Akhbir Singh Mann, aka Axeman stopped short as he entered the passage that led to the corner where the lift stood—he had suddenly smelt a hint of a fruity women’s perfume that lingered in the passage. An expensive fragrance such as this was alien to the environs of the building that housed middle-class Gujarati families, who were generally conservative when it came to using aromatics. He covered the last few steps to the end of the passage on tiptoe and peeked around the wall. A slender girl was waiting in front of the collapsible grill of the lift shaft, her designer leather handbag and matching leather high heels making it clear to him that she was the source of the expensive scent. She had her back to him and was engaged in the activity of punching the lift button again and again in the hope that the decades-old lift would make its way down. Akhbir’s eyes scanned her from head to toe—the thick strands of her streaked hair rested on her shoulders in the most perfect bunch of curls he had ever seen. Although she was wearing a salwar kameez, the cut could only be described as ‘sexy’. The top was fitted to enhance the contours of her body and flared just the right amount at the hips to encase her rear in a most alluring manner. Akhbir felt a familiar stirring in his loins.
He pulled himself up to his full height and puffed out his chest. Satisfied that he looked his best, he walked out of the passage and towards the lift. When the girl heard the shuffle of his feet and turned to look at him, Akhbir realized that he had been right about the cut of the dress: the plunging V-shaped neckline gave a clear view of the girl’s ample cleavage. Lingering long enough on it to get an eyeful, his eyes moved to the girl’s face. The playful smile at the corner of her mouth and the twinkle in her eye conveyed that she knew where his eyes had been, and that she was okay with it. Rapidly scanning his brain for the various options he had for an opening line, Akhbir finally chose, ‘The lift gets stuck if you press the button too many times.’
The girl stopped punching the button immediately and replied, ‘Sorry, I didn’t know.’
Akhbir smiled. ‘That’s okay. It’s your first time here, isn’t it?’
She gave him a curious look. ‘How did you know?’
Akhbir shrugged. ‘You didn’t know about the lift button.’
The girl giggled in response. ‘Oh, of course. How silly of me.’ Her eyes locked themselves with Akhbir’s. By now, Akhbir was just a few feet away from her and for the first time, he saw that her features were vaguely north-eastern.
‘Have I seen you before?’ he asked.
A hint of mischief played across the girl’s face. ‘Maybe at the SuperTrance nightclub. I’m a hostess there.’ She reached into a pocket, took out a colourful card and offered it to Akhbir. He took it, suddenly realizing that the girl was trying to connect with him. She then continued, ‘Although you might not recognize me there.’
She pointed at herself and giggled. ‘I don’t wear such conservative clothes at the nightclub.’
He smiled back at her while trying not to look back down at her ample cleavage again. The sudden sound of the lift starting on its way down to the ground floor distracted him. As it arrived, he eagerly pushed aside the collapsible grill and ushered the girl inside.
‘Top,’ she replied.
He punched the button that said sixth and then turned to her. ‘You’ll have to press the button for the seventh after I get off; this lift has its own rules.’
She smiled back and they lapsed into an awkward silence. After a minute, she said, ‘So you live on the sixth floor?’
He nodded. Desperate to continue the conversation, Akhbir asked the only question he could think of: ‘Have you come to meet a friend?’
She looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘Yes, but I can be your friend, too.’
This time he stuttered as he said, ‘Mmm…my name is Akhbir Singh Mann.’ He stopped himself from using his trademark line. Something told him that this girl was different. She smiled, her perfect white teeth between her full lips looking extremely inviting. The cupid’s bow of her upper lip was begging to be kissed.
‘Would you like to sample some lipstick off my lips?’ she asked with a knowing smile. Before he could reply, the lift arrived at the sixth floor with a loud thunk. They stood staring at each other, the lift humming, waiting for its doors to be opened. ‘I’ve got a few minutes before I go up to my friend’s flat,’ she said, her eyes locked with his. Without another word, he leaned towards her, but as soon as his lips touched hers, the lift’s call button began to buzz. She leaned away, distracted and conscious all of a sudden. He pushed open the collapsible grill and stepped on to the sixth floor, and she followed him without a word.
As soon as he shut the lift’s door, it was called down. He held her hand and began to lead her down the passage towards his small rented flat. As they walked past the staircase, he glanced down the shaft and his eyes chanced upon something on the ground floor. He froze. A man wearing camouflage fatigues was standing on the ground floor with a 9mm carbine in his hand, ready for attack. Akhbir swivelled around and looked at the girl.
‘You bitch! You’re with the police.’
The girl stopped, looking confused. ‘What! I don’t understand?’ The surprise in her eyes was entirely believable but Akhbir didn’t want to stand around talking.
He rushed away from the girl and ran up to his door, rummaging in his pocket for the key. From the corner of his eye, he saw that the girl was still standing in the passage, busy fiddling with the zip of her handbag. He finally pulled out his key and inserted it into the lock. In the background, he could hear the hum of the lift riding up the building. He was just moments away from entering his apartment. As he turned the key in the lock, he heard the click-clack of heels behind him. ‘Damn that chick!’ he cursed, turning to face her.
He swivelled on his feet and saw the girl leap towards him, knife in hand. On instinct, he moved to the right and that move saved his life. The long shining blade missed his heart, slicing the side of his shoulder and embedding itself in the door. Blood spurted from his wound and the girl’s leaping body slammed into him as she was thrown off balance because of his sudden change in position. He pushed her away and opened the door with his uninjured arm. As she fell away from him, her hair flew off her head and landed in a heap on the floor. With a shock, Akhbir realized that she was wearing a wig. The girl leapt to her feet again with the agility of an alley cat, but before she could lunge at him once more, he opened the door and jumped into his flat, slamming the door behind him. Knowing she only had a couple of minutes to get away from the scene, the girl quickly grabbed the knife’s handle, extricated it from the door and shoved it into her bag. She then scooped up the wig and pulled it back on her head. Turning on her heels, she ran to the staircase and rushed up to the seventh floor just as the lift laden with Virkar and two armed police commandos arrived on the sixth.