‘Sir he is going with that woman and her son’ The constable reported over the phone.
‘Keep following him. There is something really fishy about that gora. Keep me informed every half an hour’ Inspector Hemant Gowda instructed before hanging up.
The inspector’s eyes glanced from Mr. Smith’s passport and impatiently waited for the screen to show the place where he would enter his password, one character at a time. But all he stared was the annoying bar flashing ever so slowly with the colorful words, ‘Windows 98’ spelled out in block letters. Inspector Hemant Gowda flipped through the passport and found that multiple pages had been stamped. Thailand, Greece, Spain, Bolivia. Mr. Smith seemed like a globetrotter. He wondered what was so great about the chain which this man was so keen on reacquiring. He had informed Rajshekar to track down Prasanna Gundappa and ensure that he got hold of this dastard chain that the firang seemed so keen on.
He had to keep things low and quiet. If the news spread about some marauding foreigner on the streets of Bangalore then the media circus would effectively end not just Hemant’s career. He also didn’t want Rajshekar calling up Vishwa Anna. He wanted to wrap things up neatly. He shuddered at the thought of Vishwa Anna.
Vishwa Anna had been a small time goon fifteen years ago. Some ambitious, quick thinking and brutal violence soon saw Vishwa Anna not only holding the post of a MP, but also substantial prime real estate around Commercial street and Hebbal. For the last two terms, he had stood uncontested from the Hennur Taluk. The money, the women, the power, the many children he had fathered over the years or the multiple cases of murder, rape, corruption had dimed the man’s bloodlust. Nothing got him excited than getting his fat fingers wrapped around the handle of a sickle. Nothing got a smile on the man’s face than watching the last breath leave a man’s mangled bloodied body. Vishwa Anna was a man you met before you knocked on the gates of heaven or hell. A man, Inspector Hemant Gowda wanted to avoid at all costs. It had been a good thing that Rajshekar had informed him about what he was planning on. But how was he to know that the stupid fuck was going to go around chopping a foreigner.
He had been smart enough to put two men on the gora’s tail even before he visited the hospital where Rajshekar and his men were admitted. The doctor on duty informed him that two men were still fighting for their life. Among those who were lucky to be still breathing, albeit with great difficulty. The litany of injuries ran for miles - broken larynx, ruptured knee cap, multiple broken bones, multiple cuts and abrasions. One was paralyzed from the neck down. The inspector had stopped listening midway while the doctor continued narrating from the thick wad of papers he held clutched in his hands.
‘Look saar! Look!’ Rajshekar beseeched the inspector. It was faintly comical as grown men winced and moaned on the metal hospital bed.
‘Tell Prasanna to come meet me. And he better have this stupid bracelet with him’ The inspector bent down and whispered his instructions into Rajshekar’s ear.
‘Chain saar!’ Rajshekar corrected the inspector. The inspector’s eyes narrowed sinisterly.
‘And if I get to know that Vishwa Anna knows about this then god help you and your newly wedded wife. I hear she likes fried fish and expensive whisky.’ The inspector smiled to offset the threat in his voice.
‘Sir! He got off at Mallaya Hospital. The woman and her kid have gone’ The constable informed the inspector.
‘Forget the woman and the kid. Keep your eyes on him’ The inspector instructed.
The man had waved Shivu and his mother goodbye. He noticed the Tata-Indica stopping few cars behind them. He quickly turned and entered the hospital reception. The two constables followed him inside. He slowed his walk for them to notice that he took the fire exit. The man quickly climbed up the stairs, followed loudly by the out of shape pot bellied men. Having climbed five floors, the man stopped and hid himself behind a column jutting out of the wall. The men stopped below to catch their breath, each urging the other to hurry up. The man rolled his eyes as he waited for his tail and checked his watch.
One constable stopped and turned, waiting for his partner to catch up with him. ‘Where do you think he is running to?’ he whispered his question. The man stepped out from his hiding place, his hand placed firmly under the constable’s chin, the other at the top of his head. He smiled as he looked at the constable huffing and puffing at the bottom of the stairs.
‘Your mobile phone!’ the man directed the constable in his grasp slowly down the stairs to where his colleague stood.
‘You are a fucking dead man’ The constable hissed as he pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket. The man quickly searched both their pockets. He pulled out their ID cards, mobile phones and wallets.
He karate chopped one on the neck and kicked the other right between his legs, before he ran up the stairs and took the elevator down.
He hit the button for basement in the elevator. As people got on and got off the elevator, he studied their IDs and drivers’ license. He got off the lift and stepped into the parking lot. Soon enough he found just the sort of vehicle he was searching for. A bike with the helmet clasped to the rearview mirror. He pulled out the knife from his socks, and placed the blade on the ignition lock. With his hand wrapped around the handle like a nail head, he thumped it till the lock gave way. He bent down under the handlebar, found the wire connected to the battery and hotwired the bike.
As he revved the bike, he turned his wrist to make note of the time.
He had twelve more hours to get the chain. Come thirteenth hour, he would find himself strapped to a first class seat on a flight headed to Lisbon. It was a good thing that the CRPF, the guys who were responsible for airport security were independent of the local cops. He checked his front pocket and felt the outline of his passport. And if anybody at customs inquired about the lack of baggage on him, he would just repeat the woe of the unlucky. ‘Airline lost his baggage.’
But first, the inspector, his only lead, a solid lead, and that’s all he needed.
‘Sir!’ The constable gasped for air as he stood leaning against the reception desk.
‘Who is this?’ the inspector barked into the phone.
‘Murthy sir!’ The constable answered.
‘What happened to your mobile?’
‘He…’ Murthy began to explain.
‘What the fuck! Why you calling me from your mobile now? Hold on’ The inspector spoke irritatedly into the phone.
‘Inspector? I have something you want’ The man spoke in a calm manner.
‘Where are you?’ The inspector questioned, he clenched his fists with anger. He wanted to bang it hard against the wooden desk.
‘I am at Prasanna’s house. You know the place. And I hope that when you come, you don’t come empty handed.’ The man hung up. The constable was still holding the other line open.
‘He fucking got away didn’t he? You fucking whores! All I asked you to do was fucking keep an eye on him. You useless pieces of shit!’ The inspector yelled loud enough for the receptionist to step back a little. The two constables looked at each other sheepishly as one massaged his neck.
The inspector cussed loud enough for the entire station to hear and be wary of him as he stepped out and motioned to his driver to get the Hoysala jeep out.
He got into the jeep and shouted at the driver to take him back to the hospital where Rajshekar and his men were admitted, when his phone buzzed again. He looked at the name flashing on the screen and cussed aloud again. The inspector held out his hand, motioning at the driver to stop for a moment. He continued to stare at the name on the screen and weighed the pros and cons of answering the call.
Somebody had snitched. Inspector banged his hand hard against the dashboard before pasting a wide smile on his phone and swiped across the screen to answer the phone.
‘Vishwa Anna! How are you? I was just thinking about you?’ The inspector gushed into the phone. The driver took his cue and immediately got off the jeep.
‘What inspector? You thought that my men will get admitted in a hospital and I won’t get to know about it? What is the motherfucking point of giving you money and free pussy? Huh?’ Vishwa Anna barked into the phone, his voice crude and raspy with years of smoking beedis.
‘I didn’t want to disturb you Anna! This is all small matter Anna!’ The inspector groveled.
‘Who is this man?’ Vishwa Anna demanded as he held aloft the chain in his hand and inspected the medallion on it, Prasanna sat squatted next to his feet.
‘Some foreigner Anna!’ The Inspector began explaining.
‘Then nobody will cry when he goes missing. Everyday some foreigner or the other goes missing. I keep reading it in the newspapers’ Vishwa Anna chuckled, Prasanna allowed himself to smile. Vishwa Anna kicked him hard, his white leather sandals planted right on Prasanna’s face.
‘What the fuck are you smiling at? You fucking whore’s son! All this is because of you! And you alone! I will deal with you later’ Vishwa Anna screamed at Prasanna who pushed himself away using his palms before clutching his cheeks. Prasanna wiped the corner of his mouth which had begun bleeding, the inside of his cheek had cut itself against his teeth.
‘Where can I find this man inspector? Give me a good reason to understand as to why I give you money’ Vishwa Anna demanded. Prasanna strained his eyes through his bushy eyebrows and looked at Vishwa Anna. Vishwa Anna was dressed in a crisp white shirt and white dhoti with matching leather sandals. His neck was covered with three thick chains of gold. His fat fingers covered in gold rings, each studded with a different stone. One look at Vishwa Anna and one realized that this is the man you don’t want to engage in a physical fight with. His eyes were bloodshot, his jowls heavy and hard. Vishwa Anna was what Prasanna imagined the devil looked like.
‘Wait there, I will be there in twenty minutes’ Vishwa Anna ordered as he hung up on the inspector. He turned his attention to Prasanna who still sat squatting on the floor.
‘You have a kid right?’ Vishwa Anna inquired benevolently.
‘A boy anna!’ Prasanna mumbled.
‘Che!’ Vishwa Anna shook his head with disappointment, ‘If you had a daughter then I could have written off your debt. What should I do with a boy?’ Vishwa Anna looked around at his coterie of loyal men.
‘Anna, Ramaiah anna likes them young.’ One of the cohorts spoke softly with a knowing smile.
‘Looks like you are lucky after all!’ Vishwa Anna’s belly shook like a water trapped in a canister.
‘No anna! Please’ Prasanna launched himself off the floor and on Vishwa Anna’s feet.
‘Ay!’ Vishwa Anna’s eyebrows frowned, his lips tightened as he pelted Prasanna with hard slaps, the rings on his hand made a clunking noise as they landed on Prasanna’s head. ‘Get off me!’ Vishwa Anna yelled. Couple of the men standing around Vishwa Anna jumped and pulled Prasanna away. One of the men slid his hands under Prasanna’s armpits, his fingers closing behind Prasanna’s neck. The others took turns at punching Prasanna hard in the gut and face.
‘Spoiled the crease in my dhoti’ Vishwa Anna commented as stood up to inspect his dhoti.
‘Anna! Please! Not my son! Please!!!’ Prasanna managed to cry aloud his pleas even as the blows rained hard and fast on him.
Vishwa Anna bent down and picked up the chain and inspected with the medallion on it. Like a loose thread hanging off a dupatta drying in the rainy breeze, Vishwa Anna flayed Prasanna’s face with the gold chain. Flesh split open upon contact with the auric metal, blood splashed on Vishwa Anna’s pristine white shirt and on the man holding Prasanna from behind.
‘I don’t like it when men cry’ Vishwa Anna stopped to catch his breath. He threw the chain at one his men who handed him a brand new white shirt and a towel to dry himself off. Having wiped himself off Prasanna’s blood, Vishwa Anna asked for the chain again. The medallion had split open like ripe pistachio nut. One half of the medallion held a photo of a pretty young woman and the other half held the picture of a young boy.
Vishwa Anna smiled to himself as he clasped the chain with the medallion around his own neck.
The bike put-puted at the signal. The LED board about the red signal suggested another 190 seconds before it turned green. He maneuvered his bike between a school bus and an auto in the traffic. He looked at the auto driver and smiled. The auto driver, unaware of the man and his antics the day before turned his head away.
‘Uncle? Uncle?’ The man heard a soft innocent voice calling out to him. He turned his head around and saw a bunch of kids sticking their heads outside their school bus window.
‘Which country?’ The kid questioned as the others giggled and continued staring at the man with big toothy smiles. The man smiled back but the smile didn’t reach his eyes, neither did he answer the kid’s question.
His mind flashed images, he tried shaking his head clear of them, but his memory had already started playing the movie. A movie he had put the end title in the hotel room with a definitive bullet.
Eleven men jumped over the side of the dingy boat with their rucksacks and AK-47s slung over their shoulders. They quickly made their ashore on Israeli coast of Lebanon. A woman yelled and shouted in an American accent, calling out to her husband. Her screams were silenced along with that of her husband with a quick burst of gunfire. The men quickly got rid of their wet suits, and jogged up to the coastal highway. The men were members of Fatah, the militant arm of PLO. Fatah group had gained international prominence when they carried out the brutal Black September Massacre.
They moment their feet touched the concrete highway, they opened fire. The bullets caught the sides of passing traffic. One of the taxis ferrying its passengers from Juniyah to the town of Jubayl skidded to a halt as the driver reacted to the distinctive sound of gunfire. Three men ran towards the taxi, spraying bullets like gardener sprays water from a hose. The pushed and pulled the bodies out and commandeered the taxi.
One of the armed men, having crossed the highway positioned himself at a convenient location giving him unfettered view of the long stretch of road. He was the only one who preferred the American M-40 with the mounted scope. He lay flat on his belly, his eye firmly placed behind the telescopic sight as he picked his target. His first was a teenager seated in the backseat of a car, gesticulating wildly and worriedly at his parents in the front car. He gently squeezed the trigger. Moments later, the teenager slumped in his seat. The rear window resembled a mural made out of spaghetti and tomato sauce.
Seven men got aboard a school bus, carrying 36 school children and three teachers. The men shot the bus driver at point blank range before throwing his body overboard.
The eleven men had an open brief.
The objective was to thwart the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks due the following week.
The man was in-charge of overseeing security for the talks. He sat in his office going through the Hotel American Colony’s blueprint. Marking the ins and out. He lit a cigarette and closed his eyes, imagining himself in the shoes of a possible attacker. Yvet ran into his office, sadness and anger streaming down his eyes.
‘Aaliyah and Jonah!’ Yvet mouthed the names as the man watched him take support of the doorway before slumping on the floor and breaking down.
The man switched on the TV set sitting in the corner of his room. The news showed Israeli police cars chasing a school bus as the bus bulldozed its way through the roadblocks. The man managed to read the name of the school painted on the side of the bus despite the blurry images flashing on the screen.
‘Yehowah!’ The man silently exclaimed as he grabbed the corner of the TV set and crouched on the floor, willing the TV to change reality. The chain with the medallion swayed around his neck, tinkling as it hit the TV screen, joining him in his prayers.
March 14, 1988. The 11 armed men took the lives of 51 Israelis – including 27 children and wounded 83. In the final firefight, which ensued between the seven men aboard the school bus and the Israeli police, the bus burst into flames and exploded as one of the grenades slipped from the bloodied hands of one of the men inside the bus.
27 years later, the man who concocted the plan, the man who financed the operation lay gunned down in a hotel room number 614, in Bangalore. The death had brought closure to a three decade long pain. It was meant to be the man’s last mission.
He was giving up everything after this mission. All his years in training, everything he knew. The world it seemed to him, wasn’t done with him. He heard the voice of Al Pacino in his head yell, ‘Right when I was out… They pull me back in!’
‘Nice bike’ the schoolboy complimented the man.
‘Fuck off kid!’ The man spat out as he revved the bike and shot through the traffic as the LED counter counted down 3…2…1 and the lights changed from amber to green.
‘I need a favor saar’ The inspector beseeched the person he was speaking to over the phone.
‘What is it this time Gowda?’ The speaker on the other end of the satellite call spoke in anglicized English. His tone ruing the day he had to get his no-good son out of a DUI. The two men, the inspector and he had been classmates back in Mandya.
‘I need the number of that fellow you know’ Inspector continued with his pleading tone.
‘Which fellow Gowda? I don’t have time for this. I am in the middle of something here’ he replied as he excused himself with a smile from the group of Japanese men dressed in a sharp business he sat in the midst of. He buttoned his jacket and motioned to the steward to get another round of expensive whisky for the Japanese gentlemen. He tilted his head ever so slightly towards the young woman he was seated beside him to engage the Japs. He watched her slide into his chair and run her manicured fingers up one of the Japs’ thighs.
‘This better be fucking good Gowda, because if this deal tanks then I am going to fuck you till you bleed tears out of your ass’ The man broke into chaste Kannada as he admonished the inspector.
‘I need the number of the CBI fellow. The one you gifted the escalate car to’
‘Escalade! Not escalate. And what have you got yourself into?’ The man scowled before turning his back, a big smile etched on his face and mimed ‘two minutes’ with his raised hand to the bored Japanese men who were whispering to each other in loud hushed tones.
‘Vishwa Anna’ Inspector explained. The name held enough gravitas for the man to acknowledge that the call was warranted.
‘Fine! I am texting his number and I will tell him to help you out with whatever you need.’ The man replied with resignation. ‘But this is going to be last fucking favor I do for you Gowda. You and me are done. You understand me?’ The man added.
‘Thanks maga’ The inspector smiled as he hung up. He was still seated in the white Mahindra Scorpio with the red and blue stripes down its side popularly referred to as Hoysala. His phone buzzed. His lips spread in a sigh of relief, with hope. He tapped his phone screen twice and held the phone next to his ear. He pushed open the car door and stepped out. He heard the phone ringing on the other end of the line, he prompted for the driver to give him a cigarette. The driver did his bidding. The ringing stopped, and a weak male voice answered the phone.
‘Hello, Mr. Chakravarthy?’ Inspector Gowda inquired.
‘Chakraborthy… Buh… Not vuh…’ The bespectacled man pushed back against his chair and closed the browser window with two women cavorting each other on his desktop.
‘Yes. This is Inspector Gowda, I hope our mutual friend…’ The inspector began explaining before being abrupting cut short.
‘Yes. Tell me what do you want, and tell abour frand he and I are done.’ The man spoke, his heavy Bengali mother tongue twisting and turning his tongue to speak in a language he considered his inheritance.
‘I have a passport. His name John Smith, I want you to take the passport number down. And I want to know everything you can get’ Inspector Gowda explained as he pulled out Mr. Smith’s passport from his breast shirt pocket.
‘I am listening’ the CBI man tapped few keys on his keyboard, double clicked on the proprietary Central Bureau of Investigation’s software. The software linked all the databases shared by Intelligence Bureau, the Indian equivalent to United States Homeland Security, United Kingdom’s MI5 and the Research & Analysis Wing, the Indian equivalent to United States CIA and United Kingdom’s MI6. He waited as he heard cloth and paper rustling on the other end of the line.
Inspector Gowda held his mobile phone between his cheek and shoulder as he tried keeping the page away from the thick cardboard cover.
‘184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.1’ Inspector Gowda narrated the passport number.
‘What’s the authority code’ the Bengali man inquired as his fingers quickly pushed down on the number pad on his keyboard.
‘Ah yes!’ Inspector Gowda exclaimed as he spotted the code on the passport. ‘U for You. K for Kangaroo. P for paisa. A for Apple’.
‘That’s the press corp’ Chakravarty explained as he waited for the computer to spew out the results.
‘What does that mean?’ the inspector wanted to know.
‘It means that the man you are looking for is a journalist. But then again a lot of people are journalist. Them and their blogs and facebook posts.’ The man half heartedly explained as he waited for the sand timer to stop turning and change its shape back to a pointer. The screen turned blue, with two words written in big block letters in black flashing across his screen every second.
‘Access restricted: 753’
‘Aaga’ Mr. Charkravarthy cussed under his breath. This wasn’t normal. He looked at the code, ‘753’. He hadn’t come across this code in all his thirty one years of experience. Something didn’t sit right.
‘Hello?’ The inspector inquired, wondering if his man in CBI was still on the other line or if the connection had dropped out. He was after making what he presumed to be an STD call. Inspector Gowda prided himself to be as old school as they came, much to his teenage son and daughter’s embarrassment.
‘Yes, yes. How soon do you bhaant this?’ The CBI man inquired as he continued staring at the computer screen. This was a puzzle he could put his esoteric Bengali brain behind.
‘The sooner the better sir, I am in how they say in English, in a of fix’ Inspector Gowda smiled vacuously at his reflection in the Hoysala’s tinted glasses.
‘Okay, give me half an hour, I bill call you back’ Said the CBI man before he hung up. He called out to his assistant and instructed him to bring him the big instruction manual he hadn’t seen or read in over two years.
‘Seven pi three’ Mr. Chakravarthy muttered under his breath.
‘Nanna helu tinnu baa! Half an hour!’ Inspector Gowda cussed under his breath, inviting the arrogant Bengali man to come eat his shit.
‘Sir? Shall we go?’ The driver inquired.
‘Go? Go fucking where?’ The inspector scowled and spat the question at the poor unsuspecting driver in frustration.
As he flung the spent cigarette butt against the side of the car and watched the embers split from the butt, a neural pathway in his old school brain lit up. He quickly pulled his phone out of his pocket and scrolled down the list of called numbers till he found Rajshekar’s number. He waited till his phone was answered.
‘Where did Prasanna say he dropped the girl last night?’ The inspector jumped his question, this was no time for foreplay.
‘Acropolees, the big building next to Forum mall’ Rajshekar wheezed his response.
Charkravarthy’s phone buzzed, like a fly caught inside a car with its windows rolled up. His beady eyes glistened with the black and white text flashing before his eyes as he frantically tapped the keys on his keyboard. The manual which lay spread beside his terminal didn’t list any error code numbered ‘753’.
‘Sir?’ The wiry kid dressed in ill fitted hand stitched clothes stuck his head through the door.
‘Haram jada!’ Charkravarthy cussed as he opened his eyes as wide as they could, trying to summon all the telekinetic powers needed to incinerate the man standing in front of him.
‘Bhaat?’ he barked at the kid who stood perplexed, with thick beads of sweat rolling down his back.
‘Sir, your phone?’ The young man pointed towards the blinking 3.7 inch phone screen. The assistant just paused long enough for his boss to shift his angry eyes from him and look at his phone.
‘Hello?’ Charkravarthy barked into the phone.
‘Mr. Charkravarthy?’ The voice on the other end of the phone was both electronic in its tone and muffled in its volume.
‘Yes?’ Charkravarthy knew an authoritative tone in someone’s voice even in his sleep. And this was definitely authoritative voice on the phone speaking to him.
‘Step away from your computer!’ The muffled electronic voice on the other end of the phone line instructed the now visibly nervous Bangla man.
‘Move! Move! Move! Move! Move!’
Charkravarthy heard the command being barked, not from the phone but from outside his office. Black uniformed guards put his poor assistant in a stronghold as Charkravarthy stared at the opening of a gun barrel.
Charkravarthy’s reflexes kicked in as he put his hands behind his head and waited for further instructions. His sub-consciousness had registered enough action movies his teenage sons watched for his body to respond accordingly to the situation. He strained his eyes and looked beyond his bushy eyebrows and saw a tall angular faced man pushing his phone back into his pocket.
‘At ease!’ The man commanded the armed guards surrounding Charkravarthy.
‘Mr. Charkravarthy?’ The angular faced man questioned as he seated himself on the other side of the table.
‘Yes.’ Charkravarthy replied, his bottom lip quivered as his mind tried to settle the bet between flight and fight.
‘My name is Shankar Vaidyanathan. And I am from Intelligence Bureau’ The man with the clean shaven angular face introduced himself. He didn’t extend his hand forward neither did he join them together in a Namaste. Charkravarthy’s lower lip stopped quivering.
‘You know what annoys me on early Sunday evening?’ Shankar posed the rhetoric question.
‘Getting called to take care of business. Though I must say that I much prefer doing this than listening to my son practice playing the violin.’ Shankar smiled as he slipped his hands into his pant pockets. Charkravarthy’s eyes followed Shankar’s hands and saw him pulling a cigarette case.
‘You smoke?’ Shankar snapped open the cigarette case and offered it to Charkravarthy who suspiciously pulled a singular cigarette out of the neatly lined case. ‘Of course you do. I am sure that you have many questions running through your head. Such as, who am I? What am I doing in your office? Who are these armed men?’ Shankar paused long enough to light his cigarette. Charkravarthy leaned forward with the cigarette cupped between his lips.
‘Like I said I am Shankar Vaidyanathan from IB and these men are, well they are armed and trigger happy’ Shankar chuckled as he coughed up smoke caught in his lungs. ‘The rea…’ He coughed some more.
‘The reason I am in your office right now is because you ran a check on a passport number UKPA 306785881’