The flickering lights caught her attention as she looked up from the desktop screen and stared out her office window. Fireworks at this time of the night? Had there been a cricket match, she would have heard about it surely? Then she looked at her watch.
“Happy New Year,” she whispered to the empty office as she got up from her chair, bent backwards and groaned.
She looked at her watch again, wondering where Jack was. They had been working on the post-case paperwork of the VRINDA case when their rumbling stomachs had made progress impossible. Jack had run out to get them some food and Renu wondered if it took two hours to order the food and bring it back. Maybe he was stuck in the New Year’s rush?
Renu went to pick up her phone to call Jack when her eye caught the white envelope that was sticking out from her overflowing top drawer. Though it was a non-descript envelope, she knew exactly what it contained – a party invitation from her. She couldn’t believe that she had had the audacity to give her the invite after all the back and forth they had been through.
Although if Renu was being honest with herself; she didn’t go only because for the first time in three years a prospect of a party had excited her. And it had nothing to do with the party but everything to do with her. She looked at the invite longingly. She was such a fool! She should have gone for it; if for nothing else then to see Beth one last time.
Shaking her head, Renu decided she needed a break from her thoughts and made her way to the pantry to make herself a steaming cup of tea. She switched on the lights as she walked towards the pantry, her heels making a staccato rhythm on the wooden floor.
The lights cast a dull glow to the other parts of the office which wasn’t all that big. There were three cabins – one each for Jack, Beth and Renu. Jack and Renu were the workaholics while Beth was the party animal. Beth had joined office only six months back and within a month, had shaken the entire paradigm of the workplace.
The three cabin doors opened into an oval room which Beth had jokingly named the Oval Office. The Oval Office was a big room, with one long table, some chairs and a board. This board was full of pictures and writings as of now. Renu made a mental note to clean the board.
The pantry, where Renu was now, was Trisha’s domain. Trisha was at once their secretary and mummy who ensured Jack, Beth and Renu wouldn’t die of starvation. It was impossible not to find what you were looking for in the pantry. Renu had thought herself to be a cleanliness freak. That was nothing compared to Trisha. Trisha was a consummate labeller. It was a good thing though. Renu knew exactly where to find the tea and when she opened the overhead cupboard, hoping against hope to find something to munch on, she was delighted to see her favourite biscuits with a sticky note on them, “If it’s Jack, hands off! These are for Renu.”
Renu laughed, now completely over the self-pity spiral she had been in a few minutes ago. She went back to her cabin, not bothering to switch off the lights. She would have to go back anyways. She found her phone angrily buzzing and dancing on the table. Seeing Jack’s name flash on the little screen, she pulled open the flap.
“What the fuck! How many times have I told you not to leave your phone unattended,” he started screaming as soon as she picked up her phone.
“Hello Jack. Happy New Year Jack. You suck Jack,” she added the last sentence for good measure.
“Stop repeating my name so many times,” he snapped. “Is the board empty yet?”
“Go to it and tell me what you see.”
Renu wanted to ask him questions – for starters, where was their food – but refrained. She had worked with Jack long enough to know when to push him and when to follow his epiphanies. But that didn’t mean she had to be civil about it.
“I see your ugly handwriting jackass.”
And hers too but she didn’t add that. Gosh but she was starting to sound like a lovelorn puppy. Beth had made hearts on the board – and did Renu see lipstick marks – to wish the two of them a Happy New Year.
“Now is not the time for you wisecracks. We got it wrong…we got the whole fucking thing wrong. We were played like a harpoon right from the fucking beginning,” he said, sounding less agitated, now that he had cursed so many times.
“What’s a harpoon?” she asked curious.
“Alright, alright, don’t get your panties in a bunch. What am I looking for?”
Before he could explain why they were played like a harpoon, the phone got abruptly cut. She redialled but her office phone started to ring just as her mobile started the – the number you are trying to reach is currently switched off – litany.
She picked up her office phone but that too went dead after a burst of static. She was trying but failing to remain calm. She had seen the movies. She knew what would happen next if she did not immediately establish contact. She had never felt afraid in her line of work before but now…
When she felt a light tap on her shoulder, she screamed.
“Bloody hell what the fuck is wrong with you?” screamed back Jack, his hands covering his ears. “It’s me Renu, your jackass of a boss.”
“You bloody scared the living daylights out of me,” said Renu, her hand on her beating heart. “Where is the food?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “I didn’t get that far. I got stuck in traffic and then I started to think…and then I had to come back to check the board, to make sure I am right,” he said speaking with his head turned as he walked towards the board.
“So there is no food?” asked Renu just to be certain. When Jack didn’t respond, she decided to ignore her grumbling stomach. The biscuits, it seemed, hadn’t made a dent in her hunger. “What is going on Jack? And where in the fucking world did you learn the word harpoon? What does it mean?”
“A harpoon is something used to catch fish…especially whales. That’s not the point, the point is…”
“We are the whales?”
Jack had to sit down. Renu wasn’t normally this dense. He wasn’t sure why she was acting like this. Maybe it had to do with the situation with Beth. He looked at her, shook his head and continued, “Can I tell you my theory now?”
“You were right.” Before she could ask him what he meant, he raised a hand to shut her up. “Just hear me out. You were the one who kept insisting that this was a conspiracy and someone was trying to frame Vrinda right from the start. The evidence against that theory and her started piling up so fast that all of us agreed it could not be a conspiracy. I think you were right.”
“How or why?”
“Think about it Renu. The evidence was too easy to find. It was as if every turn we took, there was a red arrow telling us ‘look here’ you will find it here. Nothing is ever so clean, cut and dry. The very fact that it was so clean means it is dirty…right to the core!”
“I don’t know Jack. I know I was the most sceptical but all our instincts screamed that Vrinda is the one. How can you ignore that; because it was cut and dry? Come on!”
“That’s not…what was that? Did you hear that?”
“I think it came from the pantry,” whispered Renu.
“You stay here,” whispered Jack. “I’ll go check…”
When Jack left, Renu looked at the board trying to see what Jack might have seen. She heard shuffling behind her and turned to see the barrel of a gun pointed at her.
“Happy New Year,” whispered Beth as she pulled the trigger.
The sound of the gunshot brought Jack out of the pantry at a run. He stopped mid-stride when he saw Beth with a gun in her hand. “Beth…” he whispered. Before he could get in another word or register the horror of Renu’s sprawled body, Beth had shot him through the forehead.
Beth looked dispassionately at the two prone bodies. If only they had come to her party, it could have gone a whole lot smoother for her. After thinking about the pros and cons of touching the scene, Beth decided to leave it the well alone.
She removed her phone and sent a text to Vrinda – it is done. She turned around and left.