…7…8….9…and …10!

I end the counting under my breath; at the instant he turns the door handle. You’re going to have a blast, my friend, excuse the pun, while I drive away right out of Lokhandwala.

Sure enough, the noise is deafening. Feel the jolt in my moving car a hundred yards away. Poor bastard.

But mission accomplished. Believe you me; it isn’t easy being a hit man.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Didn’t start out like this though. The Army made me the man I am. Yeah, the training in covert ops, the knowledge in weapons and explosives – all thanks to them. But it wasn’t a “How’s the Josh?” kind of life. Hated it. Couldn’t wait to get out. And so I did ten years ago. A course correction. Became a private eye; started my own one-man detective agency.

Detective work? Tedious crap. Following unfaithful husbands (or cheating wives), tracing runaway daughters, even tracking missing dogs at times. A lot of walking the streets of Mumbai, hiding behind corners and surreptitiously clicking photographs. Long hours with irregular routines. A hurried pav bhaji at the nearest Udipi restaurant or a bhel puri at Chowpatty when I got the chance… there was no daily routine at all. Worst of all, it was the endless waiting. Waiting outside homes, shabby hotels, dance bars…. or waiting at the airport, the railway station, or in the dark. Sometimes all night long, sometimes under a scorching sun. Watching darkened windows, following faceless strangers, questioning clueless bystanders……don’t want to reminisce. There were days, sometimes weeks, when I’d be without work. No, I was not living la dolce vita by any standards.

Remember it so clearly – sitting one day and wondering how I was going to pay next month’s rent for this office of mine when this young man with bloodshot eyes came in and sat down. He blew a neat smoke ring and offered me a ‘supari’, my first contract job. Told me in Mumbai Hindi with a smile that he’d heard of me. He’d asked around. Said I had a formidable reputation in the army.

Did I? I wondered where he’d heard of me, but didn’t ask. He couldn’t have been more than thirty, but there was an air of authority about him which told me that he was dangerous. He mentioned that I could occupy pride of place as a sophisticated, English-speaking contract killer in the market, and there was a demand for those, if I agreed to make a career switch.

Another course correction? Hmmm… why not?

I remember him saying something like Salim Langda aur Chhota Raju type toh bahut hain yahaan. Meaning that in the Mumbai underworld there was no dearth of bloodthirsty, uncouth contract killers who drew too much attention to themselves. Fresh meat from UP and Bihar trickled in almost daily, looking for a lucrative career in crime in this city. But with my knowledge of weapons, explosives and experience in covert ops, I would be head and shoulders above the rank and file.

Then he suddenly stopped beating about the bush, and stated that woh Daswani ko khalaas karne ka hai. His bloodshot eyes met mine. Not pleasant. The target Daswani was a well-known Bollywood screenwriter who had made the grave mistake of assaulting this man’s wife, a struggling B-grade actress. The fees he quoted for my first assignment sealed the deal. Concealing my excitement at the money being offered, I pretended to ponder over the offer for a while and then finally said yes, asking for thirty percent advance payment in cash. The money was delivered at my office the next morning.

Did you know I’d always wanted to be an actor? And enact James Bond type roles? Cool, calm, collected? Told my reflection in the full length bedroom mirror that evening in a wry tone. “Death is my business, and business is good.”

I delivered ten days later. The Bollywood screenwriter’s body was found floating in the Arabian Sea south of the Mumbai coast, bloated and unrecognizable. It had taken me ten long days to carry out the operation. Do you think hunting my prey involved car chases, sprints through crowded streets, motion and movement to pounding background music? No, this wasn’t a Bollywood movie. It involved days and nights of reconnaissance, shadowing the target, getting to know his habits, his favourite haunts and deciding on the perfect time and place to carry out the deed. My military training helped.

The media reported that he had many enemies. The murder remains unsolved to date.

My career flourished gradually. Word spread of the new guy in town. Started getting more offers, and within a year was making serious money. Remained circumspect in my business dealings though. Didn’t need the attention, see? My clients were all referred to me by earlier known clients. Word of mouth. I also refused exterminating high profile clients like politicians, top cops, senior bureaucrats, top corporate honchos, financiers and their ilk, though to tell you the truth, some politicians I would gladly have done for free.

My modus operandi involved many ways and means to complete the task. Gradually, and not without giving it some thought, I put my expertise in explosives to use. I began to wire the cars and homes of my targets to detonate. Very effective; never mind the collateral damage.

I was a shadow in the Mumbai underworld, flitting from kill to kill, always a step ahead of the law. Smoke and mirrors, cloak and dagger… now you see me, now you don’t! Hehehe…it was a game I loved playing.

Thus began my habit of counting to ten. “…6,7,8,9,10….”, as I would wait calmly for the explosion that would invariably take place, blowing up my target to bits and any other poor unlucky bastard who happened to be around. There was one explosion on a local train to Virar for which the Islamists were blamed. My track record of the last three years as a hit man was 100%… well, almost. There was this little guy who escaped my car bomb, and I had to chase him down the narrow, smelly pathways of Dharavi, between the uneven walls of cardboard and cloth and ugly roofs of corrugated tin, to shoot him between the eyes with my silenced Beretta. That hadn’t been part of the plan.

The Mumbai police and the media had started calling me ‘Bombwala’. Bloody Sakharams… didn’t know their arse from their elbow. ‘Demolition Man’ would have sounded so much better – suave, sophisticated and cool. Like me. Like Double-O Seven . Like James Bond.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Home, sweet home. Wonder if I should call Daisy’s escort service for some company tonight, I ruminate as I unlock the door of my apartment. The living room is dark, but damn! I can sense someone is in it.

Yes, a voice welcomes me in. Into my own home! I shut the door behind me, blinking a couple of times slowly to adjust my eyes to the dim light.

There are two of them standing facing me. Plain clothes policemen… so obvious from their clothes and manner. The taller of them speaks again. Inspector Godbole from the Worli Naka police station. Introduces his colleague Shankar Naik. He tosses a copy of Loksatta on to the sofa behind him. These are cool customers, I realize, to have actually brought reading material with them while waiting for me.

I do my best to remain calm. Remain standing. Ask them how they entered my apartment. Think feverishly what to do next.

They are equally calm. Say the security guard let them in. Obviously. Otherwise the poor bugger would’ve been beaten to a pulp.

Godbole says they’d like to ask me a few questions. Naik has sidled up to the door behind me. To cut off my escape, I guess. I pray silently that he doesn’t frisk me.

Godbole says it’s over. Sab khalaaas. I pretend not to understand. He smiles. Explains patiently that I‘ve been under observation for a long time now. Says just because they don’t speak good English or are crude in their ways doesn’t mean they are idiots. It’s over, Mr.Bombwala, he says.

My mind races. Where the hell is my Plan B? I curse myself for my stupidity and complacence. Cops at my door, catching me so easily? I have to stall for time, think of something to get rid of them and escape. It is over for me, at least in this city.

Bluster my way out… yes, that’s all that comes to my mind at that time. Bombwala? That supari killer? What the hell are they talking about, I say. They think I am the guy? Ha ha. I can see a trace of doubt flash in Godbole’s eyes. I am thinking fast. I have to escape somehow. Do they have back-up? Possibly. Their team could be watching the exits of the building. I should head for the roof. I should jump across to the next building, and probably the next one after that before making my way down the stairs.

Meanwhile, Godbole is talking about the CCTV pics of me and my car near every crime scene. Even though I am wearing different caps they know it’s me. I tell them they have no proof. That my lawyer would demolish their argument in no time. No case. Think, think, think,man!

Naik doesn’t see it coming. The light of the setting sun at the window has placed me in silhouette as he stands behind me. A kick to his groin as I swivel around and in a flash, my right forearm is choking him from behind in a stranglehold. With my left hand, I reach behind me, take out my Beretta from my waistband and shoot Godbole through the heart. The inspector falls with a thud to the floor.

Stupid, stupid cops – didn’t frisk me when I entered my apartment. Trying to be sophisticated gentlemen. Big mistake, guys. Not even in your worst nightmares will you meet someone like me.

I keep choking Naik by the throat till his lifeless body falls limp to the floor. I stand over the two dead bodies, breathing deeply, heart pounding, sweating but trying to remain calm. There is only one thing I need to do now, and that is to disappear. I quickly weigh my options. If these two have brought back-up, I don’t have more than an hour before the other cops get suspicious and come up. If there is no back-up, then I have possibly half a day before the bodies are found. I have a head start, or do I? Where to head for? Thailand maybe? Visa on arrival, and then just disappear into the crowds of Bangkok? I have reliable contacts there that can help.

I walk into the bedroom to collect my real and fake passports, as well as a bundle of foreign currency that I had stashed away for a rainy day. Stuff them into my pocket, along with my mobile phone which I intend to smash and dump in the airport trash bin. Before leaving my apartment, I stand by the door and look around for the last time. I’m going to miss this city, I know. The city of dreamers, labourers, starlets, gangsters, pimps, stray dogs, artists, servants, fisher folk and millionaires….

I’m about to begin my new life as a fugitive. Not a bad option if you consider the other ones.

By force of habit I take a deep breath and start counting to ten slowly under my breath “…7,8,9,10…” while trying to collect my thoughts. At the stroke of “10” I open the door quietly to embark on a new journey, and a new career….

***

The above story is an entry into the writing event(Feb 1st – 24th) hosted by ArtoonsInn: #TrainOfThoughts #Legends3

Check out Beetashok’s space here:
https://artoonsinn.com/author/beetashok-chatterjee/

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Written by Beetashok Chatterjee

Beetashok Chatterjee is a seaman by profession. This old sea dog is also a wannabe poet/writer, avid reader, music lover, movie buff, cricket enthusiast and a restless spirit.