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"You kidding me, right?" Trishanu finally exclaimed with amazement. "It's so bloody obvious that he was lying, being evasive all along, and you didn't see it?!"
"I don't know..." Trishul groaned, "I don't know anything!"
Now that he had recounted the events, repeated their conversations... answered Trishanu's astonished questions, Trishul finally realised that all of Rachit's mumbled answers were indeed so very incomplete... sketchy.... with hardly any substance in any of those disjointed and garbled replies.
"He said his father's a businessman," Trishanu was saying, "travelling around the world, then what is his mother doing teaching primary school? And, schools have reopened after Christmas break, how can a teacher go away now? And what did he say... um, 'some remote region of the north-east' ? How very convenient!"
Trishul stared back, his mind trying to make sense of things.
"He was with you for two weeks, and you don't have his last name... and he's just from 'up-north'... and you don't know what work he does!"
Trishul remained silent, trying desperately to remember if the man had mentioned any place name, or, about his work... but no, each time there had been an indistinct murmur, and Rachit had changed the subject.
"And he had no wallet or cellphone on him when you found him?"
Trishul shook his head, suddenly feeling utterly stupid.
"Sanjeev was right," continued Trishanu, "there's no road or track near that wood, so, how did he get there? And if this was his first visit to this part of the country, what was he doing driving around that late in the night?"
Trishul sat with his head bowed, dazed.
"Did you inform the police about the crash?"
Trishul nodded, "Sanjeev did..."
"The police searched the highway closest to the woods, but called Sanjeev to tell him they'd found no wreckage..."
"Little brother, little brother," sighed Trishanu shaking his head, "how could you allow yourself to be..."
"But he was hurt, badly hurt," Trishul interrupted, his tone plaintive, "even Sanjeev will agree..."
"Yes, and Sanjeev also mentioned that the injuries didn't exactly agree with a crash or a fall!"
"I don't know," Trishul blurted in despair.
"Um..." Trishanu hesitated for a moment, "maybe I shouldn't be asking... but, was there anything... like... um, did you two... um, you know..." before trailing off, the eyes questioning.
Trishul looked at his cousin for a moment, uncomprehending, and then realisation dawned, "Yes," he replied, looking into Trishanu's eyes.
"And... um, he initiated it?"
"No, it... it was mutual... it just happened..." Trishul answered after a brief pause, still disbelieving... the 'magic' suddenly gone, everything so uncertain.
"God," Trishanu finally exclaimed, shaking his head, "he bloody set you up... he was... he was... Gosh!
He was seething, and there was a lot more he wanted to say... but it was neither the time for pointing out Trishul's naiveties, nor tell him how utterly stupid he had been. It wasn't the time for accusations and recriminations, rather, they needed to keep calm and find out... find out the reason behind Amit's actions - his sudden appearance, his ensnaring Trishul... and then his disappearance. All this had to have a meaning... there had to be some plan... but what? And, why?!
"Well, think carefully and tell me," he finally asked Trishul, "is something missing, anything..."
"No..." Trishul shook his head, aghast, adding softly, "well, I wouldn't really know, only Ashu-kaka or Sunil can tell..." And then looked up, "He's not a thief!"
"I'm sure he's not, c'mon, his dad's a millionaire, and I wouldn't expect him to pick up a painting or an objet d'art, no matter how priceless! What I meant was... well, I don't know anything about making wine, but you guys must have secret recipes, or formulas, or whatever... special ingredients, and stuff like that... things that's special to your process, makes you what you are in the wine trade... your secrets. Was this man curious, did he ask questions about the winery, or how you do things?"
Trishul looked up with a start, his mind going back to their conversation that second night on the terrace at the vineyard... remembering Rachit's questions about the vineyard and the winery...
He nodded, suddenly feeling very sick.
"So, where do you keep all those papers, and do you have those information in your laptop or iPad?"
Trishul sat silent, disbelieving... refusing to accept what seemed so very obvious.
"Think," Trishanu persisted, "you usually carry the iPad around, but leave the laptop at home. He was alone the whole day, both at the farmhouse, and at the vineyard bungalow. And where do you keep these papers, at home or the office safe?"
Trishul didn't want to think... this was so beyond him... so down and dirty, and he just couldn't believe that Rachit was capable of any such act!
"Please, little brother... "
Trishul shook his head, "Nothing's in the laptop or iPad, and all papers are in the office safe... only André has access..."
"Call him and ask him to check..." said Trishanu, "and what about your supplier and client lists?"
"But, how... how could Rachit possibly get..." Trishul began.
"He's NOT Rachit, he's Amit," Trishanu exclaimed with exasperation, cutting in, "and we don't know how, so, you just call André and ask. And I'm going to..." he stopped as Trishul abruptly stood up and walked into the bedroom, "What happend?"
Trishul didn't reply as he picked up his mobile phone from the nightstand.
"Who are you calling?" asked Trishanu, following him in.
"Raman," Trishul mumbled, his finger rapidly tapping the screen.
"Raman?" asked Trishanu, "That journalist friend of yours?"
Trishul nodded, "He's the news editor for the network now."
"Why?" asked Trishanu, "You already read the article, what more can he tell you?"
"I want to find out where he's staying..." replied Trishul, turning away as Raman answered the call.
Trishanu walked out to the balcony with a snort, leaving them to talk.
"Trishul, what's going on," he asked as his cousin joined him after a few minutes, "why do you need to know where he's staying?!"
"I need to see him," Trishul replied.
"Are you crazy?!" Trishanu exclaimed with disbelief.
"I need to talk to Rachi, um, Amit... I need to know..."
"Know what?!" snapped Trishanu, angry, "What will you ask: why he did what he did, huh? Ask him what he took, and why?!"
"I need to take a shower and change," Trishul said, walking back into the bedroom, "Rach, um, Amit is leaving this morning, going back to Dubai, and I need to catch him before he leaves for the airport..."
"Are you out of your freaking mind?!" exclaimed Trishanu with rage.
Rejecting Trishanu's pleas, and declining his offer to at least allow him to accompany him to the hotel, Trishul set out for Colaba... his mind a total blank.
He didn't know what to expect... he didn't know what he'd do, but he had to see it for himself... see the man, meet him, just once more. Maybe they'd talk... maybe he'd even ask him, ask him what was it all about...
Both father and son, Raman had mentioned, travelled in their private jets and so, were not bound by commercial flight timings... informing Trishul that Amit was supposed to leave before lunch. He'd also mentioned that Amit had a Presidential Suite at the Palace, had given the details, so Trishul didn't need to enquire, and he was thankful for that - he'd simply take the elevator up. The people at the hotel - the valets, the frontdesk staff, the managers - all knew him well, too well, and he wanted to avoid them... was in no frame of mind for social courtesies, nor any attention, not now...
Stepping out of the elevator Trishul paused for a moment before turning and walking down the long passageway... but he had hardly taken a few paces when the door at the far end opened and Rachi... um, Amit walk out...
His breath caught... the sight of Rach... um, Amit, setting his heart rampaging as it thumped a wild beat.
God, the man looked as gorgeous as ever, even more so... almost glowing with an ethereal light.
Exuding power as he strode down the passage flanked by a young girl (probably the newest girlfriend mentioned in the article), and a man (or, was it a boy... his so-called 'constant companion'?), enwrapped in one another... giggly as they exchanged sallies in low whispers, engrossed... not even noticing Trishul standing there, right in their path.
The girl, breathtakingly beautiful, hanging onto Amit's arm as if for dear life. The man, even prettier, right beside him - whip-lash slender, yet astonishingly well defined. Nattily clothed in colourful ensemble, and sparkling with the jewelleries that adorned his fingers, wrists and the numerous piercings he sported... every bit of exposed skin (and there was a lot of it), embellished with colourful tattoes... the hair artfully crafted and highlighted with wild neon streaks - a shimmering avant-garde portrait, a glossy promotional brochure for some exotic destination!
A surge of hurtful indignation coursed through Trishul at the sense of betrayal he felt... quickly followed by a twinge of anguished petulance...
"Hello Amit..." he greeted with a smile as the trio approached.
"Do I know you?" Amit asked pausing midstride, head cocked, the eyes seeming to twinkle.
"Oh, God, not another one!" exclaimed his male companion with an exaggerated flutter of his hands, the tone derisively frosty.
"You tell me... Rachit," answered Trishul ignoring the jibe, the smile still intact.
The right eyebrow rose a fraction of a millimetre, the eyes suddenly turning cold, the look almost contemptuous... and then he walked away, without a word, the girl still clinging onto his arm, both giggly as she whispered something into his ear.
"Ah, things people will do!" sniggered the young man rolling his eyes, and then looking directly at Trishul added, "Honey, you're not his type, so run along..." quickly walking away, leaving Trishul rooted to the spot in speechless abasement... gaping at the departing trio, red-faced and utterly humiliated.
... to be continued
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