Chapter 36: Surprises, Gifts, and Warnings

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Kim was about to murk whoever it was dragging her down this alley. She quickly wrested her arm away and planted her feet in leopard pose, prepared to destroy her abductor.

The shrouded figure who had grabbed her stood back and held up a hand. The figure removed the hood of their dark cloak and stepped into a ray of light that had wound its way down between the tall buildings. It was Rani Khosla.

“What to heck, Rani!” Kim said. “I was about to destroy you!” 

“Um, no you weren’t,” Rani said. “But I apologize for the subterfuge. I had to meet with you in secret. It is a terrible risk for me to be seen with you right now. Ram would slaughter me if he knew I was here.”

“I was just at Ram’s! He’s such a crumb-bum! He totally stonewalled me, lying about his vault being secure when I KNOW it’s not.”

Rani nodded. “Ram was never going to help you. It would destroy his reputation if word got out that his castle studio had been compromised in any way. He and his elite team of filmmaking professionals rule Bollywood through fear. To show weakness would be to admit defeat. The Big Wish will never be released now; he will disavow all knowledge of it. I’d be surprised if he hadn’t already destroyed the remaining footage.” 

“But someone definitely stole the scenes I filmed, I’m not crazy. I just need proof before my reputation hurls itself in front of a bus.”

Rani took Kim’s hands in hers. “Kim, listen. There is an important choice in front of you. If you find the truth you seek, it may clear your name, but it will come at the expense of your relationship with Ram. He is a powerful and important director. The people in his service could have a tremendous and lasting influence on your career. If you walk away from this you may be able to get back into his graces. But if you pursue this path, he will become your sworn enemy. He and his elite team of filmmaking professionals will darken your door again, and soon. And worse: you and I will never be able to work together again.”

“Rani...” Kim began, struggling to find the words. “You’re asking me to walk away from everything I’ve worked so hard for. To just let Willow Pape get away with this? To go back down to the C-List, all because some man forgot to lock his doors? I value our friendship, Rani, and I hope that somehow, some day, we’ll be able to work together again. But it is not true that I have a choice. For me there is only one direction. I must know the truth.”

Rani paused, then took her phone out from within the folds of her cloak. “Here,” she said. “Ram’s System Administrator owed me a blood debt. He repaid it with this.”

Rani swiped the Minidisc emoji across her screen and a new file appeared on Kim’s phone.

“What’s this?” Kim asked.

“The answer you seek. Security footage from the studio vault. This was recorded while we were at the wrap party. But do not say I didn’t warn you. What you see on this tape may chill you to your core. And there are some things that cannot be unseen. But I hope it aids you in your quest, and that it brings you peace.”

“I will only find peace when my enemies are lain to waste,” Kim said. “But thank you. I can never repay you. You have taken such a risk in bringing this to me, and we’ve only done one movie together. Why are you helping me?”

“Because we are friends, and sisters in celebrity. We must help each other protect what we have created. This world pits us against each other, makes us fight and hate those who would understand us best. There are dark forces at work in this world that make us think that by raging against each other we are protecting something, when really each battle is just an opportunity for them to make more money. Too often we focus all of our negative energy on those who would provide the greatest comfort to us.”

“Rani,” Kim said, stepping closer to Rani. “I would never do this to you. I would never betray you.”

“I know,” Rani said. “But if the circumstances were different, who’s to say I wouldn’t do it to you? Even now, I am unwilling to help you publicly, for fear of what it would do to my career. And if you mention me in connection with this information, I will deny it. I will side with Ram. When this all comes to light, I will decry your actions and vow revenge on you.”

“I understand.”

“But please know that my actions will be at odds with my heart.”

“Thank you,” Kim said. She looked at Rani’s cinnamon eyes staring back at her, welling with tears. She felt...something. Like this was about to get serious? She took a small step closer to Rani.

“Here,” Rani said quickly, taking a step back. “I want to give you something else. It was a gift from my first publicist, a very powerful sorceress.” Kim removed a glittering jeweled necklace from around her neck and fastened it around Kim’s. “It is very old, and powerful. It will protect you.”

A notification popped up on Kim’s phone that she had some new jewelry.

“Wow, thank you so much,” Kim said. Then a thought began to sink in. “Wait. Does this mean...?”

“We’re not dating!” Rani said. “We can’t be. We’re just friends. Very good friends.”

“Okay but there’s a heart next to your name on my phone now, I’m just saying.”

“Friends should be able to give each other gifts without it meaning they’re in a romantic relationship imo!” Rani yelled.

“I mean I’m not opposed, I’m just saying,” Kim said.

Rani turned, hearing a noise at the far end of the alley. “I must go before they notice my absence,” she said, putting her hood back on. “Kim: please. This is not some accident or childish prank. This took planning and forethought. This is part of an insidious and well-crafted plan to sabotage your brand. Trust no one. Now I must go.”

“Thank you so much, Rani. For everything. I will not forget your kindness.”

Kim went in for an actual hug, but Rani went for a hand hug, and it was kind of awkward and weird. “Well okay bye!” Rani stage whispered as she ran away. 

Kim’s eyes lingered on Rani as she disappeared around the corner. Then she turned to her phone, opened the video, and steeled herself for whatever it may contain. 

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