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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.