‘You’re joking, right?!’ Richard exclaimed, looking at Naina incredulously.
They were back to the high-ceilinged classroom at Willingdon College, having resumed the counselling session for the first time after the hostage drama that had ensued there. Richard had disappeared again for a few days after the incident and Naina had let him be. She had felt that he needed a break since he had undergone a harrowing experience. But then she had come to know that Richard had been seen lurking around the street where drug dealers plied their wares. She had immediately decided to tighten the screws on him once again and had summoned Richard back to their sessions. Richard had been reluctant but had, once again, given in to her threats of discussing his situation with his parents.
Now, seated in front of Naina, he had been tuning out her voice until he heard her say, ‘I think you and I should help the police in their investigation of this serial-killer case.’ This got Richard’s undivided attention. His jaw had dropped in shock as he stared at Naina, still reeling from her outrageous suggestion.
Naina, on her part, was only thinking about engaging Richard’s energies towards more positive pursuits. The alacrity with which Richard had responded to the threat posed by Usman Teacher had impressed Naina to no end. Virkar had expressed his team’s inability to establish a connection with the college students who could perhaps provide important information on the case. The youth were either wary of the police or downright scared, and it was difficult to establish any useful connection in such a scenario. Also, the fact that Richard had computer hacking skills was something that went in his favour. As soon as she had heard about the existence of the Anti-Social Network from Virkar, she had realized that he was out of his depth and needed a young ‘inside man’, so to speak, and she believed that Richard would fit this role beautifully.
Richard, of course, came up with the standard excuse that his age group was known to use while trying to avoid an important task. ‘My nerves are fried; I need to go to Goa to chill out,’ he said, trying to sound stressed.
But Naina was not one to back down easily. She tried to spin an elaborate scenario where he was being lauded by the top authorities of the Mumbai Police for capturing miscreants who were blackmailing people. Richard, however, laughed at her suggestion, saying that he had no belief in authority and did not trust the police. After all, he hadn’t even got any credit for helping to capture Usman Teacher. Naina countered his argument by saying, ‘You should learn to appreciate the joys of altruism—helping out others without being selfish.’
Richard continued to laugh. ‘Don’t do Gandhipanti with me, ma’am. I’ve helped out enough number of people to know that there’s no joy in it.’
Naina was about to say something when Richard continued, ‘Naina ma’am, I think you have your heart in the right place, but not your head. Have you even considered the dangers of getting mixed up in police investigations?’
‘I just want to help Sagarika because my biggest fear is that the police will be ham-handed in their investigation, causing further harm to the fragile psyche of the girl,’ Naina said in all seriousness. ‘I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m ready to do anything towards this end, even if that involves some harmless arm-twisting. After all, how dangerous could a few interactions with Virkar be?’ She fixed a determined eye on Richard and finally threw down the ace that she had kept up her sleeve. ‘I’ll get you off these faltu counselling sessions and will take responsibility for any trouble that you might get into with the authorities.’ From the look on Richard’s face, she knew that she had got him, but she waited for him to say it out land.
After a couple of minutes of considering her offer, Richard rose from his seat. ‘Okay, done. Just call me when you want me.’ He turned and walked towards the door of the classroom.
Naina, who was taken by surprise by his abruptness, called out behind him, ‘Where are you going? The counselling session is…’
‘…over,’ said Richard, cutting her off mid-sentence. Then, without another word, he walked out of the room, down the staircase and out of the college premises. Somewhere out on the street, a thought suddenly struck him. ‘Shit, man, I won’t be able to snort with the cop around. What did I just sign up for?’