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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26. Chapter Twenty-Five: The 7 Detectives

 

 

‘Okay,’ Gopi’s friend began. ‘Settle in, and try to keep up.’

          ‘I shouldn’t have to try too hard.’ Gopi returned, making his friend chuckle.

          ‘Right.’ The other man continued. ‘So I was thinking to myself, ‘how could I possibly blame this man – whose name escapes me…’ he laughed, ‘for committing a terrible, lethal crime in the form of a mistake. He has nothing to do with anything, right?’

          ‘Right.’

          ‘Well I worked it out. What if said man had believed a certain enemy of his was on board, and so he bribed a man in the command tower to give incorrect co-ordinates to the pilot?’

          Gopi paused.

          ‘I know it is far too close to the truth, but that will make it all the more convincing.’

          ‘They will search for the traitor.’ Gopi put in. ‘What will you do then?’

          ‘Plant documents.’ The friend replied simply. ‘I just need a copy of his signature.’

          ‘I can arrange that.’ Gopi said, beginning to relax a little. ‘I’ll just have to dig up a couple of old files from the BSI. Exceptional work, friend. Exceptional work.’

          ‘Why thank you – but I’m not done yet.’

 

Arjun's family was thrilled to see the seven men return, and welcomed them warmly. The first day was spent entirely with Arjun's family, and was enjoyed by all – with the exception of Arjun. Mehmet and Sara seemed to enjoy each other's company far too much for Arjun to relax. What he found worse was the fact that they were like-minded, and could have a wonderful conversation on nearly any subject. Brayna noticed her brother's discomfort, and kindly gave him some good news.

                'Guess what.' She began.

                Arjun smiled lovingly at the now sixteen year old. 'I missed your birthday?' He asked. 'Don't worry; I have a present for you.'

                Brayna laughed. 'No, Arjun! It is better than that! Much better!'

                Arjun's entire face lit up. 'You have become a Christian?'

                The girl nodded eagerly. 'Yes, dai!'

                Arjun excitedly picked up his little sister and hugged her tightly. 'Bhainee, that is wonderful!' He cried. 'Best news I have heard for a long time!'

                The girl was obviously pleased by her brother's response. 'Thank you, dai.'

                'Let's play a game.' Suneep suddenly cried, standing in the middle of Arjun's backyard.

                Mehmet, talking to Sara on a step, finally engaged with someone else. 'What game?'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows and flicked his head so that his hair would get out of his eyes. 'Tiggy.'

                Mehmet laughed. 'No thank you, brother.' Sara laughed too, and turned back to Mehmet.

                It was a fairly cool day, but warm in the sunshine, so Suneep wore a loose and long T-shirt. As usual, his jeans were baggy and too long for him. He wore his worn black Converses, and was really the stereo-typical Suneep.

                'Come play!' Brayna pleaded with Arjun.

                Arjun laughed. 'You still like playing?'

                'Sometimes, dai. You should play too! Akash!' The girl called to her other brother. 'Let's play!'

                Akash nodded, whereas Arjun promised to watch. It turned out he was the only one besides Mehmet, Sara, and his parents that did not play.

                Suneep began shouting instructions, and pointed in various directions as he did so. As he moved, his pants fell a little until Brayna laughed and said, 'Suneep, pull your pants up!'

                Suneep frowned at the girl, but did so. 'I have not been told that for a long time... by a girl.' He added, glancing at Arjun. The others laughed, and Suneep cried, 'I'm it!'

                Everyone began running, and Suneep easily tagged Danny. The man laughed heartily and shouted, 'I'm it!'

                He began to chase Brayna, who was close to him, but gave up when he realised how quickly she could change direction. 'Too hard!' He teased, tagging Josha.

                Josha bolted, and instantly ran after Bikram. As he neared Brayna he tried to tag her, but found he had the same problem as Danny. Finally, Bikram was tagged.

                'Get Brayna!' Everyone cried at once.

                Bikram tried hard to chase the girl but gave up quickly. 'She changes direction too easily!' He whined, still smiling.

                'Tag me, tag me!' Suneep cried. 'I'll get her!'

                Bikram exhaustedly tagged his friend, and Suneep bolted. For some-one who was running on his cuffs,                 Suneep ran very quickly. He often came very close to Brayna, and the girl would squeal a little (as girls often did). Unlike the others, however, Suneep did not give up easily. 'I will catch you!' He shouted, smiling at the girl's increasing exhaustion.

                It wasn't too much longer before the girl slowed down a little, and Suneep – right behind her – nearly tripped. He carefully avoided falling and knocking the girl over by putting out his arms and holding onto her. Then, once steady, the two stood up.

                'I caught you!' Suneep cried, still holding the girl's shoulders, lest she should try to run again. From his spot behind Sara and Mehmet, Arjun frowned in confusion.

                'That is nothing!' He cried, jumping over his sister. 'I could catch her easily.'

                Suneep finally let go of the girl and sighed. 'But you are tall, Arjun! Give me some credit.'

                Arjun shook his head, and bolted. Brayna screamed happily as her much taller brother practically threw her over his shoulder.

                'Okay.' Arjun said, becoming serious. 'She is mine now. Keep playing.' Then, turning around, he began to walk back to the house.

                'Do not take the Brain!' Suneep called. 'Otherwise there will be no intelligence here!'

                Brayna laughed at her new nickname, as did the others.

                'You like nick-naming people.' Mehmet chuckled, briefly stopping his conversation.

                Suneep nodded. 'Only a few. Remember Shaktiah? She was Tiah, or Shakti.'

                'And Alyssa was Ally.' Danny noted.

                'You only nickname girls!' Josha teased.

                Suneep raised his eyebrows thoughtfully. 'Yaap. You are right.'

                Arjun was concerned, but tried to keep smiling. He began running, and – when he reached Sara – dragged his other sister along with him. The girl squealed happily, and was obliged to follow her brother.

                Akash laughed. 'You are stealing your siblings, Arjun!' He cried. 'Steal me too!'

                'I'll come back for you!' Arjun promised.

                Mehmet and Suneep both had the same idea at the same time. Instantly, in perfect unison, they tore after Arjun. Bikram giggled, and joined in, followed by everyone else. Arjun gave a small laugh of terror, and rushed to open the door with his foot. Then he ran inside the house, causing his parents to stare. Suneep scurried up the balcony and raced after Arjun. Mehmet was close behind, followed by the others.

                'What is going on?' Arjun's mother asked, as Akash, the last, ran past. Akash simply shrugged.

                Arjun did the man equivalent of a girl's scream as he found he was trapped in the lounge room. Suneep enthusiastically jumped on him, knocking him onto the couch. Brayna and Sara had the brains to make their way out of the lounge room.

                Mehmet jumped on the couch next, and threw Arjun, Suneep, and himself onto the floor. The three cried out as they landed on top of one another.

                'Stacks on!' Akash cried, jumping on the pile. Arjun cried out in terror as Bikram screamed, and jumped onto the pile.

                'Not Bikram!' Suneep cried, completely smothered by people. 'Not Bikram!'

                By the time Arjun's parents came to check on the situation, Arjun's head was barely visible, and Suneep could not even be seen. Mehtar's mouth fell open, as did his wife's. Arjun smiled at them timidly.

                'Hello, mama and papa.'

                The men instantly jumped off the pile and sat maturely on the couches.

                'Hello.' Mehmet greeted the two, looking serious.

                Mehtar was more than a little disturbed. 'How old are you?' He asked, echoing his wife's thoughts.

                The men's faces fell, while Arjun laughed. 'Old enough to know better.' He replied, knowing his father too well to believe he was really angry.

                Mehtar laughed too. 'Come, I can steal beat you.'

                Arjun beamed at his ever-so-slightly-taller father and pushed against him. His father pushed back against him, until the two were relying on each other to stay upright. The others were incredibly surprised by Arjun's father, and it occurred to them for the first time that the man did not look old.

                Sara sat down next to Mehmet, and the man whispered, 'how old is your father?'

                '39.' The girl replied. 'Just.'

                Mehmet was astounded. 'He is so young!'

                Sara nodded. 'Nearly the exact same age as mother.'

                In the end, Arjun surrendered to his father, who held him so tightly he could not escape.

                'Who won?' His father asked, laughing.

                'You did!' Arjun cried, in a little pain from his father's tight grasp.

                'That's right, and who lost?'

                'I did!'

                'Ah-uh. So who's stronger?'

                'You are, baba. You win, I lose. You are strong!'

                'And...?'

                'I'm not.'

                'Which makes you?'

                'Weak.' Arjun finished. He stopped struggling, and waited for his father to release him.

                Mehtar smiled, and let his eldest son go free, turning to Akash. 'Do I need to prove myself to you too?'

                Akash shook his head. 'No, papa.'

                The man laughed and left the room.

                Turning around, Arjun realised his efforts had been pointless. Mehmet and Sara were still talking, though at least now they included Chandan and Josha. Danny, Bikram, and Akash were playing cards.

                'Where are Brayna and Suneep?' Arjun asked.

                'We were talking about building houses.' Danny replied. 'So I think they are trying to prove it is not hard.'

                Arjun smiled. 'They are trying to build a house?'

                'You guessed it!' Bikram returned.

                Arjun laughed and went to find the two. He could see them through the window, collecting sticks, old logs, and planks. They were just about finished, and seemed unsure as to how to approach their problem.

                Arjun stepped out just as Suneep asked, 'So... what do we do?'

                Brayna shrugged. 'How did we even end up in this mess?'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows. 'I think that was my fault.'

                Arjun laughed and slid down the bannister. 'Need some help?'

                Brayna nodded eagerly. 'We have to build a house from this.'

                'Got ideas?' Suneep asked again.

                'No!' Brayna cried once more.

                'That is impossible!' Suneep teased. 'You are the Brain!'

                'I am not smart.'

                Arjun smiled warmly. 'Yes you are sister. At least compared to Suneep.'

                There was laughter, after which the three stared at the pile of wood and sticks again.

                'We don't have nails.' Brayna remembered.

                Arjun said nothing – he didn't have a clue what to do. Suneep smiled arrogantly at Arjun, and picked up the two tallest planks.

                'Well, in theory, we shouldn't need any. If we lean the planks against each other on the right angle, they will not fall – Newton's law. Everything has an equal and opposite reaction. This means we should be able to construct a sort of teepee or lean-to easily enough.'

                'Does that count as a house?' Brayna asked uncertainly.

                Suneep nodded. 'If the roof does not leak.'

                'Won't we need plastery stuff for that?'

                'Yaar. We can make some out of dirt.'

                Arjun laughed. 'This will never work.'

                Suneep turned defiantly to his friend. 'You must have more faith in your sister and I. We are very smart – or at least she is.'

                'I'm not smart.' Brayna insisted again.

                'Don't lie, bhainee.' Suneep returned.

                Arjun relaxed, and figured there wasn't really any point in hanging around. 'I'm going to go for a ride.' He declared, checking his watch. 'I'll be back later.'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows and – after Arjun had gone inside – turned to his new adopted little sister. 'Where does he go?'

                Brayna shrugged. 'He started three years ago, after holidays from BSI. We figured he was sad after the Hindu and Muslim attacks. He continued for nearly a year, when you disappeared to Australia. Then, nearly a year later, he comes back and does the same thing! Sometimes he would be gone for days, other times weeks, and once even a month and a half! He always comes back very happy, so I guess he visits friends.'

                'You never ask?'

                'Yaar, we ask. He just says he visits people. We were just happy he was happy somehow, after all the BSI troubles. I am sad though, because he does not tell us much. I know it.'

                Suneep nodded. 'If I were him, I would trust you. But maybe he does not want to worry you.'

                'Would I be worried?'

                Suneep shrugged. 'How should I know? I don't know where he's going either.'

                There was a silence, and the two began sorting the wood.

                'You all seem to have secrets.' Brayna eventually muttered.

                Suneep did not reply at first. Then, finally, he spoke. 'I don't want to. Here, if you like I will tell you about my life.'

                Brayna nodded. 'Okay.'

                Suneep hesitantly began, but as he progressed he began to relax. The only other people he'd ever felt so relaxed with were Shaktiah and Alyssa. He covered his childhood, his ring, his fashion-sense, Shaktiah's death, and Alyssa's disappearance. The girl followed his story amazingly well.

                'Oh. That explains Arjun's sadness. He must feel responsible for Ardi's disappearance.'

                Suneep nodded. 'I know he does.'

                There was a very long paused, as Suneep tried to pluck up the courage to say something. 'You know,' he finally began, 'I accidentally killed someone before the BSI shut down. Day before.'

                Brayna froze in shock. 'What? But... how?'

                'It was dark, we were out. A man came at me with a weapon – a knife – and I caught his arms. He slipped with the knife just as I moved him, and so... he stabbed himself.'

                Brayna shifted, disconcerted, and yet she seemed unconcerned by this news. 'That is not your fault.' She encouraged the man.

                Suneep was not so sure. 'If the police had of seen, they would have arrested me.' Brayna simply shrugged. 'So,' Suneep abruptly changed the subject, 'why did you become a Christian?'

                'Because.' Brayna happily replied. 'I just knew it was true. Why did you become a Christian?'

                'Oh, for a much different reason. I have been a Christian for a long time – a very bad Christian.'

                'Don't say that dai.'

                'No, bhainee, it is true. Ultimately, though, I believed because I know I am so bad. If God were not merciful, He would not even put up with me in this life.'

                'You make yourself sound worse than you are, dai, though I understand the sense of your words. If God was not merciful, I do not think He would put up with anyone in this life.'

                Suneep smiled. 'Yes, you are right.' The two stepped back and briefly wondered what to do. 'Hey.' Suneep suddenly said, his eyes alight. 'Want to know something?' Brayna was obviously intrigued, and Suneep laughed. 'You remind me of Alyssa. You know what; I'm not going to tell you.'

                Brayna scowled. ‘Oh, please tell me, dai!’

                Suneep laughed, truly happy for the first time in a long time. 'You are just like Alyssa!' He cried. 'You can be my replacement little sister. No, not replacement – that's not very nice. You can just be another adopted little sister of mine.'

                Brayna smiled. 'I don't need another older brother.'

                'Ha!' I am far cooler than your brothers. You need a cool brother. I think you should keep me. But anyway, I wanted to tell you something. You know why I really think Arjun likes Astha?' Brayna shook her head. 'Because I found his phone once.' Suneep related, his eyes alight. 'And there were so many messages from her. I did not get time to read them, though.' He paused briefly. 'Do you think I should read them?'

                Brayna looked away, but she was smiling. 'That would not be very good.'

                'No. Shaktiah would tell me I am better than that. Alyssa would persuade me it was wrong, but laugh at my spunk. What about you, bhainee?'

                Brayna replied slowly. 'You should not...'

                Suneep's face lit up. 'I think you are the rebellious one in this family. Yes, we will be partners in crime.'

                'We really shouldn't.

                'Don't worry. We won't be caught.'

                'What is really the point though?'

                Suneep raised his eyebrows. 'Maybe it will explain where he always goes. Maybe they are secretly married!'

                Brayna laughed hysterically. 'That is ridiculous!' She cried. 'If Arjun was in love, everyone would know about it. He could not keep a secret like that.'

                Suneep considered this. 'Well... if he were in love, what would he do?'

                'Well. He would like to spend all his time with the girl. '

                'Well he can't. He can only spend as much time as possible.'

                'Yes, but he would talk about her all the time.'

                Suneep frowned. 'No, he doesn't do that.'

                'See what I mean?'

                'Okay, okay. But I still think Astha will have something to do with where he is going.'

                'Why don't we find that out?'

                Suneep nodded. 'Okay. We'll do both.'

                Brayna smiled, and shifted a log. 'I should not talk to you.'

                Suneep laughed. 'Maybe I should not be talking to you.'

                The two chuckled, and continued working.

 

When Arjun returned, it was just about dark. 'So,' was the first thing he said, turning to Suneep, 'did you finish the house?'

                Suneep nodded and stood up. 'Come, I will show you.'

                Brayna was prepared for such a question, and turned on a torch.

                The two lead Arjun to an odd looking lean-to. 'It was raining before.' Suneep explained. 'And the roof did not leak.'

                Arjun was impressed. 'Well done!' He congratulated the two. 'Now what are you going to do?'

                'We invited everyone to sit in it.' Brayna replied.

                'And only Bikram accepted.' Suneep finished.

                'Then it started to rain, so we were stuck in there for hours. We had good fun talking lots.'

                'It was good to spend time with Bikram again.' Suneep added. 'I still don't know why he avoided me in Myanmar, but that's all right. I think we are fine.'

                'Anyway, we were nice and warm in here, amazingly, which was good, because we were literally stuck in here for hours.'

                Arjun nodded. 'Sounds good.'

                'Where have you been?' Suneep asked.

                'Visiting friends.' Arjun replied simply.

                'Which friends, dai?' Brayna asked.

                Arjun eyed his little sister, surprised at her confidence. 'What has Suneep told you? Who do you think I am visiting?'

                Brayna shrugged. 'No-one knows, Arjun. That is why I asked.'

                Arjun frowned at his sister.  As he was distracted, Suneep discreetly eyed Arjun's pocket. Yes, as always his phone was there. Arjun never let it out of his sight since the day Suneep had found it. Suddenly, Arjun turned around.

                'I have only come to pack.' He said. 'I am staying some-where else. It will give you all more room.'

                'What?!' Suneep cried. 'You cannot just leave! What will we do without you? You're the one with all the plans!'

                'I'm not leaving, dai.’ Arjun returned nervously. He eyed Suneep, and the man wondered why.

                'Oh.' He muttered, finally working things out. 'Don't worry about her. I told her all about me, and then Bikram confessed... yeah, she pretty much knows everything.'

                'What?!' Arjun cried, surprisingly angry.

                Suneep jumped, and was intimidated. 'Bhai, she can keep a secret.'

                'That is not the point, dai! What if she is hurt?'

                'At least she'll know why!'

                'No, what if she is hurt because of what she knows? What possessed you to tell her!?'

                'She reminds me of Alyssa, and Shaktiah. I just had to talk to someone, Arjun.'

                'You could have spoken to me!'

                'You don't remind me of Alyssa or Shaktiah.'

                'She is not like Shaktiah! She a lot less...'

                Suneep's face hardened. 'Gullible?' He offered. 'Blind? Is that what you're going to say?'

                'Something like that.' Arjun admitted. 'Suneep, Shaktiah did not help you. She just ignored everything bad in you.'

                'Do not say that.'

                'And Brayna's not like Alyssa either!'

                'Why? Because she is Nepali?'

                'No, don't be ridiculous. Brayna is more – outgoing than Alyssa. Come to think of it, you two are the worst combination ever. What mischief are you up to?'

                'Nothing.' Suneep muttered.

                Arjun turned to Brayna. 'Don't talk to him, okay? He will make you worse, and you will not help him.'

                Brayna frowned. 'What have I done? Do you really think I change that easily, Arjun? You don't change that easily, and we are related.'

                Arjun sighed. 'Just leave him alone! Suneep is nothing but trouble – and he's moody.'

                Suneep suddenly snapped. 'We want your phone.' He sneered. 'I want to read your fifty-hundred messages from Astha.' Suneep reached for the phone, but Arjun stepped away.

                'No!' He cried. 'It's my phone, and I don't have many messages from Astha at all!'

                'Suneep!' Brayna cried. 'You have ruined everything!'

                Arjun turned to his sister. 'You agreed with this idea? Brayna, do you not trust me?'

                'No, dai, you do not trust me! I'm tired of not knowing who you are. This Alyssa might have been good and stopped Suneep, but to be quite honest I have wanted to steal your phone myself. I'm so sick of all the secrets!' The girl burst into tears, and Arjun felt his heart melt.

                This was the Brayna he knew: the small girl who wanted the world to be a safe place, and who cried and became frustrated when it wasn't. Everything made sense now.

                'Bhainee, do I upset you that much?' He asked, hugging the girl.

                'I am worried for you, Arjun.' The girl sobbed.

                'Brayna, I am only trying to keep you safe.'

                'I know, dai. I know.'

                Arjun wondered what he was doing. He only wanted to protect his family and yet they still ended up worried and in tears! 

                'I haven't kept too much from you.' Arjun finally spoke. 'I will tell you who I am visiting when I get home tomorrow.'

                Brayna cheered up a little. 'You don't have to, dai. Not if you really don't want to.'

                Arjun smiled. 'No. I want to very much.'

                Suneep was surprised. 'It's that easy?' He asked. 'You're just going to tell them?'

                Arjun nodded. 'It's hardly a huge secret. But I have to go, so I don't have time explain now.' He kissed his sister lovingly on the head and made his way back inside the house.

                Suneep smiled and turned to Brayna. 'You are very sweet. Most emotional girl I have ever met.' Brayna did not appreciate this, and Suneep laughed. 'Oh, bhainee. You should listen to your brother. I am very frustrating, and I do not want to make you cry like Arjun did.'

                Brayna laughed. 'You technically did.' She replied. 'You ruined everything.' The girl walked off, and as she did, Suneep realised he had caused the scene.

                'Well done, Suneep.' He muttered. 'Why can't you just grow up?' He flicked his hair and froze.

                What was he doing, flicking his hair? Did he ever see grown men flick their hair? No, they kept it neatly trimmed. He realised his pants were falling down. Did doctors and professors ever have to pull their pants up? No.  Suddenly, everything his parents had ever said to him hit him between the eyes. Shaktiah's encouragement became more like a positive insult, and Alyssa's advice rung in his ears. It was like the time he had sat at the piano after upsetting Alyssa by insulting her all day. He realised that – while he would need God's help – only he could make himself change. He shouldn't rely on anyone else to do that. The enormity of the realisation left Suneep standing quite still, completely stunned.

                Suddenly, he moved. He walked up the stairs in a daze, and passed by everyone in the lounge room. He nearly crashed into Arjun as he left, but still continued on to his room, which he was sharing with Bikram and Josha. He began sorting through his things. The eye make-up had to go. Leathers and Converses? No, he knew he could make those look presentable. For the most part he had decent clothes – he just needed to combine them correctly.

                He threw aside some jeans he knew were too big for him, and continued rummaging through his bag. Was this really mature? He wondered. Oh well, it had to be a start. As he considered throwing out his sunglasses, it occurred to him that to be mature he didn't have to look daggy. He could still be cool, he was sure.

                Suneep finished sorting through his things, gathered the rejected items, and went to throw them out. As he passed the lounge room, Mehmet called him in.

                'Suneep”!' He cried. 'I have something to tell you!' Suneep waited expectantly. 'It is about Arjun – something he said to me after summer holidays, the ones just after the Australians were kidnapped.'              Suneep was intrigued. 'I did not think much of it at the time – I was distracted by many people. I asked him later about it, but he just replied, 'oh. Nothing', and so I never found out.'

                'What did he say!?' Suneep cried, desperate to know.

                'He was very excited and happy, and came up to me and said, 'guess who I saw during the holidays?' Come to think of it, he looked like he really wanted to talk.'

                Suneep knew he was on to something. 'So he is seeing one person then!' He cried. 'That is why all this disappearing started three years ago!'

                'But who?' Chandan asked, intrigued.

                Mehmet rolled his eyes, as he realised the man had been listening to their entire conversation. Then he shrugged. 'How should I know?'

                'He says he will say tomorrow.' Brayna put in, entering the room.

                Suneep smiled. 'Then maybe we can work something out from that. If not, we pull everything apart, like good detectives. All of us and Brayna – all seven of us.'

                'What about Sara and I?' Akash cried, entering the room with Sara.

                'No, you don't know enough about the BSI. Brayna knows a little more.' Suneep tried to reply diplomatically. The two shrugged, but seemed satisfied with the answer.

                'Seven detectives!' Mehmet cried, pumping his fist in the air. 'We will discover everything!'

                Suneep laughed. 'Or at least we will try.'

 

 

 

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