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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30. Chapter Twenty-Nine: The 7 Clues

 

 

Gopi stood in his office, staring out the window, holding his cooling chai and wondering what on earth he had done. He had crossed a line; that was what he had done.

          What have I done?!

          The door to his office opened, and in walked his faithful colleague.

          ‘Sir,’ the man interrupted his musings. When Gopi turned around, the man frowned at once. ‘Are you all right?’

          No, he was not all right, and it clearly showed. Gopi’s eyes looked tired and worn, his hair – though brushed – looked un-brushed, and his face drooped exhaustedly.

          ‘Go on.’ Gopi prompted the man, who shifted uncomfortably. ‘What have you come here for?’

          The man took a deep breath before replying.

          ‘Sir, the boss wants to know what you plan to do if we fail.’

          ‘Why? Does that look likely?’

          The messenger gulped. ‘Apparently so.’

 

Danny awoke as early as possible the next morning, and helped Arman's mother make breakfast. The woman continually smiled at him, and he couldn't help smiling back at her. She was the one who made her children good looking, he was sure of that.

                After fifteen minutes, Danny plucked up the courage to ask her about her smiles. 'Did your husband tell you about last night?'

                 The woman nodded her head in the typically Indian fashion, and her smile widened.

                Danny laughed shyly. 'That makes you happy?'

                The woman nodded again. 'Especially since I won my bet.'

                Danny turned to the woman, intrigued. 'What bet?'

                'I made a bet with my husband last time you were here. I bet him 10 rupees you would ask to marry Parvati, and he did not believe me. Then I bet 10 rupees more that you would still ask even though she was sick when we found out about it. He thought that was ridiculous, and raised it to 50 rupees. So now I have 60 rupees!'

                Danny laughed warmly. 'Glad to make you some money.'

                Arman walked into the room at that moment, his face aghast. 'Danny,' he muttered, 'you have to go.'

                Danny was confused. 'Why, brother?'

                Arman shuddered. 'I saw them – those men that always followed you. Danny, I do not want them to come here.'

                Danny's face fell. 'Surely not.' He breathed, knowing full well Arman was right.

                'Danny, you will never be safe here.' Arman did not help the situation. 'I do not know if I should have let you come.'

                Danny shook his head and began gathering his belongings. 'No, no, no, you will be safe.'

                Arman did not believe this. 'I will show you back to the hotel.' He said, though he didn't seem to believe that was a good idea.

                Danny shook his head. 'No, that is fine.'

                'Danny, I want to. I am sorry I have to kick you out.'

                'It is all right.'

                Danny wheeled his suitcase out of the room and nearly crashed into Parvati.

                'Danny!' She cried. 'Are you leaving already?'

                'He has to.' Arman explained. 'I am just taking him to the hotel.'

                'Let me come!'

                'No, it is not safe.' Danny objected.

                Parvati shrugged, as her brother Kannan had often done, and both men gave up easily. 'Fine.' Arman consented. 'But do not blame us if you are hurt.'

                The three walked quickly through the streets, and Arman – with his long legs – took the lead. Parvati and Danny were behind, neck and neck.

                'Oh, Parvati.' Danny began, speaking as quickly as he walked. 'Your father spoke to me last night.'

                'Oh!' Parvati cried. 'I am sorry! You must be so embarrassed.'

                Danny smiled. 'Your father is a wise man. He could tell I was lying.'

                Parvati smiled too. 'I hope he did not force you into any commitment.'

                'No! You have misunderstood me. I said I didn't like you.'

                Parvati's face changed immediately. 'What?' She asked. 'Wait, what are you saying?'

                Danny laughed. 'Your father knew I was lying, and by the end of the evening I had asked to marry you, and he had said yes. Now I just need a word from you; you don't have to answer right now.'

                Parvati's face was amusing, a strange mix of shock and anger. 'You're proposing like this!?' She cried.

                'Well, I figured I wasn't going to get time to do much else.'

                'Why not wait?!'

                'I am excited!'

                'Well you won't be if I say no, will you?'

                Danny beamed, though his eyes dimmed a little. 'I will not stop asking.'

                Parvati frowned. 'You are crazy.' She muttered. 'Did my father not tell you of my sickness?'

                'He did.'

                'And?'

                Danny smiled cheekily. 'I won't have to put up with your talk for very long.'

                Parvati's mouth fell open and she playfully wacked the man across the head, making him laugh. 'That is horrible!' She cried. 'And besides that fact, I still say no to you!'

                'Parvati, you are being very considerate, but forget about your illness. If you were not sick, what would you say?'

                'No.'

                'Then why?'

                'My brother's going to beat you up.'

                Danny's face actually fell at this remark.

                Arman turned around here and observed his sister's troubled face, and Danny's, which was marked by a strange mix of fear and excitement. 'What is going on?' He demanded warily.

                'Ask Danny.' Parvati replied, taking the lead.

                Arman dropped back to speak to his friend, anger and aggression filling his eyes. 'What have you done!?' He cried. 'You cannot just go straight to Parvati! Even you must know that, you fool! Danny, I will kill you!'

                'Arman!' Danny returned. 'I did speak to your father. He did not believe I did not like you sister, he is very smart. In the end I gave in and asked to marry her, and he said yes.'

                Arman's face fell. 'He what?'

                'He said yes!' Danny repeated himself.

                'How could he!?' Arman cried. 'That is crazy! Danny, do you realise you are crazy?'

                'Yes, thank you, that's what he told me.'

                'Danny, think about it more. Do not make my sister hopeful for even a minute.'

                'I have been able to think about Parvati for a year now. Why should her sickness make any difference to me?' He was beginning to feel agitated now.

                'It does, Danny,' Arman shouted back at him, 'and if you think it does not you are a fool!'

                'Of course it does!' Danny shot back, suddenly angry. 'It makes a huge difference. Most young people marry expecting happily ever after, but I cannot even dream of that! But neither can your sister, Arman. She cannot even hope for temporary happiness. She turns me down because she is kind, and does not want me to commit to her and her hopeless condition. What kind of a life must she live, Arman?! Even her perfect mind will not be at ease!'

                Arman frowned. 'So you continue out of sympathy?'

                'No!' Danny cried frustratedly.

                'Then why?!'

                'You will not understand!' Danny shot back. 'You will never understand until you love a girl – then you will understand!'

                Arman was certainly angry now. 'And what makes you think she even likes you?! Do not assume your answer would be any different if she were well!'

                'Ask her, Arman. She will not give a reason why she tells me no. She is just being kind!'

                'You arrogant fool!'

                'Fine, if you are going to kill me, hurry up, because you are annoying me!'

                Arman flinched. Then, slowly, he smiled. 'If Kannan were alive, I'd owe him 20 rupees.'

                Danny frowned in confusion. 'What?'

                'Oh, he betted 10 rupees that you'd ask to marry Parvati, and 10 more that you still would if she were disabled. Of course, he didn't realise that last part would ever be relevant.'

                Danny was amazed. 'He thought this and he let me live?'

                Arman smiled. 'Look Danny, I agree with you. But please, do not give Parvati too much of a hard time. Do not make it harder for her to be kind to you.'

                Danny nodded. 'I understand, Arman. I will be good to her.'

                'And Danny?'

                'Yes, brother?'

                Arman's smile lit up his entire face. 'That was probably the worst proposal I have ever seen.'

                Danny smiled brightly too. 'Why, thank you.'

                The two rushed to catch up with Parvati and continued to the cheap hotel, where Danny tried not to notice the mice and the rats.

 

Bikram tried not to flinch as the man stared at him crossly.

                'Who?' He asked, for the third time.

                'Bikram Tapan.' Bikram told him for the fourth time.

                The man scowled. 'You're that giggly boy.'

                Bikram frowned. 'I don't giggle.'

                'Yes you do. Well, if you've come to see Joy, don't bother. She is getting married next week.'

                Bikram nodded calmly. 'I expected as much. May I still see her?'

                'Why? So you can convince her to elope with you?'

                Bikram smiled. 'She would never be so disrespectful, sir, and neither would I.'

                Joy's father reluctantly gave in. 'Fine, you may see her. Joy!'

                'Yes, father?' Came the girl's reply. It was good to hear her voice again.

                'Bikram Tapie...'

                'Tapan.'

                '… Tapan is here to see you!'

                The girl was at the door in an instant. Much to Bikram's disappointment, her father did not go away.

                'Dai!' She cried. 'How are you?'

                'Good thank you, but you must remember what I told you about that term. How are you?'

                'Good thank you!'

                'I hear you are getting married next week.'

                'Y-yes. That is, if the groom shows up.'

                Her father's frown deepened, and it occurred to Bikram for the first time that the man was angry for a reason that had nothing to do with him.

                'He is nervous?' Bikram asked. 'Or unwilling?'

                'No-one knows where he is.' Joy explained. 'He has run off.'

                'We do not know that for sure.' Her father hurried. 'He may not have run away. But it does seem that all the men that ask to marry my daughter disappear.'

                Bikram blushed a little. 'I had to leave quickly. I am very sorry.'

                'I did not get to say no to you that year.'

                'So you were going to say no?'

                'Yes.'

                'Oh. What about this year?'

                'Bikram, she is engaged.'

                'But not yet married.'

                The father frowned sternly. 'You should go now.'

                Bikram nodded. 'Have a good day. Joy, I hope your groom shows up... just not to your wedding.' Then, as an afterthought, he added, 'unless you want to marry him.'

                Joy's father scowled, pushed his daughter inside, and slammed the door in Bikram's face. Bikram just giggled and turned to leave.

                He had not walked far when he noticed a man staring at the house, his eyes full of terror. The man was tall, and reminded Bikram of Arjun. He was dark like Arjun, had large expressive brown eyes like Arjun, had dark hair that was neatly parted like Arjun's, and his masculine jaw seemed to be clenched. He had an angular nose, and was rugged up for the cool weather, his scarf blowing dramatically in the wind.

                'Are you all right?' Bikram asked.

                The man turned to him, frightened, ad Bikram correctly assumed he was shy.

                'I am fine.' The man stammered, looking the complete opposite.

                Bikram frowned. 'What is your name?'

                'Mikael. Mikael Rai.'

                'Are you engaged to Joy?'

                The man froze. Then, slowly, he nodded.

                'Why are you scared? She is a nice girl!'

                'I know! But...' his voice trailed off. 'It was my parents' suggestion.' He finally continued. 'But I recently came back from India.... I do not think I can do this!'

                'You met some-one?'

                'That too.'

                'Is she pretty?'

                The man cheered up a little. 'She is amazing! She's small, but she has such an explosive personality! She has hurt many people by accident, because everyone is so attracted to her.'

                'That sounds like some-one I used to know. She was Australian – well, from New Zealand I guess.'

                'So is she!' The man cried excitedly. 'What was her name?'

                Bikram suddenly became serious. 'Ardi. Arden Linley.'

                Mikael jumped up. 'That is her! That is the girl!'

                Bikram's face fell, and his eyes became intense. 'You know where she is?'

                'Of course!'

                'Take me there; you have to take me there!'

                'But... what will I do about Joy?'

                'I'll help you after! Just take me to Ardi!'

                'Why?'

                'She was kidnapped three years ago!'

                'Yes, I know. But she is fine now.'

                'Just take me to her!'

                The man nodded eagerly, and led the way to the train station. 'Can I pack first?' He asked.

                Bikram sighed. 'Fifteen minutes.'

                Mikael quickly ran off, and Bikram copied his idea.

 

Arjun had managed to follow his stalker all the way to Delhi, and still hadn't lost him. The man walked calmly, and seemed to be heading towards another man with a motorbike. The two stopped to speak to one another, and Arjun listened carefully.

                'Arjun, Bikram, and Suneep, and Josha down.'

                'None are following you?'

                'Of course not!'

                'Okay. You are going to report to Vijay?'

                The man nodded.

                'What?!' Arjun thought to himself. Was Vijay the enemy? Maybe it was worth following this man further.

                'I have to go check on Ardi.' The man on the bike muttered unhappily.

                Arjun's heart skipped a beat.

                'Again?' The other man replied. 'She causes a fuss every other day! She is really not worth the effort...'

                'Hmm. But Liberty still thinks she is married, right?'

                'Yes.'

                'Good – that is important. It will convince her we are in control.'

                'Which we aren't. Okay, I had better go...'

                Arjun made an impulsive decision, and turned to a man passing by on a motorbike.

                'Do you have petrol?' He asked quickly.

                'Just filled her up.' The man replied.

                Arjun reached for his wallet. 'I will pay you double what the bike cost you for it and the helmet. If you like, I will even return it to you afterwards.'

                'Gee, you're desperate.'

                'Yes. Name your price.' The man named a ridiculous figure, and Arjun handed him a mix of Australian dollars and rupees. 'I have included the exchange fee.'

                The man was pleased with the money, and pointed out his house. 'I live there, if you can give it back. No pressure though.'

                'Thank you!' Arjun replied, strapping on the helmet.

                The man had already gone, and he could just be made out on the horizon. Bravely, Arjun tore through the crowded Indian streets.

 

Danny was angry. He had been having a lovely time with his friends, and then his former friends had ruined it.

                'I will end this.' He muttered, putting on his shoes (after checking no rodent was inside). 'I will!'

                He stormed out of his room and walked to the market, where he simply waited. It wasn't long before his stalkers appeared.

                It was amazing how they could all still spot one another so easily, despite the fact that the market was jam-packed with people and they fit in perfectly. Danny didn’t know what it was they recognised about him, but he recognised their walks.

                'Nice friends.' The tallest teased as soon as he was in ear-shot.

                Danny frowned. 'You leave them alone, Raj.'

                'Don't worry, they will be safe. But if you ever breathe a word about us they will not be.'

                'I have already said I would not! Why don't you just leave me alone?'

                'Because.' The youngest muttered. 'We cannot.' The others elbowed him severely, and a light dawned in Danny's eyes.

                'You are forced!' He cried. 'By some-one else! Who?'

                The men flinched. 'We cannot say.' The tallest finally grumbled.

                Danny's eyes burned with anger and intensity. 'Tell me!' He roared.

                'We will be killed!' The men pleaded. 'Please, do not make us tell you!'

                An idea burst into Danny's mind, and he backed away. 'Fine.' He said sternly. 'I won't make you tell. But if I ever see you again... I will not be happy.' Then he walked off. 'One, two,' he began counting quietly. 'Three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine,' ten. The number they had been taught to count to before ever attempting to follow anyone. 'Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen,' fifteen. The number they had been told to wait for in order to flee casually. Danny figured he could safely add five seconds to that figure, as the men would try to be clever. 'Twenty.' He spun around.

                The men were just running off, and Danny beamed. He began counting to ten. Then he ran after them. If they saw him, he was in trouble. But they had to lead him to their leader.

                It was hard to follow dark men in crowds of dark people, but he managed it all right. He'd been raised this way. However, he'd also been raised to spot followers, so he had to be careful. They would know how to find him.

The men ran to the train station, and purchased a ticket to Chennai. Carefully, Danny did the same. He kept his distance at the station, and bravely hopped on another carriage. It would only be about half-an-hour's journey, so he didn't particularly mind not having a seat. He just hoped he wouldn't lose the men.

 

Chandan was laughing happily with his friends when he froze.

                'What is it?' Kharan asked, following his gaze.

                Chandan stuttered violently. 'B-Balraj... Mukul! A-and...P...P...P... Calvin!'

                What was Calvin doing in India!? It occurred to Chandan that there was only one way to find out. He walked right up to the men.

                'Brothers!' He cried. 'Fancy seeing you here!'

                'We've been waiting for you.' Balraj explained. 'Calvin has been forced back into this mess because it is his problem.'

                'It is not my problem.' Calvin muttered.

                'You are so American!' Balraj cried.

                'I'm Indian!'

                'But obviously trained by Americans!'

                'Whoa,' Chandan interrupted, 'do you mean raised?'

                'No.' Balraj replied flatly. 'Look, we're just as confused as you are. Vijay seemed to be on our page, but he can't be... it's just not possible.'

                'Yes it is.' Calvin grumffed.

                'I don't know what's going on!' Chandan cried in confusion. 'What are you, secret agents?!'

                'Not if you yell it to the world, Sanee!' Balraj shot back, calling the man by his last name. 'I want to confront Vijay.' He continued. 'But I need Calvin, and I need you.'

                'Why me? Everyone knows Arjun would be better.'

                'That is why I need you. If I don't rope you into something you will be useless.'

                'What do you mean!?'

                'I mean, Arjun has probably rescued Ardi by now, Mehmet and Bikram are probably right behind him, Danny has probably flushed out the enemy, Josha has probably found half the Australians, and Suneep has probably found the other half. This is all there is left for you to do.'

                Chandan frowned. 'So you and Calvin are secret agents?'

                'We work for the government.' Calvin corrected. 'And it seems like you've gotten mixed up in every criminal organisation possible.'

                'Don't over-exaggerate.' Balraj sighed. Then, aside, he muttered, 'he gets that from the Americans.'

                'What?'

                'I was trained by the C.I.A.' Calvin explained.

                'Whoa!' Chandan cried. 'There's no way we need spies on our case!'

                'Relax!' Balraj cried. 'Just think of us as policemen!' There was a pause. 'Scary policemen.'

                'That's it!' Chandan cried, as his friends looked on, wondering what was going on and why he was talking so long. 'You don't make any sense!'

                'We'll explain everything we know.' Balraj promised. 'If you come with us.'

                'Is that a good idea?'

                Calvin nodded. 'And I'm not even saying that to be nice. It actually is a good idea.'

                Chandan sighed exasperatedly. 'Fine!' He groaned. 'Just let me gather my things!'

                The two men smiled, and followed him over to his friends.

 

Josha couldn't believe it. His parents had been Christians for a year, and already they were changing more rapidly than he had. He knew he shouldn't think like that, but, nevertheless, he did. His only comfort was the knowledge that he was saved by the grace of God – not by his own works, which he seemed to have very few of.

                His mother walked into the room, and saw her son sitting at the table, bashing his head against it. 'Guess what we're having for dinner?' She asked, trying to him up.

                'Rice?' Josha guess venomously.

                'Yes! And peanut butter chicken!' Josha sighed, though his mother did not know why. 'I thought you like it...' she muttered, upset at failing so easily.

                'I have many bad memories attached to peanut butter.' Josha explained. 'Amma, where you think they took the Australians?'

                His mother shrugged. 'Well, if they were kidnapped, wouldn't it be by an organisation?'

                'Like drug-dealers?'

                'Yes. Or else a gang.'

                'That does not really help me find them.'

                'It does if you are part of a gang.'

                'I am part of a gang.' Josha's eyes suddenly widened, and he lifted his head. 'I'm part of a gang!' He repeated, its implications dawning on him.

                His mother smiled. 'Will you stay for dinner?'

                'No! I have to go quickly – you know they have a meeting time!' With this, Josha grabbed a few things and left.

                He still remembered where he and his gang members had gathered each night, and he hoped they hadn't changed it. He approached the alley with a strange mix of fear and hope, and – when he saw his old friends – relaxed.

                'Saniv!' They called him familiarly by his last name. 'How are you?'

                'Teekai cha. Timi?'

                'Sancha cha. Welcome back. I hope you have not come to rejoin the gang.'

                Josha’s face fell. ‘Why?’

                ‘Because, friend, we are no longer a gang.’ His friend beamed. ‘We are reformed now. Now we just meet together to discuss serious issues – yes, we are very serious.’

                A couple of his friends laughed, catching the hint of sarcasm in his voice.

                Josha shifted uncomfortably. ‘Well… would you happen to have information on gangs? Even though you are not part of one anymore?’

                ‘Why? Information can be very dangerous, my friend.’

                'Yeah… have you heard of any kidnapped Australians?'

                His friend frowned, his interest aroused. 'Three years ago, when you mentioned it. A little more since then. They were meant to be rich... some brilliant Nepali gang managed to steal eight of them. Apparently one girl got married, on escaped, one was re-located for causing trouble, and two men were successfully brainwashed into living an Indian life, so there were only 15 to choose from.'

                'So eight are here, in Nepal?'

                'Supposedly. Why? Do you want to steal them?'

                'Kidnap them? No! I'd like to rescue them!'

                The leader blinked. But we’re a gang. We don’t do stuff like that anymore.'

                'But – come on! How good will we look if we save eight Australians from a group that kidnapped them from their kidnappers!?'

                The men smiled. 'That is true.'

                'Where would we even start?' One asked.

                'Well, which gang was it?'

                'No-one knows. It's risky, they could be arrested.'

                'Surely there must be a way to find out.'

                'Yeah... but we were never really cool enough to be trusted with that sort of information.'

                'Is anyone in this town?'

                'Probably Probakhir's gang. They have even boasted about seeing the Australians! They will never tell us, though.'

                'So? Let's force them!'

                'No, Josha that is not a good idea. You know you are violent – we do not want any more murders in our gang – and besides, they are worse.'

                'How many are there?'

                '12.'

                'And there are 9 of us. So we are outnumbered.'

                'Why don't we join their gang?' One man asked.

                'That is a terrible idea.' The leader scowled. 'And it would take too long. No, we need to trick them. What are they scared of?'

                'The police.'

                'La, that's right. So if the police demanded information, would they give it?'

                'They would give false information.'

                'Oo!' One of the darkest cried. 'I know how to makes sure they tell the truth! I will just need a big map... and a few mirrors!'

                'We will need police uniforms.' Another said.

                'Do we need to be police?' Josha sighed.

                'Yes.' The leader confirmed. 'They will not bash police. They try to breeze their way through questioning.'

                'La, la. So how will we get the uniforms?'

                'Robbery.' One member said bluntly.

                'Josha does not like stealing anymore, so we cannot rob.'

                'What will we do then? Ask!?'

                Josha beamed. 'That is perfect! We'll tell them what we're up to, and they'll have to help us!'

                 The leader nodded his head doubtfully. 'I am not so sure, but I think we should try it.'

                'Okay, let's go!'

                The 9 eagerly ran to the nearest police station, which was surprisingly hard to find.

 

Suneep sat on the swing on the huge fig tree in his backyard feeling miserable. He had been good so far, and reasonably kind to his family, but he could just tell today was going to be hard.

                'I am too moody.' He muttered, swinging a little more.

                His father had been frustrated with him for breaking a plate, and his mother's frantic, high-pitched voice had irritated him. Then his sister had arrived, angry at her husband for leaving to work without saying goodbye, and her whining tones had grated on Suneep's nerves. So, before he could do or say anything he regretted, he retreated.

                As he swung higher and higher he could see over his fence. There, on the horizon, were the Himalayas. It was a torturous picture, really, as Suneep would fly up, nearly touch freedom, and then sink back into his fenced-in life. But that was life.

                His thoughts drifted to the Australians; he hated to think how they felt. He wondered where on Earth they could be. Where would he hide 20 Australians? A rural area, he though, where they couldn't speak the language surrounding them. That really didn't help him, as there were too many places to choose from. Why had they been kidnapped? If he could just answer this question he knew the answer would not be far off.

                'Suneep!' His sister cried.

                Suneep sighed, and clenched his teeth. 'Didi?' He returned, trying to conjure up kinder feelings.

                'We have news for you!'

                Suneep took a deep breath and went inside.

                'Shaktiah's brother is getting married!' His mother immediately cried when he entered the house, enthralled.

                Suneep blinked. 'Who to?'

                'To a girl you do not know.'

                'Oh.'

                He was then forced to listen as his mother and sister spoke of how beautiful the girl was, and what clothes they would need to wear. As they spoke, he boredly flipped through a magazine. His father walked past, and he frowned.

                'Baba, why do you have an Indian magazine here?'

                'I was thinking of seeing the Taj Mahal.' His father replied, turning to the appropriate section. 'See? It is so beautiful.' Suneep nodded, though he only briefly glanced at the photo. 'And this hotel,' his father continued, 'is four star, and walking distance to the Taj. See?' Suneep obligingly looked, with a certain air of disrespect. Then, immediately, his face fell.

                'Good heavens!' He cried. 'Baba, how recent is this?'

                'It came this morning.' His mother replied, stopping her conversation with her daughter.

                Suneep snatched the magazine out of his father's hands and examined the photo. 'This picture was taken only last week!' He cried. 'Which makes it very recent....' He laughed a little. ‘Great tourist destination. It would be funny if that was where our friends had been living all along.’

His eyes widened.

But surely… Agra would be too obvious. It would have to be something else – somewhere none of the 7 would ever dream to look.

But that place was Agra. And this picture… it had given him the perfect idea.

Suddenly, the man handed the magazine back to his father and began rushing around.

                'Suneep!' His mother cried. 'What are you doing?'

                'I'm going to Agra!'

                'Why don't you wait for us?' His father pleaded. 'Then we can all go!'

                Suneep had already gathered his luggage and a jacket, and was nearly ready to go. But first he stepped into the kitchen and calmly explained himself. 'Baba, see that tall, colourful building?' His father squinted. 'The one near the hotel? The massive building!?' Suneep continued. His father finally nodded. 'That is Manu Temple in Agra, near the Taj Mahal.'

                His father was still confused. ‘So? Why rush off to Agra to see that place? You are not even a Hindu!’

                ‘Exactly.’ Suneep returned. ‘And I that is why I think my friends will be there.’

                His mother gasped. 'The Australians?!'

                Suneep nodded and left the house.

 

So far so good. Josha was surprised that the police had let his friends their uniforms, but was sincerely grateful. In fact, the police had even let the group borrow a few of their men so they outnumbered their rivals, who were not being questioned.

                When he thought about it, though, their willingness to help made sense. This was a dangerous gang – the police appreciated any help they could get.

                'Where are they!?' John – whose idea the questioning had been – yelled aggressively.  The man in questioning flinched. 'Answer me!'

                He was working on the first group. There were fourth and fifth groups with others of Josha’s friends, just in case the plan failed. But, for what it was worth, Josha was putting all his money on John. The guy seemed to be all too good at his job.

                'I don't know!'

                Mirrors were set up around the room on an angle so only John could see them. The mirrors reflected the face of another man across the room, and it was he that John observed – not the man in questioning.

                'I'm going to point to the map.' John said, walking over to the map. 'And I'm going to ask you a few questions. Are they in Nepal?'

                'No.'

                The man in the mirror stared intensely at the man in question, and John knew they were in Nepal.

                'Okay, which section. This one?' He pointed. Both men seemed relaxed. 'This one?'

                The first man shook his head as before, whereas the man in the mirror gazed at him sternly. They were in this section.

                'Are they close to Kathmandu?'

                The man shook his head, but something in his eyes changed. The man in the mirror looked shocked, as if John had guessed it in one turn.

                'They are in Kathmandu?' John cried, making the men sigh in spite of themselves. 'That's a stupid place to hide them.'

                'There are lots of tourists.' Josha reasoned.

                John nodded. 'Okay. Bring me a map of Kathmandu. I'm going to find out what house they're at.'

                The men struggled against the ropes which bound them to their chairs, but were still unable to move.       Five minutes passed, during which John's answers became more and more specific. None of the men could work out how he was doing it – they lied so well. None of them thought that John was monitoring the faces of he did not ask.

                'They're here.' John finally said, and all the men flinched.

                'Okay, let's go.' Josha said, prepared to leave the police alone with the gang. The rest of his group nodded, and began discussing ways to reach Kathmandu.

                Josha briefly checked up on the other groups, and found they were all failing miserably – primarily because the men interrogating the gang members weren’t exactly sure what they were looking for. But that didn’t matter.

                They were one step closer to finding the Australians.

 

 

 

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