The Magen David Synagogue is a one-storeyed structure with Victorian character. Its four tall frontal pillars and clock tower ensure that the synagogue is the most imposing building in its area. The B.E.S.T bus stop number 1120 is located on the main road that passes in front of the synagogue. Small stalls and shop fronts line the pavement, conducting swift business with the passers-by.
Adarsh Footwear Repairs across the road from the bus stop was one such shop. In truth, it was a small 4×4 mochi’s shop that had managed to hang on despite the Municipal Corporation’s demolition drives. Virkar had been crouched inside the tight space among the shoes and chappals with Adarsh Ravidas Mochi, the owner of the shop, for almost four hours now, staring at the bus stop and closely observing every passenger that got on or off the buses that stopped there. Virkar was used to the long wait and the frustration that accompanied surveillance but Adarsh was unfortunately not used to it. He was getting fairly antsy and Virkar was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea after all.
Although he had Akhbir’s photograph and Delnaz’s information, Virkar had decided not to immediately rush off to his colleagues at the Crime Branch. He was not entirely convinced about the whole Internet extortion racket run by a group of young college kids. In his years of dealing with criminals, Virkar had seen all kinds of devious minds but the current set of circumstances seemed too far-fetched, even to him. He wondered whether it was because he was a little out of touch with the latest developments in technology or because he believed that these kinds of brutal crimes were generally committed by older people. Young minds could not be so corrupt, he had said to Naina who had been urging him to bring in his team and grab Akhbir, aka Axeman.
‘How can we be sure he even exists?’ Virkar had continued, finally driving Naina to the point of frustration. She had walked off, accusing him of not believing Richard’s and Delnaz’s information because they were youngsters. As a parting shot, she had said that he would have been rushing into action if the same information had been given to him by someone like Usman Teacher. As Virkar sat staring at the buses that swung to him by the bus stop, he wondered if there was an element of truth in Naina’s statement.
The thirty-third bus of the morning had just arrived and left when Virkar felt that his bladder needed emptying. He glanced at his watch; it was nearly 3 p.m. He had been sitting at the mochi shop for six hours. Moreover, although he had had some lunch brought in by Adarsh, he had not taken a loo break. Surveillance activity is normally is done in twos, where one partner backs up the other whenever such breaks are needed. However, since Virkar was by himself on this one, he decided to trust Adarsh’s abilities for the five minutes that it would take him to walk and relieve himself at the nearby corner khopcha used for such activities. Leaving Adarsh with Akhbir’s photo and crossing his fingers, Virkar strode towards the khopcha, thankful for the opportunity to stretch his legs. He reached the corner of the road and turned into the ruined shop front that lead to the small open space behind that served a public urinal. The overpowering stench of ammonia hit his nostrils. He chose the least smelly corner and reached for his zipper. Suddenly he heard the shuffle of feet behind him. A slim figure lined himself up next to Virkar and began to unzip to relieve himself. Virkar was a little irritated at having been disturbed and couldn’t help throwing an annoyed look at his temporary neighbour.
He froze. Even though he had changed his hairstyle, Virkar recognized Akhbir, aka. Axeman’s angular-jawed face. Virkar’s instinct was to lunge at him but he forced himself to consider all his options, quickly concluding that it would be better to follow Akhbir to his house in the hope of capturing his other associates. Hence, Virkar finished up his act and zipped himself up. Turning his back on Akhbir, he turned and walked out of the khopcha. Outside on the pavement, he walked to a shop close by and began to display a keen interest in its wares while keeping one eye on the entrance of the khopcha. A few minutes later, Akhbir emerged and walked past Virkar without casting so much as a glance at him. After Akhbir had walked about fifteen feet past him, Virkar began to follow him.
Akhbir walked through the streets to a small Iranian restaurant where he ordered a chai. Meanwhile, Virkar hung around outside, watching Akhbir savour kharis with his Irani chai. Fifteen minutes later, he was on the move again, walking through the small Byculla back lanes until finally heading towards a shabby old seven-storeyed building.
Virkar lingered at the corner of the by-lane, watching Akhbir’s movements when, suddenly, Akhbir stopped as if he had become aware of something. Virkar tensed, thinking he had been spotted. But Akhbir just turned around and walked to a paan-bidi shop across the road. Virkar heaved a sigh of relief. He watched Akhbir take a packet of cigarettes from the shopkeeper, wave and walk away without paying for it. Virkar smiled, realizing that Akhbir ran an account at the paan-bidi shop, and that meant that the shop owner would have a lot of details about Akhbir, his associates and his comings and goings. When Akhbir finally walked into the building, Virkar reached for his cell phone and dialled the number of the Mumbai Police Flying Squad. To his good fortune, a two-man team of the special motorcycle-borne police commandos was in the vicinity and they said that they would be with him in the next few minutes.