Saturday, June 17, 2017

SWAPPED - The Final Part


Ajay was another 15 minutes into Game of Thrones when the door burst open again. This time, it was
the Boss with his gun-totting men along with Anu.

"What do 'you' want??" Ajay said feeling tired of men repeatedly barging into his house.
"Shut up and sit where you are! Your wife stole my money!" the Boss shouted at him.

Ajay nodded understandably as if this was an everyday occurrence and sat back down on the sofa to
continue watching GOT while the men turned the house upside down searching for the gold.

A couple of minutes later, one by one the men returned back to the living room.
"It's nowhere in the bedroom," one of them reported to the Boss.
"I searched the kitchen, nothing there too," said another one.
The others too turned up empty-handed.

Ajay sighed irritated at all the ruckus and frowned trying to concentrate on the GOT with
his one good eye. The Boss turned to look at him and felt his anger boil over. He grabbed the TV
preparing to throw it on the floor, when Ajay jumped up,
"No! Not the TV, please!!"

The Boss stopped, looked at him with a mixture of confusion and anger.

Ajay went down on his knees and begged,
"Please, break anything else but the TV!"

The Boss sighed and let go of the TV. He then searched for the power button and carefully switched
it off. Ajay sighed, relieved, but still troubled that he was missing out on GOT.

"There's a repeat tomorrow afternoon," Anu said to Ajay.
"Oh!" Ajay said looking up at her, his face lighting up with hope.
"Yeah! I was worried I missed it too because... of whatever all this is, but then I remembered that
there's a repeat tomorrow!" she added cheerfully.
"Oh! That's so good to know! I will make sure I...."
"BOTH OF YOU SHUT UP!!" the Boss shouted.

Anu got irritated and said,"She's not here! What are you going to do now? Let me go. I don't have
anything to do with this!"
"Of course, she isn't here! I synced her phone's location to mine, so I always know where she is!
I wanted to see if she hid the gold here, and now that we know it isn't here, we are going to go get it from her!" the Boss said with an evil smile, pulled out his phone and waited for it to pinpoint
her location. After a minute of awkward waiting, the phone chimed as it updated her location.

"Let's hurry up! I think she's trying to get out of the city!" The Boss said rushing out.



***

After about 10 minutes, the van came to a stop. Priya was forcibly pulled out as she kept
struggling. It looked like they were at a huge garage. It was dark all around except for
headlights from a road about a kilometer away.

"Let's go, dhidhi. My father is waiting for you," the Young Man said.

Priya struggled even more, but she was held by 2 strong men who dragged her to the garage-like
structure.

It looked like nobody was around, but once they entered, they noticed a group of men huddled around
a TV watching GOT. As soon as they saw that the Young Man had arrived, they all jumped up and ran
to their guard positions.

An old man in a wheelchair with a tube running through his nose and IVs in his hands smiled at her.
"No need to be scared, beta. I am going to make sure you are well-compensated for this," the old
man said, his voice weak from ill-health.

"Screw you!" Priya said, only to be slapped by one of the men holding her. The Young Man,
angered by the man's action, pulled out his gun and shot him in his chest. The man fell down
curled up in pain. As Priya watched in horror, the man stopped struggling with a final groan and was still.

"I am sorry, dhidhi, but he must have known by now that this is not how we treat our guests. Come,
dhidhi, let me get you comfortable," the Young Man said.

The man holding Priya gingerly accompanied her to a sofa and made her sit on it.

"We have a doctor here who is going to get the kidney out of you, and then we will take the organ
and my father to a nearby hospital and get it transplanted," he said. A man in a white coat
dutifully walked in from another room with an IV needle in his hand.

"The doctor said I can't give you anything to eat or drink, so would you like to have some IV fluids??"
the Young Man said with a smirk on his face and waited for her to get the joke. When she didn't respond, he motioned the doctor to go ahead with a disappointed look on his face. Priya struggled and tried to get her arm away while one of the men held her down forcibly. The doctor grabbed her arm and concentrated to find the vein to stick the needle in when gunshots were heard from the outside.

"What's going on??" the Young Man said jumping up. The men inside grabbed guns and rushed towards the door only for the door to burst open. The Boss walked in along with half a dozen men holding machine guns.

A moment of absolute silence prevailed while The Boss looked around the place, taking everything
in, and his eyes finally rested on Priya sitting on the sofa.

"So, I see you have a bigger operation that I anticipated," he said taking steps towards her.

"You will not touch her!" the Young Man said jumping in front of him.

The Boss stopped, looked at the Young Man from head to toe as if measuring him, then laughed.
“Is this all you got?? These scrawny 'kids'?? If you thought you can cheat me and get away with it, you are wrong! You fucked with the wrong man this time, bitch!" he said ending his monologue while the Young Man tried to make sense of everything that he said. All he understood was that this man, the Boss, was trying to humiliate him.
“You think you can come into 'my' home and talk down to 'my' face?” the Young Man said moving threateningly closer to the Boss.

Meanwhile, one of the Young Man's men, realizing they were understaffed, took out his extra gun and handed it over to the doctor. The doctor hesitated. His life's mission was to save lives, not to take them. All he wanted was to finish this darn operation and get the hell out of this place with his life. But the man insisted, pushing the gun to the doctor. He gingerly took it and held it up pointing at the Boss' men. The man motioned the doctor to cock the gun. The doctor had watched enough action movies to know what he meant. He steadied his shivering hand and proceeded to pull the slide back, but what he didn't realize was that this caused his finger on the trigger to squeeze it and as soon as he let the slide go back, his gun fired.

This caused the Boss' men to start shooting, and so did the Young Man's men.
“KILL THEM ALL!!” the Young Man shouted punching the Boss and both falling to the ground struggling and punching each other.

"Get my father away!" the Young Man shouted, in between the punching and getting punched, at the doctor, who put his gun down on the floor and rushed to the old man in the wheelchair. But bullets ripped through the old man killing him instantly. The doctor left him and ran to the other room.

Priya was still in shock, sitting all out in the open as bullets whizzed past her. She finally
came to her senses and ducked behind the sofa. A moment later, she realized that the sofa wouldn't protect her as bullets were passing through the sofa as if it was made out of butter. Keeping her
head down, she quickly crawled on her arms and knees to the room that the doctor had run into.
Once in, she shut the door. The doctor was quickly packing up his bag unaware that Priya
was in there. The room had a dirty table and surgical instruments on a tray close-by. She realized
this was where they were going to extract her kidney. In a rage, she rushed to the doctor who
turned around in horror, and kicked him between his legs. He fell down holding his crotch and
groaning in pain.

She looked around and noticed another door. She opened it and ran outside. There were
cars parked around that weren't there before. Gunfire continued from the inside. She noticed the faint headlights from the road far away. She decided to make a run for it.

That's when she heard thuds and muffled voices. She stopped and listened. It was from an SUV, the
Boss' SUV. It was Anu and her husband.

She tried to open the door, but it was locked. Finally, she found a huge rock and broke the
window. Anu's hands were bound. She tried to untie the ropes when a bullet hit the
passenger side door of the SUV. No, there was nobody trying to kill them. It was a stray bullet from
all the fire exchange happening inside the garage. A sense of urgency came over them. Priya pulled Anu through the window. Then helped her up and started to run towards the road. More noises from the SUV.

"Its Ajay!" Anu said running back to the SUV, but Priya got hold of her and pulled her back
towards the road saying,
"We don't have time! Lets get out of here!"

Ajay managed to push himself out through the broken window and fell down on the ground. He stood up and saw Priya and Anu running towards the road. Right then, a stray bullet hit him in his leg, and he fell down on the ground. He shouted for help, but Priya and Anu kept running without a backward glance.

A few minutes later, they reached the road. They could no longer hear the gunshots. May be it was over or may be the noises couldn't reach all the way out here, but they didn't want to wait to find out. They could hear sirens in the distance.

Now that she had stopped running and the adrenaline was wearing off, Priya felt a sting in the
right side of her abdomen. It felt wet. It was blood. She had been shot.


***


When Priya woke up, she was in a hospital bed. Her wound bandaged. Anu sitting next to her.

"What happened to those bastards?" Priya said.
"Most of them are dead, including your boss. The cops arrested the ones that survived," Anu said.

Priya sighed and looked at the TV running at the end of the ward. It was a news channel showing
the blurred images of the shootout site.

"What do you mean you can't put Game of Thrones in here??!" a familiar voice shouted from the bed at the end of the ward.
"Sir, this is a hospital, not a movie theater!" the nurse shouted back.

"Is it...." Priya asked Anu.
Anu nodded grimly.

After a while, Priya got up fighting her pain and dragged her IV stand to Ajay's bed. He had a huge bandage on his leg, and his face was swollen.

"Hi, Ajay. I need to talk to you about something that's been long overdue.." she said with a guilty look on her face.
"Well, me too! I dont know anything about what all those people wanted, but I know what I want!! A
fucking divorce!" he shouted.
"Okay," Priya said, taken aback.

A few moments of uncomfortable silence prevailed while both avoided each others gaze.
"Okay, I will just be over there in my bed," Priya said finally turning back, then hesitated and turned back to him and asked, "Is there anything else you want to ask? Any....."
"I do have one thing to ask!!" Ajay shouted back. Again, a few seconds of dramatic uncomfortable silence prevailed. Priya wondered if she was supposed to specifically ask him what it was that he wanted, but then thankfully he added,
"The new TV that we bought?? It's mine!! I get to keep it!"
"Okay," Priya said blankly. Once again, Ajay avoided her gaze.

Priya finally turned around and gingerly made her way back to her bed when she
noticed someone very familiar in one of the beds. It was the Pani Puri guy! She pushed away the
privacy screens and rushed in. He had bandages around his head and most of his body.

There was nobody at his bedside. She took the opportunity to try to wake him up and ask him where the gold was. A girl walked in.
"Who are you??"
"I.... is he alright??" Priya said.
"My brother is in a coma," the girl said sorrowfully.
"Oh!.... Listen, can you ask him to call me when he wakes up?" Priya said jotting down her number
on a paper at the table beside him.
"The doctor said he might never wake up," the girl said, her voice breaking.
Priya ignored her, finished writing her number, then smiled awkwardly at the girl and left.


***


A month later, the Pani Puri guy's family brought him home. He was still in a coma, but they
couldn't afford the hospital bills, so they decided to instead take care of him at home.

The neighbors complained about the stink from his pani puri pushcart which had been lying their
untouched for a month since the accident.

The sister pushed the cart to the end of the slum where there was a huge concrete dustbin to throw away the rotten pani puri masala, rotten samosas and other eatables.

"We already cleared out the dustbin, hand it over here!," said the garbage truck driver.

The girl handed him the spoilt pani puri masala, and the man dumped them into the back of the truck.
What neither of them noticed was a small cloth pouch at the bottom of the masala that fell into the garbage. After they finished emptying everything, the driver locked the backdoor and got
into the driver's seat as he watched the girl push the cart back into the slum. He lit up a cigarette as he always did at the end of his workday, then turned on the ignition and started his long drive to the landfill.

THE END.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

SWAPPED PART II


"We found the guy who stole the card," Priya said.
"That's good! Where is he?" the Boss asked.
"He... he died," Priya said.

The Boss sat back in his seat, looking ahead at the deserted street through his windshield, silent for a few seconds.  He clicked his tongue and murmured something.
"What?" Priya said, frowning.
"I said, it's all so convenient.  Someone steals my money and then 'conveniently' dies.  Am I supposed to simply forget about the money??"

Priya was quiet trying to assess what he implied.  The Boss sighed and reached forward to retrieve something from the glove box.  A metallic click followed.  From the passenger seat, Priya got a glimpse of its source.  A gun.  The boss turned around to face Priya with the gun pointed at her and said,
"I don't know what kind of a game you think you are playing, but I will give you 10 seconds to tell me where the money is."

Anu caught Priya's hand in fear.  Her nails once again dug into her skin.  Priya winced and pulled her hand away.

"Just relax, okay?  I.... I will get you the money.  Put down the gun and..." then it hit her, "My husband! It was you! You are keeping him as a hostage!"

The Boss looked confused for a moment, then recovered and brought the gun closer to Priya's face, saying,
"Enough of your stupid games! Is this some kind of a scam you run on rich men??  Tell me where the money is right now or.... HEY!!"

Priya had managed to push the gun up with her left hand while simultaneously managing to open the door on her side and slid out to the ground.  Anu tried to do the same with the door on her side, but before she could, The Boss jumped on her and grabbed her while she struggled.

Priya realizing The Boss was busy, got up and rushed towards the concrete seat at the bus stop for cover.  The Boss squeezed out 2 shots in her direction, but missed her as Anu kept struggling.  The Boss turned his attention on Anu for a moment and hit her on her head with the butt of the gun, and her body went limp in her seat.  He cursed and locked the doors.  He rolled down the front passenger side window.

Priya had managed to reach the concrete seat and hid behind it.

"I got your friend here.  I am going to kill her if you don't come out!" the Boss shouted.

Priya, her heart racing, peeked over the concrete seat and saw The Boss pointing his gun at Anu's limp body in the passenger seat.

The noise of an oncoming vehicle could be heard.  May be she should wave down for help.

"I want that money, you bitch! I am going to count till 3...."

The vehicle urgently rushed towards them.

"1..... "

The vehicle, a van, screeched to a stop right in between them, blocking her view of the SUV.  Then gun shots echoed through the night as someone from the van shot at the SUV.  Not a moment later, The Boss fired up the SUV and raced down the road and took a left turn vanishing out of their sight.

Priya sat hidden behind the concrete seat as she heard the van's door slid open and someone stepping out.  She had another peek.  A young man was walking towards her with a gun in his hand.

"You are safe, dhidhi.  You can come out now," The Young Man said.  He put away his gun and waved his empty hands at her.  Priya recognized him,
"YOU!!" Priya shouted, "I told you to stay away from me!"

"But dhidhi, I saved your life.  I have had my men follow you for months.  I thought I lost you tonight, but I remembered how you spent a lot of time with that man, so I asked them to follow him instead.  I knew something was wrong," he said taking more steps towards her.
"Stay away from me! Dont take another step!" Priya said drenched in sweat and her body shivering in fright.
"I wont hurt you, dhidhi, you are very important to me..... and to my father," he said continuing to walk towards her.
"No, no!  HELP!! HEEELP!!" she shouted desperately on the deserted road.  The Young Man rushed towards her pulling out what looked like a metal rod from behind him and hit her right across her face, knocking her out.

***

When Priya came to, she realized she was in the van.  She was lying on the floor while 4 men sat on the seats around her.  Priya freaked out and sat up, looking around desperately for a way out.

"Oh, dhidhi, you are awake!" the Young Man said from the front seat and then got up and headed towards her, swaying and holding onto the sides for support as the van rocked on the bumpy road.

"What do you want??" she said.

"You know what I want, dhidhi, but more importantly, I want to help 'you.'  I will give you whatever you want.  I can give you lots of money if that's what you want, dhidhi!" he said with a forced smile.

"What? After killing me and taking my kidney??" she said.

"I wont kill you, dhidhi.  Okay, unless my dad needs another kidney in the future, then may be," he smiled and waited expecting her to find the humor in it, but then disappointed, continued, "The doctor says my father has some kind of a rare type, and you are the only one we could find that is a match.  And believe me, we have searched everywhere.  And here, lemme prove to you that I am someone who keeps his word," he said taking out his phone and dialing a number.

**

Ajay's left eye was swollen shut, but he could see fine through his right eye.  3 burly men stood in his living room making sure he stayed put on his sofa.  He looked at the clock.  It had been 15 minutes since these strange men barged into his living room and turned off the TV and beat him up.  Every time he tried to ask them what this was all about, they just threatened to beat him up even more.  But every minute that passed was killing him from the inside.  There were just 40 minutes left of the Game of Thrones episode.  He 'had' to watch it, because the moment it was over, his social feeds would be filled with spoilers from his psychopathic friends.

He finally gathered up his courage and said,
"How about I get you men some beers and we watch some TV together?" he said, smiling through his bloody face.

The burly men turned to look at him, with a scowl on their faces.  One of them rushed to him brandishing his fist to land another punch on his face, shouting, "WHY DONT YOU SHUT THE FU...." when his phone rang, and he stopped in his tracks.

"Hello."
"Leave the husband.  We got dhidhi," the mice-like voice from the phone said.
"Yes, sir," the burly man said, and motioned the others to move out.

Ajay sighed, relieved.  He had many questions as to what the hell all this was about, but he was more worried about the GOT spoilers.

"We will be watching you, so don't even think about doing anything!" the burly man said before he followed the others out and shut the door behind him.  Ajay gingerly stood up and plugged in the TV and continued watching GOT.


***

The Boss had driven for 15 minutes around the town, looking repeatedly at his rear-view mirror to make sure nobody was following him.  He finally hit the brakes.  Anu's limp body hit the back of his seat making her come to.  She felt a sharp pain in her temple, and it took her a few moments to recollect all the night's events.

"You will stay in your seat if you know what's good for you!" the Boss shouted at her looking at her through his rear-view mirror.
"Listen, I am in no way part of whatever is going on.  Just let me go," she said her voice quivering.

"You think I am dumb?!?  You and your friend are obviously part of some big scam.  Bet she's scammed a lot more rich men like me.  How else can she hire those men to protect her??  But she chose the wrong man this time!  Nobody can run a big business in this city like me without 'some' kind of a connection with the mafias.  If she thought I am all alone in this, she is wrong!  Time to get an army of my own into this shit!" The Boss said retrieving his phone.

***

To be continued in Part III.

Monday, May 29, 2017

SWAPPED

PART I

Priya swiped the card at the KFC counter and punched in the pin #1122.  The prompt 'wrong pin'  flashed back.  Her friends kept chatting behind her, laughing, unaware of this.  Priya tried again  and it flashed the same prompt.  Confused, she took a closer look at the card.  It looked the same  except it didn't have her boss' name on it.  She spun around and told her best friend, Anu, that  there was something wrong with her card, and Anu used her own card to pay the bill.

A few moments later, her friends except Anu left in an Uber bringing their get-together to an end.
"Everything alright?" Anu said noticing the look on Priya's face.
"I think someone accidentally swapped our card," she said.
"Was it the pani puri guy??" Anu said.
A few hours ago, they had come across a teenager selling pani puris on a push cart.  They had been  surprised when they found out that he accepted cards.  It was a new trend that was catching up.  Almost  every small shop seemed to have a card machine these days.
"Lets go back there!" Priya said.  They caught a rickshaw and were on their way to the spot where  the pani puri guy had been.

About 10 minutes later, they were at the spot, and there was no sign of the push cart.
"Shit!" Priya cursed.
"Its late.  May be he went home," Anu said noticing that it was 11 p.m. "May be we should come back  tomorrow."
Priya thought for a moment and said,
"Better call up my boss.  Ask him to block the card."

On her speed dial was a contact which was plain without a picture and the name "Boss."  His phone  rang for a long time before he picked it up.
"Why are you calling me at home??!" the Boss said in a forced whisper.
"I am sorry, but its an emergency.  I.... I lost your card. I was just..."
"What?? Great!" he said sarcastically.  This was followed by a distant feminine voice asking him  who it was.
"I will call you back!" her boss said hurriedly.
"Block it!" Priya shouted urgently before the call went dead.

Priya sighed.
"Have you talked to Ajay about... you know..." Anu said.
"The divorce? Ya, I am working on it. I can't seem to get myself to have that talk. Its so  diffic...." Priya's phone began to buzz.  The call was from an unknown number.  She received the call.
"Didhi, have you changed your mind?."
"Who is this??"
"Its me, didhi, from the hospital.  My dad's condition is getting very tough.  Only you can save  him."
"Listen!! You can't keep calling me like this.  This is harassment, okay? I will file a complaint  against you if you call me again?"
"But didhi, you are a donor."
"That means, when I die, they can harvest my organs, not before that. Do you understand??"
"But, didhi, my dad's quite old.  He doesn't have time to wait, didhi.  Lemme take you home so that  you can meet him and have a...."
"Fuck off!" Priya shouted and ended the call.

"Him again???!" Anu said frustrated.  Priya nodded, trying to calm herself.
"You know, you should file a compliant against the hospital for giving them your medical info," Anu  added.
Priya opened her mouth to say something when her phone buzzed again.  It was her boss this time.
"Its all gone! The money is all spent at some jewelry stores!" he said, irritated.
Priya was shocked.  It took her a moment to collect her thoughts.
"Can't.... can't we get it back??"
"Its gone, Priya!  Wait, I will come ov....." the voice began to break and then silence.
Priya tried calling him back, but the call wouldn't go through.
"Guess it wasn't an accident.  The pani puri guy robbed us!" Priya said to Anu.

***

Ajay, Priya's husband, was 10 minutes into Game of Thrones.  Crumbs of potato chips and a couple of  caps of beer bottles were scattered all over his living room floor. He took a sip of the beer and  took a bite of the potato chips when the door burst open.  A couple of guys rushed in holding metal  rods and machetes.
"Hey man, what the fuck! Who are you!?" Ajay said almost falling to the floor in the confusion.  One of  the men getting irritated by the loud noise of the TV pulled its plug from the wall socket  forcefully.
"Hey, be careful with the TV maan." Ajay said while one of the men caught him by his collar and  punched him in his face.
"Stop it, maan! Who are you guys??" he said, as the man continued to pound him across his face.

***

Priya and Anu decided to do some investigating.  A shopkeeper nearby knew where the pani puri guy  lived:  At a nearby slum.  With the new information of the pani puri guy's name and a vague idea of  where his house was in the overcrowded slum, Priya and Anu were on their way.

A few minutes later, they were walking in the slum.  There were no lights except the glare from the  TVs and the light from low watt bulbs burning inside the worn down houses filtered through their  windows.  Rowdy looking men sat outside watching the 2 women walk by.  Anu's fingernails dug into  Priya's hand as they walked.

Priya gathered up the courage to ask some of the men about the pani puri guy's house.  After about  half an hour of asking for directions and walking, they finally noticed the push cart parked  outside one of the rundown houses.

Priya felt a mixture of relief and dread. Before they could take another step, the door opened and  out came the pani puri guy with a busy look on his face, and he headed towards his pushcart.  From  inside his house came the noise of a woman shouting at him.  He stopped in his path when he  realized someone was watching him.  He turned around and faced them.  A few seconds passed as they  looked at each other.  The guy spun around in an instant and bolted.

"Hey wait!!" Priya shouted running after him.  The woman from inside the house, the pani puri guy's  mother, rushed out to see what was happening.  Anu ran after them.  The woman too followed suit  although her age slowed her down.

The guy zigzagged through the tiny pathways of the slum.  There were rubble all over the place.   The guy seemed to be very familiar with it and jumped at the right places avoiding the obstacles.   Priya hit her foot on a stone lying right in the middle of the path and fell down.  Anu helped her  up.  Without wasting another moment, Priya brushed aside her bruises and continued to run after the  guy, shouting.

After a couple more minutes of exhausting running, the guy ran out of the slum's edge and onto what  seemed like a mud road.  Just as he did that, a mini van slammed into him hurling his body to the  side.  Priya and Anu who witnessed this stood stunned.  They rushed to him, but he was lying still in a pool  of blood.

There was a lot of shouting from the slum.  A crowd was gathering from the slum and headed towards them.  The mini van driver, realizing what was about to happen, sped away.

"Lets go!" Anu urged Priya who was knelt beside the guy, shocked.  Anu pulled Priya up.  It took  another minute for Priya to snap back into her senses, and they both ran down the dark muddy road.

They kept running till they reached a more familiar and quieter part of the city.  They both sat  down at an abandoned bus stop.  Both breathing hard.  Priya's phone vibrated.  She took it out of  her pocket.  It's screen foggy from her sweat.  She wiped the screen and saw that she had 14  missed calls from "Boss" and 7 missed calls from an unknown number.  She also had 2 msgs from the unknown  number.

Unknown Number:  We are with your husband at your home. All you have to do to save his life is come  home within an hour.  If you try to get the police involved, we will just leave his body for you to  find.
Unknown Number:  [Video]

The video was of Ajay with a bloody face and looking scared, sitting on the couch in their living  room.  Burly men sat on either side of him shouting at him and threatening him.

As the video ended, Priya and Anu looked at each other with blank looks on their faces.
"Was it the...." Anu was interrupted by an SUV racing down the abandoned road, then screeching to  a stop in front of them.

"Priya babe? Is that you?" a familiar voice came from within the SUV.
"Oh, thank god!" Priya said filled with relief and jumping up.  "I need your help. I am in soo much  deep trouble!"
"Get in.  We will sort everything out!" the Boss said smiling and unlocking the doors.

Even though she felt relief, she couldn't brush aside the tiny gnawing  feeling that things were only beginning to get worse.

TO BE CONTINUED.