I walk down the stone pier. It’s slick with slime and excrement and littered with ash. Dark water slaps against pylons. I look over the river. Even at this hour, it lives. Thick with the poor and powerful. The citizen and the criminal. Lost in lantern light and darkness. Choking curls of pyre smoke.
Behind me the radio. Chota chatters. The walkie-talkie chirps back. He touches my shoulder. Before he speaks I know what he is going to say. “Inspector, Rajan is leaving the char.”
I look out at that island. An ephemeral home of silt and sediment. When the rains come next month, it will vanish. Washed away. Further down river to form anew. Now it teams with refugees and hardscrabble hovels. Poverty is the mother of all crime. It births thieves from its shriveled and malnourished cunt.
Vijay Rajan knows this. He uses it.
No more after tonight.
“Let’s go. Positions.” Chota barks my command. It spreads like funeral fire along the bank. It cascades through radio and cell.
The Encounter Squad waits.
It seems forever. But lasts for only a breath before engine hum overtakes the silence. The boat. Moving. Toward us. Cutting holy water with a liar’s ease.
I unclip my holster. Close my eyes. Still my breath. My men won’t understand this. They are good men. But they won’t. They never do.
The bow thuds against the pier. I open my eyes. In the dim I see Rajan riding aft. High-seated and smug like one of the bandit kings the Raj hung from crossroad trees. The lead men hops from boat to stone, grips rope and pulls his master home.
My men will be there for the trial and the ruling. Justifiable. Duty served. They’ll pat me on the back. Call me cowboy. Buy me drinks next time we meet. They’ll tell stories of my daring in desperate bids to bed call-center honeys.
But they won’t understand.
I look down at my right hand. At the tattoo of Lord Ganesha. Remover of Obstacles. I flex and draw my weapon, adjust grip. Its feels damning. Not the action I know will come, but this movement, this moment. Like I’ve repeated it before, across thousands of lives. I feel the tug of the thousand more to come and fear it will always be this. Me and a gun.
Rajan stands. Buttons his jacket. He moves down the length of the boat, steadied by the hands of his men. Passed like some relic. I give no word, I only move. Out of the darkness and quick down the pier.
“Gun,” I yell and shoot the lead man in the skull. It shatters like the universe before Shiva. It knocks him backward off the pier. His body careens into the boat with a wet smack before the water swallows it.
The Encounter Squad moves. Voices cry out. In the night and the smoke. Directionless and thrown into echo. Guns glint and gleam. More cocks than a brothel could service. So many men. Footsteps are thunder. The storm of elephants. Panic rises in eyes.
When the heavens move, man must relent or be swept aside by the tide of time.
Again, I yell, “Gun!” This shot spears the throat of the motor man. His death spasm fires the engine. The boat jerks, bangs into the pylons, cuts sharply backward only to be yanked and spin on the mooring.
From my left, machinegun fire cuts the boat to splinters.
Rajan straightens. The squad positions and aims. A righteous army. His eyes remained motionless. Yet, I hope in this moment, he understands our life and our death.
“Fuck you, Inspector.”
“Vijay Rajan,” I tell him, “you are under arrest.”
I raise my weapon. He stares at the barrel of the gun. “Is this what karma looks like?” He asks.
Ganesha’s inky trunk tightens. The bullet penetrates his suprasternal notch. Ganesha roars again. The second punches through the bottom of his chin. Exits in vivid spray from the top of his head.
I tell my men to wait before fishing him from the Ganges. First, it must wash him clean.