The first call Ali made was to Nalin, giving him quick details and then he called Kajol and Milind, asking them over urgently.
XVII. On the Trail
"Well, what do you think," asked Kajol, looking up at him, trying to digest the meaning of what Ali had just narrated.
"Honestly, I don't think this is the time to sit and debate, we need to get out and DO something!"
"But what?" questioned Kajol, "besides, you've already informed Nalin, I'm sure he will be doing..." but didn't finish her sentence as Ali interrupted.
"Yes, he will act, but we must also chip in, do whatever we can to help him... Mayank suspected Ajay, and I was willing to accept that, as far as the calls were concerned. But after the break-in, I had my doubts. Ajay is a stranger to this place, just been here for a couple of weeks, he just can't pull off something like this, besides, Peter said Harsh had gone willingly, and Harsh would NOT go with Ajay..."
"So?" asked Milind.
"I'd like to talk to Lluis," Ali replied, his voice tense.
"Would... would Harsh go with Lluis?" asked Kajol.
Ali shook his head, "No, he wouldn't, but that guy is devious, capable of anything; and he hates Mayank. Besides, he's a local guy and may know all sorts of people, and could easily have someone pick Harsh up!"
"Oh my God," exclaimed Kajol, eye wide with horror, "do you... do you think he did that?!"
"But Peter said Harsh was happy to see the guy..." Milind interjected.
Ali nodded, "Yes, so, who was he? Not Ajay, not Lluis, and neither Mayank! Where did they go? Did Harsh return to the college? Or, did he get off somewhere and was returning, when someone else picked him up?" he shrugged, "I don't know, but I'm sure Lluis could help...
"Where will we find him?" asked Milind.
"I know a few of his friends, and they will know," Ali replied.
"And then what?" asked Kajol.
"I don't know yet," Ali replied, "but first, we have to report everything to Nalin, and then," he paused for a while before adding, "I'm also a local guy, and I too have a few connections, if you will... know people that ordinary folks would rather not want to know..." he shrugged, "I'll get their help... but I'll make sure that whoever did this won't get away!"
Milind and Kajol stared... a new awareness into their lovable friend, Ali's life...
"Well, I better start," he said standing up.
"I'm coming too," said Milind, getting up. And as Ali stared at him, and then at Kajol, he saw them both nod, both determined. He smiled, "Let's go then!"
"Kajol, stay in your office" he instructed as they walked out, "and keep us informed if anything happens, anything!" She nodded, her heart slamming, her mind sending out a silent prayer.
Lluis was easy to locate and the very first call Ali made while driving out of the resort, led him to the man's house. "You wait in the car while I go and check..." Ali said getting out of the car.
"Lluis, I need to talk to you..." Ali said as the door was opened by the very person he was seeking.
"Not here, please, let's go outside..."
Lluis remained, looking keenly at Ali, trying to decide, make up his mind, and then his lips curled, "Don't tell me you are that desperate and need me to fuc..."
"Lluis, please, cut it out," Ali responded curtly, his face set, his eyes cold.
Lluis was taken aback, but managed a smile, "Okay," he said walking out and closing the door behind him.
"Where is Harsh?" Ali asked as they walked out onto the street.
Lluis gaped, totally blank.
"Lluis, where is Mayank and Harsh, where did you take them?" Ali repeated.
The man went on staring, his eyes wide, the mouth opening and shutting.
"WHERE DID YOU TAKE MAYANK AND HARSH!" Ali suddenly thundered, making Lluis nearly jump, as passersby paused to stare at the duo.
"What... what do you mean?!" gasped Lluis. "Where are they?"
"That's exactly what I'm asking you, buddy, where did you take them and what did you do to that kid?"
"Wait," exclaimed Lluis, suddenly the import of Ali's words sinking in, "You mean... you mean Harsh has been kidnapped?"
"Cut it out Lluis," hissed Ali, his eyes blazing, "I'll give you a minute and then walk away from here... right to the police station, and I'm sure that I don't need to tell you what happens after that," Ali threatened, his voice cracking with the tension.
"Holy Jesus," Lluis exclaimed, "Ali, I have nothing to do with whatever you're saying, honest, I have no clue... Where are they?"
"That's what I want to know, from you."
"You... you suspect me?!"
"Yes, I do, you are vicious, malevolent, and," Ali paused for a second, "your love for Mayank is well known to everyone. And your threat to Harsh, at the pizzeria..."
"Ali, Jesus, you must be crazy," Lluis cried out, "yes, I'm... I... I've... my God, kidnap?! Gosh, no way, and why would I do anything like that?!"
"Well, Lluis, I have no choice," Ali said with a shake of his head, turning away, "I'm going to the police."
"Hey, wait up," Lluis called, running after him, "I'll come along. Ali, trust me, I have no clue to what you're saying, but I too want to find answers and yes, I want Mayank safe..." he added, his face red. "When did this happen?"
Ali was thoroughly confused... Lluis seemed really shocked, and also scared... then who was it?! "Monday afternoon..."
Monday?!" asked Lluis, suddenly stepping in front of Ali and grabbing his arms.
"Yes..." Ali answered, shocked by Lluis' action.
"But... but I saw Mayank about nine this morning..." he exclaimed.
"Where?!" shouted Ali.
"We were at the church..." replied Lluis, "it's a special family occasion, and every year, today, we have a special service at the Igreja Maria Immaculada Conceicao, and as we came out I saw him standing on the steps."
"Which church?" exclaimed Ali.
"I just told you," answered Lluis, "Maria... um, ah... the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception."
"And?" Ali asked, holding his breath.
"Well, he was there, standing on the steps," Lluis recounted, "and as we stood at the top, talking, a cab pulled up and Mayank got in..."
Now it was Ali's turn to grab Lluis' arms, "Did you by any chance get the number of the cab, or the name of the company?" his voice choked, heart slamming.
Lluis nodded vigorously, "It's my cousin's cab service..."
"Okay, let's go to his office..." Ali shouted, pulling Lluis by his arm.
Joki Pinto, Lluis' maternal cousin was a portly young man... with a face that never ceased to smile, "Ah, my cousin has come to pay me a visit," he boomed, greeting Lluis as the three men entered his tiny office. "What do you need, a car for your friends, eh?"
"Joki, today morning one of your cars picked up a passenger at the Panaji church," Lluis launched directly, not bothering with greetings or introductions, "where did he go?"
"Ah, church of Our Lady?" smiled Joki, and then lowering his booming voice winked at the three men, "seemed like a cloak-and-dagger case," he grinned, shaking his head, the curly mane doing a lively jig of their own, "Funny people you have now days, they book cars over the phone and then hand deliver the cash... and destination? Tsk, the middle of nowhere!"
"Joki," Ali spoke, "listen, this is a serious matter, a guy has been kidnapped, the police are already involved... Who booked the car and where did you drop Mayank?"
"Mayank," exclaimed Joki, the smile on his face vanishing for the first time, "yes, that's the name he said..."
"Who said?!" asked Lluis.
"The guy who called to book the car..."
"Well, I guess, this way we won't get too far," interrupted Milind, "Mr. Pinto, please tell us from the beginning, and please, make it fast!"
Joki Pinto looked at the three men and nodded, "Well, today morning around seven, I received a call; a man said he needed a car. Said I had been highly recommended, and he'd pay me double the going rate if I could do what he wanted. Then he went on to give very detailed and precise instructions... telling me to send the car to the church at exactly nine, said the driver was to look for a young person on the steps, said his name was Mayank, and then he was to drive him to a spot halfway between Usgao and Gangem, and drop him there," the man paused, taking a deep breath, "He even gave me a number that he said was painted on the culvert where Mayank was to be dropped, insisting that I write it down..."
"Then?" asked Milind.
"He said he would send the money, and a sealed envelope... The driver was to hand over the envelope to Mayank after he dropped him, and immediately return... and..."
"And?" asked Ali.
"And the driver shouldn't speak to the passenger, no question, no chat, and the envelope should remain sealed..." he paused for another deep breath before continuing, "Well, I sent the car to the church, and the driver just returned, about five minutes back, reporting that he had dropped off the passenger as instructed..."
"The money and the envelope?" asked Milind.
"That came exactly at seven-thirty," replied Joki, "a large, sealed packet with two envelopes inside - the money in one with my name on it, and the other marked as MAYANK."
"Who brought the money?"
Joki shrugged, "A guy, pretty ragged and dirty, said he was asked to deliver it to me..."
"So, it was delivered to your home, seven-thirty, huh?" asked Lluis.
Joki nodded, looking keenly at the men, "Do I get into any trouble, huh?" he asked Ali.
"His brother," Ali replied pointing at Milind, "is handling the case, and as long as you cooperate, I guess, you won't have any problem with the law. Now, we want a car and a good driver, preferably the one who dropped Mayank."
"Sure, he's still here," Joki rose, opening the door and calling out, "Antonio!"
As they trooped out of Joki Pinto's office, Ali suddenly stopped in mid stride, "I know," he cried out, slamming his fist into his palm, the eyes gleaming, "I know who took Harsh..."
"Who?" asked Lluis, as Milind and Joki stared at him.
"You mean, you suspect Ajay?" asked Milind, uncertain.
"Tsk," Ali shook his head, "I don't suspect, I KNOW! And I also know the reason... But, how could I be such an idiot?!" he exclaimed, adding mysteriously, "I can never be wrong about a person... and yet, I didn't read the signs, even after Mayank told me..." he paused and then looking at the three confused men shouted, "Let's go, we need to hurry!"
"After he told you what?" Milind asked, clueless.
"Yes, what's all this about?" asked Joki.
"Who is it, tell us!" the three demanded.
"Later..." Ali waved his hand as he walked away from the group, taking out his phone and making a call as the three men stood, watching, and wondering
"Kajol," he exclaimed, shaking his hand wildly as he cut the flurry of questions, "there isn't time for all that now! You need to do certain things, so listen carefully - keep an eye out for Mayank, and call us if he returns, as soon as he returns, not that he will be returning any soon. And call this person..." he added in a low voice, giving her a name, "How, I don't know, but get his personal number and call him, identify yourself and ask him to reach here ASAP. How you convince him, I don't have a clue - just tell him that his son is in grave danger; use all your intelligence, your charm and all your guile, but get him to come here, it's super urgent!"
"No-no, I can't explain," snapped Ali as Kajol began to ask, "we need to rush and every moment is precious!"
"Do... do you think they... they will be hurt?" asked Kajol, her voice trembling.
"No," Ali replied, "I don't think either of them will be hurt... but we still need to hurry. We need to go to the spot where Mayank was dropped off, and as soon as possible."
"Okay, do it as I asked," Ali told Kajol before cutting the call and returning to his companions.
"Well, we'll do what Mayank did..." he said, ushering them into the car and getting in beside the driver, "there has to be something to lead us! And Milind, I think you better call your brother in on this... not the bloody police force, just your brother. Give him the details and ask him to talk to Joki... Tell him we'll keep in touch, and inform him once we reach the spot."
Milind nodded, reaching into his pocket for the phone, as Joki Pinto bent low, "Ali, please keep me informed too, and any help, any sort, just let me know."
Ali nodded and turning to the driver said, "C'mon, let's go..."
To be continued...
a story by outlaw
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