The Dockyard Mess Hall and Lunch Home on P.M. Road was one of those curious Mumbai eateries that opened its shutters to the public at an incredibly early hour of the morning. Catering mainly to dock workers getting off their night shift, it served piping hot South Indian and Maharashtrian snacks with the customary filter coffee and chai as accompaniments. At 7 a.m. that day, the restaurant was full to the brim, buzzing with the conversations of tired dock workers and sundry taxi drivers.
Richard was sitting on a table near the entrance, sipping on filter coffee and casting furtive glances at the mystery man who was wolfing down a masala dosa at a corner table of the restaurant. He finished the dosa and reached for his filter coffee, simultaneously extricating an iPad from his shoulder bag. As the mystery man started tapping his fingers on the iPad’s screen, Richard’s phone suddenly began to vibrate in his pocket. Pretending as though he had dropped something, Richard ducked under the table and pulled out his phone. It was Virkar.
‘Where are you, Richard?’
‘At the Dockyard Mess,’ Richard whispered into the phone.
‘Where’s he? What’s he doing?’
‘Doing some shit on his iPad at a nearby table.’
‘Okay, no worries. I’ll be there soon,’ said Virkar as he hung up.
Richard pocketed his phone and sat up in his seat. Trying to look as casual as possible, he turned to cast a glance at the mystery man and froze—the mystery man was staring directly at him. Trying his best not to seem suspicious, Richard let his gaze travel over the mystery man and on to some of the other occupants of the restaurant. He turned his face away and began to look out of the entrance at a sweeper hard at work cleaning the street outside. But he could swear that the mystery man’s eyes were still on him. Richard’s knees began to shake and his stomach churned as though he were on a rollercoaster. Suddenly, he began to feel an urge to calm down. It began as an itch inside his throat but soon took over his entire body, making him shake like a leaf. He really needed to smoke up to calm his nerves.
He got up from his table and found that his legs were trembling. Trying his best to seem normal, he turned and walked towards the toilets at the back of the Dockyard Mess. Inside the toilet, he quickly found a small cubicle with a vinyl door and a western commode. He latched the door behind him and pulled out a reefer from the cigarette packet in his pants. After a few quick drags, Richard’s frazzled nerves began to calm down. Another few hits and he began to feel absolutely fine. Not wanting to waste any of his precious maal, Richard stubbed the joint between his fingertips and put it back into the cigarette packet. He unlatched the door and stepped out of the stall, only to come face-to-face with the mystery man standing right outside.
For a second, their eyes locked and neither of them moved. Then Richard reached into his pocket and pulled out the packet of cigarettes. Extracting the reefer, he offered it to the mystery man, saying, ‘You want some?’ The mystery man didn’t say a word. Instead, he reached out as if he was going to accept the offering but Richard saw the sharp blade of a small curved knife in the mystery man’s hand. Before he could react, however, the mystery man had stabbed him in the neck. Richard stumbled back as blood sputtered out of his neck. The mystery man was about to strike him again when they heard someone enter the toilet behind them.
A burly dockworker stood staring at them, shocked at the blood spurting out of Richard’s neck. The mystery man turned and swung his arm at the dockworker who ducked instinctively. Not wasting another minute, the mystery man sprung towards the toilet door, leaving the bleeding Richard and the stunned dockworker behind. Exiting the toilet area, he ran towards the back and entered the kitchen instead of going towards the main area of the restaurant. Pushing away a couple of surprised cooks, he quickly ran out into a small lane through a back door.
Meanwhile, Virkar reached the restaurant just as a commotion erupted outside the toilet area. He saw Richard’s bag and the mystery man’s iPad lying on their tables and immediately realized that something had gone horribly wrong. He sprang towards the source of the commotion and as he pushed his way through the crowd outside the toilet, he saw Richard lying in a heap in the small passageway outside the toilet. Bleeding profusely from his neck, he was gasping for air, his eyes flickering shut. He was fast losing consciousness.
Virkar sank to his knees next to Richard while doing two things simultaneously: with his left hand he reached for Richard’s neck and pinched the skin around the knife wound, stopping the blood flow, while with his right hand, he whipped out his cell phone and punched 1-0-0 on his keypad. A few seconds later, he had barked orders to get an emergency ambulance down to the Dockyard Mess and also called three dockworkers to help him clamp down on Richard’s neck and completely stop the blood flow. Virkar then bent down towards Richard’s ear and whispered, ‘Richard, open your eyes. You’re not going to die today, I promise.’ Richard’s eyes flickered open in response to Virkar’s voice. Virkar looked at Richard’s face for a few seconds and then towards the dockworkers helping him stem the blood flow. ‘Don’t let him lose consciousness.’ They nodded in understanding. ‘And keep your hands where they are till the ambulance arrives.’ Saying this, Virkar got up from Richard’s side and rushed out on to the street.