Hello, everyone! How is your week going? If you missed the Introduction to Disconnect: A Novel , the PrologueChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8, Chapter 9, or Chapter 10, do check them out before reading Chapter 11. Disconnect is fiction, comprised of a prologue, an epilogue, and 13 chapters. Every week, on every Thursday, a chapter will be posted on the blog, non-stop, until the entire book is up. Chapter 11 of Disconnect, my second novel, begins right below! It’s probably the shortest chapter of the book! Let me know in the comments what you think! As always, Happy Reading! And thank you! Love you all!

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CHAPTER 11 – 8 P.M.

SR. INSPECTOR KAPADIA assembles the automatic rifle from all its separate components and directs its angle downwards, onto the busy streets.

This particular area of Malabar Hill is a typical assortment of residential buildings and minor businesses, but none of them are squat. The roof-top of a five storey building is a far cry from a conducive nest for sharpshooting, but every other building of the area is taller. This position will have to serve, though it will be criminally difficult to act from here. His marksmanship needs to step up today.

Peering into the scope, which looks so steeply downwards that he has to square his shoulders in an uneasy position, he spots Dr. Shah. The bereaved father paces in front of the Malabar Hill Post Office that has closed business for the day. He keeps to that small section of the footpath, strolling restlessly. It doesn’t matter to Kapadia that the doctor chose to take the law into his own hands, now that he is here to cover him. For both of them, push has come to shove, and there is no other place to be than here. Kapadia wishes he could be down on the streets close at hand for the doctor, in case he will need immediate help, but it is uncertain whether the kidnappers know Kapadia’s face. If he gets recognized as a member of the police force, then that will sabotage it all. So, his only choice is to take on the role of a sniper.

The only choice, he thinks.

Kapadia checks his watch. It is past the hour mark. The kidnappers are late. They should be here with the boy.

The heat of the day that has till now filled Kapadia’s body, fills his head too. Like a hunter, he is finally closing in on the prey. This is where it all comes to a head.

Inspector Kapadia is ready to close this case.

*

GAUTAM takes a measured look at each and every face that walks past him. He knows he is looking for a man, but even women aren’t spared from his searching gaze. He is looking for a tell on their faces that will give away their true motives and reveal themselves as the kidnappers. But people are in a hurry and they rush past him in a blur, not stopping even when they find him glaring, staring at them for too long.

He is here at the Post Office of Malabar Hill, having followed the orders he was given. He doesn’t know what is taking so long and how the exchange will take place with so many witnesses around.

Why haven’t the kidnappers showed up yet? he thinks irritably.

As he paces around the Post Office front, Gautam casts a look over his shoulder once, and turns back, a flash of green catching his eye after he does so. To be sure, he looks over his shoulder again, and his eyes widen.

Ravana has come.

The kidnapper in all white is standing across the street from Gautam, the person behind the mask maintaining his cool, composed position. Gautam looks side to side, wondering what is to be done. Shaan is nowhere to be seen. He steps off the footpath to cross, but with a raised hand, palm out, Ravana signals him to hold his position. Gautam stops mis-step obeys.

Minutes go by, with neither of the men moving an inch, while the world around them shuttles on and remains oblivious to them and their silent standoff.

Gautam wants this to end. The kidnapper is drawing out the exchange for no apparent reason. And there is still no sign of Shaan. As he contemplates another move to cross the road, Gautam loses sight of the green face. It gets swallowed up in the haze of moving pedestrians. He searches the streets wildly, but Ravana that disappeared right before his eyes.

Gautam swallows hard, a rock in his throat, and fears the chance to get back his little champ may have come and gone. Then, a voice dripping with contempt speaks into his ears.

“No sudden movements.”

Gautam wants to move, to know what is happening, and so makes a tentative shift, just as he feels something small push into his back.

He is at gunpoint.

The cold voice reprimands, “Don’t even think about it.”

“Where’s my son?” Gautam hisses. “You said he would be here.”

“All in due time. Now, very slowly and calmly, put the bag on the ground.”

Where is Shaan, goddammit?” All Gautam wants is a straight answer.

“I suggest you do as I say, if you want to see him again. Resistance will only make that more unlikely.”

Gautam bites his tongue, bites back his fury. Carefully, he stoops to lower the duffel bag and plants it on the footpath. When he comes back up, he looks down to watch a white sleeve lift it up the back next.

“Wait here and your son will come to you.”

No!” The kidnapper is making it impossible to not turn around. Every muscle in Gautm’s body is cramping, itching to move. He snaps, “The money for my son. That’s what you said! That was the deal we made!”

“It still is. I will keep up my end.” The kidnapper presses the gun deeper into Gautam’s back. “But I cannot be sure that you will. Once I confirm what I need is in this bag, the boy will come to you.”

It is in Gautam’s best interest to do as he is being told, but anyone in his shoes would not believe those words for one moment. The kidnapper’s is saying one thing, but the tone of his voice betrays him, conveying something completely different.

Liar, Gautam thinks.

He does it all in seconds: without warning, Gautam whirls around to face the kidnapper. With one powerful hand, he shoves the gun’s aim away from his stomach, and with the other hand he yanks down the mask covering the kidnapper’s face.

Gautam stares. He hasn’t the slightest idea who this man is. Bearded. Wrinkles around the eyes. Just as tall as he is. He looks a few years older than Gautam, but the kidnapper’s horrified expression makes him look too old.

Gautam keeps staring in confused silence for a long time. “Who are you?” he cries finally.

The uncovered face sniggers. “Your son’s killer.

Something hot and wild flares up inside Gautam, making him lose control for a moment. He can’t hold it back any longer, his body trembling like a volcanp about to erupt.

But…

Before Gautam can unleash his temper, the kidnapper takes advantage of Gautam’s momentary loss of control, which weakened Gautam only for a fraction of a moment. The kidnapper regains control of the gun in his right hand and repositions it.

All Gautam hears is a loud bang. As he crumples down, the street erupts in screams.

*

SR. INSPECTOR KAPADIA acted quickly.

His index finger has turned white now, squeezed tightly on the trigger of his rifle. But none of his bullets are hitting the swerving target. Instead, they pelt into the pavements and walls of the building opposite, burrowing holes into the cement.

It has taken a turn for the worst, with bullets raining down into the open streets.

The screaming is everywhere. Scared feet pound the pavements to escape gunfire. Nobody understands the threat, only that there is one. It only makes targeting the masked man more tough. He is winding through the chaos that is ruling the street, moving fluidly like water, pumping his arms and legs at an incredible rate.

The rifle is vibrating in the Inspector’s arms like a machine gun. He has no time to recover from each kickback of each shot.  His back aches from constantly having to adjust his poise. The scope is too slow to keep up with him.

Kapadia knows he needs just one hit. This one bullet must take before the kidnapper has vanished from view; the road ends in a bend, and the kidnapper has been running for it.

Only three feet before the kidnapper is due to disappear, Kapadia is successful. A bullet finally catches the kidnapper, knocking him off his feet, sending him rolling across the pavement. Kapadia is triumphant, but too foolishly assumes it to be a leg-shot. By the time he looks into the scope, he sees he has inflicted a mere flesh wound to the kidnapper’s shoulder.

And now it is too damn late to try again. The kidnapper quickly scrambles to his feet with the duffel bag and disappears out of view. Kapadia swears and smacks his thigh.

Dammit!

He redirects the scope back to the original scene on the Post Office front. The doctor is down on the ground, motionless, with not a soul daring enough to come to his aid.

*

GAUTAM feels for the gunshot wound in his torso. It aches. The buzzing and flashing of steady gunfire raining down is disorienting. Paralyzed with terror, he realizes he doesn’t have the ability to get back up on his feet.

*

ADIL hears his cell-phone ring from across the basement. He stops what he is doing and dashes to answer it.

“I-ismaeel bhai?”

“They cheated… bastards cheated us… brought a sniper…” It sounds like static is interrupting his guardian’s speech.

“W-what happened, Ismaeel b-bhia? Wh-where are you?”

“I’m shot,” his guardian groans, the breath crushed out of him. “I’ve taken the bullet out but… still hurts… the bleeding… won’t stop…”

“I can come to you…”

“No,” he shouts. “Stay where you are… kill the boy right now!”

“K-kill him?” Adil glances at the boy on the settee with wide eyes. The boy simply looks back with the exact same expression.

“Do it now, Adil. If I can’t… get back… the satisfaction of hearing… life leave his body. The gun … now… no time…”

Judging by the rush of wind and the white noise, Ismaeel bhai is running for his life. If he is on foot and being pursued, Adil may have a shot at his secret plan after all. And perhaps because of his predicament Ismaeel bhai does not know what he is talking about. Adil cannot possibly kill the boy, and surely not by himself; especially not when he is halfway through carrying out his own agenda.

What do I do? he wonders.

“Adil!”

“I’m here,” Adil says, marshaling his thoughts.

Adil removes the revolver that he stowed behind his belt and raises his arm, aiming above his head. The boy understands the meaning of this and covers his ears with hands that have only moments ago been untied.

“Now!” Ismaeel bhai roars.

Adil squeezes the trigger. His rigid shoulders absorb the powerful kickback, and he bucks under it. To his surprise, he pulls the trigger a second time, a shot he did not intend to make.

The bullets strike the ceiling with a bang, and a spray of powdered cement and dust rains down on him. But the sham seems to have worked well enough. Adil can swear he hears a disgusting satisfaction in his guardian’s next words.

“Allah!…. He’s dead!… Good, leave with the body… I’ll contact you…”

“When?” Adil says, throwing the revolver aside, repulsed by even having to hold such a tool of destruction.

“They’re after me… have to do something… I need to create a distraction… I’ll tell you where to bring… once… safe.”

When the line goes dead, Adil marks it as the last time he will ever have an interaction with Ismaeel bhai.

Adil will leave the man to his fate. His guardian cares for no one, is very misguided, and used Adil like a puppet. That man is no man, he thinks. Ismaeel bhai is lost and too far gone. He needs to stop, admit to his wrongdoings both past and present, and atone. This is not the right way meant for anyone. He is on a very lonely and terrifying path of self-destruction. No man gets to play judge, jury, and executioner. Only Allah gets to judge, and it is mankind’s job to show compassion and love.

Only Allah can help Ismaeel bhai now.

Adil stares down at his phone, and mulls over his newly-born feelings. But there is no doubt about them. Even They are subdued now. He is as confident as he has ever been. With more mettle than he has ever had, he swears to end what he started, in the right way.

He looks up from his phone, giving a genuine smile to the boy, the one he has been holding back and waiting to offer the entire day.

“Now what?” the boy asks him.

*

SHAAN lifts his legs so that Adil can untie the ropes that bind them, just like he untied Shaan’s hands.

“We have to leave,” Adil says. “The police will be here when someone reports the gunshots.”

Shaan did not know what to think when Adil began untying his hands and feeding him food and water. He still does not know what he thinks of Adil. This all could just be a trick, like when he took him away from that kind lady who was supposed to call his parents and help get him home. But right now, it is just the two of them. He has no one else to trust. Besides, the Big Bad Man said to kill Shaan now. But Adil didn’t.

For now, Adil is being a good friend, Shaan decides.

*

ASHNI gets distracted by a bed of sweet-smelling flowers. She stops to sniff them. The scent in the air is invigorating, but the gatekeeper told her that the park will be closing soon. She needs to make the most of her time. Saying goodbye to the flowers, continues on her quest, traipsing down the park path.

A golden retriever is up ahead, playing frisbee with a tall lady.

“Excuse me. I’ve lost my dog. Have you seen him running around? He’s this big, got black and gold hair all over his body, and his name is Bear.”

“No, honey, I’m sorry. I’ll keep an eye out for him, though.”

Ashni thanks the lady and carries on.

Not one of the twenty dog owners she has spoken to so far has seen Bear. That means he must not be here. But the dog-park is so completely overrun with all shapes and sizes and colours of canine beauty that she is sure she is not searching well enough. Perhaps she should be asking the dogs and not their humans. Maybe they have come across Bear and have had a word or two with him. He is here somewhere. She just has to be thorough.

The sun set a long time ago, and darkness stretches in every direction. The night lamps glow dimly as tries to walk in their insufficient lighting. She comes across another duo sitting under a tree.

“Excuse me, my dog is lost. His name is Bear and–”

“Haven’t seen him,” the mustached man blurts out. He is easy to scare, because the moment he notices Ashni has crept up on him, he picks up the bulldog that has him on a leash and scoots away. Ashni watches him scamper away.

What a strange man, she thinks. As if she were going to steal his dog.

Her feet have gathered so much dirt that her toes begin to itch. Taking a break, she sits on a bench to take off her slippers and massages her fingers into her aching soles. She has never walked so much in so little time in all her life. She should have brought some water, too. She is too parched.

Soon, when she feels up to it, she is back on her feet, and quicker still she starts to mosey around.

She discovers an enormous open area, a field of grass, and starts to clomp across it. There don’t seem to be any dogs and their human pets around here. It is almost closing time, after all, and they must have left for home, she realizes. But there is a lonely figure at the far end of this miniature field, almost hidden among the shadows and sparse shrubbery. She approaches him. This area, in fact, she realizes, is a good place for Bear’s colours to blend. He could be hiding here, so she starts calling out for him.

“Bear! Bear are you here?”

The man she is heading towards whips around at the sound of her voice. Ashni approaches him with small, tired steps to repeat her question one more time before she may lose hope of finding Bear by herself. If even this man can’t help her, she will have to go back home and tell her father the whole story.

Her chest aches at the thought of that.

“Excuse me,” she says up to the man, panting. “I’ve lost my dog. Have you seen–Ha!”

     Her hands jump to her mouth. Her heart stalls. Ashni loses herself in this person’s blood-soaked white clothes. But something more horrifying stares her in the face.

He is one of the monsters. With red eyes, sharp teeth, and a slimy green face.

“W-w-what?” she says. He said something to her, but she could not hear it; all she heard is her heart pounding in her ears.

“Don’t be scared,” the monster says calmly. “What’s your name?”

He keeps prompting her until, by a considerable effort of will, she stutters, “A-ashn-ni.”

“Ashni…” He sounds like he likes her name, likes how it tastes on his tongue. “Good…”

From his white trousers, the monster reveals a bloody hand, which is holding something dark and heavy, and he points it at her. When Ashni sees what it is, her legs wobble.

She reels away from the monster, but stumbles and falls down. Her hands and dress are filthy now, and her legs kick and thrash to push her away from the monster, but they don’t work hard enough. Numb, she trains her eyes on the blood-drenched green-faced monster, and the gun he is going to shoot her with.

The monster’s green, ghoulish face cocks sideways and she thinks she can hear his broken breathing. “Close your eyes,” he whispers calmly, leveling his gun. “This won’t hurt a bit.”

She can’t even bring herself to scream, because her throat is strangled in fear. All she can think about his her father. She wishes he were here. She needs help. Right now.

Please help, she begs in her mind.

And so help comes.

Something, an unidentifiable dark creature, leaps out of the bushes, startling Ashni. It bites the monster’s hand, the one that holds the gun, until the monster shrieks and the gun falls softly onto the grass. His mangled wrist spurts blood.

The battle between monster and creature takes to the ground. They lunge at each other, tumble over each other, roll under each other, and then one of them howls and the other quails in pain. Ashni, on her hands and knees, struggles to make sense of what is happening. She strains her eyes to watch as the two bodies tumble in and out of the shadows, squnting into the darkness.

A flash of blond replaces the terror in her heart with joy.

“Bear!”

Hope sparks. Stark excitement lights up in her eyes.

A growl rips from Bear as he gains leverage by twisting his limber body to straddle the monster in one fluid move, like his bones are made of rubber. He sinks his teeth into the monster’s neck, deeper and deeper and deeper. Thick blood sprays out, and its smell fills the air and feeds Bear’s ever-growing hunger. He howls again.

Bear launches off the green-faced monsterm and his opponent is too slow to react, let alone fight back. He can only crawl and flip onto his back, writhing in agony. The fallen gun is inches from his hands, but the monster’s body looks like it’s made of lead, too heavy for him to lift, even though he keeps trying.

As the monster’s movements grow weaker, Ashni’s dreams of Bear’s victory seem so close at hand she can almost taste it. The monster is riddled with holes. Her hero’s razor-sharp teeth and nails have gouged them out. So much blood spurts out of them that it makes him look like a fountain.

The monster is totally mauled, clawed, broken, and finished when Bear holds back, snapping and snarling by tracing a circle around him, scrutinizing his work, salivating at the prospect of taking yet another go at the monster. But all that the monster does is moan and jitter in the throes of its suffering.

Then, like air leaving a tire, all the life escapes the monster’s body, his chest deflating.

He doesn’t move after that.

“Bear you did it!” Ashni cheers. She pats her knees. “Here, Bear. Come here! You did it! You saved me!”

Bear sniffs at the dead monster one last time, and seems to be satisfied. Then, he shoots for Ashni. Soon he is nuzzling in her arms, licking her face, drying her tears, wagging his tail rapidly. Ashni kisses his long face over and over again, on his head, between his eyes, behind his ears.

She always dreamed of this moment, and now she is living it. She intends to buy him everything a dog of his caliber deserves. She may even bring home another dog to keep him company. Henceforth, whatever Bear wants, goes.

You are everything, she thinks.

“You’re the hero, Bear,” she crows into his pointy ears. “You killed the monster! You’re my hero.” She closes her eyes and touches noses with Bear, holding his face, thinking of her father.

You two are everything, she amends her earlier thought, smiling to herself.

It is too late when she opens her eyes again and sees the hunched figure of the monster standing behind Bear with the gun pointed at her dog.

A loud bang rattles Ashni’s bones, and Bear drops dead in her lap.

*

RAHUL shudders at the sound of the gunshot. It pierces the air, a deadly, horrific sound disturbing the peace and his train of thought. He begins to wonder if it was his imagination, because if not, that means a firearm was just discharged close by.

Is it possible? he wonders.

It is not until he hears people screaming distantly that he returns his moleskin pocketbook and pen to his pocket and gets up from his bench. He can see, further down the promenade, people running toward him. Only, they don’t stop. They rush past him, toward the park’s north gates. Many howling dogs and their owners flee in a frenzy too. And all of them looked terrified.

Rahul starts to run too.

The sound came from not very far away. In less than a minute, he reaches the deserted dog-park. It is too dark, none of the park’s yellow lamps have been installed here to light this area. He makes his way around the walking track, wondering and searching, until he thinks he hears someone sobbing.

Following the sound, he climbs across a small knoll of glass. It seems to stretch endlessly in the dark, ending somewhere at the far boundary of the park grounds. Halfway through the field, he is able to make out two silhouettes hidden behind sparse shrubbery.

There are two people here, one big and one small, one man and one girl, one standing and the other kneeling in the grass. The one who is standing is aiming a gun at the one who is kneeling.

Rahul doesn’t know what to think.

Grass crunches under his foot. With a start, the armed man notices Rahul approach. Rahul raises his hands above his head when the weapon is turned on him. A lump rises in his throat.

Out of the corner of his eye, Rahul sees that the smaller person, the girl, whose sobs led him here, is hugging a bunch of rags. Once his eyes adjust, on a more concentrated inspection, he realizes that bunch of rags is actually a dog.

“You killed him!” the girl cries furiously. “You killed Bear!”

“What’s going on here?” Rahul says to the man, who for some reason appears to be wearing a mask of Ravana, and then to the girl when he isn’t forthcoming, “Hey, are you hurt, love?

When neither of them seem willing, or able, to answer him, Rahul studies the gunman. It is a wonder that he is even able to stand. Every inch of tattered white cloth on his body is soaked and dripping with blood. The flesh on his forearm, abdomen, and shoulder is torn and shredded. It hangs in loose strings, like frayed cloth, dangling off his body. The gun in his hand wavers violently just like the loose flesh.

There is also a duffel bag Rahul did not notice before, on the ground, because it looks like part of the shrubbery itself.

“You need help,” Rahul starts. “Why don’t you put the gun–”

“Shut up!” the gunman snaps. But the girl is weeping louder than either of them are speaking, drowning them out.

“Let the girl go.”

“No!”

“Listen, you’ve got me. Let the girl go.” Rahul has to negotiate for the girl’s sake. It is the first and only clear thought that occurs to him in this inexplicable situation. “Hey, listen honey, you have to go.”

The girl refuses. Without her dog she is not going anywhere. She cannot leave Bear. Not in a million years. Rahul asks for her name.

She tells him.

“You have you listen to me, Ashni. Get up and go now. You have to go find your parents.” Rahul’s voice is tough and hard, insistent. “Go find them, anybody. Just please, don’t stay here. Go, Ashni.”

She looks at Rahul, then at the gunman, and her look for her dog’s killer is venomous. She whispers in the dead dog’s ear, promising to return for him. She will not forget him or what he did for her.

“Go!” Rahul commands one final time.

With not a look back, the little girl stands shakily and lumbers away, as quick as her unstable legs can take her. Her sobs fade in the distance as she disappears into the dark.

It is just the two of them now. A madman and his hostage.

The gunman moans.

“What?” Rahul asks.

The words are too unclear, his voice creaking and smothered under his mask and heavy breathing. “… your… name…”

“My name?” Rahul says, not following. “It’s Rahul. My name is Rahul.”

The gunman sniggers. “God closes one… and opens…”

Rahul doesn’t quite catch that. “What?” he inquires, but the gunan doesn’t repeat himself this time, simply smirking in malice.

This entire moment filters into Rahul’s mind like a hallucination one possibly has under the influence of drugs. He has embroiled himself into something he cannot begin to fathom: at gunpoint, with the gun in the hands of a deranged man who is giving every appearance of being inches from his demise.

Rahul should be filled with hot fear, it should be written large on his face, he should be praying for his life. But incredibly and irrationally, Rahul feels nothing. He simply cannot appreciate the gravity of his situation. It does not feel real. The only thing that seems normal in this moment is the fact that his heart is slamming madly against his chest, bursting its way out.

Rahul curses this damned city.

He had better tread carefully now.

“I can help,” Rahul says cautiously. “I can get you help.”

“But who… will help you?”

This time the gunman’s words are as clear as fraught with meaning.

The sound of the gunshot is different this time around, and perhaps because Rahul is at the source of it. He hears the blast as it tears through his eardrums, sees the muzzle flash of a white light as it blinds him, feels the pain in his chest burn through him, and watches as the gunman whips around and takes off.

The whole world starts to tilt.

*

GAUTAM finds it in himself and suddenly stands up.

Too suddenly, too quick, he thinks. Blood gushes and gives him a head-swimming sensation, white stars dancing in his eyes.

He is ripping off the Velcro straps of his Kevlar vest from under his dark jacket when the face of Inspector materializes out of the chaotic streets. His pulse quickens. Gautam yanks the red cap from his head, crushes it beyond recognition, discards it, and ploughs forward.

“That’s one of our vests,” Inspector Kapadia says, eyebrows drawn together. He looks Gautam over, incredulous. “So you’re not really shot?”

Gautam’s senses have deserted him. “Why are you here?!” He grabs the Inspector’s collar and yanks. He needs to exact revenge for this. “You killed my son. Why did you follow me! You’ve just killed my son!

Inspector Kapadia is as strong as Gauatm to shove him off. “I got a shot at him! I shot the masked man. He’s injured. We can’t let him get away.”

Gautam has a manic energy to him; he bares his teeth like an animal. He isn’t listening, seeing, or thinking clearly, purely driven by grief.

“Listen to me, Dr. Shah. We can still get your son back. You’ve not lost him yet. We have to follow the kidnapper.” He puts a glock into Gautam’s hands, despite the madness that has taken over into every fibre of his being. “This way, doctor. We can’t lose him.”

Gautam suppresses the urge to grab the Inspector by the neck. The fog in his mind thins as he stares at the gun he is holding. Clarity returns to him.

Gautam pushes his emotions aside long enough to realize the fight is not over. A level-headed calm settles in. There is no use wasting time with accusations. The Inspector is not his enemy, he is only trying to help.

Gautam agrees with a nod, and follows Inspector Kapadia as he leads the way, weaving through the affray. They follow a trail of blood on the road, left by the kidnapper’s shoulder wound. But suddenly, in the middle of the road, the trail disappears completely. After the last drop, there is nothing. At the three-way junction of Napean Sea Road neither of them knows what to do next.

“Which way did he go?” Gautam demands, looking around wildly.

Inspector Kapadia is trying to come up with an answer, speculating which of the two possible routes the masked man could have taken in his hurry to get away. Gautam looks on dazedly.

Then. A gunshot.

Gautam wrenches his head toward its direction. There is a third route they did not consider. Soon enough, hysterical people and howling dogs are vacating Priyadarshani Park in a stampede, spilling out the south gate.

Gautam and Inspector Kapadia know where to head now, and the Inspector pulls out a flashlight from his utility belt. But the mass exodus pouring out of the park makes it difficult to squeeze their way in, like fish trying to swim agasint the current.

When he hears a second gunshot, Gautam loses his mind.

*

RAHUL begins to compute all the different possibilities, all the different ways in which he would like to live his life. He has always wanted to go on a health kick, learn a new language, learn an instrument. Bungee jumping at least once still has to be ticked off his Bucket List. So does marrying the love of his life.

But when he can’t tell the difference between dream and reality, that is when is not himself anymore.

Something is not right, he thinks wonderously.

He lingers between sleep and wakefulness, as the world around him fades and reduces to shadows.

He tries to breathe, but he can’t tell if he is doing it or not. He

opens his eyes wide, wondering if he is looking at darkness or has lost his eye-sight. None of his limbs moves when he tries to shift them. He feels detached from his physical body, like an airy feeling of weightlessness is all he is made of.

Rahul is scared.

Suddenly, the image of a pretty young girl appears to him. She must be an angel who has come to help, put him out of his misery, explain to him what is happening. He begs her to rescue him, but he doesn’t hear his voice come out. Even if it did, it doesn’t look like she knows how to help. All the angel does is look down at him and cries.

Her tear looks as clear as a crystal. After gently rolling down her face, it falls and lands perfectly on his hand, making that spot tingle. He shivers, the delicious sensation spreading to his other parts, until his whole body, down to his very toes, is tingling with a current. He is so grateful for this feeling that he wants to thank the angel, but when he looks for her again, she is gone. She has disappeared.

Everything has disappeared. Now, there is nothing. No shadows, no weightlessness, no sensation, no angel.

It is just him. Alone, and waiting for an answer.

A second later, he realizes he has known the answer all along. When he understands, he accepts it.

It feels bitter and sweet, strange and familiar, upsetting and comforting.

*

ASHNI looks at the body of the animal and the body of the man as she squats between them. She is the reason they are dead, and they are the reason she is still alive; alive to mourn their sacrifice, alive to live another day, alive to remember what her heroes did for her. She couldn’t have left them. She had to come back for both of them.

Sniffling, she looks up at the beam of light that shines across her face.

*

SR. INSPECTOR KAPADIA and Dr. Shah arrive at a bewildering scene. A man in a red-soaked cotton shirt and summer trousers lies motionless on the ground. A few feet away the body of a dog lies still too. And between them a small girl sits in the grass, tears in her eyes. The Inspector’s hands shake. The beam of his flashlight trembles across the girl’s face. Slowly, she cranes her head up to them.

“What happened here?” the doctor says breathlessly.

“The…” the girl mumbles, barely audible. “…was… the monster…”

Kapadia checks the man. He appears to have sustained a gunshot wound to the chest. There is no breath in him. His pulse is absent and his pupils are unresponsive to light. His flesh has gone cold.

Kapadia reaches for his radio and orders for back-up and an ambulance to the dog-park section of Priyadarshani Park. He is dialing on his cell-phone next when Dr. Shah yanks his shoulder roughly.

Where is he?!” The doctor’s face is twisted in anger and red again.

Inspector Kapadia scoots closer to the weeping girl. “Shh, dont’ cry,” he telsl her, knowing what a feeble attempt it is to console her. “Tell me what you saw. Did you see who did this?”

The girl nods. “The monster… with the… green…”

Dr. Shah rushes to her side. “Where did he go?” He bends over the girl, clutching his knees. “Tell me where the monster went!”

The girl points in the direction she saw the monster flee with a heavy bag, after shooting her dog and this man, the latter of whom she doesn’t know. “He shot Bear,” she sniffs. “And then he killed this man.” She places a hand on the dead man’s wrist, where many of her tears are falling.

Dr. Shah asks the Inspector for his flashlight. Kapadia hands it over with a word of caution. “But you can’t go alone.”

The doctor says it’s their only choice. Inspector Kapadia must remain with the girl. The Inspector comes to the conclusion that he won’t be able to talk the doctor out of it.

“Be careful,” Kapadia say, knowing his words are falling on deaf ears. Someone as reckless as the doctor is right now doesn’t heed such warnings.

Determinedly, Dr. Shah races into the dark and disappears.

The Inspector turns to the girl, telling her to keep away from the dead bodies, because it is not good for her.

“His name is Rahul,” she says mildly, much to the Inspector’s building confusion. He cannot possibly wrap his mind around this sequence of events that are unfolding one after another. What in the world is going on? He wonders. Did the kidnapper shoot the man and dog to create a distraction so that he can get away? “The monster asked for our names. He wanted to shoot me… but then… Rahul told me to run…”

The girl obeys Kapadia and keeps her distance from the man, but she can’t seem to keep her hands off the dog, skimming its long muscular body. She keeps saying how much she loves him and owes him. Inspector Kapadia joins her beside the dog and begins to examine it. It is so heavy he has trouble turning over its limbs and torso. Something about this doesn’t add up.

“The monster,” he says, confirming the facts. “He shot this man? And your dog… Bear?”

The girl nods morosely.

Kapadia runs a hand over the animal’s body. Nothing but dry, smooth hair brushes against his fingers. The only strange thing he feels is a bump, but not on the dog’s body. The badge of the leather collar has been dented. He can’t see, so going by touch, he slips a hand around the dent, reaching against the dog’s neck, and his fingers slowly close around a warm pellet. Then he glances quizzically at the girl.

“No, he didn’t.”

*

GAUTAM realizes he is walking on damp grass, but he can tell it is not because of natural moisture, like dew. He points the flashlight down to see that the trail of blood that ended long before on the main road has sarted here again. And from the looks of it, the kidnapper, if it is indeed him Gautam is pursuing, is in dire need of assistance. Not the just grass, but even thickets and tree trunks are marked with red splatter, almost like the man has been so gravely injured that he is losing blood uncontrollably as it spurts out of him from all sides.

Gautam reaches the boundary of the park, with nothing but a ten-foot wall enclosing what remains of the recreational space. If the kidnapper wanted to escape, he has come the wrong way.

Then, it hits Gautam. Maybe is on the trail of a diversion.

He pauses, contemplating going back the way he came, when he realizes he might as well keep going; his search will soon come to an end. Another few yards and he will turn back at the wall.

The trail of blood splatter ends when grass gives way to mud, but in the mud: footprints. Gautam follows it until it leads him to an old wooden shed, like that of a groundskeeper. The door of it has been left open, banging against the doorframe with the force of the wind. Gautam edges the toe of his shoe against the door, and then kicks in it, toting the glock in his right hand. The door slams agasint the inside wall and stays open. Gautam shines a light inside the shed.

The first thing he sees is more footprints in the mud. In the rising beam of his flashlight, feet are illuminated first, then legs, then a body, and finally the face of a man who is inches from death.

The kidnapper is resting in a corner of the shed, against the abutting walls so he is sitting up. Next to him, on the ground, is the duffle-bag, on which lies his green mask and firearm. He coughs and spits to the side. A red blob hits the ground, and bubbles of blood fleck his colourless lips. His eyes rove in their sockets, spinning dizzily until they land on Gauntam.

“Where is my son?” Gautam demands.

The kidnapper croaks, “In hell.”

You son-of-a-bitch!

He laughs a mirthless laugh. “You were never getting him back.”

Gautam aims the glock the Inspector entrusted him with. “Tell me!”

You tell me, doctor,” the dying man grins, his teeth stained red. “How does it feel to finally lose? What did all your transgressions get you? You amass your wealth, you live in blasphemy, like the Hereafter is a joke.”

“Wh–”

“How will you save yourself when the Day of Judgment dawns upon us if you couldn’t even save your own son?”

The kidnapper says the words with such confidence, like he believes them, like they are the truth. But Gautam knows it in his bones that his little champ is not gone. He is still waiting for his papa to save him. There is no question of outliving his son. He took every measure to make sure he’d see his little champ again.

Gautam’s eyes, bloodshot from fatigue and sleeplessness, drill down into the devil incarnate–that mask he uses to hide behind couldn’t suit the kidnapper more. Through his boiling torment, Gautam sees nothing but a man seduced by the prospect of easy money. But he is losing. And he is going to take Gautam down with him. He is dying and Gautam will never get what he wants out of him.

His body quakes.

Gautam wants to beat at his chest. To go back in time and protect Shaan. To kill the ones responsible before any of this even began. He wants to correct so many things, but feels utterly powerless.

Gautam lowers the gun. Like a felled tree, he sinks to his knees. He wants the ground to open up in a gaping maw and swallow him whole to end his suffering.

What else can I do? He asks himself numbly.

Tell me,” he moans.

“Go on, shoot. You’d be doing me a favour.” The kidnapper snickers. Blood collects in a dark puddle, travelling away from his body, merging with the mud. “Do it! Kill me once and for all!”

Kill him.

Gautam can kill him, like he wants. He studies the gun he holds. He begins to walk the tipping point between sanity and madness when, suddenly, he starts to question himself. It would feel good to pull the trigger. It would make it the tiniest bit easier for his pain. But at that moment of hesitation, between taking a life and sparing it, Gautam knows what he really needs to do.

He has been listening to his heart and letting it control him thus far and because of it he is no closer to finding Shaan. Now, he needs to let his head dictate what happens henceforth.

He loosens his grip. The glock hits the ground.

And as it does, Gautam rises purposefully.

Get up,” he says, grabbing the kidnapper.

“Don’t!” The kidnapper reels away from Gautam, with the force of his entire body; force that is impossible. “I’ll be damned if I let you touch me, you filthy sinner… leave me to die… get off… get off me.”

Fortunately for Gautam, the man doesn’t struggle for long. He has been rendered too feeble. In a few seconds, he tires out and goes limp, passing out. Gautam pushes his fingers agasint the kidnapper’s neck; the man’s pulse is still moving, though barely.

This is the eleventh hour. Gautam has no choice but to carry the dying man.

*

DIPAK, Niloufer, and ACP Omkar are sitting around the dining table when they get the next phone-call. It is the ACP’s personal line, and he gets up to answer it, walking over to the windows, out of earshot. Dipak can only catch bits and pieces of the conversation, but the man expresses a multitude of emotions for the duration of it. By turns, he vents anger, confusion, fear, resentment, and disappointment.

Since the moment the ACP stepped foot into Dipak’s house, he has been nothing but unhelpful. He is constantly on some call or another, and none of people on the other end have the answers he wants. Consequently, he hasn’t been able to answer any of Dipak’s questions. He seems to be juggling quite a lot with truant subordinates and others who seem to have gone off the map. Dipak wonders how a man of his inefficiency and incompetence could possibly be of any help in finding his daughter when a covert operation he has been trying to helm from here, an off-sight location, has fallen apart.

Dipak doesn’t know what the ACP’s priorities are, but he had better have a good reason for not directing enough of his manpower and resources in search of Ashni.  When he heard there was another kidnapping on the ACP’s plate, Dipak’s nerves were shot, and he blames himself for leaving Ashni alone. He started all of this. Niloufer has been able to offer almost no comfort, and when she may have also been the reason Ashni was taken, Dipak finds it hard to look at her in a way that is not resentful.

The matter of Bear’s well-being has not crossed his mind.

Finally, when the ACP is done with the phone-call, he returns to them. Dipk stands.

“Your daughter has been found. There was a shoot-out at Napean Sea Road, Priyadarshani Park. But she’s fine, she is all right. There is nothing to worry about.”

Dipak breaks down, crying.

*

END OF CHAPTER 11

© Amaan Khan, September 13, 2018.

To continue reading Disconnect, head on over to Chapter 12.

—–

Glossary:

  1. bhai: meaning ‘brother’ in Hindi; a term of endearment for another man/older gentleman
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