The Milk Bar Cafeteria was a small restaurant that had a permanently makeshift look about it, perhaps because of the fact that it functioned out of a seven by thirty feet gali space between two adjoining buildings in Bora Bazaar. This kind of gali space between buildings was normally used as unofficial urinals for nearby shop workers and passers-by. But in the early ’70s, Shamsher Wahid, the enterprising owner of the Milk Bar, had spread a long strip of tarpaulin about eight feet above the ground and along the entire thirty-feet-long gali length. He had then placed some second-hand plastic tables and chairs that he had acquired from Chor Bazaar under the tarp. At far end of the gali, he had put in some wooden counters and a couple of gas burners and lo and behold, the gali space had been converted into the Milk Bar Cafeteria. The only thing new that Shamsher had invested in was a tin sign that hung above the entrance proudly proclaiming the name of the restaurant in English lettering. Over the past forty years or so, the tarpaulin had changed to cement sheets and the chairs and tables had changed to sunmica. Shamsher Wahid, too, had put on twenty to twenty-five kilos and now sat on a small counter right near the entrance of the Milk Bar staring at the passers-by and at each customer that came into his little gastronomic claim to fame.
As luck would have it, after speaking to Richard, Virkar walked towards the east from the Jain Mandir and stopped right in front of the Milk Bar’s entrance. Shamsher was just about to lock up the makeshift cast iron grill gates that served as the only security barrier for the cafeteria. He made the mistake of asking Virkar to move on. Virkar, in turn, demanded to see his ‘eating house’ license. Shamsher, in the manner that he dealt with these requests normally, extended a hundred-rupee note towards Virkar. From that moment on, he became Virkar’s whipping boy. Under the threat of booking him for trying to bribe a police officer and also for obstructing a police officer in his line of duty, Virkar not only got Shamsher to open up the restaurant, but also make him a fresh plate of chicken biryani. Shamsher, knowing when he was beaten, meekly went about following Virkar’s every order.
Just as he was about to finish his dinner, Virkar received a call from Richard. ‘Inspector, I’ve hacked into a program that allows me to monitor a phone even from a mobile location.’
‘What does that mean?’ Virkar asked, puzzled.
‘It means that I can monitor the mystery man’s phone from my laptop.’
Virkar lit up. ‘Then what are you doing in Khotachiwadi? Come here immediately. Head straight to the Milk Bar Cafeteréa near the Bora Bazaar fire station. My friend Shamsher, the owner of the place, has very kindly offered to let us use it as a base for our operations tonight.’ He cocked an eyebrow towards Shamsher, who looked like he was going to cry but nodded his head instead.
Twenty minutes later, Richard was digging into hot chicken biryani while Virkar was marvelling at the program on Richard’s laptop that not only monitored all the lines in use in the given area but also had the capability to phonetically recognize the words being said. Through mouthfuls of biryani, Richard explained that each time any of the specified words were spoken; it would show up in writing along with the phone number and its location on a map.
But it was only the next morning around 6 a.m. that Virkar suddenly saw the word ‘pic’ flashing on screen. He roused the sleeping Richard who immediately tapped some keys on the keyboard and a close-up of the area’s map popped up, revealing that the signal was coming from a building in Agiary Lane, about a hundred yards north from their current location. Virkar jumped to his feet and snapped up the laptop. He began to walk down the street towards Agiary Lane, with a semi-dazed Richard following close behind.
When they reached the Maneckji Seth Agiary, Virkar decided to use the shadows cast by the Agiary’s ornate architecture to conceal his and Richard’s presence. For almost fifteen minutes, they waited with bated breath as the signal flashed from somewhere in the buildings opposite them. Then, suddenly, the signal went off. In the semi-darkness, Virkar heard the first strains of the aarti starting up in the Jain temple behind them. Richard grew fidgety beside him but Virkar held his arm as a warning. It was now close to 6.30 a.m. and the first rays of the sun were beginning to invade the sky.
All of a sudden, Virkar saw the mystery man, now clean-shaven, appearing at the entrance of a building diagonally opposite their hiding place. He was carrying a leather shoulder bag and looked like a junior accountant who had pulled an all-nighter crunching numbers at his office. For a few moments, the mystery man stood at the entrance and looked up and down the street. Virkar and Richard squeezed as far back into the shadows as they could. A couple of seconds later, the mystery man turned and walked away from them towards P.M. Road.
‘Richard, you have to follow him,’ Virkar whispered urgently.
‘Me?’ Richard asked, taken aback.
‘Yes. I need to go and check if his servers are somewhere in this building. If they’re not here, then we have to continue following him till he leads us to them.’ Richard looked unsure and a little scared but Virkar squeezed his shoulders. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll only take fifteen-twenty minutes here. Keep your Bluetooth headphone on. I’ll call and catch up with you as soon as I am through.’
Richard still seemed reluctant but he stepped out of the shadows and began to follow the mystery man, keeping his manner as casual as possible. Virkar watched him go and after Richard had turned off Agiary lane, he detached himself from the shadows and entered the building from which the mystery man had just exited.