In an area that was dotted with cyber cafés, the Smart Byte Centre stood out, mainly because it was open 24X7. Situated on the ground floor of Cawasji Chambers on D.N. Road, it catered mainly to the students of the neighbouring Siddharth College. At 8 a.m. that day, the Smart Byte Centre was already buzzing with activity. Students who had bunked their early morning lectures were chatting away with their friends at the various terminals set up in the large hall that housed the cyber café. At precisely 8.01 a.m., a dishevelled-looking mystery man entered and paid the customary charge to use a computer terminal. A close observer would have wondered why his dark shirt was wet near his right shoulder. But the counter attendant, who knew the mystery man to be a regular, pointed towards a terminal in the third row without question. The mystery man glanced at the terminal and saw that there were no other users on either side of it. Two terminals away on the left, a man wearing a baseball cap with the New York Yankees logo on it was earnestly typing away on his machine. On the other side of him, a young girl appeared to be whispering sweet nothings into her headphones while beaming at the young man Skypeing with her. The mystery man strode to the empty terminal and, using only his left hand, logged on to the Internet. He punched the keyboard for a few seconds till he had accessed a cloud server. Taking a deep breath, he punched in his password.
Just as he was prepared to type further, the man in the baseball cap two terminals away rose from his seat and sprang towards him. To his shock, the mystery man realized that it was Virkar under the baseball cap. Before the mystery man could react, Virkar had pushed him off his chair. He stumbled but was able to regain his balance enough to unleash a kick towards Virkar. It caught the side of Virkar’s head and Virkar dropped to the ground.
Although somewhat stunned, Virkar still had the presence of mind to reach out for the mystery man’s other foot. Taking a firm grip around the ankles, Virkar pulled as hard as he could. The mystery man’s foot slipped and he fell to the ground. However, in a last attempt at self-preservation, he flipped around on to his stomach before he hit the floor. In a flash, Virkar jumped on to the mystery man’s back. His knees pressed into the mystery man’s shoulder blades, pinning him to the ground as he shook off the effects of the kick to his head. The mystery man screamed in pain as he struggled under him and it was only then that Virkar realized that there were deep red stains on the ground from the man’s blood-soaked shoulder.
Virkar took off his belt, wrapped it around the mystery man’s wrists and pulled so hard that the mystery man let out another loud scream of pain. Satisfied that he had him exactly where he wanted, Virkar rose to a standing position while keeping his booted foot at the same spot where his knee had earlier been. Bearing down with his foot, he kept the mystery man pinned to the ground as he leaned towards the computer terminal and scanned through the data open on the screen. ‘Thank you for giving me access to your account,’ said Virkar with grim satisfaction. He then hit the ‘select all’ button and without hesitation deleted everything. For five minutes, Virkar stood in the same position, watching all the files disappear permanently. Under his foot, the mystery man grunted, muttering, ‘But, how…how…?’
Virkar smiled. Reaching into his pocket, he took out a crumpled receipt of the Smart Byte Centre. The receipt was addressed to Sharad Lal, offering him a massive discount at the cyber café. ‘Even the smartest criminal leaves a clue behind sometimes.’ The mystery man groaned. Virkar noticed the source of his pain was the bullet wound in his shoulder but Virkar did not show any undue concern. Instead, he turned his attention back to the computer terminal. When all the data had been deleted, Virkar smiled and clicked on the ‘deactivate account’ tab. While the account was deactivating, Virkar gleefully informed the crowd of students who had left their terminals to watch the fight, ‘Computers are easy. It took me just two days to learn all this stuff from my friend Richard.’ He then reached down and pulled the mystery man up. ‘Sharad Lal, you are under arrest for conspiracy to murder.’ Saying this, Virkar led the tongue-tied mystery man through the crowd of students gathered around them.
Before the two could engage in any further conversation, they heard the siren of the police van. Within seconds, the van had come to a screeching halt in front of the Smart Byte Centre. Virkar handed over Lal to the sub-inspector and police constable, who took Virkar’s belt off Lal’s wrists and handcuffed him instead. ‘First take him to J.J. Hospital to Dr Randive. I’ll call and tell him to expect you. I want him to take a look at this man’s wounded shoulder.’ Shoving him inside the back of the van with the police constable to keep an eye on him, the sub-inspector got into the front and signalled for the van to start. Virkar stood at the corner of D.N. Road and watched the van make its way towards CST station en route to the Azad Maidan police station. He took out his cell phone to make a call to the doctor. 44