A few days later, Jairaj called Karan and they met for coffee in the evening. Karan narrated the whole incident to which Jairaj was patiently all ears. He thought for a while and then spoke.

“But, if I.B. was involved, then I would have been notified about the matter. This is not some small shit.” Jairaj’s lips twitched thinking about the reason for him not being kept in the loop.

“You must be busy with other tasks.” Karan suggested sipping his coffee.

“Well, you are wrong then. I was on holiday.” Jairaj finished his coffee and lit the smoke. Taking a small puff, he spoke.

“Let me check about it. Will get back to you next week.” Jairaj passed his smoke to Karan. 

“By the way, the school has its Annual function scheduled. Hope to see you there.” Karan added as they both hugged each other.

“Can’t assure, but will try.” Jairaj bought his Royal Enfield to life and stormed out. Karan finished his smoke and he too left.

A couple of months passed since Jairaj met Karan. As the threat no more existed, Abhimanyu got a bit relaxed with the security of the school. Everyone on the campus was now totally engrossed in preparations for the Annual Day of the school. Regular classes were cancelled and more focus was given on the practices of various items to be performed. 

It was the grand rehearsal of the Annual Day and the final event on the day after tomorrow. The stage was all set and the lighting had been checked thoroughly. The stage was set on the football ground behind the school. It was a late winter evening. 

After three hours of tiring rehearsals with lots of instructions and few rectifications, students were made to sit in the classroom according to their events with their respective teachers and choreographers. Final instructions to the kids were given after the snacks. 

Karan had been craving for his smoke break. Once he had made sure that all the students were inside the building. He walked behind the stage and crossing the fence reached the open field to light his smoke. Abhimanyu was busy giving instructions to the ground staff of the school near the stage and allotting duties for the Annual Day.

Lights did not reach the area where Karan was standing for his smoke. He walked a few more steps ahead to avoid his smoke silhouette being seen by anyone. Hardly had he taken a couple of long enticing drags, when he heard a huge explosion. The cigarette slipped from his fingers and he turned to look in the direction of the sound. 

The stage was on fire being quickly getting engulfed in the fiery flames of hell. He sprang in the direction of the stage. A volley of bullets came from nowhere. The sound of gunshots was followed by the screams of everyone, inside and outside the building. 

Karan ducked behind the thick bushes to stay out of the firing line. After two mins the firing stopped. Karan looked in the direction of muzzle flashes that were coming from the terrace of the school building. Two more shots were fired and he saw two bodies falling from the school building’s terrace and hit the hard ground. He tried to pinpoint the source of the last two shots but couldn’t.

 Breathing heavily and his heart pounding hard against his ribcage, Karan crawled to the stage where security staff along with few bus drivers were hit by the shots. He began to check for the pulse of one of the security staff when another shot rammed through his shoulder. It felt like a fireball had pierced through his body and he groaned.

Blood started gushing out of the wound as he clenched it hard. His eyes closed for a moment in the pain. The thought ‘The kids are inside the building’ panicked him, at very next moment terror struck his spine. Shots were fired from the terrace of the school building. Screams and more shots were heard from inside the building. From the flashes of muzzles, he could see that it was from the bio class next to his lab but was not sure about it.

He rushed, crawling on his knees to the bodies that had fallen from the terrace. They were dead. He picked up an AKM (assault rifle) lying next to the dead guy and scooted along the wall to the right of the building where the school canteen was. After he had cut off the shirt sleeve off the dead person, he tied it to his shoulder to avoid dying from excessive bleeding. It was pitch dark. The side exit gate from the main building led straight to the canteen with a foot-walk of hardly ten steps. 

Karan then heard the stairs ramming with the steps and students rushing out with faculties. He saw Ranjeet, the art teacher exiting from the canteen exit gate. 

“What’s going on?” Karan asked as he grabbed Ranjeet from behind and covered his mouth so that he won’t scream anymore.

“I… I… don’t know. Shots are fired inside. Everyone is rushing out. One class has, maybe, one or two terrorists inside and a bunch of students.” Ranjeet was trembling with fear.

“Which class?” Karan asked trying to keep his voice as low as possible.

“I… don’t… don’t know. Maybe, bio class on the top floor.” Ranjeet was on verge of going under a traumatic shock. 

“Get outside the campus safely.” Karan pushed him out and Ranjeet didn’t think of asking where Karan was headed?

Karan took a few deep breaths and tightened the strap of the gun on the back. He was a rock climber in his college time and it was time now, to use those skills. Taking the support of the grille, he started climbing to the window on the first floor. Pain lurched through his shoulder blade with each movement upwards.

Everything was dead silent inside the building. He could hear his breaths and heartbeats loud and clear. Taking the support of the window bar, he pushed himself to the upper floor and finally reached the bio lab. Lucky enough, the window was open with no grille. 

Karan crouched inside and hit the working platform of the lab. His shoulder was hurting and bleeding badly. He closed his mouth to prevent the loud groan. Getting on his stomach, he kept crawling to his chamber and slowly opened another window. Students were in the bio class adjacent to the lab.

Karan opened the window of his chamber and with cat feet, he walked out on a very narrow ridge of the window, keeping his head low. He was now standing outside the last corner window of the class and saw kids sitting on the floor and crying. Two guys with guns were speaking in some foreign language and were utterly frustrated.

The noises from outside the classroom made one of them walk to the door of the class to check the source of sounds. Karan grabbed the moment and launched himself onto the second guy from the window who was now looking at the door of the classroom. He certainly could not use the gun as too many students were now standing. Karan had never used any weapon in his life, at least not an assault rifle. A headbutt knocked the second guy off his feet and he hit the blackboard of the class. 

The first guy turned to see what happened as the second one groaned in pain. Before he could take the charge of the situation, Karan fired and emptied the remnant bullets of the magazine. The First guy was taken off his feet and fell from the corridor to the ground floor. 

The second guy immediately got on his knees and launched him on Karan with a knife from behind. The knife went right into Karan’s waist ripping through his ribs. Everything in front of his eyes started getting darker. He heard the last shot fired…

Karan tried to see if he was still alive. Jairaj was standing in front of him with smoke rising from his gun. Blood gushed out Karan’s mouth but still, he managed to look behind and saw another guy dead. He took a final breath and closed his eyes.

The smell of pungent antiseptics hit his head. His dry tongue with a metallic taste cried for water as he opened his groggy eyes. Everything was still a blur. The light in the room hit his eyes and he closed it again.

“Wake up boy.” Karan could easily make out whom the voice belonged to. It was Jairaj. Karan opened his eyes and saw everyone around him. A group of doctors, his family, the school principal and his pal Jairaj with some high-rank officer next to him.

“I thought I’m dead.” Karan tried to shift up in his bed. The pain in his shoulder and waist made him groan. Jairaj immediately supported him and made Karan lie back again.

“You were, almost.” Jairaj smiled and tapped Karan’s forearm.

Everyone was happy as Karan was conscious now. Everyone wished him and greeted him. Doctors checked for the vitals and said he was good to talk with everyone. The family was the first, followed by the principal. Jairaj with his uniform person waited for everyone to leave.

“Tell me something I need to know.” Karan asked with a sigh of relief as everyone left with just three guys inside.

“Abhimanyu is arrested for all this.” Jairaj pulled the chair and sat next to the bed. The other guy in uniform chose to stand.

“What? What are you saying?” Karan’s head still hurting badly due to the head butt he had given to one of the terrorists.

“I’ll cut the chase for you.” Jairaj spoke as he looked back to get affirmation from his senior. He nodded and Jairaj began.

“After we met for coffee, I checked in my department for the story Abhimanyu had told you. There were no records of any such terrorists nailed down.” Jairaj waited for Karan to respond.

“Go ahead bro, I am all ears.” Karan’s eyes showed more of a shock than surprise.

“I felt something is not right. Since Abhimanyu joined the school after I left, I didn’t have any personal touch with him.” Jairaj paused to take a breath and then continued. 

“I felt something fishy about Abhimanyu and did a background check of his military records.” Jairaj paused this time for Karan to respond.

“And…” Karan asked with raised eyebrows.

“Abhimanyu was never in the military. This made him the prime suspect for me. I dug more about him with my senior Mr. Ravindra Mishra.” Jairaj turned to his senior and he nodded. Karan too nodded but stayed quiet.

“Abhimanyu is an ISI agent and was staying in the country for long. The two guys you spotted on that day outside the school spoiled his plan. He somehow managed to cover up the things by not letting you talk about it to anyone.” Jairaj leaned back. Karan closed his eyes and trying to comprehend something which he had never thought in his wildest nightmare.

“We raided his empty house and found enough evidence to put him behind bars. We were on the way to arrest him, as he was at school. We thought to bring some back up as it might not go very simple. Lucky for you that our snippers were set on the college rooftop.” Jairaj said and that’s where Karan realized that two shots which killed the two terrorists were by Jairaj’s team. 

“He had planned a massive terror attack on some of the schools in the vicinity. His comrades had infiltrated various schools as staff members. Your school was the first target. However, his plan was foiled by your shrewd intervention.”

Tears rolled down Karan’s eyes as the memories of his friendship with Abhimanyu kept floating in front of his eyes. He had never thought that the person, whom he considered as an elder brother would do some shit like this. Mishra walked near to bed and kept his hand on Karan’s arm and spoke.

“What you did was really very brave. It needs lots of courage to risk your life to save others.” 

“These are not OTHERS. They are my kids and I’ll do anything to protect them.” Karan opened his moist eyes and spoke.

 “What was the real name of ABHIMANYU…?” Karan asked looking at Jairaj.

“It’s a confidential matter bro…” Jairaj tapped Karan’s palm and continued.“Get well soon bro. And the next coffee is on me.” He smiled and got up, leaving Karan alone, battling with whatever was on his mind…

Written by: Hemang
Sketch: Paranj Sankdecha

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