‘My name is Akhbir Singh Mann, but kudis like you call me Axeman,’ Delnaz finished her sentence and then stared at Virkar, waiting for his response.
‘Those were his exact words?’ he asked.
‘Yes, Inspector, I remember quite clearly.’
Naina, who was sitting beside Virkar at their table at a coffee shop, spoke for the first time. ‘Please don’t mind our questions, Delnaz. We just want to be sure of everything because there are a lot of lives at stake.’
Delnaz’s lips curled into an irritated pout. ‘Look, ma’am, I remember this quite well because of the way he said it, you know, with a Punjabi accent? He was totally VTD.’
Virkar looked confused.‘VTD?’
‘Vernac Trying Dudegiri.’
Virkar sat back, not entirely satisfied with Delnaz’s explanation, but then he had nothing else to go by. It had been two days since he had worked out an arrangement with Richard, which now leaned entirely in Richard’s favour. Richard had gone off for a week-long vacation in Goa. Of course, all expenses for this vacation were borne by Virkar and Naina from their meagre salaries, but Richard couldn’t care less about that. In fact, he took great pleasure in sending regular SMSs to Virkar and Naina telling them about the great time he was having. Meanwhile, all SMSs from Virkar seeking more information about the Anti-Social Network had gone unanswered…until that morning, when Virkar had received a short SMS from Richard:
There is a girl called Delnaz Motiwala who lives in Nana Chowk. You need to speak to her.
Since no further information was forthcoming despite his best efforts to contact Richard, Virkar swallowed his anger and proceeded to seek out Delnaz. Not wanting to alarm her, he had used Naina as an intermediary to arrange a meeting with Delnaz at a coffee shop in Tardeo. At the prearranged time, a young, voluptuous, good-looking girl walked into the coffee shop. She was wearing clothes that bordered on skimpy, and all eyes were on her as she sauntered up to Virkar and Naina’s table. Virkar had found himself tongue-tied with embarrassment as Delnaz sat down, displaying her ample cleavage to all and sundry.
Before he could gather his wits, Delnaz began, ‘Inspector Virkar, I hope you will keep your end of the bargain.’
Virkar was stumped. In his head, he cursed Richard for having put him in this situation without any prior information. Thankfully, Naina came to his rescue. ‘Delnaz, just so that everything is absolutely clear, please tell us, what is your understanding of the bargain?’
Delnaz rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. ‘That I will tell you about the guy and you will tell no one about my “Chalu Girls Network”.’ Virkar was still struck dumb but nodded in response. He didn’t even want to know what the ‘Chalu Girls Network’ was.
Delnaz wasn’t satisfied with just a nod. ‘Inspector Virkar, do you agree to the terms?’ she asked again.
Virkar opened his mouth and a hoarse ‘yes’ tumbled out. Satisfied with his response, Delnaz leaned closer. Her cleavage now became extremely distracting for him but since he knew that Naina’s eyes were watching him carefully, Virkar made it a point to keep his own eyes carefully around the region of Delnaz’s nose.
Delnaz’s then continued, her tone growing conspiratorial. ‘Well, a couple of weeks ago, this guy inboxed me on my network with his photograph. He looked pretty hot, you know, with the chiselled, Italian kind of looks, so I sent him one of my DPs, too—display picture, Inspector,’ she explained, responding to Virkar’s confused look. ‘Anyway, then he sends me a semi-nude photo, you know, with a lot of butt showing. He had a nice butt. So I sent him a similar picture of mine. Next thing I know, this guy calls me. How the fuck did he get my number? Anyway, he looked cute in his pictures, so I talked to him, even though he had a total vernac accent. Then he asked to meet me. So I said, cool lets meet at Yoyo’s, you know, at Chowpatty? He lands up there and the first thing he says is, “My name is Akhbir Singh Mann, but the kudis like you call me Axeman.” I was so turned off that I got up and left then and there.’
As Delnaz paused to catch a breath, Virkar and Naina caught each other’s eye, confused. ‘So you want to hear the rest of it?’ Delnaz asked and continued before they could respond. ‘A couple of days later, he inboxes me the picture of my ass and says that he belongs to the Anti-Social Network and if I don’t pay him ten thousand bucks, he’d put my picture all over the Internet.’
Naina grew excited. ‘So what did you do?’
Delnaz smirked. ‘I sent him a topless picture of myself and told him to put that one up.’ Naina’s jaw dropped as Delnaz added, ‘That one was all over the Internet, anyway.’
Virkar coughed in response. Naina raised an eyebrow at him, but his face showed no emotion as he asked, ‘So what happened then?’
‘Nothing. No response. Zilch. He never got back to me. But I sent out his DP to the girls on my network, warning them against him.’
‘You mean the “Chalu Girls Network”?’ asked Virkar.
Delnaz nodded. ‘Yes, the network you’ll never tell anyone anything about.’
Virkar smiled. ‘Yes, I won’t. That’s a promise.’
Delnaz opened her voluminous handbag and extracted a crisp, folded white paper and pushed in on the table towards Virkar. ‘That’s a printout of his DP.’
Virkar unfolded the paper and saw a high quality picture of a young, well-built guy with Punjabi good looks.
‘Thanks so much, Delnaz,’ said Naina, indicating that the meeting was over, but Delnaz wasn’t in the mood to leave.
‘Don’t you guys want to hear the best part?’
‘What?’ asked Virkar, surprised that there was more.
‘A few days ago, one of my girls spotted the asshole.’
‘Where?’ This time it was Naina who broke in.
‘Mr Axeman tried to chat her up on the bus on her way back from college. Can you believe it he used the same line? “My name is Akhbir Singh Mann, but kudis like you call me Axeman.” Please, how about some variety? Anyway, my friend says he lives somewhere in her neighbourhood in Byculla.’
‘How does she know that?’ Virkar asked.
‘She saw him getting off the bus. Of course, she isn’t a despo to have followed him so she doesn’t know where he lives exactly.’
Virkar smiled, unable to believe he had finally caught a break in his case. ‘One last thing, what bus stop did your friend first see him at?’ he asked her.
‘Near the Jewish Synagogue bus stop.’
‘You’ve been very helpful, Delnaz.’ Virkar’s smile grew broader. Delnaz got up from the table and walked out of the coffee shop with all eyes once following her swinging hips once again as she glided towards the door. Virkar, who had receded into his thoughts, was suddenly pulled out of them by Naina’s sharp voice. ‘Seen enough?’
Virkar was confused. ‘I don’t know. What do you mean?’
‘Seriously?’ said Naina in disbelief. ‘You were thinking while your eyes were on her butt?’
‘No, I…I…no…’ he sputtered, getting red in the face. Naina got up from her seat abruptly and flounced out of the coffee shop. Virkar followed a little sheepishly, trying not to pay attention to the titters of laughter around him.