The 7 Innocents

John 7:24
'Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.'



Isaiah 64:6
'But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;'


It was when their problems seemed to wane that they escalated. The Australians all disappeared, and the seminary shut down. They were told to run for their lives. Told if they didn’t, their families would die. Told if they did, their families would still die.
They endeavoured to solve the mystery – one that threatened to destroy them and their families – but soon realised that to end it all, they must first find the Australians. But the closer they came to finding them, the more they began to see they should run and never come back.
The question, of course, is why they didn’t call the police.
The answer is simple.
You can’t avoid being condemned unless you’re innocent.
And these men are not.

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9. Chapter Eight: The 7 Rivals

 

 

Gopi did not like what he had to say next, so he paced the room for several minutes trying to think of a way to say it discreetly, in euphemisms. Finally, he thought of a way, so spoke slowly.

          ‘They weren’t in the way.’ He began, confusing most of the people present. ‘But they were perfect candidates for our mission. They were the sure fire way of shutting down aid – all 20 of them.’

          ‘How come we do not have all 20, then? And you sacrificed one, what was the point of that?’

          Gopi turned to his boss, his fiercest inquirer. ‘We could not predict the reaction of that particular one, but it is unimportant. Such people have a habit of turning up right when they are needed, and we already have many leads, so I am not concerned.’

          ‘What about Vijay?’ One of the colleagues asked. ‘What made you think he could be appeased?’

          ‘It was obvious.’ Gopi replied. ‘You would have had to be thick as anything not to see it. So I gave him what he wanted, and there were no complaints on either side. It has kept him quiet, and will serve our purposes in the end.’

          ‘I must admit the plan was quite well thought through.’ The boss said, being positive for the first time during the meeting. ‘But I understand things get complicated at this point.’

          Gopi nodded. ‘Terribly complicated. For the next explanation, you must keep in mind my foolish actions of before.’

          The boss raised an eyebrow. ‘Which ones?’

 

Arjun sat on his front step and stared at the beautiful mountains. He tried to re-claim the joy he had felt before Josha had ruined everything. Thanks to that little episode his father was treating him strangely. He felt like a forty year old – his father was treating him as if he were. Arjun had the instinct impression that he would never receive any advice from his father ever again, and it bothered him.

                Chandan came and quietly sat down next to his solemn friend. Putting his arm round Arjun, he began rubbing his shoulder. ‘Good job, bhai. You did very well.’

                Arjun looked at his feet. ‘I have ruined everything.’ He muttered.

                Chandan sighed. ‘You have changed your father’s opinion of you, that is all. It is a good opinion, though perhaps it came a little too soon.’

                Arjun shook his head. ‘I almost do not think so. Perhaps we just all have too low expectations.’

                Chandan smiled. ‘You certainly do not. Never have. Everything you do is mature.’

                ‘No it’s not.’ Arjun muttered.

                Chandan chuckled. ‘You know it is, bhai. You were raised to be a man, and you rise to the challenge when you must.’

                ‘I have taken on too much.’

                ‘Don’t say that, bhai. You’ll be fine.’

                Arjun smiled at Chandan, feeling a little more light-hearted. ‘Dhanyabad, dai.’

                Chandan smiled. ‘You are welcome, bhai. And for the record, I will not run away on you. Though I hope Josha does, because he only makes things worse.’

                Arjun nodded and stood up. ‘I think I will go for another ride. Pack your things, and I’ll buy as a train ticket so we can visit Suneep’s family tomorrow.’ After a moment, he added, ‘overnight train.’

                Chandan nodded. ‘All right, bhai. You can count on me!’

                Arjun smiled, and put his helmet back on. As he drove away for the second time that day, Chandan walked back inside.

 

Chandan said nothing at lunch, nothing at dinner, and nothing during dessert. But as he dried the dishes he couldn’t stand it anymore.

                ‘Where is Arjun?’ He asked the man’s mother.

                Arjun’s mother shrugged. ‘He started doing this often a few months ago now. He will be back before seven. I think he visits friends.’

                Chandan nodded, and glanced at the clock.

                Sure enough, Arjun came home at quarter to seven. ‘Our train leaves in an hour,’ was the first thing he said, ‘so I hope you are ready. ‘

                Chandan nodded. ‘We are.’

                Arjun smiled and walked off to his room.

 

                Suneep looked out the window as the train sped forwards. Bikram was asleep, so he was certainly stuck in his seat.

                The sun was setting on the horizon, and the sky had turned pink, purple, and orange. Suneep closed his eyes and basked in its warmth. The sunshine took him back to happier days – much happier days. As he was lulled into sleep, his thoughts drifted, and he soon found himself remembering many joyful incidents.

 

It was his first year at the BSI, and he arrived a little unsure of himself. The sheer size of the campus was quite daunting. There was the main building, dead centre at the back, which reminded him of the White House, the dining rooms (one to his right, beside a tall tree, and the other, smaller building to his left), the dormitories on the far left and right, and the principal’s house right in front of the smaller dining room. And in between him and the main building was a large grassy area, where he imagined students would play various games.

            He noticed another man, about his age, looking just as unsure.

            ‘Greetings, friend,’ he said, extending his hand. ‘My name is Suneep Vadin. What is yours?’

            ‘I am Bikram Tapan.’ The man had replied.

            As they finished speaking, a large Indian man came up to them, followed by his wife, who was either American or Canadian – Suneep had never worked that one out. The man was short and round, with a big smile that took up most of the room on his face.

            ‘I am Reverend Doctor Jahleel Ashwin.’ He had introduced himself, ‘and this is my wife, Brooke.’

            His wife looked pretty much exactly the same as him, only she had hair. Nut brown and short, it curved its way around her round face in a bob.

            After a small amount of chit-chat, a tall student had stepped forward.

            Suneep’s initial reaction to this man was one of fear. He took a step back as the student approached, afraid of his intense eyes and tight mouth. This was one determined man, Suneep decided. Such people did not usually take very well to him.

            ‘This is Vijay Vikash,’ Dr. Ashwin introduced him. ‘He is in his fourth and final year of his bachelor at BSI. He will show you to your rooms. Later in the term you are able to switch if you prefer.’

            Vijay led Bikram to a room that had its door wide open. Here, a young Indian man with a closely shaved beard jumped out.

            ‘Jaimashi, bhai, whoever you may be!’ He cried, his large, friendly eyes shining. Suneep warmed to this man at once – he simply looked honest.

            Vijay turned to Bikram. ‘This is Bikram Tapan. Bikram, this is…’

            ‘Mehmet Jamal.’ Mehmet had introduced himself. ‘Pleased to meet you.’

            Vijay continued showing Suneep around and brought him to another room. ‘The new people are always place with willing older ones, like Mehmet, who is in his second year. He volunteered, just like this man, in his third year.’

            A very dark, slightly chubby man stepped out, with a wide, gleaming smile. ‘Pleased to meet you brother!’ He cried. ‘My name is Dandin Kinton!’

            ‘This is Suneep Vadin.’ Vijay introduced him.

            ‘Where are you from, brother?’ Dandin had asked. ‘Myanmar?’

            Suneep smiled and shook his head. ‘Nepal.’

            ‘Oh. I am sorry.’

            ‘Don’t worry, I get it all the time. It is because I look Chinese.’

            Danny laughed, relieved that his new room-mate had taken no offense.

            The two new students learned at dinner that night that each man was assigned a specific table. While the students were allowed to switch, they did not.

            Suneep was thrilled to see the jovial Nepali again, and Bikram was equally thrilled to see Suneep.

            ‘We have same table!’ Bikram pointed out the obvious, moving his head peculiarly.

            Bikram and Suneep soon became fast friends, and had very little to do with their room-mates. True, Mehmet seemed to be friends with every-one, but Danny was very close to Kannan Akash, so Suneep didn’t really take to him.

            Kannan Akash was also at Suneep and Bikram’s table. He was from Tamil Nadu, like Danny, and was tall and dark. He contrasted greatly to Danny, who was short and stocky, as well as clean shaven, unlike Kannan who had a moustache. He was quite an amusing character really.

            ‘I miss home.’ Bikram confessed one night. ‘I feel very lonely.’

            ‘Get a girlfriend.’ Kannan had said. ‘Then you will have no time to be lonely.’ The group had chuckled.

            Also at the table had been an extravert studying is masters. His name was Pramaad Veer, but he preferred to be called Calvin. He had been taught English by an Irishman, so he had a strong accent.

            ‘Where do all the girls have dinner?’ Suneep had asked one night.

            ‘In the other dining room.’ Calvin had replied. ‘So we don’t see them much.’

            ‘Calvin likes that,’ Ramuk had cut in, ‘because his hairs style matches some.’

            Calvin laughed. ‘My hair is only past my shoulders!’

            Ramuk only laughed.

            Ramuk was a Burmese man, in his final year of his masters. He completed the table, and spoke to whoever was not speaking.

            When the time came for rooms to be switched, Bikram and Suneep shared, Danny moved back into Kannan’s room, and Mehmet ended up with Vijay.

            The next year brought more students, and Mehmet once again offered to help one. Suneep decided to be nice and also offered.

            Mehmet was surprised when a small looking Nepali man turned up on his door step. He looked quiet and shy, but he dressed like a punk, with his hair all spiked at the front.

            ‘Mehmet Jamal,’ he had introduced himself.

            ‘Chandan Sanee.’ The man had replied. ‘No, I’m not Burmese, I’m Nepali.’

            Ah, Mehmet had thought. So he had the same problem as Suneep.

            Meanwhile, Suneep had been given an aggressive looking punk.

            ‘Nepali or Burmese?’ Had been the first thing both had asked at the exact same time. Then the two had laughed and replied, ‘Nepali.’

            ‘Suneep Vadin.’ Suneep had said, extending his hand.

            ‘Josha Saniv.’ The younger had replied.

            Suneep soon ended up being quite close to Josha, and the two often found themselves in trouble. Bikram, however, was less than happy.

            ‘I am sharing with Nitin!’ Hi hissed one day. ‘He has a creepy smile!’

            ‘Brother, he is friendly! And Nepali!’ Suneep had added as an after-thought. After the confrontation though, Suneep made an extra-special effort to include Bikram. Soon, the three were great friends.

            Then Chandan had come along.

            Chandan was at their table, and seemed very quiet. Suneep more or less picked him as a minion, and enjoyed the way the man followed him around. But after a while, he began to notice he followed any-one – particularly Josha. So when the time for room switching came, Suneep went back to Bikram (much to his delight) and Chandan followed Josha.

            Mehmet ended up with Nitin, which – while not a bad match – was not exactly a match made in Heaven. Mehmet was outgoing, as was Nitin, but the former was more outgoing in a silly way. Nitin would often become frustrated at how Mehmet would dance and sing instead of studying, and found it next to impossible to study himself. That’s why no-one was surprised when Mehmet signed up to take care of a new student yet again.

            Of all the new students that year, the one Mehmet was given stood out. From the moment Mehmet first saw the boy standing in the doorway he had been deeply attached to him.

            The boy looked sweet, with large, serious and studious brown eyes, dark, neatly brushed hair, a half-button, half angular nose, an overbite (which gave him a peculiar smile) and smooth, coffee-coloured skin. He was tall too, though he didn’t seem awkward. He was just above average, and stood tall at all times.

The next thing that struck Mehmet about the eighteen year old was his outfit. He wore a light blue shirt with a plaid green vest, and good jeans that fit him properly. He wore a good leather belt and black shoes as well. He looked intelligent, and Mehmet honestly found himself believing he’d found a genius.

            ‘Mehmet Jamal.’ He’d introduced himself.

            The boy politely shook his hand – he had a firm hand-shake. ‘Arjun Mehtar.’

            Mehmet smiled. ‘Pleased to meet you, Arjun. Please, make yourself at home.’

                Suneep smiled in his sleep, as he remembered every-one else’s reactions to Arjun.

            Mehmet – a friendly character – often overlooked the people that needed him, completely by accident. He could honestly say he did not notice that Arjun spent his first night at dinner entirely alone at his table.

            ‘Look at the new boy.’ Bikram had whispered, nodding his head in the direction.

            Arjun sat facing the wall, with his back turned on every-one.

            ‘He looks like a goody-two-shoes.’ Josha muttered.

            Chandan smiled a little, as Arjun pulled out a phone. ‘Is he texting?’

            As it turned out, Arjun always seemed to be texting. He walked around all day, staring at his phone. Slowly, he found a group to stick with, though he was never truly a member. Then, at dinner, he would find himself alone yet again. And, of course, he always finished the day with Mehmet, his room-mate.

            ‘He is creepy.’ Suneep muttered one night. ‘I seriously wonder if he can speak.’

            ‘Mehmet likes him.’ Danny reasoned. ‘So he must speak a little.’

            Josha scoffed. ‘You don’t have to talk much with Mehmet.’

            Finally, three weeks into the year, a very tall, lanky Indian man sat with Arjun. He radiated confidence, and always seemed to be laughing at everything.

            ‘My name is Balraj Mukul, brother. What is yours?’

            Arjun’s face had lit up, and he had eagerly embraced the conversation.

            After that, everything changed for Arjun. He finally found a few people he genuinely like being with. He never spoke much, except for to Balraj and Mehmet, but when he did he was quite funny.

            Bikram laughed at Suneep glaring at him one night and said, ‘just make him your friend, bhai. He is going to win every-one’s heart.’

            Suneep had not liked that idea.

            Most of the men at the BSI did not feel comfortable talking to the women. They always seemed to be segregated. Mehmet had no problem with this, and – as he was in Arjun’s group – Arjun and his small group of friends soon became Arjun, his small group of friends, and every woman at the BSI. Arjun himself could speak to children, so they also became his friends.

            Vijay found it easy to talk to the lecturers, whom most of the students were afraid of, and – being another of Arjun’s friends – so he added to the group all of the lecturers, librarians, and other officials on campus.

            ‘It is strange.’ Bikram muttered one night. ‘He has so many friends, but he still hardly speaks.’

            Eventually, Bikram went out of his way to talk to Arjun, though catching him was never hard. While he knew everyone, unless he deliberately hung around with some-one, he was always alone.

            Bikram annoyed Suneep by declaring that he liked Arjun very much, after which all of Suneep’s friends entered into some sort of Arjun craze. Chandan in particular took him under his wing.

            ‘Arjun!’ He cried one night, sitting at the boy’s table. ‘Can I sit with you?’

            ‘Yes, of course.’ Arjun replied, looking confused.

            Bikram sat down next to him, followed by Mehmet. Ramuk and Balraj sat down, leaving hardly any room at the table.

            ‘Can we sit?’ Danny asked, speaking for himself and Kannan.

            Arjun had nodded again, still very confused. ‘Of course.’

            In the end, Suneep had lost every-one from his table but Josha, who sat with his faithfully. For some strange reason, this continued for a number of nights, until Calvin sat down with them.

            ‘Have you got some sort of rivalry going on?’ He asked, getting straight to the point.

            ‘Yes.’ Josha replied, answering honestly.

            ‘With Arjun?’ Calvin asked in disbelief. The two had nodded. Calvin had simply laughed, leaving Suneep and Josha completely confused. ‘Just forget it.’ He had explained eventually. ‘It’s very immature. Be friends with everyone!’

            Josha had grunted, but Suneep had frowned. ‘I would like to be mature,’ he had said, ‘but I cannot be.’

            Calvin had only laughed again, seemingly in agreement.

            For the first time in his life, Suneep found himself wishing to be friends with some-one who didn’t naturally come to him. But he couldn’t. He found himself unable to approach Arjun, and Josha only made it worse. Then 20 exchange students arrive from Australia, and everything changed. Suneep originally worried that’d he’d lose sight of Arjun. But that didn’t happen.

 

 

Chapter Nine: The 7 Wanderers

 

Gopi was not pleased at how the boss was treating him so condescendingly, but he supposed he did deserve it. So, answering the man’s previous question, he said, ‘you must remember my mistake of destroying IndAid offices, stealing their money and shutting down their websites, and then shutting down websites which made mention of my actions.’

          ‘Oh, those ones.’ The boss replied, though he did not look like he was trying to be funny.

          ‘Yes.’ Gopi continued. ‘Those ones. Very foolish actions, and the organisation was determined to use them against me. They found back ways into the websites we had only managed to partially shut down, thus compiling enough evidence against us to land us in serious trouble. I could not let such information exist.’

          ‘So that is where this crazy plan began.’ The boss cut in.

          ‘It is a well thought through plan.’ Gopi objected. ‘But yes, it is quite far-fetched. You see, IndAid had acted particularly spitefully towards us, and handed out the information to numerous people. You will understand, of course, that none of these people can be allowed to survive.’

          ‘Of course.’ The boss replied through gritted teeth. ‘No-one ever can.’

          ‘You’ve got it now.’ Gopi smiled, his eyes glinting cheekily.        

          But he was not happy.

 

Mehmet walked nervously through the streets, Danny faithfully by his side.

                Danny felt himself being to worry, as people stared at Mehmet in awe as he passed. They obviously knew who he was, and this was not exactly a safe area. The streets were close together, and the paths were narrow. The gutters were filled with a mix of rubbish, water, and whatever else people decided to put in there, and small children stayed close to them – probably looking for a moment to steal something.

                Danny kept his hands in his pockets, protecting his wallet, and notice people beginning to whisper. To his surprise, he found he hoped Mehmet didn't notice.

                Eventually they reached a small house, where Mehmet knocked bravely on the door. A beautiful woman answered, her head covered in the typical Muslim fashion. Danny actually gasped when he saw her, as her eyes were spectacular.

                They were green. Not hazel, green. He would have bet his life on it. Glancing at Mehmet's eyes, he realised for the first time that they were not brown, but dark green.

                'Assalama alikum, om.' Mehmet said nervously.

                His mother's face was filled with complete shock, and she was unable to reply.

                'Jameela!' A woman cried. 'Who is there?!' After receiving no reply, the person rushed over to the door. Upon seeing Mehmet's face, she scowled. 'You!' She cried. 'Demon-child! What have you come here for?'

                'I have come to apologise.' Mehmet said, looking truly frightened.

                'Come back to Islam?' His mother finally spoke.

                'No!' Mehmet replied quickly. 'But I have to apologise for shaming you, and disappointing everyone. I have behaved very badly – I have sinned. My only consolation is that God will forgive me. But please, I cannot bear it any longer. Will you forgive me?'

                Mehmet's mother seemed on the verge of saying yes, but the woman (whoever she was) was not so easily persuaded.

                'Get out of here, you filthy scoundrel!' She screamed. Turning to some of the neighbours, she aroused their support. 'Get him out!' She cried.

                'Aunty, please!' Mehmet cried, his eyes filling with terror as more and more people closed in.

                'Get out!' She cried again.

                'Aunty, I have learned my lesson! I know why you attacked BSI... it was because of me!'

                'Yes, and it worked didn't it?' A random man called out. 'BSI is closed, and you have come begging for forgiveness.'

                Mehmet nodded. 'You killed just under half the BSI.' He cried. 'I would be an idiot not to grovel.'

                'Get out!' The woman cried again.

                Some-one threw a rock, which Mehmet dodged.

                'Fine!' He cried, sounding a little high-pitched. 'I will leave – for now.'

                'Don't come back!' The man shouted.

                Mehmet wisely did not respond, and ran desperately away. Danny followed frantically. They ran non-stop, until they were safe in their hotel room. Puffing, Danny spoke.

                'Well. That went well.'

 

Arjun jumped, as Sara walked unannounced into his room. Her eyes were burning intently, which was unusual. She was usually the least inquisitive of his sisters (though he only had two to choose from). She shut the door behind her, though it was more like a slam in Sara standards, and asked, 'is that why BSI closed?'

                Arjun sighed, and he instantly knew what his sister was talking about.    

                He was so angry at Mehmet right now – he supposed the man had almost been wise to leave. 'It is one of many reasons. There were other problems besides the Muslim attack.'

                'Like what?'

                Arjun shrugged. 'There was a fire.'

                'You told us about that.'

                'I know.'

                Sara shifted. 'Does this have anything to do with why you ran away to Australia and came back?'

                Arjun smiled at his sister. 'You are worried.' He said, looking calmly into her eyes. 'What about?'

                Sara frowned. 'Josha said you would die. He said we'd all die. What was he talking about? Are you in danger?'

                Arjun stood up. 'Josha is dramatic. Drama-king. Ignore him.'

                'Your face fell. Why?'

                Arjun laughed now. 'You are so worried! Do not worry! If you are in any trouble, I will save you.'

                'What if you can't?' Sara returned.

                Arjun's eyes dimmed, but his face did not flinch. 'I will. End of story. There is no what if.'

                'You can't do everything, Arjun.'

                'Am not trying to do everything. Just one thing: keep you safe.'

                Slowly, Sara began to smile. 'So... every thing’s fine then? Or, at least it will be?'

                Arjun nodded. 'All izz vell, sister.'

                His sister laughed. 'Idiot.' She went along with the joke. ‘You watch too many Bollywood movies.'

                'Oh, have seen plenty of Hollywood too.'

                His sister laughed again. 'Even worse.'

                'Yeah. Hey, always bad things are in threes. Three idiots... three stooges...' his face fell. 'Great. Now only Chandan and Josha are here, there are three of us.'

                His sister smiled lovingly. 'Three good men.'

                Arjun's face relaxed and Sara left him alone.

 

Arjun's father kindly dropped the three men off at the train station, where they waited patiently for the train. Once aboard, the trip was a long one, and the three didn't arrive at Suneep's hometown until late at night.

                'You booked hotel?' Chandan asked wearily.

                Arjun only nodded.

                That night, no-one could sleep, despite the fact that they each had their own room, and Arjun soon remembered the sleeping pills he had seen in the bathroom cabinet. He'd never taken sleeping pills before, but he was so exhausted and sick of being tired that he decided to take one.

                The next morning, all the men looked exhausted – including Arjun.

                'You look sick.' Josha said to Chandan. 'Are you all right?'

                Chandan nodded. 'Fine, dai.'

                'You look like you're half-drugged.' Josha said to Arjun.
                Arjun stared at his breakfast egg confusedly.

                'You don't look much better, dai.' Chandan pointed out.

                Arjun looked up. 'Huh?' He grunted, struggling to keep his eyes open.

                'What?' Josha returned.

                'What did you say?' Arjun mumbled, slurring his words.

                Josha was confused. 'What?!'

                Chandan rolled his eyes. 'He said you looked half-drugged.'

                Arjun turned to Chandan. 'What?'

                Chandan sighed heavily. 'Never mind.'

                'Sorry?' Arjun frowned.

                Chandan suddenly dropped his spoon and stood up. 'This is great!' He cried, though he was not yelling. 'Our best man is completely off his face! Good luck convincing Suneep's parents of anything but that he is on drugs!'

                'I am not on drugs.' Arjun groaned, looking like a child.

                Chandan sighed and sat back down.

                Arjun began smashing his egg, frowning confusedly at it. Chandan threw his head up and growled.

'Would you like me to peel it for you?' He asked.

                Arjun did not reply. He held his egg and stared at it for a moment. Then, turning to Chandan, he said, 'would you please open it, dai?'

                Chandan cried exasperatedly, whereas Josha laughed. 'Whoa! He is bad, bhai! Arjun, did you take something?'

                Arjun turned to Josha. 'Huh?'

                'Are you on drugs?' Josha rephrased the question.

                'No...' Arjun frowned. 'Why would I be on drugs?'

                Chandan handed his egg back, and Arjun ate it awkwardly. He seemed to be having difficulty with everything, and after a while, Chandan became deeply concerned. 'Bhai, are you all right?' He asked gently.

                'Yes.'  Arjun nodded, his eyes fluttering.

                Chandan turned to Josha, and when he turned back, Arjun had fallen asleep. 'Arjun!' Chandan cried, shaking the man. Arjun did not respond.

                'I don't think he slept last night.' Josha reasoned. 'He was probably too busy worrying.'

                'Why does he worry so much?!' Chandan cried, clearly concerned. 'He has no more to worry about then the rest of us!'

                Josha laughed. 'He has to worry about us.'

                Arjun suddenly woke up. Looking at his plate, he frowned.

                'You finished, bhai.' Chandan reassured him.

                Arjun rubbed his eyes. 'Then let's go.'

                He stood up, and tripped on the leg of the chair. Chandan steadied him, and turned desperately to Josha.

                'Bhai,' Josha began slowly. 'I think we should go tomorrow. Sleep today.'

                Arjun shook his head. 'We can't afford many nights in this hotel.'

                'I can.' Josha replied.

                'So can I.' Chandan helped.

                'I can't.' Arjun concluded.

                Josha was confused. 'But your job pays the most, bhai. Why can't you afford it?'

                Arjun was agitated now. 'I just can't, dai. Now let's go.'

                He walked out, and Chandan turned to Josha. 'Is he tight-wad?' He asked.

                Josha shrugged. 'Either that or a gambler. Where else would all his money go?'

                Chandan nodded. 'Probably he just saves it.'

                Josha seemed calm for once, which was nice. 'Exactly. Now let's go brush our teeth and find Arjun before he does something weird.'

                Chandan smiled. 'Good idea, dai.'

 

Arjun slept for the entirety of the short trip to Suneep's house, and only awoke when shaken by both his friends. When he did awake, he gasped, though neither Chandan nor Josha knew why.

                'What?' Chandan asked, looking concernedly at his friend.

                Arjun's eyes were steadily fixed on something, and he said, 'we were looking for number 24?'

                Chandan nodded, and followed Arjun's gaze. Then he too gasped. Josha rolled his eyes and looked as well, procuring the same results.

                The number 24 was mounted on the massive walls surrounding the house and was made of brass. The walls were tall, with spikes on the top, and were of the purest white any of the friends had ever seen. The gates were beautiful, and looked to be gold, as well as being massive. All that could be seen through the gates was a large round about, with an oak tree in the middle, and a Ferrari parked next to a Lamborghini underneath a carport beautifully covered in vines. The house was massive, and made of stone.

                'It looks English.' Josha muttered.

                'Looks Indian.' Chandan corrected, observing body guards shooing monkeys.

                'Looks Nepali.' Arjun finished, seeing the flag waving proudly from the roof.

                'That is Suneep's house?' Josha asked incredulously.

                Arjun nodded, not averting his gaze. 'That is what Suneep wrote.'

                'Did we get wrong street?' Chandan asked. 'Suneep is not millionaire!' His face fell and he added, 'is he?'

                No-one replied to this.

                The rickshaw driver dropped the three of at the gate, where they were glared at by two security guards.

                'Can we visit?' Chandan asked weakly. 'We are friends of Suneep.'

                The security guards seemed to soften at the sound of Suneep's name, and nodded. 'Okay.' One granted. 'But follow me.'

                The massive gates were opened, and Chandan, Josha, and Arjun passed cautiously through. Then, as the gates were shut, they followed the man.

                'They all have guns.' Josha whispered to Chandan.

                Chandan eyed the weapons uncomfortably, while Arjun seemed completely unaware of their existence. He still hadn't taken his eyes of the building.

                The man led the friends into a grand room, with an immaculate white carpet, leather sofas, and a brown grand piano in the corner. There was a large painting on the wall next to the piano of The Girl With the Pearl Earring', and on the front most wall there was a large, gold-rimmed mirror, which made the room seem much bigger than it was. The large window with window seats looked out to the magnificent oak tree on the grand roundabout.

                Arjun stared at the painting dreamily, and Chandan wondered what on earth was going through his mind. As for Josha, he was constantly checking behind him to see if he left any footprints.

                After a few minutes, a man in a white suit with an orange turban appeared.

'Manju...'

                No-one heard the rest of the introduction. All were too distracted by the dazzling woman before them – not beautiful, but fascinating. She literally shone.

                'I am Suneep's mother.' She briefly introduced herself. 'Who are you?'

                Arjun was obviously in a daze, and Josha was hardly a fit spokesman, so Chandan obligingly replied.

'We are friends of Suneep's. From the BSI.'

                Manju smiled. 'Has he given you some sort of message for me?'

                Chandan nodded. .'Yes.'

                The woman chuckled. 'Well then, keep it brief. I imagine it's nothing too extravagant.'

                'Are you not disappointed that he didn't come?' Arjun suddenly spoke.

                Manju actually laughed. 'No! Look, I love him, but he makes such a mess of things!'

                Manju lost the group's attention when a man walked in. He looked very much like Suneep, and wore a very serious grey, pinstripe suit. 'He has probably not told you,' he burst into conversation, 'but he is quite a skilled pianist. He just prefers drums and electric guitars because they are loud and violent. But when he wants, he plays beautifully. Even better than his sister, to her disappointment.'

                'Where is she?' Arjun asked.

                Chandan thought that was an odd question to ask, but Suneep's father did not seem to think so. 'Married.' He replied. 'As of last year. Was about time too. She was nearly 30.'

                'She is much older than Suneep.' Arjun pointed out the obvious.

                'Yes.' Manju confirmed. 'Because we didn't want another child. Suneep was a mistake.'

                The man smiled a little. 'He is a mistake.'

                'So what's his message?' Manju asked, cutting to the chase.

                Chandan replied, while Arjun stared at the parents with an obvious amount of disdain. 'He says do not go to Australia – ever. Do not even think about going on a plane to there.'

                Suneep's father immediately panicked. 'What has he done?' He cried.

                'Nothing!' All three assured him at once.

                'But you must listen.' Chandan continued. 'It is very important.'

                The parents sighed, but nodded.

                'Are you finished?' Manju asked.

                Chandan nodded, but Arjun surprised him by suddenly asking, 'do you know anything about the gold ring Suneep used to wear all the time?'

                Suneep's father raised his eyebrow. 'Used to? You mean he stopped?'

                Arjun rolled his head ambiguously – the typical Indian head movement that he did not often do. 'No. He had to sell it our first night in Australia, when we could not afford to pay our driver.'

                Manju seemed crushed. 'Oh!' She cried. 'That would have hurt him so much!'

                Her husband shifted uncomfortably, obviously realising the friends would want an explanation. 'We did not even know why until three years ago.'

                Here, Arjun's ears pricked up. 'Three years?' He repeated.

                'It's always three years...' Josha muttered, summarizing Arjun's thoughts.

                'You probably knew her.' The man continued. 'Shaktiah Nylah.'

                Arjun's face immediately fell, though it took a little longer for the other two to work out who he was talking about.

                'Nepali girl from BSI?' Chandan asked.

                Manju nodded. 'They grew up together. She was very nice girl.'

                'Only one in the world that could see no bad in Suneep. Only good.' Her husband added.

                'He went to boarding school.' Manju continued. 'And would always be beaten for misbehaving. Then in the holidays he would come home to everything.'

                'Lamborghini was his birthday present.' The father cut in.

                'We did not raise him very well...' the mother contemplated. 'Especially not when you consider we are Christians.'

                'Each holidays he would basically get together with his gang and terrorize the town,' the father continued, 'though it was never too serious, it would always end with a threat of arrest. After that he'd settle down and try to make up for it by studying – learning Biblical Greek, playing piano. Whatever he though would please us.'

                'It was just frustrating, because it showed us he had so much potential – he just wasn't using it! So, needless to say, we were never pleased.'

                'Whereas she was always pleased. She would always encourage him. When Shaktiah was around, Suneep was the best person he could be.'

                'The ring was chicken feed to her – her family was even richer than ours.'

                'Still are.' the man qualified. 'And now we come to the part we did not know until 3 years ago.'

                'When he was 16 he started wearing that ring – always. We didn't even think anything of it. True, he wore it on the wedding finger, but we figured he was just stirring.'

                'He wasn't engaged.' The father assured the three. 'But she gave it to him as a birthday present. On the inside was engraved 'Colossians 3:23'.

                All were surprised when Arjun automatically chanted, 'whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men.' When he realised everyone was staring at him, he quickly explained. 'He would write it at the top of each page while he worked. Every page in his test, books, and assignments would at least have the reference. He engraved it in my mind.' He continued speaking, though no-one knew what about. 'He much preferred it over Proverbs 18:9, which says, 'A lazy person is as bad as some-one who destroys things'. That verse really came back to haunt him...' Arjun only received more blank stares.

                'She died, didn't she?' Chandan asked. 'Died in attack.'

                Manju nodded.

                'Wait, which one?' Josha asked.

                'Hindu one.' Arjun muttered distractedly. Obviously, something was beginning to make sense in his mind.

                Manju's face had filled with grief, as had her husband's. 'Please go.' She begged them.

                Chandan nodded, and led the other two out of the house. The three were let out by a miserable looking guard, and then they walked aimlessly on the road in the opposite direction to the hotel.

                'So...' Chandan muttered at last. 'Suneep is filthy rich.'

                Arjun nodded. 'Everything makes sense now!' He cried.

                'What makes sense?' Josha asked.

                'Everything!' Arjun repeated himself. 'The ring, the Bible Verse, Ally...'

                'Whoa!' Josha interrupted. 'What does Ally have to do with anything?'

                Chandan frowned. 'Quiet Australian girl that was really from New Zealand? Alyssa?' Turning to Josha, he asked, 'how did you work that out?'

                Josha explained very briefly. 'That is what Suneep called her.'

                'She has a lot to do with everything!' Arjun cried. 'A lot!'

                Chandan shook his head. 'I am so confused. I thought of all the confusing things she would be the least confusing.'

                Arjun actually laughed, which the others found weird. 'Every thing's so clear now!' He cried.

                'So you can fix our problem?' Chandan asked.

                'No.' Arjun admitted. 'But...' he stopped, and froze on the spot.

                Chandan turned around. 'What, bhai?'

                Arjun's face lit up as he said, 'that's it! How to fix everything!'

                Josha's eyes immediately became intense. 'You know what to do, bhai?'

                Arjun nodded. 'I need to step back and evaluate everything. Everything! Put together everything and I can work it out.'

                'What?' Chandan asked, completely confused. For the first time in a long time, there was an air of cruelty in his utterance.

                'Think about it, dai!' Arjun cried. 'So many questions! Why did the Muslims attack? I know why now – it was Mehmet's fault. Why did the Hindu's attack? I don't know, but I bet you one of us is responsible.'

                'What?!' Chandan cried angrily. 'You contend that we together are guilty for the destruction of BSI?!'

                'What did I do?' Arjun muttered to himself.

                'Nothing of course!' Chandan shouted. 'You're just Mr. Perfect!'

                Arjun suddenly realised what he had suggested, and turned apologetically to Chandan. 'I am so sorry!' He cried desperately. 'That is not what I meant!'

                'Yes it is!' Chandan shot back. 'It is exactly what you meant!'

                Arjun found himself unable to contradict this.

                Josha surprisingly stepped in as a peacemaker. 'I agree with Arjun to an extent. I mean, you could argue that we are guilty, even if you don't take that night into consideration...'

                'It's not my fault!' Chandan screamed, his eyes filling with tears and horror. 'I did not kill any-one!'

                Josha put his hand on Chandan's shoulder. 'We are not saying you did. Only that you could be framed.'

                'Nothing makes sense!' Arjun suddenly cried, contradicting himself. 'Why us? Why them? Why BSI?!'

                'I don't know.' Josha helped. 'But I think you are right. If you evaluate everything, you will work out why.'

                Arjun nodded. 'Quick, let's go back. I need to write everything I know so far down.'

                Josha nodded too, and led the way. Chandan sniffed, glared at Arjun, and followed.

 

 

 

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