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SILENT FIRES: Chapter Giveaway


Prologue: Mirror


It was a good day to be dead, thought Shravya Chandra. Her reflection,

the one in the bathroom mirror, agreed with her. It was an odd mirror,

though – cut into little hexagons and triangles. Shravya’s reflection looked

split into many.

She wondered how practical this mirror was; the interior designer

was probably a pretentious person. Like her. The pretentious Shravya

Chandra, holed up in a pretentious bathroom, blinking at her many

bizarre hexagonal-shaped reflections.

The whole resort had been somewhat showy and of course, very

expensive. But Sukruthi knew the owner so that was that. You didn’t take

a trip with Sukruthi Simha and not stay in a hotel owned by one of her

many flamboyant friends.

The patterned mirror wall had begun to make her feel giddy so she

looked away. It wasn’t helpful to look at fragmented bits of your own

face. She did want to stare at it and hate herself one last time but she’d

done enough of that for several lifetimes. Hating herself, detesting every

fibre of being – she’d done it over and over.

The laughter outside the bathroom made her heart sink for some

reason. The bathroom door isolated her from them, from the world.

She’d fought this fight alone and this was how she had to do it. This was

it.

She had obsessively planned this moment for a long time. She’d dreamt

about it, awake and asleep. She had feared it; she had craved it. Now that

it was here, she realized how inevitable it had all been. She was a fool to

think it could have ended any other way.

She took a deep breath, pulled the pen-knife out of her toilet kit and

quickly swiped at her wrists. The internet had said this was the most

painless way but she still had to quickly bite her lip so she wouldn’t

scream.

She realized it didn’t hurt as much. In fact, it hardly did. The warmth

of her blood slid over her cold dry skin. She felt it collecting beneath her

feet.

The room started turning and within a few seconds, she felt her head

hit the floor with a loud thump. The last thing she heard was a scream,

before glorious sweet silence took over everything.


CHAPTER ONE

Two Brothers


“Hello?” Inspector Ashish Bharadwaj usually never answered phone calls

during breakfast. It was a sacred time for him, during which he ate slowly

and mindfully, focusing on his intent for the day. Mornings worked

well for him, and he worked well in the mornings. Breakfast marked the

end of his unchanging morning routine: run, scheduling the day, bath,

prayer, mindful breakfast. It wasn’t the same even if one of these things

didn’t go as planned.

But sub-inspector Bharath didn’t call him at this time for no reason.

Bharath knew Ashish’s morning routine better than anyone else. So

Ashish answered, because he knew that it was something important.

“Sir,” Bharath said sharply. “Their guy has got in touch with us. They’ll

meet us at nine.”

Bharath had been Ashish’s loyal aide for four years. He never

questioned Ashish, and that was the way Ashish liked it. Bharath trusted

Ashish’s decision and instincts with utter devotion. They didn’t make

Sub-Inspectors like Bharath anymore, Ashish rued often.

“Ok,” Ashish looked at his watch and slowly rose from his chair. “Get

three jeeps ready.” He was already in uniform. His shoes were polished

and waiting for him by the door; Ashish always polished the night before.

Amma had just put idlis onto his plate. “Shall I pack it?”

“Not today, Amma,” he said gently as he checked his buttons. He

quickly climbed upstairs and knocked on Minni’s room. He spoke

through the door, “Can’t drop you today. Have to leave. See you in the

evening.”

When he came back downstairs, he saw that his mother has packed

those idlis, anyway. His father had turned off the TV. His eyes narrowed

when he spoke, “You don’t have to drop Meenakshi everyday, Ashish. She

can take a cab to work.”

“I’ll do what I have to,” Ashish replied plainly. Everyone except his

father knew better than to argue with him. Ashish acted the way he saw

fit and rarely welcomed unsolicited opinions.

“Your sister knows you have a busy schedule. She’ll understand,” his

father insisted.

Ashish smiled at his mother, nodded at his father and then briskly left the house without a reply, his thoughts alternating between his sister and the task that lay ahead, waiting for him. It was going to be an important day.

Three police jeeps stood outside the 6th Phase police station, with fresh teams ready to be dispatched. Ashish gave them all quick instructions while Sub-Inspector Bharath spoke to the handcuffed man sitting at the back of the first jeep. “No funny business. This is your only chance.”

Bharath was a short and stocky young man, muscular and moustached. Despite being three years younger than Ashish, he was balding already.

A bike roared around the corner and powered into the street, skidding stylishly to a stop in front of them. The rider was ridiculously tall. When he removed his helmet, a crop of messy hair sprung out. Manav Bharadwaj wore a sheepish grin, flattening his rowdy hair hastily.

“Good morning, Anna!” Manav stopped his bike right next to Ashish’s jeep and smiled at him brightly.

“Not today, Manav,” Ashish said, signalling for the teams to get into their jeeps. “Let’s go, everyone.”

Ashish saw his brother pull a long face. He wondered why Manav thought it would still work. After all, they weren’t ten and four years old anymore.

“You go sit inside. We’ll be back in a short while,” Ashish said.

Manav raised his empty hands, “No camera, Anna…”

Ashish slid into the first jeep and a soft look came over him for a second, “It’s not safe today.” There was an ache in his heart as he spoke. A part of his mind always threw out graphic images of Manav in danger, of Manav hurt badly. Manav was an easy target because he was Ashish’s brother. Ashish knew he would die if anything happened to Manav.

Bharath chimed in hurriedly, taking over the driver’s seat, “You stay here, Manav. We’ll come back before you know it.”

Ashish continued instructions, “Bharath, ask team 1 to follow us. Team 2 near the water tank.”

The convoy of police cars left one-by-one, the red lights flashing by Manav’s face as they disappeared. He counted till ten and then swiftly hopped back onto his bike, knowing this was wrong but unable to stop. He followed them from a distance.


Now Ashish and Manav didn’t look like brothers, not in the slightest. Even when they started speaking, one could never guess they were related. Ashish had a booming voice, teeming with confidence and clarity. His eyes pierced people when he spoke to them, as if saw right through them. And most of the time, he did see right through people. It was a gift.

On the other hand, Manav’s speech was mostly all mumble, somewhat contemplative, somewhat bored. People didn’t understand him a lot of the times. He didn’t make much eye-contact unless it was someone he cared about deeply.

Manav also hunched slightly because he was usually the tallest person in the room but didn’t think much of all that extra height. It was wasted on his unathletic disposition, he felt. He had never played for a school sports team whereas Ashish had been in every single one of them. Except maybe table-tennis.

“I could beat you at table-tennis,” Manav mumbled to no one as he rode his bike.

Ashish loved calling him a ‘bag of joints’ because of his lanky physique. Or it was probably because Manav was high for a better part of the day. Manav was afraid to ask him because officially broaching the topic would make things very complicated. Ashish was a police officer after all, an Inspector no less. And Manav’s main indulgence was not exactly legal.

If anything, Ashish was annoyingly self-righteous. He was a man of rules and principals; his world comprised of following them and having them followed.

And because his older brother was all these things, Manav took great pleasure in rebelling, in being wrong, in living the upside-down inside-out sort of life that Ashish would never. He didn’t want to be Ashish. He wanted to be anything but.

When people saw the Ashish’s square-jaw, dimpled-chin, handle-bar moustache and neatly combed short hair, they trusted him instantly. He was likeable in an intimidating sort of way, commanding respect wherever he went.

Manav was well-aware of the fact that he had no such charm or power over people. He had a lovable sort of grin that sorted out things some times but that was where his charisma ended.

Manav could never imagine leading a convoy of teams the way Ashish was doing right now. He was the sort of person who stealthily followed from a distance. And he was pretty good at it.



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