It was Neel. She could not control herself. She threw open the door and hugged him. He had risked his life before when she was in the clutches of Rajan Dey, and they had become good friends ever since that day. Closing her eyes, she recollected that day in her mind. She could still remember pleading with him to help her escape, her running away after he did help her, her visits to Heaven’s Heart with Atul and Neel’s brilliant cooking. And now, she was seeing him, almost dead. Then, to her relief, she could feel his left hand hugging her back. She opened her eyes and saw that he was feebly stirring. Whoever had handcuffed him had left the key stuck to the steering wheel with cellophane tape itself. Atul used it to un-cuff him and with Cat’s help shifted him to the back seat. They then took him to the nursing home nearby where Cat’s cousin was a doctor. They took him to the ICU immediately.
Cat was worried. Atul was inside the ICU speaking with the doctor and explaining what happened and making sure that the news was kept under wraps. The street where they had parked was not that inhabited and they had come off fast. She was crying and pacing the hallway outside. The first part of her dream had already come true. Now she was anxious as to which was going to happen next. And whom were the victims, because try as she might, her dream was blurred.
Atul came out fifteen minutes later. She sat down on a bench outside the ICU and waited for him to come tell her the news. She was relieved to hear that he was out of the critical condition but it would still require him to spend atleast a week in the hospital. When the hospital staff had changed Neel’s clothes, they had found a letter in his pocket. They had given it to Atul. He showed it to her. To her shock, it was not addressed to Neel, but to her itself. Atul said, “I’ll go out and get something for us to eat. We are the only friends he has in Calcutta, so I want us to stay here till his brother comes from his village. You can read that in peace. Stop worrying so much, it will be alright.”
Cat got up and began to pace again. She wanted to open the letter, but she was scared to open it. After debating with herself for a long time, she opened it. It said,
“You should have realized you were playing with fire, when your dad was shot. You still meddled and got my brother killed. Now you shall pay for it. You are still given a second chance. Stay out of our affairs from now, or next time, there will not be a heartbeat.”
She read it again. It was from Rajan Dey’s brother. It had to be. Only Aanand and he had died during that encounter. And she believed his words. She was worried for Atul. He had gone outside to search for food, and he did not even have a gun. She wanted to dash out of the hospital and search for him, but then Neel would be alone, and she did not trust anyone anymore. Every five minutes, she looked toward the entrance of the building to see if he was coming, and after twenty minutes he did come back. He was holding a packet, with biscuits and a flask of tea. Seeing her panicked face itself he could make out that something was wrong. The letter was lying open on the bench, and without asking her, he picked up the letter and read it. He understood immediately. He took her hand and patted it, consoling her and telling her nothing would happen.
She looked at him and said, “Atul, I am not worried about me. I am worried about you and the people I love and care for. I have not told you something. But it is happening to me again. What happened to Neel was no coincidence. I dreamed it yesterday night. I have been having that same dream since a week, and the last time that happened…”
She couldn’t go on but he knew what she wanted to say. He said, “Tell me about your dream. Maybe we can figure out who else is targeted and get to them before they do.” She told him about the dream, but try as they did, they could not find out who were the soon-to-be victims. They were chatting when her cousin came out of her office. Dr. Anita Tripathy was about her height and build itself but with dyed red hair and glasses. She was a jovial person and when they told her about what had happened she laughed it off as a hoax. Seeing her taking it so lightly sort of made Cat feel better, and she smiled too. It was four in the morning now.
Having had Anita’s word that she would look after Neel, Cat went outside to get some fresh air. Her purse was still in the car, and she walked toward it. She saw someone far away, and she thought she recognized him. She walked toward him instead, and he was coming toward her also. The next moment, her ears were shattered by a blood curdling scream. She stopped in her tracks. She was praying that she would not hear what she thought she would hear, but her prayers went unanswered as two gunshots sounded in the distance and the figure fell down like a tree cut down.
She screamed for Atul, and tried to run toward the figure. But tripped and fell. Atul came almost immediately. He lifted her up and they hurried toward the figure. Blood was pouring out of his knees, where the bullet had entered. He was unconscious due to the shock. As they supported him and walked him toward the hospital, the night seemed to close upon Cat like a thousand needles. She began to weep softly as she looked at his white face and limp body.
(To be continued…)