The old seven-storeyed building in Byculla had been built in the expansion boom of the mid-1960s. It aped the Art Deco style of the buildings on Marine Drive and Back Bay Reclamation, and although the building had now gone to seed, it still retained most of the quirks that were signature to that architectural style. The most important of these was the garbage chute that ran down from the seventh floor to the garbage refuse area on the ground floor. The entry to the chute was situated in a small foyer that could be accessed through the kitchen door at the back of each small apartment.
Virkar stood in front of the metal chute on the sixth floor. Crinkling his nose to avoid inhaling the fumes of the rotting garbage, he popped his head into the chute, hoping to see Akhbir Singh Maan, aka Axeman, somewhere down the chute. But the Axeman was long gone.
Virkar and the police commandos had knocked on his door, asking him to open up. Getting no response, they had decided to break down the door with a combination of hard kicks and full body lunges. The door had finally come off its hinges, but approximately twelve precious minutes had been lost by then. Axeman was nowhere to be found. A trail of blood droplets led to the kitchen door and further through to the back foyer, which was open, leading Virkar to come to the quick conclusion that Axeman had used the garbage chute to make his escape. Now, looking down the chute, Virkar closely examined the iron rungs fitted into the wall that helped a cleaner go up and down the passage. A spattering of blood on one of the iron rungs confirmed his suspicions. Virkar now hoped that the Axeman’s injury would perhaps constrain him enough for them to catch up with him.
By now, a police party from the local police station had arrived at the scene and were waiting for orders. Virkar withdrew his head from the chute and grabbed a walkie-talkie from a constable standing behind him. ‘He’s bleeding. The injury is perhaps on the upper part of the body. Look for a man wearing a blood-stained shirt,’ Virkar barked into the walkie-talkie.
‘Yes, sir,’ the voice of a policeman positioned at the entrance of the building crackled back at Virkar. Virkar turned the device off and began to walk back into the flat when he caught sight of something colourful lying near the opening of the chute. He bent down to pick it up and realized that it was the visiting card of someone called Philo Garlosa from SuperTrance Nightclub in Lower Parel. It could be something connected to the case, or it could be part of someone’s garbage. He was about to toss it away when he heard a sub-inspector call out to him from inside the flat. Virkar absent-mindedly shoved the card into his pocket as he walked towards him.
The sub-inspector raised a quizzical eyebrow at Virkar. ‘Saheb, are you sure that this person was involved in this extortion network?’ The small one bedroom-hall flat was extremely spartan in its décor, and there was nothing to indicate that it had ever housed a perverted Internet extortionist. In fact, it looked like a typical, middle-class bachelor’s home. The police party began searching the flat but even after fifteen minutes of sifting through dirty clothes and a few dirty magazines, they found nothing incriminating.
Virkar did not reply as he was distracted by the knife gash on the front door. He had been wondering how Akhbir had got injured in the few minutes it had taken Virkar to meet up with the police commandos and make his way to the sixth floor. Someone must have been lying in wait for Akhbir to return. As Virkar examined the knife-gash with his fingers, it quickly struck him who that someone could have been. He rushed back to the constable and grabbed the walkie-talkie. This time, his voice was breathless as he asked, ‘Did a young girl with long hair come out of the building?’
After a few seconds of silence, a voice replied, ‘No, sir, but a young girl with short hair did come out about five minutes ago.’
‘Why didn’t you stop her?’ shouted Virkar.
‘Saheb, we were looking for a man, not a girl.’
Virkar sighed. ‘Which direction did she take?’
The silence this time was for a full thirty seconds. ‘Don’t know, saheb. We didn’t pay attention. We were looking for a man as per your instructions.’
Exasperated, Virkar hung up, casting an irritated look at the sub-inspector who was still waiting for a reply. ‘There is no evidence here, saheb,’ the sub-inspector shrugged.
Virkar shot him a stony stare. ‘Maybe you haven’t looked hard enough,’ he barked.
Before the sub-inspector could say another word, Virkar strode into the bedroom and walked towards an inner door, assuming that it led to an attached bathroom. But when he opened the door, he realized that it was a small closet. A constable who was rifling through a stack of files lying on the table called out to Virkar, ‘There is nothing inside, saheb. Just some empty suitcases.’ Virkar nodded and walked away from the closet, heading into the toilet through another door he had not previously seen. But a thought suddenly struck him and he headed back to the closet. Pulling out the empty suitcases, he knocked on the wood panelling at the back of the closet. A hollow sound rang out, making his pulse quicken. He summoned the rest of the police party and once again using a combination of kicks and lunges broke the wood panelling. A small recess behind the panelling revealed a shiny, new iMac attached to a home LAN server.
Instinctively, Virkar reached out and pressed a single key on the shiny keyboard. The screen sprang to life to show a teenage boy and girl making out, obviously unaware that their actions were being recorded by a webcam and relayed to the iMac for Virkar and rest of the police party to watch. As the policemen continued to gawk at the scene in front of them, Virkar realized that things had gone far enough. He reached behind the computer and pulled out the power cord with a jerk. As the computer hummed to a stop, the staring policemen dropped their gaze in a mixture of shame and embarrassment. They shuffled out, leaving Virkar alone in front of the silent computer. For a few moments, Virkar was tempted to call Richard to take a look at the computer, but then he decided to follow protocol and dialled the number for the Mumbai Police Cyber Crime Cell.