Cowboys & Indians
Cover by Ash Collins
Edited by Karen Wilson
Copyright © 2014 by A.M. Sardar v1.0
Dallas Jones: Project Manager; brusque hard-nosed ass kicker who doesn't suffer fools gladly.
CC Baxter: Chairman of the company; enjoys shouting and accusing.
Gracie Davis: Project co-ordinator; spiky, engaging and sensitive soul, life's optimist.
Brad Coulter: Construction Manager; loud mouth Texan who resents working for Indians.
Sam Chambers: Logistics Manager; quiet calm with hidden layers.
Moti Lal: Head of Lal Industries and his family, dreamer and over-achiever.
Gopi: Moti's adopted son and Personal Assistant, who never quite made the grade.
Avinash: Young clever man on his first job, naďve about many things
Seema: Gorgeous Resource Manager, independent & strong willed
Anurhadha (Anu): Bubbly office worker, confidente to Gracie.
Lalita Suman: Moti Lal's independently-minded flirtatious wife who enjoys the lifestyle Moti provides.
Sunita (Slinky) Lal: Eldest impossibly beautiful spoiled daughter of Moti & Lalita, married with a daughter.
Usha Lal: Second short, impossibly plain, daughter of Moti & Lalita with self-esteem issues.
Bibi: Moti's mother, matriarchal head of the house, strong willed and cruel tongued.
Dhiraj: Husband to Slinky and businessman determined to succeed.
Heera Lal: Younger brother to Moti, wasteful and corrupt.
Sona & Chandi: Sisters to Moti Lal
Inspector Charan Das: Rotund policeman with too many relatives and not enough bribes.
Kish & Mukh: His two constables
Jeevan: The beguiling kusra [cross-dresser] with the divine lips.
Ravinaath: The boy with the strangely familiar looks.
Abbas Malik: Shifty lawyer with reprehensible morals.
Haukur Kristjánsson: IT Manager, Viking and prolific drinker of beer.
Asahido Takahama-san: Japanese Safety Officer, polite and self-contained with an acute perception.
Sohail Khan: British Architect, handsome, flirtatious with an eye for the ladies & trouble.
SHRI Moti Lal leaned back in the luxurious soft leather of the Cadillac as it sped through downtown Dallas towards the offices of Mitchum and Martin
His rotund belly pushed and stretched taut the silk Nehru jacket he wore. It was always good to dress the part when negotiating with Americans he thought; they had such trouble seeing past the skin colour or the funny costumes. A red bindi brightly spotted his forehead, Aviator sunglasses balanced perfectly on the bridge of his nose, years of betel nut paan chewing had stained his gums dark orange, a heavy ornate gold chain garlanded his robust neck and his fingertips were heavily nicotine stained; he was, in all regards, a colourful character.
"We are nearly there," said Gopi, his Personal Assistant.
Moti Lal barely moved his bloated face to acknowledge his PA. He liked Gopi, after all hadn't he educated him at his own expense, given him a job in the company and had elevated him to his PA; but you had keep them in their place.
The black shark-like car stopped in front of an anonymous glass building, the driver opened the door for Moti Lal and a fierce heatwave immediately assaulted his senses. Gopi firmly moved the driver aside, placed a clean handkerchief on his forearm and offered it to the great man. A pudgy bejewelled hand grasped it firmly and he eased himself out of the deep seat. Instantly Gopi opened an umbrella above his head, not to stave off the heat; both regularly endured worst in Mumbai, but to protect Moti Lal's henna hued skin; no Indian liked being darker than he needed to be.
Suddenly Moti Lal stopped and it took all of Gopi's instincts to prevent himself tailgating into him. He shifted his gaze downwards to a shiny Yankee coin, Gopi spotted it too and quickly reached down to pick it up, but just as he was about to slip it into his pocket, Moti Lal extended his hand. Gopi instantly realised what was expected, he wiped the coin clean on his jacket and placed it in the Great Man's palm. Moti Lal quickly dropped it into his pocket and carried on unperturbed with Gopi hustling close behind tightly gripping the umbrella. The driver watched the pair enact their strange ritual, muttered a profanity, and returned to the car.
They were expected inside and the corporate hospitality, so beloved of multi-nationals, was swiftly offered and equally swiftly accepted. Cool drinks in chilled glasses and an extraordinary range of finger foods were laid before them on the table in the large conference room. Gopi hurried back and forth offering different edibles but Moti Lal either dismissed them without tasting or took a tiny bird's peck and then dismissed them.
"They are late," observed Gopi after a few minutes.
"They are trying to impress us. They are so busy they have to force themselves to meet us; it's an old game and I know it well," replied Moti Lal.
Further conversation was quickly terminated as a large body of people quickly entered the room and started to arrange themselves around the conference table. No one came up to introduce themselves or in any other perceptible way acknowledge the Indians existence. The activity stopped and a false lull settled on the large room. It was obvious someone else was going to come, someone very important, since the large chair at the head of the table was still empty.
Abruptly the door opened and CC Baxter, Chief Executive of the Mitchum and Martin Construction Company, a lean taut coil of a man came in flanked by two assistants. Moti Lal quickly looked at Gopi, his singular PA, and realised he had been trumped in the Game of Assistants.
"Mr Moti Lal, a pleasure to meet you, I'm CC Baxter, head honcho at this here little company," said the lean man offering his hand to the seated Indian.
Moti Lal remained motionless; it was time to play the cultural card he thought.
A little of the self-confidence fell away from CC Baxter as behind him his subordinates wondered why the fat little Indian was snubbing their boss.
"I'm sorry, but Mr Moti Lal doesn't shake hands; my profound apologies," said Gopi with a plastic smile.
"Skin disease?" asked CC Baxter impolitely.
"No, heavens no! Religious stipulations; he is Upper Brahmin, he can only shake hands with an equally qualified caste member," over-explained Gopi.
"Alright, not to worry; we're all good here," said CC Baxter unconvincingly as he and his two assistants retreated back to their side of the table.
"I assume he speaks English?" said CC Baxter with a heavy dose of mocking.
"Of course he speaks," replied Gopi. He was starting to get annoyed; this loud Yankee was mocking his Saab after presuming to shake hands with him.
"Well, can't you make him say something?" mocked CC again.
"He will speak when he is ready. Please start," said Gopi frostily.
A mean look flashed across CC's face and he controlled his sharp tongue with a good degree of effort. If they're numbers weren't so poor this earning quarter, he would've kicked the little brown curry-muncher out of his office.
"Well, thank you for coming and taking this meeting. Let's have some introductions, I'll start. My name is CC Baxter and, as I said before," a little grimace at the thought, "I'm the head honcho at this company."
The introductions started around the table; people from finance, people from legal, people from indeterminate departments, and managers, lots of managers, until the last short introduction from a grizzled, mean-looking man in his fifties, "Jones, Project Manager."
"That's us done, now your turn," said CC Baxter with a swagger.
"I am Gopi, Personal Assistant, confidante and good friend to Shri Moti Lal, owner of Lal Industries, one of the richest men in India," Gopi concluded confidently.
All eyes turned to the Buddha-like statue of Moti Lal, waiting patiently for him to say a word, any bloody word thought CC Baxter. After a long, uncomfortable pause, he finally spoke in a lilting accented voice, "I am what he says, and I would like a theme park for my lovely Mumbai."
The spell was broken, the little fat Indian could talk, and everyone started to assess his needs, to calculate his requirements until Jones spoke up, "Why did ya come here? Disney is where you should be. But I figure they turned you down, so now you're slumming here."
Several sharp glances were aimed at Jones but he brushed them off and eyeballed Moti Lal, challenging him to reply.
Moti Lal beamed, a straight talking Yankee who would get to the point. He took off his glasses and said, "You are quite right. I did approach them but they have their own schedule, which they were unwilling to amend."
"So what do you want from us?" asked Jones.
Several senior managers exchanged coded looks; Jones was taking over the meeting, how dare he? They eyed CC Baxter awaiting his disapproval, but none came; he'd had enough of this pot bellied over-enunciator and was glad Jones was dragging him to the point.
Moti Lal smiled, "I would like an American adventure playground in Mumbai. I have bought the franchise licenses from the Six Flags Entertainment Corporation for my own park. I shall call it 'Six Flags over Mumbai'."
A stunned silence greeted this announcement until Jones burst out laughing, "That's the most dumbass thing I've ever heard. I know them fellas went far but I'm sure as hell certain they never got to, what was that place? My-Bambi?" and laughed again.
"Jones," reprimanded CC Baxter and the laughter quickly subsided.
"You'll have to forgive our Mr Jones, he' a little abrupt at times," soothed CC Baxter.
"Did you know there are over three hundred and thirty million Gods in Hinduism; God as a snake, as a monkey, as an elephant or even as a fish. Do you know there are living Gods too? Yes, it's true. There is even a temple dedicated to the great Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan, who is still very much amongst us, unfortunately; I was always a Rajesh Khanna fan. So you see my Hindu brothers are very adept at believing the impossible, the impractical or the even the very unlikely; so a few cowboys in India is nothing," Moti Lal explained carefully.
He looked meticulously around the room and added, "It'll just be like cowboys and indians but with real Indians."
"I think you'll find our Indians are real enough," quipped Jones.
"Thanks Jones, well that's clear then; cowboys in India it is. So just what exactly can we do for you?" asked CC Baxter, eager to move the deal forward without any more stories.
"I want you to build it," said Moti Lal and gestured to Gopi hovering on his right shoulder. Gopi swiftly produced a large cheque book, opened it with a flourish and placed on the table. An Omas Phoenix Platinum pen was produced and placed next to it.
CC Baxter realised with a start the fat little man was intending to sign a cheque without discussing requirements , dates or anything else, and tried to stop him, "Woooha, hold on there, I can't take anything off you. It constitutes a binding contract in this state and we haven't agreed to anything yet."
Moti Lal looked up and asked, "Do you want to build it?"
"Yes, of course we do," replied CC Baxter.
"And so do I. This is a little deposit to maintain your interest in my project until formal contracts are signed," Moti Lal explained.
The Legal Manager began to speak, "You can't assume contracts will…" but Baxter held up his hand and silenced him quickly, "how little?"
"Is ten million US dollars enough?" he asked snidely.
"Make it fifteen and you will have my personal undivided attention," said a beaming CC Baxter.
"Very well, fifteen it is," and he gestured to Gopi to fill in the amount.
All around the table, disbelief was turning into conviction. They were really going to walk out of a preliminary meeting with fifteen million dollars; in ten minutes they had just pushed their first quarter earnings into profit. Gopi finished writing the cheque and then smoothly passed it to his boss who immediately picked up the pen, read the cheque carefully and started to sign it, but then he paused "I would like this gentleman, Mr Jones, to lead it; I will only talk to him about this project."
"Of course, I was going to say the very same," soothed CC Baxter.
"Good," said Moti Lal and signed the cheque.
Jones murmured "sonovabitch" under his breath, but it was unclear which particular offspring he was referring to.
JONES stretched his back, readjusted the saddle-bags on his left shoulder again, lifted his Stetson hat to waft a stray annoying fly and scanned down the immigration line reserved for Non-Indians; it seemed to have been stationary for an extraordinary length of time. He suppressed the urge to curse and
resumed waiting impatiently.
The line crawled up to the immigration desk and finally it was his turn to face the bored sullen official. He slapped his passport on the desktop and the dark blue colour of the American passport kicked the official into action. He looked at Jones, noting his Stetson hat, the mean olive-green eyes, the long handlebar moustache slowly turning gray and the grizzled unshaven chin; he opened and examined the passport photograph, scanned Jones again, leaned forward to check out his long boots and finally shouted at his two other colleagues, "Raju, Santu, yeh dekh [look at this]." His colleagues quickly abandoned their posts, leaving behind frustrated passengers, and came to look at Jones. Finally the first official spoke, "are you a cowboy?"
"Cowboy? Are you a cowboy?" repeated the official.
"No, I ain't a cowboy," replied Jones irritated.
"You have a hat and you wear boots," observed the second official with the Rajesh name tag.
"Don't make me a cowboy. Do you see a horse?" snapped Jones.
"Have you lost it?" asked the third official with the Santosh name tag.
"You need to go to baggage reclaim," added Rajesh unhelpfully.
"No, I ain't lost it; I never had it," said Jones annoyed.
"What is that?" asked the first official pointing at his waist.
"Oh that, that's a rattlesnake belt," explained Jones with great reluctance.
"Is it dangerous?" asked Santosh.
"It's a belt for crying out loud, it keeps my pants up; how dangerous is that?" hollered Jones.
"No, no, no," continued Santosh shaking his head in time to each 'no', "the snake rattle, is it dangerous?"
"Not snake rattle, rattlesnake. And yes it is dangerous," replied Jones making immense effort to control his growing anger.
"Is it more dangerous than a king cobra?" questioned Rajesh.
"I don't know any king cobras," said Jones between gritted teeth.
"I think it is not," said Santosh.
"Do you know Clint Eastwood? He is a cowboy," said the first official.
"He has a horse," added Santosh.
"Aw fer crying out loud; I ain't a cowboy and I don't know Clint frigging Eastwood. Now are yer gonna stamp my passport and let me in or what?" exploded Jones.
A tense note hung in the air between Jones and the three officials, finally the first official straightened up, waved away the other two with a quick jao jao [go go], and resumed his bored look from before and asked "What is the purpose of your visit?"
An uncomprehending look greeted his remark, Jones relented, he was too tired to have another idiotic conversation with the Three Stooges, "Business."
Thump smacked down the stamp on the passport and the official handed back the passport with a curt "Enjoy your visit."
"That'll be day," replied Jones.
He reclaimed his single luggage bag and wheeled the suitcase along the marble corridors until he emerged into the arrival hall. Rows and rows of tired disappointed faces greeted him as he passed along them and then he was among the rows of company drivers. He started to read the courtesy driver signs, some printed and some handwritten, looking for 'Jones Mitchum and Martin'; but there wasn't one. He wasn't surprised, he had been dreading this trip ever since the pot bellied fool had signed the cheque in their offices, now it was going sour before he'd even got to his hotel; cursing under his breath he headed outside.
The stench of gasoline and a wave of hot air hit him full in the face and he frowned in agitation, cursed even more under his breath, 'goddamn miserable pissant jumped-up shitty cowpat of a country', and dragged his suitcase in search of a taxi. Swarms of men started to quickly surround him shouting, "buy dollar for rupaaya", "good rate good rate", "best rate". Much like Jesus before him, he showed his disdain to the moneychangers and carried on. His progress was marginal before he was surrounded by beggars, orphans and holy men and other exotic creatures drawn to the arrivals lounge at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji international Airport. He barged through them with as muCh fake politeness as he could muster.
He finally found the taxi rank, and after much head-shaking and pointing from the over helpful natives, arrived at the first taxi. His bags were loaded into the trunk and he slumped with relief into the back and growled "Marriot."
The driver twisted around to face him, his shiny sienna face beaming, "No sir, no, no! Marriot is tutee [shit], Hilton is much better, I take you there. My cousin can give you 12% discount."
'Goddamn fucking miserable lentil-eating cattle-loving crazies' thought Jones, and with immense control replied "I don't want to go to the Hilton, take me to the Marriot you monkey nut."
"I can see you are new to Mumbai, trust me yaar [friend] I will get you a good price," he insisted.
"MARRIOT!" snapped Jones and the driver reluctantly turned back.
The taxi pulled away with much bleating of the horns and shaking of fists and joined the other traffic heading towards the city. Jones was too tired to pay attention and pulled the Stetson over his face.
The taxi belched and lurched forward, black fumes pouring from the exhaust, and the driver started to speak again, "Where are you from?"
"Natural reproduction, now just drive," quipped Jones from under his hat.
"Haha you are funny. Hat and boots you must be from Ku-naayda. Yes?
"Canada? Jesus wept," said Jones, "no, I ain't a Canuck!"
"What the hell!" said Jones sitting up at the suggestion, "I ain't a friggin Aussie, I'm a Texan."
"From Texaco? I know Texaco, good petrol," grinned the driver.
"Not fuckin' Texaco, USA! Goddamn it to hell, what's wrong with you people."
"USA? Ah USA! Aumreekey, ahh acha [alright] aumreekey," repeated the driver nodding his head.
"Yes, 'aumreekey'," mimicked Jones nodding his head.
"Haha, you are funny. I am called Dev, what is your name?"
"Look we ain't getting acquainted, just drive the damn car," ordered Jones.
"Of course I am driving the taxi but what is your name?" persisted the over-eager taxi driver.
Under his hat Jones fumed. Two hours in this country and he hadn't met a sane person yet; finally he relented, "Name is Jones."
"Ah Jones, very good name; what is full name."
It seemed to Jones this guy wasn't going to shut up any time soon, "Its Dallas Jones."
"Dallas Jones? Really?" asked the driver turning around.
"Yes," growled Jones, "any problems with that?"
"Yes sir, just one; why are you named after a TV show?"
"What the fuck! Listen you chappati-chewer, I ain't named after a TV show, I ain't got a brother called Indiana, I ain't a cowboy and my belt ain't dangerous; now just drive this fucking death-trap to the Marriot," shouted Jones from the back.
"Yaar don't worry, I will drive car to Hilton," smiled the driver.
Jones reached forward, grabbed the taxi-driver by the back of his shirt collar and hissed "Stop the car."
The driver slammed on the brakes in panic and the pair fell forward and then back again. Jones released the driver's collar and got out of the taxi. Silently he gestured to the taxi driver to get out of the car and get into the back. Slowly the driver complied and sat meekly in the back. Jones climbed into the driver's vacant seat, put on his seatbelt and looked at the driver in his rear view mirror, "Which way to the Marriot?"
"Left," replied the man meekly from the back.
The Concierge at the Marriot had seen many things during his long vigil at the front, but even he was surprised and left speechless when the tall cowboy drove up in the taxi. Dumbly he opened the back door from routine and was even more surprised to see the driver in the back smiling back at him and giving a little embarrassed wave.
Jones stepped out of the car, threw the keys at the driver in the back and said, "I should charge you, you little cocksucker!"
"Rollin', rollin', rollin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin'
JONES jerked up as the whiplash crack at the end of the lyrics rang out of his cell phone, he fumbled on the bedside cabinet and finally located it, "Who the hell is this?"
"Jonesy, it's me Gracie; you up yet?" said a female voice on the other end.
Jones struggled to recall where he was, it didn't feel like his Fort Worth apartment, the noises outside were all wrong, too many horns and beeps, and the air conditioning seemed too low and the light coming from the window was all wrong and then it struck him; "Sheet, I'm in India" he groaned.
"Nothin' nothin', when did you get in?" asked Jones.
"Two days ago, been getting used to the local colour, setting up the office; what about you," replied Gracie.
"I got in early evening; say what time is it now?"
"I don't know if I want breakfast but I'll come down and share a coffee with you," offered Jones.
A strange laugh came from the other end, "Breakfast? It's seven at night, you've been asleep for twenty four hours; we're all off to dinner, you wanna come?"
"Shit! I've never slept that much and I'm still cracked; whadda ya mean 'we'?" said a bemused Jones.
"Brad and Sam got in yesterday. The Fantastic Four are back together," giggled Gracie.
"Well, this one isn't feeling so fantastic; call me at eight I'm going back to sleep," said Jones and switched the phone off.
Jones slept fitfully after that and was up and wide awake by 3am. He tried to order room service but the night porter struggled with his accent and in the end he gave up and made a cup of tea with the kettle and the sachets in his room. Jones dragged a chair onto the balcony, smoked a Winchester cigarillo, drank his self-made tea and watched the sun rise over the tower blocks; the eerie early golden light diffusing through the dusty haze, rising from the ground, gave the place a beauty it didn't deserve. The apartment blocks were unimaginative, cookie-cutter designs quickly thrown up to make money for the developers and the offices were no better, odd grandiose designs poorly executed and ill maintained.
The place reminded Jones of Dallas; it was a transient place. In Dallas people were either on the up and trying to get to California or on the way down and scrambling back to New York; only tolerating Dallas as stop on the way to their final destination. Mumbai was like that, nothing was being built with pride or longevity; God only knew where the mango-munchers were heading, what was their California or New York? He knew this town was all about make believe, the Hollywood of the India; Bollywood they called it, what a dumbass name that was, like some of that Tinsel town shine would rub off here. Jones knew Hollywood well, having spent years building out there, and they were the biggest phonies he'd ever met. He didn't think it was possible, but Mumbai looked like Hollywood without the class or taste.
Jones showered, threw on one of his clean white cotton shirts, strapped on his old rattlesnake belt with a bemused grin, pulled his jeans over his cowboy boots, brushed down his Stetson and waited patiently for Gracie to arrive. At 8 sharp the desk rang Jones to inform him he had a guest waiting for him in the foyer. Jones grabbed his old well-worn saddle bags and headed down to the foyer.
Gracie, who wore her thirty plus years well, was idling through a Bollywood gossip magazine when she saw the lean figure of Jones striding through the foyer with his saddle bags thrown over his shoulder. "Jonesy!" she screamed, threw the magazine on the table and jumped up to greet him.
"Hey, Gracie how you doin?" asked Jones as her willowy blonde figure embraced him.
"I'm good and you?" she said releasing him and stepping back to admire him.
"I ain't had a decent cup of coffee for three days and I ain't met a curry-clown I didn't wanna throw under a bus," said Jones with a wink as Gracie laughed out loud.
"Come on, I have a pot at the office," said Gracie as she grabbed her handbag and they started out of the hotel.
"Where's the other two?" asked Jones.
"They're already at the office, settling in," replied Gracie.
"How's your old man?"
"Ben's good, he's on a sabbatical for six months."
"So you dumped the kids on him and lit out, eh?" teased Jones.
"Not dumped, just some real quality time with them," explained Gracie with a chuckle.
"Sez you; come on where's the driver with the car?" asked Jones as they stepped out onto the kerb and were greeted by the roar of the early morning traffic.
"Jaldi Jaldi [quickly quickly]," shouted Avinash as the black and yellow auto rickshaw twisted and turned to weave its way through the early
morning traffic. The young man wiped the sweat from his face with a tissue paper and cursed his luck again. First day on a new contract with a giant
American company and he was running late. The rickshaw was an old one, an ancient conversion of a two wheel motorcycle into a three-wheel cheap taxi; it's
hard plastic seat made Avinash slide from one side to the other as the oddity whipped through stalled and stuck cars.
Suddenly the rickshaw headed for a gap between two buses just as it began to close. Avinash's gray-flecked brown eyes widened in terror; the rickshaw's two-stroke engine whined in protest as the driver rammed down the accelerator, the gap narrowed but the rickshaw roared on regardless, "Naaaaaaa [nooooooo]!" screamed Avinash as they flew past startled passengers and bumped and scraped their way through.
"No problem," said the driver turning back to smile at Avinash.
Avinash grimaced, bit his tongue, gripped his Tiffin box tightly and sat back. 'If we hit something at least he'll die first' he thought and that thought comforted him a little as they continued their mad dash.
Jones and Gracie were driven up Juhu Tara road and then eastwards until they caught the Western Express Highway and headed north towards West Dahisar and
the huge plot of land Moti Lal had purchased secretly to build his park. The driver moved smoothly through the traffic and they cut through Goregaon, with
the green lush vegetation on their right contrasting sharply with heavily overbuilt apartments and blocks on their left.
"Do you know what Goregaon means saab?" asked the driver from the front of the car.
Neither of his passengers replied. They both knew this was probably a well rehearsed bit of local colour to engage them in conversation, and neither was in the mood for tourist trivia.
"It means White Village; you should live here," he said as he laughed at his own witticism.
"Gore means white people eh?" said Jones.
"Yes Saab, gore lots of white people, gora one white people," corrected the driver.
"I guess we're going to hear a lot of that," smiled Gracie.
Avinash braced himself, holding tightly onto the back of the driver's seat as the rickshaw hit a pothole and bucked into the air slamming him from side to side and then back hard on the plastic seat. "Araam se [carefully]" shouted Avinash but the driver ignored him and carried on driving like the demented idiot he was.
Jones stepped out of the car, strolled across the newly gravelled car park and surveyed the expanse of coarse flat plain before him. Streams cut through
the terrain, low coarse grasses and reeds dotted the plain. This would be his home for the next six months; his responsibility to transform it into a
pristine fully-working Six Flags theme park. The land was a spur running for nearly twelve miles from top to tip and measuring nearly six miles at its
widest point. Although the top part was slightly built on, the lower spike was completely free. Jones smiled; the old goat had chosen wisely. The Arabian
sea would bring cooling breezes from the west whilst the gentle flowing inlet would cool from the east. He began to see it now in his minds eye; the
towering roller coasters with giant flags at the apex fluttering away merrily, Mississippi paddle-steamers taking families for rides up and down the inlet,
rodeo shows in the arena, gun fights in the mock western town, brawls in the saloon, stunt riders on the plains, cattle stampedes, food stands, drinks
stands, gift stands, dining rooms and trains, buses and cars bringing customers from land and boats bring them in from the sea.
"What do you think?" asked Gracie over his shoulder.
"Damn, I think it'll work; where's that coffee girl?" asked Jones striding towards the boxy-offices of Six Flags over Mumbai Trading Company, its name proudly proclaimed on a lopsided banner hastily thrown across the front. The offices were designed to be used by the construction team and once the work was completed they would be turned into administration offices to run the park.
The mood of anticipation and hope lasted as long as it took Jones to reach the main reception because just then his path was blocked by a stunning Indian girl wearing jeans and a pale peach blouse, "We have a problem Mr Jones," she announced.
"We do?" said a slightly bemused Jones as he tried to steer past the girl.
"The architect is missing," she replied quickly.
"Give it time, it ain't even nine yet; who are you anyway? Where's my office? Where's that coffee?" fired Jones. It was an old trick of Jones to ask multiple questions and let the others fight to answer him.
"I'm Seema the…" started the Indian girl before Gracie interrupted her, "straight and left" as Jones hurried down the corridor
"Still ain't answered me," he teased Gracie.
"Coffee's in there," snapped back Gracie.
"As I was saying, I'm Seema, Human Resources and we have…" began the girl but Jones halted her with a swift raise of his hand; he had just spotted his office and the sign on the door. He picked it up and read it carefully, 'Dullass Jones, Construction Manager', handed it to Seema and added "get rid of this, get me one with 'D Jones, Gaffer', got that?"
"Yes of course, but what's a 'gaffer'?" Seema asked puzzled.
"You'll find out," quipped Jones over his shoulder as he entered his office. Flowers and a large fruit basket decorated the side table along the right wall, and various cakes, Indian sweets and drinks stood awaiting consumers on the table under the glass window. Behind his desk were pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, revered by all as father of the Indian nation, and a smiling Moti Lal, cursed by many as the idiot of the nation.
"Alright, get the tables cleared, get this crap out of here and get rid of the pictures," ordered Jones slapping his saddle bags on the desk.
"But that's Gandhiji," protested Seema.
"What did he ever build?" queried Jones.
"He… he built a nation," said Seema in exasperation.
"Alright he stays, but the rest goes and…" before Jones could finish a large figure blocked his doorway.
"Jones you old coot, you still barking orders at young girls" said the big man in the door way. In all manner of size he was bigger than Jones; a ten-gallon hat, double chins, a fat pot-belly gut threatening to tear his denim shirt, a huge belt buckle of the Texas State flag and long elaborate boots.
"Brad you old fart, I thought you were in prison; sweet bitch of some Mexican gang lord," teased Jones as he crossed the floor to shake hands with the big man.
"No, not me; your Mexican boyfriend is staying loyal to you," laughed Brad.
"What have we got?" asked Jones.
"The usual clusterfuck, with a funny accent," replied Brad.
"Team meeting in 10," said Gracie as she flew past the open door.
Jones turned to the Indian girl and said sharply, "Why didn't you tell me that Seema? That's your job."
She was stunned into a momentary silence; he'd remembered her name and then she burst into life, "That's not my job. I'm not your PA, I'm the Human Resource manager and I've been trying to tell you the architect is missing?"
"Give it time, it's only nine; so where is my PA?" demanded Jones.
"Well," began Seema with a little coquettish smile, "give it time, it's only nine."
Brad started to laugh as Seema turned on her immaculate high heels and marched out of the office.
"Why can't people turn up on time so I can fire them," said Jones as he turned to pour himself a cup of coffee.
"See you at the meeting," said Brad as he left the office.
"Six Flags over Mumbai Trading Company" read aloud Avinash as he gazed up at the skewed banner and a huge grin smeared itself across his face; he was
working for a real global company, his time had come. The driver had demanded an extra hundred rupees for driving fast, Avinash had protested strongly,
threatening the chap with a traffic citation for reckless rickshaw driving, before they had settled for thirty rupees; a sum that dissatisfied both men.
He would have to curtail his rickshaw rides if the local drivers were so thoughtless in their driving and so hard-nosed in their bargaining. It was just under 3 kilometres from his small room at the Parijat Co-operative Housing Society complex on Eksar Road to the offices here. He could manage that walk in 45 minutes if he walked fast with no distractions. It would be impossible to find accommodation as cheap nearer the office; after all it had taken some diligent nurturing of distant relatives and their wider network of acquaintances to secure the stuffy little room at a tolerable price.
Further planning was curtailed as a pair of IT workers barged passed him into the office and he realised he was late, "shit!" he said running.
He hurried to the reception desk to pick up his identity badge but he had to wait impatiently, behind a visitor who insisted on spelling his name to the surly receptionist, until at last it was his turn.
"Avinash Preet, new starter today," he announced.
The surly receptionist started to flick through the stack of new identity cards, "what was it again? Avinaat Phoot?"
"No, Avinash Preet," he corrected her.
"You're late," said a sharp voice behind him.
Avinash jumped at the sound and turned around to gaze upon the beauty that was Seema; her dark brown hair, with subtle red highlights, curled and flowed around her shoulders framing her moon-shaped face; her gorgeous almond shaped hazelnut eyes blinked, and her luscious engorged lips parted and below her full breasts pressed taut against her peach blouse and lower still, the small belt pinched tight against her impossibly flat stomach and her long jeans stretched away for miles like a second skin.
"Hey luluji [dopey]; wakey, wakey" said Seema snapping her fingers before his face.
"Sorry," apologised Avinash.
"You're late, follow me," she commanded striding away down the corridor.
"But my pass, I…" he began but Seema wasn't listening, she was already near the end of the corridor and about to disappear around the corner.
"Jaldi karo [quickly]," he demanded slapping the receptionist's counter but the woman continued to flick through the pile at her own leisure.
Avinash looked up to see his worst nightmare, an empty corridor. She had gone and left him behind; his job had walked away.
An intense growing frustration shook his body and he exploded into action, leaping across the counter, fanning and scattering all the cards until he spotted a familiar face smiling at him. He seized his badge and ran flailing down the corridor after the ghost of Seema. He skidded around the corner to see a shorter corridor which was equally empty. He carried on running past rooms, peering through the glass and rounded another corner to find an even longer corridor; he started to panic, unsure whether to go forward or retrace his steps and try another corridor. He twisted and turned trying desperately to work out where he should go.
The sound of two finger clicks echoed down the corridor and he spun around to see the lovely Seema, standing in the doorway of a room he'd already ran past, beckoning him back with her forefinger.
He ran gasping down the corridor, his satchel flying behind him, and nearly knocked over Seema in his eagerness to get into the room. He stopped short as a dozen important people turned to look at him.
"Your PA," announced Seema and left the room.
Jones approached the sweating, gasping young man, looked him over, smiled and said "You're fired."
AVINASH stood transfixed to the spot, unsure whether to go forward and sit down or retreat and leave the room. He looked at the other people around
the table but they only returned blank looks. He looked at Jones who just stared back fiercely; he started to go forward but then his nerve failed him and
he stepped back again.
"Quit playing with him Jones," said a golden haired woman, her crystal blues eyes shining bright, little fine lines around her eyes and mouth and a large smile.
Jones paused and then relented, "Alright sit down, you've disrupted us enough."
Gracie called Avinash over and invited him to sit next to her. He began to speak but she put a finger to her lips and said quietly 'shhh' and nodded towards Jones.
"Alright, back to where we were. Purpose of this meeting is for me to tell you how we're going to deliver this project," said Jones confidently.
He scanned the people waiting patiently for him to continue, he paused for a little while longer and just as the silence was about to become embarrassing he finally spoke, "I am Dallas Jones from Texas; the gaffer, the boss, the head honcho on this project, geddit? Forget what you've ever been told about projects; a construction project is not a team effort, it is not a democracy where everyone has equal say, it is not a theocracy with endless discussions about the meaning of this or that, it is a dictatorship, a totalitarian nightmare. My dictatorship and your nightmare. On this project I am God, I am Buddha, I am Rama, I am Krishna, I'm the fella with the big elephant trunk, get it? I am God. Look at my belt, it is hand made from a genuine Texan rattler, a more venomous snake than your pussycat cobra; I ripped this head off with my bare teeth, ate the meat raw and skinned it with my fingernails to make this belt. You think Salman Khan is tough, I am tougher, I am meaner and I am uglier. I shit bigger turds than Salman Khan. The customer Moti Lal does not know you. He does not want to know you. For him you are nothing, you are less than nothing. All he knows is me. If you do not deliver to me Mr Moti Lal will crush my nuts until I squeal like your momma. I do not want that. I like my nuts, I do not like your momma. I like my nuts un-squeezed. If pressure is applied to my nuts I will apply pressure to your nuts, I will yank that sac and I will make you scream. Ladies do not think you are excluded from vengeance, I will apply pressure to your nipples; I will twist and turn and rip them off your saggy titties so your kiddies starve; do you understand me? Say 'Yes Jones'."
A few of the stunned audience automatically said "Yes Jones."
"In my long career I have learned one thing, just one thing; all the mistakes in this world are caused because someone did not do their job. Do not be that person. Any questions?" asked Jones.
He glanced around the table, daring them to break the silence; they averted their eyes unable to meet his steely stare.
"Yeah, me Boss. Just one," said Gracie, "when the hell did we join the Marines?"
The spell was broken and the room erupted with relief and laughter.
"Oh Gracie, why didja have to go and spoil it, I had 'em all ready to salute me," said Jones laughing.
But Gracie hadn't quite finished, "And people, just for the record he got that belt from a store in El Dorado."
Avinash laughed out loud at the rebuke.
Jones quickly turned to Avinash and snapped, "Whatta you laughing at? You're unemployed."
A shocked Avinash visibly gulped at the prospect of unemployment and he shrank back a little at Jones's verbal assault.
Gracie took pity and intervened, "Quit teasing him Jonesy."
Jones stepped back, "Hmmm," he said giving Avinash a very long and hard stare. But this time Avinash stood his ground and returned the stare.
Jones laughed, "Alright, I was kidding ya but that stuff about someone not doing their job that's all true. You mess up and I will kick you with my pointy boots."
Avinash relaxed for the first time that morning; he still had a job.
Jones continued with his project introduction, "OK let's go around the room and sound off on who you are and what ya do. You start Brad."
"You know who I am," replied Brad.
"Not for me ya numb nuts, everyone else."
"Hi everyone, I'm Brad Coulter Construction Manager, also from Texas; everything that goes up, I make sure it stays up. That's me for you."
"Hi all, I'm Grace Davis from Abilene, that's also in Texas; you can all call me Gracie and I'm the Project Control Officer. All information about the project, I'll have it or I know where it is."
"Thanks Gracie, go on," asked Jones.
"Hello everyone, I'm Avinash Preet, my friends call me Avi, I'm…" began Avinash.
"Be quiet, you ain't got any friends here or a job," snapped Jones.
The group laughed easily at Jones's put down.
Sam Chambers was a quiet lean man of modest stature, less showy than Jones and more modest than Brad. His measured Texan drawl filled the room, "Hi, I'm Sam Chambers; I'm from Fort Worth Texas. I do all the logistics; if it ain't there when Brad wants it, it's my nuts that get squeezed.
Jones made a clawing motion with his hand.
The group continued with their introductions. The next person was a young Indian, "Hello, I'm Saish Pole, local to Mumbai and I manage the work scheduling. daily rotas, weekly rotas, night works, casual labour that's all me."
"Hello to you all. My name is Anurhadha Shwetty; Anu to you all," said a mature shapely Indian woman, "and I'm the budget officer and no one, I repeat no one is touching my nipples. Thank you very much."
Again the group burst into laughter, Jones smiled, the group was starting to lose their inhibitions and beginning to bond.
"Hello everyone, my name is Asahido Takahama-san and I am from the beautiful country of Japan, most particularly Kyoto, the city of a thousand temples and I am the site safety officer," said the Japanese man and he completed his introduction with a slight respectful bow.
"Goh-than dai-yin, that is Icelandic for good morning, my name is Haukur Kristjánsson and I am the IT manager. As regards testicle fondling; I have a relaxed and open attitude. If it is for the benefit of the project I shall tolerate it."
A stunned silence and then a slow realisation followed by raucous laughter.
Haukur was puzzled at their reaction, "What? What? What is the object and cause of this merriment?"
"Nothing, nothing at all," said Brad smiling, "But just tell me every time you go to the shitcan; I'll make sure I'm at the other end of the building."
"Well that's not necessary," observed Anu, "so crude."
All the group had completed their introductions, "OK thanks, that's great," said Jones, "but you may have noticed we have two people missing," indicating the two empty chairs, "Seema you saw just now is our Human Resource manager, any bellyaches about this job, you go to her. And someone who you would think might be quite useful, the fucking project architect, where the hell is Gunther Mueck?"
"Didn't you hear Seema, he's gone missing," said Brad.
"No shit Sherlock," replied Jones, "We're all from Mitchum and Martin, which as you probably worked out is in Texas. Us four," indicating himself, Brad, Sam and Gracie, "have worked on a load of projects. Before we do anything I want all of us to look at this."
Jones led them all outside, down the corridor to his office outside, and on a large table was a scale model of the proposed theme park.
They gathered around the table admiring the craftsmanship, the layout of the rides and roller coasters. Around the perimeter of the park was the rail track on which would run the steam train to ferry the customers around the park.
"See here," said Jones pointing at a huge roller coaster, "this is the main attraction, The Great Indian, the tallest roller coaster in the world at 215ft, taller than the Texas Giant in Arlington Texas. This is gonna have an 82 degree, 168 ft drop and turns which bank at 95 degree. It's going to have a top speed of 135 km/h and a G-force of nearly 4.6g."
"What's G-force," asked Anu.
"It's the pull your body experiences when you travel up fast. Astronauts get it when they launch 'em into space; not a ride for your grandmother. We've got nine other big roller coasters, water rides and rapids and then any number of smaller rides; static towers, chutes and drops. Then you've got your usual food stands, stages, picnic areas and rest rooms. Take a good look, cos first thing we're going to do is walk the site. Some of you will never go out there until it's built, so we're going to get your nice clean office shoes dirty today by walking out there. And when we get back Gracie here is going to lay out out the way we run the project."
The group headed out of the offices across the car park towards the vast uneven ground before them. Brad started to outline what would be built on this ground.
"Course I ain't the right fella to do this but since our German architect has gone missing it's my job. To imagine this, think of a big pizza slice, the Great Indian will be at the tip of the slice and we are standing here at the top left edge. Across the top we'll have the Shock Ride, the Runaway Train, the Water Rapids and the kiddie rides. Let's move down and I'll show you where the first big roller coaster will be."
"Will it all get done in time? Sounds so much to do," said Anu.
"That's our job," replied Jones.
The group led by Brad moved forward at a slow pace until they reached a little hill, the group managed to ascend it eventually and to look out across the whole vista. The size and magnitude of their task was becoming clearer by the minute; some struggled to picture the final finished product but all agreed it was a mammoth task.
After an hour or so the group started to split up. All of the men decided to go on and walk down to the tip of the pizza whilst Anu and Gracie chose to return to the office.
"If I had known there would be such outside excursions I would have worn my walking shoes," said Anu as she gingerly picked her way down the slope.
"Don't worry, it won't happen again; next time we all come out here it'll be finished," assured Gracie.
"What is Mr Jones like? He seems very loud," said Anu.
Gracie laughed, "Don't be fooled by that, his bark's worse than his bite."
"Hmm, I think his bark is plenty bad," replied Anu with a giggle.
"And what about Moti Lal, what's he like," inquired Gracie.
They had reached the bottom of the slop and were deciding on how best to get back to the comfort of their office. Eventually they selected a slightly longer route back so as to avoid the uneven and muddy ground.
"Moti Lal is the Kachra King," started Anu.
"Kachra?" asked Gracie.
"Rubbish," replied Anu, when Gracie still wore her confused expression she explained with an easy laugh, "I'm sorry, he is big in recycling waste."
"Must be a lot of money in waste," said Gracie.
"Oh, that's how he started; now he owns hotels, malls, cinemas, all across India; very rich," concluded Anu.
"Hmm, sounds very impressive," said Gracie.
"No, it's not; he's a fool, a real paindho," again Gracie looked blank and Anu laughed, "I'm sorry, it means a villager; someone who's a bit backward."
"Oh yes, he built this huge ugly palace, Lal Quilla he calls it; lives there with his wife, daughters, mother, brother and sisters."
"All in the one house? I though you said he was rich?" asked Gracie slightly confused.
Anu laughed, "That's the paindho for you; they still do the Indian extended family, all living in one house."
"Sounds dreadful," said Gracie pulling a face.
"Believe me, it is."
"How does his wife put up with it?"
"She has no choice; two daughters and no son."
"What do you mean?"
"If you don't give birth to a son you are not a proper mother; she's lucky he hasn't divorced her," said Anu.
"That's horrible," said Gracie shocked.
"Like I said, paindho!"
Usha Lal, youngest daughter of Moti Lal, hurried barefoot down the long marbled corridor of Shahi Quilla apartments. Though the communal areas were air
conditioned, Usha loved walking on the cool marble. She reached the apartment and entered swiftly. She picked up the mail piled on the rug and quickly
sorted through them; some circulars, a few bills and an important thick letter addressed to Dhiraj, her sister's husband. Usha smiled as she studied the
cream envelope and traced out his name with the tip of her finger. A scintilla of erotic charge coursed through her body, from her finger tip to her loins
and she shuddered. 'Foolish girl' she thought, 'as if he'd ever look at you', and resumed her tasks. The apartment was the executive couple model,
luxuriously decorated in the faux-Manhattan style. The architect had seen a few films from the 1980's and had resolutely aped everything he could remember;
including views of the Brooklyn Bridge, a Dodgers pennant and even a 'Men at Work' road sign.
The apartment was stuffy and needed airing, Usha went from room to room, opening all the windows wide and spraying everywhere with a Jasmine scented air freshener, Dhiraj's favourite. She went to the master bedroom and went into the walk-in closet, took out her cell phone and tapped open the list of clothes her sister wanted; it was only a matter of minutes before she had all of the required items safely packed in the large holdall bag.
Usha tutted in frustration, she just couldn't understand why Slinky was living out of a suitcase like this. Ever since the birth of her baby girl Slinky had split her time between her parents' house and her husband's apartment. In the beginning it was understandable that a new young mother needed help, but it had got progressively worse. Her post delivery recovery had lasted three months, but alas she then succumbed to postnatal depression, which had lasted another six months and then anxiety attacks and severe mood swings which all meant she was staying almost full time at her parents' house. Luckily her husband Dhiraj had been very understanding and had allowed Slinky to stay with her family as much as she wanted to. In truth it suited his needs too, for his business trips were frequent and prolonged as he sought to build a business empire.
Usha closed Slinky's closet and was turning to leave when she had a wicked thought. She moved to the en suite bathroom and quickly located the laundry basket. From it she fished out one of Dhiraj's dirty shirts and crushed it to her face; the scent of him infused her nostrils and the familiar jolt of electricity went to her loins again.
"What are you doing," said a familiar voice behind her.
She spun around and nearly fainted when she saw Dhiraj.
"I… I was just making sure it needed washing, how are you Dhiraj?" she lied smoothly as she dropped the shirt back in the basket.
"It's in the laundry basket, obviously it needs washing," he said bluntly moving forward until he towered over her. His large frame seemed to breaking out of his creased white Tommy Hilfiger shirt, his handsome face had a sly knowing look, his odour was overpowering and her breath was suddenly reduced to short breathless gasps and her teeth began to chatter ever so slightly.
He laughed then and stepped back from her, "You're so considerate Usha, I swear you're an angel."
She laughed nervously, "Oh, yaar [friend], you're too kind." She followied him out of the bathroom in to the master bedroom where he had slumped onto the bed.
Dhiraj smiled, again she had avoided calling him bhai [brother] and used the more familiar yaar term.
It was a peculiar oddity of South Asian culture that a boy calling a girl he liked behen [sister], or a girl calling a boy bhai [brother], automatically nullified any possible romantic entanglement; an implicit understanding that this was now and forever a platonic relationship. An approach which usually worked, but there were many occasions when a boy would proclaim to be a bhai in order to get close to a girl and then reveal his true intentions.
Usha had more reason than others to call Dhiraj bhai, he was in fact her brother-in-law and as such would be expected to be called bhai; her studied avoidance openly exposed her true desires.
"I'm so tired, trip was such a bitch," he said twisting and turning his feet in front of him.
"We didn't know you were coming back today, else Slinky would have been here to greet you."
"It's only a stopover, I'm off tomorrow again; hardly worth her while coming over," he said kicking off a shoe.
"Oh, let me yaar, it's the least I can do," she said moving forward and kneeling in front of him; if she had a tail she would have wagged it.
She eased off the other shoe and placed them neatly side by side. Next she slipped off his Armani socks, rolled them into perfect little balls and placed them in the shoes. She gently pressed the soles of his feet and he sighed in pleasure, "Oh, that's nice."
She smiled, "A man needs a woman always."
"Oh, you're too good; we really must find you a man."
"No, I'm happy helping my family," Usha declined politely as she continued to massage his feet.
Usha was only telling a partial truth, she was helping her family but she was far from happy. A small slight figure she was a complete contrast to her elder sister Slinky; where Slinky was fair skinned she was dark and blotchy skinned, where Slinky had fine body hair she was cursed with thick dark coarse hair, where Slinky had a natural grace she was awkward and socially cold, and where Slinky was loved and adored she was merely tolerated and occasionally resented.
Usha had developed a strategy to overcome the meagre gifts fate had bestowed upon her, she would live vicariously through her other family members, more specifically her sister Slinky. She would become indispensible to them, she worked assiduously to accumulate to herself all the small tasks, errands and chores which are the normal oil of extended family living; her worth would be measured by she what achieved not what she looked like.
"Nonesense, we'll find you a good man; so what's your ideal?" he teased her.
She blushed at the thought, but Dhiraj had difficulty telling due to her dark skin.
"Go on, it'll be our little secret," he persisted.
She looked directly at him for the first time now, "You are, you're my ideal," she replied with a nervous giggle.
He didn't reply but moved his feet upward and brushed the side of her face with his large toe; she nearly swooned at his touch. He gently caressed her face for a few minutes, ignoring the prickly stubble, and then caught her lower lip between his toes and yanked down gently; she sighed heavily and then he pulled harder and she winced at the pain.
"We can have a little fun if you like," he whispered gently.
She nodded eagerly and he pushed his feet into her face.
"But, you have to do a little errand for me," he added, "will you?"
She looked deep into his eyes, kissed his feet and then her tongue stretched out to lick his toes.
Dhiraj twitched and sighed as her moist tongue slipped between his toes, and then he smiled; she was putty in his hands and he would mould her into a dagger.
SEEMA hurried down the corridor, her heels clicking noisily on the tiles, to Jones' office clutching a file; her grave expression indicated something was very wrong.
Jones was going through the schedule for the next week with Brad and Gracie whilst Avinash hovered at his shoulder, when they heard Seema's clickety clack heels outside; he looked up to see her flustered face at the door.
"You found my architect yet?" teased Jones.
Avinash smiled invitingly but Seema ignored him and gasped, "Yes."
He looked over her shoulder searching for the man and raised his eyebrows in a questioning manner.
"He's dead," she blurted out.
Jones, Brad and Gracie were speechless, they turned to look at each other in disbelief; Gracie spoke first and the spell was broken, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, the police just called; his body's in the mortuary. Look," she said and pushed forward a printed sheet from the file she was holding.
The group leaned in to see the coloured picture of a large naked blonde man, his skin a sickly pale hue with severe bruising and a large ugly gash over his heart.
"Well it's a body alright, but is it him? I never met the guy," said Jones.
"Yes, it's him, see" said Seema and placed a second paper before them. It was a photocopy of Gunther's passport; there was no mistaking the person was the one and the same, Seema continued "Police found his passport with him."
"This is dreadful, what happened?" asked Gracie.
"They found his body in a brothel. He'd been stabbed and robbed, no witnesses, nothing."
"Well, he didn't waste time getting acquainted," smirked Brad.
Jones shot him a reproving look and then turned to Seema, "What happens now?"
"Well, the police will contact the next of kin and arrange shipping of the body and that will be it," said Seema flatly.
"Not quite, we still need an architect. What's our option?" asked Jones.
"Get another one; project can't delay cos a kraut got rolled screwing a native," quipped Brad.
"Oh, Brad, a man just died; have some common decency; and if you haven't any at least fake it," snapped Gracie.
"Get me another one," said Jones handing back the sheets of paper to Seema.
Seema picked up the papers, nodded to the group and was about to leave when her way was blocked by the slender figure of Gopi, Moti Lal's personal assistant.
"Is something the matter?" he inquired in his slightly effete voice.
Noone answered him, he ignored their silence and slid into the room.
Seema took the opportunity to slip past him back to her office to start her search for a new architect.
"Am I intruding?" he asked over-politely.
"No, come in. What can I do for you?" asked Jones coolly.
"There seems to be an atmosphere, is something wrong?" he asked again.
"I report to the organ grinder, not the monkey," smiled Jones.
Gopi looked at him blankly. He didn't understand the reference but deduced being a called a monkey was not a compliment.
"I've come about your sleeping arrangements," Gopi finally replied.
"Are you a pimp?" said Brad and the others laughed and again Gopi didn't recognise the word but again deduced correctly he was being insulted.
"I am to show you the apartments where you will live during the construction," Gopi elaborated.
"I thought we were staying at the hotel, "said Gracie.
"Shri Moti Lal is generous but unfortunately he has paying guests that need to be serviced. The company has arranged apartments for all non-resident staff," smiled Gopi. It was his turn to have the upper hand and he was enjoying it immensely.
"Your luggage has been packed and delivered to the apartment, here is the address; the concierge has your keys. Any question?" he beamed placing a business card in front of them.
"I didn't come to this shit-hole to wash my own dishes," sneered Brad.
Jones didn't correct Brad but merely tilted his head and gave Gopi a cold stare.
"My apologies, you will of course have full maid service," added Gopi.
"Still not a hotel," moaned Brad.
His business concluded, Gopi turned to leave, then he paused in the doorway for effect, "Oh, by the way, you're all invited to Lal Quilla tonight, Shriji is throwing a party. His Bentley will collect you at 8 and please, wear something decent."
He turned and left, behind him Brad uttered a parting profanity, "Asshole."
The apartments were indeed elegant, spacious and well furnished but there was a catch.
"You gotta be kidding me. I have to share? Do I look like I'm twelve?" bellowed Brad at the calm concierge holding open the door.
"Just the apartment, not your room or your bed," explained the polite man.
"Thank heavens for that," quipped Gracie.
"My bed? What the fu…" began Brad but Jones jumped in.
"Alright, knock it off. You forget the time we lived under canvas for a year. Thanks, we'll take it from here," said Jones showing the concierge out and closing the door behind him.
Jones looked at Gracie and Brad, his new flatmates, and smiled, "This should be fun."
Their luggage had been neatly placed in the centre of the lounge, the apartment aired, a fresh bowl of fruit on the coffee table, flowers in all four bedrooms and around the apartment, and a brewing pot of genuine Colombian coffee in the kitchen, together with various pastries and snacks.
"Hmm, not bad," said Gracie as she moved around the lounge, through the kitchen and then quickly checked out each room before declaring, "this one is mine. I'm going for a shower."
"How come she gets to choose first?" questioned Brad.
"Lady's prerogative," quipped Jones heading for the kitchen and the pot of coffee. He poured himself a cup and headed out onto the balcony for a quiet smoke.
Brad headed straight for the fridge and was relieved to find it stocked with beer. Unfortunately it was Indian Cobra beer, "God damn Cobra piss," he moaned grabbing one before heading for one of the empty rooms.
"Where's Sam?" asked Gracie popping out of her bedroom.
"He's in the other apartment with the rest of them," shouted Jones from the balcony.
"Well that's a pain because his case is here."
Sam Chambers had regarded his new flatmates with equanimity, Brad was acting like a bore and it would be good to get away from him. The fat fool was ageing poorly; his intolerance of others was openly abrasive now and it was only a matter of time before someone took offence.
Takahama-san had examined the fire exits, the smoke alarms and the balcony railing before declaring the apartment satisfactory. Kristjánsson, 'call me Haukur', had immediately targeted the fridge grabbing half a dozen Cobra beer bottles, an armful of snacks and had disappeared into his room; requesting not to be disturbed.
Sam chose a room and then realised he'd have to get his suitcase from the other apartment. He was about to turn round when he saw Gunther's unclaimed suitcase in the centre of the lounge. The thought made him morbid. Jones had broken the news to the group and it had a sobering effect on them. Indians were so welcoming; it seemed insane for them to be threatening or dangerous, but Gunther's death had proven otherwise. He too went to the fridge and fished out a couple of bottles and went out to the balcony. He didn't smoke so there was no need to go outside but he had to get away from that suitcase. He scanned across the other balconies, saw Jones smoking and drinking to his far left, raised his beer in salutation and then turned his back to him to drink in peace.
The diminutive figure moved quietly in the shadows. She paused as a servant ran across the corridor; this was going to be tricky but it had to be done. She
worked her way along the corridor and located the ballroom door she wanted, she hurriedly opened it with the master key she had stolen, entered the room
and quickly shut it behind her. The celebration lights from outside cast enough light into the darkened room for her to work her way to the small side
cabinet at the back. This time she used her other master key to open the cabinet and shining a torch into it she found Moti Lal's personal bottle of
ant-acid medicine, Gaviscon from England. She carefully opened it and placed it on top, then she retrieved the small vial secreted in her little bra, broke
the seal and poured the contents into it. She paused, absorbing the significance of the moment, it scared her now the dark deed she was doing. CRASH! The
noise from the corridor startled her and nearly made her scream, a running servant had obviously dropped some plates and was cursing loudly outside, but
the shock had made her drop the vial. She panicked then, shining her torch frantically to locate it but it couldn't be seen anywhere. Quickly she fell to
her knees and desperately started searching under the cabinet, but there was nothing there. She spun around looking across the floor but a noise
immediately outside the door made her stop, it was getting too dangerous to stay; reluctantly she forced herself to get up and move to a door in the far
corner. She was about to leave when she realised the bottle of ant-acid was still on top of the cabinet. Quickly she ran back to the cabinet, someone was
speaking loudly outside the door now. She replaced the bottle back in the cabinet, someone was trying a key in the door. She too searched for the cabinet
key, locating it she rapidly locked the cabinet just as two servants entered the room.
Keeping low she returned to the side door. She could hear them now searching for the light switch, it wouldn't be long before they found it; she opened the side door just enough to squeeze through, wary of light from outside flooding in and indicating her presence. She reached up to close the door when the servants found the light switch and turned it on. Keeping her nerve she silently closed the door.
MOTI Lal sent his personal Bentley car with his own driver to pick up the project team from their hotel to bring them to his mansion on the crest of
Malabar Hills, the most exclusive residential street in Mumbai where billionaires rubbed shoulders with multi-billionaires in their pretentious over-gilded
Takahama-san wanted to relax and decided not to attend the party at Lal Quilla, Haukur was game but his lack of suitable formal wear also precluded him attending; the party was reduced to the Texan Quartet of Jones, Gracie, Brad and Sam. The plush leather seats were soft and welcoming and the four of them leaned back relaxing after a tiring day.
"What about that one?" asked Gracie pointing to a large single storey mansion visible behind high security gates and large lush foliage.
"Roman with a touch of Tudor," replied Jones.
"Alright, and that one?" she asked as another house passed them by.
"Early California but more Zorro than Mexican," said Jones sliding back into the soft leather seat.
"It's amazing, I haven't seen native Indian or Mughul influence at all," said Sam.
"Looks like freaking Tarzana to me," said Brad, "that's what happens when the wrong people get the money. First them Ayrabs and their oil money; man they built some shiny shit, an Island shaped like a palm tree; fucking crazy and now these Injuns with their call centre money and a cowboy theme park. Shit, any fools who wear a sheet like them dhotis or ponchos need robbing."
"Brad, what the hell's the matter with you? You've been bitchin like a three dollar whore ever since you got here," said Jones sharply.
Brad shot Jones an evil look but fell silent; he knew Jones was a mean bastard when he was riled and this wasn't the time to needle him.
The exchange had killed the atmosphere in the car and the group travelled on in silence.
Sam exchanged a knowing look with Gracie; this wasn't a good sign, this level of discord on a difficult project this early was a poor start.
As always; it was Gracie who lightened the mood, the social glue of the group, she was fearless in confronting things head on, "Jesus wept, we're going to a party not a hanging, lighten up will you fellas."
Jones barely suppressed a giggle, Brad shrugged and Sam laughed out loud, "Good on you Gracie."
"That's the spirit," she began but before she could continue the car turned a corner and above them Lal Quilla hove into view, "Oh my, look at this, it's like Capitol Hill on the fourth of July."
Lal Quilla was the pride of Moti Lal, a pastiche of the Vatican and St. Paul's Cathedral, a huge Greco-style dome supported on massive columns, carelessly mixing Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles; all heavily mixed with Roman and Greek architectural features and decorated with Gothic motifs. Gracie was shocked to see Tudor style window frames, Egyptian style balconies and Italian fountains, it was as if a child had ripped up a historical architecture book and created a horrendous collage, "Tch, poor paindho" she whispered.
But tonight the whole edifice had been hung with fairy lights, yards and yards of them outlining the whole building and merrily twinkling away, announcing to all this was a special occasion.
The car deposited the quartet on the steps of the Quilla and rapidly drove off.
"Well," said Sam craning his neck to take in the towering edifice, "this certainly makes a statement."
"Yep, sure does. It says 'I'm an asshole'," quipped Brad.
"Yes," added Gracie, "you certainly are."
The other two burst out laughing as they headed into the Quilla.
The over-decoration continued inside, expensive Italian marble covered floor and walls sitting uneasily with carved Indian motifs whilst giant French Rococco chandeliers swayed above their heads. Lush red velvet curtains and drapes hung majestically from sheer cliff-like walls, exotic Japanese prints adorned each wall, elegant English period furniture mingled discordantly with Chinese cabinets and vases.
"Jesus wept, I thought them Vegas casinos had bad taste," said Jones taking in the décor.
"Looks like an expensive whorehouse," added Brad.
Servants bearing trays with a variety of juices quickly approached and escorted them to the master Ballroom, "You mean there's a junior one too?" inquired Gracie and Brad moaned about the lack of beer.
The master Ballroom was an enormous cavernous banqueting room, decorated like the rest of the Quilla in a mixture of styles, but tonight a heavy dose of Western regalia had been added; cowboys on bucking horses, cattle roaming the prairies, rifles and pistols, ponchos, Stetson hats, and a multitude of banners and flags proclaiming the new theme park.
"Just what was missing," observed Sam wryly.
At the far end of the room a raised podium had been erected, with a long table heavily decorated with a large floral display, whilst before it the floor of the ballroom was covered with large circular tables and individual place settings with name plates. Along the right side of the room buffet tables had been laid covered with various tureens, large rectangular trays covered with domed lids, under which hot water bubbled gently keeping the contents warm. Behind each tureen white smocked chefs with large towering hats hustled and bustled to add last minute garnish and other finishing touches to the food; sprinkling garam masala, chopped coriander and other mysterious spices.
The room was filling up very fast as guests arrived and the quartet were shown to their table; it had been set for seven.
Gracie picked up Gunther's name card and said, "No need for this now."
"Nor these," added Sam picking up name cards for Takahama-san and Haukur.
"I don't believe it, not again," said Jones holding up his name card marked 'Dullass Jones' and the others laughed.
Further conversation was curtailed as a majestic trumpet fanfare announced the arrival of the extended Moti Lal family.
"Good grief," moaned Jones as he slumped into his seat.
Avinash carefully elbowed his way past the other men to the tin sink in the communal kitchen to drain the excess water from his boiled rice. Moving the lid
aside for a fraction of an inch, he poured out the steaming starch-laden water taking care not to let any precious rice slip out too. He elbowed his way
back to the gas burner and returned the sodden par cooked rice to the cooker. He dropped in a small knob of ghee [clarified butter], sealed the lid
with a dishcloth to let the steam finish cooking the rice and turned to garnishing the dhal he had cooked.
He sat alone in his room eating his simple meal with a bottle of coke, which he'd secured from Jones's office fridge, and an apple, similarly snatched from the complimentary fruit basket, idly thinking of the party at Lal Quilla, 'I bet the food is fantastic,' he thought.
"I'm not eating this crap, I want a steak," moaned Brad standing before a large tureen of sizzling lamb korma whilst impatient guests glared at him from behind.
"Quit bellyaching and move on," said Jones behind him.
The quartet returned to their table with plates piled high with food, all except Brad who had opted for a few kebabs and some naan.
Gracie was tucking into her spicy chicken pilau rice when Anu tapped her on the shoulder and asked, "Can I join you?"
"Oh Anu, of course you can. I didn't know you were invited; we'd have sat together," replied Gracie.
Anu giggled, "I wasn't, I sneaked in."
"Why ever not?" asked Gracie eating a forkful of savoury rice.
"This isn't to be wasted on us locals, just the high class and the gora managers."
"Gora?" asked Gracie.
"That's us white folk," replied Jones.
"Very good. Excuse me, I'm just going to get some food," said Anu slipping away.
"I see they don't have to queue," said Brad pointing to the top table.
Moti Lal sat the centre of the top table with his family as various servants attended to his every need, bringing trays of food and drink; an old woman in a wheel chair sat immediately to his right whilst on his left was an empty chair.
"Who's the old woman," asked Sam to Anu who had returned and was busy eating some kebabs.
"Her? That's Moti's mother, they all call her Bibi," answered Anu.
"BB? Like Brigitte Bardot?" asked Sam.
"No, not like that, just Bibi; it means mother," explained Anu.
"Why the empty chair," asked Jones.
"Oh, that would be for his wife, they don't get along; it's common knowledge."
"Who are the two girls," asked Gracie pointing at the girls on the top table with her fork.
"Well, that's Moti Lal's daughters," began Anu, "the tall fair one is Sunita and other one is Usha."
"Hmm," said Gracie, "bit of a contrast."
Gracie couldn't have been more accurate, the contrast between Sunita, known to all as Slinky, and her younger sister Usha was immense. Slinky was tall, fair with large dark green eyes, full lips and had a lazy graceful manner which allowed her to easily hide her snobbery and selfishness. Usha unfortunately was the exact opposite; short, tiny-framed, burdened with excess facial hair, a monobrow and a shrewish spiteful manner.
"Definitely one from the top of the deck and the one from the bottom," observed Jones.
"And the others," asked Gracie.
"The man in the black suit is Moti's younger brother Heera, the woman next to him is his wife, I forget her name, and the boy is Preet I think, one of their three sons," replied Anu.
"And the fat woman in the green sari?" asked Gracie.
"That's Moti's sister Sona."
"And the thin one at the end?"
"That's his other sister Chandi, what silly names," dismissed Anu.
"What do you mean?"
"All of them are named after jewellery; Moti is pearl, Heera is diamond, Sona is gold and Chandi is…" said Anu.
"Silver?" interrupted Gracie.
"Yes, that's right. Like I said very silly."
"Oh, no. It just shows how precious they all are," quipped Gracie and both of the women began laughing.
"Shush, he's speaking," rebuked Sam.
Sam was right, Moti Lal was going to make a speech; he had fed and watered his guests, now he was going to collect his due.
"My family and I welcome you all to my lovely home, my Lal Quilla. It was a challenge creating this home…" began Moti Lal.
"And one you failed miserably," interjected Jones.
"…now we begin a new one; making the first Western Theme Park in India. A construction project is like an Indian wedding; the parties involved don't believe it will ever happen and then by a miracle it does and we live happily ever after," continued Moti to mild laughter.
"No, it's not like a freaking wedding; it's like a damn construction project," said Jones.
"No, he's right, we're the bride and ya'all know what happens to her," laughed Brad.
"Oh be quiet," snapped Gracie.
"We are honoured to have so many illustrious guests here tonight to help us celebrate this momentous occasion. I never thought, when I started sifting through those dustbins, that one day all that recycling would lead me to this…" lumbered on Moti Lal.
Jones was rapidly tiring of the old windbag and this was shaping up to be a speech not worth listening to sober. Making his excuses he went off in search of a beer. One of the servants pointed him to a small ante-chamber where alcohol was being served. He obtained a glass of beer and wandered off to enjoy it in peace. He found a quiet parlour and settled down in an old English-style armchair to enjoy his beer.
His solitude didn't last very long, just half a glass of beer, before he heard a noise behind him. Jones turned to see a woman walk through the double doors into the parlour. She was a tall elegant woman, dressed in a midnight blue sari studded with small rhinestones, her dark hair piled high cascaded down her long neck and the upward haughty tilt of her head indicated she didn't suffer fools gladly. She wore her forty-plus years lightly, her grace and posture marked her as an astute woman with an easy sophistication.
She scanned the room and spotted Jones reclining in the chair nursing half a glass of beer, his cowboy boots and unusual belt clearly marked him out as a foreigner. She approached Jones and took a small gamble, "You are the gora Jones?"
He stood up out of deference and nodded politely, "I am mam, and I would hazard a guess you must be Mrs Moti Lal, yes?"
"Please call me Lalita, none of that Mrs nonesense," she smiled easily, taking a sip of her cocktail.
"Lalita Lal?" asked Jones with a quizzical look.
"Oh no," she laughed, "I didn't take his name, I kept mine. Suman, Lalita Suman."
"Good for you; pleased to meet you Mrs Lalita Suman," and he bowed extravagantly.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance Mr Jones," she replied with a little curtsey.
They both laughed at each other and the moment.
She approached him and asked curiously, "How did you know who I was?"
He smirked a little, "Your eldest daughter has your eyes."
"Ah yes, dear Slinky; such a sweet child but unfortunately spoiled rotten. So hard to deny them anything when one is so rich; please be seated," she said standing by the mantelpiece.
Jones resumed his previous position and took a sip of his beer.
"And how are you finding our little country Mr Jones?" she asked making small talk.
"Well, it's hard to dislike it; there's always so much going on. It's all extremes here; too much sun, too much chilli, too much dust and too much shouting."
She smiled at his comment, "We are generous in so many ways."
They drank in silence for a few minutes, both enjoying the simple pleasure of a quiet moment. It was Jones who broke the silence, and only because he saw her studying him closely, "So what's your story Lalita?"
She didn't answer straight away, savouring his words and forming her answer before replying, "I don't have a story Mr Jones, not even a little chapter; I'm just the beautiful appendage for a rich man." She waved her cocktail glass at the parlour but indicating the Quilla beyond.
"Any fool can see you're more than that."
She locked eyes with him trying to fathom his intent, "How kind of you."
The gora wasn't giving anything away but maintained a steady even stare, she cracked first and turned away and asked a little too casually, "Do you smoke?"
"I've been known to inhale."
"I am only allowed three cigarettes a day," she confessed.
"He's only looking after your health."
"Oh no," she laughed mockingly, "I don't need his permission to smoke; it's a self-imposed restriction; keeps me edgy. I find I need my edge."
She turned and saw once again he was staring at her intently and then he said, "I can see it'd be hard to get you to do anything you didn't want."
She smiled then, a soft smile, one that started at her lips and finished at her eyes, "We'll need to step out onto the balcony; this parlour is Bibi's and dear, dear Bibi has asthma and we wouldn't want her to have an attack, now would we?" she smiled wickedly and raised her eye brows.
Jones laughed at her mockery and rose from the armchair, "Lead on Macduff."
"Ah, a man of learning; well, at least enough to misquote Shakespeare."
They moved across the parlour, out through the double French doors, to the balcony outside. It was mostly dark except for the shafts of light coming out from the windows and the fairy lights twinkling above their heads. She took out a cigarette from her handbag, held it to her lips and commanded Jones, "Light me."
Jones reached into his back pocket, flicked on his lighter and lit the tip of her cigarette and then lit his own cigarillo. They remained standing quietly for a while, each enjoying their smoking, looking out across the immaculate faux-Versailles Palace lawns; in time their smoking achieved a harmony, each drawing and exhaling at the same time.
She turned slightly to him and flicked a glance in his direction; he took the opportunity, "How did you end up with him; you two don't look a regular pair."
She didn't answer immediately, "I agree we're not simpatico. It's the old story of farz."
He looked at her blankly.
"Duty," she explained.
"Duty to your family?" he asked.
"Don't be so old fashioned, duty to a good lifestyle. We were famous but poor and they were infamous but rich; so you see, a perfect combination," she explained taking a draw on her cigarette.
"Why do I get the feeling you're holding back," teased Jones.
"Only good manners to hold a little back," she replied moving towards him, "and you Mr Jones, what is this gora's story I wonder."
He smiled at her obvious attempt to change the subject, "Ain't got one; well not much of one anyways. Had my share of relationships but never found one I wanted to break and saddle."
She giggled softly at his words, "A wife as a horse; what a quaint metaphor; I'm surprised you found anyone with that whip of an attitude."
"You're just a trophy wife to him; you any better than a clotheshorse?" he retorted sharply.
"I assure you Mr Jones, I may have been ridden," she paused to blow a cloud of smoke in his direction, "but I was never broken."
He laughed out loud at her reply, nodded his head in acknowledgement and resumed smoking. She remained standing near him and he could smell her perfume through the tobacco haze between them; it was a subtle sweet smell, one he hadn't come across before.
"Let's move around here," she said indicating an alcove along the balcony hidden behind some potted plants. They passed behind some shrubbery and moved deep into the shadows of the alcove; only the glowing tips of their cigarette and cigarillo remaining visible.
There wasn't much room in the alcove and the two were forced to stand close together, he could hear her breathing in the darkness, mere inches from his face.
"Why the secrecy?" he whispered in soft tones, falling all too easily into a conspiratorial intimacy.
"We were being spied upon," she replied.
"Oh no, not him; little darling Usha. Not my greatest offering unto the world; but what can one do when the clay is so poor. I really thought I was carrying a boy; imagine my disappointment when that thing arrived."
Each breath of hers crossed the gap between them and sensuously brushed his face, he chuckled at her put down, "You have that British knack of insulting with a smile. You never thought of having more kids?"
"You're getting very personal Mr Jones. I don't think I'm ready to share that with you."
"Fair enough," he replied and resumed his smoking.
The silence lasted for a short while before Lalita spoke, "You're very astute about that British thing; I did study over there. I did my MBA in London. Loved it."
"Really? He must've have been a lucky fella," shot back Jones in the dark.
She moved closer then, so close he could see her eyes now from the glow of the cigarette, a knowing playful look flashed in her deep green eyes. She moved back and spoke from the darkness, "You take so much yet give so little."
It was his turn now, he moved forward and asked, "Did you love him?"
She didn't reply for a long time and he thought he'd overplayed his hand; he had been too bold.
Then a soft caress of a voice, laced with painful memories, reached across the void, "You always love the first one."
"Was he a gora?"
"Yes Mr Jones," she laughed, "he was a gora. Track athlete, beautiful lean body, gorgeous smooth white skin, no nasty little curly hairs. He loved to oil his body, all of it," she giggled knowingly, "and he made love so smoothly and regularly; just like a sewing machine."
Jones laughed out so loud it turned into a cough, "Excuse me," he spluttered, "and Moti Lal?"
"He's more like a rickshaw; you know putt, putt, putt putt, putt putt, putt-putt-putt-putt PUTTTT!!" she said with a girlish squeal and laughter.
"And does he get your there?" murmured Jones in the dark.
There was silence in the alcove whilst Lalita pondered his question, then she finally spoke, "Get me where?"
"Say it Mr Jones," she taunted him but he remained silent. "That's sweet," she said and reached out to brush his cheek. He moved back a fraction then, out of her reach, the gesture more telling than he had intended. They remained thus for a few moments, her hand hanging in the air just an inch from his face. It was a Mexican stand off which Jones lost, he relented and surrendered to the moment; he moved his face onto her hand.
She brushed his cheek, a tender caress which traced the craggy lines along his face down to his chin, an intimate touch he found deeply sensual and one she compounded by moving closer to him.
Their bodies were touching now, he could feel her pressing into him, then she inclined forward and blew smoke into his mouth.
"You trying to kill me?" he sighed.
"No, just seduce you," she replied moving closer, "but the effect may be the same."
They held for a moment in that pose, lips a mere hair breadth apart, before he succumbed to her and kissed her fiercely; she returned the passion with interest.
Suddenly there was commotion and shouting, someone was calling her name, she froze and for a mere twinkling thought they had been caught kissing.
She peered through the darkness at his face, touched his chin momentarily and then moved back, "I have to go, they're calling me."
He didn't resist and let her slip out of his arms and back to the world of Moti Lal.
He waited a few minutes, wiped his lips, and then retraced his steps through the parlour back to the ballroom. There was huge commotion and all the guests were agitated and talking quickly, he couldn't make out what was being said and sought out his own group.
As he approached the table he saw Sam speaking on the phone, "What's going on?" he asked him.
"Where have you been? Haven't you heard?" asked Sam holding his hand over the phone.
He ignored the first question, "Heard what?"
"It's Moti Lal, he's been poisoned. I'm trying to get hold of CC Baxter, let him know we could be coming back."
"Is he dead?" asked Jones quickly.
"No one knows, they just rushed him to the hospital," replied Sam.
"Alright, kill that call. Let's make sure of our facts before we start waking up people back home."
What had just happened, wondered Jones. Had he been used by her? Did she flirt with him knowing her husband was being poisoned? Had he unwittingly become her alibi?