Platform number chhe ki gaadi yard mein jane wali hai. The bored voice on the PA system droned in Virkar’s ears as he stood in the middle of the passenger concourse at the Churchgate railway station. He had been standing at the same spot for the past fifteen minutes. It was nearly 5.30 p.m. and the station was buzzing with activity. Local trains arrived and left the station in quick succession. People jostled past Virkar, paying no heed to his stationary position. The stench from the moist armpits of the men and women who had put in an honest day’s work and were how going home began to tickle Virkar’s nostrils but Richard, who was standing next to him, wore an air of nonchalance, as if he was used to doing this regularly. He shifted his position with expertise to avoid brushing against eager passengers rushing to catch their regular evening local.
Earlier that morning, Virkar had received a call from Richard that an associate of his had some information on the sketch he had circulated. Virkar had wanted to rush to meet the associate immediately but according to Richard, the unnamed associate was ‘shy’ of the police and would only meet with them at his choice of venue. In the given circumstances, Virkar had no choice but to agree. But now, as he stood amid the evening rush hour crowd, Virkar regretted his decision.
All of a sudden, a thin young man appeared in front of them. He was wearing a cricket cap with the logo of the Mumbai Indians on the front and large plastic-rimmed dark glasses that hid most of his face. A Superdry T-shirt, three-quarter pants and ID brand shoes completed his ensemble. At a single glance, Virkar knew that the young man belonged to the community that, in Mumbai slang, was known as ‘Bandra Macapau’. Richard’s face lit up with recognition but before he could say anything, the Bandra Boy held up a photocopy of the sketch. ‘Is this the person you’re looking for?’ he addressed Virkar directly.
‘He’s come to me a few times,’ the Bandra Boy said.
‘Come to you for what?’ asked Virkar.
‘To play with my grandfather’s tadgolas,’ said the Bandra Boy with a straight face, causing Richard to burst out laughing. Virkar was taken aback by his response but before he could say anything, the Bandra Boy, too, broke into a smile. ‘What men, Inspector, what else will he come to me for? To buy coke, what else?’
Virkar’s ears went red with embarrassment at having been made to look like a fool. He resisted the temptation to come back with a cutting reply, realizing that the information that the Bandra Boy had was more important than satisfying his own ego. Glaring back at him, he asked, ‘Is he expected to come back?’
‘I suppose he will after his maal gets over,’ the Bandra Boy replied.
‘When do you expect that to happen?’
The Bandra Boy shrugged. ‘Look men, Inspector, he doesn’t have any pattern or time. Nor does he come to meet me.’
‘What do you mean? Does he send somebody else sometimes?’ Virkar was puzzled.
‘No, I mean he calls me from some random local telephone number and gives me a time and place for me to meet him and give him the stuff.’ The Bandra Boy was getting a little irritated.
‘But what if you’re busy at the time?’ Virkar pressed on.
‘He always pays me extra so I make sure I’m free. He doesn’t waste my time asking me faltu questions.’ The Bandra Boy looked at Virkar pointedly.
Richard, who had been quiet so far, now butted in. ‘Ron…’
The Bandra Boy raised his hand cutting him off mid-sentence. ‘I told you—no names.’
‘Sorry, bro,’ a sheepish Richard said. ‘I just wanted to ask if you could help the Inspector further.’
‘In what way?’ asked the Bandra Boy, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.
Virkar cleared his throat. ‘I’ll just put a small tap on your phone so that as soon as he calls you we will know his location and can start tracing him.’
The Bandra Boy looked incredulous. ‘You dhakkans think I am paoli kam or what, to let you know all my business affairs? Time for me to vatkao.’ He took a step back and was immediately swallowed up by the swirling crowd of passengers all around them.
Virkar took a step forward to follow him but Richard put a hand on his arm and held him back. ‘Let him go, Inspector. You’ll get what you need.’
Virkar looked desperate, trying to pull away from Richard’s grip. ‘We need to catch this mystery man.’
‘Calm down, Inspector. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll get the other senior members of X’s network to talk to him and I promise you that as soon as he hears from the mystery man, he will call us and tell us the location of the meeting. All you have to do then is go there and grab the guy.’
Virkar’s eyes squinted, ‘And I suppose you’ll want something in return for this favour?’
Richard smiled. ‘You’re right, Inspector.’
Virkar sighed. ‘Why do I get the feeling that I’ve been set up?’
Richard replied with throaty chuckle, ‘Aankh khuli aandhe ki…’
Virkar shook his head and smiled back good-naturedly, completing the phrase, ‘…vaat lagi dhande ki.’