Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 43

Dua pinched the bridge of her nose with closed eyes. They were in the basement, going through the changes that were being made in Ayn’s new system and the latest data they gathered. Aya and Xian briefed her on the current situation and nothing seemed favorable or turning in their favor from any angle.

“Why aren’t the trackers working when the system can dig out the dirt of even hundred years back?” Dua was doing everything she could to not just go berserk. “Does this make sense?” She slapped down the flap of laptop rather harshly. “What about their cellphones?”

“Turned off.” Xian replied calmly.

“What does it matter? You have easy access to their database and chip cards. Hack into-”

“No” Xian interrupted her bluntly. “That is out of question for now and you know why.” Dua knew very well but if it was the last resort to get back at them, she was ready for whatever. “Don’t lose your cool.”

Xian knew what was going through her head and that was why he was keeping a strong lookout for her activities. They still couldn’t trace Azfar and Wasiq and it hindered every other plan Dua made or had in mind to find out the real culprits.

And it was not just her revenge, the incident with Asfand and what Amber said left an unknown imprint on Dua. Xian knew how much she was affected. He always did and that is why he was always shadowing her. He knew how sensitive Dua was despite her strong personality and the current situations were only worrying him more.

She was becoming more suicidal than before and he knew what it could lead to.

“I might need to leave for America.” Dua opened her eyes lazily and looked at Xian. He was calm as ever. “We won’t know until-”

“It could be a trap” Dua sat up straight in her chair. “Our intentions are not unknown and that man” Dua looked Xian in the eye, “wants you. Forget it-”

“I know what I am doing.” Dua fisted her hand. “I am leaving tonight. Meanwhile, Aya and Shaheer will stay with you.” When Dua didn’t utter a word, Xian turned after a small nod her way.

“Xian?” His steps halted on the threshold to the exit of the glass room. “Don’t forget your promise.” Xian didn’t turn but Aya noticed his clenched fists. “Ever.”

“Aya!” She looked at Dua and when she sensed no declination in her eyes, she followed after Xian. Xian was quiet throughout their way back to the top floor. They stepped out of the elevator and came out on the rooftop where a helicopter was on stand-by. He was already leaving.

“I have a request.” Aya turned to face him fully once they reached near the chopper. “Don’t leave her side for even a second.” Aya didn’t blink when he stepped close to her. “Don’t even blink when you are with her and keep reporting me every half an hour. I won’t be gone for long but I want to know everything.”

Aya always knew Dua was important to him. But looking at him now, the concern he held for that woman, it became clear to her that Dua meant much more than a boss and mere responsibility to this man.

“What promise?” His expressions didn’t shift an inch at her direct question. Aya knew he was not going to answer and she couldn’t understand why she even asked. “Are you going alone?”

“I need to go alone.” Xian took out his phone and tapped on the screen. “Keep your watch on all the time. I might not be able to get to you once I set foot in New York. That man is viciously cunning. I’m sure he knew everything even before that Sherzai had told him.” Aya didn’t know which Sherzai he was talking about. Asfandyar or Afroz? “He might already know that I am coming for his neck.”

“And you still believe whatever you intend to do will work?” Xian gave her a cool stare. “Is it true? All that is said about you? Kuo Wang is really your uncle? Did he really kill everyone in the family to get that seat?” No answer. “Are you really the last member of whi-”

“Show me your wrist.” Aya raised her hand and Xian placed his phone on top of her watch. It beeped until the red scan turned green. “Our watches have been modified as well. The signal won’t lose even in remote places.” Aya nodded silently while looking at her watch. “Don’t disappoint me Aya.”

“Did I ever?” She replied calmly. They watched each other silently until Xian turned with a nod. “Whatever promise you made to her, make sure you keep it.” Xian looked at Aya over his shoulder. “That child trusts you.”

Xian got inside the helicopter. The engine roared to life and the blades picked its pace, ready to take off.

“That promise was made by a boy to a little girl” Xian looked in her eyes, “to never let go of that tiny hand that reached out to save one wretched life through everlasting darkness. That promise was made by a brother to his little sister.” And in that moment Aya saw something she never did before. “Ever again.”

*********

The click of the button resonated with her thoughts. It was past midnight but Dua couldn’t bring herself to sleep. Her nights were spent in the studio because she couldn’t bring herself to step inside that room. It reminded her of that night and she wanted to forget about it more than anything.

Only that it was not happening.

Her mind was not ready to be at ease and the overbearing silence of the humongous estate made her more dilapidated. There were barely any signs of its owner and his absence only poisoned her silence towards his existence.

Asfand stopped coming back home ever since Amber came that night. Dua knew he was up to something but more than his evil plans that involved her, her thoughts were more inclined towards a lots of ‘whats’ and ‘whys’.

Dua couldn’t understand what to make of this situation. She didn’t want to ponder over his absence but she couldn’t stop herself from thinking back to him. This was what she wanted and now that it happened, she was not feeling as much blithe and relieved as she was supposed to feel.

And the circle didn’t stop on Asfand only. It’s been three days but there was no news from Xian. Dua knew Xian was being vigilant in his hunt and he will contact them on the right time but she just couldn’t put her distress to rest. It was about time that Haider contacted her but there was no news from his side as well.

It was about time they put that part of the plan to action but he didn’t tell her anything. Something bad was coming their way but she couldn’t put her finger on what.

Their lives were in danger to begin with but this time, she couldn’t put the face to her intuitions.

A brief knock on the door broke her chain of thoughts and she told the person to enter. Aya walked inside her studio with steady steps and nodded towards her.

“We cannot connect to his watch.” Dua kept switching the lamp on and off. “There was a slight activity on Azfar’s phone two days back around eleven at night.” Dua looked at Aya. “Xian was right. There is no record because they are masked calls.”

“What about Azfar?”

“He was gone.” Dua gripped the switch tightly. “And we are still unable to locate Wasiq.”

“Is Ayn ready?”

“In forty-eight hours” Aya replied lowly, “we will be able to decode the receiver’s identity. Ayn has reached module-G.” Dua closed her eyes and leaned back.

Masked calls. Hidden faces. Unknown territory.

The clicking of the button became furious until Dua stopped altogether. Her eyes snapped open and she sat up straight.

“Aya!” She looked her dead in the eye. “We overlooked one crucial thing that connect all the dots.” Aya waited for Dua to complete. “Yusuf mentioned some place and a phone.”

“I was thorough in tracking down their properties and hideouts.”

“They were making masked calls Aya.” Dua stood up at last. “I want you to go back to Chagai but this time, you will look for the obvious.”

“Xian said not to leave you alone.” Aya didn’t blink when Dua looked back at her. “We don’t know what the enemy is plotting. If any, this might be what they want.”

“You will be gone for a day Aya and Shaheer will be here. If any, I want to give them the opportunity to jump me so I could know who those people really work for.”

“What about Asfandyar?” Her chest hurt a little at the mere mention of his name. “We had no track of his activities these past days. What if-”

“Forget about him for now.” Dua interjected calmly but Aya didn’t miss her underlying melancholy at the mere mention of his name. “He is not our main concern for now. We need to get Azfar. He is the one who will spill the beans.” Aya nodded. “Leave right now. The sooner you will get done, the better.” Aya nodded again and turned to leave.

“Aya?” She looked at Dua over her shoulder. “No one is to know of your departure.” Her brows creased a little at her words. “No one.”

Aya left the way she came and Dua went to the grand window of her studio. The moon was in full bloom. The longer Dua looked at it, the heavier her chest got.

“Is this what Noor Bi talked about?” Dua whispered while looking at the moon in utter longing. Her hand unconsciously reached for the little dove around her neck and she gripped it tightly. “Not a very nice feeling to have.”

*********

Safan was watching Asfand for the past two hours and now it started to irk him. He was sitting in the same position and continuously spinning paper-weight under his fingers while staring emptily at the ceiling. Safan wondered how his fingers didn’t numb out yet.

Even if they did, he wouldn’t have known because his thoughts were too preoccupied.

Asfand didn’t see Dua in over a month. At first, he was just avoiding her but then he stopped going home altogether when Haider’s wife came that night. Safan couldn’t put his finger on the situation. He could see how badly Asfand wanted to be with Dua but he was taking every chance he could to avoid going to her.

Same was about her. There was some thick tension around them indicating something serious happened but Safan was far from knowing it.

And everyone else was suffering the side effects of Asfand’s ego. He had everyone on their toes that no one could even breathe normally.

His aggressive activeness created a new fear and havoc in his business and underworld. Though it was profiting them nonstop, it was also putting a serious damage to him as a person. But Asfand was too lost to notice and now his stubbornness was making Safan lose his nuts as well.

“How long do you plan on living like this?” Asfand glared his way through periphery. “I know you are an ambitious man who is out to take what is his but there is a limit to putting yourself in over-drive.” Asfand just scoffed at his lame whining. “I was not trying to be funny man. At the pace you are moving, you will either go insane or die.”

“She will prefer the latter, no?” Asfand chuckled lowly which made Safan purse his lips. “I’m sure my death is what many wants.”

“What’s the point of doing all this?” Asfand turned his chair in Safan’s direction when he pointed to the ring on his index finger. “You know what it means to wear this ring? Are you really going to be his puppet-”

“I am no one’s puppet-”

“It’s the same thing Asfand” Safan stood up and raked his hair wildly. He needed a shower and change of clothes desperately but all this was impossible because this man. He has sworn to drown himself and others in work. Safan couldn’t justify why he needed to suffer the damn rage of these two. “I can’t understand you this time.”

“Did you get what I asked?” Safan cursed inwardly and nodded on outside. “Then why waste time on idle talk?” Asfand sat up straight and opened his laptop. Safan handed him the pen-drive and he plugged it in, waiting for the files to be loaded.

“Azfar made a call to Saeen.” Safan stood behind Asfand and briefed him on the situation. “Apparently, that man who chose you as his supposed successor” Asfand glared at Safan over his shoulder when he mocked him so openly, “doesn’t trust you that much.”

“I never said I wanted him to trust me. He is a smart man Safan. He has been playing this sick game for years. He ought to be careful if he intends to keep his kingdom intact.” Not that it was going to stay his for long. The moment he stepped out of the shadows before Asfand, he fell in the trap Asfand wove for him over years. “Why did he reach for Azfar?”

“Because that fucker is the wounded wolf at the moment. He will do anything to gain back what he lost and that is exactly what Saeen wants.”

“That motherf*****” Asfand closed the laptop once he was done going through them. “Do you know where that bastard is hiding?”

“You won’t be surprised.” Asfand smirked. “What do you intend to-” The door to his office banged open and in came his guards chasing after a tornado whose aim was to tear him apart.

“You fucker” Haider grabbed Asfand by collar and pushed him hard in the window behind. “I knew you were up to no good.”

“I never knew civilization changed to such extent in America.” Asfand was more surprised than angry upon seeing Haider. That man was disheveled from head to toe and Asfand could tell he had not slept or changed for quite some time. “It’s futile Mir Shah. This glass won’t break no matter how many times you slammed me against it. But I will appreciate it if you let go of me now. I’m not in the mood to play cat-fight-”

“You think this is funny?” Haider got in his face. “You have any idea what you have done. You won’t get away with this. What did you think will happen, huh? You thought you will get your ways now that Dua is married to you? You thought you could use her how you wanted.” His blood started pounding at the mere mention of the word ‘use’.

“I knew that you were no different from your blood. I mean it’s all written on your face, the intentions you bear. But you will stoop this low, I could have never known.” Asfand was losing his cool with each word out of his mouth. “I took you for a man-”

“If you came to meet your sister, she is not here.” Asfand broke free and gave him a hard shove back. “Not that you are her brother in the first place and after what your-”

“Where is my wife Asfandyar?” Haider yelled in his face. “Where is Amber and my son?”

“How am I supposed to know-”

“I know she came here to meet Dua.” Asfand looked at Safan who looked equally lost at what Haider said. “I know every fucking thing so don’t fucking act as if you don’t know.”

“I will act the way because I really don’t know.” Haider balled his fists at his cold mockery. “You should learn to keep an eye on your wife’s activity Mir Shah. Look what trouble that little nuisance has caused. I knew that littl-” Asfand didn’t dodge the punch Haider threw on his jaw.

“I feel ashamed to call you family.” Asfand sneered in response when he grabbed his collar again. “I feel so sorry for my sister who is suffering a living curse like you. Dar-jee is so wrong about you and it will pain me greatly when he will learn just how much of a Sherzai you have in your blood.” His expressions didn’t change one bit at Haider’s words. “You disgust me.”

“I’m glad to know that.” Asfand glared at Haider head on.

“Mark my word Asfandyar Sherzai” Haider let go of him with a jerk. “If anything happened to my family, my wife, my baby and Dua” Asfand just dusted his coat casually when Haider pointed a finger towards him. “I won’t spare you.” Asfand didn’t move one inch when Haider turned on his heels and left the way he came.

“What the fuck is going on?” Safan turned to Asfand once their guards left and doors closed. “Do you know what is-” Asfand was already out of the door while tapping on his phone.

“Get me the situation around Dua right now.”

*********

Dua was halfway down the stairs when her buzzed. “Hello!”

“Ms. Sahi?” Dua pulled the phone away and frowned at the unknown i.d. “Are you Ms. D. Almas Sahi?”

“Who is this?”

“We are calling from S.K Hospital.” Her steps halted on the last stair when Ida came to her. “You might need to come to the hospital.”

“Young miss?” Ida ran after Dua when she rushed past her. “Is everything alright?”

“Get in the car.” Shaheer stopped midway in the process of opening her door. “We are going to S.K hospital right now.”

“Hospital” Ida exclaimed loudly and looked at the young man who was as clueless as her. “What? Why-”

“What are you waiting for?” Shaheer jumped a little when Dua snapped angrily. “I said right now.” He nodded and got in the driver’s seat without further delay.

“What is going on Dua?” Ida stopped Dua from getting in the car. “You are not going alone. I am coming with you.” Dua didn’t want to but her tone left no room for argument.

Shaheer drove off the estate when both ladies got in the car. “Put one team around the hospital. Tell them to disguise and be prudent in their watch.” He nodded at her and got to work.

“Iram! Connect me to the owner of S.K hospital right now.” Dua spoke through her earpiece while tapping on her phone furiously. “Make a call to Sharlene and tell her to send me the files I asked her to keep on stand-by. I am waiting.” She disconnected the call and dialed again.

“Aya! We have a situation.” She listened before speaking again. “I will brief you on it later.” Her phone pinged and she opened the files Sharlene sent her. “I’m sending you an e-mail. Try contacting Xian and if you couldn’t get through him this time” Dua raised her phone to her face. “You know what you have to do.” She ended the call and looked out.

Ida kept looking at her through rear-view. She had no idea what happened that made Dua react this way. It all seemed a premonition to something bad. Dua was not ready to tell and all she could do was wait until the mystery unfolds itself.

Their car stopped outside the hospital and four guards surrounded it with armed weapons when Dua stepped out.

“Make sure no one enters until they are cleared up.” Her men nodded. Dua put on her shades and made a beeline inside the hospital with Ida and Shaheer hot on her tail.

The staff was already informed and they took her straight to the fifth floor and to the designated room without asking or inquiring anything. Her hand stopped on the knob and she looked at the door in silence.

“Dua?” Dua looked at Ida once and pushed open the door. All the questions that were dancing at the tip of her tongue were answered when Ida saw the lone figure lying on the hospital bed, covered in bandages.

“Amber!” Ida rushed to the injured woman’s side who started bawling her eyes out upon seeing them. “Oh my! What happened child? Why are you-” Ida hugged her shoulders gently when Amber buried her face in her abdomen. She could tell how badly she was shook. “Why are you here Amber? You left.” Ida looked at Dua who was watching her silently. “Dua!”

“Ms. Sahi?” Dua turned when doctor came with his team. “Thank you for coming.” The nurses and his assistant went ahead to tend Amber. Dua could tell she needed to be sedated. She was badly shook and doctor already told her about half the situation. “She came in the hospital a week ago.”

“What happened?” Dua removed her shades and faced the doctor calmly.

“She was found outside the OPD a week ago. We don’t know how she got there or who brought her. She was unconscious all this time. Her head suffered a massive injury and judging from the reports, it seemed like a case of violence.” Dua crossed her arms over her chest to hide their shaking.

“I think she is beaten badly and by the bruises on her legs and lower back, she was thrown out of the car.” The doctor gulped nervously when he saw how her eyes turned cold. “She is out of danger but-”

“Where is her baby?”

“Dee!” Dua turned when Amber screamed for her. “My-Rayan. They took him.” Dua rushed to her side when she stretched her arm for her. “They will kill him Dee. They said they will kill my baby. Please!”

“You need to relax” Amber shook her head. “You need to calm down first. Crying is not going to help Rayan.” Amber sniffed when Dua palmed her cheeks. “You need to tell me what happened” Amber nodded meekly. “Be brave Amber. For Rayan.” Amber grabbed her hands and pressed them to her mouth pleadingly. “I will find him. I promise you.” Dua hugged her shaking frame and motioned for Ida who instantly got her message.

“I’m sorry doctor but we would like to have some privacy.” He was reluctant but he knew better than refusing them. If they could shut down whole building within ten minutes, they were people not to be messed with.

“We are just one call away.” The doctor also knew who D. Almas Sahi was. And refusing the wife of Asfandyar Sherzai was nothing short of calling death to your own door.

“Thank you for your co-operation.”

“She needs to be sedated. Let us when you are ready.” Ida walked them out. Once they left, she closed the door when Shaheer stood outside for watch.

“Tell me.” Dua pulled away from her a little. “Everything.”

“We were kidnapped from Newark Airport.” Amber hiccupped. “Xian sent two guards with us. He said he already informed Haider’s men about my flight schedule. They were waiting for us when we landed. I had never seen those men and the two Xian sent, they never came back after checking out.” Amber wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. “I asked them but they said that they were asked to accompany us only on the flight.”

“I knew something was not right but they didn’t give me the chance.” She looked at Dua with teary eyes. “When we reached the cars, they hit me with something and next when I opened my eyes, I was in some warehouse.”

“They brought you back to Pakistan?” Amber nodded. “Did they do this to you?” Dua fisted her hand when Amber nodded with a loud sob. “Did you recognize anyone among them?”

“I don’t know” Dua closed her eyes. “But there was one person. I have seen him.”

“Who?” Dua grabbed her shoulders. “You need to tell me Amber. We don’t know what they intend to do. We need to get to Rayan.”

“That man” Amber hiccupped. “The one who killed Xian’s family.” Dua froze in her spot. “I can’t recall his name but this man that kidnapped me, he always accompany him.”

“Jian” Ida cupped her mouth in horror. Dua knew how dangerous the situation became. That man was insane than his father, cruel beyond understanding.

“Dee!” Dua looked at Amber. “It’s my fault, isn’t it?” Her eyes pooled with tears. “Because of my stupidity, my baby is-”

“Nothing will happen to Rayan. Not as long as I live.” Amber muffled her sobs with both hands. “Listen to me Amber and listen to me very carefully.” Dua pinched her chin to make her look up. “I need you to do as I say. Haider will be here any moment and if I’m correct, he might already be tearing their places apart.” Amber grabbed her hand that was holding her face.

“But in case, he is still unaware, I want you to do something.” Amber nodded at her. “Don’t tell him anything about Jian Wang. Listen to me first.” Amber closed her mouth. “I know what I am doing” Dua looked at Ida. “I promise you Am, Rayan will be in your lap in next twelve hours. Just hold on until then.”

“Dua!” Ida stepped forward. “What are you-”

“I cannot wait anymore Ida” Dua stood up straight with blank face and cold eyes. “Not at my watch.”

“But Xian-”

“Call Haider and tell him everything. If Xian couldn’t reach us within a day, it was a red signal. Find out about his whereabouts and if you still couldn’t reach him, you know what to do.” Ida nodded. “Aya is on her way and until she comes, stay here with Amber. Keep a strong lookout for things Ida.” Dua patted Amber on the head and turned to leave.

“Dua!”

“I will bring him back” was all she said before walking out. “Make sure” Dua stopped beside Shaheer after putting her shades on. “She is safe at all costs.” Shaheer nodded and Dua walked towards the elevator. Once she was inside and the doors closed, she raised her hand with rings.

“Ayn!”

*********

“It’s all my fault, isn’t it?” Ida just smiled sadly at the young woman. “It’s all because I stepped out of the line when I was clearly warned not to.” Ida patted her head affectionately when Amber started crying again. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Amber!” Both women turned when the door banged open and Haider came inside. His eyes scanned the room wildly and once they settled on his wife, he rushed forward. Ida stepped back when Amber extended her arms for him. “Oh god!” Amber buried her head in his chest and cried loudly. “I’m sorry baby.” Haider kissed the top of her head. “I am so sorry.”

“It’s all my fault Haider. I’m sorry I messed everything.” He just shushed her by hugging her tightly. “Because of me, everyone is in danger. They have-” Ida shook her head at Amber to keep quiet.

“What?” Haider looked between them. “What is it? Where is Rayan?” Amber lowered her gaze in shame. “Ida?” But the woman refused to open her mouth, though her eyes told him everything. That’s when he noticed.

Shit!

“Where is Dua?”

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