Monday, 5 October 2020

Part 20: In My Heart

Armaan took deep breaths to maintain his calm as he waited for the person on the line to receive his call.

"Where's Riddhima?" He inquired straight away.

"Hello to you too Mr. Mallik. What a coincidence, I was just reading an article about your engagement. Congratulations, I must say both of you make a wonderful couple." Rakesh spoke amusedly.

"Where's Riddhima?" Armaan repeated in a no non-sense tone.

"How am I supposed to know about your fianc?" Rakesh shrugged keeping the magazine on the empty seat.

"Stop the act. I don't have time for you. So let's get down to business. Where is Riddhima? Why have you taken her?"

"I still don't know what you're talking about."

"Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?" he asked exasperated.

"It's time to settle some unfinished business between our families." Rakesh replied in a grim voice.

"I don't know what you're talking about, but I'm ready to give you anything."

"Now you're talking. I'm glad I didn't have to work hard to strike a deal between us."

"I'm giving you my word; I'll give anything you want, just return My Riddhima to me." Armaan said defeated.

"Patience my boy, patience. It's hardly been 10 hrs since you saw her last and you're already missing her." Rakesh laughed. Armaan gripped the steering wheel in a death grip controlling his anger.

"I've waited for over 20 years and you can't wait for even 20 hours, now that's not being fair."

"Whatever it is, you have a problem with me. Riddhima is not involved in all this so just leave her."

"Of course she is involved. She's a part of your family now and your weakness too, why would I let go of this golden opportunity of cashing on it. Let's meet and discuss the details of this deal."

"I'm coming over now." Armaan said impatiently.

"You'll have to wait as I'm boarding the flight to back home from England. Just remember Mallik, I don't want any involvement from cops. My men are watching you."

"You better tell your men to stay away from Riddhima because if anyone even lays a finger on her you'll have hell to pay. Just remember Mittal, I never go back on my word." Armaan shut his mobile and opened his eyes which showed fierce rage.

Armaan reached his office with Arjun after settling the matter with police. He met his college friend cum lawyer who had been waiting for them in his cabin. Armaan and Arjun handed him files, explained the scenario and asked him to work on it as required.

"You have to get this done by tonight Sandeep. Contact all the people mentioned in this sheet, take their opinions, explain our situation and see if they're willing to help us. But be careful to remain in cover, I have men following me." Armaan said leaning back in his chair after the discussions.

"Don't worry Boss, I'll be done with this before the night ends. Here is the file with all your confidential documents." Sandeep passed a file.

"Well done man! I can't believe you got it all done without their involvement." Arjun patted his back as he went through the file.

"I'm not called the Best for just no reason. I'll take your leave now. Boss." Sandeep replied saluting Armaan.

"Cut this Boss crap, how many times have I told you, i hate it." Armaan replied irritated.

"Congratulations! By the way you owe me a treat after this and don't worry we'll find Riddhima soon. Just stay calm." Sandeep patted Armaan's head and left.

Arjun stood from the seat after Armaan placed the files in their place and motioned towards the door. Armaan just shook his head. Arjun raised an eyebrow as to question him.

"I'm staying here. You go back Arjun." Armaan replied to him.

"Are you crazy? Maa is waiting for you at home. What are you going to do here anyways, just wait for any developments? That I bet you can do at home too." Arjun spoke.

"Arjun please."

"Common Armaan, you've not had a glass of water since morning. You need to eat so that you can work out the plan. Let's go."

"Please." Armaan whispered dejectedly and put his head on the desk.

"I'm coming with you to meet that bast***." Arjun sighed.

Riddhima breathed heavily as she leaned against the cold wall for support. She looked around the darkness filled room in hope of finding a way out but found none. Her beautiful green orbs were filled with fear, pain and tears. She slipped on the floor and stared out of the small opening at the top of the wall rewinding the happenings of past thirty minutes.

Riddhima had opened her eyes with blurred vision and a pounding headache in an unfamiliar place. She realized it was the side effect of the injection kidnappers had given her. She didn't get time to adjust herself or look around as a drunken man barged in the room. Riddhima dragged herself behind cartons as he tried to touch her. She easily dodged him twice as his movements were affected by alcohol. But he cornered her into the wall and leaned to kiss her so she punched him on the nose. In return he slapped her hardly resulting in her lower lip to bleed. Thankfully he couldn't do anything more as some men dragged him out.

Riddhima pulled her knees to her chest and laid her head on it. Her heart was thumping wildly in fear of what would happen next. She closed her eyes and thought of her family trying to calm herself. She knew it was matter of time then she'll be out of here. Her Armaan will come to save her.

"Please don't hurt yourself Armaan. It wasn't your fault at all. It was all mines. I'm sorry." Riddhima whispered before letting the darkness engulf her into a dreamless sleep.

Armaan rubbed the stiffened muscles of his neck and wheeled his chair back to stand up. He moved towards the window and opened it to let in some fresh air. It had been raining for some time now, the dark sky lightened occasionally due to the striking thunder. He smiled sadly thinking how the weather today depicted his inner turmoil. It was as if nature was also shedding tears with his bleeding heart. Armaan turned back towards his desk to read the incoming message on his cell.

"Job done, successfully." It was a message from Sandeep. He thanked God for blessing him with such loving and loyal friends. Armaan looked at the slideshow playing on his laptop and sighed. He had passed the past 6 hours with great difficulty staring at Riddhima's pictures and videos and still time was left before Rakesh's flight landed.

"I'm sorry Jaan, you have to face all this due to me. Rakesh thinks he has attacked my weakness but what he doesn't know is that you're my strength. You're my Sunshine, my power. I assure you it won't be long before we're together again. I'm going to avenge him for each one of your tears. Just keep faith in me. I miss you so much Baby." Armaan whispered touching her face on screen.

The sky had cleared a bit after the heavy downpour last night but still there was no trace of sun. Armaan parked his SUV and walked towards the arrivals terminal at the Chattrapathi Shivaji Int Airport. He stood at the back and noticed there were not many people around due to early morning. Armaan used his left hand to push back strands of hair covering his forehead due to the slight breeze. He looked at the display screen repeatedly as if it would bring the flight sooner. There was still time left for it but Armaan couldn't sit in his office any longer as the closed confines and the pending talk were suffocating him. His crinkled black suit, red sleep deprived eyes, creased forehead, a slight stubble, lips in thin line and clenched fists portrayed his condition well. Armaan straightened his posture as he saw Rakesh come out and walk towards him. Armaan didn't waste a minute and jumped to inquire his demands.

"You really are impatient to get her back, aren't you?" Rakesh chuckled.

"You'll have to wait Armaan; my lawyer will prepare the documents that I want you to sign. I'll inform you where and when to come." he continued.

"I want to talk to Riddhima." Armaan said.

"Not possible. She's safe wherever she is. Go back and don't contact me again." Rakesh walked away.

A bouquet of white roses and an envelope landed in Rakesh's feet as he descended the stairs of his living room.

"What a pleasant surprise Mrs. Prerna Anurag Mallik. I never expected to see you at my doorstep. How do you do?" He smirked at Prerna.

"What the hell does all this mean?" She asked pointing at the flowers.

"Just to show my sympathy is with you in this tough time. Didn't you like them?" He asked innocently.

"It was you all along that kept sending those weird messages to me isn't it?"

"Finally you made the connection between them all. You've taken a lot more time than my expectation."

"Why are you doing all this? What have my son and I done to you?"

"Look around the room, maybe these pictures will help you remember." Rakesh said gesturing towards the walls of the grey bedroom they had walked into. Prerna gasped seeing the walls covered in her pictures and paintings. She moved closer to see newspaper cuttings with articles regarding her.

"Wwhy.. How do you hhave my pictures?" She turned back and stuttered. Rakesh pointed towards a picture stand on the bed side table.

"Raj." Prerna whispered.

"Yes Raj, Raj Mittal. My younger brother." Rakesh replied in a hard tone.

"He said his brother worked in a company." She spoke.

"I didn't own one back that time. I worked in your father's auto mobile company as a mechanical supervisor." Rakesh caught the look of surprise on Prerna's face.

"Raj was a very lively, jovial, loving and uninhibited boy. Despite our parent's death one after the other in a span of five years, the unstable income, he gave me the courage and hope of moving forward in life. I worked hard to give Raj everything he deserved and a perfect future. He was an intelligent boy and so got admission in the best college on scholarship. That's when he saw you for the first time. He had become friends with you immediately as both of you had same natures." Raj spoke standing in front of a picture of Raj and Prerna from their college's first trip. Prerna gulped on the lump that was forming in her throat on remembrance of her past but remained silent, giving Raj the indication to continue.

"He had fallen for you in the first year. He had shared it with me over a dinner at your semester break. He was extremely happy. During your second year I had gone with Raj's proposal for you to your Dad which he denied very politely and cleverly. Raj had been upset about it but he thought of proposing himself once you graduated. All the while he remained loyal to you as a friend, helped you out with everything, considered your feelings, to which you paid well by getting engaged to Anurag Mallik after leading him on." he spat.

"I didn't, I never lead him on. He was the first person I told about my love for Anurag. Raj was my best friend. I never wanted to hurt him like that." Prerna shot back.

"Don't lie Prerna. Raj was stupid and naive to not see through your innocent facade but I know what you exactly were. You stayed with Raj only to get favors but as you realized he wouldn't be able to fulfill your wishes or expand your father's business, you left him. Anurag became your new scapegoat."

"No. This is not true. I loved Anurag, not for his money or fame but for the person he was. I have always been in love with him, even before meeting Raj. Raj was never more than a friend. He knew this but wasn't ready to accept it." Prerna clarified but Rakesh shook his head in denial.

"Where's Raj now?" She asked after a while of staring at the pictures of her from college and outside, which were all taken without her knowledge. A sudden fear crept in her heart as she realized that she had been on constant watch. A loud gasp fell from her lips as Rakesh uncovered a big portrait. It was Raj's picture but what shocked her was the garland hung on it.

"Raj hadn't taken too well the news of your wedding. He was adamant on getting you. He believed your father was forcing you into this and so he followed you everywhere to talk you out of it." The visions of cards and letters filled with blood, her being ambushed by a very angry Raj at every chance she was alone, his threatening calls made her feel sick. Prerna gripped her mangalsutra tightly thinking of Anurag to seek strength to get out of here.

"After your wedding we left from here to our mother's home town. He kept tabs on you from there, to watch out for you because he loved you. Raj indulged in drugs and alcohol excessively, stopped his studies and regular activities as the news of your first pregnancy made its way to him. He couldn't accept it. Your ignorance and moving on in life without him killed him." Rakesh accused Prerna.

"No, he didn't love me. Raj knew I didn't love him and so he made it his aim to achieve me. I had become his obsession, nothing more. You don't harass the person you love mentally and emotionally." Prerna retorted.

"I'm sorry. I wish Raj hadn't changed like that. I missed him a lot too." She spoke softly.

"Sorry? Excuse me; do you think your sorry is enough for all the pain my brother went through because of you? Is it enough for the torture I had to bear seeing my baby brother, my only family die in front of my eyes? It is definitely NOT ENOUGH Mrs. Prerna Anurag Mallik." Prerna shirked back as Rakesh screamed nearing her.

"I had made it my aim to destroy you and your first born for taking my brother away. I'm going to kill two birds at the same time. Deprive you of the wealth that made you reject my brother and watch your son die in agony after I kill Riddhima. My lawyer has gone to get the documents signed by Armaan. As soon as it is done, I'll give orders to my men who're holding Riddhima in our company's old warehouse." She shook her head shivering in fear seeing Rakesh laugh like a maniac.

Armaan walked in to his office's conference room to meet Rakesh's lawyer.

"You don't seem as impatient to get over this as I had heard of from Mr. Mittal." the lawyer said forwarding his hand for a shake.

"You certainly have no idea how impatient I am to get over with this. But you know last minute phone meeting with a partner just held me back. Well let's see the papers then." Armaan sat erect in his chair staring at pages faking concentration where all he could think of right now was Rakesh had hold of his mother and love. His eyes would land on his mobile every two minutes as he was waiting restlessly for a call from Arjun or Rahul.

"There you go." Armaan signed the papers as his cell beeped with clearance from Rahul and he was out of the building even before the lawyer.

"Armaan will kill you." Riddhima spat at the man from before as he ran the tip of his gun along her bare arm and leaned in to kiss her.

"I like it. You still think you'll make it out of here, even after being held at gun point." The man roared in laughter.

"Darling, you're to be killed once your fianc completes the deal with Boss. I really pity you, such a beautiful body going down without use. Okay let's make a deal. I give you a last wish if you kiss me. What do you say?" he spoke amusedly gripping her free arm tightly.

"I say how about we reverse the roles?"

"Bhai!" Riddhima screamed. The man spun around to see Rahul aiming a gun at him. He quickly placed the gun at Riddhima's forehead to scare Rahul.

"Tch. Tch. Not a good thing to do at this moment." Arjun spoke from behind pointing his gun at the kidnapper's neck. The man dropped his gun as he saw a line of armed men in the background. Riddhima fell in Rahul's arms as he hugged her tightly.

"So what were we saying Rahul? Yes, the last wish. How about I let you make one for yourself?" Arjun grinned.

"Please leave me. I didn't do anything. I was told to kill her." the man cried.

"Granted." The man's face lit up at Arjun's reply but then a chill ran down his spine as he continued.

"Your wish is granted for as long as you don't meet the Lion, after that only God can save you from his wrath." They left the warehouse and proceeded towards Rakesh's house in tight security.

Armaan sprinted out of his SUV as soon as Arjun's car came in view but couldn't bring to move himself once the door opened. His heart stopped for a moment as he took in Riddhima's state. Her bruised cheek and lip, arm with angry marks, a wounded ankle and pale complexion.

"Armaan." Riddhima whispered breaking his trance. She threw her arms around him in a death grip not wanting to let go of him ever. Armaan held her to him with one arm and clenched the other fist trying to control his boiling blood.

"I'm okay. I'm with you. We're together again." Their eyes met as Riddhima moved back whispering and wiped an errant tear drop from his chin. Armaan kept quiet and looked away. His eyes darted towards the police van that held the culprits of his love's condition.

"Now's not the time Armaan. We've got to end this today. Maa and Dad have been inside for almost three hours." Arjun held Armaan from his shoulder as he understood his intention.

"We walk from here, only the two of us. Police has circled the whole area so no one can escape. We'll signal them to join us once we see the coast is clear. A squad will stay here with Rahul and Riddhima. Understand?" Arjun stated the plan.

"I will come with you." Riddhima said grasping Armaan's hand. Armaan just shook his head and made her wear his coat to cover her. He kissed her forehead and left after making her sit in the car.

"Armaan Mallik. Honestly I can't be more humbled than I am right now by having the three Malliks in my house. May I know what brings you here? "Oh of course your fianc. But I'm sorry to tell you that she isn't here." Rakesh said sarcastically.

"I know. I just came to take my parents back. We'll leave now. Thanks for being such a nice host to my parents." Armaan said holding Prerna from one side and gesturing towards trolley of snacks.

"Not so fast Mallik. My revenge isn't over yet." Rakesh laughed and flipped his cell to make a call. His smile turned into a frown when no one answered it. After several tries he eyed Armaan suspiciously and found him smirking. His head snapped in the direction of the footsteps as Arjun walked in.

"What is happening here? How did you come in? Guards!" Rakesh exclaimed tensed.

"No need to worry Mr. Mittal, all is under control and there definitely is no need to scream because your guards can't hear you, as I've put them all to sleep." Arjun replied casually putting his hands in his pocket.

"No, no. You don't do that when you're alone against 3 powerful men Mr. Mittal." Arjun spoke as Rakesh aimed his gun at Prerna. Within a flash she was covered by her three saviors targeting their guns at Rakesh.

"I, Lt. Colonel Arjun Ahuja arrest you Mr. Rakesh Mittal under the charges of fraud and forgery with multiple Indian businessmen and for the kidnap, harassment and attempted murder of Mrs. Riddhima Armaan Mallik." Rakesh's eyes went wide with shock and disbelief.

Prerna too stared at Armaan in shock at the new revelation. He just nodded his head in affirmation.

"Well, looks like I'll have to go with you for now. My lawyer will bail me out soon. And now there'll be no hindrance as I own Mallik empire." Rakesh said with a smirk.

"I'm so sorry to burst your bubble of happiness Mittal, but the first thing is that I signed the documents with fake signatures. So it all belongs to me still. Second regarding your bail, you can't be released till your trial begins. And lastly I've made sure your stay remains permanent behind the bars." Armaan spoke victoriously.

Rakesh's face lost its color as he realized he had been trapped in his own game. He was driven to the special headquarters for investigations under armed forces.

Armaan moved towards the other van pulling Arjun along with himself.

"Who is the one?" he asked Arjun eyeing the three men. Arjun dragged the tall man in jeans and a hooded shirt out. The guy landed flat on his face as Armaan didn't waste a minute in kicking his back. He picked him up and punched his eyes, nose and jaw one after the other hardly and kicked him in his stomach making him double over on the floor. Armaan stepped on his fingers and crushed them beneath his shoes making him scream in pain. But that didn't stop Armaan from kicking and punching him repeatedly. He pushed Arjun away as he tried to stop him. The man was bleeding profusely. His features couldn't be distinguished from one another and he was about to faint but Armaan couldn't see beyond his rage.

"I don't tolerate anyone looking in her direction and you crossed all limits. How dare you lay your dirty eyes and filthy hands on Armaan Mallik's wife? I will kill you." Armaan screamed as he continued his assault. His hand stopped midair as a pair of arms hugged him tightly from behind. Arjun heaved a sigh of relief and motioned for the guards to take the man away quickly.

Armaan picked Riddhima up bridal style and walked to his car followed by a content Anurag side hugging Prerna and a grinning duo of Rahul and Arjun.

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