#CriminallyGood: Scarlet Night, Chapter Three by Amitabh Pandey

After a cliffhanger second chapter by Tanushree Podder, Scarlet Night is back with a new instalment from the writer of crime novels Himalayan White and Himalayan Hazard, Amitabh Pandey. Just one more chapter to go after this, before we throw it open to readers to write the final chapter of this mini-series. Here we go:

And then, it’s time for the inevitable. The men return, this time with barely controlled impatience and anger. Mira can sense it in their movement, their voices. They search systematically, with careful sweeps of powerful flashlights scanning through the darkness.

They find her within minutes.

Mira senses a tall shadow looming above her, a raised arm holding something high and bringing it down on her head, slicing and whistling through the dark…

And then she’s awake. Awake with a start, jerking up in a tangle of bedclothes, her heart racing, a scream just beginning to form in her throat.

‘Whoa, darling, easy, easy…’ Dinesh steps back, deftly, moving the loaded tea tray out of harm’s way.

‘You’d have had hot tea all over yourself and the bed! What happened, another nightmare that you won’t talk to me about?’

With enormous effort, Mira subdues the panic welling up in her heart. A few deep breaths and she can manage a weak smile.

‘Sorry sweetie, but I warned you, remember?’ Mira says. ‘Now put that tray down and come and hold me. I need TLC, and loads of it.’

Dinesh puts the tray on the bedside table and sits down by his wife, who clings to him. They stay that way for a while.

Mira lets go first. ‘I’ll just be back.’ She gets out of bed and moves towards the bathroom.

She gets out of bed and moves towards the bathroom.

‘Sure, I’ll go get the papers in the meanwhile.’

Downstairs, Dinesh opens the front door and picks up the bundle of three newspapers they both read every day. He checks the headlines, picks up a packet of Marigold biscuits from the kitchen and slowly walks up to the bedroom.

It’s a Sunday. He remembers the Sundays of the past, when a good part of the mornings used to be spent in bed; reading the papers, drinking tea and, if the mood struck them, making love.

Recently, however, things have been different. Very different.

Back in college, when he’d been chasing her relentlessly, Mira had warned him.

‘I’m a trifle mad, have always been so, baby. Bouts of depression, paranoia. Daddy’s consulted the best doctors he can find – here, London, Vienna – you name the clinic and I’ve been there. But they all say I’m fine. Something about being within the range of what they consider “normal”,’ her fingers had put air-quotes around the word. ‘They keep saying everyone is different; some are moodier than others. I’ve been given a dose of small anti-anxiety pills. I’m supposed to take one on the days I feel particularly upset.’

Dinesh had heard her out patiently, reiterated that he loved her, depression and all, and returned to doing what she had interrupted – unbuttoning her dress.

Years rolled by. They graduated, got jobs, got married and had the kids. The little anti-anxiety pill was used in moderation, and all was well.

Soon after their second daughter, Tina, was born, Mira’s father had a massive heart attack and under doctor’s orders, reluctantly gave up all operational roles in the family business. He then proceeded to persuade Dinesh to step into his shoes. And Dinesh had needed considerable persuading. He had been a rising star in the FMCG marketing firmament, and not eager to switch saddles.

But he agreed, and then settled in very quickly. Under him, the business surged, and Dinesh succeeded in repositioning it at another, higher level.

But the new position also meant late hours and frequent travels across the globe.

‘I’m so lonely nowadays, darling.’ Mira had complained once during the early days after Dinesh took over the reins of the business. ‘You are always at work; the kids are in Dehra and I’m all by myself in this beautiful house of ours.’

‘So then you shouldn’t have quit your job.’ Dinesh’s response had been impatient. ‘I can’t log out at five thirty and still run the business. And wasn’t last night most satisfactory? Unless you were faking it?’

Mira had smiled.

‘I don’t fake it, and you know that, buddy. But that’s not what I mean. I know you’ve always found time for sex, but how about finding some time for me?’

‘Be grateful for large mercies, darling! Most couples at our stage don’t have time for anything at all! The men are too busy making money and the women are either doing the same or totally involved with kids, homework and PTA meetings.’

‘Or both.’ replied Mira tartly. ‘All working mothers end up doing two jobs anyway and the men don’t give a damn!’

‘So be grateful you don’t have either of those problems, Mira.’

With that, Dinesh had walked out of the door.

Mira’s prescription for the little anti-anxiety pill began getting refilled more frequently.

Now, Dinesh makes tea and serves it to Mira in bed.

‘Get in here baby,’ she says softly, ‘Long time since we did this.’

Dinesh carefully places his teacup on the bedside table and climbs under the warm quilt.

‘It isn’t just the tea in bed that we haven’t done for a while, no? Feel like starting the Sunday with something else?’

‘Well …’ Dinesh feigns reluctance. ‘I guess with a little help, perhaps …’

‘Pig!’ Mira laughs, playfully swatting at him. ‘You don’t seem to need any help but let me take a closer look and see what I can do.’

Later, when they lie in bed, relaxed warmly entangled, Dinesh finally asks the question.

‘So tell me about your nightmare? It’s been a while since you had one, right?’

‘Yes, but they come and go. There’s no particular trigger that I can think of, unless not getting any for a while is the reason…’ she grins up at him.

‘That’s usually a male complaint, sweetie.’

‘Come here let me show you a minor miracle.’

Mira laughs and gets out of bed.

‘Greed and ambition are dangerous things at your age, my dear. Besides, the maid will be here anytime now. Get up and get respectable and let’s go downstairs.’

Dinesh’s face darkens as Mira puts on her scarlet gown and leaves the room.

(To be continued. Chapter Four by Vish Dhamija, coming soon on Harper Broadcast.)

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