Monday, May 1, 2017

The Elementals - Part 4 of 4




Arlan's heart was hammering hard as was afraid to talk as he was watching Mr. Joshi, struggling not to let anything show in his face. The blood rushing to his head was actually making it difficult for Arlan to focus. Taking a deep breath, Arlan watched Mr. Joshi, as he tried to change his face into a quizzical expression.

But Arlan knew that he had messed up real bad as Mr. Joshi instead gave him a knowing smile.

"I saw you face when you were talking about Elementals," Mr. Joshi continued, as Arlan stumbled into the seat opposite to Mr. Joshi afraid to speak.

The seat was warm, but Arlan was so terrified that he barely noticed anything. The pen, stationary and the other items on the panel before Mr. Joshi was shaking slightly as Arlan watched it horrified as he realized that he was doing that.

Luckily, Mr. Joshi had his back turned to the screen and had not noticed it.

Before Mr. Joshi could turn, Arlan made another herculean effort to control himself and was taking slow deep breaths.

A minute later, Arlan felt slightly in control of himself as he was watching Mr. Joshi a little fearfully as Mr. Joshi shook his head. "Relax son, Just to be make it clear that I have no problems against Elementals or people knowing Elementals," Mr. Joshi said shrugging, as he turned his attention to the panel before him.

Arlan was struggling trying to get his bearings right. He was just finding it difficult to breathe and was feeling terrified.

"Son, I will repeat it. Your secrets are your own and mine are my own," Mr. Joshi spread his hands pointing at the console before him. "Your job is to find the thief here. Find the thief and also find out how the thief walked out of the museum with the painting. After that, we shall have no further contact with each other," Mr. Joshi finished.

As he was speaking, Mr. Joshi pulled open the cabinet from the lower shelf of the desk panel. "These are the files on the people who work as the security guards in the museum."

Arlan watched the files as Mr. Joshi shrugged and continued. "A bit old fashioned in these things. Which is why I still have hard copies, instead of being tech savvy and have all these details in the computer."

Arlan watched Mr. Joshi and suddenly for the first time, though Arlan was scared, Arlan genuinely felt that the old man would not hurt him. And that confused Arlan because he had no idea, why he was feeling that way. As a rule he did not trust people. That is what kept him alive. But Arlan could not help but feel that he could trust the old man. And that was when Arlan realized why he trusted the old man.

"You know an elemental," Arlan said watching the old man. "And it is probably someone close to you," Arlan said nodding to himself.

The old man was in the process of putting the files from the bottom on the table, as he looked startled that Arlan had spoken. It took a few more seconds for the old man to realize what Arlan had spoken and the man's face suddenly looked dismayed. Suddenly Mr. Joshi's eyes stopped twinkling and he watched Arlan warily.

"As you said your secrets are your own and mine are mine," Arlan said deliberately upbeat, taking a deep breath, focusing around him.

"When did you enter this profession?" the old man asked him sullenly.

"When I was seventeen." Arlan said, making no move to elaborate.

Mr. Joshi grunted, bringing the rest of the files from under the cabinet and dumping it on the table.

And Arlan was studying the room around him. There were sixteen screens before Mr. Joshi and all showing different places in the museum. And there was something in this room. Arlan saw a photo of Mr. Joshi and a beautiful old long haired woman, and in the background of the photo, Arlan saw the famous arched gateway of Nirwalk. Arlan found his attention dragged to the woman in the photo, who despite her age looked beautiful. There were two other people in the photo – a curly haired formal looking man about Arlan's own age and a young girl, but Arlan could not focus much on it.

Arlan then turned his attention to the screens and saw that among all the cameras feeds from the various parts of the museum, the one on the right hand side was still blank. Right next to it, Arlan could see the parking lot outside the museum and he could even see his own car parked from the camera feed and a young girl was haphazardly walking away from the screen.

Mr. Joshi was glancing through the files of the security guards looking slightly worried as he offered Arlan the files. Arlan nodded but his mind was not in it. Arlan was trying to recollect what he remembered from the footage of the museum that he had seen a week back. The footage had shown a normal day at the museum. The guards, the sweepers, the secretary, Mr. Joshi and even Mr. Khurana were all walking around the museum. There were some few stray people, who had come to the museum to watch the exhibits. Arlan reminded himself to watch the footage again, to see whether he could identify any of the visitors to the museum. Because the camera of the room where the Queen in the Palanquin was kept was broken, they could not see what had happened there. At precisely five o clock, when the museum was about to be closed, there was a huge commotion and all the people were running towards the room. But by that time, the painting had already been stolen. The painting was no longer in the frame and no one knew where the painting had gone. So the thief knew how to remove the painting from the frame without activating the alarm of the glass case.

Arlan suddenly blinked.

"Mr. Khurana said that the painting was to be taken for repairing the next day," Arlan said.

Mr. Joshi frowned as he saw Arlan.

Arlan was however, watching the files in his hands. Arlan had kept aside three files of the security guards, as probable candidates – the three guards Raghav Srits, Kimark Lor and Sundar Shreyas had all recently joined the security office, within the past six months. Which was why, Arlan had felt that he had to study these files deeply to figure something out.

"And just for the record...." Arlan started and stopped immediately, forgetting what he was about to say.

"I just wasted 45 minutes of my time." Arlan whispered as he got up, frowning as he started pacing the room. Arlan realized almost immediately that it was impossible to pace the room because it really was a small basement room as he looked at Mr. Joshi, shaking his head, a small smile in his lips.

"I thought that the theft was committed by someone who was new to the museum." Arlan said. "That is impossible! You told me that you have worked here for a long time, and that was the reason, you knew the flaws in the system," Arlan smiled without meaning to. "So if you decide to commit a theft in this museum, there would be no record of it." Arlan said watching Mr. Joshi.

Mr. Joshi looked like he was having difficulty following Arlan, but Arlan was excited as he was watching all the camera screens again."This theft was also committed by someone who knew the flaws in the system and also knew how to bypass it and was in need for money," Arlan smiled.

Mr. Joshi frowned watching Arlan. "I thought you agreed that it was not me. In fact..."

Arlan nodded as he interrupted Mr. Joshi. "It was not you. None of the guards could have done it. If it was any guard who had taken it, then by default, the guard alone could not have done it. That guard needed to have someone else helping him. But the crime was too ingeniously simple. It had to have just one person," Arlan stopped talking as he was watching the blank wall before him.

Arlan suddenly turned to Mr. Joshi frowning. "Get some of your guards to watch the curator's office to make sure no one leaves the museum." Arlan smiled watching Mr. Joshi. "And how often you do clean the dust bins which are kept outside the rooms?" Arlan asked.

"WHAT?" Mr. Joshi had probably reached his limit of weirdness for the day. He just could not believe the number of irrelevant things Arlan could talk in a single conversation.

"Come," Arlan said getting up as Mr. Joshi just called up his men and asked them to stay outside the curator's office. "And switch off the feed from the various cameras!" Arlan said getting up.

Mr. Joshi was watching Arlan as he rapidly switched off the various cameras as Arlan got up and was already walking towards the staircase.

Mr. Joshi stared at Arlan for a few seconds and then followed the young man.

"The dustbins are cleared about once a week. Why?" Mr. Joshi demanded. "Unless there is an exhibition and lot of people come to the museum," Mr. Joshi continued.

Arlan nodded as he whipped out his cell phone and he was taking into his cell phone as Mr. Joshi was almost panting as he reached up to Arlan.

"Yes!" Arlan was saying nodding into the cell phone by the time Mr. Joshi reached the top stairs to join Arlan. Arlan continued walking towards the corridors of the museum. And Mr. Joshi was gasping as he tried to match Arlan's long strides. Mr. Joshi saw Arlan give a passing glance at the curator's room, as Arlan ignored it and reached the last room from which the painting was stolen. Mr. Joshi nodded at Kiral Mern, as two guards were standing outside the curator's office as the two men walked inside.

Arlan reached the last room of the left most corridor, where the painting had been kept and without any warning, he picked up the dustbin and overturned it and dumped all the contents on the floor.

"Hey!" Mr. Joshi shouted as Arlan bent down and was examining the rubbish. A few plastic cups, papers, an slightly crushed cloth envelop, many straws and lots of drink packs popped out as Mr. Joshi was watching Arlan incredulously.

Mr. Joshi was looking like he had just realized that Arlan was completely off his head. Even words failed Mr. Joshi, as Arlan picked up the envelope and handed it to him.

Mr. Joshi looked disgusted at Arlan as he saw the envelope. "What do you expect me to do with this?" Mr. Joshi demanded angrily.

"Frame it." Arlan said dryly as Mr. Joshi was spluttering for words.

Arlan sighed as he opened the envelop and a beautiful smile lit up his face. Arlan pointed inside the envelop for Mr. Joshi to see.

Mr. Joshi's eyes nearly popped out of his eyeballs as he saw the painting slightly crushed inside the envelope.

"Who....?" Mr. Joshi asked as he took the envelop with almost trembling hands, reverently.

"As I said, it was not you, and it was not the curator and it was not the guards. Then there is only one person," Arlan said with a small smile.

"Jayanthi!" Mr. Joshi said breathing heavily as Arlan nodded.

"The process of elimination!" Arlan continued pedantically. He felt that after finding the painting, the least he could do was brag about it. "And the fact that her ring was missing." Arlan watched Mr. Joshi. "I just talked to some people at Jayanthi's bank. There has been heavy cash outflow from her account recently. I think she needs money desperately."

And then Arlan saw the mess he had created outside the room, as he looked at Mr. Joshi, looking a little sheepish. "And I am sorry for the mess!" Arlan made a weird face. "Got carried away slightly!"

Mr. Joshi watched Arlan still not finding words.

Arlan watched Mr. Joshi, slowly nodding to himself. "I think when you informed Jayanthi about the broken camera, she immediately saw an opportunity for more getting more cash." Arlan said in a low voice, as the two were walking towards the curator's office. Arlan saw that Jayanthi was still inside her office and she probably did not know. "She took the painting and put it in the dustbin, because she knew that she could not carry it out of the museum. All she had to do was wait for you to empty the trash. Take the painting from there."

Mr. Joshi slowly nodded and that was when Arlan's cell phone rang. Arlan saw that it was the office and was sure that Revathi would be happy that he had solved this case.

He was wrong as usual.

"You really forgot all about Vortex didn't you?" Revathi asked aghast, without any preamble.

"What is the time, Reva?" Arlan asked, almost panicking. Arlan then sighed in relief as he realized he still had an hour to go. Arlan hoped the meeting at Vortex was at twelve, because Arlan had honestly forgotten all about it. And Arlan knew that he could never tell that to Revathi and Arlan also knew that if he missed this meeting with Talin, Revathi would probably crucify him for the next twenty years.

"I am leaving for Vortex now," Arlan said, as he cut the call.

"Do you want my help....?" Arlan asked Mr. Joshi.

"No. Leave." Mr. Joshi said waving his hands. "Thanks for your discretion. I think I know how to handle this from here."

Arlan really did not want to know what that meant as he was already walking out of the museum, giving Kiral Mern a cheeky wink as he walked out.

The Elementals - Part 3 of 4

Arlan was so seriously lost in his thoughts that he did not even know when he had arrived at the museum. He remained seated in the car thinking far too many things. It was only when a car parked near him drove off honking loudly that Arlan was startled and he noticed where he was and Arlan finally decided that he had wasted enough of his time. Arlan slowly got out of the vehicle walking towards the museum.

As Arlan was walking in, Arlan studied the walls of the museum and saw that the walls of the museum had revolving cameras affixed on it. The cameras studied both the road outside and also the museum grounds inside the wall.

As Arlan was watching the cameras, Arlan made a sudden realization that he had been hasty as he had stepped out of his office. If he hoped to solve the theft at the museum, then he needed to talk with the bank manager, whom Arlan had helped a few years back. Though the help that the bank manager was to give him was strictly not legal, because it was a simple thing, the manager had agreed to help him.

Arlan whipped out his cell phone, dialing the office number.

"Reva?" Arlan said as soon as the call was connected.

"Yes," Revathi's voice came on the call as Arlan heard her talking to Ganesh in the background. Arlan wondered whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that Ganesh had made it to office.

And Arlan was more than sure that Revathi would find some simple work for Ganesh and keep him engaged. And then as he was thinking that, Arlan felt really grateful to Revathi. Despite everything, she was brilliant at her job and also his best friend. That was half the reason, he found handling things so easy.

"Reva, remember that bank manager, whom we helped about a year back?" Arlan asked. He knew that he did not need to give any further details about it. Revathi, rarely forget a case of the people connected with it.

"Yes," Revathi said. "What about him?"

"I called in a favour and asked him to give me some details. I do not have his number. He said he would call me. If the manager calls the office, can you just give him my number?" Arlan asked.

"Will do!" Revathi said.

Arlan was about to cut the call when Revathi spoke again. "Arlan, what case did you give Kira? She just left office in a hurry," Revathi said.

"I asked her to look into Mrs. Kirpan's husband's case." Arlan replied. "Why?"

"Kira was just talking in her cell phone and suddenly left, before I could ask her. That was all." Revathi said. "I will have to bill Kira's timing. That is why."

"Feel free to bill Mrs. Kirpan," Arlan said dryly. "And honestly Revathi, after watching Mrs. Kirpan, I have decided that I am never getting married. Ever!" Arlan said in a solemn voice, rolling his eyes, as he could hear Revathi's throaty laugh on the phone.

"There are other nice ladies, Arlan. Someone will definitely interest you," Revathi continued.

"Yeah, whatever." Arlan said cutting the call. His non-existent social life was really not something he wanted to discuss with Revathi, right now.

Arlan was standing outside the museum, as he was looking at the main road from the gate of the museum. This was not one of the main roads of the city and road at this time had sparse traffic. Right opposite the museum was the railway museum. Both the museums were run by the same management, but had their own staff. The railway museum had their own underground tunnel system, which had toy trains which kids could drive around. Arlan smiled as he remembered one of the trips he had made there from the times he was in an orphanage. That was one of the better times that he had had there.

Just near the railway museum opposite was a huge park. But then that was no surprise. Even now, one of the greatest tourist attractions for Sthapan was the fact that the city had plenty of parks. Almost every single road had at least one park. The other side of the museum was a huge mall which had been recently built. People in and around the city had opposed to the mall coming up in the place, because they all feared that the mall would increase the traffic in the place. But eventually, the mall did come up. And the traffic also increased. But then the people in Sthapan rarely complained about the traffic. That was also one of the better things about the place. People here accepted the traffic as a part of life and did not bicker too much about it.

Arlan then turned his attention to the museum – the Karankar Art Gallery, the one from which a painting worth a few crores, had been stolen a week back. The thief had been really ingenious. They had removed the painting without touching the glass case and also without the guards noticing. And though all the people who entered and left the building were searched, the thief had managed to get the painting out even without the guards noticing.

And Arlan was more than certain that the guards were involved.

Arlan figured that it was impossible for the theft to have been carried out without the knowledge of the guards. Arlan was just hoping to talk to the curator here and know more and to ask about any security guards who raised any suspicious flags.

Arlan was still at the gate of the museum and saw that on the left of the museum was the post office and the right was an open playground. The distance between the gate of the museum to the inner building was considerably longer than he had previously imagined. It seemed almost more than 100 feet.

Arlan was slowly walking towards the museum, as he saw the huge dome of the museum and below it the single entrance and right now there were four guards standing there. And as Arlan neared the museum, he found Mr. Lorik Khurana, coming out talking with his secretary. Arlan frowned trying to remember the name of the secretary as he reached the inner building.

Arlan paid for his ticket of the museum, outside at the counter and he was about to enter the main building when he heard Mr. Khurana talking loudly with his secretary.

"...Mr. Joshi?" Khurana was saying, angrily. "He has not been punctual lately."

"Mr. Joshi just called and said that he is coming. He is driving from Nirwalk sir," The soft voice of the secretary reached Arlan.

And the guard just finished checking him, and conversation inside ceased as Arlan realized that Mr. Khurana had spotted him. And Arlan was very impressed when he saw that Mr. Khurana recognized him almost immediately. Arlan also saw that Mr. Khurana was very annoyed. Not with him, but with the security guard.

"What was the point of checking him now?" Khurana demanded from the guard angrily. The guard was about to say something as Khurana angrily silenced the man. "The painting is already gone," Khurana barked at the guard who was an wizened old short man, with graying hair looking very unhappy studying the floor.

Arlan was feeling very sorry for the guard as Mr. Khurana continued, "And he is the detective who is going to find it," Khurana finished angrily thumbing at Arlan, as the guard still did not say anything, but the guard was beginning to look grumpy.

Arlan initially through that Mr. Khurana was angry with him too. But then, Arlan decided that if he lost a very expensive painting he would also be this grouchy and not just at one or two people. But at everyone, in general.

"He is just doing his job, Mr. Khurana." the secretary told Khurana in a soothing voice, as the guard looked sullen as Arlan walked near Khurana, looking around the museum.

Like all other museums, this one was big too and looking around Arlan could see that the museum was built in an area of a few acres. As soon as Arlan entered the museum, the first room after the security counter was the curator's office. And from there the grandness of the museum was clearly visible. The roof of this place was dome-shaped and made of glass. Beside the curator's office ran long corridors on both sides. Seven rooms on each side and each room housing many valuable things.

A week back, when Arlan was first contacted, Arlan learnt that the paintings were kept inside the glass casing and that the glass casing was connected to the alarm in the reception area. And all the rooms supposedly had cameras. The corridors of the museum were all neat and tidy and well-spaced and looked almost sickeningly perfect to Arlan – from the space to each room to the dust bins outside each room it was spic and span and watching it made Arlan nearly throw up.

Arlan could not explain it, but somehow watching things in clean and straight order always disrupted his way of thinking. It almost seemed like Arlan thrived in chaos and things in an orderly fashion always put him off.

"The painting was about to be taken downstairs for repairing it, Mr. Karnik! Which is why, the alarm to the glass case of that painting had been deactivated." Mr. Khurana – tall, plump and well-built man with balding hair and black eyes told Arlan, as he went inside his room, as Arlan followed the man and his secretary. "The painting was there during the day and when we were about to close the museum for the day, the paintings had disappeared." The way Mr. Khurana was ranting as he angrily sat on the desk, Arlan was willing to bet all the money that he had, on what Mr. Khurana was going to say next.

Arlan was right.

"I AM SURE THIS IS A WORK OF THE ELEMENTALS." Khurana said thumping the desk angrily. "Some idiot with the super powers to walk through walls must have taken this away," Khurana said still shouting. "Mark my words, Jayanthi!" Khurana thundered. "These freaks are a mistake. They need to be stopped."

If Elementals were using their powers to steal museums, Arlan would be feeling very stupid to even call himself an Elemental. Arlan almost said it out aloud, and then at the last minute, his survival skill kicked in, making sure Arlan kept silent. And, besides Arlan suddenly remembered that the name of the secretary was Jayanthi Nataraj. Arlan saw Jayanthi Nataraj's starched saree and noted her sharp eyes as she was listening to Mr. Khurana and Arlan felt an immense respect for the woman. Because she oozed efficiency and Arlan realized almost immediately, that Jayanthi was someone like Revathi. And Arlan made it a point never to annoy women like that. Arlan was wondering though about what happened to the woman's ring, which she probably had been wearing until recently.

"Any ideas why the Elementals want to take that painting, Mr. Khurana?" Arlan asked as he was looking around the museum.

And Mr. Khurana spluttered angrily when he heard Arlan, because Mr. Khurana could not think of anything to say and more particularly, Mr. Khurana really was not expecting anyone to talk back on this point.

Arlan was still looking around thinking what Revathi had once told him. That he had a big mouth, which put off most of their clients. Arlan took a deep breath and decided that if he just kept his mouth shut, there was a slim chance that he could actually solve this problem, without giving himself a headache.

Khurana, Arlan and Jayanthi were still inside the curator's office, as Arlan saw that the curator had a huge, imposing room and Arlan could see that Mr. Khurana despite being in a belligerent mood was actually a man of refined tastes. The paintings in the curator's room were beautiful without being gawdy and actually enhanced the beauty of the room. Everything about the room spoke about a man who loved the arts and made efforts to keep the arts safe. Arlan watched Jayanthi, whose office was adjacent to this room as Arlan wondered what sort of decoration, he would find in Jayanthi's room.

The reasons for the observation about the curator's room were very important to Arlan. If Arlan's theory was correct, then the prime candidate for the theft was the curator himself. Even before coming to the museum, Arlan was 99% sure that the curator was not involved in the theft. Now on watching the man, Arlan was 100% sure that it was not the curator.

Arlan let the man rant on for some time, as he walked towards the edge of the curator's room and saw that the curator's office was in the middle where the roof was dome-shaped.

The Arlan nodded as he again walked inside the curator's room and sat on the chair there. "Tell me a little more about the painting," Arlan said absently drumming on the table, as the secretary nodded at the two men and left them alone, walking out of the room.

Mr. Khurana looked at Arlan almost smiling and Arlan was instantly suspicious wondering what he had asked, to warrant this reaction from the man.

And a second later, a very depressed Arlan realized why the man had been so happy. "That painting – the Queen in the palanquin," Mr. Khurana said with something of a flourish, "...it was commissioned to be painted by the royals of Sthapan, close to eighty years back," the curator started in a formal voice, as Arlan watched the man aghast.

"I do not want a history class." Arlan said harshly, interrupting Mr. Khurana, looking horrified. And looking at the curator, Arlan was sure that he would have even told Arlan the exact paints used for the painting. That piece of information was sure to bring on his headache. And it was a completely and utterly useless piece of information for him.

"I am sure some very famous person painted it somewhere," Arlan said almost snarling, struggling to control himself with great difficulty. "Which room was the painting kept in?" Arlan asked, still looking horrified.

The curator turned beet red and for a small second, Arlan wondered whether the man was going to have him thrown out of the office. In fact Arlan was about to launch into a lengthy defense in his favour explaining that he was here to find the painting not paint it. And there was a part of Arlan, which was still feeling that the curator was unduly stupid. When Arlan said that he wanted information on the painting, it had to be obvious that Arlan wanted information about the painting which was relevant to him. Arlan could still not believe what the curator expected him to do, after he knew who painted the painting for whom.

Arlan could see Mr. Khurana watch him with growing anger and then slowly, the curator seemed to realize that it was really not worth his time to get angry at Arlan. "The painting was kept in the last room in the left hand corridor," Mr. Khurana said sullenly, as Mr. Khurana got up walking out of his room and pointing left. Arlan smiled to himself as he turned and that saw that the room from where the painting was stolen was special because that room was the only one which would not be visible either from the curator's office or the security counter.

"The painting was stolen in the afternoon?" Arlan asked as he watched Khurana, as he saw Jayanthi, making her way inside her room.

Khurana nodded angrily.

"Many people there in the museum at that time?" Arlan asked.

Khurana shook his head and that hardly surprised Arlan. He was yet to meet anyone who went to museums on the afternoons. If someone was really desperate to kill time, there were better places to do that. Museums probably did not even figure in the top ten of such places.

"Cameras of that room?" Arlan asked.

Mr. Khurana for the first time since the conversation had started looked embarrassed. "The camera in that room was broken ten days back," Mr. Khurana said looking annoyed.

Arlan almost said that news was perfect, when he realized that comment would probably get him thrown out of the museum. The curator would not understand the significance of that piece of news.

"Will you do anything instead of just sitting there and asking useless questions?" Mr. Khurana demanded angrily.

"I couldn't paint it for you, even if I tried," Arlan said dryly.

Mr. Khurana spluttered angrily, as Arlan shook his head, deciding that he had to keep his personal comments to himself and give Mr. Khurana some breathing space. Otherwise, the theft in the museum was going to be the least of Mr. Khurana's problems.

"You said the camera was broken ten days back?" Arlan asked Mr. Khurana, trying to look serious and failed. Which was why, Arlan settled for the next thing, and he was watching the left side of the corridor with great seriousness, just to make sure that no one noticed that he was trying his best not to laugh like a hyena.

"Yes," Mr. Khurana continued as a security guard from the counter was walking towards them. The name on the guard's shirt read Kiral Mern and the guard looked like all the other guards listened to him. "Our security chief – Nahar Joshi told me about it and that we needed a new camera there," Mr. Khurana continued.

"And you did not get a new camera immediately?" Arlan asked.

Mr. Khurana saw Kiral Mern looking a little angrily. "The shop where we get our equipment from was closed for the holidays. It would open only during the weekend. That was why I could not get it immediately," Mr. Khurana said as the guard was again studying the floor.

Arlan nodded. And that was when his cell phone rang. Arlan picked it and saw that it was the bank manager. Arlan quickly nodded to the two of them as he walked away from them and answered the call.

"No changes in the account, Mr. Karnik," the bank manager said without any preamble. "It has been exactly the way it should be."

"No sudden outflow or influx of money?" Arlan asked quietly.

"Nothing," the manager insisted.

Arlan nodded slowly. "That was all I wanted. Thank you very much," Arlan said cutting the call.

"So am I still the main suspect, Mr. Karnik?"

Arlan turned to see a slightly short and thin man, with gray hair and the brightest twinkling gray eyes. Even as the man was talking to him, Arlan realized that the man was looking more amused and less worried. The man was small and lithe on his feet despite being old. And for a brief second Arlan thought he saw the man's hands were slightly hazy and greenish. But then Arlan shook his head as he saw everything back to normal.

"You are?" Arlan asked, though he knew the answer to that question.

The curator was about to open his mouth when the man shook his head, "Mr. Karnik, please do not pretend to be an idiot. I find that irritating," the man continued watching Arlan with a grin.

"Alright Mr. Nahar Joshi." Arlan said watching the man. "Let us talk." Arlan watched the man almost completely ignoring the curator and the other security guard, who walked back to his station looking relieved, when Mr. Joshi came near Arlan. "That room where the painting was kept is the last room in this corridor. Anybody could enter the room and not be noticed either by the curator here or by the guards in the security counter. That made the camera to that room important and strangely that was broken and before it could be replaced the painting was stolen." Arlan smiled dryly. "Almost screams to be an inside job. Because only someone working in the museum, could have known about the broken camera."

The curator watched Nahar Joshi blankly like as if Arlan was suddenly talking some other language. And it looked to Arlan like Mr. Khurana had suddenly revised his opinion of Arlan. Arlan hoped that the man did not think that he was always an idiot. Arlan did do something useful sometimes.

"You?" Mr. Khurana asked, whispering, as he watched Mr. Joshi blankly.

"No!" Arlan said watching Mr. Khurana shaking his head. "Two things go against that, Mr. Khurana – This man has worked in this very museum for the past 20 years and secondly, there has been no sudden change in either his bank balance to prove that the man was in need of money," Arlan continued still studying Joshi.

"You do research your cases well, don't you?" Mr. Joshi asked smiling as he watched Arlan with respect.

"Keeps me in business," Arlan said. Arlan watched Mr. Joshi for a few seconds and then nodded. "So that means the next thing to consider is...."

"...The guards working under me." Mr. Joshi interrupted in the soft voice, nodding at Arlan. "Probably I am getting sloppy. Probably, I employed someone without properly checking them out."

Arlan said nothing as he watched Mr. Joshi for some time.

"You really care a lot about these paintings!" Arlan said nodding to himself. "So I am fairly certain that you had nothing to do with this theft!"

"Your vote of confidence means a lot to me," Mr. Joshi said dryly as he watched Arlan.

"It would be of great help to me if I could see the records of your security guards working under you." Arlan said. The other guards were all further back and none of them could hear the dialogue between the two people. Though, Kiral Mern seemed to be trying to come towards them and then not doing anything, the man walked back to his station.

And leaving the curator still looking shocked, Arlan followed the chief of security.

"Where do you keep the records?" Arlan asked as he caught up with the Mr. Joshi.

"Basement," Mr. Joshi continued, pointing below the floor. "All the cameras in the building give a feed to my office at the basement. Another camera feed goes to the curator's office. And I also keep my other important stuff in the basement."

Arlan watched the old security guard – Kiral Mern, whom Mr. Khurana had yelled twice now, as he was walking down the stairs.

Arlan nodded at Kiral Mern, as he asked Mr. Joshi. "Who is that man? Seems to be working here for a really long time."

Mr. Joshi saw whom Arlan was pointing at and grinned. "That is Kiral Mern. An old timer. We both joined the security business at the same time. I trust him." Mr. Joshi said simply. "And he is not usually like this," Mr. Joshi said. "He is usually very calm and collected." Mr. Joshi frowned as he saw Arlan. "Kiral did call me up yesterday saying that he was unwell and probably could not come to office today," Mr. Joshi sighed shaking his head. "But Khurana being very annoyed and all that, I guess Kiral decided to come to office," Mr. Joshi said shrugging.

Arlan saw Kiral and Arlan again saw some green hazy hue around Kiral's hands. Arlan shook his head trying to clear his vision, wondering what was wrong with him.

"You said you trust him?" Arlan repeated. There was a sudden annoyance in Mr. Joshi's voice and Arlan wondered why. "The basement has important stuff necessary for the security of the museum. I trust Kiral enough to give him the other key to the basement," Mr. Joshi watched Arlan. "We two are the only two people who can access the basement," Mr. Joshi continued in a gruff voice, as he was pulling out a key from his pocket. Arlan smiled as the man pulled out his car key instead.

Mr. Joshi sighed as he put the car keys back and pulled out another key, still walking towards the basement.

"And where were you when I came inside the museum?" Arlan asked. "Kiral and Jayanthi were facing the ire of the boss for you being late." Arlan said deliberately.

"I live in Nirwalk. It takes time driving from there," Mr. Joshi said sighing, shaking his head. They walked towards the basement as Mr. Joshi continued. "And the reason Mr. Khurana still employs me is that I have been around for a long time and know the flaws in the system almost better than most people. Though nowadays, you just cannot be careful."

"You are talking about the Elementals?" Arlan asked feeling a little sad.

Mr. Joshi snorted much to Arlan's surprise. "Elementals would not waste their talents in this type of things," Mr. Joshi said snapping, looking almost angry. "Any Elemental in the city would be more bothered about their own survival than the art pieces stored here." Mr. Joshi smiled mirthlessly as he continued. "No, I am more bothered because people do not understand the importance of why these art pieces need to be saved. They think it is pretty. That is all!"

"What other reasons are there to appreciate art?" Arlan asked curiously as he came near the man. Mr. Joshi switched on the lights and the basement was lit up in brilliant lights as Arlan was walking with the man towards the centre of the basement, from where the man presumably ran everything.

"Art is important, because it shows people what you could do, when you use your creativity well, instead of just letting it rot inside you." Mr. Joshi said emphatically.

Arlan smiled without meaning to.

"You think it is funny," Mr. Joshi asked, a little annoyed.

Arlan shook his head. "I seriously lack creativity. Which probably explains why I am and where I am. I probably could not pick up any arts if my life depended on it."

Mr. Joshi watched Arlan for a few seconds.

"So how do you know an Elemental?" Mr. Joshi asked him suddenly.

The Elementals - Part 2 of 4

Revathi and Arlan were walking back to Revathi's cubicle as Revathi continued with her other problems of running an office. "Arlan, before you left for the capital, a week back, you visited that museum people right?" She asked as she settled herself behind her desk.

Arlan nodded mostly because he was still preoccupied.

Revathi saw Arlan and looked annoyed again. "You need to listen when I am talking to you," Revathi snapped as Arlan was rapidly dragged out of his thoughts, as he stared at Revathi.

Arlan was wondering what had warranted this reaction from Revathi. "What?" Arlan demanded. "You were talking about completely unnecessary things in the pantry and here you asked me about the museum," Arlan looked at Revathi almost aghast. "I pay attention to everything you say. In fact I am sure even Parikh does not do that," Arlan continued in a whining tone. "And you still have to blame me for everything."

"Where is the travel voucher for your trip to the museum, last week?" Revathi asked completely ignoring Arlan's rant.

"It is lying in my desk." Arlan muttered, yawning again.

"Arlan, why did you come to office today?" Revathi asked frowning. "Go home and sleep properly instead of pretending to fall asleep, any second now."

"Got to make a living, Reva." Arlan said yawning again, as the other five people in the office looked at the two of them, a little curiously. The conversations between Arlan and Revathi were the basis of most of the office gossip concerning their otherwise very silent chief. "And contrary to popular belief, besides sleeping and working, I actually have a social life," Arlan said watching Revathi who had turned her attention to her computer and was typing on it.

"You?" Revathi said watching Arlan looking amused. "I am very sure the only thing you know about social life is its spelling and even that I do not have very high hopes. So either you want to be in office to pour over your cold cases or you are going to have a client and do not want to tell me about it."

Arlan looked almost aghast as he shook his head, walking back to his office room. "I tell you about all my clients. That is one of the most important reasons I am still in business," he said wondering, whether Reyansh and Kira had figured it all out. Arlan was almost sure that he had the right answer and the solution did not involve dragging the Elementals into it.

Arlan entered his room and saw Reyansh who was getting up.

"Thanks Arlan." Reyansh said picking up the file. Reyansh was grinning, which told Arlan that Reyansh had figured it out.

"Consider us even," Arlan said smiling.

Reyansh had helped keep Arlan out of prison, in one very nasty case. Now they were even.

"Not yet." Reyansh said walking out as Kira was watching the entire scene, slightly confused.

"Kira," Arlan continued as he sat behind the desk, placing the coffee cup before him. "That woman from the far side of town – who wanted her husband found!"

"Mrs. Kirpan?" Kira asked as Arlan nodded feeling tired.

"Yes. I think the husband did not skip town. The husband could be in his friend's house or he could be registered in one of the hotels in that part of town. Will you check it out?" Arlan asked.

Kira nodded, still looking like she was thinking about the theft.

"What are you going to do?" she asked as she watched him still looking worried. Arlan yawned again as Kira sighed, "Didn't sleep well yesterday?" she asked.

Arlan smiled shaking his head. That was another thing he was not telling anybody. He did not sleep well on almost any day. "I am going to check something in that museum." Arlan said getting up. "I am fairly certain I know how the thieves walked away with the painting." Arlan said.

Kira nodded. "Take care." she said, walking away.

Arlan watched Kira as he wished for the millionth time he knew what was going on in Kira's mind. He just wished sometimes he could figure out what she was thinking and more specifically what she was thinking about him. Arlan had long since given up developing any sort of relationship with Kira or anyone else for that matter. He figured out that in Kira's case if he knew that she was with someone else, it would be easier for him to just completely forget her.

Arlan then felt morose. It was because of this mind-reading thing that Revathi had been so angry in the morning. Arlan sighed shaking his head. One of these days, Arlan decided, his brain was going to explode from trying to think so many things.

Arlan picked up the travel voucher he had prepared, which was lying beneath all the mess of papers on his table and got up to give it to Revathi, when his intercom rang.

That was Revathi.

"I am coming," Arlan snapped picking up the phone. "Don't be such a...."

"There is a call from Vortex." Revathi said in a commanding voice, silencing Arlan. "Their Managing Director Varyn Talin wants to talk to you."

"About what?" Arlan asked wondering why the biggest company in Sthapan was contacting him.

"About something important, was all he said. And the man's secretary is on line." Revathi continued.

"Connect it." Arlan said picking up the intercom.

"Is this Arlan Karnik?" the voice sounded like a well-educated man who was in his mid-thirties, and looked like a man who was used to following instructions. And the accent of the man was peculiar. Arlan wondered from where the man was.

"Speaking."

"My employer Mr. Talin wants to talk to you about an important matter," the secretary continued, "Mr. Talin was wondering whether you would be to come to the office in half an hour to discuss the matter," the man said.

Arlan knew this trick well. "I would not be in office," he said trying to keep his voice emotionless, stifling a sigh. Because Talin seemed to be like the type of man whom Arlan should avoid meeting – the type of person, who expected people to be there at their beck and call at all times, just because they had money or power or both.

And Arlan did not play well with people like that.

"Oh!" the secretary was quiet for some time as Arlan waited patiently. Arlan was wondering exactly how many people had refused to meet Talin as soon as the man wanted when the secretary spoke again.

"Would around 12 o'clock suit you?" the man asked.

"Will be there." Arlan said and before the secretary could say anything, Arlan spoke. "If I knew what it was about, I would be able to help the man better."

"Mr. Talin said he wanted to talk to you personally about it," the secretary said as Arlan nodded.

But before Arlan realized that he was on the phone and that the man could not see him, the connection was cut.

And Revathi opened the door coming inside, beaming at him. "That is my boy!" she said proudly. "Now, the big people are coming to us." she said happily.

"Ever wondered what the man wants from us." Arlan said dryly.

"Who cares?" Revathi said looking jubilant, "You my boy will solve it and make us rich."

"I thought we already were rich," Arlan said, "You even talked to me two days back about our returns. I sat through the whole thing and did not even sleep."

"That is small." Revathi said disdainfully. "Now the big companies will also take us in their league..."

"...And you will have more work to do." Arlan said interrupting Revathi, grinning at her.

"I can employ more people to do my work." Revathi said looking annoyed.

Arlan frowned suddenly. "If there are other people doing your job, what are you going to do?" he asked.

Revathi looked even more annoyed at Arlan. "Have I told you that you are annoying?" she demanded.

"Every day," Arlan said truthfully. "Even on the Sundays, when Parikh calls me up to show those horrendous movies, you remind me that I am annoying."

"That is because you are annoying." Revathi said shaking her head, noting Arlan's six feet height and powerfully built body and his mustache and stubble of beard. But Revathi realized that undoubtedly the most powerful thing about Arlan were his brown eyes. They were curious, mischievous and looked like it noted everything. The last part Revathi knew to be true. The man did notice a lot. A lot more than average people did. "Now look sharp and say all the right things and finish his case as quick as you can," she said watching Arlan.

"For the past two weeks, no new movies have been released?" Arlan asked frowning, "Parikh has not been calling me up," Arlan explained.

"Parikh said that he has some latest innovation coming up," Revathi said rolling her eyes. "He has been working even on Sundays. He has been coming home very late and leaving home early."

"Thank God, for small mercies," Arlan almost sounded like he was praying. "And tell him to add the chemicals right and not cause an explosion." Arlan said grinning. When Parikh was not watching movies, he worked as a chemist in a new start-up company – Lavelle, which was already giving an established company like Vortex, a run for their money.

Revathi rolled her eyes as Arlan again looked at Revathi with his puppy dog expression. "One more coffee!" Arlan pleaded. "Otherwise I will fall asleep on my feet and I cannot meet His Highness Varyn Talin and I won't look sharp."

"Keep this up and you will get caffeine poisoning," Revathi exclaimed.

"There is no such thing like caffeine poisoning," Arlan said rolling his eyes.

"If there is something like that you will get it," Revathi said.

"I will take my chances," Arlan said looking at Revathi pleading once more.

"You have to promise me to go home and sleep on time today." Revathi said waving a threatening finger at him.

Arlan nodded happily, as Revathi sighed and was about to make way to the pantry.

And that was when there were sudden shouts coming from outside their office and the thumping sounds of tensed feet

Almost subconsciously, Arlan pushed Revathi behind him, running towards the door. Arlan's heart nearly stopped still, as he saw Handlers running outside his office.

Arlan's heart was beating real hard as he saw almost everyone in the other offices in the floor, were slowly peeking out of the offices, looking slightly worried.

Just before the two Handlers, Arlan saw a tiny figure running wildly down the stairs. Arlan realized that he needed to know nothing more as he opened his mind and focused on the Handler in the front and concentrated and using his mind waves, Arlan "pushed".

The people in the corridor were shocked when the first Handler slipped and fell hard and the second Handler who was right behind him stumbled on the fallen man and both fell down with a thud almost rocking the entire floor.

"What....?" Revathi came out of the office, pushing Arlan out, as the others in the office were behind her watching curiously.

"Handlers!" Arlan said in a disgruntled tone. He saw one of the Handler get up angrily pulling up his friend.

The two Handlers looked around the place angrily at all the people and with their dark tinted helmets and completely black uniforms, the Handlers definitely looked menacing as the two Handlers saw the place and walked down the staircase angrily.

"I think they will pass the Elemental Registration Act!" Revathi was telling Gayatri who was nodding fervently and for once it looked like Gayatri was not thinking about her annoying husband.

"These Elementals are menace to the society!" Gayatri said. "Do you know just the other day what happened near my house..."

"I will be at the museum," Arlan said irritated, as he watched Revathi and Gayatri. Kira was in the background and she was watching the entire scene, listening to Gayatri. "Remind me about this 12 meeting, Reva. Otherwise I may forget it," Arlan said studying his watch.

"Arlan!" Revathi watched Arlan slightly aghast. "I know you are a smart guy and all that. But please have some respect for these things. The richest man in Sthapan wants to talk to you and you will just forget it?" Revathi demanded angrily, as she ignored Gayatri's story about whatever had happened near her house.

"Just remind me," Arlan said gravely, walking away from there.

Arlan had wanted one more coffee. But right now he was not in a mood. He was not in a mood for anything. Arlan reached the lift in the floor, as he could hear Gayatri with her monologue of what happened near her house, unmindful of whether Revathi was actually listening to it or not.

Arlan was out of the lift in the basement and was still fuming. No one had ever even asked an Elemental about how they felt about the whole thing. The way everyone was speaking, someone would think that the Elementals asked to be like this. None of the scientists could explain why some humans changed this way. The so called Elementals were also humans and they were already so badly scared. And now on top of everything, people had to make it worse. Arlan knew that once the Elemental Registration Act came into force, things would get worse. A lot worse.

Arlan knew about the stories of what happened to the Elementals once they were captured by the Handlers and he even knew about the Neutralizer which was the latest device invented by the Handlers.

Arlan had been horrified when he had seen the Neutralizer the first time. The device when fitted inside the body of the Elemental absolutely prohibited the Elemental from using any of their powers and it drained the powers of the Elemental slowly and within a week or so, the Elemental would be unable to do anything, as the neutralizer sapped all the energy from the body of the Elemental. And then the 'scientists" of the Government Research Institute started their experiments on finding out why the Elementals was different. Arlan had heard more horror stories than others even cared to know about. And if the Elemental Registration Act was bought, Arlan knew that it would just legalize what the Handlers were doing behind the curtains.

But by the time, Arlan reached his car in the basement, Arlan made a sad discovery – that the normal people could never accept the Elementals.

But despite this discovery, Arlan did not find it in his heart to hate these normal people. They had given him food and space to live. He had spent his childhood in the orphanage and he had at least been allowed to live there till he was sixteen.

And the orphanage had been more than a learning experience. It was there that Arlan learnt that normal people actually feared Elementals, because they could not understand Elementals.

Arlan was filled with a strange emotion as he sat inside his car.

The Elementals were damned for what they were and damned for what they were not. The words of Tanav Srivastav, his mentor at the orphanage came to Arlan. Tanav Srivastav always gave him such tidbits as they were playing chess in the orphanage. Arlan learned the game from Tanav and between trying to control his powers and studying and living in the orphanage, Arlan made a gratifying discovery that he really loved the game of chess. Arlan discovered that he really was thrilled with matching his wits with others.

And odd though it may be, Arlan did not remember much about his time in the orphanage before Tanav came there. But every time Arnav thought about those times he could feel a strange fear fill him. A fear that he could not explain, not even to himself. It was the stuff that formed his nightmares and kept him awake almost all nights.

And Arnav was really glad that the bushy eyebrowed, stern looking Tanav had helped him, when Arlan was young. Otherwise Arlan was more than sure that he would have either been dead or in custody of the Handlers.

Arlan sighed, as he realized that he and others like him were being forced to live in this world of fear, where the world was not being able to accept them for who they were and the Elementals could not give up what they were. Arlan realized that it was a vicious circle, one that he had no answer for. Right now all that mattered was that he needed to survive and if in the process he could help others like him, well and good.

The Elementals - Part 1 of 4


"There is something definitely odd about this." Arlan said frowning as he pointed at the thin file in his hands. Arlan was looking out of the tiny window from his office room – the A1 Detective Agency. Arlan ignored Reyansh Miran, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, who was sitting across the table as he continued to gently drum his fingers on the table before him.

"I dragged myself all the way to your office so early in the morning, and this is the best comment you can make?" DCP Reyansh asked, pretending to look astounded at Arlan.

Arlan rolled his eyes as he did not bother gracing Reyansh's question with an answer.

"When did you come back from the capital?" Reyansh asked in a low, worried voice. Because though Reyansh pretended like he did not care, DCP Miran was one of the few persons who knew exactly how dangerous Arlan's work at the capital had been. In fact, it had been Reyansh who had come to Arlan to take on the case.

The reason Reyansh had chosen Arlan for the undercover work inside the police force, was fairly simple. Arlan was an outsider to the police force and was not known to anyone there. And more importantly, Arlan did not panic. And the case at the capital city required someone with a cool head, who could take care of himself in any situation and did not talk much.

Arlan satisfied all the three conditions.

The case mercifully came to an end before things went out of hand and Arlan had figured out real fast as to who was responsible for the theft of the ammunitions from the police depot.

Reyansh had been responsible for getting Arlan home, away from the capital, because Reyansh was sure that being there could have been downright unhealthy for Arlan.

And now that Reyansh was in Arlan's office, Reyansh was again impressed because even inside his own office, Arlan had just pretended that the case in the capital was a simple matter involving a missing person. Arlan had said nothing more and no one in his office knew enough to ask any more questions.

"Morning," Arlan said yawning for the fifth time, since he had started talking with Reyansh. "She is in custody right?" Arlan asked Reyansh conversationally, but Arlan's voice was suddenly sharp.

Reyansh nodded as Arlan said nothing more. And office of the chief of the A1 Detective Agency at Sthapan was silent for a few minutes.

"In this case you said there is no complaint from the parties!" Arlan said muttering to himself, as his fingers were drumming almost systematically on the table.

"Yes!" Reyansh said grinning. "I remember telling that to you, at least three times, since we started our conversation."

And suddenly, the drumming of the fingers stopped, as Arlan watched Reyansh and Arlan's brown eyes suddenly cleared.

"I am asking you for the fourth time." Arlan said, his eyes suddenly twinkling. "No police complaint of theft from the parties?"

Reyansh sighed, not bothering to reply. That was the biggest problem with Arlan. Other than the times that Arlan was not acting smart or having his brainwaves, Arlan was a confirmed loudmouth and could drive almost anyone up the wall, very effortlessly. Despite this, the reason Arlan still had a thriving business was that Arlan was one of the few loudmouths who could think.

Which was why, Reyansh had come to Arlan with a new case, so early in the morning.

The theft which Reyansh was so concerned with was the third case in the month. And the Commissioner had personally asked Reyansh to handle the case because the case had to be dealt with diplomacy and tact. The most important reason being that the victims, despite being the richest people in Sthapan, had not come forward with any complaint to the police, regarding the theft.

DCP Reyansh was usually very competent in solving cases like these. But right now, Reyansh had tried to think up of ideas and had failed. Which was why, Reyansh approached Arlan Karnik. For some time, the DCP considered involving the Handlers in the case, but Reyansh decided to talk to Arlan first.

Arlan was still not forthcoming with any explanations, which was why Reyansh told Arlan about the Handlers.

"I think an Elemental could be responsible for these thefts, Arlan," Reyansh said taking a deep breath.

Arlan was generally very good at telling his face how to react, which was why Reyansh did not know just how much Reyansh's comment had terrified Arlan. But Arlan's heart was beating real hard and Arlan wanted to completely drop the topic. Arlan never wanted to discuss the Handlers – not with this man. Not now, not ever.

"Let us just be reasonable, Rey," Arlan said hoping that Reyansh did not see that his smile was forced. "Because nowadays it is actually becoming fashionable to blame the Elementals for almost any crime in the city," Arlan continued.

There was a knock in door to his office as Arlan stopped talking and the door to his office opened.

An involuntary smile lit up Arlan's face as he saw Kira Lorn, come inside the room. Kira's curly hair and gray stormy eyes, looked perfect in her oval face, as she looked surprised to see Reyansh in Arlan's office.

"Morning, Reyansh!" Kira said, as a warm smile lit up her face watching the DCP.

Arlan was feeling a little weird and after a few seconds, Arlan was actually horrified to realize that he, Arlan Karnik, was jealous.

And this realization nearly mortified Arlan.

But Arlan just could not help himself. Every time he was within visible distance of Kira, Arlan felt a weird tap-tap in his heart and an impossibly silly smile lit up his face.

And that just depressed Arlan further.

Because Arlan had told himself a hundred times that Kira was beyond him and that he could never tell her about himself. And with something like his secret, hanging around his neck, Arlan honestly did not expect Kira to accept him. But with all this, Arlan's heart just refused to listen to him and acted up every time, he saw Kira.

"Look Arlan," Reyansh said as he looked like he had already made up his mind to call the Handlers on this one. "This is the third theft in the past two months," Arlan saw Kira study Reyansh very seriously, as Reyansh continued his monologue. "These thefts have been meticulously planned. The thieves entered the houses of these rich people, pretending to be police officers. They accused the persons of dealing with contraband goods and when the people panicked, the thieves made off with all the cash in the safe of the people." Reyansh shook his head. "That is all ok. What I cannot accept is why none of the people would come forward and file a police complaint. These people are the filthy rich of Sthapan. Hell, one of the industrialist who was robbed, is a personal friend of the Commissioner. Why would none of them even file a police complaint?" Reyansh demanded from Arlan.

Arlan was about to open his mouth, when Kira spoke suddenly. "If none of the robbed victims filed a complaint, how did the cops know about it?" she asked and Arlan saw a strange expression on her face.

Reyansh smiled shaking his head. "As I have already told you Kira, these victims are very rich people. The people working for them start gossiping and the news passed on and eventually the news made its way to the cops.

"Can you act without the complaint from the parties?" Kira asked immediately.

Reyansh watched Kira slightly curiously. "We don't need to do that, Kira," Reyansh said with a knowing grin on his face. "The very fact that there was no complaint could mean that these were not natural circumstances. So we just need to call in the Handlers."

Kira watched Reyansh and said nothing and looked like she was badly shocked and was thinking of something.

"Drag the Handlers into this, all you would have is a solid ground to prove that you are an ass." Arlan said with a sudden smile, as he looked unimaginably proud of himself.

Arlan pushed the file towards Reyansh, as he had his "case-closed" look. Both Kira and Reyansh looked surprised at Arlan. "And just for the record, Rey, if I were you, I would forget this case and bother about real criminals." Arlan was already getting up, as he speaking and he walked towards his office door.

"Wait!" Reyansh said looking annoyed as Kira was looking slightly surprised and worried. "You cannot walk out like that." Reyansh whined.

"Oh I can!" Arlan told Reyansh, nodding his head fervently. "I run this office and I have some very important responsibilities first thing in the morning," Arlan said in the same serious tone.

Kira was looking like she was struggling with her face expressions, as Reyansh watched Kira and then Arlan slightly curiously.

"Reva, I need a cup of coffee, Please!" Arlan hollered from the door of his office, as he spotted his sweet and plump manager sitting in her cubicle just outside his own office.

"Get it yourself," Revathi Sone, Arlan's classmate in night-college and subsequent employee, said, rolling her eyes. "I run your office, mister. And I did not join your office to fetch you coffee," she said.

"You can leave it there in the pantry. I will pick it up!" Arlan said trying to look very pathetic and all that he managed to do was look more stupid than necessary. But then Arlan did not know that he looked stupid and even if he did, Arlan was not too bothered about it. Because according to Arlan, Revathi's coffee was worth it and it was something that only the really fortunate people in the world could have. Revathi claimed that she brewed the dicoction, out of some secret recipe which her mother had taught her.

Arlan had tried learning the thing so many times and failed all the times and in the end Arlan had reached one inevitable conclusion – Revathi's coffee was always Revathi's coffee.

Arlan ignored the two people inside his room as he walked towards Revathi. Revathi gave Arlan a smug grin as Arlan continued to give her a pathetic look. "Please! I had to live for a week without this," Arlan said.

Laughing, Revathi pushed her chair back, as she picked up her newspaper which was lying in her desk as she was walking towards the pantry, in the far side of their office.

Arlan followed her, looking unimaginably happy.

And as Arlan navigated through the office, even without meaning to, he was noticing the people in his office. Ganesh was not in his post – which either meant that the man was on leave again, or that Ganesh was on a case. The second thing, Arlan was sure was not good news at all. Ganesh was a plodder and focused so much on the details that Ganesh never seemed to get the full picture right.

Gayatri was just entering the office and judging from her annoyed face she looked like she had had another fight with her husband.

Arlan sighed, because Arlan really did not want to hear that story for the n+1th time.

Revathi's hands were moving swiftly as she was pouring out the coffee powder in the filter. After making sure that Revathi was not paying any attention to him, Arlan turned to the other cupboard beside him, as he pulled the chocolate energy bar from there and pocketed it, still making sure that Revathi did not see him.

Because if Revathi knew, Arlan knew that she was going to keep yelling at him for the whole day, about how Arlan was destroying his teeth, eating so many chocolates. And Arlan honestly felt that he could pass one day without having that conversation with Revathi. Arlan turned hurriedly, watching Revathi who had almost finished with the coffee.

And that was when the fresh aroma of coffee from the pantry hit Arlan hard, making him almost dizzy and exhilarated at the same time.

"Here you go!" Revathi said with a smile as Arlan breathed in the fresh coffee and Arlan realized that when he worked on night cases or went to other cities, he really missed this.

And then Revathi's face pouted.

Arlan sighed as he realized that the chocolate bar was innocently peeking out of his shirt pocket.

"I am going to throw this away," Revathi said taking the coffee towards the sink.

Arlan blanched as he reached Revathi with his long strides and pulled the coffee from Revathi's hands and kept it on the other side of the table, least anything happen to that divine drink.

"The Gods of Coffee would poke your eyes or do something like that, if you throw away good coffee." Arlan said in a flabbergasted tone.

Revathi said something which honestly Arlan could not follow and judging from Revathi's expression, Arlan was more than sure that he should be glad that he could not follow it. Knowing what Revathi had said was going to do absolutely nothing useful, other than increase his already rich vocabulary of words which never made it to any known dictionary.

"You should not eat so many chocolates, you ass," Revathi fumed.

"I like chocolates." Arlan said proudly, taking care to stay away from Revathi. Revathi looked demure and dressed docilely and all that, but she packed a real mean punch, which she used liberally, especially with him.

This time, Arlan did follow what Revathi was cussing as she angrily watched him, sipping her own coffee.

Deciding that it was prudent to finish his coffee before something bad happened to it, Arlan picked up his own coffee.

"When are you going to get married?" Revathi demanded, as Arlan was sitting on the pantry table with the coffee cup in his hands.

Arlan blinked for a few seconds. The question took a few seconds for him to understand because it was something that he really had not expected. "How did we reach this point in our conversation? We were not even talking," Arlan said frowning and shaking his head trying to clear his head, wondering whether they were talking about this and he had dozed off.

"Well, somebody's got to talk about that." Revathi snapped "And you don't seem to be doing it, so I thought I would bring it up. And the sooner you marry, the sooner I am relieved from making coffee for you," Revathi said finally.

Arlan breathed noisily through his mouth, sighing. "Point Number one, Revathi Sone, you married Parikh Sone and broke my heart." Arlan grinned, as Revathi looked at Arlan with slight mirth. "Who else am I going to find here to marry poor Arlan Karnik?" Arlan demanded, spreading his hands around pointing the entire office.

Revathi pretended to retch. "Seriously, Arlan, you can do better," She said heavily. "And now I am not so sure I want to know point number two."

"Well, you did start the topic." Arlan said looking at Revathi with a wicked smile. "In the unlikely event, that some girl actually likes me and marries me, I am not going to bring my wife to office, Reva." Arlan said in a deadpan voice.

"Rest assured, you are going to be making coffee for me, in office for the rest of my life." Arlan said in a tone which might have announced the end of the world.

"About that," Revathi said, as she watched Arlan's office nodding towards it, "....seems good and smart as you. Should be ok for you," Revathi said with all knowing smirk.

Arlan blanched as he realized that Revathi knew. He did not exactly hope to keep it a secret from Revathi. But still, Arlan wished, Revathi was not so good at reading him. And Arlan was more worried about exactly how many people in the office she had passed on that gossip to.

"I am not marrying Reyansh. I am really not into that kind of thing." Arlan declared in a solemn voice, trying not to show Revathi that he was actually blushing. "And he is not all that smart." Arlan added subsequently.

It was Revathi's turn to blanch as she hit Arlan on the arm, almost angry. "Ass!" she scolded him. "I am talking about the girl, in your office." Revathi said looking disgusted.

"Probably, she cannot make coffee." Arlan said, trying to look worried. And that was when Arlan realized that he knew very little about Kira. He knew that she used to work in the neighbouring city of Nirwalk and that she was very smart and that a security agency there vouched for her. Other than that, Arlan only knew what he observed while working with her, which was pitifully less.

"You don't know that," Revathi said looking at Arlan annoyed.

"What are you reading?" Arlan asked he came forward to read the article that Revathi was reading in the newspaper.

"That is not how you change the topic, when someone is talking about something important," Revathi said rolling her eyes.

"I will learn all the other ways of changing topics later on. Drop this topic," Arlan said fervently. "What happened to these Elementals?" Arlan asked worried as he watched the picture of two people being handcuffed by the Handlers.

"Yesterday, at night," Revathi said sighing. "These two Elementals were found near the beach. They were on the run and did not remember anything about themselves." Revathi looked at Arlan looking shocked. "It seems one of the Elementals tried to Mind Attack the Handlers themselves," Revathi said. "Horrible freaks!" Revathi muttered. Arlan pretended he did not hear it but he was getting depressed, as the coffee in his hands suddenly seemed uninviting, almost chocking him.

Revathi watched Arlan angrily. "These Elementals are horrible, Arlan. I have heard that some Elementals can read other people's minds," Revathi said almost shuddering. "Our mind is our own. People who do these things cannot be normal, Arlan. They...."

"They didn't ask for this, Revathi." Arlan said. "In fact I have heard that in some cases, the Government is trying to make normal people into Elementals...." Arlan continued.

"LIES!" Revathi yelled, her eyes flashing with anger, interrupting Arlan. "No one can make Elementals," Revathi said angrily. "These Elementals are mistakes of nature. Such people need to be kept behind bars for the rest of their lives," Revathi finished still looking furiously angry.

"Revathi," Arlan said watching Revathi, holding her shoulders, a small smile on his face. He had gotten really good at faking this smile for Revathi. So much so, that she could now no longer tell whether his smile was genuine or fake. "Relax," Arlan said gently.

"I am sorry," Revathi said as her plump cheeks flushed red, as she watched Arlan, a little embarrassed. "I didn't mean to take it out on you. Got just a little carried away," Revathi said as she placed the coffee cup on the edge of the table, as she turned to the sink on the other side of the pantry.

The coffee cup fell down and was about to be shattered on the floor, as Arlan stared at it waving his hands quietly. The coffee cup went up the table and rested itself inside the table as Revathi turned to watch Arlan.

"Ok, Loverboy!" Revathi said watching Arlan with a genuine smile. "Let us see whether today can knock some sense into you and you finally decide to talk to Kira about yourself," Revathi said as the two of them walked away from the pantry car with the unbroken coffee cup, lying on the pantry table.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hidden Lies

It was raining. I distinctly remembered it.

"Siddarth!"

I turned as I heard my name.

Shilpa was walking towards me with a hesitant smile on her face.

"Thanks for the notes," she told me handing my book back.

I nodded taking my book back and said nothing more.

My hostel room was barely a kilometer walk from my class, but I was feeling dejected.

Looking at the downpour, I realized that no matter how much I tried, I was going to get drenched. Not that I had anything against the rain in particular. Just that I was sure that my notes would be wet by the time I reached my room.

I saw Shilpa ahead of me looking out at the rain.. her hair and her dark eyes... They always cast a magical spell on me.

Not Shilpa. God, Shilpa was dumb. Way too dumb for me to put up with her. Shilpa's hair and eyes – they reminded me of someone. And for the life of me, I cannot remember who it reminds me of.

But whoever it reminds me – probably a memory from another life time – the eyes were special. There were some drunk nights when I found myself thinking of being in the embrace of a lovely woman with sparkling dark eyes.

Those were the days, I woke up with my usual nightmare of being stabbed in the heart.

So, this is all I am –

An Engineer who will have his Masters degree in two months time. I just cannot believe that I have actually finished my under graduation in the same college five years back. I remember almost nothing of it. Vague memories...and someone with a lot of hair...

Which leads to the second fact about me. I am someone with an overactive imagination.

Naturally, I am an overachiever in college and someone whom other students avoid like a plague.

The other students...well, let us not go there. We never see eye to eye. Me being what I am and they being what they are.

Most of them do not even remember me. Which is exactly how I like it to be. Trust me, staying alone and far away from that mad group of "students" is a far better deal. The only exception to that rule is Shilpa. She sometimes asks me questions – stupid ones, I might add. But then I tolerate her. And I honestly have no idea why.

It was thinking all this, that I stepped into the rain.

Probably, I heard some snickers behind me. But it died down soon enough.

My classmates learnt it the hard way to never mess up with me. I may be a nerd, but still I really do not like it when people point it out to me. And I definitely made that jerk in class realize exactly how much I don't like being pointed out that I was a nerd.

As I walked in the rain, I realized that being in the rain is actually a pleasant thing. Drip...drip....drip...The water sloshing all around me. It is actually fun hearing to it. My floaters were getting wet. If I did not think about the fact that my room is going to be a mess when I reach it, it might be fun actually.

Naturally, I was thinking about it.

That was when I felt it. Someone was looking at me. Specifically me.

I mean, I am not one of those people who is "self-aware" or whatever. But right now, I knew I was being watched.

I turned around sharply and other than my boring classmates, I actually saw no one. There was absolutely no reason, why any of them would be watching me. In fact, they were not. They all were looking miserably at the rain, just waiting for it to pass. There was all the more reason for them to completely ignore me. Something was irritating them even more than me.

Finally, I just managed to see my campus room, when I felt movement behind me.

I turned and I blinked. And still blinked again. I mean, I am not one of those brigade who blinks and stares and does all those weird things that generally people do in books. I am a proud student of science and hardly anything surprises me. Everything I can see, I can explain.

But this, was impossible.

The woman who was walking up to me, had long plaited hair and she was tall. The thing was I definitely cannot explain how she appeared so suddenly in my line of sight. I definitely did not see her a few seconds back.

The most unsurprising part in the entire thing was that she looked very angry at me. More than angry. That was a pretty normal reaction, as far as I am concerned. People who are around me, eventually get around to having that expression which the woman had in her face.

The thing was she looked dangerous. Like she was going to kill me, if I did something wrong – that kind of dangerous.

And believe me, in my life, those kind of people are not rare – they are just non-existent.

People do get annoyed with me a lot. They may have even dreamt of killing me, because I am so overly smart and all that.

But despite all that, no one has physically tried any of their homicidal tendencies on me – other than of course, the woman in my nightmares.

Anyway, back to reality, the look of the woman suggested that she wanted to make my nightmare, real. For the life of me, I could not understand why. I do not even know her – I don't normally hack into people's email accounts on a whim. Not anymore. I used to do it before. But now, that became boring. So that was probably not the reason the chick before me was so furious.

And that was when I noticed the dagger in her belt.

Well, for starters, I don't remember seeing daggers this close to me. Agreed, I do dream a lot about daggers, but then you can blame my overactive imagination for that too.

I admit it, I am freakish about the whole weapons thing. I never get close to weapons of any kind. Especially, since even without all that, I manage to hurt myself a lot.

No, that was also not what I found strange about her. The dagger...there was a part of me, telling me that I knew that dagger.

Behind her were two burly men – the kinds which really scared nerds like me. But even without the two men, by the side, the woman looked pretty scary.

"We are doing this again, Time Warrior!" She fumed angrily at me.

Her look got a lot worse and she was honestly looking at me like I was a bug to be squashed. For one incongruent minute, I realized that in the unlikely event, Sulphuric acid ever developed a conscious and saw me staring at it, through the other side of the test tube, this was exactly how it was going to feel.

After the initial terror rolled over me, I turned and there was a part of me wondering which cool dude got the benefit of being addressed as "Time Warrior" by this chick. I had to admit it, it sounded cool and goofy at the same time. And from her mouth, it even sounded slightly terrifying.

What took the cake was that she stopped right in front of me. Her brown eyes looked angrily at me. "We know that you are in a hiatus, after your last mission." She told me looking very serious. "But I had no choice. The Dark Star minions have attacked the City of Techno again."

I blinked some more. I realized that this was one of those rare occasions, when the individual words made sense, but together it gave me no cohesive meaning. Actually, it gave absolutely no meaning. And I was beginning to have a headache. A small headache.

And her hand was hovering over the dagger which bothered me a lot.

"The memory implant works well. He is looking like an idiot at me!" She fumed angrily and this time she was talking to the man on her right.

"Are you talking about me?" I demanded as I ignored the headache.

I may be a nerd. I may not have a six pack like those two jerks beside her. But I had my pride. Ok, I know that dialogues like those got you killed very painfully. But still, I had my pride. A beautiful woman with brown eyes and long plaited hair and two bodyguards could not get away with insulting me for no apparent reason. To be honest, if she had a reason for insulting me, I would have kept my mouth shut – she and the two guys were that scary.

"Of course, we are talking about you, mister!" She snapped angrily at me. "I don't see anyone else other than the four of us, here. Teleporting here to this exact location when you were not surrounded by the others, was really tough" She nearly chewed out the words. "And I really do not have time to waste. With Dark Star loose in the city, General Varayana wants you as soon as possible."

"OMG!" I said weakly, swallowing painfully. It was very painful, because despite the fact that she was a beautiful girl, I hated to break it to her that she had escaped from a mental asylum. Nothing else could explain the gibberish I was hearing. And for the first time in my life, I hated to be the bearer of bad news. Something told me, the woman did not take well to bad news and the bearers of the bad news.

"Do you know the name of your attending doctor?" I asked feebly, praying that the dagger she had was not real. "I can call him and have you transported back to your cell."

She snarled angrily and the two men behind her came forward.

If I had seen this in the movies, I would have been actually impressed. Watching in for real, was frankly more even more scarier than my nightmare.

That was when in a move so fast, the two men turned me and pushed me hard against the wall.

My scream was cut in my throat and frankly, the only important thing I wanted to tell the woman was that there was absolutely no point in kidnapping me. My net worth, even including the scholarship fees was no more than fifty thousand rupees. It really was not worth....

I gasped as something hot pricked me in the neck.

And the last thing I remembered was wanting to tell the woman that she as an idiot. There was no point in what she was trying to do....Then the darkness claimed me as I fell unceremoniously on the two men.

*********

I woke up suddenly and I wondered why Kira was looking so angrily at me.

And my head was... I clutched my head, stifling back a groan as I saw Karan and Thark beside her.

My initial nausea went back a notch, when the last memory came crashing in my head

"I wanted out!" I said hoarsely trying to sit up. "You and your stupid city of Techno – I am done with that crap!" I hissed at Kira angrily.

She had no business dragging me back into this stupid mess, especially since the last time.

Because after the last time that I had saved their stupid city, I just could not do it anymore.

Having my heart broken was actually the easiest part of the entire thing. I really missed was the normalcy of a boring college life with no one trying to kill me. And I had specifically asked out. General Varayana did not like it. But he really knew that he could not force me. Not if I did not want it. Did I mention I had my heart broken? God, that life really infuriated me.

"At least, he remembers everything," Kira said looking angrily at me, breathing noisily through her nose, as he looked at Karan. "This is the first time, we have undone the memory implant on any human, after putting them on a hiatus."

"Take me back home, Kira!" I told Kira angrily, not listening to anything she had said. God, it hurt. It hurt so badly. I could still see Tara's beautiful hair and her intense dark eyes. There was a time when those eyes meant the world to me. Meant everything to me.

Which was why Tara's betrayal hurt me so much. She had just left me and joined that crazy group of lunatics – Dark Star.

I had no answers of why she would do such a thing. I really thought she loved me. And the more I thought about it, the more insane it drove me. So I just wanted to forget it. I wanted to forget it all. That was why, I even had the experimental memory implant put in my brain. I wanted out and I wanted to remember absolutely no part of my life as the "Time Warrior" - Other than the fancy name, it offered me nothing. Nothing good at all.

They thought I'd forget. But I remembered. Everything.

Tara's eyes and the dagger through my heart....Both seemed equally sharp and equally heart wrenching. And I hated it from the bottom of my heart.

And now these idiots had just undone my implant.

That was when Kira spoke. "Tara and few members of the Dark Star have escaped from the penal colony," she said pulling out a beautifully carved dagger, as she handed it to me. "And Tara left a message for you. Specifically for you."

Thursday, March 30, 2017

In the Dead of the Night - Part 3 of 3



The first five minutes of their walk was completely silent. Each lost in their own thoughts. The night was silent. Eerily silent. And Karan had no difficulty imagining that somewhere in this night was a drug peddlar who was being hunted by the cops and they were probably very close to the place that he was standing. 

She stopped Karan suddenly and strained to hear something. At first Karan heard nothing. Then he heard a faint rat-a-tat and looked around worried. 

"Not this side," she said pointing him left. "They are not yet here. And I will take you through another route. It is longer, but I think it will be safer."

Karan said nothing as he just followed her. And the woman never faltered. She walked through narrow lanes and picked out roads which Karan could not even see in the dark night. But the woman knew this place. And she was here to help him. As Karan followed her, he just made a realization which just shocked him – he trusted this woman – implicitly.

"Please do not get me the wrong way," Karan told her finally. "How did you get like this?" 

Kiara looked at Karan for a long second and Karan saw the strange expression the one which she had been having since he had given his coat to Chaitra. 

Kiara shrugged, shaking her head. "It is a boring sob story. And I don't do sob stories well." She said in a gruff voice. 

"Please." Karan said quietly. 

"Nothing much to talk. Never knew my father. Mother abandoned us. Had to take care of my family. Was not very well educated." Kiara sighed shaking her head. "This was practically the only option open to me."

Karan said nothing as they walked in silence for the next two minutes. 

"Don't you have anything that you have ever wanted?" Karan asked. The words were almost torn out of his mouth. Because the way she had spoken, it was obvious that she was not looking for sympathy. She was not even feeling sorry for herself. 

Kiara looked at Karan with a frown. "I do everything to live, mister. What more could I want?"

Karan was feeling so strange and surreal that he honestly could not make sense of her answer. 

"So what is your deal?" She asked him finally, when the silence between the two of them was getting too loud to even bear.

"Lost my company tonight." Karan said in a hoarse voice, finally. "My rival – he said I made some bad judgments about the company investments. The other directors supported him. So long story short, he had me ousted from my own company."

"I am guessing that is bad," Kiara said after a few minutes. "So that is why you kept walking and you were lost here?" 

Karan nodded. His misadventures here did not change anything. He still was a man without a job as of now. The company that he had started five years back investing everything in....was taken away from him and he was now reduced to nothing. 

"You could always restart," Kiara said in a musing tone.

Karan blinked. "What?" he asked her faintly.

"Make another company." She told Karan looking annoyed.

Karan shook his head nearly snapping, at the woman for her suggestion, "It takes years to rebuild a company. Not to mention money. Plenty of it! I do not have that kind of money."

"Well, you hardly look like a man who has started off with a silver spoon in your mouth. Those are the men who bitch all the time about the things that they lost," Kiara said in a sneering tone. "But you are a man who fights. You have seen the ups and downs of life. You are down now. So get back up. Start again. And this time put the people you trust around you." Kiara nearly grinned. 

Karan sighed to himself as he saw a faint light come up from the road ahead and saw a vehicle pass through in the perpendicular road. Karan realized that she had brought him to the main road. 

The woman nodded at Karan pointing at the road. "I guess this is where you go your way."

Karan pulled the wallet and took all the remaining money and gave it to her. "Thank you." It seemed like a cheap word. But Karan did not have any other oratory skills to convey what he was feeling at that time. 

The woman laughed and gave him back a single note from the wad that he had handed over. "You will need that to get to your home." was all she said as she walked back into the darkness of the street behind her.

Karan stayed there for some time and wished he could call her and tell her something. But Karan did not know why he would want to call her or even what he could tell her. And a good two minutes later, he could not even make out her outlines in the darkness of the street. But Karan knew she was there. Somewhere there.

"Going home?" A red eyed tired driver came up to Karan slowly in the main road. 

Karan looked at the taxi driver who was obviously struggling to keep awake and looked at the note and gave it to the man. "I just want to go home. And keep the change." 

**********

Five years later

"You started this company when you were ousted from your previous company – the one that you managed to buy out in a year of starting the new company. At that time, you were thrown out from your previous company, by your own board members because they had absolutely no faith in you. That was when you started Kiara and Co, Mr. Mathur." The TV talk show asked curiously. "What gave you that kind of strength?"

Karan was blinking from the harsh TV lights shining on him on the talk show for the best entrepreneurs in the country. He was feeling grateful that he had not worn his suit and shirt for the talk show. But that was hardly any surprise. Karan had not worn those showy and classy things for a really long time. In fact, he almost did not own anything like that anymore.

But Karan was not thinking any of those things. He was thinking about the host's questions. Karan was unsure about how to answer her question. He still could not believe that it had been five years back. To Karan, the memory of that night was something which never faded.

The host looked at his hesitation and cleared her throat. "We also know that it was your anonymous contribution which kickstarted the campaign which you have for underprivileged children."

Karan was about to deny it, when he stopped himself. In his world, it was not possible to keep something like this a secret. Probably, he should not try to either. 

He smiled at the host and said nothing as she looked a little expectedly at Karan, "Well, Mr. Mathur?" She asked finally.

"In the dead of night, when I had nothing to hold onto, I had someone to look after me. She did not have what I had in my life and still she taught me what I had forgotten in my life. And I was lucky, I saw her. The worst part was that I never saw her after that day – no matter how much I searched. It almost seemed like she told me what I had to know and then disappeared." Karan said looking unbearably sad. "I started Kiara and Co, because that was what she taught me. That I could always restart. That was the reason, I started this fund too. I had been lucky, she helped me. It seemed too cheap to say thank you for what she did to me. The fund seemed the least I could do for her."