I’m a dick, ok? Private detective, that is. Do you have a problem with that? If you do, I got a pair of brass knuckles in my trouser pocket that can rearrange your facial features in a hurry. Having just concluded a very satisfactory case—i.e., mucho cash for me, a broken nose for a punk that sassed me, and a broken marriage for my poor sap of a client—I had just leaned back on a lazy Sunday afternoon, with thoughts of calling my bookie and betting my newly-acquired riches on the 49ers, when in sashayed a vision in brocade and jewels. A lady from India, clad in sari—a sight unusual enough in the Bay Area to raise my hackles. Indian women here tend to dress in Western attire, changing to salwar kameez on formal occasions. I should know. I trace my ancestry back to that land of snake charmers and IT whizzes as well. I suppose that’s why she picked me; Indian dicks are hard to come by in my district.
She seemed on the verge of tears, causing my shields to be deployed automatically; weeping dames and smiling crocodiles can never be trusted. I turned on my best smile, and enquired solicitously as to how I could be of service. Surprise, surprise. Her husband had disappeared. If I could have a dollar for every missing hubby case I had cracked, I’d have like a hundred dollars now. Good thing my rates run much higher. He had gone in to work on Saturday, like he did on most Saturdays, only this time he didn’t come back. She had searched high, and searched low (mostly low), but the man was not to be found. She had finally realized that she needed professional help. She didn’t want to contact the cops yet because, ahem, he had slightly overstayed his visa, and you know how cops are in cahoots with the INS, yadda, yadda. I stopped her right there, and spake thusly. “Lady, based on my long and illustrious experience, odds are 9-in-10 that your husband’s holed up with some broad in a motel. She’ll throw him out the moment he runs out of dough, and he’ll come crawling back to you. Why don’t you just cool it for a few days? Go shopping. Take in some Hindi cinema at the Naz. Whatever keeps you amused.” She seemed to be amused already. She got up and stretched, displayed her considerable assets most invitingly. “Wanna bet that he left me for another girl?” she snarled. I gulped once, drew a deep breath, and started drawing up a contract. Her logic was very convincing.
Her husband’s name was Deepak Mehta, and he worked at an IT firm in Milpitas that did database warehousing. Or so I gathered from his business card. I got there bright and early Monday morning, before the criminal element had revved up their evil machinery. All seemed normal for an IT firm. Little cubicles arranged like a maze, with the only outlet to the exit passing by the manager’s desk. You had to make visual contact every time you took a leak. That can injure a man’s pride, although these IT guys on loan from India appear to have none of that. The manager was a blue-eyed blonde with the surreal name of Shana Walters. I dropped into the chair in front of her, and asked pleasantly enough if she knew the whereabouts of her valued employee. She looked around, as if noticing for the first time that one of the rats was missing from the maze. She made some clucking noises about the work ethics of Indians in general, which, however accurate, did not exactly endear her to me. I broke the news to her that the guy was missing since Saturday, per his wife. That got a reaction. Her eyebrows shot up, “His wife?” Then she collected herself and promised to cooperate fully in my investigation. But by then, she was way high on my list of suspects. I was willing to wager that the two of them had something going. It occurred to me that the most likely hideout for the missing Mr. Mehta was Shana’s little villa. I asked for and got her home phone number and address under the pretext of being able to locate her in an emergency. I left her looking a little blue around the edges.
I engaged the other office co-workers in desultory dialogue, but my heart wasn’t in it. I did pick up a few useful snippets here and there; Deepak and Shana huddled together quite a lot. Often, they would shut up when someone walked by. The occasional all-day off-site retreat. Very suspicious, indeed. Why would the man go for white bread when he had such tasty mirch masala at home, I wondered. No accounting for tastes, I concluded with a wise shake of the noggin.
Late that night, armed with my trusty flashlight and can of mace, I ventured to Ms. Shana’s abode. It turned out to be a nice little condo in North San Jose. No basement or garden to bury any dead bodies, I noted ruefully. It took me about 8 minutes to jimmy a window open and climb in. I had her figured for a cat person. Sure enough, a kitty cat came purring. Dogs and burglar alarms may scare, but a pussy cat I can handle. In the downstairs study, a terminal was in “Sleep” mode. I jiggled the mouse, rudely awakening the PC. Bingo! She had been drafting an e-mail to Deepak, detailing our encounter. I couldn’t figure out the way these IT-ists operated. They are bed-mates, yet they correspond via e-mail? They couldn’t roll over and just talk? Oh well, live and let live.
I climbed upstairs cautiously, careful not to trip over any kitty toys. The bedroom was ajar; I peeked in, right into the barrel of a snub-nosed revolver. Propped up on her pillows, Shana was wielding it like she knew what do with it. I raised my hands in a conciliatory way, and eased myself on to the edge of her bed. Some trick that, let me tell you. My tone, though, was peremptory. “Look, Shana, this is not going to help. You have Deepak stashed away somewhere, as I just confirmed by perusing your e-mail. Why don’t you come clean, tell me where lover-boy is, and I’ll go escort him back to his wifey?” I had just amused two women on the same day, for the first time in my adult life. “Deepak? My lover? I wouldn’t touch him with a 10 foot pole”. She was laughing so hard, I had to believe her. But then, she still knew where he was, right? I eyed her narrowly. She sensed my clarity of thought, and started fidgeting.
The story finally came pouring out. She had sent him over the weekend to Madras, India on a secret mission to train staff there at a local outfit to take over the operations of her own Silicon Valley office staff. Out-sourcing. Off-shore enterprise. Call it by any name, it still raised hackles in the Valley. In fact, a concerned-citizens group had called in with a death threat if she ever contemplated moving jobs overseas. Hence, the secrecy. “The punk swore he wasn’t married. I’ll fire his sorry ass when he gets back” she smoldered, before launching into another diatribe about Indians, and how they were sneaky, and couldn’t be trusted, yadda, yadda. My attention was wandering, now that the case was solved. I observed something interesting in the night-stand that housed the phone. I bent over and examined it. She eyed me balefully, but with the firearm now stowed away. “What are you looking at?” she queried. I replied, with much satisfaction: “Did you know that your room is bugged? Guess who is listening in right now? Shana, have a great funeral. I’ll be by to view the body”. On that note, I beat a hasty retreat before she changed her mind about drilling a hole in me.
The next morning, I gave a full account to the missus. Now that she knew where her straying soul-mate was, she had lost interest in him. She made it clear that she was open to re-sourcing her love life to a more proximate partner. I took her up on the offer.
A final note about my fee: by the time we were through that day, I owed her a whole bunch more than she owed me. And she only took cash, just like me. No wonder they say our professions are alike.
Here’s Prof Nagarajan with another gripping short story.