Richard smiled as he lounged casually on a soft single-seat sofa in a corner of the Starbucks behind the Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba. Three days of partying free of cost will put anyone in a good mood, Virkar thought resentfully as he approached him.
As Virkar took the seat facing Richard, he saw that there was a steaming cup of black coffee already on the table in front of him. ‘I took the liberty of ordering a coffee for you, since you don’t like to waste time. Black coffee fine with you?’
Virkar eased up a little and picked up the cup. ‘Yes, it’s fine.’ He picked up two packets of sugar from the tray and tore them together, spilling their contents into his cup. He took a sip and nodded. ‘Yes, it’s fine,’ he repeated.
Richard smiled once again. ‘I had a good time in Manali. Blew my mind on the purest of maal…’
Virkar cut in, ‘Forget about Manali. Tell me about the cocaine buyer.’
Richard sighed. Virkar had called him the day before while he was in Manali and asked him to find out who Akhbir was buying cocaine from. Richard had balked at taking up such a task because it involved gathering information from the nefarious characters involved in the cocaine trade. But Virkar had insisted and Richard had realized that he owed Virkar a favour since he had not delivered on the SIM card information Virkar had required earlier.
Richard had called up his cousin X and WhatsApped him Akbhir’s display picture with the message:
Have any of your friends sold stuff to this guy or anyone with him? A day later, just as Richard was entering the Delhi airport on his way back to Mumbai, he got a message from X saying:
A business associate has dealt with the man in the picture and a friend of his. Richard had immediately called and taken the description of Akhbir’s friend from X. As soon as reached Mumbai, he had called Virkar who had asked him to meet in Colaba and give him the information.
‘A youngish guy with short hair, clean-shaven and of average build,’ said Richard.
Virkar continued to look at him expectantly. ‘Anything else? Any distinguishing marks?’
‘What about the way he spoke?’
‘According to my contact, he didn’t speak at all. It was Akhbir who made the deal.’
‘Well, now that Akbhir is gone, has the other guy got in touch with your contact on his own?’
‘No,’ Richard said.
‘Come on! You’re hardly giving me anything,’ said Virkar, sitting back in his chair in exasperation.
‘This is all I have, Inspector. I thought you would be happy to know this.’
Virkar shook his head in irritation. ‘This is just another dead end.’
Richard felt a little sorry for him. ‘Look, at least we know that Akhbir had another member in his group.’
Virkar shrugged in resignation. ‘My gut tells me that this mystery man is behind all these killings. He is the man behind the Anti-Social Network’.
‘For all you know, this mystery man has already left town and disappeared forever,’ Richard said.
Virkar just nodded in agreement. For a while they sat without speaking, sipping their coffees. After a few minutes, Richard glanced at his watch and began to rise from the sofa, but Virkar waved him back into his seat.
‘You may be wrong, you know,’ Virkar said, half to himself. Richard stared at him, bemused. ‘If I were a mastermind who had managed to hide myself so well that no one even knew of my existence, would I leave town?’ Richard was silent, letting Virkar’s words sink in. Virkar, however, was not expecting a reply as he continued, ‘No. I would continue as normal, secretly observing the investigation of the case, enjoying the fact that I had fooled everyone.’
Richard nodded in grudging agreement. ‘That makes sense. We humans are vain.’
Virkar suddenly threw him a strange look. ‘Now you’re starting to sound like Naina.’ For a couple of seconds both of them looked at each other and then burst out laughing. A few guffaws later, Virkar said, ‘Look, Richard, here’s what we’ll do. I’ll get a friendly police sketch artist to make a sketch of the mystery man based on your contact’s description. You ask your contact to share this sketch with all his other close “associates” in this business and ask them to report to you immediately if this guy shows up with anyone. There shall be a reward in it for you if do this for me.’
Richard raised an eyebrow. ‘What’s the reward?’
Virkar smiled, ‘If you get caught for possession of cocaine, all you have to do is give me a call and I’ll make sure that the arresting officer goes easy on you.’
Richard looked blank. ‘What makes you think I’ll get caught for possession of cocaine?’
Virkar simply fished out his cell phone and showed him a message from an Inspector Joshi. The message said: ‘At Richard Menzes’s house. As per your information, four grams of cocaine found hidden in the brick wall. Awaiting your orders.’
Richard sat back in the sofa gritting his teeth. Trapped, he had no choice but to say, ‘Please call the sketch artist. I’ll speak to my contact.’