(J1E04) Red Letter Day – I

You know it’s been a decent scene when half the gathering wakes in unexpected places and the other half doesn’t wake at all, even on being kicked repeatedly.

I opened one eye a chink, gave the clock a look, and found most of Sunday morning already gone. I groaned.

I could not move my neck.

Opening the other eye revealed the reason: my head was bound by a tangle of earphones, which were still plugged into my laptop. There was no music, however – probably because someone had used the laptop as a coaster for half a beer bottle at some point.

Contents of said bottle soaking laptop, mattress, everything else in immediate vicinity.

On the bright side, I could not find my phone.

I groaned again.

One of the two idiots still drooling down the other edge of the mattress went shush.

The bathroom door was locked. I limped to the roof to take a leak.

Another Lost Boy was currently dangling headfirst from the watertank, having just woken up by the looks of it. “Your handset here,” he mumbled. “Couple missed calls. Some Babli.”

There are some things even groaning can’t solve.

I ran downstairs to get dressed, swearing all the way.

*

Malkaganj Police Station is a pleasant twenty minute walk from my place. I made it in six.

“Inspector Balbir Singh,” I told the Constable on duty, and was soon sitting before a hefty, bearded Sikh that no-one would ever call Babli to his face.

“Jimmy, Jimmy,” he said pleasantly. “Have good night sleep?”

“If it’s about the noise, sir-”

“Oh, nothing like that.” He scratched his beard with the end of a pencil. “Six years is long time to stuck in one place. Can’t seem to catch break, eh?”

“Well-”

“No, this is about one of non-useless batchmates. Do you know which one?”

“Not particularly.” A different sort of sinking sensation.

“I forgot alcohol and brain cells not get along. Want hint?”

“Uh-”

“Here, have hint anyway: you met yesterday.” He meticulously arranged the pencil parallel to the edge of his desk. “What did Bhardwaj wanted, Jimmy?”

“Said his girlfriend was missing. Needed help finding her.”

“Is that what convicted druggist told? Sounds.. what you say, ominous, doesn’t it?”

“The fact that she’s missing?”

“You’re not idiot, puttar, so how about stop acting like one?” The pencil disappeared under his palm. “Your friend is walking-talking bad news generator. Why not keep out of this, eh?”

“… I think he is innocent.”

“And I really appreciate expert opinion.” The air in the station was hot and completely immobile. “Look, I know you, Jimmy, but that will only extended so far.”

“Will that be all?” I needed a smoke.

He didn’t say anything. I left.

*

The twenty-minute walk back took nearly an hour; but then, I had a lot to think about.

Babli looked mellow but was among the sharpest people I’d met; his involvement here meant either
A.) that Bhardwaj hadn’t been completely upfront about the situation, or
B.) there was something deeper, more sinister afoot.

And how did Vrinda connect to all this? Eight months can be both forever and the blink of an eye – and somewhere within that timeframe a girl had vanished from the streets she called home. Where had she gone?

Where was I supposed to look for her?

It wasn’t like a lead would turn up at my doorstep, right?

Like that ever happened, outside of badly-written detective stories!

*

I came home to find the Crow perched on the last flight of stairs.

Or rather, I came home to find a lanky, long-haired dude sitting in the stairwell, smoking a joint.

“You must be Jimmy,” he said, and then I knew him.

It was hard not to recognize that gravelly baritone, even though it had only ever appeared on badly-ripped mp3 tracks, singing of doom and destruction and getting another beer and letting it roll.

“Is that- are you really-”

“That’s not what you should be asking,” he said. “The real question is, who busted the lock on your front door? And why is your apartment currently being trashed by- well, three dudes, judging by the sound of it?”

“That’s actually two questions.”

“Here.” He gave me the last of the joint. “I’ll let you get your house in order. Find me if you’re still around later, and maybe we can talk business.”

Life’s funny like that, isn’t it?

You wake up hungover, just looking for a place to piss, and return from meeting a hardass cop to find yourself being led into your big fight scene by a campus myth.

The same campus myth you’ll be blamed of murdering, three days later.

*

-So that was your first meeting with the vic?

-Who’s Vick?

-The victim. Artist formerly known as The Crow. Are you certain you’d never met before?

-What? No! I mean yes, I am! Wrote as much in the notepad, didn’t I?

-To be honest I’m only kind of browsing, at this stage.

I notice two things simultaneously at this point. One, that MPD is carrying a small, unobtrusive tape recorder. It is kept on the bed, next to my leg, quaint black thing with white spools rolling in the middle.

Anyway. We’d never met, but his legend preceded him.

The second thing I notice is that I can feel my leg. Or rather the three wedges where Bhardwaj’s pumped-up kicks landed, presumably. 

-What do you mean by his legend?

Focus on the white spools. Turning slowly. Too slow.

-Well, you know. Big man around campus. Friends in unsavory places. Hand in one too many cookie jars. Nasty sort of guy.

-And why was he called The Crow?

It is a ludicrous, leading question. Maybe he didn’t really ask it out loud. 

Ribs nudging back into focus like a xylophone being hammered into my chest, one bar at a time. 

-On account of how the damn birds can eat just about everything. Kick up a nasty racket, while they’re at it.

-Dangerous?

-In all probability.

The spools stop rolling.

-You look pale. Painkillers wearing off?

-Well, yeah. About that-

-I asked them to lower your dosage. Maybe help you focus again.

-Right.

-Stop going all la-di-dah, Jimmy. Need I remind you what’s at stake?

-No, Mandy, I get it.

-Stop calling me – yeah, well, whatever. Need anything else?

-Some flowers would be nice.

He is almost civil as we discuss the going rate for bouquets. Then he lets himself out, leaving me to strike up a better acquaintance with my pain.

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