Tracking a person is the hardest thing I've done to death. But it's the thing I know how to do. I follow the prey with all the keenness of a bloodhound. Or, I would like to believe that I do. It's not quite so hard, though. I've done this forever. Reading people, following people. It's knowing people that I try to do. That's my job. Knowing people.
I'm good at it. That's why they hire me.
I sit here in my apartment, in a building gone to seed. The stairs up here are stained with god-knows-what. There are voices wafting in from somewhere not so very far away, as you climb up the stairs, but you don't really pay attention to them. They're not important. Nothing is, other than why they come. They come to see me. To ask my help. I help people. By knowing them.
I came here some years back. I worked as a hack. I rode in open-air double-decker buses. I laughed when it rained and the water stung. I laughed because even in all that poverty, I had absolutely no idea what I was doiing. And then, one day, I looked into the cracked mirror in the hall of my two-room closet, and I knew what I was supposed to do.
The woman who sits in front of me looks at me in something mingled with fear and confidence. She doesn't know for a fact that I can do what she wants, but she hopes I can. It would make her life so much simpler if I can. So I smile at her, show her my yellowed teeth, and wait for that touch of recoil. It would be boring if she fawned over me, believed every word I said, adored me. This is riskier, risquer. I prefer it this way.
"I can give what you want," I rasp, in the voice that I have perfected over the years, because I've discovered they like it best this way.
She trembles because she's not sure she wants to know. I tremble at the absurdity of it all.
"Give it to me," I croak again, and I thrust my hand out.
She's dressed quite well, this one. From somewhere in Malabar Hills, her house has a lovely view of the sea. She stands out there at the living room window every day, before heading out to a corporate job. She's a bitch at work, though. Her coworkers find her demanding, over-zealous and simply ball-busting. That sounds funny. And when she comes back home, she's Miss Honey and Cream to her husband. He's an investmant banker himself, and he sees the ocean from his office on the fifteenth floor of a Nariman Point skyscraper. They're a happy family. Or, they would be, if she had not come here to my door. Asking me to tell her something she already knows.
"This is his?" She nods in reply, and clasps her hand across her lap. There are only two chairs in this room, and it's threadbare otherwise. There's the fan overhead, and I keep it on a a low speed as much as for the weather, as for the effect of suspense it creates in my clients' minds. It's all a show, a lovely spoof they love to believe in.
"When was the last time he wore it?" I ask, handling the tie in my hand. Silk. Patterned. Quite ugly, really. Not at all to my taste. But I need to find out when he tied it around his neck last, or the effect will not be a hundred per cent.
"Two days back," she answers, and her voice is quite calm. She's one of the stronger ones, I can tell. She has to be. She's a ball-buster. I can tell that from her thin lips. I'd like to kiss those thin lips, but that's hardly business-like behaviour on my part, and so I sit still. Not exactly still: I still leer at her, I still handle the tie, crinkling it and pulling it, testing its strength.
I drop it on the floor. That contact is all that I find necessary.
"It's quite clear," I pronounce, and she looks up at me. Her eyebrows arch upward, but that's all.
"My payment, first," I say, leaning back against the chair.
She looks at me. She's skeptical of course. She's never believed in power of anything but her own, but she's here because she's heard of me in good faith. She has faith, not belief. That's very strange, but I feel the same way. Faith, not belief. It sounds funny, but it's not. So, she looks at me, shrugs imperceptably, and then opens her handbag. Takes out her cheque book, signs it with a flourish. Her hands are heavily veined. I wonder if she has anorexia. I don't find such thin women appealing, though. Pity.
I accept the cheque she hands me over.
"You can go home now," I say, "It's done."
She gets up from her chair now, and turns. She whirls around though, once, just to look at me, an absurd figure still seating on my lone chair, the room quite empty and dusty, thin shaft of sunlight from the blinded window, and the closed door leading to the other room. It's an absurd little picture and she can't really imagine how she fits into the whole thing. But she does. But she did. I smile. What else am I supposed to do?
She shuts the door behind her, and climbs down the stairs, one by one, slowly, past the stained walls, past the not-so-far-away voices of children, down the stairs. But she's lighter. She's lighter because she has faith - not belief - that I made her philandering husband break his affair with his secretary. The ball-buster.