It was too early in the morning for the streets of Bora Bazaar to be crowded. But today, the jam was not because of the people and the traffic that normally choked the narrow streets but because of the fire engines that had taken strategic positions on either side of Agiary Lane in a vain attempt to quell the fire that had suddenly erupted on the second floor of Altamash Chambers. The hundred-odd people that had gathered from the nearby areas were not helping matters. Bazaar Gate Street and Modi Street, two of the three arterial streets of the Bora Bazaar area, were blocked at both ends. Naina stood in Agiary Lane at the closest point to the commotion, near the thick rope tied across the breadth of the street, about ten feet from the fire tender that was spewing arcs of water towards the smoke billowing out from the second floor of Altamash Chambers. She had been on her way to her college for an early morning lecture when she had been summoned by Virkar to Bora Bazaar as backup for him and Richard.
Standing on one side of the fire tender, Naina saw a man dressed in a vest and shorts animatedly explaining to a firefighter that he had no idea how the fire had suddenly started. ‘Probably an old loose wire that had short circuited,’ she heard him say. Naina scanned the faces of the few other people gathered around her. Shock and rabid curiosity were writ all over their faces as they mumbled to each other how most of the buildings in the Fort area had become fire traps over the years. Naina ducked under the guard rope and tried to slide unnoticed past a firefighter in an attempt to cross from the Modi Street side to the Bora Bazaar street side of Agiary Lane. But she was summarily sent back to where she had been standing before. There, she tried her best to get a good look at the people standing behind the rope on the other side of the street but could hardly see anything through the haze of drizzling water that fell before her. The wisps of smoke enveloping the street weren’t any help either. In fact, it got into her eyes, burning them enough to elicit tears and further mar her vision.
Suddenly, two firemen dressed in full firefighting gear came out of the entrance of the building and held their thumbs up. A cheer went up among the firemen and the crowd of onlookers. The hoses fell silent as the firemen began to speak among themselves. Naina strained to hear what they were saying. Apparently, they had contained the fire and limited it at the source but all the computer equipment in the office where the fire had started had been burnt to a crisp.
Naina turned away from the firemen and her eyes suddenly fell on another curious onlooker who was standing about ten feet away. It was the mystery man, looking slightly dishevelled and a little out of breath. Naina shrank back into the crowd before he could see her. Soon, he turned and walked away in the direction of Mint Road. Naina broke away from the crowd and followed him, making sure that she remained in the shadows. It was only when he had reached the quietest end of the street that the mystery man suddenly stopped, hearing the sound of her footsteps. He turned quickly, only to see Naina standing on the path about fifteen feet away, pointing a gun at his chest.
‘It’ll be better if you give up now,’ she said. At first the mystery man looked shocked, but within seconds his eyes flashed with defiance. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the small, curved knife that he had used on Richard only a short while ago. But before he could take another step, Naina pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the mystery man on the right shoulder. He fell to the ground. Naina sprang towards him, the gun still ready in her hands. But before she could reach him, she heard the rumble of a fire tender coming from the dark street behind her. Naina covered the gun with her free hand and jumped to the side of the street to let it pass. The vehicle lumbered on in the direction of the mystery man, who was still lying on the ground, and honked loudly. Naina thought that the fire tender would hit him and waited to hear the thunk of metal hitting flesh and bone, but no such sound was heard. The fire tender continued on its way without slowing down and disappeared round the corner. When the street was clear again, Naina ran to where the mystery man had fallen, but he was nowhere to be seen.