“You’ve put on weight,” the beardo driving the scooter said.
“That or your goddamn engine has made peace with this life,” the short man riding pillion responded. “Weren’t kidding about Mary Jane, were you? Smell like a fucking greenhouse.”
“I told you to ditch the lackeys.”
“Do you even read the news, man? Whole fucking city’s got lackeys right now.”
“Yeah, I know. With us, for us, always, that crap.”
“This is off the record, Jimmy, but there’s a crackdown coming. And it’s gonna be swift and severe. Should I worry for you?”
“Let’s save the grilling for drinks, yeah? Where to?”
“Dunno. The old place still standing?”
“Define ‘still standing’.”
“Well, fuck,” Mandy said, a little later. “The fuck happened here?”
“Told you,” Jimmy said.
flea circus carpet store and plywood warehouse were gone, as were the dozing smackheads.
The three-storey den of garbage and bloodstains that used to be the opposite of a landmark now stood clean and renovated and painted a hideous orange.
The old, rusted __BILE_ HALL sign had been replaced by a brand new black-and-gold JUBILEE THEATER billboard.
A parking lot to the left and glitzy eateries to the right completed the façade.
“All this renovation and they kept that fucking font,” Mandy said.
“Let’s save the indignation for drinks, yeah? Come on.”
“Back in my day we had to wade through three miles of shit just to reach the alley.”
“And yet: here we are.”
“Look, Mandy! A monogrammed bar menu!”
“Fuck that, dude! They’re serving food! … is that a fucking pitcher?”
The young boy fetching their beer knew a cop when he saw one. He grinned nervously and fucked off into the shadows.
Jimmy and Mandy filled their mugs and started in without toasting anyone or anything.
Around them the newly-christened Jubilee Street went about its noisy business.
“Are we going the reevaluation and re-exam route again?”
“Not sure, man. Not yet, at least. This friend needs my help. You still chasing arsonists through political rallies?”
“No such luck, man. They subbed me back into Narcotics. Old powder trail just turned fresh again. Got any friends who enjoy nosebleeds?”
“Not since last year, I’d say. Plus they preferred horse tranquilizers anyway.”
“Ketamine mohabbat hai?” They stewed in the horrid pun as Jimmy refilled their mugs. “Don’t get caught with any hard shit right now, okay? The guys we’re tracking are professionals. Any failure will bring the heat down on clueless college kids.”
“God knows we got enough of those,” Jimmy said. Slash lit the fuse on a familiar riff. A gaggle of kids two tables over clapped and whooped. “Can’t believe I’m old enough to be doing this, but – Hey! Yes, you! Keep it down, man! The fuck is wrong with you kids?”
Their second mugs were downed in silence.
“Well,” Jimmy said after Axl had stopped wondering where to go now, “We could go outside and fire up a J.”
“Don’t tell me they sealed off the rotbox!”
“Um.” Jimmy couldn’t meet his eye. “There’s a proper basement now. No stag entry.”
“Alright, that’s it.” Mandy walked over to the bar. The kid who’d been whispering to the bartender scampered off again. “Hey, man, what’s with the fucking march of progress over here, huh? What’s this fucking LCD? Why are there eight speakers instead of one homecooked amp? And why the fuck do you look like you’ve had a bath this week?”
“It is you,” said the bartender.
“With the fucking clean tables and the- what did you say?”
“It is you,” repeated the bartender. “The guy who sold me the place said you’d be back, sooner or later.”
“Where is that old wanker?”
“Retired,” said the bartender. “Moved to Jaipur. Or Jodhpur. Somewhere in Rajasthan, anyway. Follow me.”
“The fuck?” inquired Mandy as the bartender switched places with the kid and led them in the direction of the washrooms.
“The fuck?” echoed Jimmy, bringing their final mugs. “Didn’t know there was a time limit on beer rentals.”
“The previous owner said change was necessary to surviving this city,” the bartender said, unlocking what looked like a broom closet with a stick figure in a wheelchair stenciled unto the door, “But he also said change didn’t have to be absolute.”
“Never saw him string together a complete sentence myself.”
“If we get mugged, Mandy, you should probably quit the force.”
The western-style lavatory jammed against the back wall looked like a cardboard prop. The bartender took a key from his pocket, felt around in a crack beneath the murky mirror, and then swung his wrist.
There was a click.
“Well,” he said, stepping aside so the two men could look into a long, poorly-lit room behind the recessed doorway, “Here you go.”
Johnny Jimmy said. “What a lovely day!”
Mandy stood looking into the secret hallway. He saw a dingy makeshift table with cigarette holes and two overflowing ashtrays, an old man in the far corner cradling his bottle, man and bottle looking like they’d keel over at any moment.
There was a long stretch of silence.
The barman left after checking the old man’s pulse. Jimmy Page laid down the opening licks of Kashmir. His namesake wiped a solitary tear on the shoulder of his trenchcoat.
“I am home,” Mandy finally said.
“Anyway,” Jimmy said eight and a half minutes later, “Speaking of my friend. Is there any way to find out who framed him?”
“Depends on the charges,” Mandy said. “Small cases like mugging or petty larceny, it’s usually local dimwits who figure my turf just because they ain’t been caught yet. Violent charges are harder. Case needs to shut like a well-oiled mousetrap before anyone sees the clink. What they in for?”
“Was. Trumped-up drug charges.”
“Uh. Mary Jane?”
“No,” said Jimmy, blowing a thin plume out of his nose. “Coquina.”
“The Caribbean mollusk?”
“No, man, The white stuff Tony Montana was motorboating into Miami. And his face.”
“Hmm.” Mandy thought long and hard as the old man exhaled into his beard.
The grey smoke rising from his snowbank was too cool not to look at. They paused their conversation a while. “That looks fucking beautiful, Reuben.”
“His name is Reuben?”
“That was the only word I caught when we last met. Or maybe he said Rubaiyat. How much coke we talking?”
“Half a kilo. Taped to the inside of his gas-tank.”
Mandy turned so fast he knocked an ashtray over.
“This friend of yours. Would he happen to be a dim oversized nutter who pops pills to stay coherent and goes by Big Moose or Malay?”
“Uh, he don’t like either of those. We call ‘im Bharadwaj.”
“Jesus, Jimmy, I thought I told you how serious this was.”
“Thank you, Reuben. What the fuck are you talking about, man?”
“This right here,” said Mandy. “This fucking case brought me back to Dilli, Jimmy. Big-ass haul of misplaced coke. Five bricks total. The package they recovered from your friend was half a brick. I brought in one. A task force at Hauz Khas got another half. You any good at math? Did Malay tell you anything?”
“Uh, Bharadwaj. And just that he was no fucking dealer, man.”
“And you believe him.”
“Fuck, what I can’t believe is how many times I’m having to go over this. Yes.”
“With what proof, apart from your gut?”
“Come on. He is not dumb, man. Had too much to lose. Wouldn’t get involved in shady bullshit like this.”
Mandy smiled mirthlessly. “You know why we’re friends, Jimmy?”
“Because I don’t judge you for being a hypocrite?”
“Touché, Reuben. We are friends, Jimmy, because you are usually a rational man. Even when the world you inhabit is a rabid cuckoo’s nest of batshit.”
“You think I am going soft because I claim my friend’s innocence.”
“No, Jimmy, I think you are ignoring what your brain is pointing out to you. Why is he out right now? Why do I bring up impending crackdowns? Why am I here, Jimmy?”
“I… Uh…” And the single bulb in the room was dirty, and Reuben’s beard was not literally luminous, but Jimmy finally saw light. “He is bait.”
“Bingo was his name-o.”
“You assholes are gonna get him killed. And pardon me for asking your help, man, I know it’s only a matter of time before those cogs of yours turn a bit further and you take me in as accessory.”
It was a stupid line, and he regretted saying it almost instantly.
Mandy’s eyes narrowed
to slits. It wasn’t a healthy look. “Accessory to what, Jimmy?”
“I’m serious, man. What’s on your mind?”
“A puh-packed schedule, for one,” Jimmy said, and thankfully there was an honest-to-God anonymous message with an address in Kamla Nagar buzzing up his phone. “You should dial it back, Mandy.”
“Speaking of which… You seem awfully calm for a man who lost ten months of sobriety days ago,” Inspector Doshi said. “Too calm, almost. What are you not telling me?”
“I’m not telling you to trust me, Mandy, because they taught us to cut out needless clichés. Back me up here, Reuben.”
“Hey no need to get defensive, dude, I’m just trying to.. Wait, are you leaving?”
“The only thing worse than a DUI is a DUI with a drunk ossifer behind me,” Jimmy said, making for the door. “Kids have smuh- smargh- cameraphones these days. Can’t be too careful.”
“You were my ride, asshole! What sort of fucking welcome is this?”
“Don’t take it personally dawg,” Jimmy said. “Don’t even trip. You just need change of puh-perspective. Life getting you down? Thuh-third person, baby! Shift to second if it gets worse! Derp-deepuh-depersonalalization helps cop! I mean cope!”
“Puns were my thing, man,” Mandy muttered, “and so was this bottle.” Reuben glared at him darkly. “Fucking leave then, Jimmy, you piece of shit. I don’t need you!”
“Love you too, Mandy.”
“Fucking don’t call me that!”
“I am sharing, Reuben, I just wanted that asshole outta my face.”
And so at roughly 2PM on Monday you stumble out the alley, flip the bird to JUBILEE THEATER, and ride Gwen across the Yamuna for the last time.