Private India City on Fire(7)
Author:James Patterson

    Santosh’s eyes sparkled behind his glasses. He was pleased with his protégée. “Exactly. And yet, on the other hand, perhaps these trinkets are red herrings, designed to throw us off the scent. Either way, these women were chosen, and finding out what connects them will help us understand how and why they were chosen. We need to speak to Bhavna Choksi’s editor, find out who she’d spoken to recently. And as for Dr. Jaiyen …” He gestured to Nisha. “Do you have the number?”

    She passed a slip of paper across and Santosh dialed the Bangkok Hospital and Medical Center, and then was treated to a recording of the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra before a female voice at last came on the line.

    “Uwwano,” she said.

    “Good evening, Dr. Uwwano. This is Santosh Wagh. I believe you’re expecting me.”

    She sounded tired. “I am, Mr. Wagh.”

    “I apologize for the circumstances of my call. My condolences on your loss.”

    She sighed. Santosh had the sense that she had sat down. It was late there in Bangkok. “That’s very kind of you, Mr. Wagh. This is very, very sad. We’re all in a state of shock. How may I be of help?”

    “Dr. Jaiyen was a reconstructive surgeon?”

    “She was. A very good one. And if you’re thinking that that’s the usual kind of disingenuous rubbish I’d trot out in the circumstances then you’d be wrong. She really was a good surgeon. One of the best.”

    “I’m sorry, Dr. Uwwano. Please be reassured that myself and my colleagues are doing everything we can to try and catch her killer. If you’ll allow me to ask some questions. I’m given to understand that Dr. Jaiyen reported to you, is that right?”

    “Yes. I was her senior in the hospital’s Reconstructive Surgery team.”

    “And what does that involve exactly—reconstructive surgery?”

    “It’s as broad as it sounds, Mr. Wagh. Whether it be for cosmetic or psychological reasons, in the aftermath of a car crash …”

    Santosh froze, feeling as though he’d been slapped. On the other side of the desk, Nisha watched him carefully, concern on her face, then leaned forward, whispering, “Boss?”

    “Mr. Wagh?” the doctor was saying.

    He composed himself. “Sorry, Dr. Uwwano. Do go on.”

    “Well, I think I’d finished, really,” said Dr. Uwwano.

    Nisha relaxed back into her seat, dragging a hand through her hair and watching him warily.

    “Of course, of course,” said Santosh. He waved “everything’s okay” to Nisha. “Well, you could tell me, what was the purpose of Dr. Jaiyen’s visit to Mumbai?”

    “It was a personal visit,” said Uwwano. “She told me it was to meet an old friend. She applied for a week’s leave of absence in order to take the trip.”

    “Did she tell you the name of the friend she planned to meet?” asked Santosh.

    “No,” replied Uwwano. “She was rather reserved about her personal life and I did not feel like prying.”

    “Was anything troubling Dr. Jaiyen? Did she have any problems in her professional life? And what about her family life? Was it normal?”

    “She was happily married,” replied Uwwano. “She did not have any kids, though. No, as far as I can tell, she had no worries. The only surviving family member other than her husband is her mother who lives in Chiang Mai.”

    “Had Dr. Jaiyen performed any surgeries that went wrong?” asked Santosh. “Any instances of lawsuits or complaints by patients?”

    “No. As I said, Dr. Jaiyen was one of our best surgeons,” explained Uwwano. “I’m having a hard time trying to find a suitable person to fill her shoes.”

    Later, of course, Santosh would realize the mistake he had made when he spoke to Dr. Uwwano, but for now he wished her good day and ended the call. And then, when Nisha had left his office, he reached for the bottle.

    Chapter 14

    IT WAS PAST eight that night when Mubeen reached Mumbai’s infamous police morgue at Cooper Hospital. Strong stomach or not, he’d been dreading his visit to this most dilapidated of the city’s facilities. What’s more, the man he was meeting, Dr. Zafar, had a certain reputation for eccentricity.

    He got out of his van and crept past the muddy porch with a handkerchief held to his nose. The smell was overpowering, almost the equivalent of a few dozen dead rats decaying in a corner of the filthy building. Mubeen knew better, though. The overwhelming stench was not from dead rats but from rotting human bodies. It was the stench of death.

    Mubeen could hear his own footsteps echo as he reached the dark entrance, a single light bulb casting an eerie glow. He began walking through the long, dimly lit passage. On both sides were gurneys bearing human forms covered in sheets. Despite his training, Mubeen felt a hollow in the pit of his stomach. He swallowed hard as he forced himself to cross the passage lined with cadavers.

    He felt something move against his foot and looked down to see a massive gutter rat scurry away with a piece of flesh in its mouth. A shudder went down Mubeen’s spine and he felt his hair stand on end.

    Further ahead he could see a glimmer of light emerging from a room. He quickened his pace to get there. As he crossed the doorway, he felt himself slipping and had to reach out and grab hold of a gurney to prevent himself from falling. He glanced downwards and realized that he was standing on a floor slick with blood, fluids, and human tissue. He pulled his hand away in shock as he realized that he was holding on to a frozen limb of a cadaver rather than the steel frame of a gurney.

    “Never knew you would come so late,” boomed a voice behind him. Mubeen spun around to see a man dressed in green surgical scrubs, surrounded by a few dozen more gurneys containing decaying corpses. The voice belonged to Dr. Zafar, the police surgeon. Mubeen had reached the autopsy center in the police morgue of Cooper Hospital.

    The morgue received around fifteen corpses daily and a third of these were without claimants. As per official policy, the police had to search for claimants for seven days before allowing disposal. Unfortunately, this was a slow process. Disposal happened at the rate of three or four bodies per day, thus resulting in a pile-up of more than a hundred cadavers in a fifty-five-rack morgue.

    Dr. Zafar looked at Mubeen and smiled. He was wearing his surgical mask so the smile was only discernible from the twinkle in his eyes. “How can you keep cheerful in a hellhole like this?” asked Mubeen as he walked across to Zafar, carefully avoiding the puddles on the floor but grateful for the immediate presence of another living human.

    “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight,” laughed Zafar, taking off his mask and applying some Vicks Vaporub under his nose to neutralize the permanently foul odor of the place. “I am used to this hellhole.”

    Mubeen quietly thanked his stars that he did not have to work in conditions like those that Zafar worked in.

    “Your bodies are ready,” announced the police surgeon, opening the door to the refrigeration chamber, like a baker announcing a fresh batch of bread from the oven. Mubeen helped him pull out the two tagged corpses and load them on gurneys.

    “Would you like to carry out the autopsies here?” asked Zafar.

    “No,” replied Mubeen. “I need the equipment in my own lab. If you don’t mind, I’ll simply take the bodies and share the results with you by email.”

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