Part 03 (final)
The letter addressed to Aunt Veena came a couple of hours after Renu had gone. When I opened it and read it, the head of the cat, at least, was out of the bad. The letter was from the president of a large hotel chain. He wanted to know if Aunt Veena had reconsidered their offer to purchase her property.
Taking the letter along, I hurried up to the market to The Roost, Pino’s Beer Bar, to use the pay phone there. I asked for change to make a long distance call to the head quarters of the hotel chain whose president had sent the letter to Aunt Veena. Pino was not there. A man named Harry was behind the bar. I remembered him from school days.
It did not take long to get my call through. Then after a few redirects the president of the hotel chain was filling me in on the details.
Winding up the conversation, he said, “I am sorry to hear of your aunt’s death. If I had known, I would have written directly to you. What are your plans Mr. Sanjeev Mohile? Will you consider our proposition, now that the property is yours?”
I told him I would think it over and let him know very soon. I came out of the booth, smiling. I walked over to the bar and ordered a chilled beer. I had been staggered by the amount the hotel chain was offering. A steep fifty lakhs for my place and fifty lakhs for Prem Shankar’s place. A total of one crore for both the properties. The only provision was they wanted both the places together and would not be interested at any price unless both the properties were made available to them. The plush hotel they planned to build would require at least that much land.
“You look like a guy that just got a real hot piece,” Harry, the bartender, kidded.
“I got something a lot better than that,” I said and then asked, “Where is Pino?”
“I don’t really know. I think he is trying hard to lose this joint and everything else that he owns.”
“Well, that is an odd supposition. What makes you think like that?” I asked.
“Too many drunks, too close together. He has been on a continuous binge for about a week now. He had a one sober day, then wow, he was off again on a real drinking spree. In a way I feel sorry for him, but when he is on this kind of a bender, he is meaner than a wounded grizzly and twice as crazy. He never used to be that way.”
I tossed off the beer emptying the glass and pouring another one from the bottle.
“Why do you think he changed so much?”
Harry slowly wiped the bar.
“Hell, it has to be that wife of his,” he said. “She is enough to drive any man nuts. She has been openly chasing around on him. My guess is that he has had it over his head. I know I would not want to be caught with that bitch. I think that poor bastard will kill somebody before he is through.”
“You could be right.”
Harry wiped the bar some more. If he kept it up, no more varnish. Finally, he spoke. “I am beginning to wonder about something.”
He paused, obviously waiting. I obliged him.
“What do you wonder, Harry?” I asked politely.
I kind of think Lois might be doing all this to Pino to make him put up or shut up.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“She is trying to make him jealous, Toni. Make him so damned jealous that he will snap out of that whipped-dog attitude that he has had ever since he lost the championship. She is trying to make him show his hand, be a real man again. It may sound crazy to you, but to me, it figures.
“You mean she wants him back in the ring? I doubt that.”
“Hell, no, not in the ring, Toni, just half a fighter, at least, in day-to-day battles. That is what I am talking about.” He elaborated further, “That way she would have him where she wants him, in the big city, so that she will not have to live here anymore.”
I nodded thoughtfully. “Could be, you are right, Harry.”
He noticed my beer and glass was empty and drew me another. “I know I am right. I have known both those kids all my life. I can understand there actions pretty well.”
Right or wrong, the “method” Lois was using could be the death of someone, including Pino . . . or herself.
When I caught Prem Shankar in front of his house, his ruddy face turned almost white. I handed him the letter and waited, smiling, as he glanced through it.
“I also just finished talking with the president of the hotel chain, Shankar. He had quite a lot to say. No wonder you were so anxious to buy me out in a hurry.”
Prem Shankar’s shoulders drooped. He looked at me, embarrassment plain on his face.
“All right, Toni. Now you know the truth. It was simply a business deal I was trying to make the most of. You can’t hold it against a person to want to make a little money. You would have done the same in my place.”
“Maybe,” I conceded.
“Sometimes a guy has to be a regular bastard when it comes to business. That is, if he wants to get ahead.”
“Sure, Shankar. And I think aa twenty-five lakh profit can bring out the son-of-a-bitch on top of the bastard.”
He reddened with anger and said. “Have it your way.”
Aunt Veena evidently didn’t see it your way,” I said. “She refused to sell, no matter how great the profit. This was her home.”
“Your Aunt Veena was a sentimental old woman who didn’t want to budge from one spot. I pleaded with her to sell, but all she would say was that she liked it here and that she had all the money she needed for the rest of her life. It drove me out of my skull just about, But what could I do? Then, when she died . . .”
“I know how your little mind worked, Shankar,” I said. “After all, I was the one you were out to rook. You should have made me a lesser offer, but you were too damned anxious. You came within an inch of getting my place for a song and coming out of the deal a very rich man.”
He shrugged and said, “Well, the main thing now is where do we go from here? Neither of us can sell unless we both do. Now, which is it? Do we fish or cut bait?”
“Oh, I will probably sell,” I said. “I am not planning on stagnating here for the rest of my life.”
“Well, let me know when you are ready. We will arrange a meeting with a buyer and get it over with.”
I nodded. “Okay, Shankar. But I don’t want to do anything until I finalize a little matter that is mighty important to me.”
His thick brows rose. “What is that damned important? Anything I can help you with?”
I grinned wickedly. “I have a very strong hunch that Aunt Veena’s death was murder, not an accident or suicide. Now, if you can tell me who killed her, we can wind things up in a hurry.”
“Veena Amrit Mohile murdered? You are really nuts. Who the hell would want to kill a harmless lady like her? She did not have an enemy in the world.”
“She had one.”
He looked puzzled and waited for me to continue. “Who?” He asked.
“You.” I said.
“Me?” Once more, he paled.
“She became your enemy number one when she refused to sell. Her stubbornness was costing you a pile of dough, and the chain would not wait forever. This place they want, but there are other alternatives.”
Shankar glared. “Damn you, Toni, don’t you go making those wild and stupid accusations. I will . . .”
I held up my hand. “I have not accused you, Shankar. I am just pointing out that shi did have enemies, yourself for one. There could be others. I can’t accept the theory that she fell off the pier and drowned through sheer carelessness. She knew she could not swim and she had a lifelong horror of falling into the water. She didn’t fall. She was pushed. I am as sure of that as I am that you are standing here, bugeyed.”
“Have you any facts to back up your suspicions?”
“Not yet, but I will surely have. You can count on that.”
Shankar studied me. “I think you are wrong, Toni, but if I come upon anything that will help you feel satisfied in your mind, I will let your know.”
“I appreciate your concern. Why don’t you try real hard and see if you can’t come up with something now? Just anything. How about Lalji? He was close to her, and with her all the time. Did you ever hear of any trouble between them?”
Shankar shook his head. “I can’t say that I did. But there may have been without my knowing about it. I didn’t get over to your Aunt Veena’s too often.”
“Lalji claims she promised to leave him the Blue Star. Did she ever say anything to you about that?”
“No, but it would not surprise me. He was a lot of help to her. In fact, she could not have managed without him. I know he liked that boat, and your Aunt Veena did say once that Lalji and the Blue Star had been made for each other. So Lalji could be telling the truth.”
“Yet, in the end, she didn’t put Lalji in her will. I can’t believe she forgot, so she must have changed her mind. Why?”
Shankar frowned and shrugged his massive shoulders.
“Search me, Toni. I would not have the answer to that one. Maybe they had a squabble and she simply changed her mind. You know how funny women are.”
I left him, still gawking. I felt he had been right about one thing, that is when he guessed at a possible squabble. And it would have had to be pretty damned serious to motivate my square-shooting aunt to break a promise. A sudden hatred . . . brought on by what? Even thinking about it chilled my blood. Whatever it was, could it have been serious enough to drive someone to murder?
I kept brooding about my suspicions. It was affecting my sleep, even my appetite. And I was not sure I was on solid ground even in having suspicions. It was a very disturbing state of mind, one I didn’t relish at all. It was possible Aunt Veena had died by accident just as everyone seemed to think.
I sat on a deckchair on the stern of the Blue Star, smoking and watching the moving water. I was still at a mental dead-end street.
“Hi, there, a penny for your thoughts.”
I looked up, Roopa was coming aboard. I was not in the mood to see anyone, certainly not Shankar’s wife, but she looked so damned enticing in her blue shorts and halter that I was powerless to dissuade her.
“I just had to come to see you.” She gave me a dazzling smile. The sunlight on her pigtail made it shine and she looked plain ravishing.
“As Roopa, you are welcome. But as Prem Shankar’s wife, I don’t know. Does he know you are here? I don’t even have to ask if he would like it because I know the answer to that one.”
“Oh, I know he could not. But he went uptown and he would not be back for quite a while. It was an irresistible opportunity, and not wanting to miss it, I just grabbed it.”
“Well, what is on your mind, beautiful?”
“You.” She sat on the stern rail and blew a kiss my way.
I grinned. “Me and what else?”
Her expressive eyes tried to look puzzled. “Are not you enough? I thought you would want to see me just as much as I wanted to see you.” She gave me a meaningful glance. “Maybe more.”
“Aren’t you afraid somebody might get jealous?”
“I told you Shankar was gone. It is safe for a while. For pretty long enough for what I have in mind.”
“It just does not happen to be your husband I had in mind.”
Roopa really looked puzzled now. “What are you talking about, Toni? Have you been drinking so early?”
“No, I am perfectly sober. I was thinking of Lalji.”
“Why, what is so damn funny about that? I know you have been seeing each other.”
She flushed and snapped, “That is insane! Where on earth did you get such a stupid idea?”
“A little bird told me.”
“It is a lie! I would not be caught dead with that funny faced son of a baboon.”
“Roopa honey, you are the one who is lying, right through your pretty teeth. I happen to know about you and Lalji. The only thing I am curious about is why. What the hell do you see in him? Unless he had some hidden charms, if at all any charm he has is surely very much hidden.”
She stared at me for a long moment. Then she shrugged and said, “Oh, all right. I have seen Lalji a few times. But it was not the way you think, with that one-track mind of yours. It was something else, something you would not understand, Toni, for sure.”
“Try me and see.”
“You would not believe me.”
I had to smile. “I never doubt women with legs like yours baby.”
“Don’t try to be funny. All right, I will tell you. I flirted with Lalji, and maybe I led him to take too much for granted. Maybe things I said sounded like hints of more to come. I should not have done that because I certainly never intended playing along with him and going all the way with him at all.”
“A real teaser, eh? I would slug any bitch who did that to me. Okay, why did you do it?”
“I needed his help. Oh, you know all about the hotel chains now, and about the pile of dough they are offering. My husband told me you had found out, so there is nothing to hide, is there?”
“That depends. What else . . . with you and Lalji, baby?”
“I wanted my husband to be able to buy out your Aunt Veena for the sake of that gorgeous loot. He was going to pull up stakes if the sale went through and move us . . . Veenu and me . . . and move away from this dumpy bump in the road and back to the city. He knew I could not stand it here. The hitch was your Aunt Veena would not sell.”
I began to see light. “So you went to work on Lalji, dangling your goodies in front of his drooling puns so he would try to convince Aunt Veena that she ought to sell to Prem Shankar. Correct?”
“Maybe it was not nice, Toni, but I wanted so very desperately to move away from this god damned place that I would have done anything to accomplish it, anything, Toni. You just can not imagine how awful it is for someone used to fun and excitement to be trapped in a hole like this.”
“I am listening baby,” I said. “Go ahead”
“I didn’t have any idea Lalji would go as far as he did, though, honestly Toni, I did not.”
I gave her a hard look. “And how far was that, sweetheart?”
“He began to steal money from your Aunt Veena. He told me that he was doing it and why. He figured if she kept on losing money, she would have to sell, sooner or later.”
“How did he manage to steal money from her? She was nobody’s fool at all.”
“Well, here is one way. He would tell her there had been only two on a fishing party he took out when, actually, there were several. At two hundred and fifty rupees a person, lots of times he would get away with half or more. Aunt Veena trusted him just as she always had, so she did not check on him.”
“Did she ever catch on him?”
“No, I don’t think so. Lalji would have told me, if that was the case. He said once that he thought that she was getting a little suspicious, but still she did not call his hand. And after that one scare, he was even more careful at that.”
“He was not very smart in the long run. His petty thievery cost him the Blue Star in the end. She was going to leave it to him in her will. But she changed her mind, and I could not figure out why. Now I know for sure, as to what made her change her mind. She was very intelligent and it was not easy to befool her. She knew that Lalji was cheating on her, all right. You could not swindle my Aunt Veena and get away with it. She chose her own way of getting back at Lalji.”
“I don’t know . . .” she faltered. “All I know is that I am really sorry for my part in the trouble. Honestly, Toni . . .”
“You should be Roopa. You have seen Lalji since Aunt Veena drowned though, haven’t you?”
Her eyes filled with disgust. “Not because I wanted to. He is determined to make love to me. He takes every opportunity to pester me. Ugh! He makes me sick, but I don’t know how to stop him, Toni, I honestly don’t know how to stop that theiving cheap . . .” She lowered her eyes.
“You should not have turned him into such a sex hungry dog, Roopa,” I half teased her. “You lit the fuse, and now you don’t know how to ward off the sexplosion.”
“I know, Toni, how I know,” Her face remained troubled. “Can you think of any way out of this mess for me, please? I just can’t stand that creature even looking at me.”
“Why don’t you go to bed with him at least once and cure him of his pain?” I still kidded. “Maybe once with a hot number like you will be all it takes to cure him of his sickness.”
“Can’t you ever be serious, Toni? It is not funny at all,” she fumed.
“Well, it’s your usual way of accomplishing your ends, isn’t it? You went to bed with me to try to get me to sell out to your husband. And I almost fell for your little trick. What a laugh that would have been on me. I would have been cheated out of my rightful share of the big loot, and you and Prem Shankar would have been on easy street. That would have been a real high priced piece of tail.”
She moved immediately to stand beside me. She looked down at me, shaking her head. “No, Toni that is not why I wanted to make love to you. I meant it when I said that I wanted to go with you. I am not happy with Prem Shankar, and it is more than the difference in our ages. I know now it will never work.”
I watched her closely. I wondered. “You still want to leave with me when I go?”
She nodded. She looked as though she really meant it. “I think you and I could make it together, Toni darling. And you want me, don’t you Toni dear?”
“Roopa, I want you. What red-blooded man would not? You are a living dream, and you know it and take full advantage of your marvelous charms. Not that I blame you. As for me, when I see a good thing, I take it if I can, any old way I can get it. We are a lot alike in that respect Roopa. Yes, bay, I think we could have ball together.”
She smiled, sank down on my lap, and kissed me. Her mouth had that special warm moistness that could drive any man nuts.
“What about Veenu?” I asked when I could talk.
“What about him?”
“We could not drag a boy like that all over the countryside, could we . . . not following a nomad like me? It would not be fair to him. How would he ever get a decent education?”
“My parents live in the big city, and they love Veenu like crazy. We will send him to live with them and they will take good care of him and his education too. He will love it, and so will they. They live in a big farm of their own and even have a horse and other animals.”
“Good deal.” I kissed her again, my temperature going up by quite a few degrees. I remembered how it had been that one time with her, and I wanted some more right now. I did not think that I could wait anymore.
“Let us slip into the cabin,” I suggested. “Nobody will bother us there.”
She laughed and slung her pigtail over her left shoulder. Her index finger teased my lips. I picked her up, carried her inside, and laid her on one of the bunks. I bent over her. I pulled the halter down and her porcelain breasts popped up, bare and beautiful. She moaned as I kissed them.
“We had better hurry, darling. This could prove to be a dangerous situation if we are caught.” Her breath was coming in sort, quick, excited gasps. The amazingly white and pink mounds rose and fell deliciously fast.
“Hurry, Toni, darling. Please hurry!”
I left her magnificent breasts just long enough to unzip the blue shorts and pull them away from her beautiful body. I stared at her in the strong sunlight savoring her beautiful form and figure. She was truly a beauty who could drive any red blooded male to do her bidding. She was so damned lovely that I thought I could not stand it.
I pulled her to me, and with her soft, yielding flesh crushed against mine, I plopped both of us onto the cabin bunk and started teasing her with my hands and lips.
I pushed her just far enough away from me so I could reach those tantalizing pink nipples. My lips and tongue traced a sizzling path from her lips to her throat, down the sweet curve of her shoulders, then back to that delicious breast like a child rushing from treat to treat in a candy shop not able to decide which one is the best.
The kind of fever I had really is catching. When I drank the moist warm honey of her mouth, Roopa fairly sucked my tongue against hers and we tasted each other’s hunger in avid, thrusting greed.
When I tore my lips from hers and savored those wonderful pink nipples, her body lifted from the bed, arched in aching need.
“Now, Toni,” she murmured. “Now!”
Her legs were already slightly spread. Roughly, I pushed them further apart to clear the way to wild scalding rapture.
Heat wrapped itself around my thrusting love and we rocked the bed in a crazy wonderful rhythm.
Wordless, we twisted, ground, reached and thrust in the tottering edge of bliss, holding on to that nerve-dazzling splendor of naked, greedy lust.
We shot into the blinding orbit together, one locked, quivering flesh, then we were clinging to each other, panting for breath, sky rockets still exploding in our minds.
Then, in the midst of our bliss, the big engine of the Blue Star coughed, turned over once, then vibrated into purring life.
We were on our feet in shocked immediacy, jerking on our clothes with frantic, fumbling hands. Roopa’s eyes pleaded with me for an explanation. I could not give her any. Her face was pale with horror and fear. I went to pull at the door of the cabin. It would not give.
“We are locked in,” I told her. “It is latched from the outside.”
She stared wildly around, seeking a means of escape.
“It is no use,” I said, “The portholes are too small. We are trapped. Somebody knew we were here,slipped aboard, and trapped us. It must be Prem Shankar.”
“Oh Toni! What are we going to do now?”
I went to her and put my hands on her shoulders to calm her and she clung to me, putting her arms round me and hugging me tight to her.
“We are not going to do anything.” I said. “We can’t do anything. It is all up to whoever is at the wheel. All we can do is wait and find out what his plans for us are.
She trembled. “It is Prem Shankar . . . I know It is Prem Shankar. He is going to kill us! Both of us! I feel it! He is going to take the boat out and sink it with us locked here inside. Toni! I am really scared for our lives.”
“Take it easy,” I said, over my own fear. “Panic would not help us Roopa. We are not dead yet. Let us just try to keep calm till we see what is cooking.”
Then I made her sit on the bunk, her face bloodless. I tried to hide my own rising terror. Actually, I realized only too well the utter hopelessness of out situation.
If that really was Prem Shankar at the wheel, there could not be any doubt about his intentions at all. He would be out to destroy one or both of us. He was an arrogant man and, once he learned that his wife was getting her kicks with another man, he would sure as hell be out for their blood.
The engine of the Blue Star purred on like a big preying cat. I could feel the slow rise and fall as she slid over lazy swells of the ocean. This also told me that the boat was pointed out towards the open sea. I tried to figure what the next move of our captor would be. No matter what it was, it surely looked as if it was curtains for us for sure.
Thirty minutes which looked more like thirty hours crawled by. Then, suddenly, the engine coughed and stopped completely. Roopa sat up straight. We stared at each other. This was it. Tears shone on her pale face. She seemed to be holding her breath.
“Toni!” She called my name in a trembling voice.
“Just hold on tight, Roopa,” I said.
“I don’t want to die, not just yet!” she wailed.
“Who does? You are not dead yet, Roopa baby. Don’t panic and make things worse for us.”
“Can’t you do something?”
“I don’t know yet. I will have to wait for him to make the first move and only then try to think of a way to save ourselves.”
“He is going to kill us!”
I did not answer. Why underline her fear and make matters worse for us?
“Oh Toni, how can you be so calm at a time like this?” she scolded ridiculously and wailed, “why don’t you do something to try to save us from dying?”
“Be quiet and listen,” I told her. “I heard someone move.”
She stared at me, mesmerized, every muscle quiet.
Quietly, I searched all the drawers under the lower bunks for some kind of weapon, any kind, or something which could be used as a weapon.
“What are you doing?” Roopa asked me in a whisper.
I told her.
“Hurry,” she cried, wringing her hands. “Please hurry, Toni.”
“Why don’t you help? I snapped. “Why leave it all to me? Look for anything I can slug a guy with . . . anything that I can hide behind my back and that will hit!”
She trembled off the bunk and blundered around, but she shook so damned much, I thought she was coming apart.
We stopped abruptly, frozen into immobility as a voce spoke through a porthole. We wheeled around. A face grinned at us through the opening.
“Lalji!” Roopa’s hand flew to her throat.
I stared, stunned, at the vermilion face framed in the porthole. A sense of the eerie crawled over me. There was an insane smile on the blood-red lips, a snickering wildness in the eyes that surveyed us.
I snapped out of my momentary stupor. “Lalji, what the hell are you up to? Have you gone nuts or something? Why did you lock us in here and cut out to sea like that, tell me?”
He completely ignored me. His eyes went to Roopa, and the hunger in them became starkly evident as he kept looking at her nearly naked body. Roopa read his thoughts.
“Lalji, don’t kill me!” she cried out loudly. “I want you! I want you to love me. I have always wanted you! I have promised you that you could, and now I am ready! Lalji, listen to me. . . .”
I know Roopa was trying to trick him. I had to give her credit for the fast thinking. If she could get him steamed up enough, he would unlatch the cabin door just to get at her. At least then we would have a chance that I desperately needed.
Lalji’s expression showed the battle between conflicting emotions that raged inside him. Roopa’s near naked beauty continued to taunt and tempt the slavering, stupid ox. I could practically see through those evil lusting eyes into his drooling mind.
“You promised and promised, Roopa,” he said, bitterly. “You teased me half out of my mind, but you never let me. You are a devil, a beautiful devil put on earth to drive men nuts. I am going to kill you. I am going to rid this world of a beautiful teasing bitch like you.”
“Lalji,” I spoke up, “surely you are not that foolish. You can’t pull a stupid trick like this and expect to get away with it. You will be caught and get the hangman’s noose or, at best, spend the rest of your life behind bars. For god’s sake, stop and think. Unlatch that door and let us out of here while you still have no blood on your hands. Use your head, damn it!”
“Shut up, you bastard!” He glared at me. “If I let you out of here, you will just keep snooping around until you find out how your Aunt Veena died. I have seen enough to know you will never give up.”
I had nothing to lose now. “How did she die, Lalji? You killed her, didn’t you?”
The overgrown bully actually seemed about to bawl. “She was getting to be unreasonable. She was so damned loud about it. I tried to shut her up, but she would not stop her infernal yapping.”
“What was she yapping about, Lalji?” I asked.
“She ought to have taken it as a compliment,” he said, bitterly. “who else would make a pass at an ugly old woman like her?”
“You mean you tried to make love to my Aunt Veena?” I asked, horrified at the mere thought of it.
He shook his head violently and with disgust. “Hell, no, not love. Just a little harmless sex, and that is all I wanted from that miserable bitch. She and I lived in that house alone. During the long nights in the dark there, what harm would there have been in it if she had given me a little pleasure? I needed something very badly after the way she” . . . he glared at Roopa . . . “teased me and kept my blood boiling all the time, promising and promising. I had to find some kind of outlet. Can’t you understand? I had to have something!”
Absently, I nodded. “So the night she drowned you actually propositioned her. She was horrified, naturally. What with her being a pious lady and she had been treated like that only by everyone else. When she started screaming at you, you gave her a shove. She backed against the pier railing, lost her balance and flipped over. Isn’t that what happened, Lalji?”
“I didn’t mean it to be that way! Afterwards, it was too late,” the big ox blubbered.
“You dirty bastard!” I yelled. “You still could have jumped in and saved her. But you would not even do that! All you were worried about was your own skin! Before I am through, I will see you in hell!”
He smiled in a nasty way. “No, Toni, my boy. It is going to be the other way around. I will see you there. I am going to be the one who sends you there.”
I stared at that ugly face in the porthole. I wanted to get my hands on his throat and tear out his windpipe and kill him for what he did to Aunt Veena. My fists clenched and unclenched.
I my rage, I sprang at the porthole and tried to thrust my arm through, but the attempt was silly and useless. Still the coward dodged. I had sense enough to pull my arm back in a hurry and if I had not, he would have easily grabbed it and broken it.
He laughed at me menacingly. “Better save your breath, Toni. Because when I set this old tub on fire and the smoke and the heat gets to you, you are going to need plenty of wind for screaming out for help.” He spoke with pure venom in his tone.
His threat was the signal for Roopa to become hysterical. She stood perfectly still with one hand at her throat, her eyes wide with horror, uttering one piercing scream after the other.
There was nothing I could do except slap the living hell out of her. She stopped screaming, but she looked at me crazily, and then fell back on the bunk, sobbing loudly.
“How do you expect to get away with this, Lalji?” I asked angrily. “You have not got a chance, and you know it. You are only making it tougher on yourself.”
He snorted. “Oh, I can get away with it, all right, Toni.” Nobody knows you two are aboard. I will just say I had been working on the engine, and then took the Blue Star out for a test run, when suddenly she caught fire. I will say there was nothing I could do but grab a life preserver and jump overboard. This is deep water here. It would be impossible to bring a boat up off the bottom even if anybody got to wondering.”
I thought about his mad logic while fear twisted at my guts. If it had not been so simple, I would have doubted that Lalji could have figured it out alone. But I saw that his plan was perfect, that he was right. He could get away with killing us.
If I was going to come up with a way out, it had better be fast. If I could not, I would never have to worry about anything any more. I would be dead for sure.
Trying to keep my voice calm, I told him, “Well, this is going to cost you, too, Lalji. This is your boat you will be destroying your Blue Star. You always wanted her, and I found a scrap of paper in Aunt Veena’s things in her trunk proving she intended giving the boat to you, just as you claimed.”
“You never intended to let me have her, Toni. Sure, I loved this old tub and she was rightfully mine, but you were going to cheat me out of that. I knew it, and it was just one more reason to hate your guts. I am going to get even now by killing you.”
“You are wrong, Lalji, at least about that. The Blue Star is already yours. I went to see the lawyer, Naresh Kumar for that yesterday and signed the title over to you.”
“You are lying Toni. You are only trying to trick me.”
“Like hell I am. Naresh Kumar even tried to get me to sell the Blue Star to him, but I told him no, I said she was your boat because Aunt Veena had wanted it that way, Lalji.”
“I don’t believe you!” he shouted through the porthole, but I could see the beginning of doubt in his face as he tried to compose himself.
“Well, you are going to kick your own tail a million times when you find out I was telling you the truth.”
It is too late now, anyways,” he said. “You now know that I am the one who killed your Aunt Veena. You would stop at nothing to see me dead for that, Toni.”
I had to nod. “Right. I would. And I know perfectly well that you have to get rid of me. But why destroy the two things you have always wanted, something you have no reason to destroy at all?”
“Two things?” he looked quite puzzled.
“Sure,” I nodded toward the cowering girl. “You want her and you want the Blue Star. If you use your head nicely, you can wind up with both. But you never were smart, were you Lalji?”
“What are you trying to say, Toni?”
I paused, thinking fast. Roopa turned and sat up on the bunk, watching me curiously, her expression brightening with comprehension of my statement. I was hoping against hope that she would catch on and play along. If she did there was at least a chance that Lalji would take the bait . . . and get hooked and I may get a chance to do something.
“Look, Lalji, I am trying to be very practical. You have us in a spot now. You can kill us anytime you want, for sure. We can’t stop you. I know you hate my guts and you have to, but why Roopa? This is your chance to have her . . . all of her . . . as you please and like you have always wanted her.”
Lalji’s eyes were on the girl now. He eyed those big gorgeous breasts and he licked his lips, actually drooling. Then he wavered a little.
“She . . . she knows too much,” he stammered. “She would tell and . . .”
“No! No, I would not, Lalji, I swear it!” Roopa had come wildly alive at the realization that there might be a chance for her to escape a very painful death. As she rushed to the porthole, I moved aside to make room for her.
She put her hands on Lalji’s beefy cheeks. “I love you, Lalji, I do, I have always loved you! And I know you love me too! I would not tell, darling. We can run away together, anywhere that you say. We can even go in the Blue Star. Just think, Lalji! You and I, all alone. With nothing to do in the nights except make reckless love. All the love you can stand, darling . . . I promise! Believe me darling!”
I could see him waver. Her hands reached through the porthole to caress his face. Then his lips were buried in her palms, making hungry, smacking sounds.
She caught my glance. I nodded encouragement to her. I silently thanked my lucky stars that she was such an adept seductress, one of the most beautiful females a man could hope to feast his eyes and his lips and hands on. If it had not been for her come-hither sexiness, there would be no hope at all for us.
Lalji tore his mouth from her palms. Painfully, he shook his head. The pain of the decision could be seen in his eyes and expression.
“You have broken too many promises, Roopa,” he said with sorrow written all over his face. “I can’t take the chance. You lie and lie . . .”
My feeble hope for escape faded altogether, but Roopa was quick for the counterattack.
“No Lalji, listen,” she pleaded. “I will help you, I will even help you do away with Toni. Then I would be an accomplice. Don’t you see . . . ? I could not betray you then without betraying myself, since we would both be equally guilty!”
“You . . . you would do that, Roopa?”
I still hoped. This babe was some actress. She ought to be in Mumbai or at least on the small screen. There might still be a chance . . . even a pretty good one at that.
She pressed her advantage. “I would do anything you ask, take any risk. Our guilt will bind us together for all times to come.”
Lalji’s eyes were blazing as he asked, “But Toni, how will we handle him? If I open that door, he will have a chance to get at me and . . .”
It was my cue and I took it. I feigned a grin of bravado and a helpless shrug.
“Either way, I lose,” I said. “It is me or it is Roopa and me, isn’t it Lalji?”
“That is right, Toni. I can’t let you live to turn me in and I have to think of Roopa too,” Lalji said impatience showing on his face.
I looked bitter. “Hell, no point in my insisting on Roopa going along. She can even tie me up. Then I would not be able to lift a finger against you.”
Roopa said, “Of course. Gee, Toni, you are brave . . . and good. I will never forget you for this.”
I turned back to Lalji. “What do you say?”
He studied us cautiously for endless moments. Finally, he said, “Let us see first what kind of a job she does, tying you up. I am going to be watching so don’t either of you try any tricks.”
I nodded at Roopa. “Go ahead, baby.”
I tried to sound nonchalant but inside I was simply flabbergasted as to what should be my next step.
It didn’t take her long to shift into high gear. She had a hall of heavy twine from one of the cabin drawers in her little white hands in nothing flat. Then I was on my belly on the bunk with my wrists crossed behind my back. She sat on my legs and tied me up like an overseas package. I got the feeling that the job she was doing was just a bit too convincing. I moved a little, trying to warn her to ease up, that I would never get loose if she overdid it. I had to trust her. Maybe she had some real hot scheme perking in that lovely skull of hers. But it had better be good. If it was not, that is all, brother. At last it was over, and she stood away so Lalji could examine me.
Roopa laughed. “Here he is, Lalji, darling. Helpless as an ant under a big foot.”
I didn’t like her tone. The sound of that laugh was like a death knell, one that tolled for me.
I could see Lalji’s animated face. He fairly bubbled with eagerness and excitement.
“That is good, Roopa honey!” he enthused. “That is real good. I believe you now. He can’t budge or move his hands. I will open the door for you now. We will tie weights on him and throw him overboard. I would like to keep the Blue Star.”
The ugly face of Lalji disappeared from the porthole.
I turned to Roopa and snapped, “Cut me loose! There is a knife in my pants pocket. Get it and hurry! I will jump him as soon as he opens the door . . .”
But she didn’t even move. When I rolled over and looked up at her, I realized with horror that I was the biggest sucker who had ever been taken in by a scheming little slut. She was smiling sweetly, much too sweetly for comfort.
“Now, wait a minute, Roopa,” I objected, panicky. “You can’t do this to me.”
“Sorry, Toni, dear, but I can. It was all your idea. You offered your life to save me, and I appreciate it. I really do!” She snickered nastily.
“You bitch!” I swore. I struggled with my bonds, but she had done a thorough job of it. “You dirty, double-crossing whore!”
She wrinkled her nose. “Now, Toni, don’t spoil the beautiful memory I want to have of you darling. I want to remember you as a brave and noble person!”
“I am not that damned brave!” I roared, but she had already turned away, watching the door, watching the turning lock.
Then the door opened and Lalji entered, his eyes on Roopa’s lush inviting naked body. He licked his lips and actually moaned. She tried for an inviting smile, but her revulsion was too great. In spite of her heroic efforts, hear still showed in her eyes.
“Lalji, darling,” she stammered, backing away just a little, “should we not get rid of Toni first . . . I mean . . .”
He didn’t seem to hear. He reached for her halter and jerked it away. It was all she had on. She lost her balance at the suddenness of his action and fell against him. He grabbed her roughly and pulled her closer to him. He moaned harder as his loose lips slobbered over her shoulders and her breasts. He was like a man in a frenzy.
Roopa was half sobbing now, her terror growing. “Lalji . . . darling . . . can’t we take care of Toni . . . you are hurting me! Listen . . . please . . .”
I watched the struggle, no longer really caring, but her sick revulsion against her slobbering attacker was so clear, it finally got through to him in spite of her desperate “darlings”.
He turned her loose and let her have one with his open hand. With her hand to the cheek he had slapped, she staggered backward in the direction of my bunk.
“Why . . . why . . . “ she whined.
His face was like a wolf, poised for a kill. He chuckled as he eyed her, his eyes half cruel, half lustful.
“So your little trick failed, eh, Roopa,” I gloated. “When he is through with you . . . and he is far from through yet . . . we will both go to the bottom together.”
“Shut up!” she screamed at the top of her voice.
Lalji’s big hands reached for her quivering nakedness. He flung her on the bed, spreading her legs with one big hand. He seemed not to care at all that I was watching all his actions. In fact, it seemed to add to his sadistic pleasure.
He leaned over Roopa and she saw his hardness coming. Deftly, with a terrific force, she managed to shove her knew against his oncoming lust. As he backed away, she sprang up and ran for my bunk. What could I do, even if I wanted to help her. She had tied me securely.
Lalji rallied. His mouth still was twisted with pain, but he started after her in earnest.
Roopa hung onto me. Her nails dug into my flesh. As Lalji towered over her, her hand flashed and I watched in horror as he staggered back, his hand to his eye. With a wild scream, he fell and lay, unmoving, blood streaming from the jagged hole where his left eye had been.
I looked at Roopa. The knife I had wanted her to use to cut my bonds was in her hand. Her hand and the knife both dripped Lalji’s blood.
I relaxed slowly to the sound of her agonized, jerky sobs.
It was all over and after about eight hours I was back home and Roopa too was home with Prem Shankar. Lalji was in police custody and in the hospital for treatment. Roopa’s knife attack had destroyed his left eye completely.
Luckily I had enough time to talk to Lalji and forced him to confess to the murder of Aunt Veena and say that it was an accident that destroyed his eye and in return me and Roopa did not press for the attack on us.
It is now six months that I am back in the city and have started a first class Gym at an up market place. When Prem Shankar and I sold our property, the sale filled my account with enough money for the Gym. And the money given by advocate Naresh Kumar for the Blue Star was an added bonus.
Roopa had gone with Prem Shankar but his daughter Renu came with me and is now my wife. I had known from the beginning that I would never get away without her tagging along. But I don’t regret it.
When you ride hard-saddle all day, it is a mighty nice change to ride soft-saddle at night and no one knows it better than me that there is no one better than my pretty little wife Renu.