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. Tropical Detective is the next book in the Hari Majestic series. Follow Zac and Hari Majestic at www.zacoyeah.com. Below you can read an excerpt from his book, Tropical Detective: A Hari Majestic Mystery. Courtesy: Zac O’ Yeah. Read his interview here. Courtesy: Pan Macmillan India.
The bar around the corner used to be called Deluxe, but instead of renovating, the owner had invested in a new board and upgraded the name to Finest Kwality Bar – which made sense,it was cheaper than hiring carpenters. But having hired the cheapest possible board maker, within a few months the first letter, ‘F’, and two others had fallen off so that it now, slightly unfortunately, read ‘ineKwality Bar’. The interiors, however,were pure 1990s’ vintage and that’s why Hari felt at home there:it was where he had grown up as an underage drinker. Wooden tables, cane chairs. No Formica or plastic like the lower end bars of today.
It lay opposite his office and ever since their teens, he and Triplex had spent afternoons and evenings there, sometimes mornings too, analysing life’s ups and downs. Many problems had been solved over a few bottles. It was sheer reflex to go there– men of all generations did so when they didn’t have better ideas.
The barkeep’s nickname was Peggy, a morose gent who puzzlingly enough also happened to be the convener of the CD Road laughing club. He was busy doing puja to Lord Venkateshwara whose laminated portrait adorned the wall behind the bar. Distorted bhajans busted the speakers. Peggy was deeply religious, like most bar-keepers in CD Road, and only took payment from the right hand. If you tried to pay him with the left, he threw you out. But as much as Hari proffered his money,he had to wait for his beverage. His credit wasn’t as good as god’s.
Peggy moved the incense sticks in circles before the idol, thendipped them into the cashbox setting a few banknotes on fire.Only after that did Hari get his Thums Up. In the early days afterhe stopped drinking, he often felt stoned when he met peoplewho didn’t have two heads. Nowadays, with a clearer focus andbetter night-time vision, he simply savoured the fumes from thesurrounding tables and memories of happier times. As a rule,the cola contained enough sugar and caffeine to perk him up.But tonight, it didn’t help.
Hari stared at the tabletop. Somebody had carved words into it. It was as if the table was talking to him. ‘I’m drinker. You one?I want like-minded friendship.’ There was a mobile number. He decided not to call just because some loser had been occupying the same chair. At the adjacent table, a tout was at work. New generation, born with a Bluetooth gizmo attached to his ear. On his laptop, he filled in online forms for a fellow who spoke in a rural dialect and knew no English. The tout assured him that he’d get his dreams fulfilled. The rustic would pay a bomb for a visa to whichever country he wanted to migrate to. There he’d realize that he had no chance unless he knew how to fill in his forms himself and in good English.
That was when the bad call came, the one he’d anticipated.
They were working late. Not surprising, since they had been robbed that morning. The bank wished to terminate their contract due to ‘obvious reasons’, a junior manager informed him, and possibly ‘sue for damages’.
‘But sir, I swear I had nothing to do with the heist,’ said Hari.
This statement was followed by mutual silence. The job seeker was quarrelling in the background with the tout about the advance he was expected to pay. Hari cupped his handover the phone, ‘I’m too super-busy, Kitne wallah sir. Right now,I am preventing a street fight. Can you hear the shouting in the background? One VIP possibly dead. But we may resurrect him,god willing. We have nurses on the payroll.’
‘Mister Majestic,’ said Junior Manager Kitne wallah who didn’t fall for cheap tricks, ‘I’m sure you work hard or our bank wouldn’t have hired you, but …’
‘Yes, you selected the right man.’
‘Don’t put words in my mouth.’
‘Then what is the problem? Surely you can give us another chance, sir.’
‘Mister Majestic, your job with us was to see to it that this wouldn’t happen. Now the shit has hit the fan.’ Kitne wallah threwin an English expression.
Hari was uncertain of its meaning. ‘Whose shit, sir?’
‘And whose fan?’
‘Since you’re interested in fans, would your bank like to investin a consignment of armpit fans?’
‘Because you are terminated.’ The manager made a great hullabaloo about the Indian Penal Code Sections under which they considered filing cases against Diamond & Majestic Investigations Pvt Ltd: 406, 420, 465, 468 and 471. Technically,Hari didn’t need him to say more – having been brought up byan advocate, he knew the accusations were criminal breach oftrust, cheating, forgery, forgery for the purpose of cheating and using as genuine a forged document. ‘Mister Majestic, it turns out you withheld vital information from us.’
‘Says which liar?’
‘Are you calling me a liar?’
This wasn’t going well.
‘No, but somebody may have lied to you.’
‘Hardly the security consultants that we’ve hired. They are professionals. Your police clearance certificate has been retracted and there is suspicion about how it came to be issued in the first place, considering your background. Furthermore, your company was registered in your wife’s name, but it turns out several operatives at the agency have featured on the rowdy-sheets.’
‘How can you say a thing like that?’ He felt badly let down.‘You must allow us to do it again, please sir, and next time no untoward incidents will happen.’
Kitne wallah wasn’t listening. ‘I’m saying it for the last time,Mister Majestic. As per contract, we may terminate without disclosing a reason. We expect you to fully cooperate with the investigation into the matter or you shall face legal consequences as mentioned. Why am I even wasting my time speaking to you?’
Hari heard the phone go dead. He laid it down on the table.Whenever it rang, it heralded misery. Reality was a formidable enemy to be up against, different from the romcom thrillers where a Happy End was guaranteed.