Virkar was always surprised when guilty people ran when they encountering policemen. It was a sure-shot indication of their guilt; moreover, the action of taking flight would ensure physical punishment as soon as the policemen caught up with the runner. In this particular case, Virkar was especially astounded since Devendra Brahme was much older and considerably more unfit than him. More so, he was running in the direction of Thal beach, where the loose sand would surely slow him down, making it easier for Virkar to catch up to him.
Virkar had left ACP Naik’s office the previous day and headed straight to the Maharashtra Rifle Association (MRA) shooting range at Worli Sea Face. A quick enquiry at the range had got him Brahme’s address in Kalachowki. A short Bullet ride to the Kalachowki chawl and a cup of tea with Brahme’s old neighbour had lead to the discovery that Brahme had taken off for his village near Alibaug, across the Mumbai Harbour. Another ten minutes of polite chit-chat with the neighbour had also given him the general whereabouts of Brahme’s ancestral house near Thal beach, Alibaug.
Early that morning, a forty-five-minute ride in a catamaran from the Gateway of India had deposited him at Mandwa Jetty. Another twenty-five minutes by autorikshaw and Virkar was outside a cluster of village houses nestled under a coconut grove near Thal beach. An enquiry at the first house had led him to the one inhabited by Brahme. But as luck would have it, Brahme had spotted him approaching his house and run out from the back. Unfortunately for him, he had stumbled against a stack of dry bamboos, bringing them down to the ground. The clatter of the bamboos had alerted Virkar and he had spotted Brahme just as he turned behind a hedge.
Now, after a few minutes of running on the beach, Virkar shortened the distance between Brahme and him to about a man’s length. Without warning, Virkar leapt in the air, his hands grabbed Brahme’s shoulders; the velocity of Virkar’s push destabilized Brahme and he slipped on the loose sand, collapsing to a heap. Virkar just about managed to maintain his balance and stopped short about a foot away from the panting Brahme. For a full minute, both men sucked in air into their desperate lungs. The younger and fitter Virkar regained his breath quicker but it was Brahme who spoke first, gasping, ‘What did I do, saheb?’
Virkar smirked back. ‘C’mon! You know why I’m here.’ Bramhe gulped in air and shook his head. ‘The Punjabi,’ Virkar clarified.
On hearing that, Bramhe looked crushed. ‘I got desperate and fell for his lie, saheb. He told me he was going to use the gun in Punjab.’
Virkar fixed him with a hard stare. ‘I think you’d better start at the beginning.’ He sat down on the sand next to Brahme and took out a small diary and a pen from his pocket.
Brahme quickly took him through his interaction with Akhbir at the shipyard. He spared no details and was extra graphic while describing how he had escaped certain death by Akhbir’s hands. Virkar’s interest, though, was only piqued when Brahme started telling him about Akhbir’s phone conversation. To Virkar’s understanding, it didn’t seem like Akhbir had been speaking to Philo—it seemed more like he was receiving instructions from someone who held sway over him. He mentally went over the checklist of items that were collected at the crime scene at the SuperTrance Nightclub and suddenly realized that no cell phone had been found on Akbhir’s body. This could only mean that either the cell phone had been lost in the ruckus that followed the shooting or Akhbir hadn’t carried it to SuperTrance. ‘Do you have the number that Akhbir called you from?’ he asked the now surly Brahme.
Brahme’s eyes narrowed to slits. ‘Maybe, but what do I get in return?’
Virkar was quick to retort. ‘Maybe I would be pleased enough to request my superiors that the case against you should be dropped.’
Brahme didn’t back down. ‘That’s all?’
Virkar’s voice now grew firm. ‘That’s about it…and if I don’t get the number in the next five minutes, I would be forced to search your house. Then I can’t promise how this case would turn out for you, especially if I found illegal weapons during my search.’
Brahme shot to his feet. ‘I have no illegal weapons, saheb. They are all legal.’
Virkar rose to face him. ‘Oh yes. My mistake. You only sell them illegally.’
Brahme responded to Virkar’s sarcasm with a dry gulp. ‘I have the number saved on my mobile phone, which is in my house.’
Virkar nodded. ‘Then what are you waiting for? Your time starts now.’
‘Brahme led Virkar back to his house as fast as he could. His mobile phone was lying next to his bed. Quickly extracting the number from his list of contacts, he read it out to Virkar, who first noted the number down in his diary and then dialled another number from his phone.
‘Inspector, it’s too early in the morning to call,’ Richard’s lazy voice drawled.
Ignoring what he heard, Virkar said, ‘I want you to find the entire call history of this number.’ He read out Akhbir’s number to Richard.
Richard yawned over the phone. ‘So what’s in it for me?’
Virkar sighed. ‘Everybody seems to be asking me that today.’
‘I’m waiting, Inspector,’ Richard said, sounding bored.
‘How about I don’t tell Naina that you’re still snorting cocaine behind her back?’ Virkar replied firmly.
Richard drew in a deep breath and didn’t respond for a few seconds. He didn’t want his current status quo with Naina to be affected in any way. His biggest fear was that Naina would go to his parents and tell on him…but then she really didn’t seem like a tattletale. He smiled. ‘Nice try, Inspector, but that won’t work. However, since I like you, I’ll tell you what you can do to get this information from me.’