While Lakshmi was enthralling the audience in Bangalore, Vedika Khanna was waiting for Samar. It was the day of their meeting, and the scientist was due to arrive any time now.
Vedika was still unsure what the meeting was about, but the tone of the email had pointed to something urgent, even dangerous. She felt a pang of worry, but soon dismissed it.
“Politicians are by nature benevolent, says Vedika Khanna,” the headline read. She looked at a report based on her interview by Shreya Varshneya. She saw her picture and liked it. The photographer had caught the angles perfectly, and the result was flattering. Pleased, she read the rest of the report and then picked up the phone to call Shreya’s number.
“Hi Shreya, saw your report. And the photograph you’ve used is really nice. Can you send me a copy?” she asked, but before she could hear Shreya’s reply, there was a loud knock on her office door and the bungalow’s security guard rushed in, panting; an expression of horror and panic plastered on his face.
“What...what on earth?” Vedika cried. “Shreya, I’ll call you back,” she said, disconnecting the call.
“Murder!” the guard said, his voice shaky with fear. “Murder?” Vedika was shocked.
“Yes madam, there have been two murders outside! A man in a car and his driver have been shot near our gate,” he explained as Vedika listened, horrified. “The driver died on the spot on his seat, but the man got out and tried to walk to our gate. He fell on the road outside, bleeding profusely.”
Vedika didn’t wait to hear more and rushed to her bungalow’s gate, followed by the security guard. In what seemed like a scene straight out of a crime thriller, a man lay in a pool of blood. What caught her attention was the unusual position of his body.
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The man lay in a reclined position on his right side, facing west, his head resting over the palm of his right hand. The body was balanced against the wheel of the car.
“I didn’t see the assailants since I was inside the gate,” the guard said from behind her. “I heard the shots and the next second saw the car veering and almost crashing into our gate.”
Vedika crouched on the ground to examine the wounded man, and suddenly, wondered if this was Dr Samar. The thought made her sick to her stomach. She bent closer to the man and realised, with shock, that he was still breathing.
His chest rose and fell slowly, and his eyelids fluttered open. Vedika turned and asked the guard at the other end to get her water and call for an ambulance, and as he ran inside to follow her orders, she was left alone with the bleeding man.
Vedika leaned closer to him and said, “Can you hear me? I’m Vedika Khanna. Tell me, who are you?”
The man’s voice quivered as he answered, confirming her worst fear. “I’m...I’m...Samar.”
“Samar, I promise you, help is on its way. Tell me, why did you want to see me?”
His breath shallow, the man closed his eyes but, after a few seconds, seemed to gather his last remaining reserves of strengths. “Save...uh...him...they’ll...uh...uh...they’ll kill him...save...” he said weakly. The effort seemed too much for him, and he tried to draw in a shaky breath.
“Save who, Samar? Tell me!” Vedika pressed and held her ear right next to his lips to hear him.
“Raghav...uh...PM...Raghav Mohan...aah...please...save him.” With that, Samar fell back and drew his last breath. Vedika tried to feel his pulse, but knew in her heart that the man was dead.
She was stunned, her mind blank and frozen. Her hand still held the dead man’s wrist, and she sat there till she heard the guard call for her with water in his hand. She heard sirens of approaching vehicles that grew louder and louder.
Vedika got to her feet. She felt lightheaded, and the full import of the last words of the dead man seemed to settle like ice over her.
Later, the Commissioner of Police sat opposite Vedika as she gave him an account of what had occurred.
“By the time I reached the gate, both men were dead; the driver lay on his seat inside the car while the other man lay on the road near the car in that unusual position.”
“Oh! So none of them could tell you anything?” the police officer asked.
“No,” Vedika said firmly, her voice as dry as dust.
Excerpted with permission from The New Delhi Conspiracy, Meenakshi Lekhi with Krishna Kumar, HarperCollins India.