“That Chicken Delight was wonderful!” Rikki said, stepping out of Hero’s Pizza Stop with Nathaniel.
“I liked the way the cheese stretched for miles,” Nathaniel said, massaging his stomach in contentment.
“Let’s come back here tomorrow,” Rikki said.
“From where are you getting this money?” Nathaniel asked suspiciously.
“I am a freelance writer. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot.”
“At what time did Aunt call us?”
“About fifteen minutes ago from now.”
“We better run.”
And so, Rikki and Nathaniel reached Aunt’s place panting.
“What’s the hurry?” Aunt asked sarcastically.
“My cycle got punctured,” Nathaniel said.
“Stop lying, I don’t see your cycle anywhere around,” said Sidney.
“Why don’t you continue making out with Shanty?”
“Auuuunty…did you hear what Nathaniel just said?”
“That’s right, you heard me, now go and do your underwear commercial,” Nathnaiel said, getting angry.
“I am glad you use cycles instead of scooters like everyone else does. They are more energy efficient,” said a voice from behind the curtain that separated the hall from the rest of the house. Neela stepped out.
The jaws of all the students dropped and everyone was silent. People feared Neela because she used to criticize every small thing in life.
“And Nathaniel, why were you flirting with the girls?”
Nathaniel’s jaw dropped an inch further. “Was I flirting?”
“Just now. I saw it. And don’t act innocent. You think if I am inside my room I can’t hear what’s going on outside, huh?”
“No buts! You have been spoiled! And this is for everyone else!” Neela said, rounding up all the eleven students present.
“All of you are spoiled brats; I am going to straighten up all of you. Very soon, I will be teaching some you, I’ll handpick the students myself, all the spoiled ones. And Nathaniel and Rikki are the first on the list.”
Rikki’s jaw dropped onto the floor. “What in the blue blazes did I do?”
“What did I do wrong? Shah! What a question! You my boy are a lazy fellow who fakes accidents and incidents.”
Hey, I was really hit by a stone and I really needed stitches. Here you go, look at the scar,” said Rikki, stepping forward.
“No, no, no! I don’t have time for fooling around. Now, I and Aunt are going to take a look at a piece of land we plan to purchase. I want pin drop silence in the house while we are gone. And when I get back, I am going to check how much work ya’ll have done. Bye.”
All the students exchanged looks as Aunt and Neela left.
“Who does she think she is?” Nathaniel asked.
“The janitor of our school!” said Golu as everyone burst out laughing; the atmosphere quickly went from being the darkest black to brightest white.
“And another thing, there will be no noise because no one will be here!” Shanty said laughing, quickly throwing in his books in his bag. “Let’s go Sidney.”
“Why do you think Neela behaved like that?” Rikki asked when he and Nathaniel walked slowly towards the Bell Temple. From there, their homes were in the opposite directions.
“I don’t know, let’s forget about her. Are you ready to dig in some Chinese Manchurian?”
“So you did bring money!” Rikki said brightly.
“No. But you are after all a freelance writer aren’t you?”
“Okay, I’ll give you the treat,” Rikki grumbled.
The Manchurian was good; Nathaniel devoured it down in a minute.
The two were walking back towards the Bell Temple when something happened.
Neela came into view; she was walking hurriedly, looking nervous. She ran into Rikki and Nathaniel.
“You two,” she hissed. “Good that you are here. I came here to have some Manchurian with Aunt but I was reported that some thugs are going to execute a kidnapping here. I have always told you to be constantly vigilant. And even in sleep.”
“And while peeing,” Nathaniel added.
“Whatever,” Neela said, flapping her hand in exasperation. “Don’t act suspicious and for god’s sake don’t let Aunt notice you here. And by the way, you shouldn’t be here right now, you studying time isn’t over yet,” Neela said, glancing at her watch. “Anyways, we have more important matters at hand. We’ll talk about this later.”
They then parted in opposite directions, keeping an eye on each other’s back.
“If you notice anything suspicious, let me know,” Rikki said as he and Nathaniel moved cautiously along the road.
“You keep your eyes open too,” Nathaniel hissed.
“When did I close them?”
“I’ve never heard an answer so stupid.”
They spent a few minutes walking in silence before both of them shouted “Look!”
While Rikki had noticed Aunt staring at them, Nathaniel had noticed a teenage girl struggling with some thugs beside a van.
At that moment Aunt started at them “What are you-” she was cut short as Nathaniel surged forward in a desperate attempt to help, knocking down Aunt in the process.
“Leave her alone!” Nathaniel said, punching a thug in his nose. The thugs were taken aback.
“Is this your boyfriend?” one of them asked teasingly, grabbing Nathaniel by his neck.
“I don’t even know him, let him go,” the girl wailed, thrashing wildly.
“Not so soon dear,” the man replied. “Take her sweetheart in, he could be of use,” he told his men.
Five men surrounded Nathaniel, they jumped at him. Meanwhile Rikki was torn between the urge to help Aunt up and say sorry and to jump into the battle and help Nathaniel. He finally chose the battle.
The men shoved Nathaniel inside the van. In a desperate attempt Rikki shut his eyes tightly and started punching the men wildly. Finally, he heard a loud screech and saw Nathaniel beating men up in the van as it disappeared round a corner. He slid down, contemplating what just happened and his failure.
“Wahaha, I hate violence!” the girl screeched, stomping on the road.
“Huh, they left you here?” Rikki asked, surprised.
“Why, you think they should have taken me with them?” she said through sobs.
“No! Not at all, I am happy to see you. What’s your name?”
“Hi, I am Bendy. And you?”
“Hi Bendy, I am Rikki. That was my friend Nathaniel they took away,” Rikki said mournfully as he jogged towards Aunt and helped her up.
“Why did anyone come to help?” Bendy said, looking around. All the shopkeepers were just gasping and pointing towards them wildly. None of them came out of their stores.
“Welcome to India,” Rikki said sarcastically.
“If this is what they can do, why don’t they stay at home?” Bendy reasoned.
Aunt’s mouth opened and closed several times like that of a fish. Finally, she was able to sleep.
“What nerve! He knocks me down and…flees!”
“No, didn’t you notice tha-” Rikki stopped speaking when Neela appeared, a dangerous look in her eyes.
“Yes, Nathaniel fled. Now Akila, why don’t you go home, I’ll see you later after I deal with Rikki.”
Aunt just nodded and left.
“Now you two, to my office” Neela ordered.
Once in the office, Neela didn’t say a thing, she kept walking round the office. Rikki and Bendy sat in complete silence. It was after sometime that Neela spoke.
“We have to find Nathaniel by evening or Rikki and I are in trouble. His parents will ask questions and so will Akila. Did any of you two notice the number of the car?”
“I didn’t, I was crying, everything was hazy,” Bendy said.
“I did, it was BJ404,” said Rikki.
“BJ404!” Neela exclaimed, raising her eyebrows.
“Do you know something?”
“Nah, I was hoping I would. This puts us in a spot. Bendy, do you know why those thugs were after you?”
“They were attracted to me,” Bendy said.
“Yes, but why?” Neela asked.
“They were physically attracted to me.”
“I don’t think so, they must be something else.”
“No I insist they were physically attracted to me!”
“No you stupid girl, they are married people! I know a thing or two about them.”
“Then they were looking for an extra-marital affair.”
“Will you leave that theory alone? Okay, if they were looking for an extra-marital affair, why did they take Nathaniel with them?”
Bendy’s eyes grew wide. “They were homosexuals.”
Neela nearly pulled her hair out in anger. “Your theories are wild! You don’t know anything poppycock!”
Bendy started wailing again. “I…I have been through a lot today. And you have called me her in your dingy office and you are yelling at me, you know what, I am going?”
Bendy got up to leave but Neela grabbed her arm “You are not leaving so soon.”
“I am going to lodge a case on you.”
Neela face went from a juicy grape to a dried raisin. “You are not going to do anything like that. Just cooperate.”
Bendy sighed and took her place back on the chair.
“Now,” Neela said, circling the table, “I want you think very clearly why those men were after you.”
Bendy tapped her legs as she thought hard. “I had a boyfriend-”
“Again?” Neela interrupted, aghast.
“Listen to the entire story. His name was Lance. He was a great guy. Our relationship was very romantic and everything was cool until I came to know that his dad was a goon. I got scared and broke up with him. He tried a lot to get us back together but I said no. Then, Lance began to change. He grew more and more violent everyday and you know that I hate violence. He grabbed me one day and said that he will get revenge.”
“So you think this guy is behind this?” Neela asked.
“I am about ninety percent sure.”
“Okay, do you know where this guy lives?” Neela asked.
“Let’s go then.”
“That’s his place,” Bendy said, pointing towards a high rise building. She, Neela and Rikki were cramped on a scooter with Neela driving. It was illegal to have more than one pillion ride on a scooter but thankfully, Neela didn’t give a damn about law when necessary.
They were intercepted by security personnel at the gate.
“Halt, who goes in?”
“We do,” Rikki said sarcastically.
“This is Bendy,” Bendy said, swishing her hair at that moment to add some effect.
“Is that you?” a man said after he noticed Bendy. “Go on!”
“I don’t like your ways,” Neela said as she parked the scooter.
“I didn’t have a choice.”
There was loud music blaring somewhere in the building.
“That must be Lance,” Bendy said, looking embarrassed.
“And I thought you had a good choice,” Rikki said.
“Will you stop rubbing it in?”
“Stop fighting! We have more important matters on our hands. Now let’s go.”
Even a short trip in an elevator with Neela can be a bit unpleasant.
“Damn!” she said when her sari got stuck between the elevator doors. She tried pulling it back but it tore apart with a loud ripp.
Neela’s face turned red with anger but she quickly controlled it. Meanwhile Rikki and Bendy did their best to conceal their laughter.
The elevator came to a stop and the three got out. The door to Lance’s apartment was open and people were streaming in and out. There was loud music blaring and everyone had a glass of drink in their hands.
“Lance!” Bendy shouted rudely. A guy stepped out. He was about six feet tall with short, black, curly hair and a V shaped chest.
“Oh Lance!” Bendy said, lost in fantasies for a second. She quickly recovered. “What have you done? You tried to kidnap me and then you kidnapped my friend!”
Lance stared at her “So he is your friend. I heard you denied it, anyways, he is being tortured right now.”
“I’ll call the cops!” Bendy shouted.
“Go ahead; you have no evidence that I am the culprit.”
Bendy breathed heavily in anger. She glanced inside the apartment.
Lance burst into laughter. “No your friend is not in there. You can check if you like. Now, excuse me, I have a party to host. And the three of you get lost before I get ya’ll kidnapped.”
This remark ticked Neela off.
“Let me get this straight,” she said, cracking her knuckles. “I have free leg movement too, my sari is torn!”
“No!” Bendy shouted “this will give him a chance to look like a victim. Let’s leave.”
“What do we do now?” Rikki asked, feeling tired and irritated. The search for his friend had been fruitless.
“Hehehe,” the thugs laughed in the car. Nathaniel sat in silence. He didn’t say a word but the thugs were asking him questions after questions like: “Where did you meet Bendy?” or “How did you fall in love?” or “When did you first kiss?” or “Aren’t you too young to fall in love?”
Finally everyone grew silent. The thugs seemed to be driving around the city with no fixed destination. They would drive down a street, take a U-turn and drive somewhere else.
The silence was suddenly interrupted by a loud growlll.
“Are you trying to show your grit?” one of the thugs asked Nathaniel threateningly.
Nathaniel looked very scared. “It was just my stomach, I am hungry.”
All the thugs broke into laughter.
“You are not bad, kid, but one advice, break up with Bendy. She is not a nice girl.”
“I will do that!” Nathaniel said, trying to build a conversation.
“You are a good puncher too!” another one said.
“Thanks, but who are you working for?”
The thugs broke into laughter again. “The kid thinks he is smart.”
“Well, we work for a certain man Mr. Chrome.”
“Why did you kidnap me?”
More laughter. “To get revenge.”
This followed some silence. Nathaniel’s stomach growled again.
“I have an apple,” the thug who was driving offered.
“I don’t like apples,” Nathaniel replied.
“Do you like pasta?”
“No, I like pizzas.”
All the goons smiled.
“Umm…do you guys mind dropping me at ‘Hero’s Pizza Stop’? I am so hungry, I cannot describe it.”
All the thugs raised their eyebrows. “Drop you off?”
“Let’s drop this kid off, we’ll tell boss he jumped out of the car.”
“Yeah, just let him go. After that we visit the Byculla Zoo.”
“No, we visit the Gandhi Emporium.”
“Just one more thing guys,” Nathaniel interrupted. “I don’t have money. Can you lend me some?”
“Alright, but only on one condition: You don’t tell anyone about this and don’t inform the police about this.”
“That’s a done deal!” Nathaniel said, rubbing his rumbling tummy.
The van came to screeching halt outside Hero’s Pizza Stop and Nathaniel was unceremoniously knocked out of the van. The thugs threw out a note of five hundred rupees out of the window. Nathaniel quickly grabbed it and dashed inside the Pizza Stop.
“Huh?” Neela asked in amazement when her, Nathaniel, Bendy and Rikki were seated in her office.
“The thugs just let you go?” Neela repeated her question.
“Did they give you anything- sedatives or maybe poison?” Neela asked.
“Just five hundred rupees.”
“And what did you do with that money? Do you still have that note?”
“What did you do with it?”
“I had a Pepperoni pizza with pasta-even though I don’t like it but I was hungry. And Coke too.”
“Did they tell you something?”
“Very well, for the time being we can scrutinize Lance and his dad but nothing more than that. It’s very late, it’s dark. You better go home.”
Nathaniel, Bendy and Rikki walked towards the Bell Temple, where their paths deviated.
“I have to tell you, you were very brave!” Bendy told Nathaniel admiringly.
Nathaniel smiled. “Thanks.”
“You weren’t bad either,” Bendy said to Rikki.
Rikki didn’t say anything; he threw up his hands in an act of submission and disappointment.
“I hope to see you two again,” Bendy said when they reached the Bell Temple.
“Bye!” said Nathaniel.
“C’mon man!” Nathaniel said, slapping Rikki hard on the back as they parted ways. “Maybe the day wasn’t good for you, look forward to tomorrow!”
“I guess you are right!” Rikki said. He couldn’t stay miserable for a long time. “See you tomorrow!”