It was a moonlit night, just the kind Virkar loved whenever he was out on the Koli Queen. As he sat on his preferred seat at the back of the deck aboard his favourite fishing boat, he felt the tension in his muscles dissipating. He was looking forward to the few hours of alone time that the boat ride would give him. He could hear Peter Koli’s shouted instructions mixed with the phut-phut-phut of the boat’s engine as it made its way out of the harbour. Soon, all sounds receded into the background and Virkar was alone, accompanied by his three favourite things: millions of stars in the sky above him, a kilogram of Jinga Koliwada and four bottles of Godfather beer by his side.
The day had been rough. He had left Usman Teacher without a clue as to how he was going to make good on his promise to get Usman’s case transferred to the CBI. He knew that he couldn’t ask any of his colleagues or his superiors for the fear of getting himself embroiled in an inquiry or becoming the target of interdepartmental rivalry. There were too many people gunning for Usman Teacher and Virkar did not want to get caught in the crossfire. In times like these, Virkar had found that there was only one person that he could turn to—retired Justice Joseph D’Gama, who had lent him a helping hand and extricated him from a couple of prickly situations in the past. Justice D’Gama had a soft corner for policemen and his number of years in the legal field had given him the knowledge that well-meaning policemen sometimes needed to do some fancy footwork to get their jobs done. He was also an expert in finding legal loopholes that policemen could jump through to reach their goals.
But as he was parking his Bullet outside Justice D’Gama’s ancient house in Matharpacady, Mazagaon, he received a call from Sub-Inspector Naik, his trusted subordinate whom he had sent to watch over Usman Teacher. Naik had dropped a bombshell: Usman Teacher had been taken ill and moved to J.J. Hospital before Naik had even reached the Jagtap Circle lock-up. Virkar had barked instructions to Naik, asking him to rush to J.J. Hospital. He himself had turned his Bullet in the direction of J.J. and had made it there within fifteen minutes. But when he reached the hospital, he had come to know that Usman Teacher was in the ICU and was being given emergency revival treatment as he had suffered a massive cardiac arrest. Virkar’s own heart had sunk really low, knowing that he would not see Usman alive again. And sure enough, after three hours of waiting, Usman Teacher was declared dead.
Virkar had found out that after he had left that morning, Usman had had his breakfast, immediately after which he had asked to be taken to the bathroom. But halfway there, he had crumpled and fallen to the floor. At first, the constable accompanying him had assumed that Usman had just fainted but he soon noticed that Usman wasn’t breathing and his face was drained of all colour. The doctor called on the scene had found that Usman had a blocked coronary artery that had spasmed, causing his heart to go into ventricular fibrillation. The thought of asking the doctor to conduct a post-mortem of the contents of Usman’s stomach to check the presence of any sort of poison that could have brought on the heart attack crossed Virkar’s mind, but he checked himself in time. There was no bringing Usman back. The thing to do now was to disassociate himself from the situation, unless he wanted to meet a similar fate.
Virkar had headed to the Crime Branch Headquarters with a story ready, in case he was brought in to the inquiry that would follow. He would now have to watch every little step of his, knowing that he would come under the scanner since he had met Usman just a short while before he had died. As he entered the office, he decided to take the bull by the horns. He walked straight into ACP Wagh’s cabin and told him everything that Usman had said. He just left out the small part where Usman had insisted that his case be transferred to the CBI, as he was scared for his life. ACP Wagh was a veteran at handling such situations and had asked Virkar to write a full report and file it immediately so that everyone was aware that Virkar had met Usman Teacher before his death. This report would ensure that Virkar, through his actions, had nothing to hide, and even though people might suspect that Usman Teacher had given Virkar some information that could be potentially harmful to them, Virkar was only interested in his own case. Virkar would be seen as a team player and a potential crisis would be averted.
Virkar had spent the day writing out the report and filing it, all the while making sure that he avoided answering any questions that came his way. He had even avoided Naina’s calls during the day, knowing that he needed to focus on saving his skin rather than indulge in thoughts of sex. As he had left that evening, though, he had called Naina and told her all that had transpired. She had asked him to come over, but he had decided against it—the Anti-Social Network needed his urgent attention, as did Sagarika. Making an excuse, he had headed towards Ferry Wharf after picking up his favourite food and alcohol.
Now out on the open sea, as he lay on the bench on the deck of the Koli Queen and gazed up at the stars, a plethora of thoughts rushed through his head. By now, Usman’s waiter khabri would have got the news of Usman’s demise and would have dropped off the face of the earth. He was back to square one, but he had something to go by—the mysterious Anti-Social Network Usman had mentioned. Who were the two girls involved in the group along with Kshitij and Rajesh? Were they Sagarika and Nayantara? Who was the boy in the video on Rajesh’s iPod?
Somewhere between the hundreds of thoughts swimming about in his head, Virkar began to drift into sleep, his tired body now begging for rest. But not before the final question of the evening popped into his mind: Twinkle twinkle little star, kyon meri lagti hai baar baar?