Now all Rathinasabapathy had to do was hand over the money.
Estimated time of arrival ten by God, better make that fifteen minutes, over, Puri said with a sigh as Rathi-nasabapathys Safari turned off the expressway and onto a dusty single-lane road.
Here, confronted with potholes and unmarked speed bumps, as well as the usual honking cacophony of traffic, the vehicle slowed to a crawl, narrowly missing a bicyclist transporting a tall stack of full egg trays. Handbrake, struggling to keep a safe distance and incurring the wrath of a Bedford truck, was forced to brake suddenly. At the same time, he instinctively leaned on his horn.
Sorry, Boss! the driver quickly said apologetically. But he drives like an old woman!
All Americans drive in this style, affirmed the detective.
They must be having a lot of accidents in Am-ree-ka, muttered Handbrake.
It was a quarter past eight by the time Rathinasabapathy reached his destination and parked outside Fun N Food Village. He hurried to the ticket office, duffel bag in hand, and got in line.
Bracing himself, Puri opened his door and the heat and humidity hit him full on. He felt winded and had to steady himself. It was only a matter of seconds before the first trickle of sweat ran down his neck. Perspiration began to form on his upper lip beneath his wide handlebar moustache.
Fanning himself with a newspaper, the detective bought himself an entry token and followed his client through the turnstile. Fun N Food Village, a distinctly Indian amusement park with popular water features, was packed with giddy children. Squeals filled the air as they careered down Aqua Shutes and doggy-paddled along the Lazy River: Phir, phir! Again, again! Mothers in bright Punjabi cotton suits, with their baggy trousers rolled up just beneath their knees, stood half-soaked in the shallow end of the Tiny Tots Pond playing with their toddlers. In the Wave Pool, a group of Sikh boys in swimming trunks and patkas played volleyball. On benches arranged along the sidelines, aunties dipped their toes into the cool water and ate spicy dhokla garnished with fresh coriander and green chilies. Occasionally, cheeky grandsons and nephews splashed them with water.
Puri followed Rathinasabapathy as he squeezed through the crowd toward one of the many plaster-of-paris characters dotted about the park: a fearsome ten-foot-tall effigy of the ferocious, ten-headed demon king Ravana. With savage eyes and sneering lip, he brandished a great scimitar with which he was preparing to smite a hideous serpent.
It was in front of Ravana that the middleman had instructed Puris client to wait.
Rathinasabapathy stopped in the shadow of the towering divinity. His apprehensive eyes scanned the crowd of revelers passing back and forth. Meanwhile, the detective, keeping his client in his sights, joined the unruly queue in front of a nearby dhaba. When it came to his turn, he ordered a plate of aloo tikki masala. It might be hours before he got to eat again, he reasoned, and the Gymkhana Clubs lunchtime special of veg cutlet had left him craving something spicyno matter that he had drenched the food in a quarter-bottle of Maggi Chili Sauce.
The food was delicious and when he had scraped every last bit of chutney off the bottom of the tobacco-leaf plate, he ordered another. This was followed by a chuski, a jeera cola one with extra syrup, which he had to eat quickly before it melted, avoiding incriminating stains on his clothes that would be noticed by his eagle-eyed wife.
By eight thirty, there was still no sign of the middleman. Puri was beginning to wonder if the plan had been blown. He cursed under his breath for not having anticipated his clients poor driving skills. But then what sort of fellow didnt employ a driver?
Excerpted from The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall. Copyright © 2010 by Tarquin Hall. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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