It was raining with men and women coming out of offices and were seen seeking cover under the porticos of office buildings or shops.
“How about a hot coffee at the adjacent coffee shop?" asked Vittal to his good friend and colleague Shoba.
As they were seated in a corner with coffee cups in hands, Vittal looking at her intently said, “Are the ear studs new? The penguin shaped one with red stone fixed on it for the eye looks exquisite on your face.”
“Yes, I fell for it when I saw it. It is a new and unique design. I bought them yesterday at the mall,” replied Shoba. She readily agreed to Vittal’s wish and posed for a selfie with him that displayed the stud prominently.
” Shoba, I have been observing you for the past two weeks and notice a look of worry in your face. Are you keeping well with no health issues? I have not seen the usual smile for a long time. Tell me if there is any problem that I can help resolve.”
She kept quiet for long time. When she did not answer, Vittal said, “Never mind, drink the coffee before it gets cold. The rain has subsided. We will make a move.”
“I am sorry Vittal. You are someone more than a friend and someone whom I could trust and in whom I could confide. Let me tell you in strict confidence what is bothering me. I have been dating secretly someone in our office for a year. You know him well as I have seen you both together often.”
“Did you say secretly dating? why should it be that way? A guy in our office known to me? How come I did not get a scent of it?” asked Vittal in a baffled tone.
“It is Vikram Arora in marketing. You must be knowing him well.”
“Who will not know that dapper guy with his charming ways and flashy style. He is close to me as we were classmates in IIT. Surprising, he has not uttered one word about you so far. I have heard friends telling he is the heart throb of many female employees. You are lucky he has chosen you. Why this veil of secrecy? If the friendship is open, it would keep others away from him. When are you both getting married?”
“It was at his insistence that I did not tell anyone and secretly meeting him in resorts and hotels on weekends. You know I have no parents or any close relative here.”
“Such an amorous development should reflect joyfully in your face. Why this melancholy look then?” If you had confided in me earlier as a trusted friend, I would have advised you not get too close to him till the wedding is decided publicly. I know him well from his college days. Do not lower your guard. I would advise you,if you really love him, to get married soonest.”
“Vittal, I am actually in trouble due to my foolishness in falling for his sweet talk. I explained to him the urgency of the marriage in the condition I am. His reaction is callous and irresponsible. He tells me it is my problem for not being careful and asks me to abort or get lost. He even has the cheek to tell he cannot marry every woman with whom he had slept,” confided a sobbing Shoba.
“I feared this response. What will you do now? Did you consult a doctor? Vittal asked her with concern
“I will not buckle that easily. I have threatened him that I have proof of all his messages in my mobile phone and that I will lodge a complaint in the office and if needed go to police. He got jittery and asked me to wait for two months when his sister would have been married and he would marry me immediately in a gala function.”
“If I were you. I would still get rid of the problem immediately. He is not trust worthy. Do what you think is best before it is too late for redemption, “ he consoled her.
“Do not worry. I can afford to wait for two months,” she assured.
Vittal left the next day on a long tour for nearly a month. He got immersed in work and did not think much of Shoba. He was once or twice concerned about Shoba and her relationship with that wily Vikram.
On the day he returned to office, he was busy meeting senior bosses and in meetings. Only as the evening drew close, he remembered Shoba, he requested his secretary to get her on the intercom.
“Don’t you know, Sir, she stopped coming to office two weeks after you left on tour. Our HR department’s efforts to trace her at her apartment failed as she was missing there also. She had left no message to people. The landlady had also complained to police. Our legal office has also informed the police. So far they have drawn a blank with no clue of her whereabouts. Her mobile is switched off. We are all very much disturbed. She was pleasant and seemingly had no problem. She had no romantic interest to our knowledge,” replied the secretary.
When Vittal met Vikram the next day in the corridor, the latter betrayed no emotion. On the other hand, he hugged Vittal and asked, “Where had you gone? I was told you had gone one tour. I need your help this Sunday. I am shifting my house to another locality. I want you to be at my place to keep an eye on the things at my present place as I will be busy receiving things in the new house. The truck will carry the big packages like furniture, fridge and washing machine. We will take in our cars the costly electronic and delicate items finally.”
Though Vittal agreed readily, an irksome thought crossed his mind about the coincidence of disappearance of Shoba and Vikram’s shifting to another apartment.
Next Sunday the truck had carried all heavy things to the new location. Some personal items, electronic items, some expensive glass items were stacked in Vikram’s car and a few in Vittal’s. Both cars followed the truck and reached the new apartment. A few men were arranging heavy things inside the at the proper places. Vittal called two men who were standing idle to take the things from both cars carefully to the apartment which they did
When everyone was inside the apartment, Vittal cross checked the boot of Vikram’s vehicle to see nothing has been left behind.It seemed. empty though it was dark inside. When he narrowed his eyes and looked hard, he saw something shining in one corner at the rear. Curiously, he pulled up the mat and saw to his shock, one penguin stud with red stone. There was a reddish brown smear on one side of the stud. He took care not touch it but made sure it was one of the pair he had seen on Shoba. He closed the boot even as Vikram came down with the labourers.
Vikram thanked him profusely before Vittal took leave calmly without revealing even slightly the horror of what he saw and his strong suspicion. He stopped on his way at a public booth and rang the Police control number 100 and said “Please listen carefully. Look for Honda City Car number DL XX XX XX**** at ..... apartments,Third avenue, …..bagh and check rear end of the boot for a penguin shaped ear stud smeared possibly with blood and connect it to the missing woman reported if any within the last fortnight. Do not waste a moment. You may lose the vital clue. You will get a photo of the missing woman with the stud very soon.”
“Hello what is your name, where are you speaking from? Can you please hold on for a moment?” asked an anxious voice from the other end only to hear a click of the phone being disconnected.