It was a quiet December evening. The sun had set and the street lamps all along the promenade had lit up. The fog had covered most of the sky, but Samiya could still see the evening star as she walked down the cobblestone path.
There was a small breeze and the chill nipped at her, leading her to button up her mustard brown jacket. It could have been colder, she mused. December was usually so chilly that she would be wearing a jacket on top of a sweater, but this winter promised to be disappointing.
Global warming, she grumbled to herself.
The phone in her jeans pocket, buzzed and rang, but Samiya made no effort to take the call. No doubt, it was her friend Karima, asking her whether she had reached the cafe yet. They were supposed to meet up with Lavi, the third member of their closely knit group.
To be honest, Samiya was in no hurry to meet up with Lavi, who, she recently learned, had bagged a nice job at a law firm and was in a stable relationship with a rich fellow. There was a big chance that Lavi had invited her friends to make an announcement that she was engaged.
Samiya groaned. Just what she needed. Or rather, she didn’t.
This week hadn’t been too kind to her. Her writing career was going nowhere. The small publisher she had signed with had emailed to inform her that they had gone under and were returning her rights back. Fortune had granted her another small chance and she had signed with an epublisher whose editor had written to her, criticizing the numerous grammatical errors in her manuscript.
On top of that, her parents were pressurizing her to get married, completely oblivious to the fact that their daughter was harboring a crushing heartbreak for two years now.
She would never get over her first love. There would never be another guy like Sakhir. He was the only one who had helped her emerge from her shell and make her realize she had so much potential. She could never forget that he was the only one she could actually talk to. The hours they spent discussing various topics, had enriched her and her writing. Then one day, he just stopped talking to her. He was gone and so was her inspiration to write.
Now whatever she was writing were just words without passion. No wonder, not many publishers wanted to sign her.
Her phone rang again and this time Samiya took it out.
“Hey.” she tried to sound cheery.
“Um, what is wrong with your voice. Are you crying?” Karima asked. There was no hiding from her friend who seemed to have a sixth sense about her. Karima always knew what was up with her no matter how hard Samiya tried to suppress her emotions and wear a mask of friendliness in front of her friends.
“Nope. Have you reached?” Samiya thought it best to evade the question rather than confess what a disaster she was at the moment.
“Almost.” Karima sounded a bit out of breath. “I wonder what Lavi wants to talk to us about? She sounded so mysterious on the phone.”
“Yeah, she disappears for six months. No calls, no messages and suddenly she wants to arrange a meet up.” Samiya walked around a cat who was licking her paw. “Maybe she’s getting married.”
“So send us a card,” Karima said, a little miffed. “Why call us to a location so far from my home.”
“Your home, not mine.” Samiya chuckled. “You shouldn’t have moved, you know.”
“Who was going to pay my rent, then? We’re not all as fortunate as Lavi to snag a millionaire.” Karima let out a sigh. “Don’t tell her this, but I am soooo jealous.”
“Me, too. Join my club?”
Karima laughed. “I hate that our life sucks and she’s the only one in our group who lucked out. I mean, she has a career, relationship, an awesome figure. Like she doesn’t have any flaws.”
“You know, I kind of feel bad that we are talking behind her back like this. She had luck, we didn’t.” Samiya let out a sigh. “My career is going down the drain, yours hasn’t even begun and you’re already in debt.”
“Yup, my brother really screwed up the family. Fortunately, brother number two is helping our family get out of this mess,” Karima said. “I can’t believe Sam made such a huge mistake putting all his finances in a deal. I mean, he put up the house for collateral, all to make a couple of bucks. And then the goods turned out to be bad and were returned. The order got canceled and ugh, you know the rest.”
“Yeah, I know.” Samiya replied. “Look, I didn’t tell Lavi any of my problems.”
“Neither did I.”
“Let’s keep it that way?” Samiya practically begged. “I don’t want her laughing at her miseries.”
“Lavi wouldn’t do that,” Karima said. “She’ll just pity us a lot.”
“So, where have you reached now?” Samiya asked, standing in front of the cafe. She could see her friend Lavi seated by the window overlooking the lagoon. Lavi looked ever bit as pretty in her long, straight brown hair, tied in a tight pony tail. Her cream skirt suit didn't appear to have a single crease on it.
“I’m waving at you from the bridge.”
Samiya turned and saw Karima coming down the stairs. Her friend looked pretty in her purple jacket over a striped pink tshirt. Her short, curly black hair, bounced at every step.
Samiya smiled widely. “Hello.”
“Quite a coincidence that we arrived at the same time,” Karima said, pushing back a strand of her hair.
Samiya raised an eyebrow. “Were you waiting for me on the bridge so that we could go in together?”
Karima rolled her eyes. “Let’s go,” she said, taking Samiya’s arm.
“Come on, confess!”
“Okay, okay. I just didn’t feel like dealing with Lavi and her perkiness all on my own.” Karima moaned a little as she spotted Lavi. “She looks so professional, so pretty.”
“We dressed a bit too casually for this cafe, I think.” Samiya looked around at the small dim lit lanterns, hanging all around the cafe. The small square tables were covered with a white table cloth and gold runners. There was a candle lit on every table and a small vase of fresh flowers too.
The waiters greeted them in a friendly manner, but Samiya could see the judgment in their eyes as they studied her faded jeans and sand smeared boots.
“Whatever,” she mumbled.
“You say something?” Karima asked.
Before she could reply, Lavi had spotted them and waved.
“Hi!” Samiya tried to look elated to see her friend. “It’s been so long.”
Lavi made no attempt to get up or embrace her friends. She sat, rigid, holding a glass of whiskey with both hands.
“Yes, it has. Sit.”
Karima and Samiya looked at each other. Lavi didn’t look perky, nor did she pretend to look happy. She seemed upset and almost scared.
“How have you been?” Samiya asked, hanging her purse on the side of her chair.
“Great.” Lavi nodded without looking at them. She turned the glass in her hands, swirling the golden liquid inside.
“So, what’s the big news?” Karima tried to break the awkwardness among them. They had been the best of friends in college and whenever they met, it would always be a moment of happiness and laughter. In fact, Samiya would usually be embarrassed by the squeals they would make when they saw each other, as if they weren’t grown ups but little girls meeting their favorite celebrities.
“Big news?” Lavi was still not making eye contact with them.
“Yes, what is the good news?” Samiya prepared to feel a twinge of jealousy and hatred towards her friend.
Lavi picked up her glass and took a large gulp. “There is none.”
Samiya looked at Karima. Had they gotten it wrong? Had Lavi called them to deliver bad news? Oh no, and all this time she had been inwardly hating her friend. How awful!
“What do you mean?” Karima asked.
“It means, I am in so much shit!” Lavi announced. “And I need help. Desperately.”
Samiya avoided looking at Karima. She was overwhelmed with shame and despised the back biting session she had indulged in before meeting Lavi. Everyone has something or the other going on in their life, only few display it to everyone. How many times had her mother told her that.
“Tell us what happened,” Karima encouraged and put a hand on Lavi’s trembling ones.
Lavi drank some more from her glass and Samiya leaned back in her chair. “When did you start drinking?”
“Now.” Lavi took another swallow and then poured more whiskey into her glass. “It all started six months ago. That was when I met Rocky. You guys met him too.”
“Yes, he was er...a charming fellow.” Samiya had to lie. The truth was, she thought Rocky was too self-involved with no goals in life. He was living off whatever his father earned. Also, Rocky had teased Samiya and Karima for not following the latest fashions or spending time grooming themselves. All the more reason for both friends to hate Lavi’s boyfriend. But that was an opinion they kept to themselves. They had to be supportive of her. That’s what friends were for, after all.
“He a schmuck, that’s what he is!” Lavi spat. She was getting drunk and Samiya grew concerned. How were they going to take her home? Had she brought her car? She glanced at Karima who seemed disturbed by Lavi’s increasing drunkenness as well.
Perhaps Karima can drive her home, Samiya thought.
“He dated me for six months, made sure no pictures were taken of us as a couple and then proposed to me last week,” Lavi said. She picked up her glass and then set it back down again as her fingers trembled.
Samiya couldn’t see a ring on her perfectly manicured hands and tried to guess what had happened. Obviously her douche of a boyfriend had broken off the engagement, but Lavi should have been pissed off. Why was she scared?
“Congratulations?” Karima asked dubiously.
“There is no wedding and no engagement.” Lavi rubbed her nose inelegantly. “Apparently I don’t even exist.”
Samiya leaned forward. “What do you mean by that?”
“My brilliant boyfriend, went to a bachelor party, met up with some friends. One of them a lawyer. And when he came back, he refused to accept that I was his girlfriend. There are no pics to prove that we ever went out. Only you guys saw him and well, that’s not going to hold up in court.” Lavi gave a small laugh, but it was a sad one. “Oh yes, he is suing me.”
“What?” Samiya and Karima said together. They leaned forward and watched their friend with wide eyes. “He is suing you? On what grounds?”
“Am I drunk or are you both saying the same thing?” Lavi blinked.
Samiya licked her lips. “Are you kidding me? Rocky is suing you?”
“Mmhmm. When he came back, he asked me to return his engagement ring. I was too angry and refused so he threw the ring I gave him, at me.” Lavi moaned. “I picked it up and realized it wasn’t the one I gave him. I mean, come on. I know my jewels. What he gave me was a fake. Not real gold and definitely not a real diamond.”
“Really?” Karima asked. “Okay, but for your engagement party, there must have been guests. When you said earlier that there was no proof that you guys were even together, weren’t his friends present? We weren’t because you never told us anything or invited us.”
Lavi frowned at Karima’s taunt. “My wonderful boyfriend proposed me on a secluded beach. He said he just wanted it to be the two of us. I said yes, and the next day, bought him this very expensive ring to match the huge diamond he gave me.”
“Where is your ring?” Karima asked.
“Hidden.” Lavi shrugged. “I won’t give it to him until he returns the one I gave him. He got mad and two days later, he handed me court papers. I’m getting sued for stealing his ring.”
“You work in a law firm,” Samiya said. “Can’t you get someone to represent me?”
“I work as a secretary. I have no standing there.” Lavi shook her head. “They found out I’m getting sued and now there’s a rumor going around that I may be getting fired.”
“I am so sorry you’re going through this,” Karima said, looking guilty.
Samiya nodded. “Me, too. This really sucks.”
“To top it all, no one wants to fight the case for me,” Lavi continued. “Rocky’s friend Makson is helping him and apparently he’s this young hotshot lawyer no one can beat. He’s the one who must have given Rocky the idea to play this filthy game with me. He must have told him to break up with me. That slime!”
“I’m sure you’ll find a lawyer that will help you,” Samiya said. “There has to be someone.”
“I may settle out of court. I think, I don’t know,” Lavi rubbed her forehead. “I called you guys because I need help.”
“Anything,” Karima said.
Except financial, Samiya thought.
Lavi looked at Samiya with hopeful eyes. “You’re a writer. You’re trained to see things differently and predict numerous scenarios, right?”
“Of course you are. I need you to figure out what Rocky is up to.” Lavi clasped her hands together and looked thoughtful. “He’s playing a really dirty game and I want to know why. It should be easy for you. You’ve written all those detective stories.”
“Yes, but really bad ones that were rejected numerous times. The one I did manage to get published, was criticized heavily by the one customer who bought it. There were so many plot holes.” Samiya put her hands on her head. “That was kind of humiliating. That half a star beside my book is on that site for the whole world to see and laugh at.”
“You have a brilliant mind,” Lavi said with a small smile. “And I’m not even saying this because I’m drunk. You were the smartest one in the group. You have an inquisitive mind and you do all that research. Please, help me find out what Rocky is up to.”
“I think you’re heavily influenced by all those TV shows,” Samiya said, nervously. “I’m not this great writer who is a disguised detective. I don’t know if I have an eye for details. If I did, I wouldn’t have had so many plot holes in my manuscript.”
“You always doubt yourself,” Karima said. “I’ve read some of your stories. They’re good, Samiya. You need to have some confidence.” Then she looked at Lavi. “I’ll help too. We will all try to figure out what is going on and save you from that jerk.”
“Thanks, guys.” Lavi looked relaxed and sighed. “It’s been such a tough time. I’m glad I called you guys.”
Samiya looked from Karima to Lavi, unsure of what her friends wanted out of her. Why was it that once she had announced she wanted to be a writer, everyone automatically thought she was smart. Was she smart?
She shook her head. There she was, doubting herself again. Karima was right, she needed to have more confidence and that would come up only when she learned to fight for what she believed in. At the moment, she had to fight for her friend who desperately needed her help.
Yes, she could do this. She had a brain for mysteries. She could work out why Rocky was suddenly behaving so weird.
“Oh, no.” Lavi suddenly tensed up again and the hand around her glass, tightened. “No, no, no.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Karima asked and then turned towards the entrance of the cafe. The glass doors had just opened and a couple entered.
Samiya followed their gaze and saw a tall man in his late thirties, dressed in a light gray suit. The woman he was with, was tall and wearing six inch golden heels that matched her short green and gold sequin dress. Her long, caramel colored hair, gleamed in the dim ceiling lights.
“Do we know them?” she asked, unsure as to why Lavi had suddenly paled.
“Rocky? He doesn’t look like-”
“No, Makson. The lawyer.” Lavi bowed her head. “Please don’t see me, please don’t see me,” she muttered.
Samiya started to turn to look, when Lavi slapped her hand. “Don’t make it obvious. I don’t want him to see us.”
“But why should we be so scared of him?” Samiya protested. “We are giving him all the power—"
“Oh, crap he saw us!” Lavi almost squealed.
Samiya did turn around then and saw that the man who had entered was leaning against the counter and watching them. He had dark hair that was combed back and eyes that resembled dark roasted coffee. He was grinning at them while the woman he was with was busy admiring herself on a handheld mirror.
Then slowly, he straightened, adjusted the cuffs of the white shirt he was wearing underneath and headed towards their table, walking in long strides.
Samiya swallowed and turned back to her friends who looked equally uneasy.
“Well hello there,” his voice was thick with amusement. “Enjoying this great weather, we are having?”
Lavi covered her glass with both hands and said nothing.
“This place is a bit expensive for your tastes,” He drawled. “Ah, of course. You have the money you stole to blow away before the case begins.”
Lavi shot him a fiery look. “You’ve got your facts all wrong. He’s the one who stole from me.”
“Ah-ah. I don’t want to discuss the case,” he said, putting his hands up in mockery. “Besides, I have known Rocky a long time. He’s quite a dear friend. I consider it a privilege to help a friend such as him. You, on the other hand, I would take great pleasure in destroying in court.”
Lavi fumed but said nothing while Samiya and Karima had a telepathic conversation on whether or not to get involved. He was insulting their friend, after all.
“What? Nothing to say? The other day you had quite a lot of colorful words to hurl at me.” Makson laughed. “Did you finally find a lawyer who gave you some sound advice. You know, not to piss off the guy who is going to take you down.”
“You have some nerve harassing my friend,” Karima finally spoke up. “You have no right to bully her like this.”
Makson grinned widely. “You know what you and your friends remind me of?” He asked Lavi. “Three little bunnies. So, adorable.”
Samiya stood up and turned to him. “I think that’s enough. You should leave.”
“And the third has spoken.” Makson smirked. “Really now, are you angry that I interrupted all your plotting and scheming?”
“I suggest you take my friend’s advice and go away.” Karima stood up to. “Did you really think you were being macho, harassing us?”
The woman he was with, came to stand by his side, pouting when she saw them.
“Go find us a table,” Makson told her and she gave a nod and obliged.
“Hmm, it figures you would be used to being surrounded by women who obeyed all of your commands,” Samiya said. “But excuse us. We are not like the women you think you can suppress. We don’t find you intimidating and you can take your cheap tactics to scare us, with you.”
“A feminist.” Makson’s eyes, glittered with humor. He put one hand in the pocket of his jacket and then turned to call the waitress he had charmed earlier at the counter. “Miss?”
The waitress put on her widest smiles and rushed over to him. “Yes?”
Makson rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Excuse me, if I am wrong, but I wasn’t aware you served alcohol at this establishment.”
Samiya looked at Lavi who rolled her eyes and started to put the bottle of whiskey in her large purse.
“We don’t.” The waitress seemed to take some time trying to understand what was going on.
“I thought so.” Makson looked at Lavi, smirking. “Yet, I see a glass of liquor on the table. I was under the impression that you need to obtain a license to serve alcohol.”
The waitress finally tore her attention away from Makson and looked at Lavi’s glass. Her smile dropped and she pouted. “Miss, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“What?” Karima gasped. “We will just put it away. There is no reason to throw us out.”
Lavi got up and grabbed her purse. “No, we will leave. I have no interest in staying in the same room as this man. Come on, guys.”
Samiya and Karima grabbed their purses and scowled at Makson who looked pleased with himself.
“He had us thrown out!” Karima almost screamed, when they joined Lavi outside.
“That’s what I’m up against.” Lavi searched inside her purse and then took out a cigarette and a lighter.
“When did you start smoking?” Samiya asked as Lavi lit the cigarette.
“When I started drinking. When I met Makson. When he called me a fraud and threatened to ruin my life.” Lavi looked at the cigarette in her hands and sighed. “I can’t believe he’s making me lose. First, he had Rocky throw me out of the house. And now I got thrown out of a cafe.”
Samiya took the cigarette from Lavi’s hands and threw it on the ground, then crushed it with her shoes. “We are going to help you.” she put her hand on Lavi’s shoulder. “This guy, this misogynistic jerk, doesn’t get to win.”
“I’m in. I’ll help.” Karima put her arms around both her friends. “We are not letting that guy win.”
Samiya looked back at the cafe and saw Makson seating himself comfortably with his date. He had the gall to take the very table they had been seated on.
How she hated him!
The next morning was better. It was sunny, but cool and breezy. Samiya was walking down the boardwalk, dressed in an olive green hoodie and faded jeans.
“Are you sure he’s going to be here?” She pushed her cellphone closer to her ear and adjusted her cap.
“Yes,” Lavi said. “Look, I’m sorry I had to put you and Karima up to this. But since I can’t find a good lawyer, I need to do some detective work on my own, with the help of my friends, of course. My job won’t allow me any free hours and I still haven’t found out if I’m going to be fired or not.”
“Won’t that be wrongful termination?” Samiya reached into her purse for a pair of sunglasses.
“Maybe, I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer, remember? I just know some basic stuff.” Lavi sighed. “I need you guys to keep an eye on the lawyer. Who he’s meeting and what he’s plotting. Rocky was never the smart kind. I’m pretty sure Makson has been putting ideas in his head. Although, why he would do that, I have no idea.”
Samiya looked down at the sea and watched the surface of the water glitter in the sun. Two seagulls flew over and perched on the railings. “So Rocky is meeting up with Makson here?”
“Yes, according to his messages.” Lavi sounded distracted. “Hmm, yes, Rocky just messaged Makson that he’s about to reach in ten minutes.”
“How are you reading those messages?”
“Oh, Rocky is using an app that has a desktop application as well. He forgot to logout,” Lavi replied. “I can’t get through to Karima. I sent her to attend one of Makson’s court cases. He’s been busy lately.”
“Falsely accusing innocent people, is he?” Samiya made a disgusted sound. “Don’t worry, we wont let him destroy your life.”
“I hope so. Anyway, did you get in touch with Karima?”
“She sent me a message some time ago that she was at the hearing.” Samiya checked her messages. “Nothing afterwards.”
“Okay, she must be busy I guess. So, I have to get back to work now. Could you let me know if you find anything?”
“Sure,” Samiya promised. “You don’t worry about a thing.”
“And how are you going to get home?”
“I’ll take the metro.” Samiya looked at the time.
“Thanks so much for doing this,” Lavi said. “Just take note of everyone they are meeting okay? I want to know. Be prepared.”
“Sure.” Samiya looked at the parking lot and saw a silver sedan pull up. “I think it’s him.”
Samiya got behind a pillar of the restaurant and peered. “No, it must be the lawyer. You said your boyfriend usually drives a sports car.”
“Yeah, all the latest models,” Lavi said, contemptuously. “That jerk!”
“Okay, it is Makson.” Samiya watched as the lawyer got out of his car. The first thing he did was check his watch, even before locking his car. Then running a hand over his hair, he checked his phone and frowned.
Dressed in a satin dark blue shirt and sandy brown pants, he looked too casual. Not something someone would wear to a meeting.
“What?” Lavi asked, breaking into her thoughts.
“You made a sound.”
“Oh,” Samiya pushed her back against the pillar as Makson entered the waterfront. “Yeah, it’s the lawyer. I don’t see Rocky anywhere and he doesn’t seem like he’s meeting up with a client. And he’s been reading something in his phone a lot. Has Rocky cancelled the meeting.”
“Um...nope. Nothing has come up on screen,” Lavi replied. “Unless he’s using another app.”
“Okay, so what do I do?”
“See if Rocky comes. Keep an eye on Makson and see who he’s meeting. Chances are, he’s meeting up with people to prepare them to give false witnesses against me.”
“Why would he do that?” Samiya saw Makson walking close to the water with his head bowed. One hand was in his pocket, the other was holding his phone on which he was reading something. He looked anxious, Samiya thought.
“I don’t know. He wants me to lose.”
“No,” Samiya said. “Why would they go to extreme lengths to put you behind bars?”
“That’s what the mystery is,” Lavi said. “Something happened in the week Rocky was at that bachelor party. When he came back, he was this new person, accusing me of not being his girlfriend, breaking off the engagement, returning a fake ring to me. I just don’t get it. All I feel, is that he wants to frame me for something I didn’t do and that Makson is helping him.”
“This is weird.”
“I know. That is why I need the help.” Lavi let out a loud breath. “Thanks so much for doing this.”
“Yeah, you’re welcome.” Samiya saw Makson put his phone away and head to one of the outdoor cafes on the boardwalk. He stopped by a table where a bald man was seated and shook hands with him. “Okay, something is going on.”
“Take pictures. Find out what they are talking about. Anything, okay?” Lavi said. “I have to go now. I’ll check up with you and Karima later.”
“Yeah, okay.” Samiya cut the call and inched closer to the cafe. Makson sat down and leaned forward, deep in conversation with the bald man. Taking out his phone, he held it out to the man. Samiya walked sideways and crept behind a plant. Pushing her head sideways, she could just about make out a picture of Lavi on the screen, before Makson turned off his phone.
Discreetly, taking out her phone, Samiya took a picture of both men and wished she could hear what they were talking about. Lavi was right, something mysterious was going on. Who was the bald guy and why was Makson showing him a picture of Lavi?
The bald man said nothing and kept nodding while Makson talked.
“Excuse me, Miss.”
Samiya turned around to see a waiter from a nearby restaurant. Samiya straightened and moved away from the plastic plant. “Are you waiting to be seated?”
“What? No, I was just passing.”
The waiter looked annoyed and Samiya took his grumblings as a sign to move away. When she turned back, she saw the bald man getting up and checking the bill. Makson was nowhere in sight.
“Oh, no.” She had lost him. Lavi was going to be so mad.
“He couldn’t gotten far, now could he?” she didn’t realize she had spoken those words out loud, causing the waiter to stop in front of her.
“Did you change your mind? Do you want to be seated now, Miss?”
Samiya shook her head. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Then why are you still loitering about near our restaurant?” The waiter, adjusted his bow and grumbled to himself as he went inside the restaurant.
Samiya started to walk down the boardwalk, trying to spot Makson among the throng of tourists who had just gotten down from a sightseeing bus.
“Great. Just freaking great!” There were too many people walking about in shorts and polo shirts, and Samiya found it hard to discern between men and women.
“It’s December?” she muttered. “Why are they dressed in shorts?”
Pushing past the tourists, she spotted a tall woman wearing a tiny blue skirt and a black strapless top, accentuating her curvy figure. Her dark hair, was tied into a tight ponytail.
Doesn’t she feel the cold? It’s not freezing yet, but who the hell wears mini skirts in December?
She saw the woman walk towards the railing overlooking the sea and then come to a stop in front of someone. Makson!
Samiya looked all around her and couldn’t find a pillar to hide behind. Not even a large potted fake plant. She would have to mingle with the tourists.
Taking a few steps back, she tried to merge with the people who looked to be in their fifties. As the guide showed them around, Samiya took out her cellphone and started to take pictures of Makson with the woman.
They both looked happy and intimate, but Samiya noticed how the woman was different from the one she had seen at the cafe.
“Typical.” she muttered.
“Are you talking to me?” One of the tourists asked.
Samiya looked at the old woman who was wearing a visor. “Nope.”
She quickly took more pictures of Makson as he grazed his hands lightly over his girlfriend’s arm—a gesture Samiya had seen him make with his other girlfriend at the cafe. The girl laughed and played with the buttons of his shirt before pecking him on the cheek.
Makson took her hand and kissed it, then she walked away.
Samiya smiled to herself. This was good. There had to be a way Lavi could use Makson’s frivolity to their advantage. That was up to Lavi’s lawyer to decide, of course. When she found one. Maybe her lawyer could prove to the court that Makson was just like Rocky and therefore could not be taken seriously.
Could lawyers do that? There must be a rule against lawyers like Makson who treated women like tissue paper.
Samiya stopped suddenly. She had been so caught up in her thoughts, that she had isolated herself from the tourists’ group which had been acting like a cover. And Makson was no longer in sight either.
“Not again.” Samiya shook her head. It didn’t matter. She had her pictures. Now, all she had to do was send them to her friends on their group.
She had selected the pictures in her gallery, and was about to hit send, when suddenly her phone was snatched away from her hands.
Her first thought, of being robbed, was quickly quashed when she turned around to find Makson standing right behind her.
“Ah, bunny number three.” He grinned and then looked down at her phone. “Quite a lot of pictures you’ve taken today.”
“Give it back!” she tried to snatch the phone from him, but he was nine inches taller than her and fast.
“I was—" she swallowed and tried to think of some excuse. “I was taking pictures of the boardwalk.” She crossed her arms and shrugged. “I didn’t realize you were in them.”
“Oh, really?” He cocked an eyebrow, his eyes twinkling with laughter. “These are all of me.”
“Delete, delete and deleted.” His fingers moved over her screen and Samiya slumped her shoulders when he gave back her phone.
When she checked her folders, she didn’t find a single picture of Makson. Damn!
“You’re either following me, or have a huge crush on me.” Makson joked.
“Hm,” he looked at her thoughtfully. “You make a terrible detective, the way you’ve been following me around. Just like Detective Rosie.”
Samiya gulped. She had to be sure. Makson had just taken the name of a character she had created for her detective stories.
“You read my book?”
He turned around to walk. “Oh, yes. I found it quite fascinating.” He let out a snicker. “I was fascinated by how inaccurate it was and how many plot holes there were. I mean, did you even research a little?”
Samiya tried to match his steps, but his legs were longer and she found it hard to come up with a retort when he wasn’t even looking at her.
Makson stopped and turned around so suddenly that she almost bumped into him. “What was even more shocking was the publisher you chose to work with. You do know they have been sued several times for not paying their royalties and for plagiarism and for copyright infringement. They have so many cases going on that it baffles me that any writer, wanting to further their career, would sign with them.”
Samiya found herself stumped again. She had heard that her publishers had some court cases going on, but they had sent her an acceptance letter for her manuscript and she had been desperate.
“Next time I’ll make sure to contact a lawyer before signing a contract.” she tried to collect herself. “What should I be looking for when searching for one? I just want to make sure I don’t accidentally find a lawyer that steals from me. You know, such as yourself. No one gave you the right to take my phone and delete my photos.”
“Hmm, that’s true.” Makson looked thoughtful. “I wonder if there is also a law against taking pictures of people without their permission? Or stalking them?”
“Says the person who read my book.” Samiya raised an eyebrow. “You saw me just yesterday and you’ve already tried to find out about me and read my book.”
Makson didn’t appear shaken. “I was bored. I wanted to read something terrible that wouldn’t hurt my brain too much.”
He started to walk again as Samiya fumed. “And what is with the whole: let’s call me and my friends , bunnies. Why? Because bunnies are docile, weak?” She finally matched his steps. “Is it only us you think of that way, or all women?
“And cute and fluffy.” He grinned.
Samiya frowned. “You have some nerve. And what do you compare yourself with? Hmm, now which animal is it, that keeps changing their partners?”
“I am not a philanderer. Your implication that I am is as atrocious as your detective novel.” Makson put his hands in his pockets.
“Oh, please.” Samiya tried not to give in to his provocation. “The girl I saw you with yesterday, wasn’t the one I saw you with today.”
“So, you were stalking me.” Makson challenged.
“As were you.” She stared at him, defiant.
“You could never prove that.”
“Neither can you.”
Makson looked annoyed. “You’re being childish now.”
She was about to reply that he was too, then stopped herself. “You know what, okay, yes. I did research you online. You’re the one suing my best friend and I was obviously going to try to find out what I could. Let me tell you one thing, what I found has led me to believe that you’re just a shallow, misogynistic, narcissistic man.”
“And what made you assume that?” Makson looked pissed.
Back off! She scolded herself. You’re not here to instigate him. Just walk away.
But Samiya ignored her own voice. “The fact that you have ever represented a woman before. The fact that you are seen with different women all the time. And one of them happened to be an ex-wife of your client. You don’t have any boundaries.”
“So just because I’ve never represented a woman, it means I’m a misogynist? That’s just plain silly.” Makson clenched his fists.
Samiya warned herself to walk away again. She was just supposed to note down his movements, not make contact with him.
“Yeah, it is. Most of your cases have been for men who are suing the women in their lives.” Samiya crossed her arms. “You help men dupe their girlfriends and wives. That’s what you’re doing with my friend, too!”
“I’m not going to discuss my cases with you.”
“I have no intention of discussing anything with you, either.” Samiya let out a breath.
“You are entitled to your presumptions.” Makson looked away from her, his jaw tightening.
“Exactly. I’m entitled to think whatever I want about you,” Samiya replied, haughtily. “Now, if you will excuse me—"
She started to leave, but Makson muttered something that made her stop. “What did you say?”
“I said, you’re just a little insignificant bunny.” Makson was laughing at her that caused her to get enraged.
“Bunny? Again? You have some nerve.” Samiya held back her instinct to punch him. “If I’m a bunny, you’re a treacherous snake.”
“You do know snakes eat up little bunnies.” Makson was making fun of her. Samiya knew she was losing, but couldn’t find it in herself to walk away just yet.
“Well I hope you choke on it!”
Makson started to reply, when his phone rang. While he checked his phone, Samiya started to back away. She should leave now. She shouldn’t have gotten into an argument with him. What was wrong with her?
Makson took the call while Samiya turned away and walked as quickly as she could towards the bridge. Climbing up the stairs, she turned to see him arguing with someone on the phone. Once she reached on the top, she turned again and saw Makson had put down the phone and was looking all around him, probably searching for her. He looked up then and saw her.
Don’t be cheeky, she warned herself, but Samiya couldn’t help herself. She put up her hand and waved.
Stop it! But watching Makson fume and glare at her, somehow made her feel satisfied. She headed to the metro station, smiling widely to herself.
She had gotten the last word!
Samiya didn’t have time to think. Once she had seated herself in the metro, her phone rang and Karima’s name flashed on her screen.
“Hey, where have you been?” she scolded her friend. “I tried calling you, then Lavi and she said you weren’t picking up. Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Karima sounded distracted. “I was at the, you know, the court.”
“Yes, how did it go?”
Karima didn’t reply for several seconds. “Lavi told me to do a recon on the lawyer. See what he’s like. Well, from whatever I could glean in the two minutes I was inside, he’s pretty fierce. He wasn’t trying too hard to win, but his arguments were irrevocable. He was playing as if he knew he was going to win. Am I making sense? The other lawyer looked so nervous.”
“Uh-huh. Why were you there for only two minutes. Caught up in traffic?” Samiya tried to change the subject. She did not want to hear Makson’s praises.
Karima was silent again. This time the pause was long and Samiya could sense her friend was struggling to say something.
“I was pretty much asked to leave,” she said finally.
Karima sighed. “My phone rang. I forgot to put in on silent. The entire courtroom heard my ringtone. You know, the new hit song with those risque lyrics? Ugh, you just had to call me at that time.”
“Oh, it was my call? I’m so sorry!” Samiya rubbed her forehead. Why did she have to be so careless? She should have known better than to badger her friend when she was on a mission.”
“Anyway, the lawyer saw me and then went on and on about how I was disrupting court proceedings,” Karima continued. “Before I could turn it on silent, Lavi called and my damn phone glitched and I couldn’t switch it off. I was so humiliated that before I could be asked to leave, I just left. But I still hung around outside. To see, if I could find anything of importance.”
“So, did you?” Samiya hoped her friend had better luck than her.
“No.” Karima sighed again. “Makson was on the phone a lot. When he exited the courtroom, he was completely engrossed in whatever was on his phone. People were congratulating him, but he paid no attention to them. When he passed by, I caught a glimpse of his phone screen and saw him texting Rocky.”
“That’s something. Did you manage to read any messages?”
“No.” Karima groaned. “Makson saw me. He called me a bunny and that I shouldn’t be scampering around in dangerous grounds.”
Bunny number three, that’s what he had called me. Samiya shook her head and rested her elbows on her knees. Makson had seen Karima and was obviously on the watch for her as well, probably suspecting that Lavi would want to spy on him.
“Oh, well there’s nothing you could have done.” Samiya sat up straight. “And don’t worry about him calling us bunnies. I told him to never call us that again and then called him a snake.”
Karima paused before speaking. “Um...when did you talk to him?”
Samiya bit her lip. She considered not telling anyone about what she had done. She had been impulsive, cheeky and quite possibly, instigated the wrong man. But this was Karima, her best friend for more than ten years now. How could she not tell her what she had done?
Closing her eyes, she blurted, “I straight up argued with him!”
“What?” Karima’s voice was so loud that Samiya was sure the older woman sitting beside her must have heard her.
Samiya rubbed her forehead. “Yeah, he kind of saw me. I was taking pictures and he snatched it out of my hands.”
“He saw you, too?”
“Mmm-hmm. He started it, okay?” Samiya tried to defend her outrageously childish behavior. In retrospect, she had to admit she hadn’t handled herself well in front of Makson.
Karima let out a deep sigh. “Oh come on, Samiya,” she reproached. “You’ve been so volatile ever since your breakup. It’s been two years now and you still haven’t gotten over it.”
“No, you haven’t. You get triggered at the slightest provocation,” Karima retorted. “You’ve become too impulsive, too emotional. You need to cool it. Who knows what you must have told Makson and how much you’ve compromised Lavi.”
“I did no such thing!” Samiya started to get angry and then took a deep breath when she saw some of the passengers looking at her.
“See, there you go proving my point.” Karima paused. “I’m being unfair. I guess I didn’t fare a lot better today, either. We suck as spies.”
Samiya smiled despite the scolding she had received from her best friend. “We kind of do. Look, how about we don’t tell Lavi the whole story? We just tell her the important bits.”
“Yup. She wants to meet us at the cafe near her house at six,” Karima said.
“When did she say that?”
“She just sent a message on the group chat.”
Samiya checked her phone. “I didn’t receive…oh wait, my mobile data is switched off.”
“Uh-oh, that means none of the pictures you must have taken got backed up in your drive. You did manage to take some pics, right?” Karima asked.
Samiya wanted to slap her forehead. “Yes, but he deleted them. And of course they didn’t get backed up.” She let out a breath. “Lavi is going to kill me. She wanted photographic evidence of who Rocky was meeting.”
Samiya sat up suddenly. “Who didn’t show up, by the way.”
“Hmm, maybe when Makson saw us he texted Rocky to stay away,” Karima suggested.
“That’s weird. Why would he do that? So what if we see Rocky?”
“Must be a lawyer thing.”
“They’re obviously hiding something.” Samiya pressed her lips together. “Ugh, why did Lavi had to get mixed up with Rocky? That guy is creepy.”
“We will figure this out. So see you in the evening?”
“Yup.” Samiya said her goodbye and ended the call.
When evening came, Lavi changed plans and Samiya and Karima found themselves heading to an ice cream parlor instead of a cafe.
Through the glass windows, the two friends saw Lavi looking distraught over a large ice cream sundae glass before her.
Karima raised her eyebrows and Samiya sighed. It looked like their friend hadn’t had a nice day either.
Lavi saw them and waved, though no smile appeared on her flushed face.
“How was your day?” Samiya asked as soon as they entered and came to her table.
“Okay, I guess,” Lavi replied while spooning her ice cream.
Karima sat down and leaned forward. “How was work?”
Lavi answered with a deep sigh and ate a large mouthful of ice cream.
“Uh-oh, did you have a talk with your boss? Did you get fired?” Samiya blurted.
Karima kicked her under the table and Samiya let out a cry.
Lavi didn’t look up from her sundae. “No. My boss wasn’t in today. My colleagues won’t talk to me but I’m pretty sure they’re talking about me. I’m also receiving less work and today I saw a job posting on a site. They are looking for someone for my position.”
“Oh.” Karima frowned. “I’m so sorry, Lavi. That really sucks.”
“Maybe they’re just looking for someone to help you with the workload?” Samiya tried to be helpful.
Lavi scoffed. “What workload? Like I said, I’m being kept out of most projects and away from important clients. But that’s not the cherry on the cake, for me. Today I made a stupid mistake.”
Samiya couldn’t help but feel better about the day she had. At least she wasn’t the only one who had behaved carelessly and provoked a lawyer.
“I called up Rocky,” Lavi said and put down her spoon to put her hands on her head. “I don’t know, I was just so annoyed that everyone at work was ostracizing me. So, I impulsively called up Rocky to scream at him. Instead, he informs me that I need to get the rest of my stuff from his house. He still wants to go ahead with suing me. I have to go on Saturday to get my stuff before he throws it away.”
“Yikes!” Karima winced. “So you’re going?”
Lavi nodded. “You guys will come with me, right?”
“Of course.” Karima put her hands over Lavi to comfort her.
Samiya nodded. “Yeah.”
Lavi let out a breath and pulled back her hands. She picked up her spoon again and scooped up a cherry. “How did you guys do today? Did you find out anything? Who was Rocky meeting?”
Karima and Samiya exchanged an awkward glance.
“Um, sure.” Karima was the first one to speak while Samiya considered what to omit in her recount. “Here’s the thing. Rocky didn’t show up. I reached late at the courthouse, because, um, traffic.”
Samiya bit the inside of her lip as Karima lied.
“All I saw was Makson winning the case and then later, he was texting Rocky.” Karima shrugged. “That’s all I’ve got. Sorry.”
Lavi looked expectantly at Samiya who felt her heart sink.
“I saw Makson meeting some guy. He had your picture on his phone and he was showing it to the other guy,” Samiya said. “My phone ran out of battery so I couldn’t take a picture.”
Lavi looked confused. “Wait, Rocky wasn’t there? He was supposed to meet Makson. I was hoping you could eavesdrop on how they were handling the case against me.”
“I didn’t see him.”
“He had a picture of me?” Lavi looked worried. “Who was that guy?”
“Like I said, I couldn’t take a picture,” Samiya lied. “But I could recognize the guy if I see him again.”
“Where?” Lavi looked angry. “Without a picture, I can’t say whether or not I know him.” She turned to Karima. “You said he was texting Rocky? Maybe he canceled the meeting. But why?”
Karima looked at Samiya. It was obvious why Makson must have canceled the meeting. He had spotted Lavi’s friends and must have guessed the intended to spy on them.
Samiya felt guilt wash over her.
Lavi rubbed her eyes. “Ugh, I’m getting a headache.” She removed her jacket and the clip that was holding her hair back. “I guess we all did have a bad day. Karima got stuck for so long in traffic and you didn’t have time to charge your phone. I feel bad, guys. Because of me, you have to take time out from your lives to help me.”
Samiya felt another twinge of guilt. She almost opened her mouth to blurt out the truth when Karima elbowed her.
“You don’t need to feel bad. After all, what are friends for?” Karima smiled. “Now don’t worry about a thing, okay? We will accompany you on Saturday. Don’t forget, you’re not alone.”
Surprisingly, there was no traffic on Saturday and the one hour drive to Rocky’s house, was covered in forty minutes.
Samiya had almost been late. Her alarm had gone off, but she had been deep in sleep and it was Karima’s call, that had woken up. She hadn’t had a chance to dress properly and had picked up an old pair of faded grey jeans and a somber brown jacket. Then she had accidentally sprayed too much perfume on herself when Lavi had called and asked her to come down.
In the backseat, Karima kept wrinkling her nose. “How much perfume are you wearing? The whole bottle?”
Samiya groaned while trying to fruitlessly comb her frizzy hair with her fingers. She had fallen asleep while her hair had still been wet and now her strands refused to settle down the way she wanted them to.
“We are here,” Lavi said distractedly. They all looked out and Samiya’s eyes widened. She had expected a small villa with a small patch of green that would serve as a garden for the residents. Instead, the house before her was more of a mansion, with a large flower garden in front and a swimming pool at the back of the house.
“How big is that pool?” Karima asked, trying to peek at the corner of the pool that showed from the side of the house.
“It’s big.” Lavi looked like she was close to tears. She parked the car and sat with her head resting on the seat.
Karima and Samiya both looked at each other, both clearly curious as to how Lavi could afford to live here. Before the breakup.
How much does she make at her job? Samiya tapped her chin with a finger.
“The rent must be quite a lot for this house.”
“Rocky and I bought it. Seventy- thirty. I paid only thirty percent of it.” Lavi took out her phone to text Rocky that she had arrived.
Karima nodded. “It’s a very nice house. And a pretty big garage you have there. How many cars did you have? Is that one of yours?”
Samiya peeked out the back window and saw a silver sedan, its surface glinting in the sunlight. “That’s Makson’s car.” she recognized. “He’s here?”
Lavi looked out. “I didn’t know the lawyer would be here.” She suddenly looked nervous.
“Maybe it’s nothing.”
“Rocky just texted me to come in the garage. He said that’s where he put my stuff.” Lavi’s brow furrowed. “I can’t even enter the house now?”
“Why is Makson here?” Karima asked.
“We need to find out,” Lavi said. She looked at Samiya. “I want you to do me a favor. I want you to go inside the house and find out why Makson is here.”
“No!” Both Karima and Samiya said in unison.
“Why?” Lavi asked, turning to look at both her friends in curiosity.
“I’ll do it,” Karima suggested.
Lavi shook her head. “You’re wearing yellow and pink. You’ll be more noticeable. Samiya is wearing sober colors. She will merge with the interior.”
“Er...thanks?” Samiya frowned.
“Please, Samiya,” Lavi pleaded. “I know I’m asking you for a big favor, but I could really use the help.”
Samiya glanced at Karima who looked worried. “Okay,” she agreed. “I’ll do it.”
Samiya opened the door and got out. From the other side, Karima did as well and went over to her.
“You have to keep a low profile, okay?” Karima almost scolded. “You can’t provoke Makson. Whatever happened two years ago with your boyfriend, let it go. Don’t let the anger you have for that jerk, cloud your judgment. Stay cool, okay?”
“Okay, okay.” Samiya took a deep breath. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t notice me today.”
Lavi stepped out of the car and locked it. “There’s no alarm, so don’t worry about opening the front door.”
“No security?” Karima asked.
“We never really got to installing security systems,” Lavi said. “We just decorated it and before we could really move in, Rocky dumped me.”
“Sorry about that.” Samiya buttoned up her jacket. “I’ll head in now. Keep your phones on.”
“Is your mobile data on?” Karima asked.
Samiya checked her phone and shook her head. “Okay, just turned it on.”
“Be careful,” Lavi called and took Karima’s hand. “Let’s go.”
Samiya headed down the cobblestone path that led to a large wooden door with engravings of flowers on it. Putting her hand on the gold door handle, she pushed and walked into the house.
While the exterior of the two storey villa had taken her by surprise, Samiya was even more amazed by what lay inside. The furniture was all polished wood. In the foyer, was a large round rosewood table with a crystal vase atop it, which had fresh flowers in them. There were paintings all over the wall, all of them framed with gold and all well lit by decorative sconces.
A crystal chandelier hung on an arched ceiling of the living room where there were sculptures and even more paintings. There was a sound system on one corner and a home theater system, but apart from those two modern amenities, the whole house was furnished with antiques.
Samiya was about to make her way to the bookcase across the room, under the stairs and an indoor balcony, when the door to one of the upstairs room opened and she heard voices. She quickly rushed to the bookcase and pressed herself against the walls.
“Don’t worry about it,” she heard Makson say. “I’m working on the case.”
“Man, I can’t believe what I got all tangled up in.” Rocky whined.
“You should have followed my principles. Never commit. You jumped into a relationship too quickly,” Makson explained.
“I know, I know,” Rocky agreed. “Thanks for setting me straight.”
Samiya heard a clap and imagined both men shaking hands.
“You’re welcome,” Makson said. “Now, remember. Keep your distance from her. Cut all ties. Until we go to court, don’t indulge in any interaction with her. You know how girls are, they’ll start to cry and you’ll get pulled right back in.”
Samiya felt a sudden urge to punch something. How dare he thought girls used tears as a ruse to seduce men! She clenched her fists, trying to control the liquid anger that was boiling inside her.
Remember what Karima said, keep your distance!
She heard footsteps on the stairs then and held her breath.
Don’t get caught, don’t get caught. Oh, please universe, don’t let him see me again.
“Hey, wasn’t there a painting hanging on the wall as well?” Makson asked.
“No. I mean yeah, just took it down to make place for something more exquisite and well known,” Rocky replied. Samiya thought she detected a hint of nervousness in his voice.
“Wasn’t it a Baron DeArtes?”
“You have an eye for art, my man.” Rocky laughed. “Nah, it was a fake. Took it down to make place for something else more expensive.”
“Okay.” Makson started down the stairs again and Samiya pushed herself in the corner, hoping the shadows of the bookcase would veil her presence.
“What is that smell?”
“Huh?” Rocky had started down the stairs as well. “What smell?”
“Like cheap floral perfume.” Makson sniffed.
Samiya hugged herself. Oh no!
“Must be one of the maids. Or the fresh flowers they got.”
“Maybe.” Makson went downstairs and headed to the door while Samiya kept her head down. Once the two men were out of the door, she got up and dusted her knees.
That was close. Too close. She counted till hundred and then peeked through the front window to see Makson driving away while Rocky, sauntered towards the garage to meet Lavi.
“That jerk,” Samiya mumbled to herself. She opened the door and then crept out, heading straight for the car. If Rocky saw her coming from the other direction, he was bound to get suspicious about her and accuse her of breaking in. The last thing they needed was more complications for Lavi.
Getting into the car, it didn’t take too long before she saw Lavi walking briskly back, carrying a large box. Behind her, Karima was trying hard to keep up, holding a small cardboard box as well.
Lavi got in the car and slammed the door shut. “That bastard!” she slammed her hands on the steering wheel.
Karima got in as well, looking harried.
“That bastard threw the boxes on my face and told me I was a big mistake and I was a fraud.” Lavi was almost in tears.
“He treated us really badly,” Karima said. “Said that we didn’t deserve to enter his house.”
“It’s your house as well,” Samiya said and put a comforting hand on Lavi who pushed it away.
“No, he said he was going to prove that I was a fraud and since I signed papers with a fraudulent name, nothing belongs to me.” Lavi slammed her fists on the dashboard. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Look, if it’s only the ring he wants back, maybe you should give it back,” Karima said. “Maybe he’ll drop the case on you.”
“I don’t freaking care!” Lavi cried out. She started the car with trembling hands when she saw Rocky walk out, watching her with mocking eyes. “It’s not about the ring anymore. He wants to ruin me.”
Karima and Samiya looked at each other, not understanding what Lavi meant when she said that. Why would her boyfriend want to ruin her? What had she done to cause Rocky’s erratic behavior?
Most importantly, what was Lavi not telling them?