An announcement sounded over the PA system, first in Hindi and then in English. Namashkar, said a pleasant singsong voice. Guests are kindly requested not to do urination in water. WC facilities are provided in rear. Your kind cooperation is appreciated.
Another five minutes passed. Puri diligently avoided eye contact with his client in case the middleman was close by. A balloon wallah, who had been doing brisk business in front of the Wave Pool, came and stood a few feet to the left of Rathinasabapathy. Then a short, chunky man with a thick neck and dyed black hair approached the nuclear physicist. His back was turned to the dhaba so that the detective was unable to see his face. But beyond the obviousthat the man was in his early to mid-fifties, married, owned a dog and had reached the rendezvous within the past few minutesPuri was able to deduce that he was having an affair (there was a clear impression of an unwrapped condom in his back pocket) and had grown up in a rural area where the drinking water was contaminated by arsenic (his hands were covered in black blotches).
Puri pressed the mini receiver he was wearing deeper into his ear. It was tuned to the listening device housed in a flag of India pinned to his clients shirt pocket.
Mr. Rathinasabapathy, is it? the detective heard the middleman ask over the din of the children. His voice suggested a confident smugness.
Yeah, thats right, answered the nuclear physicist, sounding apprehensive. Who are you?
We spoke earlier on phone.
You said to be here at eight oclock. Ive been waiting nearly half an hour.
Eight oclock Indian time, scientist sahib. You know what is Indian time? Always later than you would expect. The middleman let out a little chuckle. By that account Im extremely punctual. But enough of that, haa? What is that youre carrying? Something for me I hope?
Look, Im not handing over any money until I know exactly whom Im dealing with, insisted Rathinasabapathy, repeating the words Puri had coached him to say.
The middleman gave a petulant shake of the head and turned his back on the balloon wallah.
Dont be so concerned with my identity. Important thing is, Im a man who gets things done, he said.
You must have a name. What am I supposed to call you?
Some people know me as Mr. Ten Percent.
Thats very amusing, said Rathinasabapathy drily.
So glad you think so, scientist sahib. But Im not a joker to do rib tickling. So lets do business, haa? Youve got the full amount exactly and precisely?
Yes, Ive brought your two lakh rupees, said Rathina-sabapathy, returning to the dialogue Puri had scripted for him. But how do I know youll keep up your end of the bargain? How do I know you wont just take the cash and my kids still wont Listen, Textbook! interjected Mr. Ten Percent. In India deal is deal. This is not America with your Enron. Everythings arranged. Now, youre going to give over the cash or what?
Rathinasabapathy hesitated for a moment and then handed over the duffel bag. Its all in there. Two hundredthousandrupees, he said, raising his voice and enunciating each word clearly.
The middleman took hold of the bag and held it by the straps in his right hand, gauging its weight.
Very good, he said, apparently satisfied.
youre not going to count it?
Here? In such a public place? He chuckled. Someone seeing so much of cash might get a wrong idea. Who knows? They might rob me. I tell you theres dacoity all about these days. One more piece advice to you, scientist sahib: keep hold of your wallet, ha? The other day, only, a thief grabbed my portable straight out my hand. Can you believe? Right there on the street in daylight hours. Luckily for me I got it back one hour later. The thief himself returned it. That is after discovering to whom it belonged.
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
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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