The duty room’s walls were decorated with updated rowdy-sheets and snaps of noted offenders (the so-called history-sheeters) and their achievements during the past twelve months in the city: 2,727 cheating cases, 594 robberies, 212 murders out of which only 9 for gain, 35 cases of dacoity, 321 molestations, 63 rapes and 48 dowry deaths. The portrait of one notorious rowdy, Jai Kallanige, was encircled in red – his ominous alias was RIP alias Ripper Rowdy. Hari felt that the name sounded familiar and by a curious coincidence, his face (twisted hair, bloodshot eyes) resembled the driver of the SUV that had almost killed him in front of the police station. Hari made a mental note to keep an eye out for the SUV and collect tip-off money.
Pushpa was busy. Photographs were spread out on her desk. The report appeared to be a technical description of some kind of aluminium cylinder. Since when had she started taking interest in machinery?
“Good morning, Inspector-Aunty,” he greeted her. In his contacts with higher ups, whether gods or humans, Hari believed in starting on an upbeat note. So he stretched his smile until it covered the lower portion of his face like a wall-to-wall carpet as he enquired whether she had enjoyed her morning coffee already. “Coffee aayita?”
“And you Hari, what about you – had your Chyawanprash? You must shape up, okay. Look at you, covered in shit, your face one big bruise. I’m sorry but I don’t think you’ve remembered to take your Chyawanprash regularly.”
“I surely have. As a detective, one has to stay fit for fight.” He rolled his head, as if to claim that he ate healthy food supplements regularly. “But sometimes things don’t go according to plan.”
“So, what’s that plan then, tell me?” She adjusted her peaked cap. “I hear you got robbed?”
“Yes Aunty, but I’ll fix it. No tension.” Then he gave his deposition again, anticipating the pertinent questions and describing kick by kick what happened, and for emphasis he showed her the bruises on his ribs and gut. He spread his hands wide, palms facing out, ready to be searched there and then – in case the sub-inspector had any suspicions that he may have pocketed the ATM.
The testimony was being typed up by Pushpa’s secretary, Miss Ganakayantra. She was cute in her khaki sari, but Hari was a faithful husband and so he finished with a flourish, “I sincerely do hope that this purely accidental happenstance will not irritate Aunty’s bowel syndrome more than necessary.”
Ganakayantra did not take down that last line. That he wasn’t handcuffed upon ending his monologue was undoubtedly auspicious, but then Pushpa asked, “Did you forget to mention something?”
“Ropu and Ramboswamy called and said that a witness stepped forward to cast doubts on your moral fibre.”
“He was some senile geriatric.”
“But his statement places you at the scene of the crime, acting in an antisocial manner. A prosecutor can use that against you.”
“I was hired to guard that ATM! Where else was I supposed to be? Aunty, am I in trouble?”
“What would you be charged with?” Pushpa asked. “Pissing against a wall?”
Miss Ganakayantra blushed.
“For having lost that thing,” he said. “It must have been full of cash.”
“Unless further evidence points in your direction, I doubt. But it is regrettable, this whole business, okay,” Pushpa added. Hari was sorry too and waggled his head. “We have an estimate from the bank that the uprooted ATM contained over ten lakhs. It’ll reflect badly on our crime statistics, nah.” She nodded sideways at the khaki-coloured wall.
“That is such a pity.”
“So how were they armed?”
“What weapons did they threaten you with?”
Hari made a pistol out of his hand, index and forefingers erect.
He moved the make-believe pistol to his throat and showed a slashing motion. “No, scary move like this only. I took it that they might have a pistol or at least a machete.”
She stared at him 200 per cent hard. “But you didn’t actually see a weapon?”
“Not exactly, Inspector Aunty.”
“So they were fully unarmed?”
“Partly, at least. There were also three of them against me, a single hero. One of them carried a pair of pliers.”
“You’re making this up?” She knitted her brow.
“No, Aunty. Now that you’ve jogged my memory, they must have used them to cut the ATM cables.” He wiggled the appropriate finger. “Then they threatened to cut off this one.”
“Maybe because it is my nose picker?”
“They said that?”
“No, they didn’t exactly say so. I never speak with criminals.”
“What else can you tell me about them?”
“One of them was big. Like a steamroller.”
“And the others?” She tugged at her earlobe, ostensibly in contemplation.
Hari wasn’t sure if it meant that she smelled a rat, but he upped his ante. It was important to give the correct impression. He cranked up his smile a thousand watts and made motions that conveyed honesty, palms facing upward accompanied by a slow sideways headroll which made his skull rotate two or three times around. “They wore masks. And didn’t speak. Strange people, can’t have been Indians.”
“What nonsense are you talking?”
“Must have been foreigners.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I saw their hands, remember?” Hari tried to act cool as cucumber raita. “Looked like the foreign hand.”
“Weren’t they wearing gloves?”
“Then what are you saying?”
“I think the gloves were not made in India.”
“How can you tell?”
“They were of cow hide. Also, they would have asked if I was married and how many children I have, and which school they go to in case I might be able to help them get their kids admitted into the same school. They were totally un-Indian and not very talkative.”
She cleared her throat as if to demonstrate how unimpressed she was. “What about other identifying marks, like hairstyles?”
Hari recalled the murderous SUV driver from moments ago and debated with himself whether to lay out a smokescreen by picking him out from among the watch-out notices on the wall, but decided against it. He pretended to think. “One of them may have had a lunatic fringe.”
Pushpa stared into the ceiling and appeared to pray, or at least Hari heard her utter the words “oh god”, and then she turned to her bulky computer. “Okay, we’ll analyse the surveillance videos. There’s another issue. Minor, but we still must go over it, okay. The cash dispenser was disconnected at 2.13 am but your call was logged at closer to 6.00 am. That’s a four-hour delay. Any explanations or voluntary statements you wish to make?”
“I got dizzy from all the kicking.” He twiddled his moustaches. “Hence, I was unconscious due to the habeas corpus beating and if I may say so, it is suo moto unfortunate that the bank doesn’t have an automatic alarm for when ATMs go offline.”
His ex-lawyer uncle had taught him the correct legal words for each situation. Pushpa nevertheless regretted the situation Hari next found himself in: a caning by Constable Danger Ramboswamy in a back room was required to complete the interrogation. Hari knew the routine: hike up the loincloth and clench the buttocks tightly. It hurt, but he had been through worse. According to Deccan Herald, custodial death had become uncommon in the city of late so there was nothing to worry about. He was told to confess, but since he hadn’t anything to confess to, Ramboswamy soon lost interest and stopped wasting energy on Hari.
Excerpted with permission from Tropical Detective: A Hari Majestic Mystery, Zac O’ Yeah, Pan Macmillan India.