Echoes in the Darkness

 Lara drove in the alley lined by palm trees listening to a classic song by Lata Mangeshkar yeh hariyali aur yeh raasta, In raahon par tera mera jeevan bhar ka vasta. Her auburn curls bounced merrily as the wind caressed her sun-kissed face. It was her off day today and she had decided to pamper herself with a foot massage at Dam's Spa. The road narrowed down to a dirt road leading to a clearing. The gushing sound of a waterfall could be heard as she neared a rustic stone house. Lara alighted from her car and went to ring the doorbell. A plump middle-aged woman with rosy cheeks came to open the door. "Oh Lara, it's you. Come on in!" "Hello Damini!" Damini was a certified spa therapist who used to work in the city. With the inflation, the rent she had to pay in the mall had sky-rocketed, so she preferred to shift all her massage equipment to this house she had inherited from her parents. The relaxing burble of the waterfall and the surrounding trees made it a perfect nature retreat. The lady had converted the  rooms of her  house into two massage rooms, an office, a lounge and hammam area.  Lara settled herself in a plush sofa in the lounge.  Scented humidifiers and woolly rugs complemented the warm cosy atmosphere. "Come on Lara, your sea salt foot bath is ready.” quipped Damini leading her to  the adjacent room. She motioned Lara to sit on a pedicure chair facing a window, offering a view on the verdoyant mountains. There was a bamboo windchime hanging above the window, a gentle breeze would set the bamboo rods  tinkling against the  star-shaped metal wind-catcher in the centre. The tintinnabulation soothed her like a lullaby. Lara could listen to this sound forever. Damini rubbed Lara’s feet with a pumice stone “This is so relaxing for my tired feet.” droned Lara “You have calluses on both feet. Too much of running behind criminals?” “Not exactly . My job is to investigate, I chase clues rather. I usually pace back and fro when am looking for clues for a case.” “You seem very dedicated in your work.” “Yes. It's exciting to get down and elucidate cases. Sometimes answers stare right at you but you can't find them.” “Ahah”She replied and went on with the foot massage. “Here is your complimentary herbal tea, after that you can opt for a manicure.” Lara took the cup, just then her phone rang. “Yes Sir coming right away!”she asserted “Sorry Damini, we got some recent leads on a old case. I have to rush for now!” “Another opportunity gone,” the spa lady sighed, emptying the teacup in the sink. Three weeks later Lara was back in her cosy retreat enjoying a head massage. “I like to unwind here with the sound of the windchimes.” She mumbled while Damini rubbed her temples. “My grand-parents bought it from a tribal village. The tubes are made of  a special bamboo, which creates this unique sound.” “Oh interesting. Quite a heirloom then.” “You have magical fingers Damini. I feel rejuvenated.” “Those scented candles smell heavenly.” Damini didn’t reply. She seemed in deep thought. “Hey Damini penny for your thoughts?” “I am expecting my niece Driti since yesterday.” She said gravely. “ I have been contacting her friends but no one has heard from her.” “Tell me about her.” “After her parents death, she started staying in her university hostel. She visits me on every vacation and we hang out together.” “Her mobile phone is unreachable. That’s getting me worried.” “You have a recent picture of her?” Damini rummaged through the top drawer of her office table and fished out a photo album. Lara perused the photos, Driti had shoulder length black hair with auburn highlights which delicately framed her oval face. She seemed to be a fun wanderlust person. Most of her pictures were at famous tourist attractions, along with Damini. A paper fell from the read places to go before 30. It had a list of destinations like Disneyland, Bora Bora, Niagara falls, Las Vegas. “Maybe she has gone to one of these place.”remarked Lara “Give me her photo I will leave it at the police station and liaise with airport and train stations.” A shrill ringtone interrupted their conversation. “I will just get this call. Maybe its Driti.” “Lara...Lara! Damini dashed in the room lividly. “My Driti! She has been kidnapped!” “What makes you say that?” “I just got a voice recording on WhatsApp, listen to it: Auntie Please save me! The kidnapper will hurt me!’ Just after that her mobile vibrated with a message notification, it read, If you want your niece back, get me one million rupees in cash! Don't inform police, else forget about the girl. “Good Lord,This is serious!” “Please don't inform the police. I am really worried for Driti. Keep this to yourself.” lamented Damini. “But we need to involve them to track the kidnapper.” “It's a question of Driti's life Lara, promise me you won't involve them. You have solved so many cases on your own. Am sure you will find her.” “Okay  don't worry. I will investigate this case at my level but if I don't get any leads I will have to involve my team.” “I just want my Driti to be safe and sound.” “Yes I will do my best for her. I assure you I will leave no stone unturned. Forward me the voice recording and a picture of Driti.” *** Back home, Lara slouched on her couch and listened to the voice recording on repeat. There must be some clue in there. Lara closed her eyes and sipped on her coffee, the recording played in the background. A transient sound caught her attention. She rewinded the recording...not believing her own ears! She listened to it twice. it was the sound of a windchime! It was unmistakably the same wimdchime at the spa. It means Driti is sequestrated at the spa! she realised bouncing up from her seat. I need to go back and fast! Lara drove off to the spa at full speed with multiple questions running in her mind. Was Damini the kidnapper? Or maybe she had no idea Driti was there...she seemed genuinely worried for her.  But why would Damini kidnap her own niece?  Lara’s car screeched to a halt in front of Dam’s spa.  Damini appeared at the front door.  “I have to discuss something about Driti”, she blurted trying to appear calm and composed so as not to alert her. “Oh please come inside.” ‘Where is Driti?” “Yes please tell me you found her!” “Cut the slack Damini!” “What do you mean?” “Well you did try your best for your recording but you forgot the background sounds.” Lara went in, “Where did you hide her?” “Come on Lara!”  “I know she is somewhere here! She exclaimed, storming towards the massage room. “I will find her!” ‘You can't search my house like that. I won't let you!” Damini spluttered lunging towards her. Lara ducked just in time.She grabbed  vials of massage oils from a shelf and hurled them on the floor. Damini slipped and fell down with a thud.  “Driti? Driti! Where are you? I have come to help you.” shouted Lara. She paced round the room searching for clues. The girl must be here since the windchime is in this room. Suddenly she stopped in her tracks, the sounds her shoes made was different  beneath the window. She stepped and walked again. She removed a rug from the  floor exposing a trapdoor! Driti must be here! She lifted the door and tried to step down. She slided down a kind of tunnel and was projected on a hard stone floor. Driti...Her voice echoed...Driti It was pitch black inside. This must be some kind of basement. She concluded from the musty odour emanating. She patted her pocket for her mobile phone to turn on the flashlight. Damn it must have flipped out of my pocket during my fall. “Driti are you here... are you here?” No answer. Lara patted her way back to the door. When she reached there, the trapdoor was closed! ³Damini open this door!! Where is Driti? I know it's you! You have hidden her.”she shouted “Lara?” It was Driti who opened the trapdoor. She slided down to meet Lara and quickly tied  her hands with a rope  “Wait what! Driti! I have come to save you.”interjected Lara. Driti burst into laughter. “But who will come to save you?!” “You are in this together!” “Bloody sleuth you are!” leered Damini “But we got you right into the lair!”  Lara felt betrayed. While trying to help, She had been put into a quagmire by the aunty and niece. “I have been trying to trap you since long, sometimes by lacing your.herbal tea or trying to make you smell chloroform during your facials. But none of the tactics worked. You escaped every time.” “I realised the only thing that can lure is your passion, your zeal for investigation and now we have the picture perfect kidnapping.” added Driti. Imagine the ransom we are going to get for an officer Hello we have your officer. If you want her back, the ransom is two million rupees. So I guess we can go on a cruise now!    Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!