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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24. Chapter Twenty-Three: The 7 Stalkers

 

 

Gopi had always known that certain friendships would one day come in handy. This day, two years ago, had been that day.

          He had rung up an old friend and managed to ‘persuade’ him over to his side, for a rather meagre price, though the friend did not think so.

          It was an outlandish request, as the man could be arrested if the deal was ever discovered. But, Gopi assured him, it had to be done.

          And, if anyone asked – when anyone asked – one man had to be blamed.

          And it wasn’t the man who was going to do the deed.

 

Present Day:

 

Arjun was tired of sitting on the plane. 'Two hours more.' He assured himself.  Each movie was boring, and he'd listened to each song he knew 50 times at least. The games weren't much more interesting.

                Suneep seemed to be feeling the same way, and took off his headphones. 'Bored?' He asked. Arjun nodded. 'Finished reading notes?'

                'Yes. I have many theories.'

                'Will you tell me one?'

                Arjun shrugged. 'Okay. But first, I would like to ask you one question.' Suneep nodded. 'The whole time I thought you liked Alyssa, you were engaged to Shaktiah?'

                Suneep smiled. 'Yes.'

                'Why did you not tell me?! I would not have been so hard on you!'

                'Yes. That's why I didn't tell you. I need some tough-love. You helped me, Arjun. Thank you.'

                Bikram pulled off her earphones and interrupted the conversation. 'Is anyone picking us up from the airport?' He asked.

                Arjun nodded. 'Amy is. She says we owe lots of rent, so she shouldn't really be doing us any favours.'

                Suneep laughed. 'She is very charitable.'

                The two hours did not pass quickly, but eventually they were over. The men passed through customs easily, and had no difficulty finding Amy.

                'Dai-s!' She called, holding out her arms. Bikram hugged the girl, who had dyed her hair a metallic red.       'What brings ya back?' She asked, hanging off Bikram, Josha, and Chandan all at once.

                'Business.' Arjun replied seriously.

                The girl raised her eyebrows teasingly, in mocking of Suneep, and suddenly walked off. 'Follow me.' She instructed. 'I've hired an eight-seater.'  Arjun smiled, and rushed after the girl with the others.

                Arjun wasn't sure how, but he ended up in the back seat, next to Josha and Bikram. Bikram had taken many sleeping pills on the plane, but the medicine seemingly hadn't kicked in. Now it began to work, and Bikram fell well and truly asleep, falling heavily on Josha's shoulder.

                'What can I say?' Josha muttered, his voice nearly drowned by many others. 'He's kind of cute.'

                Arjun chuckled. 'So cute, as Nitin would say.'

                'Haha, yaap. Do you remember when I wrote that on a screen saver?'

                Arjun laughed heartily. 'Yes! Everyone sat down at the computers to find you had some-how changed their screen saver to say 'so cute'. There was also a random picture of a kitten.'

                'It was cute.'

                'How did you do that? No matter how many times everyone changed their password; you still managed to make everyone's screen saver the same.'

                'It was easy. Simple hack. Pretty much the touch of one button and they were all the same.'

                'How many times until you were caught?'

                'Twenty. Chandan found me at eighteen, but it was not until Dr. Ashwin caught me that I was sprung. I hadn't actually done anything wrong, so he just made me promise not to do it again.'

                Arjun laughed, all smiles. 'I remember the first time you did. It was a picture of a beautiful Indian girl's face. I was very embarrassed – I thought everyone would think I had chosen it. Then I realised everyone had the same picture.'

                'Next were the penguins.' Josha remembered.

                'That was very random. Here, I think I can list them.'

                'One per week.' Josha muttered distractedly.

                Arjun counted on his fingers as he listed the odd pictures Josha had used. 'The Indian lady, the penguins, the picture of Rev. Johns trying to look cool on his motorbike, some cricket scores, a map of the world with a red dot at the BSI reading 'you are here', a picture of the solar system with an arrow pointing at earth saying 'you are here'...' Arjun paused. 'A picture of the ten commandments, followed by examples of people breaking most of them... a couple of other funny jokes.... that makes seventeen. Then you put up advice on how to pass exams. Basically they taught everyone how to cheat. Next came the 'so cute' picture, and you must have been sprung before your last one, because it was a massive photo of you with the words 'you've been hacked'. After that, the screen savers were the same for a long time – all of you – until people finally worked out it was over. It was very disappointing though.'

                Josha smiled. 'Thank you.' There was a pause, which Josha ended by asking, 'Arjun, do you like Australia?'

                'Yes. It is a good country.'

                'Would you like to be a citizen?'

                'Not particularly...'

                'I would.'

                'Okay. I suppose there's no reason why you can't try.'

                'I think I will be, Arjun, very soon.'

                Arjun's face fell. 'Josha,' he began, 'please let secrets be a thing of the past. Tell me what you are up to.'

                'No – not until I am certain.'

                'Okay. Just – assure me you have not done something stupid, like get engaged.'

                Josha giggled, which was very unusual. 'Why is that the first thing that comes to mind?'

                'It is logical.'

                'Would it be such a mistake?'

                'Only if you do not love the girl, Josha.'

                'Would I marry a girl if I didn't? Would you?'

                Arjun shook his head, and dropped eye contact. 'No. I would not.'

                Josha smiled. 'Then do not worry. Say, Arjun, I can't wait until you get married. That will be the most entertaining day of my life.'

                Arjun laughed strangely, but Josha was never able to ask why, because Amy turned the radio up.

                'Let's party!' She cried, seeing as they were more or less parked on the Monash. A few people stared at them, but no-one really cared.

                'Look at those immigrants, they are thinking.' Josha joked. 'They come and they party on our free-ways.'

                Arjun chuckled. ‘That's us.'

                Amy turned the music up louder, until Arjun could hardly hear his own thoughts, yet alone what Josha was saying.

 

 Arjun stepped into his room, and it occurred to him that this did not feel like home. There was only one place that felt like home to him – and he was hardly ever there. He closed his eyes, and prayed that all would soon be over, so he could just go home.

                But fear struck. What if? There were so many 'what ifs'? What if he couldn't simply go home? What if he had to stay in Australia? Would he do that? Yes, Arjun knew in his heart that he would, if he had to.

                Lying on his bed, he thought of all that he had discovered within the past few hours. He hated secrets. He had always known they were inevitable, but the more he faced them, the more he hated them. He especially hated facing a secret and not knowing it.

                Suneep made sense now, though – truth be told – Arjun had known of his engagement for two years now. As for Josha, his fear of Vijay had certainly been explained. The man did not easily forgive the death of a relative. His family background also explained why he hadn't wanted Arjun or Chandan to visit his relatives with him. The more Arjun thought things through in his mind, the more he became convinced Vijay would know what had happened to the Australians. It just made sense.

                There was a knock of the door, followed by many eager cried of delight. 'Arjun!' Suneep cried, muffled by several voices. 'The pizza's arrived!'

                'Okay!' Arjun cried back, not moving. It was funny, really. He handed out advice easily, but he never followed it himself. And he didn't regret it.

                'Arjun!' Mehmet screamed, impatiently.

                'Coming!' Arjun cried back. Then he left the room.

 

The seven were squished on their two couches around the second-hand TV, watching an old Bollywood movie. It was a sweet sight, and the seven looked like small children; close brothers. Josha sat isolated from the others, at the end of the small couch, next to Danny. Danny was leaning on Arjun's shoulder, and Chandan – being even more curled up than Danny – leant on Arjun's left arm. Arjun seemed completely at ease with this, and leant his head on Danny's. The other couch was less friendly, and saw Bikram, Mehmet, and Suneep sitting apart. Mehmet was cross-legged, Bikram was slumped, and Suneep was curled up in a corner.

                Bikram smiled at the other group, directly facing the television. 'You are not bothered, Arjun?'

                Arjun shook his head tiredly, but said nothing in reply.

                'He's got two brothers and sisters.' Suneep pointed out, sounding despondent.

                'You have a sister.' Bikram reminded the man.

                'Yes... but she is much older than me. She's more like a star than anything.'

                'A star?' Mehmet asked.

                'Yes. She must be admired from a long way off. I am too scared to come closer.'

                'She just left you alone?' Mehmet queried, surprised.

                'No. She wanted to come close. But I was scared of upsetting her. She is very lovely.'

                'Ssh!' Josha muttered, as the three grew louder. All fell silent, and the movie continued.

                Half-an-hour later, everyone was asleep. Everyone but Arjun.

                The movie was predictable, with a typical love story. A few difficulties, a solution, and a happily ever after. A few songs here and there clarified that it was Bollywood and not Hollywood. The more Arjun watched the film, the more unsettled he became. Worry was written all over his face, a deep, heart-felt worry. For once, though, he did not look twenty years older because of his concern. He looked like an average twenty-one year old male.

 

The seven relied heavily on public transport in Melbourne - unwise though it often seemed – and awoke early to reach the BCA at 10.

                'What do we do?' Chandan asked, staring at the building. Arjun shrugged, and stepped inside.

                The BCA was not as big as the BSI, because it did not force the students to live on campus. Many students did, however, and the seven correctly assumed Calvin would be doing the same. Mehmet spotted a friendly looking lady at a computer and pointed her out to Arjun.

                Danny frowned. 'Why must Arjun always speak?'

                Bikram giggled. 'Arjun comes across as awkward. I will ask.' Arjun felt relieved as Bikram approached the lady. 'Excuse me,' he caught the woman's attention.

                'Hello. How may I help you?'

                'My friends and I are looking for Pramaad Veer, or Calvin. Do you know where we could find him?'

                'Yes, but I don't know that I can give you information like that... here, I'll give him a ring and send him down. Who would you like me to say is here?'

                'Do not specify.' Bikram wisely replied.

                The woman seemed amused by this, and made the promised call. 'He should be down in a minute.' She finished, turning back to her work.

                'Thank you.' Came the unanimous reply.

                Several minutes later, Calvin walked in. When he saw the seven, his face fell, and he immediately turned around.

                'Calvin!' Bikram cried, as the man tried to rush away. He sped up, and the group followed him.

                'Please!' Arjun cried. 'We only have one question.' They followed the man up several flights of stairs.

                'Just one!' Bikram pleaded.

                'No!' Calvin finally spoke. 'Whatever you ask will be in relation to the BSI, and I don't want anything to do with it!'

                'Please, just tell us where Vijay Vikash is!' Mehmet begged the man, as he fumbled with his keys at the door.

                'No, I can't!'

                'Why not?' Arjun asked. 'Are you threatened?'

                Calvin seemed surprised by this, and finally turned to face the group. 'No. Why?'

                'Because. We have been. That is why we are so worried.'

                'Threatened by Vijay?'

                'No. By a stranger, who told us danger was closer than we thought.'

                Calvin was intrigued, and stared at the group thoughtfully. Then he unlocked the door. 'Come in,' he invited them, 'and tell me about it. Then I'll give you Vijay's whereabouts.'

                The men nodded gratefully and walked inside the house.

 

Half-an-hour passed before the group got down to business. In these 30 minutes, Calvin served everyone chai, and asked them about their lives. They were also introduced to Calvin's introverted wife, who fled shortly after.

                 'So,' Calvin said, finally becoming serious. 'What are you talking about, being threatened?'

                Much to everyone's surprise, Mehmet began. 'You remember that day?' He asked.

                'The day BSI shut down?' Calvin returned. 'Yes.'

                'It was after that day. We were all sent home, as you know, but we were dawdling. Our families did not expect us at any time, so we could afford to dawdle.

                'It was as we were moping about the streets that a man approached us. He told us we were guilty of many crimes, he knew it, and we would have to pay for our crimes.'

                'An eye for an eye.' Bikram put in.

                'A tooth for a tooth.' Danny finished.

                'Apparently we deserved the death of our families.' Josha finished.

                'Because we killed so many people.' Arjun muttered.

                Mehmet continued. 'We begged him not to do anything, but he told us 'not yet. You will know when'. We asked how, and he said an old friend would find us.'

                'Balraj Mukul.' Arjun put in.

                'He was right behind us. We asked why him, and the man replied 'he is standing behind you, and has overheard everything. He will want to help, but he can't. All he can do is watch you try to save your families. They will all die on the way to Australia. 'How?' We asked. 'They cannot afford to go to Australia?' The man only laughed at us, and disappeared.' Mehmet's voice trailed off, and Josha took over.

                'We were very worried, and rushed home to our families. But each of us some-how kept on seeing this man everywhere! One day he pulled out a gun, and chased us down the street – it was the one day we finally got together to talk about things. Arjun was most paranoid, and said we could not risk our or our family safety any longer. We had to go.'

                'So we came to Australia.' Suneep finished. 'And nearly a year later, Balraj showed up.'

                'So we went back to try and convince our families not to ever go to Australia. We still have Chandan left.' Arjun continued. 'But we really went to find out who is behind all this mess.'

                'And you suspect Vijay.' Calvin said flatly, making the men feel a little guilty of accusing the man's best friend.

                'We think he may know something at least.' Arjun tried.

                Calvin sighed. 'Truth be told, I have wondered that myself many times. I mean, he was talking with the kidnappers moments before anything happened.'

                'So was I.' Suneep put in.

                'Yes, but this was different. They seemed to be bargaining, pointing at his rich cousins, and then at the Australians. What's worse is he had a motivation. Please don't make me tell you where he is – I am scared for your safety.'

                Arjun had been distracted. 'You agree?' He asked.

                'Of course!' Calvin cried. 'It's logical! He had half his relatives wiped out in the Muslim and Hindu attacks, and he knows Mehmet and Danny are partially responsible for them.'

                'How?' Mehmet cried, shocked.

                'He gets around – met your family. Danny, he ran into your 'friends'. Then Josha, you accidentally killed Braj, and Bikram accidentally killed Sanjay. Suneep, you are half responsible for Braj's death, and very nearly got his rich cousin kidnapped. Chandan, he would say his young uncle died because of you.'

                Chandan's eyes flashed. 'I didn't kill him!' He cried.

                'I know. But he might think that in his twisted mind.'

                'So what have I done?' Arjun asked.

                Calvin shrugged. 'Maybe you just got mixed up in this mess.'

                The light began to fade from Arjun's eyes, though no-one knew exactly why. 'Oh no.' He muttered.

                'Yeah, you got that right.' Calvin agreed. 'The worst part is, Vijay works for the government.'

                Suneep immediately panicked. 'No!' He cried. 'He can't turn us in, there aren't enough witnesses!'

                Arjun rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed and Calvin continued.

                'Yes, that's true, and that's all you've actually got going for you. But come on, don't you think you kind of deserve it?'

                'It was an accident!' Suneep cried, looking as if he would burst into tears at any moment.

                'It's not my faults I can't see in the dark!' Mehmet defended himself. 'She was ugly!'

                'It was medicine!' Danny shouted, joining the panic. '

                'They came at me with bats!' Chandan squeaked.

                'We were all screaming at Arjun!' Mehmet helped. 'And the car was so broken...'

                'It's my fault.' Josha concluded. 'I threatened Bikram, and dragged everyone into this mess.'

                'Just that mess.' Arjun finished. 'Just that one.'

                Calvin nodded slowly. 'Look... I've always had my doubts about Vijay. He's a pretty buff guy – try and stay on his good side, if you can.'

                'Where is he?' Mehmet asked, all ears.

                'Ten minutes away from where the BSI is – was. I don't know. I'll give you his address.'

                The others were thrilled. 'Thank you!' They cried. Only Arjun seemed concerned.

                The seven did not stay long in Australia after this meeting. In fact, they left the next day.

 

 

 

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