Registered & Protected  SLRL-2CTC-3PFF-NQPP

Monday, April 29, 2013

Chapter 28 - Its game time

A Quick Note

A lot of you asked about TFS, just wanted to let you know, I will make it available via Amazon at a nominal charge. The proceeds will be donated to a local charity in Chicago called Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry. I hope you wont mind securing a personal copy all the while helping a good cause.

I have an ideation for another Arshi story and will be writing in a couple of months. Please stay tuned to this blog or follow me @serialjunkie1 on Twitter for updates.

Finally, I am so happy and thrilled that many of you enjoyed this story. This was my maiden adventure into thriller genre and I am glad it succeeded in parts to entertain you. Thank you for being a reader, without you, stories do not matter. 


“Are you ready for this?” Shyam asked with an incredulous expression.


“There will be questions, uncomfortable, annoying questions. Can you handle it?” he repeated his concern.

“I handled you, didn’t I? I can do this.” Khushi rose from her chair and straightened her charcoal grey pencil skirt. She wore a becoming pink silk blouse with boat neck, adorned with a single simple strand of pearls, and simple grey pumps to complete her look. Her hair had grown considerably longer since Zurich, and she had tied it up in a professional looking high pony tail. Nothing ostentatious, nothing garish, paradoxical to what she was about to do.

The double leaf door to the large conference room opened and Khushi stepped onto the plush carpet of the hall. The sea of flashlights and cameras buzzed into action, nearly blinding her for a second. The room was packed to standing room only. A row of seats had been set up on stage with microphones. A suited body guard guided her to the stage as she took the center seat. Gitu and NK followed her to the stage and flanked her on either side, ever the protective friends they’d proven to be. Her eyes scanned the crowd and she only saw strangers. She fought her rising desire to see the familiar caramel brown eyes, melting with love just for her. The room was full of people and yet, she felt awfully lonely. She missed Arnav.

Shyam sensed her discomfort and leaned into whisper into her ears, “You can do this, honey. You are strong and you have chosen the right thing to do. I am with you, all through the way.” He placed a fleeting kiss on top of her head and took his seat. She felt a temporary surge of warmth as she marveled how far Shyam and she had come in mending the untenable mess between them. Her cheeks struggled to hold a smile but she tried anyway.

The crowd settled and a note of silence fell in the room. All eyes were glued to her, press reporters waited with note pads and recording devices to capture every word she had to say. She turned to look at Shyam who was seated two seats away from her. He nodded and winked another vote of confidence.

What a difference a year made - twelve months, 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 mins, 31 million seconds and counting. The time she’d carried the gaping hole in her soul, which cried for its soulmate. The time since some old foes had become important to her, like Shyam, who had been deeply penitent and did everything in his power to right the wrong he had done by her. The time when some family turned to foes, like Payal, whose venomous rants had escalated to psychopathic paranoia even as she served time behind bars. The time for her to seek forgiveness and absolution had arrived. She missed Arnav, she needed him and yet she didn’t want to pull him across the morass she had found herself in the year since the deadly shoots in Zurich.

Arnav had been badly hurt. The FBI escorted by Gitu and NK had intervened just in time but not soon enough to stop Arnav from getting shot. Her last memory of him was seeing him covered in blood, laying still on the floor, while a  medical emergency team worked on him. She had passed out.

When she regained her bearings in a hospital, she wanted to know how he was. Gitu had ensured her that Arnav was critical but stable. She wanted to be by him, and by the time she regained her strength to walk and find Arnav in the hospital, he had checked out. Never to be heard from, again.

A lump began forming in her throat as she remembered those first days back from Zurich. She missed him as if a part of her body had been severed.  God knows she’d tried persuading NK, and Kevin to tell her his whereabouts. Neither divulged anything about him, stating only that he was on extended leave and did not wish to be disturbed. The first months were hard on her.

She’d never imagined she’d fall so hopelessly in love with someone. In less than a month since she’d met Arnav, she’d gone from resenting him as her protector to falling in love with him to a point of no return. Although in the last few months, the constant agony of missing him had dulled into a silent throb, ever present and ever reminding her of the place in her heart that will never be filled by another man. She took a breath in and began to speak to the waiting eyes and ears.

“Hello” she began nervously, casting her eyes across the room to find a reassuring pair of eyes to focus. “Thank you for joining me today. My name is Khushi Gupta, I am a doctor at the Northwestern Memorial ER and I have an announcement to make that might be of interest to you, and to many historians who seek information on World War 2, Nazi exploitation of Jews and the Holocaust.”

With each revelation to the press, her chest felt light from one less worry. In the year since her return from Zurich, she’d worked extensively with FBI to give them details and locations of everything she remembered. She wanted the mafia routed and was determined to do her bit. What she didn’t know was what to do with the spoils, the so called inheritance. She needed to find a way to make it public, so that any sleeper cell of mafia with future designs on that money would never dream of touching it. She had to make it public and big. That’s when she’d decided to call the press conference. In a sadistic way, she thought she could erase the past by shaming her bloodied heritage in public. It was beginning to work.  

“I am the bastard child of the Royal Prince of Gwalior, Maharaja Mahinder Singh.” She labored the words, laying special emphasis on the word “bastard”, because that’s how she felt on most days, a fake, and a pretender who was thrust into life without a mooring. A collective murmur engulfed the gathering as many heads nodded in approval while others in disapproval of her confession.

“My mother was Jewish, a commoner, her name was Sara Schwab. My parents had me out of wedlock when my father went seeking the rightful owners of the ill begotten wealth of my ancestors. I regret to say that my great grandfather, a royal of indomitable reputation in India was…a man who made an Unholy Pact with the devil, the Nazis” A furor erupted in the room as the press members shifted and scuttled at the revelation.

It was a long day. Khushi didn’t spare any details of her heritage and how the story had unfolded for her. She spared Shyam and his horrid details as he had done enough and more to atone for his doings. She carefully recounted how her great grandfather colluded with Nazis in a misguided attempt to secure the wealth for his future generations. She allowed as many details as FBI would let her to the press. At the end, when the room was finally settling into understanding the burden and empathized even, with her, she laid her future plan.

“I plan to donate all $15 billion of historical artifacts and jewelry to museums, and charities. Barring one painting done by my great grandfather Jakub Schwab, called The Virgin With Daisies, I am donating the entire $50 million worth of his work to museums in Zurich and Chicago. I feel the need to honor my mother’s memory who had suffered in enough and died young. The cash from government bonds will be used to build Sara Schwab Children’s wing at the hospital.”

“I want to add that I don’t think my father was a culprit, I just think he was a weak man. I cannot accept the title or heritage of his family because it will be a constant reminder to me of the gory past both of my mother and of the war. Therefore, I formally renounce all my royal ties, titles and lineage. My parents are Dr. Sasi Gupta and Mrs. Garima Gupta.” Khushi paused to compose herself and continued, “I miss my parents. So mom and dad, if you are watching this, I want to come home.”

The floor opened for questions and the excitement in the room was out of control. A good time passed before the question and answer session settled into a cadence.

“Do you have a boyfriend? What does he have to say about all this?” a young perky girl asked.

“No, I don’t have a boyfriend.” Khushi brushed the question off.

“Did you have one? Did he leave you because of this?” the young one insisted.

“I don’t have a boyfriend.” She bristled. Then she looked straight at the camera that was focused on her. “I thought I had a soulmate, a man whose memories stay embedded in me. And it does not matter how long it takes, I will wait. After today, I don’t need to carry the weight of my past with me. I am free, free to live and free to love, again.”

A lone tear fell from her right eye. Finding the perfect picture moment to end the story of the century, the cameras clicked away.


ASR sunk his head into the pillow and screamed. He had missed her like no man could miss a woman. He knew it was impossible for him to ever fall in love with another woman. There could be no other in his life. He ached for Khushi, body and mind. Her laughter, her cheeriness, her goodness and her ethereal beauty gnawed him and reminded him of his own inadequacy as a man. Why did he let her go?

“Did you see the press conference?” Anjali walked in with a tray of coffee and snacks. He sat up, disheveled and unshaven. He had been visiting his sister’s house for the holidays. He had made sure a security detail was watching Khushi from a distance and reporting to him periodically. But god, did he miss her!


“She misses you, Arnav. I can see it in her eyes. Hell, she even sent an open invitation to you.”

“I can’t.” he contemplated the coffee cup to distract his aching need for Khushi.

“Why not? She is free. She is free to love you. She is not a rich spoilt princess, Arnav. She is a living, breathing human being, who is madly in love with you.” She rose from the bed and cast him a disapproving look.

“Now, Arnav Singh Raizada. I never took you for a loser. But if you lose that girl, all I can say is I’ve never seen a bigger Jack Ass than you!” with that she stomped out of the room

His sister had the uncanny ability to lay the truth like it is. Arnav stared at the screen. The news channels were going bonkers over Khushi’s news. Her pictures were splashed all over the screen, “Billionaire heiress gives it all up. Says she is free to live and love.” Marquees scrolled under the screen.

He sat there glumly watching the screen for a few more minutes. The he threw the comforter off, jumped off the bed, and dashed out like a cheetah on steroids.


The front door bell rang with demanding insistence. Set in a handsome neighborhood of Andersonville, Khushi’s modest town-home was an upgrade from her apartment . The neighborhood consisted of rows of town-homes occupied by hip yuppies and young families. She wiped her hands on the kitchen towel and shoved the cake pan into the oven. A bit of cake dough remained stuck to her chin.

Baking was a new hobby she’d picked to keep her mind occupied. She set the oven to bake and rushed to the front door. She was enjoying the relative ease of a lazy Saturday afternoon. She went about barefoot and braless, while her pale pink PJs with spaghetti strap tank top did nothing to protect her from the cold outside, but she preferred them to warm clothes. Her hair was rolling in tendrils out of a rough bun she’d put up. She strode to the door and customarily peeked through the peep hole.

If there was a moment of freaking out, this was it. Outside the door, she saw a sight for her sore eyes, a sight she had waited months to see.  There he was. More handsome than she remembered, clean shaven, with a short crew cut that gave him a school boyish charm. She could sense the devilish smirk through the door. She clutched her chest to calm her thumping heart.

She couldn’t be seen like this. Oh God! She peeked at the console mirror and made a face. Oh God, what now.
The door bell rang again followed by loud thumping.
“Khushi, I know you are in there. Open up. I can hear you.”
Oh Jesus, that deep baritone. Her stomach did a somersault at that voice. She had forgotten what it felt to be with a real man, a sexy man like Arnav, and then the memory of their first kiss flashed through her mind. She missed him, she needed him.


She flung the door open and stood with hands on her hips, shoring as much nonchalance as she could muster. Inside, her heart raced wildly and her legs shook with excitement.

“Now, don’t go breaking my door. Isn’t it enough you broke my heart?”

Arnav turned and dropped his jaws open. She was beautiful. He didn’t hear anything she said, none of the accusations, anger, protests registered with him. He simply stepped forward and followed her into the house, as she jabbered away a litany of complaints and wrongs he did.

He pulled her by the waist, roughly turned her around lifting her by her waist and planted a kiss on her soft lips. The words stopped. A silence fell in the room, only punctuated by breathless whispers and whimpers of two frayed souls who had stayed away from their salves for too long. The stirring kiss brought back all the memories Khushi had tried to bury, unsuccessfully

"God! I've wanted to do that for so many months." he gushed with satisfaction/

She pulled away to catch her breath.”Why did you leave me?” It was a simple question, yet the pain behind it was immense.

“I am sorry, Khushi. I really am. But you must know, I never left you.” He answered earnestly. “I was always there, watching you from a distance. I had been assigned to your security detail. But I had to be invisible to make sure you and the remainder of mafia never suspected it.” He rattled off and tightened his arms around her waist. She braced her hands against his chest defensively, still not ready to accept his explanations. He inhaled the mild vanilla odors on her skin from her baking and in an impulsive move, licked the dough stuck on her chin. She turned her face away, still resisting his advances.

“You mean, you knew what I was doing, where I was all this time? And not once did you want to talk to me?” she held his shoulders away from her, as her dangling feet struggled to find firm ground. 

He cupped the back of her head and pulled her face to his. The spicy musk of his aftershave and the vanilla on her skin created a heady concoction. Khushi looked away and involuntarily stretched her neck giving him access to her soft skin. He didn’t miss the invitation and lowered his mouth to nibble the sensitive spot, nuzzling her with his rough jaw. She shivered at the unexpected burn on her skin.

“I cried for you, Arnav and it didn't bother you, why?” she complained, as he drew circles on her clavicle with his tongue.

“I couldn’t” he laid another hot kiss on the side of her neck and trailed down to the thin strap of her top. “I had to protect you, I couldn’t have us both vulnerable. If the mafia knew you were helping the FBI, your life could have been in danger. Most of them know me, I would have brought danger right to your doorstep.” He moved the strap with his teeth revealing a creamy shoulder. He bit down on it hungrily, sucking in the smooth feel of her skin.

“Oh!” she blurted, both accepting his explanation and soaking in his attention to her.

He pushed down the other strap too, revealing the top flesh of her breasts. He found her even more toned and fit than he remembered and a deep pang of desire shot through him. She clutched the lapels of his jacket and laid feathery kisses on his jaw, giving in to his musky odors. His calloused caresses brought back the glorious times they had spent together. She whimpered and pressed closer to him, declaring to him that there was no turning back.



The words weren’t completed. They didn’t need to be completed. She knew what he was asking and she gave him her simple answer, readily. He lifted her and carried her further into the house to her bedroom, striding with the confidence of a man who just won over the world. The lovers knew it would be months before they'd emerge for sunlight and it was just as well.
The End

Friday, April 12, 2013

Chapter 27 - Seminal Errors

Henri Gutzmann was a sleepless man. He was furious that the pretender chit of a girl was in Zurich, to claim the spoils of her ancestors. He chewed the end of his cigar almost wishing to gnash the scores of others who had participate in the events leading to his father’s death.  When Dr. Gupta had sent another SOS to him, he knew it was time to act on the information. With the girl in Zurich, things became simpler to handle. He debated a while before he chose to call the guy he resented the most, the man who was at the helm of Jewish Mafia.

But it had to be done. The destination was so close; the revenge could be complete in a matter of days. There was only one problem - the mafia wanted to lay its dirty hands on the operations but Henri had other plans. He wanted to expose the secret to the world, his one last grand act before he died to absolve his father who was accused of heinous war crimes. He was afraid he could not reveal his true intentions too soon to anyone, as it put his children and their families in danger. The mafia boss had already threatened him once.

“Hello, to what do I owe this pleasure?” the mafia boss intoned sarcastically.
“The bird and her lover are here.”
“I know.” The voice responded curtly.
“You knew and you didn’t think it was necessary to tell me?” Henri’s anger was palpable.
“Do you take me for a fool? Do you think my organization is a bunch of school boys trying to bully someone for silly marbles? I had them followed, I know where they are staying and I know what they’ve been up to.”
“What’s your plan?” Henri was almost too afraid to ask.
“Well, thankfully, our birds have solved the mystery for us so we don’t need to work our fucking brains for it.”

Henri stood up in surprise. He couldn’t believe the mystery of the Sabres was actually solved. The quest for the code to the vaults had led them on a wild goose chase across the continents, years and several murders. It was finally solved, just like that and none other than the last remaining, living heir of the dirty pack of wolves who had pillaged and profited from a war.

He knew the Sabres carried the code to the Swiss vaults. It took him 73 years of dogged persuasion to piece the puzzle, together, one Sabre at a time. Every royal that was killed was another Sabre and the serial number on the Sabre in his possession. And the mafia did the dirty killings for him, he kept his hands clean, promising assistance only when needed. Now, the only living royal descendant among all the royals, who had colluded in the ghastly conspiracy that killed his father, remained between him and his final mission. The bastard child of a royal solved the code to the vaults for him. How ironic and how convenient, he mused.

“Then what are we waiting for?”Henri could barely conceal his excitement.
“We pay them a short visit…soon”

The two bodies had to hit the bed before they fell fast asleep. The wintry morning let in a few hesitant rays of sunshine into the room. ASR woke up as the life outside their hotel bedroom window stirred. He turned to gaze at Khushi.

It never failed to surprise him how beautiful she was. For a second, he felt proud to have her by his side, his lover, his need, his heart’s true desire. He watched her silently, careful not to awaken her, as her even breaths rose and fell and her nostrils flared slightly with each breath. Her smooth skin hid under the blankets and he felt the familiar stirring of need in him. Today could prove seminal in more ways than one for both of them and bring a closure to everything that had all started just three weeks ago, when he had first visited Khushi in her hospital room after she was attacked. Unknown to him then, he had fallen for her then and there.

Khushi was going to access the bank vaults. It could end in many ways, none of which appealed to him. If the combination lock worked, then Khushi would be the sole inheritor of whatever lay inside those vaults. It could mean many things for her - a lethal burden, a grave responsibility, a true revelation, a festering wound or a closure. She’d have to accept her royal lineage, take ownership of what is passed to her, however unwillingly, and decide on a future path. This also put her in grave danger. Any way he looked at it, he did not fit in the picture.

He scooped down and kissed her with full force. Her eyes shot open with surprise at first and then softened with realization of what Arnav was doing. She pulled him closer, locking her fingers behind his head and circled his waist with her winsome legs.

“We don’t have time.” He stopped, despite himself.
“Hmm” she half pleaded and half agreed.

He was beginning to reconcile with his part in her life. He had to be her guard, her silent watchman, one who was entrusted to bring her to her destiny but that was all he was meant to be. He could not be part of that glory or share her limelight or future. His role would need to end soon because he felt he was just too small for the grandeur that she was to be thrust into in a short few hours. She did not seem to realize it yet, but he did, with all its glaring realities. He would forever hover at the edges of her life, always present, always caring for her and always protecting her from the unseen and unknown. But he could never be part of her for good. Never. She was poised for something too big, too enormous to fit his station in life. He summarized his calling in her life in two simple words – silent guard. His heart sank at the thought.

“Penny for your thoughts?” she quipped watching his dull expression.
“I’d ask for more than a penny from you after tonite.” He smiled, trying to hide his foreboding, and pecked her one more time before he forced himself out of bed. He could not let his gloom pall over her big day. He had to force himself to smile. More importantly, he had to be alert.

Khushi watched him head to the bathroom. Her thoughts drifted to the onerous task ahead that she did not want. She was ashamed to be part of the gruesome history laid by her royal lineage. She was a bastard, and yet she was supposed to willingly take on the mantle and execute the will of the past in to a future. Part of her wanted to give it away to the mafia, which was hell bent on killing her to get access to the Sabres, the code and finally the wealth in the vaults. Another part of her wanted to run away, not acknowledging any of it.

She had persevered this far for one and only one reason – Arnav, the one man who had stood by her through thick and thin. She had to put a closure to this for his sake. He needed to chip away at the mafia any way he could to free himself of his guilt over Lana’s death and if she could be part of that healing, she was willing to die for it. She knew she would love him always but she also knew she could not drag him into the mess once the secret vault and its contents were revealed. The burden of the past was hers to bear and Arnav should be freed from her worries. She knew this would be the best course of action for him and for her. A lump formed in her throat as she forced herself to give up the one person she had come to value the most.


The bank manager was ecstatic. He welcomed Arnav and Khushi and led them down to the basement of the bank where the vaults were located.
“These vaults were made before the war. They’ve stood the test of time. Some of them have not been opened in years. We are proud of our heritage.” The manager chattered away, partly to hide his embarrassment of the controversies the bank had been in regarding the WWII spoils.

The manager stood before a large door that presumably led to the vault. He turned the wheel of the master combination lock and stepped aside. Khushi smiled waiting for the vault to open.
“Madame, your combination please?” the manager gestured her to use her combination on the secondary wheel lock.
“Oh, yes, of course.” She stepped forward.
Her fingers trembled as she turned the lock.
She paused for a second and turned the wheel counter clockwise
She reversed the direction again.
Her breaths were muggy and ASR stepped forward to hold her by her shoulder. She looked at him and smiled. She turned the combination again
She couldn’t breathe as she made the final turn
Pause. Nothing.
Suddenly, the vault clicked opened and the door released with a tired, creaky groan. The manager pushed the door open and stepped back as the heavy door screamed in protest for oil on its hinges.

“Madame, please” he gestured her to walk into the large roomy vault, “I will be upstairs if you need me. Once you are done, please ring this bell and I will be down to lock the vaults. Enjoy.” He smiled and walked in a straight jacket upstairs.

Khushi stood riveted to the floor. She wanted to turn back and run away. There was no gumption left in her to deal with the ugliness that lay on the other side.

“A few more steps Khushi, then it’s all over.” ASR urged her and held her hand. She gripped his hand tight and took the first step into the vault.

The place looked bare with a couple of large fluorescent lights brightening the space in a sterile blue tone. The walls were covered with rows of lockers like cabinets, and each one had a label on it, denoting the name of the royal family to which it belonged. Khushi’s hands trembled as she desperately searched for names of her great grandfathers. She located Madhav Singh at the far corner of the room. She closed in and turned the dial to open the locker. The door squeaked open.

She watched the content with no emotions. The locker was filled with exactly the kinds of things she had expected. Jewelry, studded stones, family heirloom paintings and government bond notes from the 40s, which could be worth billions in today’s currency. Her hands trembled as she picked a piece of diamond necklace. An innocent label hung from the end of the chain. She turned the label up and it announced, “Maharani Akansha Devi Singh”. Khushi recognized her great grandmother. She picked a book and opened it to find photographs of the family. Her eyes brimmed with tears at the sepia toned pictures of her family. She took a deep breath in as she noted the picture of Mahinder and its uncanny similarity to her facial features. ASR stood silently like a rock, prodding her to continue her exploration.

She located a few lockers marked SS, the signature swastika of the Nazis. She hated that moment more than she had ever dared to hate anything in her life. But something gnawed on her and she flung open the door to all the lockers assigned to Nazis. She stood back, taking stock of the 5 large lockers that lay open in front of her, debating which locker to look in at first. She decided on the middle one.

The items broke her heart. Row after row stocked artifacts and private possessions of people, all stolen, pillaged and tainted with blood of the many Jews who had died. A child’s Dreidel, a woman’s jewelry set, a man’s wallet still holding currency of the time. She located the locker dedicated to Schwabs. An emerald necklace caught her attention; it belonged to Jakub’s wife, her great grandmother. Jakub’s paintings were stacked vertically one after the other, each one reflecting the same characteristic Cubist strokes and technique. By the time ASR and Khushi were done assessing the contents, a good three hours had passed.

“I need air. I can’t stand here another minute.” Khushi gasped, unable to take any more of the dank basement air. The place quickly began closing in on her. She clutched her throat and grabbed ASR’s shirt sleeve for balance.
“Khushi!” he balanced her on his arm and reached for the alarm bell.


The ride back to the hotel was quiet. The tears had long dried and streaked Khushi’s cheeks, inviting strange looks from other passengers in the tram. It did not take a rocket scientist to know that the value of the contents in the vault was in the neighborhood of several billions of dollars. For the first time, ASR felt helpless and unable to guide Khushi to handle the mammoth inheritance and accept the responsibility that had befallen her. He felt a huge chasm separate them confirming his worst fears that his life with Khushi had changed forever. His only consolation would be to ensure her safety.

The hotel room door was open. Khushi and ASR exchanged curious looks and pushed the door in. Inside, dim lights formed silhouettes of two people sitting on opposite armchairs. They stopped and ASR grabbed her hand.

“Welcome back, cousin Khushi” Daniel’s deep voice was unmistakable.

“Oh! Daniel! Its you!” Khushi sighed with relief and stepped forward to give her cousin a hug. Two gunmen jumped out of the shadows and ASR heard the familiar click of a gun locking.

“Khushi, stop!” he warned her before another man appeared behind him and softly trained a gun to his temple. Reflexively, ASR raised his hands.

“Wh..Whats all this, Daniel? What’s going on?” she watched the commotion, utterly tired to make any sense of it.

“Just a precaution, cousin Khushi. You have nothing to fear.” Daniel’s icy cold voice sent a shiver down her spine. As her mind raced to piece the puzzle together, the other man on the recliner emerged from the shadows to the center of the room.

“Hello, Ms. Gupta, I am Henri Gutzmann.  My father served your great grandfather during World War II, helping him to hide the money in Bank Herzog.” The shriveled, deeply creased old face of the man was especially pasty and colorless in the unforgiving light of the room. She recoiled at the sight, ignoring the hand he had extended, a gesture that looked ridiculous given the circumstance.

“Do not worry, cousin Khushi. We just want to know what you found in the secret vault during your nice afternoon jaunt to Bank Herzog.”

“So that is what it’s all about.” She snapped, grinding her teeth in anger.

“Partly, yes.” Daniel shifted his position on the armchair and continued, “We’ve been following you cousin, for a long time. I really hated the idea of killing you because, well, you are partly our blood but…what your ancestors did, it is unforgivable. So yes, I had you followed, and now we know you have the secret code to the vaults and you know what’s inside them.” He stood up and inched closer.

“All we want now is the secret code. That’s all you need to do.” He leaned forward revealing a menacing grin. Khushi winced.

“And if I give you the code?”

“Then we can all forget this ever happened. Besides, you wouldn’t know what to do with all that money, would you?”

“As opposed to you, who would know how to misuse that money? Please!” she shot back before better sense prevailed and she decided to negotiate, “Before I do that, I want to ask you something.” Khushi snuck a look in ASR’s direction who was standing absolutely still, his face revealed no clue for her to follow.

“If its reasonable, yes.” Daniel circled her.

“Are you part of the Jewish Mafia?” She blurted.

Daniel stopped pacing and looked at her with steely eyes. Then he burst out laughing. Wiping tears from his eyes, he continued, “Not that it should concern you cousin,  but yes, I am part of it.”

“Who is your leader?”

“Tsk, tsk, you ask too many questions, cousin. It’s not your concern. The secret code, please.” One of the men punched ASR’s face as a punishment to Khushi for stalling. His upper lip bled as he buckled to hold the side of his face before the man straightened him. Khushi wanted to scream but was too petrified to react.

Henri hated blood. He wanted things to go down as easily and quickly as possible. He stepped forward to diffuse the tension in the room.

“Ms. Gupta, you were protected by my men for the longest time until your family moved to the States. I am now demanding that the wealth be returned to its people. Daniel here will help with that.” Henri tried to assuage the escalating situation.

“Why should I give it to you, Daniel? You will use it to make more weapons, drugs and run brothels. No.”

“No, what?” Daniel asked in disbelief.

“No, I will not give you the secret code. Either I keep the wealth or I die protecting it. But as long as I am alive, I will not give the wealth to murderers and criminals.”

A flash of pain coursed through Khushi’s neck as Daniel hit her with the stump of his gun. Her knees buckled as she crumpled to the floor falling unconscious.

“Khushi!” ASR jumped forward and several rounds of gun shots rang through the air. The hotel room door burst open surprising everyone inside the room. A melee of gun shots followed as Daniel’s men aimed at the intruders and ducked the returned fire.

The air in the hotel room hung heavy with smoke and smell of death. Then everything was quiet.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Chapter 26 - Pictures that speak numbers

Dear Readers

Many of you asked if The Virgin with Daises is a real painting. It is not. It is only my imagination, however limited. If I have two inspiration to thank, they are Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Starry Nights. But Van Gogh will not appear from the dead to chop off my ears for plagiarism, for not even he, the great Van Gogh himself, owns the concepts of the color royal blue, and flowers.


Martha knocked on the door. Khushi wiped her tears and stood up. ASR signaled her to sit down and gave her a quick squeeze. She was thankful he was with her.

“Ah! Dinner is served. Why don’t you join us downstairs? Everyone’s here and wants to meet Sarah’s child.” Martha smiled drawing darkening her ruddy cheeks.

She stepped in to the room and inspected the open truck. “Well, I hope you got a chance to look through Sarah’s belongings. It was really heartbreaking. They loved each other you know. But he had to leave. And she never told him she was….you know…expecting you.”

Khushi labored to ask the one gnawing question she had, “How did Sarah die?”

Martha looked very uncomfortable. She smiled and tried to change the subject, “We will have time for all that later. First, you must eat something.” She injected a false cheer into the gloomy room.

Khushi reached out and held Martha’s hand. “Please Aunty Martha. I want to know.”

Martha exhaled and settled on the bed. She shook her head as if deciding the level of details she ought to tell the eager daughter. And then she nodded as if coming to a definitive conclusion. Her face was red when she looked up at Khushi.

“She died during childbirth.”

Khushi let out a small cry and sat next to Martha.

“I am sorry child, to be the one telling you this. My parents weren’t exactly thrilled about Sarah. She…she got to the hospital too late and there was internal hemorrhaging. I am sorry Khushi, I wish I could have done something for her but I was too young and naïve.” She begged for Khushi’s forgiveness but Khushi was sobbing hard to notice.

Sarah died young, lonely and without a chance to even hold her baby once. She wanted to know if her so called her dad was a soulless man, so she braved her next question, “What about Mahinder? Did he come back for her?”

“Oh Khushi, Mahinder was the best thing that happened to her. Sarah was so happy with him. But he had his own problems. He was married you know. And it was not right for him to fall in love with Sarah, but it happened. And when I wrote to him about Sarah, he was devastated. He was planning to take you with him to India, but something changed. I waited for him at the airport and in those days calling India was not easy. So I assumed he got cold feet. Later, your uncle, Sasi was here and I found out that Mahinder was dead, killed by someone. Sasi told me your life was in danger too and he had instructions from Mahinder to adopt you. I am glad they took you with them. I don’t know if I could have given you a happy life. It’s true.”

Martha’s honest confession didn’t do much to help Khushi. She was sad and furious at her parents. Mahinder and Sarah, young fools who fell in love with the wrong persons at the wrong time. Yet, they loved each other till their last breaths. How love could stand up to such demands escaped Khushi. But then again, those were innocent years, unaffected by the caprice and selfishness that eventually gulfed us as all. She wiped her tears.

“Child, you should not hold it against them. I urge you. They were far too much in love, they didn’t know what they were doing. They were stupid and lovely. They made you. Look at you! You got your mom’s eyes and nose and your dad’s thick glossy hair. You are a perfect reflection of all that was right about them.”

Martha pulled Khushi into a generous hug and rocked her till her breath evened. ASR sat by Khushi and held her hand as she found comfort with one person who knew her mother well. They were thankful for the silence in the room, a tribute to the dead from three souls connected to them in different ways. At that instant, Khushi knew she could not let things loiter for ever. She knew what she had to do.

She announced with renewed clarity in her voice, “I know what I have to do. Aunty Martha, I am sorry I will have to beg your leave and go back to Zurich in the first train tomorrow morning. I have some business to finish making sure my parents’ souls rests in peace.”

Martha looked puzzled, “Why? You must stay for Daniel’s wedding. He’d be disappointed.”

Daniel walked in at that moment with a huge smile, “Did I hear Cousin Khushi wants to leave? I can’t let that happen.”

Khushi stood up and reached for Daniels hands. “Daniel, I don’t have a brother, but if I did, he would look like you. I came to Zurich seeking answers and the sooner I find them, the better it would be for me. I need closure.”

Daniels’ hazel eyes softened with understanding. He squeezed her palms and assured her, “I understand.”

That night Khushi held ASR tight while neither slept a wink. The next day bore heavy on their minds. They had to be at the museum, figure out the painting and if everything went well, access the blood-tainted vaults.


A quick word and his unabashed charm were all that took ASR to convince the curator. The hapless old man granted permission to the duo to examine The Virgin with Daisies. There were strict orders that they were not to touch the painting or alter it from its hanging frame, but they were allowed to spend three hours to examine it after the museum closed for public. They were provided a museum magnifying glass and special flashlight that did not deteriorate the painting surface. The waiting hours passed achingly slow for Khushi.

The two took the tour of the museum to stay occupied. They ate a light dinner and loaded on espresso to notch up their alertness for the task ahead. All through the afternoon ASR made sure he did not let Khushi out of his sight, holding her hand tight and walking with her everywhere following her to the women’s bathroom. She gently shoved him out with disapproval.

Strangely, she felt calm and composed. The worst of the truths were out. The deeds of her ancestors, her great grandfather Maharaja Ratan Singh’s indirect yet lethal contribution to the miseries of millions of Jews, Jakub Schwab in particular, could never be forgiven. Mahinder tried to absolve it by compensating Sarah, but ended up hurting her more. Khushi suddenly shivered as she realized it was going to be her onus to right the wrongs of the past. She wasn’t sure if she was ready for it.

“Alright, Mr. Raizada, you have three hours to finish your job here. You should thank Field Museum officials, and that signed letter from Isaacson. How is he by the way?” The elderly curator stood and looked up to ASR who was a good foot and a half taller than the diminutive man.

ASR quickly changed the subject, as he didn’t wish the man to discover Isaacson’s death.

“Thank you!” he nudged ahead and pulled Khushi with him to the room that housed the painting.

“Now remember there are cameras in the room and the guards will be watching you, so please keep your promise.” The old man dropped a veiled warning before he left the two to their devices.

As soon as the old man left the room, ASR whipped out a piece of paper and read aloud.

“Coveted by fair maidens for purity
Peeking from window sills dusted country
Curvy paths seer through crimson virginity
Count me daisies in ones, fours, and fives and twenty
Blue vases caress your plentiful bounty
Ne’er shan’t we forget the ones in blue dainty
Oh lovely virgin with daisies, thee of eternal beauty” 

Khushi held the flashlight for closer examination, while ASR scanned the painting once over with the magnifying glass. He read the poem out again.

“Do you think these numbers in the poem mean anything? Count me daisies in ones, fours and fives and twenty”

As he scanned the painting, he began noticing a clear pattern. The rows of daisies on each side of the red soil path were symmetrical. Each row had one grouping of daisies consisting of single, four, five and twenty daisies each group. The grouping was then repeated through the row, like a stencil pattern. He then counted the number of such grouped stencils throughout the field of daisies to a total of 286 groups.

“286 groupings, each grouping has bunch of daises in 1,4,5, and 20 per bunch”

He read the poem again, “Blue vases caress your plentiful bounty, these Blue vases are also part of the mystery.”

Khushi added, “caress your plentiful bounty, what is the plentiful bounty? In the picture it’s the daisies because the blue vase holds the daisies…”

Before she finished, ASR blurted, “Could it be the vaults? Blue vases caressing the plentiful bounty, what is the bounty? why is the blue vase caressing it? It could be the vaults that hold the plentiful bounty, that is, the spoils and wealth of royals and Nazis. It is probably a symbol of a bank. I wonder if there are banks in the area that use a blue vase or a shape like a blue vase for its insignia.” 

Khushi felt so proud of him that she pulled his head down and kissed him, "I love you, I love you, oh Arnav, I love you." she gushed. They forgot for a second why they were there  in the room as he bent his head to kiss her some more. She cleared her throat and signaled him to the cameras. He smiled and diverted his attention back to the painting.

His head was suddenly muddled as he noticed two things, Khushi had said "I love you" albeit flippantly and two, she called him Arnav whenever she felt close to him. He could burst with joy on the museum floor. He began his inspection with renewed inspiration. 

Khushi took out her IPad and furious typed many combinations of search words she thought would work.

“Blue the color of royalty, banks with blue logos, banks with blue vase logos, banks with blue objects as logos, bluebells, banks named after royalty, Suisse banks” she mumble her search words as she accepted and rejected many search results.

“Bingo!” she almost fell off the bench she was sitting on at her discovery.

“Listen to this, Arnav, Bank Herzog Deutschland Private! Herzog is the title for a Duke in German, dukes and other nobilities revere the color royal blue, and the logo for the bank is a blue vase. What are the odds?” she looked at him.

“It can’t be coincidence, when was this bank established?”

“Right before the war ended, in the late 1940. I think they chose the symbol after Jakub’s painting to connect the codes in the Sabres to the bank’s creation. And look at this!” she turned the IPad to him.

He read out the news item she pointed.

“The bank was recently in some controversy as its owner was murdered under mysterious circumstances. Police investigation found that there were numerous attempts at unauthorized access to purportedly secret vaults in the bank right before the owner was murdered. The police are looking for Mr. Herzog’s secretary, Ms. Becker who has been missing since the death of the banker.”

“Can’t be a coincidence.” ASR repeated.

“Now what?” Khushi asked checking her watch quickly and realizing they had very little time left.

“Lets examine the painting, I have a feeling these numbers lead us to the vault. If so…” he didn’t complete the sentence as it was too much for them to digest in one evening.

“Ne’er shan’t we forget the ones in blue dainty
Oh lovely virgin with daisies, thee of eternal beauty” 

ASR read the words as he scanned the vases closely. Suddenly he froze. There in the vase was another three grouping of 1,4,5 and 20 flowers.

“289, 1,4,5,20”

He took a deep breath and straightened his back, feeling the tension drain out of it. His action caught Khushi’s attention before she got up and rubbed his neck.

“I think we have it.”

“What!” Khushi let out a gasp.

“I think we have the account number to the vault in Bank Herzog." he somberly noted.

"It’s a combination lock with numbers 289 1 4 5 20”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chapter 25 - Vaulted Secrets

She stared at the large trunk sitting on the bed. ASR sat next to her. The trunk seemed big enough to hold a body but to Khushi it was a lifetime of memories. 

“Won’t you open it?”

Khushi sat frozen. The upstairs bedroom of Martha’s house was small, with gabled ceiling giving the insides an impossibly angular and claustrophobic structure. ASR had to watch his head as he navigated the room. Khushi simply sat watching the trunk from the time Martha and Daniel had carted it to their room.

“Open it, Khushi. You’ve come this far. Now’s not the time to hold back.”

She stood up wearily and walked to the other bed. She took the keys left on a side table and fumbled with the lock. The contents inside the box looked undisturbed, and untouched by the 28 odd years after its owners had died. She ran her fingers over the soft silk blouse of a woman and a vest that must have belonged to a man. On top of the clothes, a small black diary sat quietly. Khushi picked the book and opened the cover. ASR stood behind her and peeked in.

Diary of Sarah Schwab – Diary 4

Khushi drew her breath in. ASR urged her to sit down before she read further. She began reading the first page. It was part of a 4 part diary series. It wasn’t clear where the first three had disappeared. This one started with the day after Sarah’s twentieth birthday. She was on the heels of a broken heart as she had discovered that her boyfriend was cheating on her. Strangely, the script was in English.

Sarah’s penmanship was impeccable as was expected of people in the eighties. The diary had a few pages dealing with Sarah’s rebound from her broken relationship. Then a few pages later, she talked about meeting a stranger in a coffee shop.

I don’t know why but I feel so attracted to him. He says he is from India and that he is a Prince of a state called Gwalior. I don’t know anything about the country, I will check out some books from the library about India, if they have it.

I want to believe him. He is so....handsome. And when he talks, I feel I can listen to him for hours and forget about the rest of the world. I so wish I could share this with someone. Martha? No! If she tells Aunt and Uncle, they’d skin me alive and stop my allowance. Then I'd have no money to buy coffee and chat with my new friend. No, not Martha. Who else? No one. I have to find a way to meet him without letting anyone know. Yes, that’s it, then.

Khushi pulled her legs up on the bed to sit more comfortably and began reading out the text for ASR. A few pages later, another note caught their attention.

Mahinder. I think I am falling in love with Mahinder. How do I say his name? Ma Hind er? I wish Mamma and Pappa were alive. I wish Sonja was alive. I can’t tell anyone. But I don’t care. I will tell him tomorrow that I love him.

Khushi’s tears were only beginning their journey into the long evening ahead of them. Sarah was an orphan who lived with Martha’s family. No wonder no one had ever tried to find Khushi or reach out to her. Suddenly, she missed Garima and Sasi. They were always kind and loving to her.

I am so happy! I can dance all evening. Mahinder says he loves me. But there is sadness in his eyes. I don’t know why. I will have to find out.

A young Sarah was falling in love and fast. Khushi could only imagine her heady feelings and euphoria of discovering first true love. The innocence in those words left Khushi scared for Sarah. It was irrational, all of twenty and head over heels in love.

Mahinder – an enigma for me. A sweet, tortuous enigma that I am willing to drown myself in. It may be suicidal but if I don’t love him I will die of pain, anyway. Either ways I am dead!

That innocent observation with a smiley graphed in, brought a fresh bout of tears for Khushi. Sarah was speaking metaphorically about losing herself in love, but the words came more than true.

I can hardly believe this. Mahinder is married! Oh dear lord, help me. What have I done? I seduced a married man. Mahinder says he wants to be with me. But I can’t do this to him or his family. Give me strength to do the right thing. Why? Why? Why me again and again, God?

Khushi stopped reading as her eyes clouded. She continued reading despite her urge to stop reading Sarah’s private pain and loneliness.

I fought with him today. Our first fight. He says he wants to leave me money as a safety net. Money? I don’t want money. I just want him but I am willing to give him up too for his family’s sake. No, this is all wrong. He says his grandfather was part of some bizarre Royal Pact with eleven other royal families of the world.

He says they colluded with Nazis to protect their wealth from unknown forces of the war. Nazis - the demonic warlords of the world. Why did they seek the Nazis? Mahinder says royals didn’t want to lose their wealth after the war was over.

They needed protection. For their money? Monarchies that stole from others? They could not count on righteous Allies, so they turned to Nazis, who also had tainted and stolen wealth they needed to hide…money stolen from families like mine. Mahinder says he needs the Royals to agree before he can access the Swiss vaults where they’ve kept the spoils. He wants me to have that money.

I should hate him. I must. For my family, for my ancestors and dead brothers and sisters....but I can't.

Khushi sobbed like a child. So that was the tainted, ugly history of her ancestors. Jakub was rich and persecuted. Maharaja Ratan Singh had blood money on his hands. One side was indirectly responsible for the annihilation of the other. Yet, nature had brought the young ones together and created her, Khushi. Mahinder wanted to do right by Sarah, but he could not access the money, she assumed. If he had accessed the money, Sarah would not have died alone nor Khushi be orphaned and raised by others.

The diary continued as Khushi read it aloud, her voice shaky yet calm.

I could see guilt in his face. He told me that he came to Zurich seeking answers. He tried to find other Jewish families but he could only find me. Are the others dead, wiped out of the face of earth? In a gas chambers or shot point blank? I shiver just thinking about it. I must have positive thoughts.

He wants to do right by me. He wants to return all that wealth to me. But what will I do with it when all I really want is to spend every waking hour with him? He says he came looking for me, for someone who he can help and...rid of his guilt? He said something about finding Sabres from the Royals so he could claim the vault.

But he was afraid. No, he was scared. I think he worries that the royals will retaliate. I don’t know what to do. I wish he had not told me any of this. The secret is a burden on my soul especially now…..that I carry the seed of our love. I can’t tell him that though. Not in this lifetime.

She closed the book unable to read further. Her chest hurt under the weight of the avalanche. She felt sorry for Sarah, who was barely more than a child herself at the time. Twenty years old, pregnant, and a secret so reprehensive, she probably could never share with anyone. The pain of the knowledge that Mahinder’s family was responsible for Sarah's family’s fate must have devastated her. Yet her love for him was untainted, unyielding and strong.

How did Sarah deal with the gore at such a tender age? She was pregnant, and more than likely abandoned by Mahinder as he most certainly had returned to India. He probably never knew about Sarah’s pregnancy until it was too late to return to her.

Something had happened that had scared Mahinder. She remembered Sasi telling her about how he had instructed Sasi to take the box with saber tooth sculpture and flee from India. Someone killed him and his family, Khushi was sure of that. Who and why? Perhaps, the other royals who were afraid that he would let the cat out of the bag or was it the Jewish mafia, which was responsible for her own ghastly recent experiences. They had to know about the vaults because every royal that ever had a sabre was dead...except her. Her head spin at all the possibilities and questions.

This was bigger and more macabre than Khushi could ever imagine.

ASR was piecing the puzzle just as fast as Khushi was. He knew he had to find where the vault was and he knew the poem of the Sabres led to the painting by Jakub, which meant only one thing. The painting hid the clue to the account number, name and location of the Swiss bank that housed the tainted vault.

Then fear struck him hard. The mafia does not give up so easily. There was greed and revenge in their motives. If they had followed the two to Zurich, he had very little time.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chapter 24 - Roots and Routes

“I still don’t get the connection ASR. The poem describes the picture. The numbers in the poem must somehow be connected with the painting. But in the end, what do those numbers mean?”

“Beats me. I think we need to go to the source. We need to go to Zurich Museum, talk to the curator there and figure out.” ASR finished his thought.

“Hmmm” Khushi meandered into some distant haze and then snapped out, “You know what! I can meet my mother’s sister Martha there. Maybe, she knows about Jakub and she can help us understand more about the painting, and…” she paused, “tell me more about Sarah…I mean my mom.I wonder why Martha didn’t claim Jakub’s paintings?” She set her eyes down, as if the name reminded of her illegitimate status and shame.

“Call your Dad to get your aunt’s address. And do you have a current passport?” ASR asked.

“Yep, my passport is in the office safe. I will have to go to the hospital and collect it. Do you think its safe?” she queried.

“I wont let you go by yourself, Khushi. No worries. “ He assured her.

So it was decided. They were to travel to Zurich and find out more about the painting, Khushi’s ancestors and the connection to the Sabres.


“Whats this?” ASR picked a bag of syringes and held it up.


“What? Why are we taking syringes of valium?”

“You never know!” Khushi quipped, “it may come in handy if we have to deal with big bad guys. I don’t want to kill again.”

He put the bag back in her luggage and asked, “Don’t you need prescription for this?”

“Why do you think I am a doctor, ASR?” She twined her arms around his waist and kissed his muscled back.

“Well, then. Doctor, I think I need to be treated because I have this grave condition.”

Playing along, Khushi walked around to face him, “Yes, how may I help you?”

“I think I need some rocking sex to cure me, doctor. Do you think you can help?”

ASR’s invitation left her laughing and wanting him even more than she thought she ever could. The clothes flew around the room and their naked bodies flopped on the bed. Their noisy affair was enough to wake up the entire apartment building but what they didn’t know, was that it was a precursor to an avalanche.


Garima and Sasi were at the airport. Khushi least expected to find them there. The apologies on their faces tore through her heart as she tried to reconcile the events of the past. The gate checks went well and soon enough, the couple was on its way to Zurich.

As the flight passed over Transatlantic seas, Khushi’s nervousness began to mount. ASR knew she was afraid to find out more about her ancestors and what lay in store when the secrets of the Sabres were revealed. She held his hands through the flight unable to eat or enjoy on flight movies. ASR urged her to sleep, so they could resume their investigation as soon as they landed at Zurich.

Zurich airport was an expansive mess. German instructions did not help either of them and after asking a lot of passersby, they located the tram that took them to their hotel. The cold, bleak landscape was broken by distant promise of Alpine and a hope of final discovery. Khushi breathed in the air brushed from the Alps and marinated in local smog. ASR smiled at her, feeling for her.

A steep cable car later, they were in their rooms.

“Do you want to call the number your dad gave you?”

Khushi nodded. The number belonged to her mom’s sister, Martha. She showered and changed and finally dialed the number with trembling fingers.

“Hallo das ist Martha Schneider.”

“Hello, this is Khushi, Khushi Gupta, daughter of Dr. Sasi…I mean daughter of Sarah Schwab.”

“I know who you are.” Came a heavily accented, yet affectionate voice.


The ride to Berner Oberland was a steamer ride to Interlaken and then a train up into the mountain to Muerren. Every bone in Khushi's body screamed in protest, tired of jetlag and fatigue. But the sight of the snow-capped mountains as she got out of the train simply took her breath away.

“ASR, this is beautiful!” she gasped.

“Not more than you.” He countered to ease the tension that was building up inside her.

The two walked along the small country road, following the directions provided by Martha. As they neared the village, and the house, Khushi’s fear and trepidation only grew.

“That’s the house. “ ASR checked the map and looked up. The house was decorated with festoons and lights that were off at daytime. Voices emanated from the back of the house and ASR decided to check it. He signaled her to stay back as he cleared the area for her. The back of the house had many party tables and chairs. A small gathering of what seemed to be locals was gathered, drinking, cheering and celebrating something.

A portly woman noted the starkly contrasting presence of ASR among the blonde and blue eyed gathering. She smiled welcoming and gestured him to come over. He in turned gestured khushi, who looked ready to flee back to Chicago.

As the two walked into the gathering, the conversations stopped as they noted the new entrants. Martha waddled hurriedly to the couple and without warning pulled Khushi into her embrace.
“Oh, my dear child! Here you are. I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to see you. Look at you? You look just like Sarah! Oh my word!” she gushed in a refrain. She shouted out to a guy who seemed to be young enough to be her son.

“Daniel, come and meet cousin, Khuushii” Martha stretched the vowels and stressed the consonants, giving the name a distinct Yiddish bent. The smiling handsome man came over and ASR could not help but notice the similarities of features between the young man and Khushi. Same eyes, same nose, and same strong jaws. Khushi didn’t miss the features either.

“This is Khushi, Sarah’s daughter!”

Daniel leaned and pulled Khushi into a bear hug. She laughed at the sudden outpouring and hugged him back.

“Cousin Khushi! Welcome. When mother told me you’d be here, I was ecstatic. Its my wedding tomorrow. Surely, you and your friend will join.” He continued.
“Sure, she would. There is no question.” Martha went on without batting an eyelid.

ASR wondered how Khushi could be remotely related to such a rotund and puffy looking woman. He didn’t have to wait to find out.

“Well, come in my child, and have some cider. I should tell you though, I am not Sarah’s real sister. I am her cousin from her mother’s side. Sarah’s fathers side is from Wupperal, they migrated here during the war, you know.”
Khushi lost any hope of finding more about Jakub, since Martha was from her maternal grandmother’s side. She was grasping for any bit of information.

Martha pulled them into the house and continued her monologue, “Well, since you made a half a day trip here, you cannot go before the wedding. So, I insist, you stay here and leave day after.”

“But we are not prepared for overnight stay.” Khushi protested.

“Oh, you can have Sarah’s clothes. And he can have Mahinder's clothes. I have them all saved up in the house just like they left them here. And if you promise to stay” Martha labored for breath due to the short exertion,"I will tell you all about your mother and your father. Hunh?" she turned around and stood at the threshold of the door leading into the house.

Martha just sealed the deal for Khushi.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chapter 23 - The Virgin with Daisies

Two sleeping pills and a tall glass of warm milk later, Khushi attempted to sleep. ASR was furiously banging away on his keyboard seated next to her on the bed as she watched his worried face. A sudden surge of affection filled her when she realized she could count on him, no matter what. The rest of her world was in tatters.

Garima had tried calling her. News of Payal’s arrest reached them within minutes, sending Garima and Sasi into frenzied search for a good lawyer. Garima appealed to Khushi to let her know that she was safe and asked for forgiveness on Payal’s behalf. Khushi wanted to forget the episode had ever happened and if she could will it away, she would have. But the stark duplicity shocked her gentle nerves.

ASR pored through the email from Akash and Avni. The serial numbers from Sabres were not merely factory order numbers. Avni, the expert in WW2 cryptography, had deciphered the numbers using the Enigma cryptography made popular by Germans during the WW2 era. The numbers had translated themselves to a ditty that made no sense to ASR. He read the ditty many times over, but it did not manifest into anything he had ever heard or learned. 

“Khushi, do you know what this ditty could mean?” he asked.


He noted that she had finally managed to fall asleep. The decoding of the ditty will need to wait.

At that moment, the door bell rang, shaking ASR from his deep thoughts. Who could it be at this hour?


“NK! What are you doing here?”
“Can I come in, before I freeze to death?” NK’s apologetic eyes sought comfort.
“Come in.” ASR stepped aside letting him in.
“What brings you here?” ASR was curt and the tone of rudeness showed his bitterness of not being part of the crux of the Sabres case. 

“Look, I need to explain to you why you were not told about anything. But do you mind pouring me a drink first?” NK urged as he took off his winter jacket and gloves.
ASR brought two whiskey glasses with golden liquid and handed one to NK. Making light of the tension between them, NK joked, “Ah! I see you’ve graduated to Scotch. No more bourbon!”

“I don’t like masqueraders and fakers.” ASR’s blunt rebuttal cleared any delusions for NK.

“ASR, don’t make it more difficult than it already is. I was specifically told by Kevin not to involve you in any of this. We knew there was a mole. I suspected it was Gitu, but when I found out that she works for the CIA, we found ourselves in the midst of our bosses in both agencies embroiled in turf wars and power struggle. It took a lot of negotiations and back and forth before we could reach a working plan. Gitu and I were under a lot of pressure, we could not have shared anything.”

NK paused before continuing, “In any case, I am off the case and so is Gitu. We’ve both tendered our resignations.”
“Why? You don’t have to feel guilty for doing your jobs.”
“Its not guilt. We don’t want to live with uncertainty and our jobs looming over heads.”
ASR raised one eyebrow not quite comprehending where this was headed.
“We are in love, ASR. I proposed and she accepted.” NK clarified with a short smile.
“Wow! When were you planning to tell me?”
“You’re the first to know.”

“Wow! Congratulations. While the world burns all around you, you go on with your life like nothing happened. The master minds behind Sabres are still out there somewhere, Kevin is only too happy to close the case and my best friend and partner is getting married. I feel…I don’t know what I feel.” ASR stood up shaking his head.

“We have the Sabres, we have the guys who were after Khushi and we have the snitch. I think it’s a good day’s work ASR. We will never completely infiltrate the mafia or get to the root of the organization, they are just too many. You know they will lie low for a while now, leaving us no leads. This case is dormant at best for as long as I can see.” NK reasoned.

“Fuck! Dormant? Nothing’s dormant! Khushi’s life is still in danger and unless we find out what those Sabres meant to the mafia, she’s never safe.”

ASR debated whether he should talk about the decryption of serial numbers on Sabres, he decided against it.
He suddenly recalled the final missing piece of the puzzle - the Sabre tooth tiger and the serial number on it. He could not let NK know that he was still in hot pursuit of the case. He could not let anyone know. It was best to let the world think the case was over. It was safer for Khushi if the mafia thought the FBI had left them alone.

It was time to visit the Isaacson bungalow to fit the final piece of puzzle.


“Coffee?” Khushi offered as ASR trudged through the kitchen, the scotch from the previous still wreaking havoc on his temper.
“Thanks!” he leaned over and kissed her cheek. The domestic scene was so appealing he could almost feel it becoming part of his daily routine. He would welcome the day.
“What did NK have to say?” she asked over the steaming cup. Her eyes had sunk into hollows more than ever.
“He came to apologize on behalf of Gitu and him. They are quitting their jobs and getting married.”
“Hmm, that’s good. They are good together.” she noted, “I hope it’s not because of guilt. I mean, I am mad at Gitu for not telling me that she was undercover, but, it’s a job I guess. And I can understand that.”
“This is not over, Khushi. We still don’t know who master minded the operations. By the way, I have something for you.” He opened the drawer next to his laptop table and handed out a piece of paper to her.

“Does any of this make sense to you?”
She read the paper a few times and shook her head.
“It seems like a short ditty. Where is this from?”
“My cryptographer friends decrypted it from the serial numbers on the Sabres.” He offered.
Khushi read the poem out loud in an attempt to decipher the meaning

“Coveted by fair maidens for purity
Peeking from window sills dusted country
Curvy paths seer through crimson virginity
Count me daisies in ones, fours, and fives and twenty
Blue vases caress your plentiful bounty  
Ne’er shan’t we forget the ones in blue dainty
 Oh lovely virgin with daisies, thee of eternal beauty”

“A poem on daisies?” Khushi asked quizzically, “ I wish they didn’t write riddles. It would be infinitely more easy if they just told us what those dratted numbers meant!” she sounded exasperated as she threw herself on the sofa.

“Its some sort of code. A code to something. I wish we had the document on Saber Tooth tiger from Isaacson. I am sure the final clue lies in the sculpture.”

The two of them sat quietly, ruminating over their options as the silence in the room descended portending gloom. ASR began clearing days old newspapers from the coffee table to save his sanity when the nondescript file folder caught his attention.

He picked it from the pile and a yellow sticky on the cover drew his attention

“A parting gift from Gitu and me - NK”

Curious, he opened the file and almost shouted with joy.

“Hallelujah! Praise the lord!” he exulted with naked excitement. Khushi got up startled and rushed to his side.

The two of them peered into the file and neither could contain the rush of adrenalin.

ASR roughly swiped the coffee table off all papers and tchotchkes, and carefully laid the file on the table. Khushi crushed his arm unable to control her reaction. The two sat down and lifted the first piece of paper.

“Sabre Tooth Tiger – A 3D study”

A series of pictures followed and one caught their attention. The picture showed the bottom of the sculpture and the words engraved on it.”

“Schwab, Circa 1919, Wupperal, Germany” ASR read it emphasizing each word and repeated for effect. “Do you know what that means?”

“Schwab is my mother’s last name, so this must belong to her. But she wasn’t born in 1919, so it could be one of her…I mean, my ancestors. The year 1919 seems important. It could be the year of birth or some important event that happened in that year. Wupperal could be the place where Schwab family belonged to. All guesses.”

“Pretty good guesses. The name, year and place are definitely connected. We can do an internet search to see how.” He decided.

Khushi sprang to reach for the laptop and handed it to him. His fingers barely kept steady as he typed the words, Schwab, 1919 Wupperal, Germany, into the search window.

Khushi shut her eyes tight. She was afraid to find out what secrets would reveal with this final piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

When ASR did not say anything ominous, she peeked into the laptop. He was reading through the search results and one item caught his attention. He clicked on it.

A page opened to the Kunsthaus Zurich, Museum. ASR browsed the site to open the links that led them to collections within the museum.

Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism and Modernism post World War 1
Featured Artists (in alphabetical order) 

ASR clicked on S and a name immediately caught his attention

Schwab, Circa 1919, The Virgin with Daisies (Jungfrau mit Gänseblümchen)

“Gänseblümchen?” Khushi rubbed her forehead.

“Isn’t that German for Daisies?” he asked.

“The Virgin with Daisies!! Just like the poem says, oh lovely virgin with daisies, of eternal beauty! I think we found the answer ASR!” she was ecstatic.

“But what does it mean? Virgin with Daisies, what does it really mean?”
He clicked on the name and an entire section with details of the painting opened with the following description.

Artist: Jakub Schwab (b.1893 – d.unknown) of Wupperal, Germany.

The painting is an abstract, in the most temporal representation of Cubist artistic movement of 1910s. The painting depicts the nude of a woman, purportedly the Virgin, with a blue vase painted in brusque strokes, resting on a nearby window sill. The vase is full of daisies painted in 3D blocks of white and yellow. Out of the window one can see a curvy path of red soil parting in the middle, two abstract fields of daisies, further allusion to the impending loss of virginity of the nude maiden. The painting was commissioned by his fiancé, Salome in 1919, in honor of their impending wedding. The virgin is believed to be in the likeness of his future bride. The painter is known for erotic expressions and symbolism with spectacular details and master brush work evoking different planar shadows when viewed from different positions.

Jakub was a scion of a local business family with means at his disposal. He painted as a hobby, heavily influenced by his peers of the era, the likes of Picasso, and Braque. Jakub’s paintings were featured prominently in Wupperal art museums. However, the family fell into hard times as the WWII approached. Their immense wealth and belongings were stolen or forcibly confiscated by the ruling party of Germany, The Nazis. Jakub’s rich cache of paintings were confiscated, auctioned or simply stolen by the influential members of the party. The family escaped Wupperal using the large underground network of sympathizers in 1939 and that was the last anyone had heard of them.

The Virgin with Daisies resurfaced in Zurich in 1960 when a private collector traced the provenance of the painting back to the Schwab family. The painting was donated to the museum that year and has stayed in our possession ever since. Many attempts were made to locate the heirs of the Schwab family but the museum has thus far failed to find the rightful owners. The museum considers the painting a generous loan until a time its rightful owner is found. The whereabouts of other Schwab paintings are unknown at this time. Jakub Schwab paintings are considered worth in the neighborhood of $500K to a million apiece.

Khushi was silent, unsure of what to say.

ASR finally broke the silence, “Wow! Khushi, your great great grand dad was one helluva rich guy!”

“And horny too!” she added poker faced.