Avanika knew something was wrong the second she spied his name flash on the screen. It was tempting to ignore the call, but instincts told her she should at least listen to what he has to say.
“Yes?” Her voice was even.
“I need your help, Avni. Come immediately, please.”
“The name is Avanika. What happened?” Judging the desperation in his tone, it was something on the lines she specialized.
“Sorry… Avanika. Please help me. There is a dead body in my house.”
“Whose?” She asked without a change in her tone. She should have been surprised, but she wasn’t.
“I don’t know. I mean, I do. But…”
“But what, Ransh?” She snapped. Despite the situation, Avanika was in no mood to forget and forgive his past mistakes.
He audibly swallowed, “Her face is familiar. I think I saw her two days ago.” Then he added. “At the club.”
Avanika suppressed a curse. It was hardly surprising. He wasn’t the killer type, but anybody could kill when pushed into a corner. And, Ransh was mercurial enough to become a prime suspect.
“Call the police.” She ordered.
“They’ll arrest me! Avanika, I didn’t do anything. Trust me, please. I wasn’t home all night.” He panicked.
Pinching the bridge of her nose, Avanika counted until five. “Ransh, you will need to call the police. Now.”
She picked up the keys from her table and walked to the door. “I’m on my way. If you don’t call them, I’ll have to do it myself.”
After a pause, he mumbled he would do it.
“Good. Don’t touch anything until I come.”
Ransh sighed into the phone, relieved. “Avanika, I’m glad you chose your profession over me.”
She snorted. Becoming a P.I was her only ambition. After years of persistence, Avanika was successful.
She inserted the ignition key of her car and headed towards Ransh’s flat. With her thoughts running faster than the car, images of those years of childhood flashed before her eyes. The small quarter in the Government colony with those pots of lilies and marigold in the veranda where she used to spend hours was her favourite corner.
Her father, Abhinav Roy, an honest and hardworking clerk, was unable to fulfill all the materialistic and physical demands of his wife. Sneha Roy was a doting mother, but when it came to choosing between her dreams and motherhood, she chose the former. Avanika had often seen Madhavrao Rajpuria, the liquor baron of the city, visiting their home in absence of her father. Showered with candies and toys she was pushed out in the veranda for hours.
“You are free to go Sneha but alone. Avanika shall stay with me. I am sure you don’t want her presence in the golden future that you have chosen for yourself.”
Sneha had hugged her for one last time before closing the door behind her forever. Avanika was too young to understand the reason for their separation.
The images stopped as soon as she reached the gate of the society where Ransh resided. Her crisp uniform was enough for the guards to let her inside without making an entry in the register. Her eyes caught sight of a police jeep and few constables.
“So they are already here.” She muttered to herself and headed towards the elevator.
The door was slightly ajar. She could see Ransh sitting on the sofa sobbing hard. Dressed in a crumpled formal black shirt and chinos with his hair out of place, he smelled of alcohol. His appearance made it clear that he hadn’t been home last night.
“Avni…Ah Avanika, Thank God you are here. They have come to arrest me. I haven’t done anything.” Ransh was inconsolable.
“Calm down. Let me see what it is all about.” She went inside the bedroom.
There was a pool of blood near the bed and a young woman; in her late twenties, lay dead on the floor. The woman had a piece of lingerie on her body and her lipstick was smeared suggesting that she had a struggle before getting killed. She had been shot from a point-blank range, one shot in the stomach and another on the forehead.
Two police officers were inspecting the room and the body while another was taking notes.
“Hey, Avanika! How come you are here?” Saurabh waved at her.
She responded with a smile.
“Ah, yes…I came to know about this murder and thought of dropping by.” She lied.
“The girl’s brother filed an FIR this morning stating that Mr. Ransh Rajpuria had abducted his sister. She was last seen with Ransh at the parking of the Blue Pepper Club. When we arrived to interrogate Ransh, she had already been murdered. We are taking Ransh into custody for further investigation.”
Avanika knew that Ransh was in a soup now.
“Avanika please I don’t want to go to jail. I don’t want it all over again. Please save me.” Ransh came inside the room shrieking. He looked every bit unstable.
Saurabh turned towards Avanika with a puzzled look.
“Sir, look what we found in the drawers.” A constable said.
He produced some syringes, tiny sachets of cocaine and some pills.
“So he has been into this too…substance abuse?” Saurabh wondered.
Ransh kept protesting as he was pushed inside the police jeep. Looking at all this from a distance, Avanika sensed a familiar feeling of helplessness gripping her.
“Let’s move, the body is being sent for post mortem.” Saurabh led her to the car.
She followed him quietly.
As they neared the car, Saurabh held her hand and drew her closer. A soft, deep kiss of his lips and all the stress evaporated which she felt in Ransh’s flat. Saurabh trusted her and that was everything for her now.
It had been two days with Ransh languishing in jail. He was getting unstable, violent because of his addiction and urges to snort cocaine. Bruised and hungry, he was tied up in the corner of the smelly cell. Hours later, he was looking blankly at the wall, muttering to himself.
Avanika knew that he needed help and she was the only one who could help him. In the past three years of relationship with Saurabh, Avanika had skilfully managed to keep the secret of her dysfunctional family. But now he was very much a part of it, helping her to get out of it. Those images started coming back to her again.
Her father was a brave man to let his wife go. But the society wasn’t kind towards him. People made a mockery of him as a man who failed to satisfy his wife, that he was not a man enough. The web of depression trapped him. With deteriorating health, one day he left Avanika all alone at the doorstep of Sneha. He had been staying in the asylum since then.
She started growing up under the mercy of her stepfather. Ransh was three years older to Avanika and he blamed Sneha for the pain that his mother had gone through. Devika, Ransh’s mother had committed suicide the day Sneha arrived in the Rajpuria villa.
“Why are you here? Do you want to kill me like your mother killed mine?” Thirteen-year-old Ransh had all the bitterness for Avanika.
“She didn’t. Your father did. He was the reason for the misery that my father had undergone.”
“Then go away…but you won’t. You need money just like your mother.”
In between all the hatred, they grew up together, slowly accepting each other as part of the family. Ransh remained indifferent towards Sneha, until the night when in a fit of rage he pushed her down the balcony. She died on the spot. Avanika was the eye witness who told everything to the police.
Ransh spent ten nights in a juvenile remand home before Madahvrao could brush the case under the carpet. He came to know the gory world of crime and helplessness there. After coming back to home, Madahvrao made arrangements for Ransh in Dehradoon Hostel. As for Avanika she was sent to an orphanage, where her expenses were borne by her stepfather. She felt suffocated under the mercy shown by him and vowed to be a P.I to fight crime and injustice.
“Avanika, can you come to the police station right now?” Saurabh’s phone call brought her back to the present.
At the police station, Saurabh showed her the post mortem report. It was time to talk with Ransh.
Saurabh left them alone in the dingy investigating room.
“So you did it again Ransh. Tell me how did all this happen?” Avanika lighted a cigarette. Ransh wiped his tongue over his lips as Avanika handed him the lighted cigarette. She was doubtful whether he will speak.
“I didn’t do it.” He muttered.
“Years ago, your father said that you didn’t do it and you got away. Not this time brother.” She looked into his dazed eyes.
“I don’t even know her. I met her at the club. Things got heated up and we ended up at my flat. I don’t even remember her name.” He puffed out a ring of smoke.
“Like father, bloody womanizer.”Avanika gave him a tight slap.
“And what about your mother…bloody gold digger?”
“You should rot here Ransh. You killed her and your rich dad made your escape. I was the one who got punished. I became an orphan and lived my life all alone, while you were having a gig at your father’s expense.
She started to move towards the door.
“If you hated my father so much, why did you come for the papers of your mother’s property when baba was dying?”
“She wasn’t the last woman in his life. He exploited her and then many more like her. And for all that she gave him leaving me and my father behind, he had to pay.” Avanika came nearer to him.
“Ransh you are in deep trouble. You have murder charges on you along with the drug abuse case. Every evidence is against you. I hope you remember the good old days of remand home.” She chuckled.
He shivered at the thought. Those dark nights, with the unwanted fingers touching him, feeling him and forcing upon him…he died every minute inside the remand home.
“I was lonely too Avanika.” Ransh sobbed.
“I can take you out from this shit Ransh, only if you do what I say,” Avanika whispered in his ears.
“Look at those mango trees baba. I used to sit under them whenever I missed you.” Avanika pointed her finger outside the window. A frail Abhinav blinked his moist eyes and tried to get up from his wheelchair. Saurabh held him as they walked along. Avanika looked at them with content.
It had not been possible without Saurabh and Radhika. Her partner in crime since the orphanage days, Radhika made her way to theatres. She had seen Avanika cry night after night for her baba.
“One day we will get him back Avni.” She would hug her tightly.
When Madhavrao and Ransh denied handing over the property of her mother, she pledged to take it back from them along with interest.
Radhika met Ransh at the club. Seducing him was not tough as he was already high on drugs. She was a brilliant actress. She made him a slave with her moves and offered him another enticing night by staying back. Ransh happily agreed and went away for work. Meanwhile, Avanika asked a peddler to offer him drugs at a cheap rate and he fell for the trap. He was overdosed and brought some more substance with him. As he entered the bedroom, he found Radhika sprawled in a pool of blood and the only person he thought who could bail him out of the situation was Avanika as she was a P.I. He called her and the ball landed in Avanika’s court.
Saurabh arranged for the drama of arrest and custody which cornered Ransh.
Ransh knew he had no other option. He signed away all the property papers in the name of Avanika and her father and came out of the prison as a free man. He never knew that he was accused of a murder that never took place.
“See you in the evening. Bring some sweets too.” Avanika’s phone beeped with a message from Radhika.
Avanika gazed smilingly at faces of children as her father distributed books and clothes along with the sweets in the orphan house.
Saurabh winked at her.
“You are not a bad actor.” Anavika giggled in his arms.
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