Karan focused on every sound he could hear. He had felt the shooter move away, and was wondering what sort of gun was aimed at him at that moment. He was sitting on the edge of the roof, on the wall that marked it’s boundaries. Karan thought if jumping off would leave any of his bones intact. He decided against it. The only way he was going to ‘take a leap’ that day would be if he was shot. Then, at least, the crash won’t hurt.
His thoughts diverted to Jeremy. Never before in their life had the situation been remotely similar. In the fifteen years they had known each other, even before they had joined the Army, Jeremy had never ever needed to do something of which Karan was unaware. It was either both, or neither.
Karan was afraid.
Jeremy raked his brains. What the hell? If I pay the man so much extra, he might just create a scene! What does the buffoon want, to have me noticed?!
Jeremy crossed the street, towards Mrs. Virmani’s colony. How he wished he were twenty paces inside it, and not in this rut! He walked past the entrance, and stopped at the roadside shop, set up by two wooden poles and a scrap of tent. Business was low. Not many people cared to stop for packaged tobacco in the heat. All the worse for Jeremy, the magnanimous pay would be noticed.
Jeremy spoke, in native Hindi, and the microphone relayed the conversation to the shooter on the roof.
“How much for that white one, brother?” boomed Jeremy’s voice.
“This?! No, no sir, that’s not the one for you! I’ll show you- Ya, this one, sir will like this one good. Not that one sir, low quality stuff.”
“Is this your best?” Jeremy asked, playing along. “What’s it cost?”
“Won’t fool sir, this poor fellow! Yes, yes sir, just for you… The price is nothing…petty for sir…”
The shooter could hear the apprehension in the shopkeeper’s voice. He thought he was losing the deal, Jeremy had inquired about the price so quick . Anyway, he was in for a surprise.
“Hmm…. okay, I’ll take… let’s say, three packets. Here.”
The shooter looked down the roof, through the binoculars. The kit he had kept ready on the roof was very important for this stint to be carried off. He saw Jeremy handing over the money. The shopkeeper was hidden under the tent, but the shooter waited to see what happened.
It had been twenty-four bucks. Jeremy had given fifty rupee note. More then half, he had been right. More than half… what excuse would he make?
There were no buses for Jeremy to ‘suddenly catch’, and anyway, that wouldn’t go well with the shooter. The shopkeeper was counting out the change….
“Keep it. Keep the change.” Jeremy wanted to rush off with that but the man had heard.
“But sir, it’s too much.” For the first time in his life, Jeremy didn’t like honest people.
“No, no… you’re a good man. Buy something for your family…. You have a family, huh?”
The shopkeeper was alert. His eyes were wide.
“Yes, sir….. two sons… and my wife….”
“Good. Treat them out. Keep it.” Jeremy turned and walked away, breathing sharply. He knew that with that much profit, the man would be able to have a full meal that day, and still probably save some. A treat, as he had said.
Jeremy felt grateful for poverty. Yet another first.
Nice one, Jeremy. Nice one. The mic had faithfully relayed the conversation to the shooter, and he had heard all of it. Good dealing…. But let’s see you tackle the next!
He picked up the cell phone, and speed-dialed 1…. It was ringing….
Jeremy had walked a good distance away from the tobacco shop, when he took the call. He was expecting only more crap.
“Not bad…. but let’s see you manage this. There’s a man in a blue shirt standing about two meters ahead of you. See him?”
“Go and sell all the tobacco to him. Doesn’t matter how much he pays, just make him buy it.”
“What the hell?! Do you even want anything from this place or are you just playing us?! Damnit, it-” But the line was dead.
Jeremy knew they were just being tossed about. The shooter was just going to kill them, he wanted nothing.
He thought about Karan, sitting so near his end, and oblivious of any such thing.
But then, was he even alive?