“We need thirty-one of those,” Rahul pointed inside the store, “The Boss was very specific about that.”
A well-aimed brick sailed through the helpless glass window with a loud crash.
Rashi tiptoed in, her svelte figure deftly avoiding the glass remains. She picked up The Loot with her gloved hands and carefully stashed it away in an airtight container in her backpack. She wished she could contain her nervousness in a similar manner, but her trembling hands wouldn’t listen. After all, The Boss had personally asked for these. One mistake and her partner would have to deal with a gooey mess. Her hands trembled a little more.
“Nice job back there, Rashi. How many did we get?” Rahul asked between deep puffs of breath after they had put a decent distance between themselves and the crime scene.
“Thirty,” Rashi replied, grimacing from a mix of fear and pain. She knew that The Boss never settled for less, even if it was only one less. She also knew, a bit too late, that heels weren’t the most appropriate footwear for a heist. She proceeded to curse The Boss and every actress that had been part of a heist movie under her breath.
“Are you sure you haven’t missed counting one?”
Rashi nodded, massaging her traumatized foot.
Rashi nodded again.
Rahul paused to catch up with some more of his breath and thoughts. The Boss still hadn’t approved his request for company conveyance and he was too old for these post-heist sprints. He brushed his hands through his graying hair, out of nervous habit, before looking at his mobile phone’s clock. It was two hours to midnight. Not only was he already too old, he constantly continued to get older. The last of his twenties would sail out of reach in a few minutes. He should have been partying with his friends, getting drunk beyond recognition, yet here he was, carrying out dangerous nocturnal heists instead. The thought of his friends jolted him out of his musings. It reminded him that most of them had been bumped off over the years because they had failed to carry out The Boss’ missions. He needed to focus, regrets could wait until he sponsored the next installment of his shrink’s obscenely generous pension plan.
“We must find one more,” Rahul said.
“But…from where? We just got every single one, didn’t we? We’ll have to wait until the next batch.”
“We can’t wait that long. We have less than two hours to get these to The Boss. He explicitly mentioned that he wanted them by midnight. He even had The Glint in his eye when he mentioned it.”
“Not The Glint, no,” Rashi backed away instinctively.
“Yes, The Glint,” Rahul assured her.
“Do…do you have a plan?”
“I do. We’ll need another brick.”
The second well-aimed brick of the night sailed through the Jaguar’s windshield, making the obligatory loud crash. The security alarm wailed into the night. Rahul and Rashi receded into the proverbial underbelly of a dark corner in the driveway and waited.
The Maker, as his patrons called him, stirred in bed. Years of paranoia, arising from a mix or real and imaginary attempts to steal The Formula, had turned him into a light sleeper. The frantic cries of his Jaggu did not go unheard for long.
The front door of the duplex house soon opened with a thud. Rahul waited intently behind the bush. A generous belly poked out of the door as if to scout the area, before being followed by the rest of The Maker’s middle-aged figure out into the adjoining driveway. He let out a scream as his eyes fell on the grisly remains of his Jaggu’s windshield, or at least tried to, before he was ambushed by an age-defyingly nimble Rahul. A quick tap on The Maker’s head by Rashi, using the multi-talented brick, brought the driveway scene to a close.
The Maker woke up a couple of minutes later, a little groggy, and tied to one of his own chairs.
“Give us The Formula, if you want to live,” Rashi growled on cue.
“Yes, give us The…um, no, that’s not what we want,” Rahul scowled back.
“No! What’ll we do with The Formula? He’s The Maker, not us. Only he knows how to make more of them the right way.”
The Maker, interjected at this moment, “Are you saying that you’ve broken into my house, at this ungodly hour, to make me make you a…”
“Yes, and it should be done in the next sixty minutes,” Rahul interjected.
“Impossible. What if I refuse?”
“That Jaguar of yours still has a few windows left, I notice,” Rashi replied.
“Nothing’s impossible for The Maker,” The Maker corrected himself.
Rahul untied The Maker and walked him to The Workshop.
“Now, don’t get any ideas. Just do as you’re told and no one or thing shall get hurt,” Rahul spelled out the standard threat.
The Maker rolled his eyes, “Who do you think I am? Iron Man? I assure you that I won’t create suit-of-war in there. Now leave me alone. I need to concentrate.”
Rahul stepped back with his hands raised in a mock gesture.
“Sheesh. This one has a temper, doesn’t he? I certainly wouldn’t want to break into his home again anytime soon.” Rashi said.
Rahul looked at his phone’s watch. Ninety minutes to midnight. They might just make it in time.
That’s when another one of the clearly overworked brick fraternity made its way through the workshop’s window. They knew how to make an entry, one had to give them that. They could have taught a thing or two to the burly men in masks, who ungainly followed the brick in, negotiating the remaining bits of glass.
The leader of the burly pack scanned the occupants, “Rahul? What are you doing here? You know you aren’t supposed to be part of this mission.”
“Don’t tell me what I can or cannot do, Sharma. You’re not the boss of me.”
“Well, no, but The Boss is the boss of you. Didn’t he explicitly forbid you to mess with this heist?” He paused before adding, “Oh, and thanks for outing my name, you idiot. So much for my disguise.”
“Right,” Rahul rolled his eyes, “The Maker now knows that his house has been broken into by one of the two million Sharmas in the city. You’re done for.”
“Yeah? Well…whatever,” Sharma retaliated as best he could.
Sharma looked at Rashi’s backpack and eventually two and two were put together, “Hold on. What’s in there? Is that The Loot? Were you responsible for the break-in at the Master’s store?”
Sharma pointed a gun at Rahul’s head. “I should have known. You’re always trying to one-up everyone in front of The Boss. Well, not this time. I’m not as stupid as poor gullible Verma. Hand the goodies over.”
“What happened to Verma?” Rashi couldn’t help but ask.
“Not now, Rashi,” Rahul snapped.
“Don’t want to tell her about Verma? I guess there is some remorse in there after all.”
Rahul gritted his teeth. “Let it go, Sharma.”
“Never. Verma and I had a bond that went beyond rhyming surnames. It still pains me when I think of what you did to him.”
“What…happened to him? He’s not dead, is he? Did Rahul kill him?” Rashi asked the most obvious question considering her present company.
”Dead? Hah. If only. No. Verma is very much alive. If you can call that a living.” he paused, trying to power through the pain. “He’s now a…a…soft…software developer,” he blurted out.
Rashi cringed. A sudden wave of nausea swept over her.
“And Rahul here was the one that told him he should become one. He even funded his education,” Sharma added.
“He was good at it! You didn’t see how his face lit up every time he made those Matrix-like things happen to his screen.”
“The things from the bullet scene?” Sharma interjected.
“No, not the bullet scene! I mean those green moving things…you know…the stuff hat…hack…hackers do?”
Exasperated, Rahul looked at Rashi, searching for support.“It was his calling dammit! Surely you understand why I did that, Rashi? He was not good enough to be one of us. He had…other talents. Surely, in this day and age, we can allow a man to live life as he pleases, even if it is strange and unnatural, without judging him.”
Rashi continued to give him an admonishing stare.
“He told me he wanted to become a full-stack specialist!” Rahul tried going all out in one final attempt at justifying his actions. “He said his idol was Bjarne Stroustrup!”
“Those aren’t real words and you know it,” Sharma interjected.
Rashi nodded in agreement.
Rahul looked crestfallen.
Rashi took this opportunity to snatch the gun from Sharma’s outstretched hand.
“Son of a…,” Sharma began.
Rahul kicked his legs from under him in one smooth motion.
“…unnggggh,” Sharma ended as his head hit the ground, the impact knocking him out immediately.
Rashi cocked back the gun.
The rest of the group, displaying an alertness clearly lacking in their leader, quickly clambered out the window.
“Take your boss with you!” Rashi cried out after them, to no avail.
“Those guys were really bad at their job,” she said.
“Rashi, you must believe me about Verma…” Rahul tried again.
“I couldn’t care less about Verma,” Rashi stopped him mid-sentence.
“She is done,” The Maker announced as he walked onto the erstwhile battle scene.
He held up the finished product such that the tube-light glinted off its shiny edges.
“A thing of beauty. As usual,” he remarked, clearly satisfied.
Rahul snatched it out of his hands and added it to the contents of Rashi’s airtight container.
“Number thirty-one. We’re done,” Rashi said.
Rahul looked at his watch. “Fifty minutes to midnight. Let’s go.”
“Wait…what should we do with Picasso here?” Rashi asked.
Rahul thought for a bit, and replied, “Kill him.”
The Maker, petrified, took a step back.
Rashi looked quizzically at Rahul.
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding. You should have seen the look on your face!” he laughed.
Rashi rolled her eyes. The Maker tried to stop hyperventilating.
“Let him be. He won’t call the police. He knows better than to mess with The Boss’ people.” Rahul said.
“He does, doesn’t he?” Rashi looked at The Maker. The Maker nodded between gasps of breath.
“And what about Sharmaji here?” Rashi pointed to the limp figure on the floor.
“Ugh. I guess we’ll have to take him with us. I think I saw a dumpster around the corner.”
“All right then. Pick a side and lift.”
The Lair had an air of celebration around it when Rahul and Rashi got there. Rahul spotted The Boss immediately. He was tough to miss, dressed in a crisp white suit – the staple of mafia bosses and fashion-challenged youths through the ages. Rahul went up to him and greeted him with perfectly executed pecks on the cheeks that would have made the author of The Dummy’s Guide to Mafia Etiquette proud. Rashi was too low in the organizational hierarchy chain to act as if she existed and decided to stand behind Rahul while resolutely staring at her feet.
“Aren’t you early? I thought The Secretary would have called you in a bit later,” The Boss said, surprised.
Rahul dramatically took out the container from Rashi’s backpack and held it up to The Boss.
“Tell me that’s not The Loot, Rahul,” he said, his mafia boss sense tingling.
“Damn it, Rahul. You know I had assigned this to Sharma.”
“I’m sorry for disobeying you. But this was the first time that you’ve ever asked Sharma to lead an important job instead of me. I may be getting older, but I’m still better than Sharma. I had to prove to you that I could beat him to it.”
The Boss let out a disappointed sigh before raising his hands to get the attention of The Secretary. She seemed to be in panic mode.
She came over when she saw the wave and began, “Neither Sharma nor Rahul is picking up my call. I don’t know what…” she stopped when she spotted Rahul and Rashi.
“Why aren’t you picking up my calls?” she asked Rahul, agitation writ on her thin, pointed eyebrows.
“I was…uh…a bit busy,” Rahul replied.
“Yes, he was busy getting us The Loot,” The Boss interjected, making no attempt to hide the exasperation in his voice, and handed over the container to her.
The Secretary took The Loot and inspected its contents. It caused her to stretch her already furrowed brows to the limit.
“What happened to Sharma?” she asked.
“Nothing permanent,” Rahul replied, with as much nonchalance as he could manage at the moment.
The Secretary shrugged her shoulders and walked away with The Loot.
“Wait here and don’t move,” the Boss gave the two of them a curt order and walked away in The Secretary’s direction.
Rahul and Rashi suddenly became very aware of the fact that The Lair was now empty. The gang hovering around them had disappeared at some point during their conversation.
“Should we be panicking right now?” asked Rashi. She had been watching the proceedings from afar and quietly evaluating alternative professions.
The lights in The Lair turned off, plunging the entire place into darkness.
Rashi clutched Rahul’s trembling hand.
“Shhh…” Rahul shushed her, trying to listen, his ears sifting through the silence for danger.
Rashi reached for her phone in her bag in order to use its backlight.
“Don’t,” Rahul whispered. ”The darkness is a disadvantage for them too.”
“Yes. We’re surrounded. And they’re slowly closing in.” Rahul’s instinct honed by years of training which included playing dark-room with his cousins in his ancestral home, had notified him of the tip-toeing figures that had probably encircled them by now. He searched his lint lined pockets for something that could be used as a weapon. Rashi took out the pocket knife she always kept in her socks for emergencies.
The figures came closer.
The lights flickered back on. Rashi picked a direction randomly and flung her knife. An explosion reverberated through the air. Someone screamed.
“SURPRISE!!!” The figures yelled in unison.
The Boss led the cheer from the front. The Secretary appeared startled, one of the balloons in her hand had just exploded. She shrugged it off and joined the shrill rendition of ‘Happy Birthday dear Rahul’. No one noticed the knife sticking out of the wall behind her.
Rahul looked at his watch. It was midnight.
The Boss walked him to the table where The Loot was spread out waiting for him.
“There you go. Thirty-one cupcakes and thirty-one candles. Make a wish and blow out the candles.”
Rashi had snuck out in the meantime and removed the evidence of her heroics from the wall.
She looked towards the table as Rahul paused to make a wish.
“Why cupcakes?” she asked the goon standing next to her.
“Cakes are for sissies. And besides The Boss hates them,” he replied.
“Of course,” Rashi joined in the chorus.
Rahul looked at the offending thirty-first cupcake that had ruined his day.
“I’ve only turned thirty – why did we need thirty-one cupcakes?” he asked the Boss.
“Isn’t it obvious? The last one’s for good luck.”
“Of course,” Rahul let out a tired smile, before proceeding to blow out the candles.