‘The Horniman Circle Gardens in fifteen minutes.’ As soon as Virkar heard these words, he was out of the door of his office at the Crime Branch. He signalled to the two plainclothes constables who had been pacing outside his door, ready to spring into action. Virkar got on to his Bullet and the two constables rode behind him on a scooter. At 11.30 a.m., the office traffic generally eases in the Fort area that lies between the Mumbai Crime Branch, at Crawford Market, and Horniman Circle. Virkar covered the distance in seven minutes flat. Making sure that he parked the Bullet a safe distance away from the park that lay across from the Bombay Samachar building, he changed his pace to a relaxed saunter and calmly made his way towards the massive ornate cast iron gate that led to the gardens. Just outside the gate, he paused and picked up a cone of peanuts to complete his plainclothes disguise of a morning stroller in the park.
Once inside, Virkar made his way to a park bench and positioned himself in such a manner that he could see all those who entered and left the garden through its single gate. He then arranged the expression on his face to look as though he was deep in thought, and displayed no emotion when the two plainclothes constables entered, chatting animatedly about local politics with newspapers tucked under their arms, giving the impression that they were concerned citizens out on a quick walk.
Two minutes later, Virkar saw the Bandra Boy enter the garden. His clothes were exactly the same as the ones he had been wearing three days earlier, when he had met Virkar at Churchgate. Virkar wondered if he had been wearing the same clothes since that day, belatedly realizing that the Bandra Boy was actually making sure that Virkar recognized him. Smart boy, Virkar thought to himself, even though he had no doubt he would have recognized the Bandra Boy even if he had worn a dhoti and kurta.
The Bandra Boy walked directly towards the water body around the metal tree-of-seagulls sculpture that stood in the middle of the garden. Ignoring the sun that had begun to beat down by now, the Bandra Boy parked himself on the China tile parapet that bordered the water body. Virkar concentrated on his peanuts but kept one eye trained on the Bandra Boy.
By now, the fifteen-minute deadline was over and Virkar’s pulse began to quicken, anticipating the arrival of the mystery man. His eyes floated over the few occupants of the garden. The three men lying on the lawn on spread-out newspaper sheets seemed to be in deep slumber. The mother and daughter sitting on the grey mushroom-like water bench were busy trying to figure out what material the upholstered bench was made of. The little girl bounced up and down in excitement on the cushioned surface. The two men playing chess in the shade of a large tamarind tree seemed engrossed in their game. Virkar cast a glance at the gate but no one entered.
Three more minutes passed by and everything remained the same. Virkar was beginning to wonder if this was going to be a waste of time when he caught a slight movement from the corner of his eye. The chess players were finishing their game. One of the players, the bearded one, stood up and shook the other’s hand. The seated player smiled broadly. He was obviously the winner of the match and also the owner of the chessboard. He continued to gather the pieces and pack them into a battered tin while the bearded player turned and began to walk away. Virkar let his eyes roam casually over his face. The man had a youngish, intellectual look about him. As he neared, Virkar let his gaze drop away, turning his attention to his peanuts but keeping the corner of his eye focused on the gate. A minute ticked by and still no one entered; in fact, the only activity at the gate was that of the bearded chess player walking out. Just as he exited, the bearded chess player turned back and glanced at Virkar. Virkar looked back at him and for a fraction of a second, their eyes locked together. Suddenly, instinctively, Virkar realized that he was the mystery man. He shot up from his bench and rushed towards the gate but by the time he reached, the mystery man was nowhere to be seen. At the other end of the garden, the two plainclothes constables dropped their newspapers and rushed to the gate as well.
Virkar’s frantic eyes quickly surveyed the crowd, trying to spot his quarry. A slight commotion in the distance caught his attention—a young college girl was shouting at someone. He instantly spotted the fast receding back of the mystery man about a hundred yards ahead of her. Virkar’s feet flew across the street, trying to weave their way through the crowd as fast as they could. As Vikar began to close the gap between them, the bearded mystery man glanced over his shoulder. Realizing that Virkar was hurtling towards him, he suddenly increased his pace. By now, the streets of the Fort area were filled with the office crowd taking a lunch break. Virkar pushed and shoved his way through, knowing that this was his only chance to grab the mystery man; Virkar had been recognized by the man and he would surely not make a mistake again.
Suddenly, Virkar’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He would normally not have paid attention to it but he thought that one of the constables might be trying to reach him. Desperate for any kind of help, he pulled out the phone and shot a glance at the screen. It wasn’t a missed call but an MMS. Virkar was about to shove the phone back into his pocket when his finger accidentally pressed the ‘open’ button. A video sprang to life on the screen.
Virkar stopped dead in his tracks, waves of shock coursing through his body. Virkar steadied his nerves as stared at the video on the phone screen. He saw himself stark naked in Naina’s bedroom, walking towards her bed. The video ended abruptly after a few seconds and a message flashed in front of his eyes:
Stop chasing me or this video will be all over the Internet.