Zac O’Yeah is the author of the popular comic thriller Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan and Mr Majestic! The Tout of Bengaluru which is the first of the Hari Majestic crime and detective series. He has written twelve other books which have been translated into several languages. Previously, he worked in the theatre and music business in Sweden until he retired early, at age twenty-five, to come to India. His books range from bestselling detective fiction to history and travelogue, and he has also translated Indian literature into Swedish. A veteran travel writer, he is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveller magazine, a columnist with The Hindu Business Linenewspaper and is also an influential literary critic. Hari – A Hero for Hire is the second book in the Hari Majestic series. Follow Zac and Hari Majestic at www.zacoyeah.com. Below you can read an excerpt from his book, Hari – A Hero for Hire. Courtesy: Zac O’ Yeah. Read interview here.
The second book in the Hari Majestic series, Zac O’Yeah’s Hari – A Hero for Hire is a comic detective thriller in which Hari opens his own detective agency and invites a whole lot of trouble.
Hari Majestic felt like an unadulterated hero. He heard deafening explosions and smelt acrid smoke. He was ready to save the world, if it should turn out to be necessary.
The festival season was peaking and Bengaluru was, as usual, being blown into bits. The good thing with the racket was that nobody paid much attention to two men on an abandoned rooftop. Hari and Triplex too had bought crackers that they threw down to create a smokescreen. They were pros.
The October air was cool but Triplex, Hari’s second-in-command, was sweating. Given that his normal attention span never exceeded three seconds, he had been remarkably focused for a change.
‘Damn hot,’ said Triplex.
‘What’s hot?’ asked Hari, pretending to mend a cable hanging limply from a coconut palm.
Triplex aimed a small camera at the squat pink hut across the lane. Using the digital zoom he framed a close-up of the woman taking down laundry. It was possible to make out details as fine as her eyelashes. ‘Majestic, you’ve got to see this!’
‘What?’ It was afternoon and Hari was suffering from a bad headache, which made him irritable, but in another couple of hours the sun would mercifully slip down the horizon. It had been a painful day. It wasn’t always easy to be a hero.
‘The item, of course.’
‘Don’t get ideas,’ said Hari. ‘We’re professionals and she’s off limits.’
‘Chill out, Majestic. I was just making an observation for the report. This is a romantic-jealousy case and so it follows that our job is to peep at her.’
Hari kept his cool. ‘Good, try to think like a detective.’
Triplex’s appreciation of female beauty was his main drawback as a detective. Three seconds after the woman had gone inside with the washing and there was nothing else to zoom in on he said:
‘So what do we do next, Majestic?’
A propensity to be easily bored was his second greatest drawback.
‘Wait and see.’
‘What if nothing happens?’
‘That would be the best thing that could happen.’
Triplex lit a cigarette and started watching a song-and-dance clip on his phone. Hari Majestic scanned the muddy lane below for layabouts, lechers and louts – not necessarily in alphabetical order, of course. Just the other day, he too had been an unemployed drifter, struggling to find a job, but now, all of a sudden, he was a professional full-time hero and the director of a detective agency.
Here on the rooftop of an old brick shed in a slum, spending the afternoon spying on a beautiful woman, he had plenty of time to think things through. It had all started a week ago and his thoughts meandered back to that momentous day when everything changed.
How to Get a Hero’s Job
Buildings were like people. Sometimes a modest exterior concealed the scariest things and vice versa. ‘Take this one for example,’ Mr Majestic said to himself.
From across the busy street it looked like a humble and homely building. The three-storey box of monsoon-worn concrete could have belonged to any middle class part of town, but for the record it stood a short motorbike ride west of Bengaluru City railway station in Rajaji Nagar – a vast area of shops, random offices and small-scale industries, a sprinkling of temples to improve your life, hospitals that claimed to cure anything, including death if that was what you suffered from, and a public crematorium if
you didn’t survive despite taking every precaution.
Hari Majestic scanned the office building’s facade again but it bore no signs of imminent threat. One just couldn’t tell. He was used to weird things and creepy places. But entering police stations and related establishments made him queasy without fail, since he never knew if he was going to come out a free man.
The motorcycle’s engine cooled and he slid off after padlocking his military style helmet to the handle bar. The late monsoon wasn’t really happening and therefore the city was experiencing drought. Small clouds of dust mushroomed from underneath his rubber sandals.
As for a getaway plan, he had parked his bike so that it faced away. The motorcycle manufacturer’s motto appealed to him: ‘Made like a Gun, Goes like a Bullet’. It dated back to the days
when armies bought Enfield Bullets in bulk. In case he must make a quick escape, he’d simply run out, hop on and bugger off.
On foot now, Hari negotiated the disorderly traffic, dodging a decorated elephant headed to a temple festival nearby – it was that time of the year. Thanks to his alert senses and decent karma he had, so far, always survived the Bengaluru streets.
On the first floor of the building there was a chit fund company optimistically named Interesting Pyramidal Investment Scheme Pvt Ltd. He headed up the stairs to the next floor, where he noted a firm that went by the somewhat cryptic name of Telegraphic Intimations. Hari had read about telegraphs on
Wikipedia but had no clue they still existed in the IT capital of India. Up a final flight of stairs, he spotted an unglamorous glass door with a low-key sign for Total Safety Security Agents & Services stencilled across it. There he stopped and hesitated for the second time.
Considering that the Bengaluru police force only had 16,109 men and women in its service, private security was big business, employing hundreds of thousands of people if you counted every guard at every ATM, jewellery shop and posh residence. So if almost everybody else worked in the security industry, then why shouldn’t he get his share? Besides, it’d be a safe employment as the demand was only going up with the population. Just in Hari’s lifetime, Bengaluru had grown from a million or two to over ten, rowdy-sheeters of no fixed address and other floating population counted.
He stopped to contemplate a notification painted on the wall, stating that applicants were expected to be well-groomed, clean-shaven with sober haircuts, dressed tidily in ironed shirts and formal pants in a colour no brighter than brown.
Rolling his head sideways to loosen up the neck, he pepped himself, checked his looks in the door glass: no matter how much coconut oil he used, an uncontrollable protuberance stood up from his forehead as if he were born on a bad hair day. He was wearing his showy nylon shirt and frayed stonewashed jeans. Plus, he had grown a trendy moustache. One of his friends had one, so he’d followed suit. Perfect disguise, nobody would think of him as a potential detective. Would-be movie star, yes. Detective, no.
Trouble was, Hari had never applied for a job before because he’d been too busy staying alive. However, at the age of twenty-eight, it seemed to him that only salaried people mattered in the matrimonial ads. In fact, most people of his generation, born in the 1980s, were married and had kids, mortgaged homes in apartment buildings with 24-hour security and decent jobs with the possibility of receiving a pension before God took them off to their next reincarnations.
Somehow Hari had found himself left behind on life’s backburner, as if he were starring in a movie that nobody wanted to produce.
He dug in his jeans’ pocket for the printout of his bio data. The CV was almost truthful. In Math and English, two subjects he had a bizarre aptitude for, he really hadn’t been at the bottom of the bin in elementary school, though he had got expelled at the age of thirteen. As an adult, he’d spent very short stints in jail so there wasn’t much of a rap sheet to speak of. In the CV he listed it as ‘judicial training’ and, indeed, he had aided the police as a snitch.
At the end of the list of professional experiences, after ‘tourist guide’ (euphemism for tout) and ‘investment adviser’ (ditto for two-bit conman), it read ‘hero’. That was where he saw himself heading. However, hero jobs didn’t come knocking on a daily basis.
No point worrying too much, he told himself. Then he pushed open the door, ready to face whatever waited on the other side.