Naina knocked on the door of Richard’s room in Khotachiwadi. A bleary-eyed Richard opened the door on the third knock. His tired features broke into a smile as soon as he saw the hot take-away cups of coffee in Naina’s hand. ‘God bless you, Naina ma’am,’ he said as he grabbed a cup and took a swig. Naina stepped into the room and gasped. The stench of stale pizza and beer fumes was too much for her at that morning hour. She took a step back out of the room and took a few gulps of fresh air before mustering up the courage to enter again. This time, the smell didn’t bother her as much and she focused her mind on what Virkar was doing inside. She was a little taken aback to see him peering intently at the information that was scrolling on the computer monitors in front of him with the air of an expert. Naina shot a glance at Richard who smiled and shrugged in response.
For the past twenty-four hours, Richard had been trying to locate the hidden server from which Virkar had received the video clip. As soon as he had returned to Ferry Wharf in the early hours of the previous morning, Virkar had hopped on to his Bullet and headed straight to Richard’s place. He had roused a sleepy Richard and told him about the mystery man’s threat of posting thousands of clips on the internet. Richard had become quite excited on hearing this. ‘Inspector, earlier I had thought that the mystery man was using cloud storage to manage his data but if he really does have that much video data, he would definitely need a server to house the heavy data.’
Virkar had nodded without completely understanding what Richard was saying as he continued, ‘Obviously the mystery man’s server is hidden and he’s using TOR to hide it further. But I’ve been researching TOR and I’ve found out that there is a way to dig out the location of a hidden server if I’m able to detect even a single hostile TOR node on the deployed network.’
At that time, Virkar had had no understanding of what Richard was talking about but having spent the next twenty-four hours sitting next to Richard in front of the monitors and watching him systematically comb through thousands of data streams, Virkar had gained some amount of knowledge on what they were looking for.
Virkar turned towards Naina as her perfumed presence broke his concentration. His eyes were bloodshot and his expression was cantankerous. Naina put the cup of hot coffee in his hand. ‘Drink,’ she said. Virkar gave her a glassy stare for a few seconds and then quietly lifted his take-away cup to his lips. Richard excused himself and stepped out of the room. By that time, Virkar had half-emptied the cup and had begun to resemble his usual alert self.
‘So why do you think he’s asked you to wait for a couple of days?’
Virkar replied only after he finished the entire cup of coffee. ‘I think he’s waiting for some kind of large payoff from somebody he’s blackmailing,’ he replied, clearing his throat. Even as he said this, a thought suddenly struck him. He got up and strode out the main door to look for Richard, who he found standing at the corner of the lane, smoking a cigarette. Virkar hadn’t told Richard about what the mystery man had done to the Bandra Boy. Over the course of the previous day, Virkar had asked the Bandra police station for information on any recent dead bodies found and had been told that Ronald Crasto, a small-time drug dealer, had been found dead in a manhole near his house in Chuim Village. The police had labelled it as an accident, but Virkar knew otherwise. He didn’t want to scare Richard, but he felt responsible for his safety.
Virkar called out to him, asking him to come back to the room. Richard reluctantly stubbed out the cigarette.
‘His phone. That’s what we should be after right now. He must be blackmailing or negotiating with someone so he will be using his phone,’ Virkar announced as soon as Richard stepped back into his room.
‘You know I already tried that. His SIM is untraceable.’
‘Not the SIM, the phone.’
‘I have done that too. He keeps changing phones,’ said Richard.
Virkar was excited now. ‘But he doesn’t throw them away, does he?’
‘Probably not,’ Richard said. ‘I think he just changes the SIMs.’
‘I was in a police cyber crime conference sometime back and I remember someone saying that the FBI in the US has developed a program that can track a phone even when it is off,’ Virkar said, looking hopeful.
Richard shook his head. ‘I’m not sure about that. Normally, turning a cell phone off cuts the connection to the cell phone towers and takes it off the grid. You can only trace it to the last point till it was connected.’
Virkar rushed back to the monitor. ‘I’m sure you can find the program that can trace a switched-off phone,’ he said as he sat down on the console.
Naina, who had been quiet up till now, looked at Richard, who wore an amused smile on his face. ‘Wow! Till yesterday he thought I was faltu and now he has as much confidence in me as he has in the FBI?’
Naina couldn’t help but burst into a peal of laughter and Richard joined her with a loud guffaw. Virkar turned to face them, looking stern. ‘If you’ve both had your fun, can we get back to work?’
Richard stopped laughing and said, ‘Sure. But leave me alone for a while. I don’t want any disturbances while working.’
Virkar looked reluctant to get up but Naina rose from her seat and pulled on Virkar’s arm. ‘C’mon, Virkar, you could use a break.’ Instead of answering her, Virkar cast a glance at the brick wall at the far end of the room and then at Richard. Richard shrugged. ‘I’m clean, Inspector. I’m off cocaine.’ Virkar nodded and followed Naina out the door. ‘Call me as soon as you find something,’ he said as he shut the door behind him.
Richard waited for a minute and took out his cigarette packet. He opened it and shook the cigarettes out. Hidden among them was a fat, rolled reefer. ‘But I’m not off grass,’ he chuckled as he lit up the reefer and took a long drag. Blowing the smoke out from his nose, he said out loud, ‘Thank God for Manali.’ Then he flexed his fingers and got to work on his computer.