‘My tickets.’ Richard held out his hand as soon as Virkar entered his hidey-hole in Khotachiwadi. He had demanded an all-expenses paid trip to Kullu-Manali as payment for the information that Virkar had wanted. Virkar had dialled a few numbers and had finally managed to wrangle a favour out of a travel agent to get Richard included in a promotional tour for a new hotel opening in Manali. Although Virkar was fuming from within, he managed to maintain a calm exterior and quietly handed printouts of the e-ticket and resort bookings to Richard. Virkar had been waiting for over a day to hear back from Richard and now he was eager to know the results.
After scrutinizing the printouts to his satisfaction, Richard said, ‘Do you know what TOR is?’
Virkar was in no mood to get into a long discussion about strange new Internet programs. ‘Just give me the information I asked for, okay?’ he growled.
Richard smirked. ‘That’s the problem with your generation, Inspector. You just want things to be handed to you on a platter.’ He sniggered at his own attempt at sarcasm. When Virkar looked as if he was about to slap him, Richard took a couple of steps back and started explaining. ‘TOR is a new international routing service. When someone uses TOR, their IP address is encrypted every few seconds and routed to numerous locations several times over. With TOR, someone could be in London but would be tracked as a zipping line that appears and then disappears from one location to the next instantaneously.’
‘So what does all this mean? Come to the point, man.’
‘It means that I can confirm that Akhbir did receive a call but I can’t confirm where the call came from. This guy is too smart for us,’ Richard admitted.
‘What about the number? Who is it listed to?’
‘No one. It’s a fake number. The call was not made from a SIM card. It was made over the Internet using TOR.’
Virkar became irritated. ‘So how can we get to these TOR people and ask them to help us?’
Richard laughed. ‘It’s a free software and an open network and it’s legal. They won’t give out any information because of the very fact that it is used for anonymity. It’s like asking the Swiss Bank for information about its account holders.’
Virkar just clenched his teeth, suppressing his anger. He didn’t know whether he was angrier with the mysterious TOR user or with Richard. ‘There has to be some information somewhere,’ he said with a hint of desperation creeping into his voice.
Richard shrugged. ‘Look, Inspector, I feel the same way. Believe me, I spent many hours scouring the Internet, going from one online forum to another, trying to find traces of this person’s identity. But there was nothing anywhere.’
Virkar turned and walked out of the room without a word. ‘Do you want me to cancel the tickets and the bookings?’ he heard Richard call out from behind him. But by that time, he was already out of the door and on his Bullet.
As he rode his bike out of the narrow lanes of Khotachiwadi to the crowded streets of Girgaon, Virkar began to run all the facts through his head. The loud honking of the crawling cars and the screech of the battered B.E.S.T buses changing gears began to sound like an off-key orchestra inside his head. Virkar dove deeper into his head, trying to find a quiet space. Soon, the sound of traffic reduced to just an unintelligible hum. Bang in the middle of the traffic-ridden road, riding his Bullet, Virkar had hit the meditative space that he normally only entered while on his night-time boat rides.
He realized that even though he did not have any concrete proof, his suspicions had been confirmed. There was someone else behind all the murders, someone who had used all the players like pieces on a chessboard. This person was extremely intelligent, resourceful and, most importantly, completely ruthless. What was their motive, though? Was Philo a contract killer? How did she fit into this scheme? Now it was up to Virkar to use whatever resources he had to hunt down this hidden mastermind. But where would he begin? All leads seem to have dried up. For all he knew, this person could be ‘sitting in London’, as Richard had put it.
But he quickly ruled that possibility out. He realized that the person behind all this needed to be in Mumbai to guide Philo and Akhbir’s actions. What suddenly struck Virkar was the fact that although Philo and Akhbir didn’t know each other they still seemed to have been guided by the same hidden person—a person who, having no further use of them, had decided to pitch both of them against each other. Perhaps the reason they didn’t need Akhbir and Philo any more was because the game was coming to an end. No one else had been killed recently.
But why had they been killed in the first place?