."
Her description confused Naira. Yes, there was a visible change in Kartik but Akhilesh's words rang in her head that Kartik had a hand in Manish's murder.
"I wish I could help him. You know how he is," Keerti said. "He doesn't let anyone in. He is hiding the pain. It's not healthy. I fear he'll... he'll lose it one day."
Naira sympathized with Keerti. Kartik did have a way of shutting people out. Like he had shut her out 5 years back. One day they were friends, the next, strangers.
"Will you talk to him?" Keerti's request stupefied Naira. "Me?" she asked in disbelief.
Keerti nodded, "I remember how close you two were."
"That was years ago," Naira exclaimed, "In case you haven't noticed, we're not on speaking terms."
"But we've to do something!" Keerti started pacing in the room, "Grandma and Uncle are least bothered about his mental or physical health. It's on us Naira. Please... help me"
Naira shrugged her shoulder. Keerti's fears were valid but her solution was a disaster. If Naira went to Kartik, he'd probably throw her out of his room. Though... her mind recalled the incident from the other night. She had contacted the police, yet he didn't even so much as reprimand her... And then he said that she didn't know him well if she thought he could hurt her... Did it mean something?
"Naira!" Keerti's voice jolted her from her thoughts, "The rival families consider him as a weak leader and are instigating other against him... and then there is this new cop who is after him-."
"New cop?" Naira's ears perked up.
Keerti nodded, "Yeah... some Aditya Bansal. He is not interested in being amicable with us."
Which meant this new cop was honest and couldn't be corrupted by the Goenka's power or money, unlike the hordes of officers who were in their pockets. This meant that Aditya could be of help to Naira. If she approached him, maybe he'd be interested in what she had to say.
This gave her an idea. "I think you're right," Naira told Keerti, "We should help Kartik."
"Really?" The look of happiness on Keerti's face made Naira feel bad. Keerti was her only friend and now Naira was lying to her but she had to.
Naira nodded, "I think... we should take Kartik out... like a day off. A change of scenery can help him. You, him, Shubham and I. It'll be like old days. And then we can talk to him."
"That's a great idea!" Keerti acknowledged.
"So... can you make it happen? Can we go out?" Naira asked carefully.
Keerti nodded enthusiastically, "I'll definitely try."
Naira smiled. Once she was out of the Goenka prison, she could sneak off to meet this cop- Aditya and then... if everything went well, Kartik Goenka would be behind bars and she would be free.
[Chapter 4 word count = 1851]
[Total word count = 7796]Edited by ErisedWitch45 - 2019-02-13T23:58:26Z
Chapter 5.A. - Getaway
Turned out when it came to her brother, Keerti did know how to put her foot down. She took Naira's plan of going out, to fruition. Two weeks later, the four of them- Keerti, Kartik, Shubham and Naira, in 1 car, and their bodyguards in another, set off.
Keerti decided to spend the weekend in one of their farmhouses at Alibaug- 3 hours drive from Mumbai.
The moment they drove out of the mansion, Naira was filled with joy. Outings like this were a rarity for her.
Kartik was driving with Keerti in the front passenger seat and Shubham and Naira in the rear seat. The congested roads of the city gave way to wide-open highway. Kartik accelerated on the freeway.
Naira rolled down the window and titled her head to feel the wind on her face. She closed her eyes, letting the warm sun and the cool wind wash over her. When she turned to face inside, she caught Kartik glancing at her in the rear view mirror. He immediately averted his eyes and Naira felt something stir inside her. She brushed aside the strange feeling though her eyes kept travelling to the mirror, to see if he'd look at her again. And sometimes, he did. [8000 words]
3 hours later, they reached the farmhouse. It was huge and surrounded by sprawling lawns. The area was relatively secluded. The guards set up perimeter around the house.
The inside was even more opulent with a huge patio, a pool, and a fireplace. How satisfying it would be if she could lie on the couch and read a book as the fire burnt...
She jolted herself out from the reverie. She wasn't here to relax. She was on a mission- of contacting the cop. Her plan hinged on finding a phone. She couldn't use any of the landlines or mobiles since she knew Kartik had tapped in. She needed to find a way to go into the town. She'd have to figure something out.
Later Keerti took charge of dinner and the others sat around the kitchen island. Naira could see that even Keerti was in high spirits. Keerti initiated many conversations, mostly about their childhood so that Kartik would open up. He smiled, sometimes chuckled when Keerti took them down memory lane.
After dinner, Shubham settled in front of the tv and Kartik sat outside, on the patio. Keerti handed Naira two plates of dessert and gestured her to talk to Kartik.
When Naira protested, Keerti reminded her, "You promised you'll help me. Go and get him to talk."
Naira huffed and carried the plates outside. When he saw her approach, Kartik took the plates from her and set them on a table.
They both stood in awkward silence for sometime. Naira walked to the edge of the patio, to look up at the night sky. "It's a beautiful night." She commented feebly. It was better than standing silently.
Kartik stood next to her leaning on a pillar, "It is." Silence settled between them again.
Naira spoke first, "So... how are you doing?"
From her peripheral vision, Naira saw him shrug. She turned to face him, "Keerti is worried about you."
"I know," he nodded, running a hand through his hair, "This is why she brought us here. To get away."
"Did you need to get away?" she asked in rhetoric. The answer was visible on his face. The perpetual stress that had cast a gloom on his face was fading within a day.
"Naira," he swiveled to face her. "I'm sorry."
Her eyebrows raised in surprise. She wasn't expecting an apology.
"For cutting you out of my life," he explained, "That day, all those years back, you were trying to help and I... I hurt you."
Naira opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. An apology?
"I shouldn't have said those things. I didn't mean it," he looked down at his shoes. "And I never made amends after that. I just pushed you out..." This time he held her gaze. "I'm sorry."
Naira was massively puzzled. Was this new leader of a crime syndicate really asking her forgiveness? Was this the same person who had a hand in his father's murder? Who was spying on his brother?
"Kartik," she finally spoke after a long pause, "You don't have to apologize. It's water under the bridge." She lied. The way he broke off their friendship had hurt her. This acknowledgement and apology from him provided some comfort.
Kartik moved toward her till he was at a hand's distance from her. A fluttery feeling took hold in her stomach at the proximity. He took her right hand in his and held it very lightly. "Thanks for coming here. This means a lot."
Naira could feel her heart beat rapidly. She looked anywhere but at him because she knew his gaze was fixed on her. She nodded as he lightly squeezed her hand.
"Goodnight," he bade her and walked inside.
For a long time, Naira stood outside, replaying the recent events. Kartik apologized to her, thanked her for coming, took her hand in his...
What scared her more than his gestures was the way her body was reacting to him, the way her heart would start beating fast and a familiar fluttery feeling resurfaced.
This wasn't going the way she had planned.
[Chapter 5.A. word count = 893]
[Total word count = 8689]Edited by ErisedWitch45 - 2019-03-14T06:29:44Z
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