Paltan came to whisper at Vishnu’s ear. Ari had come. Worry oozing from Paltan’s furrowed brow, Vishnu could see, could drip anytime into his malt whiskey. Yakkies! He pushed the glass away and kept it covered with his bloated palm. Paltan was an inferior man, an old bar manager, a wall fly, not worthy of any response, definitely not worthy of making Vishnu’s drink go salty with his scumbag sweat.
Vishnu remembered then, a long time ago, Pratima, Arihant’s wife, had pushed her four year old son aside, away from him like this, with her palm sheltering the boy’s tiny head. Like a funny cap. Like her palm would shield a .44mm Magnum fire. Like any one- with a dose of good intention- could. She had been, Vishnu thought with a sneer, a funny woman.
Now, Ari- Arihant- with the penchant for a drama and bloody ambush had appeared at the doorstep of this god forsaken, ugly bar at three in the morning- for what?
‘To have an ass fucking drink! Oh, yeah, yeah. The son of a bitch has finally realized. After seven freaking years. The bastard, the mother fucker, the dick head, has finally realized that he’s got no one. He has come here to make friends. Behen-chod!’
“Ha-ha-ha!” Vishnu gave out a belly laugh and slapped the table in a sudden splat that scared Paltan a little. Paltan twitched his thumb, but kept his head bowed as if in humble supplication, before a regal lord. Then he craned stealthily on his left to have a glimpse of the famed Colt Anaconda, usually tucked proudly behind Vishnu’s back. For reassurance. He couldn’t find any.
“Bhai, what do we do, Bhai? Tell me, Bhai?” Paltan crooned. The wall fly seemed to be on Vishnu’s side. Actually, he was on his owner’s side. But who gave a hoot about integrity in his line of business?
“How many men out there?” Vishnu asked. Nonchalantly.
“Don’t know, Bhai. Bahadur came inside and said, ‘Ari-Bhai is waiting outside for Vishnu-Bhai. Please send him out quickly.’”
“It’s dark outside. Let it be morning first. We will see then.”
“He has given only one minute of time, Bhai.”
“Ari-Bhai.” Paltan’s face reddened at the faux-pas. He dearly hoped Vishnu would be a lesser man without his pet Anaconda.
Vishnu bored into him with a cold stare and felt the violence pent up in his belly, in his breast, just below his throat, “Let it be morning first. We will see then.”
A volley of bullets came splitting the glass windows, piercing the dirty draperies, spattering the glass, wood chunks and plastics utensils. Making the whole room noisy and unruly- completely out of control- liquor and water splattering against the roof, iron splinters scattering across the room in search of soft flesh.
“I will count to three, Vishnu,’ a hoarse voice shouted from the outside darkness, ‘get out, else, you will be responsible for the death of everyone.”
Then almost without a pause, he called, “One!”
“Harami, saala, brought an automatic rifle to a baraat.” Vishnu muttered under his breath. He was on the floor, lying beside Paltan who was red in the head: could be a gun shot, or an impact wound.
To think about it: Vishnu and Arihant had long been in a fickle business. The channel of communication between them had always been frail, ambiguous, often broken. Backstabbing and betrayal had occurred in their trade, as they had come to know, as frequently as strangers becoming friends over liquors and cheap dancing girls. It had not been Arihant’s fault to become Vishnu’s partner- in crime. It had not surely been Vishnu’s fault to suspect Arihant had betrayed him to the Meenar gang.
When Vishnu had decided to take care of Arihant, he had not been happy. Things would turn messy; he would lose a partner, most probably his place in the gang. But then, this stupid broad, Pratima, would pretend she could stop a .44 Magnum bullet. Yedi thi, saali, yedi.
It was seven years ago. Arihant had disappeared. Vishnu had to draw him out. He camped himself with three more guys at Arihant’s two room house with his pet Anaconda, hoping someday or sometime, Ari would appear. The coward had not. Ari’s four year old boy who had been always friendly to him couldn’t have understood the bearing Vishnu uncle had brought with himself. The mother had been most uncooperative. Enough to test Vishnu’s worn thin patience.
“Uska namak khaya hai, tu, Vishnu. Sharam nahi aati, namak haraam!” the woman had shrieked.
“Uska khaya, uske beta ka to nahi?” Vishnu had rubbed the cold muzzle against the puffed cheek of the boy, greening. What had he supposed to do? Explain the futility of the indebtedness to the fucking broad?
The mother had pushed the boy aside while keeping her palm on his head as if the boy had been wearing a ridiculous crown.
“Goli kya haat se rukayegi tu?”
“Uske diye banduk se uske beta ko hi marega tu? Haan? Vishnu?”
Vishnu. Vishnu. Vishnu. The pathetic high pitch calling of his name would amuse him. He would figure, quite cleverly, it had been the helpless woman’s appeal to his goodness. Her begging. It would be futile.
He would pinch her cheek and said, “Bol, bol, aur ek baar bol, naam kya hai mera?”
The boy would jump and clap his hand and say, “Vishnu!”
“Nahi,’ Vishnu would lay his Anaconda carefully on the kitchen platform and take out a hammer from an open overhead cabinet.
‘Gadadhar. Gadadhar naam hai mera.”
He would crack open the boy’s skull.
“Vishnu ka hi aur ek naam samjho.”
Seven years later, Vishnu couldn’t remember how many nights he dreamt of this moment, when finally Ari and he would meet, for the face off, for their final ‘faisala‘. ‘Darpuk, saala, brings an automatic to a baraat.’
Look at Vishnu now. He had pawned his Colt revolver this morning, for fifteen thousand rupees. Why not? Even the most virginal bride wouldn’t wait for her absent groom after seven years.
He stood up slowly and kicked the still body of Paltan, just to stir him up. Then he staggered across the floor, stepping over the debris, following the barely seen red cement path in a lucky unbroken green light. Two more guys were lying on the floor. Three guys were crouching in the corner.
Vishnu reached the kitchen to find the cook and the waiters hiding there. He walked all the way up to the coal pile that was heaped beside the tandur oven. He found his weapon there.
“Three!” the hoarse voice called up outside.
A hiding waiter came running to stop Vishnu. “Mat jao, Vishnu-Bhai. Woh log aap ko maar da-lenge.” Vishnu laughed hoarsely and pushed the man aside so hard he fell crashing on the floor.
Was it the first time someone tried to kill Vishnu? Was it? Was it not, he, Vishnu, still alive? And, was it not everyone he had decided to kill, had died?
He bent his head to accommodate the meager height of the bar door and stood erect being just outside of it looking at the unknown darkness, a cold coal hammer shining in his hand.