Private India City on Fire(10)
Author:James Patterson


    “Not that I can remember,” answered the editor, taking a deep drag from the Virgina Slim that dangled from her lips. “Last year she wrote an article about teenage pregnancies at a famous Mumbai girls’ school. The principal was very upset and stormed into her office. That was a while ago, though.”

    Nisha held out a photograph of the man who had been caught on CCTV leaving Dr. Kanya Jaiyen’s hotel room. “We believe that this man may have visited Bhavna at her home on the morning she was killed. Does he look familiar?”

    The editor studied the photograph carefully and eventually shrugged. “You can’t see his face.”

    “Even so …”

    “Sorry, it doesn’t ring any bells. I don’t think I have ever seen this man before. I could give you a list of the names and phone numbers of contacts that Bhavna had scheduled to interview over the next few days. Maybe it could throw up a match?”

    “Thanks, I appreciate that,” replied Nisha. “Anything that you can tell me about her personal life?”

    “As far as I know, it was quite normal,” said the editor. “She wasn’t married but was seeing a guy—a decent bloke. She introduced him to me during our last New Year’s office party. A banker, I think.”

    “Were they getting along? No fights?” asked Nisha.

    “Not that anyone in this office was aware of,” said the editor. “As far as we could tell, she was on her way to eventually marrying the chap. She was working late during the last few days because he was on an overseas trip.”

    “What was the latest story Bhavna Choksi was working on?”

    “Ah, now that I can’t tell you, I’m afraid.”

    “Can’t? Or won’t?”

    The editor exhaled smoke and smiled wanly through the cloud. “A bit of both, Mrs. Gandhe. Bhavna had a workstation and I dare say we could boot it up and have a look at her files, but we’re a newspaper. To be helping … you’re not even the police, are you? To be assisting a law enforcement agency such as yourselves, well, it would seriously compromise our editorial integrity. Unless …”

    “Yes …?” said Nisha carefully, thinking she knew exactly what was coming next.

    The editor stubbed out her cigarette and leaned forward. “Unless we could perhaps come to an arrangement.”

    “And what sort of arrangement would that be?” sighed Nisha.

    “Perhaps we could help you with details of Bhavna’s assignment in return for details of the murder.”

    “Details?” repeated Nisha.

    “Mrs. Gandhe, all of us are devastated by the loss of Bhavna,” said the editor, “but we realize the show must go on. She would have wanted details of her murder to appear as an exclusive on the front pages of her own tabloid—not in some other newspaper. Come on now, what information on the case can you offer me?”

    Nisha shook her head in disgust. “We’re trying to find a killer here—”

    “And I’m trying to run a newspaper,” shrugged the editor. Her phone began to ring and Nisha thanked her stars. She signaled that she had to leave and made a quick retreat from the office before the editor could put down the receiver.

    As Nisha left the office building she was being watched by a camera. Its telephoto lens whirred like a casino counting machine.





    Chapter 18





    “HARI?”

    Private’s tech wizard turned at the sound of Nisha’s voice. “What can I do for you?” he asked, pleased to see her, and even more pleased when she perched herself on the edge of his desk.

    “I went to the Afternoon Mirror today,” she explained.

    “Looking for a job?”

    She chuckled. “Looking for information on Bhavna Choksi, only her editor was far more interested in what I had to tell her about the murder than actually helping us find the killer.”

    He pulled a face. “Newshounds, eh? Tsk.”

    “We recovered a laptop from Bhavna’s home,” said Nisha. She pointed. “That one there, I believe. Could you crack it?”

    “Of course,” he smiled.

    “Brilliant.” She eased herself off the end of his desk, departing with her jacket slung over her shoulder and her Glock at her hip. “Let me know how you get on.”

    “Will do,” he said, watching her go. Then he placed Bhavna Choksi’s Windows notebook before him on his workstation. This was going to be fun. The hacker in him always relished the prospect of entering forbidden territory.

    He plugged in a USB flash drive preloaded with a program titled Ophcrack and held down the power button until the machine powered off. He then powered up the computer, entered the machine’s BIOS, changed the boot sequence, saved the changes, and exited.

    Taking a deep meditative breath, Hari restarted the machine and waited for Ophcrack to load. The program used rainbow tables to solve passwords up to fourteen characters in length and Hari had found that it usually took less than ten seconds to pop one out. He began counting backwards from ten.

    Exactly on cue, Ophcrack spat out Bhavna’s password. Hari wrote it down on a piece of paper, unplugged the USB flash drive from the computer, rebooted it, and logged in using the password supplied by the program. He then began examining the journalist’s computer for material that could be of use to Private India.

    Besides previous articles on a variety of subjects, Hari began looking for Bhavna’s latest web searches. Within a few minutes he knew that she had been searching for travel coordinators, stylists, pet groomers, physiotherapists, public relations managers, nutrition experts, fashion designers, beauticians, psychiatrists, and fitness instructors. Not only that, but …

    Hari picked up the intercom handset and dialed Nisha’s extension. “I can tell you what Bhavna Choksi was working on in the twenty-four hours before she was killed,” he said. “She’s got web searches galore, plus she was good enough to keep a list on her desktop.”

    “Excellent,” Nisha beamed. “Apparently her most recent piece was a feature on the lifetstyles of the rich and famous …”

    “I’m looking at it now. It’s a bunch of names, lots under the heading ‘possibles,’ just one under the heading ‘definite.’”

    “All right,” she said, “let’s have the definite.”

    “It’s a hairstylist. Name of Aakash—just ‘Aakash’—at the Shiva Spa Lounge.”

    “Excellent,” she said, “I owe you one,” and hung up.

    In his own office, Hari replaced the receiver, feeling an odd mix of emotions: pride at having recovered the information Nisha needed, but something else too, and for a second he simply stared at the silent receiver in its cradle.

    Then he stood, left his office, and took the stairs to Colaba Causeway, where he lit a cigarette. As he exhaled a cloud of smoke through his nostrils he made a call.

    It was answered by a husky female voice.

    “Can we meet later tonight?” Hari asked her. “It’s urgent. There’s something I need to discuss.”





    Chapter 19





    “IT’S NOT A hair salon, it’s a hair lounge,” said Aakash the head stylist, his eyes ablaze.

    The difference, as far as Santosh and Nisha could see, was that the Shiva Spa had a resident DJ who played deafening music. Stylists bobbed their heads in time to the beat as they dealt with trendy clients, all of whom regarded themselves with empty expressions in the mirror, as though to show an actual human emotion might be considered uncool.

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