Thursday, June 29, 2017

A chance meeting

He could not believe it. Five years. It had been five years since he had seen her lovely dark sparkling eyes, her flowing hair which just waved about like it had life of its own, her luscious lips....
"Huh....?"
He was mortified to find that this was the best he could even summon up as he tried to cover up for the shock that he was feeling as seeing Karunya again.
"Aman?" She looked confused. "What are you doing here?"
That was the first time, Aman realized that she was not expecting to meet him here either. But then, why would she? They were in the most expensive five star hotel in the city and both were here....
Looking at you.
It took all of Aman's will power to understand what she was saying and three more seconds to articulate himself.
"There is a meeting here." Aman said finally. "And I came to attend it."
"The Unitec Deal – you are the other party?" Karunya demanded looking incredulous.
"I am buying their company. I need three of the technologies that the company has developed for a flat screen panel. And their devices are more efficient in some respects." Aman said a little angrily. A part of him did wonder why he was explaining all this to her.
"You are the owner of AK Technologies?" She asked faintly.
"Yes." Aman said irritably. The meeting was to start in ten minutes and he was here.
"Fine," Karunya nodded. "I will sell the company. Talk over the details of the takeover with my people. I will ask them to help you so that the takeover is smooth."
Aman blinked.
"You are the owner of Unitec?"
It took embarrassing ten seconds for Aman to actually make sense of Karunya's sentence.
"I am technically the owner." She sighed. "After dad's death, I have been trying to settle his assets. Unitec is his company."
"And you would just sell it to me?" Aman demanded wondering what he had misread in this sentence.
"I am a hotelier, Aman." Karunya said looking weirdly at him. "I can definitely not manage my father's electronic company well. I am not even equipped for it. You evidently know what you are doing. So I think it is right for the takeover."
"Hotel.?" Somehow that was the only part of Karunya's sentence which Aman did remember.
"Yeah!" Karunya gave him a small smile. "You are standing in it."
Aman blinked again. He looked again and saw the lavish surroundings and realized a little slowly that now that he thought about it, everything in the place had her touch – a richness with a cosy home feel – the decor mixed the old and the new and it was beautiful making almost anyone at home there...
"Ma'am" a man in a formal suit came up from behind nodding at Karunya. "We need to..." The man looked at Aman. "Hello Mr. Aman Chetan."
Aman nodded at the man.
"Look at your new boss, Ravi." Karunya said nodding at the man.
Ravi looked surprised at Karunya and then at Aman. "You decided to..."
"Yes." Karunya nodded as they entered the room. Karunya looked at Aman. "I am hopeful that the takeover would be smooth both for my people and you."
Ravi looked shocked and he really could not articulate himself as he walked ahead.
********
"This calls for a celebration."
She had looked remarkably cool during the entire meeting. She had even convinced her board members on why the takeover was for the best. Most of the Board Members had agreed and the agreement had even been signed.
She had done more than half of his work for him. Aman was actually expecting someone hardboiled idiot who would refuse to part with the company.
He had done his homework. He knew about the company. But Aman just did not understand who was the daughter who was looking for a buyer of her father's company. Somehow, that simple fact he had missed.
They were now alone in the bar at the hotel and the dimly lighted surroundings with the gloved waiters was making the place look posh... almost beautiful.
She poured his drinks and handed it to him.
"Why did you leave?"
Aman was mortified. Horribly. He had come here for negotiating a deal and all through he could not even concentrate on it. Not one bit. Suddenly it did not even matter to him that the takeover had been so smooth. Something else was burning in his head. But he honestly did not expect that he would ask the question.
Her dark eyes studied him slowly. For some strange reason Aman felt uncovered. - like she was seeing through him.
"We had something." Aman said softly. Not that he had started. He did not know how to stop. "It could have been something. Something special. And you just walked away telling me it was over." Aman shook his head. "You did not give me any answers. Nothing." Aman studied her eyes again which were still expressionless. "You walked away. Why?"
"I saw no future for us." She said slowly. "There was nothing for me to think in that."
Every word was a blow and he was shocked. Numb.
"And I meant what I said then. We cannot keep each other happy." Karunya looked at Aman with a smile. "I let you have my father's company, because I knew you cared about it. You wanted to have the company for a specific reason. And I knew that you would develop it and make good use of it. That is what you are. Ambitious and I would not be wrong in saying that you can be very cutthroat when needed."
"That does not..." Aman started.
"You are ambitious. And I want to build my hotel. My hotel is already on its way up. And I am going to make it the best. You should have known it long ago that neither of us have the time to invest in other people in general. Our ambitions would not let us do anything else.. And besides, what do you want me do?" Karunya asked.
She did not wait for his answer as she continued. "Marry you and try to keep up with you while you were running your company?" She shook her head. "That is not me, either."
Karunya looked at Aman slowly. "You pick a woman who will love you and your ambitions. Not a woman like me. I need to do something myself. Not for someone else."

Karunya nodded slowly. "I stand by what I say. We cannot keep each other happy."

Friday, June 23, 2017

Totally Clichéd

It was a pretty normal morning which was why I was slightly angry. It was a special morning and this was the best that Nature could do for me - since morning, the clouds had been threatening to break out anytime. But through the entire bus journey, the sun had peaked out. Now, there was nothing but an indecisive climate as if Nature herself had not decided what she was going to do today.

Telling myself to ignore the weather, I walked out of the bus as my heart was beating real hard.

I pulled up the bag closer and looked at the huge board in front of me.

S.R.L. College of Science and Technology.

This was it. I was standing outside the college of my dreams. Two years of studying and hard work and staying awake for insane hours and this was where I wanted to do. God, I had even tolerated English and managed to scrap through in that hideous subject.

Just to get inside this college. Be accepted for what I was – a geek and a proud one at that.

I was already tweaking with the rubber band, battery and the pencil in my hand which I been fiddling in the bus to come here. And for once I had no idea what I had created.

It looked like a catapult but then it seemed slightly weird. Or probably, the damned thing was going to blow up at my face.

That is a pretty normal thing in my life, in case you did not know.

Anyway, back to the present, I stepped into the college and looked around savouring in all the sights and sounds and new things and almost immediately, I spotted the first wrong thing. Well not exactly wrong. But it was not my area of expertise – there were four to five giggling girls near to one side. There were a group of boys at the farther end – both the groups felt wrong to me.

Because neither the girls nor the boys looked like they had a clue of what they were supposed to be here. Which, for some reason just annoyed me to no end.

One of the girls there actually smiled a little hesitatingly at me as she was loosely carrying a thick Applied Chemistry book in her hand. Even that annoyed me because that book was a masterpiece not a cheap novel.

"First year?" She asked as she boldly came up to me.

I didn't know it then, but Kritika was very nervous at that point of time. And Kritika talked a lot when she was nervous. More than her normal lot, and over the years that had become endearing. But still, facts were facts.

"No, I am going to pass out." I snapped. God, the girl was dumb. I had the exact same book in my hand as I had been reading it on the way here.

That was when she saw the book and looked at me annoyed.

"Smart ass." She huffed and turned around.

I sighed as the last piece of survival instinct kicked in.

God, I was not doing the same thing again. I was through all the "being shunned" and "being the smartest guy" and the "to be avoided like a plague guy" as had always happened in school. I could not repeat all that in college. I had promised myself that this time around I was going to enjoy everything.

"Hi, I am Siddharth." I told her trying to smile as I walked towards her. She is not smart, but she is bold. That must count for something. "And I really am sorry." I said struggling to get the words out and not gag.

Seriously, apologizing was not half as cool as the people got it.

"Hi Siddharth," she said looking furiously at me as the other people were watching us with slight annoyance.

I honestly did not know what the problem of the others really was. They could talk with this girl if they wanted. I was not going to stop them.

A second later I wished they had talked to the girl and taken her away from here.

"Your catapult has the rubber band in the wrong place." She said looking at me with something close to contempt. "You pull that and the pencil is going to shoot at your face."

I blinked. I studied the thing in my hand and I blinked again.

I was mortified and pretty much traumatized for life. I got a catapult wrong. That was impossible. Just impossible. Considering I had been making the things since I was a kid.

The girl was walking towards the classroom as she looked at me with a disdainful look.

Sorry, I mouthed at her and I was sincere about it. One of the first things that someone like me knows is to apologize for mistakes and restart. Because that is the thing with science. Theories go wrong and then we rebuilt. The apologizing and the restarting was difficult. But it had to be done.

I was stumped when I saw her give a glorious smile at me.

Ten years later, I still remember Kriti's smile that day. Nothing changed it. Her marriage to me just accentuated it and brought it out more often. But that smile that she gave me that day was special.

It was such a perfect feeling as I was feeling ridiculously happy, which was when the rain started pouring.

I am very sure if I had spent some time watching some movie, I would have seen this scene more gloriously taken.

But to me this was perfect – the rains and through the rain drops I was watching my love.

And no, it was obviously not Kriti.

It was the college before me – my first love, which really made a man out of me and the reason I met the second love in my life.

Friday, June 16, 2017

An Encounter

The gun shot ended it all. The two week running around – keeping the man under observation, collecting the proof against the man... All of it. A gun shot ended it all. 
As Arlan studied the man, he realized that the man could not be imprisoned. The asshole was too well connected. He was going to be out of prison faster than the time it had taken for Arlan to throw him in.
But these decisions no longer bothered Inspector Arlan Karnik.
Though this time the kill was not his.
Arlan peered through the terrace of the building and saw the fallen body of the gangster and a shocked crowd of horrified spectators. He was very impressed with the shot. At the distance of thirty feet from the terrace of the building, the shot had been near perfect. It was a shot to the heart and had left zero room for error. Death had practically been instantaneous. 
Though Arlan genuinely believed that death was too good for the bastard. It was quick and efficient - not something that the guy even remotely deserved. But then Arlan was old in this game. In this life of checks and balances, Arlan knew that people could not win it all. At least the man was dead. He could hurt no one else.
Arlan passed a practiced eye over the spectators and even in the faint light of the evening sun, he could see that they were not in immediate danger. None of the spectators looked smart enough to know the location of the shooter using the trajectory of the shot. Hell, none of the people were even smart enough to keep away from the location where there was a shooting,
Arlan turned his attention to his colleague as she was putting away her gun in the holster.
"I am fine." Kira Vardhan said in a high pitched shrill voice, which told Arlan that whatever else, Kira was not fine. Her hands were slightly trembling as she caught it in a tight fist, which further buttressed his opinion of the situation.
But truth be told, Arlan would have been badly shocked if things had been really fine.
"I still have nightmares about my first encounter." Arlan said in a light tone. He said it in a light tone but his eyes were anything but light. It was almost blazing.
"S..Sir?" Kira asked swallowing painfully.
"The guy I first killed was a rapist, a killer and an extortionist." Arlan said in the same tone. "Despite that, even now I have nightmares when I think that I was the one who killed him."
"Aren't we doing it wrong, sir?" Kira asked and her voice was shaking badly. "That man should be in a court of law. That is what was taught to us." She was panting by the end of the sentence.
"And what do you think would happen after that?" Arlan asked in a mirthless voice.
Kira looked at Arlan as he continued. "We spend all our time and resources in finding him, finding proof against him and put him in prison and after that what will happen?"
Kira looked away.
"Prisons cannot hold men like that." Arlan said thumbing out of the window. "It would just be a joke. Thats all."
"It feels wrong." She said in hoarse voice.
"I am really glad you think that way," Arlan said with a tight smile. "That means that you can steal know what is right and wrong and decide appropriately. And with all that your hand did not falter when you took the shot."
"I..." Kira gave up. She could not articulate herself. Not anymore.
"Don't think of it that right or wrong." Arlan said heavily. He was glad for this talk. He was on the receiving end of this conversation and that conversation had made him what he was, right now. "That asshole is a gangster. He killed another man in cold blood because the man refused to sell him his property. We have proof of it." Arlan said nodding. "We have even looked further and have known that this was not the first time the man has done this. Don't you think this thug's victim needs someone to avenge his death?" Arlan swallowed painfully. "The victim had a family – people who loved and doted on him. And now they have no one."
Kira studied her trembling hands and looked like she just could not say anything.
"We don't kill for right or wrong. We don't kill for ideals. We just kill so that better people live. That is all."

Friday, June 9, 2017

Lawyers, Chemists and Proposals



"Ok! Now I have a very interesting puzzle for you!" Fifteen year old Kritik's dark eyes were looking very mischievous as they were studying the fifteen year old Omi, who was sitting before him with a very smug smile on her face.

"Just don't make it too stupid." Omi said as pocketed Kritik's watch.

The two of them as usual, had been playing an intense game of chess and Kritik had bet his watch on the outcome of the game.

Kritik saw his watch in her pocket and sighed and then suddenly Kritik grinned to himself.

"We up the stakes, Omi." he told her, struggling not to smile.

Omi relaxed snuggling herself back on the chair, watching Kritik, trying not to laugh. "And what am I playing for?" Omi asked.

"My watch." Kritik said immediately.

"It is my watch, you ass," Omi said as she stuck her tongue out at Kritik.

"If you answer this question correctly," Kritik frowned for a few seconds. "This weekend movie is on me." He said finally.

Omi grinned. Kritik knew exactly what he was letting himself into. Omi looked thin but she really ate like a horse. Junk food kept before her just vanished before anyone could even blink.

"And if you give the wrong answer," Kritik continued as Omi snorted. "I get my watch back."

"Deal." Omi said grinning.

"In my puzzle, one is equal to five, two is equal to ten, three is equal to fifteen." Kritik told Omi and stopped deliberately.

Omi sighed. "What a shocker!" She said dryly. "I am guessing four is equal to twenty." she said watching Kritik with a dry smile.

Kritik looked at Omi very surprised. "How did you know that?" He asked chuckling as Omi groaned.

"Sometimes you are just beyond me, Tik." she said slumping her head on the table, looking bored. This puzzle showed all the signs of stupidity. As if she did not know five time tables. What the hell was Kritik playing at? Omi wondered, as she studied him again.

"My question is fairly simple!" Kritik said unable to stop grinning.

"If you ask me what is five equal to, I will spank you." Omi said in a threatening tone, putting her legs on the table, looking impossibly devilish.

"What is five equal to?" Kritik asked innocently, struggling not to laugh.

"That is the question?" Omi asked puzzled.

For the first time, Kritik actually looked annoyed. "The bet is on and I have asked my question."

Omi just could not ignore the fact that Kritik's eyes were looking very mischievous and she knew her best friend well enough to know what that meant. But Omi could honestly figure out nothing extraordinary about the puzzle. It was fairly straightforward. At least that it what it seemed like to her.

"Are you going to stare at me stupidly for some more time or are you going to answer?" Kritik asked, his eyes looking more and more amused.

Omi frowned replaying the puzzle in her head. If one was five, two was ten, three was fifteen, four was twenty than five was.... Omi watched Kritik. "Twenty five."

Kritik grinned pulling the watch from Omi's pocket in a fluid motion.

"HEY!" Omi yelled, and in a swift judo move, she pushed Kritik hard on the ground and placed her knee on his chest.

Kritik was completely expecting it, and still did nothing to stop Omi, as he fell hard on the floor.

"You gave me the wrong answer." Kritik said trying not to grin. "I get my watch back."

Omi was watching Kritik slightly confused.

And then was a sound of a door being shut, as both of them turned to see Kritik's father, looking sternly at the two of them. And Omi realized that it really was not a good thing that Kritik's father had to find them like this. Suddenly, almost everything seemed awkward, as Omi pushed herself back and Kritik got up suddenly. It almost looked like someone had switched off a light in Kritik's face and he looked glum.

"Father!" Kritik said almost with a frigid silence as Omi felt sorry for him.

Omi had tried explaining but honestly Kritik silently shook his head. She did not even know what she was supposed to say. Hell, she did not even know, why the man was looking so angrily at her.

And so, under Kritik's father's angry gaze, Omi had left her best friend's house, feeling very unhappy that Kritik was all alone facing his father.

Omi was struggling to breathe properly, as the memory of that day twelve years back hit her hard.

That was the last day, she had seen Kritik.

Until now.

"Kritik?" Omi asked unable to believe what she was seeing. For a huge second she was sure that Kritik was going to disappear from before her if she tried to touch him.

Kritik grinned clutching her hand. "I am still here. And I want the answer to my puzzle."

Omi frowned. "What are you talking about Tik? And what happened to you?"

For the biggest second in her life, Omi forgot that she was in her law office and that Kritik had come to see her as a client. In fact she did not even remember that she was in her office.

"I am a researcher working in Biotec. I am a biochemist." Kritik told her.

Omi frowned. But she had learnt not to interrupt clients with their story. The story told their own way gave far too many answers.

"I earn reasonably well enough to boast about." Kritik said with the same impish smile. "My father..." Kritik paused for a few minutes and then shook his head. "He is not alive and besides, we have not seen eye to eye for a long time."

Omi frowned. "This is a lawyer's office, Tik. And none of what you say means anything to a lawyer."

"I didn't come here to see a lawyer." Kritik said grinning. "I came here because that was the only way I could meet you. You spend close to sixteen hours in the office. The only times you go home is to sleep."

Omi frowned some more. "And you know that because....?" For a huge second, she stopped talking because she was staring at his watch.

His shirt and his pant told her that the "reasonably well off" was actually a polite way of saying that Kritik was rich. Omi was more than sure that Kritik was probably drowning in money – if that was possible. The only thing which was wrong in the entire image, was the watch.

It was nicked and seemed to held to be together by cellotapes. Omi was not even sure that it could tell the time anymore. And Omi was more than sure that it was the same watch...The same one which....

"We up the stakes." Kritik said grinning at her expression. He removed his watch and put it on the table.

"What am I playing for?" The words were torn out of her mouth before she could stop herself. But then Omi got a grip of herself. "I am a busy woman, Tik." She said, but she just could not stop looking at the watch on the table.

"Please lady." Kritik said. Though he had said the magic word, he really did not sound like he was pleading – far from it.

"What am I playing for?" Omi asked taking a deep breath.

"To let me come into your life. To give me a chance to show that I have the characteristics to keep you as happy as I can, for the rest of my life."

Gone was the hesitation in his face.

Omi realized that Kritik was serious. As serious as he had been about anything in his life.

"I have spent my teenage being bullied, Omi. And in those times, I was friends with a girl who was the bravest one I knew. She taught me how to live life. At that time I was too afraid to know that I loved her deeply. I thought I was her friend and let my father bully me into believing that she would not like to spend time with me." Kritik shook his head. "Then when I came to live on my own, I realized what she meant to me. Now, I have many women falling for me and ready to love me. But then I realized that I needed that girl. For what she had done for me, I needed to keep her happy for the rest of my life. I hunted her up. I was thrilled on knowing that she was a  lawyer. She was single and for whatever strange reason she never married. I want a chance now to prove that I can keep her happy."

"Interesting." Omi said. She wondered why she was smiling. It seemed stupid. But it seemed slightly involuntary and that knowledge bothered Omi – but she did not know why.

"What is the puzzle?" Omi asked. A part of her wondered whether she was really a lunatic. This was her life. And she was betting it on a puzzle – a game. But then Omi knew that it was not really that simple. Kritik was not here with a game. He was here for the woman he loved. He was here just to know whether the woman was interested in him too.

"My watch." Kritik said immediately.

"It is my watch, you ass," Omi said.

Kritik shook his head. "You gave me a wrong answer then so no, the watch is mine."

Omi frowned as Kritik grinned again. "Then it is the same puzzle lady. If one is equal to five, two is equal to ten, three is equal to fifteen, four is equal to twenty, then what is five equal to?"

"My answer stands." Omi said crossly. "You were wrong then and you are lying now."

"Twenty five?" Kritik asked struggling not to laugh.

Omi sighed. "Yes."

Kritik grinned. "That is the second time you have given me the wrong answer lady. And I am very serious. I intend to make sure you keep up your end of the bargain this time."

Omi looked at Kritik for a long time.

"Prove to me why I am wrong and we can start from lunch today." She challenged him. Omi was more than sure that she was right. It annoyed her that Kritik did not understand that.

"I said one is equal to five, so what will five be equal to?"

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Shot in the Dark

 "Take the shot!"

The taunting tone, the madness in the eyes of the criminal facing him, was driving Reyansh nearly insane with rage.

This marked the end of the six month chase for Reyansh. This very point.

Finally, Reyansh was the one with the gun and the insufferable excuse of a human being, was standing before him – right where Reyansh wanted him.

But Reyansh was filled with fear. And strangely, the criminal was not afraid. Not in the least.

"I am standing right in front of you. Unarmed. You have me exactly where you wanted. Now take the shot. End it." The smug arrogant eyes of the criminal looked at Reyansh haughtily.

Reyansh could see the handgun in his hands slip because of the sweat. His vision was blurring and his heart was beating hard.

What the criminal said was right. Reyansh had been chasing this man for close to six months now. It had taken nearly all of Reyansh's ingenuity to flush the man out and get him in the open. And right now, the man was in front of him, but Reyansh could feel his heart thudding painfully. His hands were shaking and it looked like his will power had given away.

Through his thudding heart, Reyansh finally realized that he just could not bring himself to end it. Though he had looked forward to this very end. The demons which haunted him for the six months, the wails of the victims which had driven him nearly insane... all could be ended with one shot.

And Reyansh could not take it.

"It takes a lot to snuff out a life, Rey." The man continued with a vicious grim smile and he looked almost relaxed. "And you have been found lacking. I can see that fear in your eyes. That doubt. I have never had it. And you know that I have killed people." The man shrugged and he nearly grinned at Reyansh. "I did it because I wanted to do it. And you cannot do it, because you don't have the balls for it. That noble sense of doing the right thing – that haunts you, does it not? That is your failing."

Reyansh's hands were trembling even worse as he wondered whether he was going to drop the gun. He could hardly even catch it anymore.

Because the man's words were unfortunately hurting him far worse than anything else that the man had done till now. And with all this, the man was not yet done tormenting Reyansh.

"You are afraid that if you pull the trigger, you will become like me...."

"SHUT UP!" Reyansh screamed. "I will never become like you."

"That is exactly what you keep telling yourself." The man shrugged as his eyes glittered with wild amusement. "But you know, don't you? You know that you have that darkness inside you. Unleash it with my death, Rey. Just pull the trigger."

My death.

Those were the words which echoed in Reyansh's head, as his hands trembled worse. Because the echoing words brought another powerful memory – another death.

"If you want my death to mean something, do something with your life. Something that will make people look at you with pride. Something that will make people look up to you."

Those were the last words of his father.

His father, whom Reyansh had dotted on – The man who had taught him everything.

My death.

Pride.

Death.

Pride.

The pain in his head increased almost fourfold as Reyansh fired even without meaning to.

With a glazed look, he watched the slightly shocked face of the criminal before him.

Because the bullet missed the criminal.

The criminal smiled at Reyansh and he thought that he had won the battle of wits with the poor cop. The criminal was so sure he could now disarm the cop and escape.

"I want you to live."

Reyansh said and he said it in a surprisingly strong tone. He found strength in what his father had told him and he could feel the madness and doubt in his mind dissolve. As if it never existed.

"I want you to see all the lives that you wanted to destroy live happy lives and I want you to waste away in prison with that thought." Reyansh told the criminal.

"KILL ME!" The criminal screamed at Reyansh. "If you let me live, I will come back and haunt you. And then I will destroy everyone you care about and then I will kill you."

Reyansh put his gun down and walked towards the criminal turning him around.

"You will try." Reyansh said and he felt bold enough to smile. It was a calm smile – and it showed a man in control of himself.

"But I don't think you will succeed. You just lost. And you will always lose." The cop eyed the criminal waiting for him to make any sudden moves.

But this time, Reyansh knew that he was ready for it. Because he had made his choice and he was willing to follow it through to the end. No matter what the end.

"You don't scare me anymore. And I know that I am not like you." Reyansh said as he cuffed the screaming criminal.

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.