Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 41

Dua was sitting like a corpse in the bathtub. Her eyes were fixed on the wall but there was nothing she was actually seeing. A week passed to that night but she still couldn’t bring herself to accept it. She couldn’t grasp the reality of it.

She couldn’t grasp the fact that she actually let it happen. She couldn’t understand what possessed her so much that she let her walls down in front of that man.

Her hands fisted and eyes turned red as she remembered everything once again. She couldn’t decide what was worse.

Giving herself to him or waking up alone in the bed?

Dua wanted to deny this nightmare but the marks it left shouted back at her that it happened. She submerged herself in water as the memories started playing them once again. Memories that have been haunting her all her life.

But the only difference was, those memories were now tainted with the sin of that night.

Yes, it was a sin in her eyes. A sin she committed knowingly and a sin she couldn’t wash away. Because some deeper part of her didn’t regret what happened between her and Asfand. A part that was tricking her into believing that what happened was right in every way.

A deeper and darker part that won’t regret if it happened again and again.

Dua went to doctor first thing that morning. She was a mess inside but she was sane enough to know the consequences of ignorance. And she couldn’t afford them at any cost.

Xian was taken off guard by her call and her condition when she came out. There were questions in his eyes but there were no answers in her silence. He knew something happened and he wanted to know but he didn’t ask or tried to pry. He knew better and Dua knew nothing.

At this point, she knew nothing.

“Young miss?” Ida’s voice brought Dua back to reality and she sat up again while breathing harshly. “Is everything alright?” Dua knew Ida sensed her inner turmoil. She always did but this was something she couldn’t tell a soul. “Du-”

“I’m fine Ida.” Dua got out of the bathtub and wore the bathrobe after drying her body. She was watching herself in the mirror and it aggravated her. There was something that changed in the woman that was looking back and Dua didn’t like it. But something indeed was changed. “Like I will let it happen.” Dua went to the door and unlocked it, coming face to face with Ida.

“Is everything okay with you?” Dua walked past her and to the closet area. Ida was hot on her tail. “You cannot hide it from me child. I have been watching you since you were a baby.” Her hand stopped on her suit. “What happened Du-”

“D. Almas. Sahi. Have you forgotten my name?” Ida was thrown off guard by her blunt interruption. “You like to worry too much Ida.” Dua turned to her with a serene smile which didn’t put Ida to ease. She knew her smiles well enough by now. “How can anything happen to me at your watch?”

“D-”

“I think you are missing Noor Bi.” Dua sat in front of the dressing and started getting ready for the day. It has been a week that she and Ushna left as well. That same morning. Dua was not expecting it to happen so suddenly but it did. And it woke Dua from the dream she started to consider reality.

They leave when you need them the most, just like that.

“She was a good woman.” Ida stood behind her silently. “But that’s just it. She was a good woman.” Ida took the blow dryer from Dua and started drying her hair. “Just assume that woman as a soothing breeze. It was temporary. Don’t get used to it.” Dua took the dryer from her. “Is my breakfast ready?” Ida nodded. “Set the table. I will be down in a minute.”

Ida left but deep down she knew it was more than what Dua was portraying. That child was hurting inside and she knew it. She even knew where the hurt was coming from.

Asfandyar Sherzai.

His absence on the departure of Noor Bi was clear sign and Dua’s wandering eyes were clear answer.

Asfand didn’t come home since last week and the indifference Dua was showing clearly said something happened between them again. This time worse than before. No one asked anything, not even Noor Bi and no one gave the answers. But the tension could be felt in the silence.

There was so much in Noor Bi’s eyes that she wanted to tell Dua but her tongue remained tied. And her silence didn’t put Ida to ease. There was something eerie about it which indicated to the foreboding future.

Safan escorted Noor Bi and Ushna to the airport. But Xian told Ida that Asfand went to the airport as well. His arrival was thoroughly monitored and their activities were monitored by Aya. His vehicles entered the airport but none of them came out which put their senses to high alert.

Something was happening and everything about it was so conspiratorial. But there was nothing that could be said or done.

Not yet.

The mansion fell silent once again. This time, the silence was more poisonous than before. This was what Ida feared the most. She just hoped that things don’t go awry. She knew what will happen if they did.

Her young miss won’t be coming back this time.

***********

“Ms. Sahi?” The pen Dua was tapping on the table stopped. “Is everything alright with you?” Xian kept watching her silently. Dua knew he knew everything by now. The moment that watch came off her wrist, he knew a line was crossed that was not supposed to.

But Xian chose to stay silent. Just for her sake.

“We are not here to discuss my well-being Mr. Gill.” Dua sat up straight and closed the file. “What have you been doing with the power you earned?” She mused. “I’m hearing all kinds of news Mr. Gill. Quite a table turner you are.”

“I am doing what I am supposed to do, what every person with power should do. What my father always wanted to do. There is no charm in it. It’s simple sense of responsibility.” Dua just hummed at his response. Xian was right in choosing him.

“The party has completely turned on Azfar Baig?” Yawar nodded. “What a pity” she tsked and turned her chair to side. “But, who would want to support someone who was deceiving the ones who were deceiving the world for him?”

“There is still one loophole.” Dua looked at Yawar from periphery. “Chagai.” Dua knew why. It was the kingdom of tyrants itself. And the heart she needed to squeeze to death by its own hands. “If those people still stood beside Azfar-”

“That won’t be happening” Dua chuckled darkly. “Not after today.” Yawar looked confused but Dua was not going to tell. He was not going to play further from here. “You do what you need to do Mr. Gill and we will do what we need to do. You know which direction to blow.” Dua pushed the file towards him. “It’s the last strike you need to land. Rest we will handle.”

“What makes you so sure?” Dua looked at him with raised brow. “That I am going to win? Who am I? Just a dead man’s son. That’s it. What makes you think that people will support me over someone who is well known and well reputed. What’s the point in doing all this?” Dua clasped her hands under her chin and watched him carefully.

“You know how Azfar has been winning all this time. Through pure deception. He painted a picture that was a complete lie and behind that lie, he committed so many heinous crimes. There were hands behind him that used and abused their status to uphold their position in the world. Even if those hands withdraw now, what does it conclude to?” Yawar scoffed bitterly. “This party will be done for. You think people will want us to rise again? Never. Politics is a dirty game Ms. Sahi. You cannot make people change their opinion just by changing faces.”

“Do you wish to win or do you wish to serve your purpose?” Yawar watched Dua in silence. “There is a difference between two and I am sure you are wise enough to understand it yourself. Power is something that everyone wants but not everyone can handle it Mr. Gill.”

“But-”

“The party will get the support it need but not from the beasts. People will know the truth and they will come to support the truth. As long as you don’t go astray from your purpose and path.” Yawar nodded in understanding. “We will give you all the back up you want but in return for helping you create this kingdom, I want you to play your part to the end.”

“Will you be coming to the main event?” Her smile was the answer to his futile question. “I don’t know what your deal is behind all this but if you ever need my help, let me know. I don’t like to keep favors.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Yawar left and once the doors closed, Dua turned to Xian. “Did you contact Aya?” He nodded. “Stuart left a week ago. Did you had any contact with him and Haider?”

Xian remembered what Haider told him. What they found and how Haider asked him to keep it from Dua. This web was getting more entangled. It better be left in the dark. Dua already had enough to deal with.

“Xian?”

“Wasiq’s location has been found. It’s what we expected.” Her lips quirked up at this. “We will strike in time.”

“Fair enough.” Dua fixed her suit and grabbed her phone.

“And Haider is in Shanghai. It will take him a week more but he is sure.” Dua twisted the ring on her index finger. “One more week till the package deliver itself back to where it belongs.” She turned the other way and leaned against the table while looking out her window.

One more week.

***********

Yusuf looked at the time on the lone clock in his cell and got up from the bunker bed. He went to the chair and sat on it calmly, hands clasped on the table and eyes focused on the door.

It was time for a visit from an old friend.

Minutes ticked by and just when the clock struck eight, the door opened rather loudly and in came a raging politician.

“My dear friend” Yusuf smiled at his expressions. And laughed inwardly at his conditions. Looks like his rule is finally over and by the looks of it, it was not only his throne that he lost. “I wasn’t expecting them to send you in my cell.”

“Yusuf!” Azfar boomed and lunged at him. “You bastard! How could you do this to me?” But Yusuf was not in the least bit fazed. He knew what a coward Azfar was. No matter how much he suffered or was suffering, he was not brave enough to kill him. “We swore to not betray each other then how could you testify against me?” Yusuf pushed his hands off his shirt and sit back again.

“You really need to ask?” Yusuf glared at him balefully. “But if you really want to know the answer then let me tell you. This is not even close to half the shit you did to me.” Yusuf snarled at him. “What did Afroz say on the call? Someone have to be the scapegoat for your doings?”

“How did you-” His expressions made Yusuf sneer. “You-”

“Well my friend, it won’t be me.”

“You will pay for this.” Yusuf scoffed bitterly and turned on the t.v. “You think Afroz will let you live after what you did. It’s not just me you fucked up, it’s h-” All that he was spouting stopped when he saw the news. His eyes widen in dread and he turned to Yusuf, all pale faced. “What did you do?”

“It’s not me my dead friend. It’s your karma.” Yusuf chuckled. “It seemed like a flawless plan. To keep yourself out of trouble of being investigated down to your gutters, you and Afroz buried all those mutilated pieces of Ismael’s body in my farmhouse. You ruined my business, exploded my hotel in Karachi and inveigled me by making false statements that I carry illegal trade in my Lahore branch.” Yusuf snarled at Azfar. “And then you cornered me in Sahi’s assassination. You completely destroyed me Azfar and you had the nerve to come here and accuse me.” Yusuf yelled.

“You don’t know what you are doing. You have gone insane.” Azfar yelled back.

“But you forgot one thing.” He looked him dead in the eye. “The footprints always find their way back to their owners, no matter how much dirt put on them as a disguise.” Yusuf was proud of his doings. For him, it meant his ticket out and he would have gone to any lengths to get it.

“Now the world truly knows your real face, of who Azfar Baig really is. People thought your son was worse but now they will know where that bud sprouted from.” Yusuf pointed to the large screen. “You even made your son escape the country so he don’t get caught for his wrongdoings. Now where the justice in that?” Yusuf hummed thoughtfully. “You thought no one will find out. How could you believe that Azfar?” Azfar was fuming.

“Whatever happened before was just the icing. This” Yusuf pointed to the screen, “is the real deal. These containers loaded with women that you sell to Kuo Wang for human trafficking in return for weapons and drugs from Russia that you sell underground is what your real truth is.” Azfar was seething silently. “A politician who abused his power over a decade. A wolf in the guise of lamb. A danger whom these innocent people kept supporting so loyally all their lives? How do you think it will be perceived? Or is being perceived?”

“Yu-”

“And don’t even dare to threaten me by Afroz of whatever. You think he is going to back you up after this? It was his money and power that drowned with you and you know how conscious that family is of their reputation. You are already forsaken my dear friend. It’s about when you will be made a permanent inmate to this place.” Yusuf laughed bitterly. “But that is not going to be the end of it. A very big surprise lay in wait Azfar Baig. A very big surprise for you and your owner Afroz Sherzai.”

Azfar lunged at Yusuf and strangled him to the ground. “You fucker! How dare you betray me? You don’t deserve to live. Die, you motherf*****.” Police rushed inside the cell and pulled Azfar off Yusuf. “Leave me. I will kill him. I will kill him with my bare hands. You won’t live this night. I won’t let you live. You will die. If not by me then by those Sherzai. They won’t let you live. Saeen won’t let you live.”

“I don’t care about that as well.” Yusuf got up and dusted his clothes. “What’s the surety that there is really someone else. If any, it could be a trick of Afroz to fool us into his bidding.”

“I will kill you Yusuf.” Azfar was dragged out of the cell. “I will kill you.” Yusuf rubbed his neck when the door to his cell closed. He could still hear his screams and it made him laugh uncontrollably.

“That was the last straw.” He poured him a cup of coffee and sipped it leisurely while watching the news flashing on each channel.

***********

Dua looked around the lone jail. It was almost in the middle of nowhere. No signs of life or vegetation. Just barren land that could make a person go insane within a day with fear.

By now Dua had memorized all parts of this abhorrent place. All thanks to Aya’s impeccable expertise. The layout she provided them with all hidden passageways was something. No one knew of them till today. Not even the keeper of this place which put a great advantage to their side.

“No wonder residents of this place go insane.” Dua whispered in amusement. This jail was designed to push them to their deaths by their very own minds. “I wonder if the screams could be heard from here.” Tonight, her destination was the field behind the main prison, where inmates were disciplined. The place was like a grave at night. No one came here at this hour and no one was going to come here even if an apocalypse hit. “We will have to see.”

“Ms. Sahi?” She turned with a smile that could beat any poison. But her prey failed to notice this in his ecstasy. “You are here.”

“As promised.” Yusuf nodded happily. “You are finally free Mr. Khan. Free of every accusation.” Yusuf looked at the champagne bottle in Dua’s hand. “I know you are in hurry to leave this place but a toast is a must. After all, you endured so much and why not raise it here to mark your victory over this place.”

“You are right.” Yusuf took the glass from Xian. “It is indeed the best place.” Dua shook the bottle and removed the cork with a pop. She filled Yusuf’s glass first and passed the bottle to Xian who filled her glass afterwards. “To everlasting freedom.” Yusuf gulped the bubbly drink in one go.

“I cannot even tell you how soothing this fresh air is feeling right now.” Dua just smiled with the glass pressed to her lips. “I hope we are even now Ms. Sahi. I did what you asked me to do.”

“Of course” Yusuf didn’t hesitate to take the second round of champagne and gulped it down greedily. “You have paid me back in the best way and I assure you, its reward lays in wait.” Yusuf was enthralled. “It’s time to leave.”

Yusuf turned on his heels but his head spun before he could have taken the first step towards the exit. His vision started blurring and he was having great difficulty in breathing. His body stopped functioning to his will and he fell to the ground in pain and agony.

And while he writhed like a dying fish, Dua watched like a satisfied predator.

“Is everything alright Mr. Khan?” Yusuf watched her dumping the content of her glass along the way. She never drank it. “You don’t seem so well.”

“M-s. Sa-hi-”

“Was the food good?” Dua smiled a sinister smile. “I hired the best chef for you Mr. Khan, all the way from New York.” She knew what Haider meant when he sent Stuart. He was the best man for this task and together with Aya, they made sure everything fell in right place.

Azfar and Afroz were keeping eyes on Yusuf all this time but they failed to notice what was brewing right under their noses. They have no idea how futile this one little sneaky game was going to pay in their disgusting play.

“And by the looks of how you never left one morsel behind, I’m sure you have been enjoying your meals very much.” Dua crouched next to him and looked him in the eye. “Would you like to know what the secret ingredient was?”

And in that moment, Yusuf saw what he failed to see all this time.

“You-”

“Ever heard of poisoner’s poison?” Dua stood up and started circling around him slowly. “You might have heard the name thallium. Such an amazing thing it is. Especially when given in perfect doses.” Yusuf turned on his back to look at her. “You were already a dead man Mr. Khan.”

“Du-ua-”

“Feroze Rahija” she gritted venomously. “I was sure I left quite an impression on you all then how come you couldn’t know? After all,” she chuckled darkly, “you also made sure I remembered everything to my last breath.”

“I di-d wh-at yo-u asked” Dua scoffed lowly. “Th-en w-hy?”

“You really want to know why?” Yusuf groaned when Dua dug her heel in his chest. “Even your death is not enough.” Yusuf tried to push her off but she dug her heel deep in his chest until blood oozed out. “How is it feeling? How are you liking the poison you ate with your own hands? I’m sure it must be exhilarating.”

“Ple-ase!” Dua kicked his hand away. “I do-n’t wa-nt- I did-n’t-” But nothing could change the fate that was stamped for him. Dua looked at him in disgust and turned to leave.

Another one has fallen down.

“Y-ou a-re wro-ng. Yo-u ar-e wr-ong into belie-vin-g that w-e we-re the o-nly o-nes.” Her feet halted and she turned involuntarily. If I am going down, I will drag as many to hell with me as possible. “Yo-u th-ink” Yusuf looked at the sky while breathing harshly. It was almost time.

“We we-re j-us-t th-e h-ands ser-ving. The r-e-al prepetr-ator was so-meo-ne else. Two mo-re and you kn-ow wh-at is the f-un pa-rt?” He sneered. “O-ne o-f th-em i-s s-ome-on-e e-ve-n w-e ha-v-e n-ev-er se-en. On-e-It’s so-me-one you kn-ow. O-ne of th-em i-s yo-ur v-ery ow-n.”

“You are lying” Yusuf just smiled through his slipping life. Let’s see Ms. Sahi how you will find out the real culprit to your family’s doom and how much guts do you have to serve the justice to your own kin.

“Th-e-re i-s a pl-a-c-e.” Yusuf coughed a mouthful of blood. “Wh-er-e me-ets. Y-ou wi-ll kn-ow. Th-e r-oo-m-ph-on-e-”

“You are lying.” Xian held Dua back when she tried to go to Yusuf. He was dead but he turned one card on them in his death that they never knew existed. “He is lying. He is trying to manipulate me.” Xian looked at Dua silently when she grabbed his jacket. “I was there. I saw every one of them. I have been counting days to their demise. How can I not know? How can there be someone else? This is a lie. A LIE.”

“Dua!” She screamed on top of her lungs and collapsed on the ground while watching his corpse balefully. “You need to get a hold of yourself. You need to leave right now.”

“I will not leave them.” She whispered balefully. “No one. No one will be spared. Everyone will pay the price.” Tears of vengeance rolled down her cheeks once again. One of my own. One of my own took my family away. “I will drag them out of their holes. They will pay for what they did, no matter who they are.” Dua looked at Xian with a new resolve burning through her being. “And once I did” She wiped her tears and stood up, facing him.

“I will be the one serving justice to them with my own hands.”

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