It was a night of utter beauty and bliss. The moonlight fell like a velvety blanket on the sleepy subjects below. A cool breeze caressed the trees and the leaves while the stars shimmered in scintillating pauses; the effect was almost hypnotic.
As the night progressed, the city, under the lovely sky, slumbered on. For an ignorant onlooker, it must have looked like something out of a storybook for children – majestic and peaceful. And it was like that for most people, but Malik was not most people.
Malik nervously checked his watched again. The dull streetlight fell on the dials of his expensive watch, dimming their luster to a mediocre replica. Half-past-two. It was time already. It was time a long while back.
They were supposed to be here half an hour ago. Those damned fools! He thought bitterly.
With every passing minute in the past half an hour, he had grown more and more agitated. At first, he had been irritated at their lethargy, which had made him angry at them, but slowly his anger had given way to nervousness as he had started to wonder what could have gone wrong.
Now the nervousness was fading as well, only to be replaced by fear. His mind conjured up exceedingly graphic images of horrible misfortunes befalling his partners. He shook his head to clear his mind. He gulped and felt his dry throat burn.
He felt the bushes in front of him rustle gently. He squinted, thinking he saw a shape. Perhaps a person’s silhouette?
Don’t be silly, he thought. I am completely alone.
His eyes were playing tricks on him. He felt light headed. His knees started to shiver. He had been standing for the better part of an hour.
Maybe I should sit down for some time, he mused.
He looked around the park and spotted a bench a few yards away. He walked to the bench, swept a few fallen leaves off it and sat. Immediately he relaxed. He slipped deeper into the bench, stretching out his legs and throwing his head back on the curved head rest. The metal was freezing against the back of his neck. It shocked him initially but slowly he started enjoying the calming effect the cold metal was having on him. He sighed deeply – involuntarily.
The jerky, chaotic images in his mind slowed down to passively drifting incoherent scenes. He didn’t care they were incoherent, as long as they were not purposefully evil. He let a tiny hint of a smile come to his lips as he pushed his worries to the back of his head.
Do not fall asleep. He reminded himself.
He feared that exhaustion will take the better of him, and he might drift off to sleep. He was about to rouse himself when suddenly he heard footsteps behind him. His body tensed and his right arm instinctively flew for the pistol hidden under his coat. He waited in almost complete darkness, listening intently for any sound that might tell him the position of his adversary.
“Adversary?” Hmmm, why did I think that? He wondered as he remembered to breathe.
There was no reason to be suspicious. Yet. He took a deep breath and squinted at the approaching figure. It was a man quite shorter than himself, and much more lankily built. As he came closer, Malik noticed that he was wearing a suit. The other man was immaculately dressed – could be coming from a late night party.
Or maybe a cop on a night duty. Malik thought.
He figured if it came to unarmed combat, he would undoubtedly win. He decided it was better not to initiate contact. Without letting his guard down, he slumped back into the bench, his hand tightly gripping the hilt of the pistol under his clothes.
‘Hi, there!’ Said the man to Malik. Malik responded with a curt nod. ‘Warm night, huh?’ The man continued.
Malik graced him with a short reply, ‘Yes.’
‘So, what brings you out so late at night?’ The man enquired.
Malik considered him for a moment then said, ‘Nothing in particular. Just couldn’t sleep.’
‘Something worrying you?’ The man smiled slightly, as though he knew exactly what it was that was worrying Malik.
If he is a cop, then I should not let this conversation be turned into an interrogation, Malik thought. Wanting to turn the questions away from him, he asked, ‘What brings you out so late?’
There was a brief pause and then the new man said, ‘I messed the night up.’
‘You are strangely well dressed for a man with a messy night.’ Malik remarked.
‘Ha ha!’ The man’s laugh was hearty, as though nothing could be more amusing.
‘You have an excellent ability of observation, my friend.’
‘Thank you.’ Malik says. ‘But you did not answer my question.’
There was a silence for sometime; the other man was deep in thought. Malik wondered if he is making up a story or considering to tell the truth.
Either way, it would be best if I left. If the others have been caught too, then I cannot afford to be so careless. I need to get out of here.
Malik said, ‘Hmm, looks like you have more worries than I have. Well, I will let you to your thoughts. Ciao!’
Just as Malik got up, the man said, ‘I was out with my girlfriend of five years. I wanted to propose to her tonight after we have had dinner and dance. But somewhere during the partying, something came up, and we fought like two teenagers. It completely ruined the moment. I did not want to propose at such an unfortunate turn of events. I said I needed some “my time” and took off. I have been wandering for the last half hour or so. And that’s how I came to be here.’
Malik turned back to look at the man.
What a piece of bullshit, he thought. Policemen are the worst liars!
He was sure that the story had to be fake, but yet, he decided to check one last time before he left the place for good.
‘Show me the ring,’ he said.
‘Sorry?’ The man asked, taken aback.
‘Show me the ring that you were going to propose with.’ Malik repeated.
The man looked blank for a second or two, but quickly composed himself and started patting his pockets to find the ring. He looked sad when he finally said, ‘I think I lost it.’
‘I am sorry to hear that. I hope you find it. So long!’ And with that Malik was gone.
A sly smile came to his lips as he realized that he had just dodged a possible arrest. He was proud of his quick thinking, and that made him temporarily forget the fate of his friends.
At least, I am safe, he thought. For now …
As the first rays of sun wriggle out of the darkness early next morning, a sweeper is busy doing his daily rounds of sweeping the park. Just like every day, he starts before the sun has risen and by the time the first joggers come into the park he is almost done with his work.
This day would have been a monotonous repetition of his daily life had it not been for a small box that he had found underneath a bench this morning. As he walks back home, he is unable to avoid grinning. He knows. He knows the worth of his find.
A diamond ring this size means he will die a rich man.