“Um…if you promise to let us go… I will hand over the formula to you right now…” Avanti declared her heart galloping at a pace she felt it would jump out any moment.
He stopped eating and looked up at her. “you… you have the formula…?”
She nodded. “Yes… we have it hidden the original copy of my father’s work and that could fetch you real money…”
“…Look Avanti I want the black book… and don’t look surprised…Mukherjee had told me about it long ago… I may not look like it … but I am an intelligent man and if you think…”
“…Its on the terrace… near the green house…” She blurted out loudly enough hoping the listeners at the other end of the walkie talkie heard her. That meant they could enter the house using the code and she hoped Keshav was there to share it.
“…Ok then… you lead the way and I will follow… Ladies first!” he smirked.
Avanti walked with her spine straight hoping she could unsettle him psychologically. She hoped she could have some advantage over him…this was her house and she knew every corner of it especially the terrace where she had spent hours whenever she was lonely in the initial days of marriage or waiting for Keshav to arrive from work. She began to think about the places around the place that she could use in some way. She unlocked the doors and walked in the open and as the early evening breeze hit her bringing with it the faint noise of Pune bound traffic on Sion -Trombay road and the highway. She looked around the place, her sanctum whenever she was upset, it now helped her calm down.
“…now you better don’t jest with me… where is it…?”
“…um…It’s the black bound little notebook in which my father had written the formula derivation in detail…. I have hidden it here to prevent it from being stolen…” She had to stall him a little while more till it started to get dark…his visual acuity would reduce further by then and put him at a disadvantage.
“…Avanti… get going quickly and no playing games… you know I wouldn’t hesitate to slash your throat…”
“…its here… wait… let me search a bit…” she made the motions of going along the perimeter of the terrace area and tapped the soil around the edges. The aroma of earth was loved by Keshav and her as well and as she touched the wet soil kept moist by specialised intermittent water drips, she got a brainwave. She pretended to count the steps and walked towards the green house and close on her heels was Premnath. There was a tap right next to it and she knew it. Fortunately, the hose was connected to it and at around this time the municipal water came in full force. She showed him a point in the soil a little away from the tap and said. “…the book… is hidden inside here… you can dig it out…”
“…you will do it… right now…” She could see he was running out of patience and that was what she wanted. As she moved towards the soil in the corner of her eyes, she saw movement. Pretending to rub her brow she saw Keshav and Akshat crouch in the corner of the terrace. Premnath must not have seen them because of poor peripheral vision. Thank God for mercies… Keshav nodded to her and she got a sudden infusion of courage. She bent to dig in with her fingers and removed a couple of layers of soil and with the corner of her eye she saw Premnath had moved to a side to watch her such that he could see the entrance of the terrace. So as of now Keshav or Akshat couldn’t make a move. She sat on her haunches panting as if she was tired and began to breathe heavily.
Then everything happened in a flash…she turned around and with all her might pushed Premanth away even as is knife blade sliced her arm… but pain not withstanding she switched on the green house blower specially installed for temperature regulation but now since the blooms were removed the lids had been opened up and the hot air blew with full force. Avanti moved right in time but Premnath was disoriented. She rushed to the tap and switched it on full throttle. Before Premnath could compose himself, she picked up the hose and sprayed the jet of water on his face. His glasses fell off and he stumbled behind swearing loudly… When he moved to one side the blower’s blast of hot air hit him hard and when he swayed a little to the other side Avanti’s jet spray from the hose was aimed at him. This was the instant Keshav and Akshat were waiting. They rushed towards him and held him from both sides. She kept spraying him with water… the knife had fallen down long ago and he was at their mercy as he struggled to breathe. Akshat removed his belt and tied up Premnath’s hands and she didn’t let him move because of the water spray. Keshav rushed to the little corner shed which housed the gardening equipment and brought out a huge rope. Rahul joined them as well along with a terse looking Mr. D’Souza right behind waiting in a corner. Together the three of them tied Premnath even as he groaned almost giving up the fight.
Avanti finally looked up from what she was doing as the water flow stopped… Keshav had shut the tap and held her hand to check the injury. He was speaking to her but somehow, she couldn’t hear anything amidst the cacophony of chaotic thoughts in her head. The adrenaline now washed away; reality sank in… she had escaped an almost death. Her hand throbbed where she had been hurt and the world turned around her as bile rose in her throat. She swayed dropping the hose and even as Keshav held her close she swayed further towards him. She heard the footsteps of the arriving cops as they took Premnath into custody. But everything was a blur as she collapsed into the waiting arms of her husband and darkness claimed her.
Avanti felt the cold cloth on her head. Where was she…? She opened her heavy eyes with great difficulty even as she felt Keshav’s warm hand holding her cold ones.
“…Av…Avanti… sweetheart… are you OK…?” She heard Keshav frantically calling her out.
Finally, she looked around still feeling the nausea and attempted to sit up with Keshav’s help. Her mother sat at the foot of her bed wiping her worried eyes while Arpita stood beside her in an apologetic look. “…Premmm…Premnath…?” She asked her throat dry.
“He is arrested Avanti… and thanks to you we have all the evidence against him to put him away for good…” He held her as she sipped water from a cup.
“…He was out on… parole…” She retorted anxiously.
“…Yes, and he violated all the rules too…so he will be gone for a lifetime… I will see to it…” Keshav said firmly and the bedroom door opened as Akshat entered followed by a woman.
“Keshav Sir, Ma’am, this is Dr. Raji Sreedharan from the nearby nursing home here…” Akshat announced as the woman came towards the bed and Keshav moved to let her examine Avanti.
“…I will have to examine her properly so I would appreciate if one of you stays behind while the rest leave the room.”
Her mother stayed back with her and the others left the room.
Keshav paced the complete length of the drawing room his anxiety touching the skies. Mrs. Sinha had been called and she was helping put up dinner, grumbling all along she should have been more vigilant. The D’Souza couple refused to leave till they actually saw Avanti hale and hearty. Rahul too was a silent spectator and Keshav knew he was worried about Avanti as well. Earlier he had called Avanti’s mother… come what may, they deserved to know about her health and the duo had rushed to their house. However, unlike their last visit they were not at all hostile. Even now Arpita stood staring outside the drawing room window and he actually felt sorry for her… dressed in simple cotton outfit with unmade hair and minus the war paint she was a far cry from her usual flamboyant self. She was lured with false promises and he only hoped she could cope up with the heart break. He knew Avanti was fine but probably shocked at what had happened… his brave wife. She had put up with so much and yet not lost her presence of mind… She deserved a bravery award for taking down that monster almost single handedly.
He had been on his way with Akshat when he had received a call from Rahul. He was at the D’Souza’s and had apparently been hearing the conversation between Avanti and the lunatic Premnath. On Rahul’s advice he had gone straight to the D’Souza’s home and waited along with the senior couple for the right time. Those were the worst moments of his life where he almost died every second but he knew any action from his side could have proven detrimental for Avanti. Also, he knew she was baiting Premnath in her own subtle way and the guy actually landed up playing into her hands. His heart almost stopped when she led Premnath to the terrace and he could not hear her voice anymore…but that had been their clue and the cops were ready as well…. having cordoned the perimeter of the building. Keshav and Akshat had rushed upstairs and had slowly entered the house… He had lost it when he had found the guard lying on the floor in the drawing room but Akshat held him from rushing upstairs and declared the guard was only unconscious after checking for a pulse. Rahul soon came after them and arranged for an ambulance. Akshat and he had crouched their way to the terrace and he had thought he would kill the man with his bare hands as he saw Avanti bending towards the soil while Premnath stood in a stance ready to pounce on her with his knife. He moved into the shadows on the right while Akshat moved to the left and it was then he realised, his Avanti… his darling wife had seen him. She was suddenly a tigress personified as she valiantly fought with Premnath catching him unawares.
She was hurt and that worried him but why did she collapse…? He had started to actually breathe only when she regained consciousness after a complete hour. Thankfully they had found a doctor nearby. What a day it had been…they had super success with Ved-Adbhut and tomorrow he had a press conference scheduled along with the FDA where every step of drug development and tests as well as clinical trials would be made public except for the identity of the participants of the clinical trials. But nothing meant anything to him now till he heard about Avanti and that she was not hurt anywhere else…
As they all waited anxiously, the doctor emerged from the room smiling. “Congratulations Mr. Goyal… your wife is pregnant… Here’s a list of investigations which you will need to do as a part of the protocol…”
“…Is she fine…? but… wait… what did you say…?” Keshav couldn’t believe his ears.
“…She is absolutely fine… just facing the normally seen nausea in early pregnancy…called morning sickness… don’t worry…see a gynaecologist for regular check-ups now on…” the doctor smiled and nodded as she moved towards the entrance and Akshat followed her.
A stunned Keshav walked into their room following Arpita was eager to see her sister. Avanti sat up on their bed with pillows propped up and her mother was helping her take a sip of water. Her mother saw him and nodded and holding Arpita’s hand dragged her away from the room. Rahul wished them so did the D’Souzas who were in tears. Mrs. D’Souza hugged her and promised her cinnamon pies which would be good for her stomach and she wouldn’t throw up either. Keshav thanked his stars for the super senior couple who had held the fort for him. They exited the room shutting the door behind them and he moved towards Avanti. He sat next to her facing her as tears which he had held back for hours now flew freely down his face.
“hey… Keshav…come here…” Avanti opened up her arms and he went closer pulling her, crushed her to him. He cried out his anguish, his fears as he dug his head in her hair taking in the fragrance of her shampoo, his hands feeling her body. “…Keshav… its ok… its over now… everything is fine… right…?” He moved away wiping his tears and nodded.
“…Avanti… I was scared… I was never so… sca..scared ever before in my life… oh God…I almost killed him today…”
“…Keshav… all’s well that ends well… right…? And see, we have so much to celebrate…”
Keshav nodded and touched her now flat belly lightly rubbing it, but suddenly a thought crossed his mind and his hands stilled.
“What is it Keshav…?” Avanti asked with a cute frown between her brows. “…you want the baby, don’t you…?”
“…of course, Avanti… it’s like my dreams are all coming true… but I am still scared about the baby… what if…” He was cursed with a legacy and no matter what kind of medical miracle he was hoping for, there was a chance that his progeny could have the mutant gene.
“Keshav look here…” Avanti spoke softly as he looked into her reassuring eyes. “…Keshav… life is totally unpredictable… one may be walking on the road and meet with an accident and either die or be disabled for life… we have heard of healthy people go out for a jog and collapse with a cardiac arrest, haven’t we…? we know so many such cases…” He nodded as she continued. “…take my baba for instance one moment he was with us and the next he was no more… but you know, Keshav…? I have learnt something very important… we should value our present … just do our duty and leave the rest to the Almighty… just let’s live in the present Keshav…lets be grateful for the happiness we have… lets look forward for a lifetime of togetherness…why bother about an unknown future entity…?”
Keshav chuckled at the lucidity of her words… they were deep and penetrated his heart. He wasn’t scared anymore because she was with him…she believed in him. He helped her get out of the room and they all sat together for dinner. Keshav requested Avanti’s mother to move here to stay with her when he would be away for the first phase of his clinical trial next month and both, her mom and Arpita readily agreed. Well, that was a huge relief. Avanti didn’t need any more stress. Akshat had joined them too and after dinner they all sat together as Akshat gave them the updates. Though it was close to 11 PM everyone was eager to know the details.
Akshat told them how they had zeroed in on Premnath and the best part was, his cronies, a couple of druggies who lived in the shanties near his house were caught and they spilled the beans. Though Premnath had been cautious, they were overcome with their craving for their next fix and had come looking for Premnath and had been caught. The police sealed Premnath’s home and found many documents linking him to various crimes. He had almost killed his brother years ago and then after he was out of jail, he had killed Dnyaneshwar Rane, followed by Prantik and Shamsunder Valmiki. Prantik had helped him obtain the chemical used in the burning of the house as well as that found in the crash site. It was the same chemical he had forced Mr. Mukherjee to leak out to hurt Keshav hoping to scare Avanti and pull him out of Vedshastra…so Premnath could push its sale. Today Mr Mukherjee didn’t go home but went to his native to get away from the mess. Based on what Premnath spoke, Rahul had conveyed information to the police who had gone with a bomb squad to the Mukherjee residence but had found nothing. The insane man had just thrown the false news probably to confuse Avanti and scare her further. Even as the showdown happened here the police had raided Premnath’s house. They confiscated the special rifle hidden inside the closet and were now going to get the ballistics done to check if the bullet used for murdering Shamsunder Valmiki and Prantik were from the same rifle. They also found passbooks with dubious transactions from Italy and some from Middle East. All in all, besides these evidences his self-confession which was auto recorded in both the walkie talkies now in police custody was enough to seal Premnath’s fate.
As they went to bed that night, Keshav held Avanti sleeping peacefully in his arms and smiled at his good fortune. He was just going to grab it with both his hands…
The next day they had a successful press conference where the who’s who of the media world came up to take a few bytes. Avanti sat in the audience and that boosted his morale multifold. After the reporters dispersed, he came back to Vedshastra with Avanti and officially announced a bonus to all the employees to their utmost delight and everyone in their own way conveyed their pledge to work hard to achieve more such success. Kamya and Sahil were to come down for a week in a couple of days to spent time with them and he looked forward to some quality family time before the clinical trial began. Sahil’s parents were coming along as well and he had already planned to visit them to talk things out. Nothing pleased him more than re connecting with Rama aunty who had been there at a few crucial moments in his life before his father had blown it away.
They walked into his cabin only to see a completely defeated Rohini waiting for them. Avanti went forwards and hugged the woman as the latter cried her heart out. For the first time Keshav felt bad for her… whatever it was she didn’t deserve to be treated like the way Premnath did. He ordered tea for them as they sat and Avanti held the woman’s hands trying to console her.
“…Avanti…Keshav… I am sorry…so so…sorry… I didn’t know Parminder…or Premath… or whoever he was… I just didn’t know… you were hurt because of me…. So sorry…” Rohini wailed.
“…No Rohini… that man took everyone for a ride… he fooled all of us… he was a rotten man to the core… he was cruel Rohini… just try to forget him…ok…? We are all with you…?” Avanti spoke softly.
“…Rohini… Avanti is right… we don’t blame you…” He spoke as well, hoping to reassure her.
Rohini nodded and opened her purse to take out an envelope and handed it over to Keshav. “here… I don’t think I need it anymore Keshav… I have been unreasonably greedy… I will transfer the money as well tomorrow…”
“… Rohini…” He stood up as he spoke. “…I didn’t give this to you because you were getting married… I gave it because you deserved it… for giving the precious years of your life to our family…I shudder to think of what would have happened to Kamya had you not been there for her those days… so… rest assured its all yours and you are and always will be a part of the family…”
Two pairs of wet eyes looked at him. One filled with gratitude and the other… well… he couldn’t read Avanti this time… nonetheless he was pleased to see her reaction and hoped to fine a lone moment with her for the surprise he had planed for her later in the day. She was busy consoling Rohini but that’s was his Avanti… full of love and always giving.