মুখ্য Smoke and Ashes

Smoke and Ashes

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এই বইটি আপনার কতটা পছন্দ?
ফাইলের মান কিরকম?
মান নির্ণয়ের জন্য বইটি ডাউনলোড করুন
ডাউনলোড করা ফাইলগুলির মান কিরকম?
Captain Sam Wyndham and his side-kick Surrender-Not Banerjee return in this dynamic, prize-winning crime series set in 1920s Calcutta, India. There's a serial murder case onthe cards in this atmospheric addition to the series. Sam Wyndham must investigate this most unusual series of deaths, whilst his past life - fighting in the Great War - proves harder to deal with than ever before.
Random House
ISBN 10:
ISBN 13:
MOBI , 3.75 MB
ডাউনলোড (mobi, 3.75 MB)

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আপনি একটি বুক রিভিউ লিখতে পারেন এবং আপনার অভিজ্ঞতা শেয়ার করতে পারেন. অন্যান্য পাঠকরা আপনার পড়া বইগুলির বিষয়ে আপনার মতামত সম্পর্কে সর্বদা আগ্রহী হবে. বইটি আপনার পছন্দ হোক বা না হোক, আপনি যদি নিজের সৎ ও বিস্তারিত চিন্তাভাবনা ব্যক্ত করেন তাহলে অন্যরা তাদের জন্য উপযুক্ত নতুন বইগুলি খুঁজে পাবে.

My So-Called Bollywood Life

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About the Book

About the Author

Also by Abir Mukherjee


Title Page










































Author’s Note




**From the winner of the 2017 CWA Historical Dagger Award**

India, 1921. Haunted by his memories of the Great War, Captain Sam Wyndham is battling a serious addiction to opium that he must keep secret from his superiors in the Calcutta police force.

When Sam is summoned to investigate a grisly murder, he is stunned at the sight of the body: he’s seen this before. Last night, in a drug addled haze, he stumbled across a corpse with the same ritualistic injuries. It seems like there’s a deranged killer on the loose. Unfortunately for Sam, the corpse was in an opium den and revealing his presence there could cost him his career.

With the aid of his quick-witted Indian Sergeant, Surrender-not Banerjee, Sam must try to solve the two murders, all the while keeping his personal demons secret, before somebody else turns up dead.

Set against the backdrop of the fervent fight for Indian independence, and rich with the atmosphere of 1920s Calcutta, Smoke and Ashes is the brilliant new historical mystery in this award-winning series.


Abir Mukherjee grew up in the west of Scotland. At the age of fifteen, his best friend made him read Gorky Park and he’s been a fan of crime fiction ever since. The child of immigrants from India, A Rising Man, his debut novel, was inspired by a desire to learn more about a crucial period in Anglo-Indian history that seems to have been almost forgotten. It won the Harvill Secker/Daily Telegrap; h crime writing competition and became the first in a series starring Captain Sam Wyndham and ‘Surrender-not’ Banerjee. Abir lives in London with his wife and two sons.

Also by Abir Mukherjee



For Mum, Hope this makes up for not being a doctor.

Forget not, that thou art born as a sacrifice upon the altar of the Motherland.

Swami Vivekananda


21 December 1921

It’s not unusual to find a corpse in a funeral parlour. It’s just rare for them to walk in the door under their own steam. It was a riddle worth savouring, but I didn’t have the time, seeing as I was running for my life.

A shot rang out and a bullet flew past, hitting nothing more offensive than rooftop laundry. My pursuers – fellow officers of the Imperial Police Force – were firing blindly into the night. That didn’t mean they mightn’t get lucky with their next round, and while I wasn’t afraid of dying, ‘shot in the backside while trying to escape’ wasn’t exactly the epitaph I wanted on my tombstone.

And so I ran, opium-fogged, across the rooftops of a sleeping Chinatown, slipping on loose terracotta tiles, sending them smashing to the ground and clambering from one roof to the next before finally finding shelter in a shallow crawlspace beneath the ledge of a low wall which separated one building from its neighbour.

The officers drew closer, and I tried to still my breathing as they called out to one another, their voices swallowed by the darkness. The sound suggested they’d separated, now possibly some distance from each other. That was good. It meant they were groping around as aimlessly in the dark as I was, and that for now my best chance of escape lay in staying still and silent.

Being caught would lead to some rather awkward questions which I preferred not to have to answer: such as what I happened to be doing in Tangra in the dead of night, smelling of opium and covered in someone else’s blood. There was also the small matter of the sickle-shaped blade in my hand. That too would be difficult to explain.

I shivered as the sweat and the blood evaporated. December was cold, at least by Calcutta standards.

Snatches of conversation drifted over. It didn’t sound like their hearts were in it. I didn’t blame them. They were as likely to stagger off the edge of a roof as they were to stumble across me; and given the events of the last few months, I doubted their morale would be particularly high. Why risk a broken neck chasing shadows along rooftops, when no one was going to thank them for it? I willed them to turn back, but they doggedly kept at it, tapping in the blackness with rifle butts and lathis like blind men crossing a road.

One set of taps grew louder, a rhythmic presence drawing ever closer. I considered my options, or I would have done, had I been able to think of any. Running was out of the question – the man was armed and sounded so close now that, even in the dark, he’d have little difficulty in shooting me. Taking him on was also a non-starter. I had the blade but I was hardly going to use it on a fellow officer, and, in any case, with three of his colleagues in close proximity, the odds of eluding them were shrinking faster than a poppy at sunset.

The tone of the tapping changed, taking on an echoing hollowness as it struck the thin concrete of the ledge above my head. The man must have been standing directly above me. He too noticed the change in tenor and stopped in his tracks. He knocked at the ledge with his rifle, then jumped down. I closed my eyes in anticipation of the inevitable, but then a voice called out. One that I recognised.

‘All right, lads, that’s enough. Back inside.’

The boots turned towards the command, and for the longest of seconds stood rooted before finally climbing back onto the ledge. They began to move off and I breathed out, then ran a hand, still sticky with blood, over my face.

The voices receded and the rooftops returned to silence. Minutes passed and from the street below came shouts – English, Bengali, Chinese – and the sound of lorries starting up. I stayed where I was, shivering in the confines of the crawlspace, and tried to make sense of it all.

The night had started quite normally, though normal is, admittedly, a relative term. At any rate, tonight seemed no different from any other night that I visited one of the opium dens which pockmarked Chinatown. From my lodgings in Premchand Boral Street, I’d made my way south to Tangra by one of many circuitous routes, to a den I was fairly sure I hadn’t visited for at least a month. This one was in the basement of a row of sagging tenements, entered via a dank stairwell at the back of a funeral parlour that reeked of formaldehyde and the proximity of death. It was one of my favourites, not for the quality of the opium, which was as bad as anywhere else in the city – one part opium to three parts God knew what – but because of the faintly Gothic aura the place exuded. Calcutta opium is best smoked ten feet below the corpses of half a dozen dead men.

I’d arrived sometime after midnight and the doorman had seemed surprised to see me. I didn’t blame him, though it wasn’t the shakes that unnerved him – he would have seen many a punter coming through the door with those symptoms. Rather it was the colour of my skin. Seeing an Englishman in Tangra wouldn’t have been all that remarkable a year ago, but a lot had happened in the last twelve months. These days, with the police force stretched thin outside of the meticulously manicured confines of White Town, sahibs were hard to find in Calcutta after dark. Fortunately, though, in this part of town economics still trumped issues of race and politics, and upon sight of the fan of rupee notes I clutched in my hand, I was admitted without fuss or fanfare and accompanied down to the cellar.

The first drag of the first pipe was a deliverance, like the breaking of a fever. With the second pipe, the shaking stopped, and with the third, the nerves steadied. I called for a fourth. If the first three had been a medicinal requisite, the next would be for pleasure, setting me on my way to what the Bengalis called nirbōn – nirvana. My head rested on a pillow of white porcelain as the velvet veil enveloped my senses. That’s when the trouble started.

From a thousand miles away came sounds: jagged and incomprehensible, growing louder and piercing the fog of my stupor. I screwed my eyelids shut against them, until a woman, one of the girls who rolled the O and prepared the pipes, was shaking me like a rag doll.

‘Sahib! You must go now!’

I opened my eyes and her heavily powdered face floated into focus.

‘You must go, sahib. Police raid!’

Her lips were painted blood red, and for some seconds the sight of them held my attention more than anything she might be saying. It was the sound of crashing furniture and porcelain smashing on a hard floor somewhere close by that finally began to break the spell. That and the hard slap across the face she gave me.


I shook my head as she slapped me again.

‘Police here, sahib!’

The words registered. I tried to stand on legs shaky like a new-born calf. Taking my arm, she pulled me towards a darkened passageway at the far side of the room, away from the oncoming commotion.

She stopped at the threshold and gestured with her free hand. ‘Go, sahib. Stairs at end. Up to back way.’

I turned to look at her. She was little more than a girl. ‘What’s your name?’ I asked.

‘No time, sahib,’ she said, turning back towards the room. ‘Go. Now!’

I did as she ordered and staggered into the blackness, as behind me I heard her trying to rouse another punter from temporary oblivion. I groped blindly, feeling my way along walls slick with moisture, the stone floor slippery underfoot and the air fetid with the ammonia stench of stale urine. In the distance a blue light illuminated a narrow, sagging staircase. My head spinning, I made for it. Sounds echoed down the corridor: orders shouted in English. Then a woman’s scream.

I didn’t look back.

Instead I lurched on towards the stairs and looked up. The exit was barred by a hatch, a little light falling in thin shafts between it and the floorboards. Hauling myself up the steps, I reached the top, pushed the hatch and cursed as the thing refused to budge. I shivered as a wave of fear swept over me. Wiping the sweat from my eyes, I tried to focus on the hatch’s outline. There seemed no sign of a lock, at least not on this side. I took a breath and tried again, this time charging it with my shoulder. The hatch shifted a few inches, then fell back heavily. There was something on top of it. Something weighty. Behind me, the voices grew louder. Summoning what strength I had left, I charged the hatch one more time. It burst open, and suddenly I was flying through the air, momentum carrying me upward into a ruin of a room, its ceiling half gone and open to the moonlight. I landed hard on the floor, in a pool of something wet. Pulling myself up, I quickly shut the hatch and looked to weigh it down with whatever had been on top of it. Strangely there was nothing close by. Other than a body.

I stared at it. Not in shock – or anything else for that matter. Morphia deadens the senses, and I probably had enough of the stuff coursing through me to becalm a bull elephant. It was a man – or what was left of him. Chinese, judging by his cheekbones. The rest of his face, though, was a mess. His eyes had been gouged out and left on the floor beside him, and an old scar ran down the left side, from his hairline to his jaw. Then there was the small matter of the knife stuck in his chest.

Wooden crates, the type that tea is packed in, stood stacked next to a wall, their metal studs glinting in the blue light. I stumbled over to them and made to topple the topmost to the ground. Whatever was in it weighed half a ton. Nevertheless, I managed to shift it, inch by inch, until it overhung the crate beneath and gravity did the rest. It landed with a thud; the wood of one side cracked but remained thankfully intact. Lodging my feet against the wall, I steadily pushed it over the top of the hatch then slumped beside it in the hope that I’d bought myself a little time. I looked over at the dead man, lying there on his back, with the knife sticking out from his sternum like the lever of a Bell fruit machine. I assumed he was dead. That was a good thing. For me, if not for him. Then I heard his breathing – shallow, ragged and bloody – and I cursed. Any time I wasted tending to him diminished what little chance I had of escape. Judging by the amount of blood on the floor, he was already beyond saving, and there was little I could do, especially with Calcutta’s finest raiding the place. Explaining to them exactly what I was doing, covered in the blood of a critically wounded Chinaman, wasn’t a prospect I relished. Besides, the Chinese were a law unto themselves. What they did to each other was none of my business.


Taking a breath, I crawled over to him. Making sure not to disturb the knife, I undid the buttons on his shirt and, retrieving a handkerchief from my trouser pocket, wiped the blood from his chest. There were two wounds as far as I could tell: the one in which the knife was stuck, and another, almost identical mark on the right side of his chest, but there could have been more. In the half-light and in my condition, he could have been missing an arm and I might not have noticed.

He tried to stir.

‘Who did this?’ I asked.

He turned his head towards me and tried to speak, but only managed a bloody gurgling.

‘Your lung’s punctured,’ I said. ‘Try not to move.’

It was sound advice. He should have heeded it. Instead he reached for the knife and pulled at it. I should have stopped him. The knife fell to the floor. Grabbing the handkerchief, I pressed down on the wound, trying to staunch a weak stream of blood, but knowing, even as I did so, that it was in vain. When you’ve seen the life ebb away from as many men as I have, you get a sense for these things, and within seconds he was gone. I leaned forward, put my ear to his mouth and listened for a breath, but there was nothing.

Behind me, someone was trying the hatch. Instinctively I picked up the knife and spun round. There were voices on the stairs below. It sounded like at least two of them were pushing against the trap-door, but the crate was doing its job and the hatch hardly budged. Nevertheless, I doubted they’d give up.

I turned and looked for an escape route. There were two doors. I chose one and ran through, into a courtyard bordered on three sides by the walls of two-and three-storey buildings. The fourth side, though, consisted of a single-storey wall topped with shards of broken glass. In its centre was a wooden door, which I assumed led to an alleyway. I was about to make for it when I stopped. This was a police raid – there were probably half a dozen armed officers on the other side, waiting to nab anyone looking to escape.

Instead I headed for a stone staircase that ran up one of the walls and onto the roof. One of the officers must have spotted me from a window as, moments later, a door on the roof burst open and officers were shouting for me to halt.

Declining the invitation, I’d run for it, and as I lay in that crawlspace, shivering, it was heartening to know I’d made at least one correct decision that night.

My thoughts returned to the dead Chinaman and to the raid itself. The fact was, there shouldn’t have been one. With the city on the edge of anarchy and a mass of resignations among the native officers, resources were stretched to breaking point. The force simply lacked the manpower for fripperies such as raids on opium dens.

What’s more, none had been planned. Of that I was certain. I knew because I made a point of stopping by Vice Division’s offices on days when I was considering a trip to Chinatown. I’d even made a friend of its commanding officer, a man called Callaghan whose voice I’d heard earlier, calling his men back. Indeed I’d bought him many a drink, just so I’d always know when he and his men were planning an evening’s excursion. On nights when a raid was on the cards, he was generally too busy to chat, and the atmosphere in the department would be electric. I’d popped by earlier in the day and the place had been dead, with Callaghan himself more than happy to indulge me.

And yet here I was, hiding from him and a lorry-load of his officers.


I waited.

Twenty minutes, which felt longer; staying there till the voices and the noises stopped. Eventually, my head began to clear and I crawled out and slowly stood up. Going back to check on the corpse was out of the question. Callaghan and his goons might have gone, but they’d have left men behind to secure the place, luckless local constables from the closest police thana, most likely. I didn’t envy them. More than one native copper had had his throat slit in the dark in Tangra.

No, my first task was to get rid of the knife. I still wasn’t sure why I’d picked it up. It certainly hadn’t been through any urge to preserve evidence. The attacker’s fingerprints might have been on it, but now so were mine. Maybe it had something to do with the shape of the thing: a blade, more bent than curved, about ten or eleven inches long, like the kind the Gurkha regiments had carried during the war, only with an ornamental hilt that was wrapped in black leather and inlaid with the image of a small silver dragon.

The smart thing to do would be to throw it in the Hooghly. Only the river was several miles away, I was covered in blood and I wasn’t going to get far in my current garb. What I needed was a change of clothes. I set off across the rooftops scouring the vista until I found what I was looking for. Moving silently, I covered the distance in a matter of minutes, and was soon rifling through the articles on a washing line like a housewife examining the wares at Chukerbutty’s Fine Clothing Emporium on Bow Bazaar. Hindus have a fixation with ritual cleanliness, not just of their bodies but their clothes too. That preoccupation seemed to have infected all of the town’s other non-white residents too, and at any given time, half of Black Town seemed submerged in a sea of drying laundry. Picking out a shirt, I quietly slipped off my own and wrapped it around the knife. The shirt from the line was old, faded and a size too small, but I buttoned it as best I could and rolled up the sleeves. To complete the ensemble, I stole a black shawl, which the locals called a chador, and wrapped it round my head and shoulders like an old woman, then continued over the rooftops until I found a place low enough to jump down to the street. From there I headed north to the Circular Canal where, weighing down the knife and my shirt with a brick, I deposited the package in the black waters below, like a Hindu devotee making an offering to the gods. Then I set off west, stopping at a tube-well to wash my hands and face, before continuing the mile or so to the all-night tonga rank at Sealdah station.

As I walked, my head buzzed with only one thought. I had to find out why the raid had taken place. It couldn’t be coincidence that a man had been murdered as Vice Division, without warning, launched its first raid in months on a den, just at the time that I happened to be there.

The clock in College Square read a quarter past three, and I was back in Premchand Boral Street soon after. I was early. Most nights it was at least 4 a.m. by the time I made it home from Tangra. I’d have laughed at the irony if it wasn’t for the dead man I’d left lying back there.

Trudging up the stairs to my lodgings, I slipped the key into the lock. The apartment was in darkness. Nevertheless, I had to tread carefully. I shared my lodgings with a junior officer, Surrender-not Banerjee, and he was a light sleeper. His real name wasn’t Surrender-not, but Surendranath. It meant king of the gods apparently, and like the names of many of the kings I remembered from my history classes, its proper pronunciation was beyond me and most of the other British officers at Lal Bazar. A senior officer had rechristened him Surrender-not. That man was dead now, but the name had stuck.

He knew of my opium habit, of course. We’d never discussed it but the boy wasn’t an idiot, and in the early days he’d couched his concern in vague, open-ended questions as to my health, all framed with the sort of disappointed look a mother might give you when you came home from having been in a fight. Not that it had changed anything, and these days, he’d given up the questions, though I still encountered the stares from time to time.

The more pressing issue was our manservant, Sandesh. He too slept in the apartment, though generally on a mat under the dining table. He was supposed to sleep in the kitchen but claimed it was too large and that high ceilings gave him insomnia. Waking him was not normally a concern, for even if he did care as to where I was going most nights, he was mindful enough of his station never to voice an opinion on it. Nevertheless, seeing me wandering in dressed like a Spanish fishwife might just challenge even his monumental indifference.

I crept along the hallway to my room and once inside, locked the door. Light from a crescent moon bled in through the open window and fell like a veil on the furniture. The darkness felt like protection and, dispensing with the lamp, I removed the chador and pulled a crumpled pack of Capstan and a box of matches from my trouser pocket. I extracted a cigarette, lit it with shaking hands and took a long, steady pull.

In one corner stood my almirah, the large wooden wardrobe that was a fixture of most Calcutta bedrooms. With a mirrored panel inlaid in one of its two doors, the thing was unremarkable, save for the lockable steel compartment inside, which occupied a quarter of it and contained the few valuable possessions I owned, together with a larger number of more questionable ones. Placing the fag end in the old tin ashtray which sat on my desk, I stripped out of the borrowed shirt and, together with the chador, bundled it into the almirah’s steel compartment before locking it again. The clothes would need to be burned, but for now this was the best place for them. With the evidence concealed, I sank onto the bed and covered my face with my hands as, on the desk, the cigarette burned down to nothing.


22 December 1921

The cup of tea on the bedside table was stone cold. Sandesh, as was his habit, had placed it there, probably several hours earlier. I extricated myself from the mosquito net, picked up the cup and threw the contents out of the window, waiting for the gratifying splash as the stuff hit the concrete courtyard below.

It was likely to be the closest I came to festive cheer. Christmas in Calcutta was an odd affair. While freezing for the natives, it was still never bleak enough for anyone who’d grown up in true British winters, and though the carol singers from the local churches, with their hosannas and hallelujahs, did their best to remind you of the joy of the coming of Our Lord and Saviour, Christmas with palm trees in place of spruce and Norwegian pine just wasn’t the same.

Christmas aside though, the city had grown on me. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that, in its own way, Calcutta was as flawed and dysfunctional as I was: a city built in the middle of a fetid Bengal swamp, populated by misfits all struggling to survive against the odds.

Surrender-not was long gone by the time I’d washed, dressed and made it through to the dining table. He’d always been an early riser, but these days I’d rather formed the impression that he left early in order to avoid having to talk to me. Sandesh entered and wordlessly placed breakfast and a copy of the day’s Englishman in front of me. From the creases on the paper’s front page, it looked as though Surrender-not had already gone through it. I pushed it to one side and began to pick at a lukewarm omelette liberally sprinkled with chopped green chillies. I’d little appetite for food these days, and, thanks to Mr Gandhi’s antics, even less for the news. The country was a powder keg, and had been so ever since the Mahatma, as his followers liked to call him, had asked Indians to rise up in a frenzy of non-violent non-cooperation, and promised that if they did so, he’d deliver independence before the year was out.

Of course, Indians are gluttons for mysticism, and the sight of the man in his little dhoti was enough to persuade them to do just that. Millions of them – not just the parlour-room revolutionaries of Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi, but the ordinary folk, the farmers, peasants and factory workers from ten thousand towns and villages across the length and breadth of the country – had heeded his calls to boycott British products, resign from government posts and generally cause a bloody nuisance. You had to hand it to the little man; he’d taken the Congress Party from a talking shop of lawyers and turned it into a movement of the people. Co-opting the masses – that had been the Mahatma’s masterstroke. He’d told them that they mattered, and they revered him for it.

The Bengalis of Calcutta, always eager to stick two fingers up to the British, had taken it upon themselves to lead the charge – not that there was much charging to be done, seeing as how the Mahatma’s preferred modus operandi was to get his followers to sit down and refuse to move. What’s more, as a means of protest, it seemed almost tailor-made for the Bengali psyche, which was predisposed to causing maximum inconvenience while doing as little as possible. Striking was in their blood, so much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking that many of them only turned up to work so that they could then go on strike.

Not so long ago, our city had been the capital of British India. If we’d hoped that moving the centre of power to Delhi might lessen the capacity of Calcutta’s native population to cause trouble, we’d been sorely mistaken. They’d reacted to the Mahatma’s call with their usual zeal. Students had walked out of universities and schools, civil servants had resigned and government institutions were picketed. Most worrying, though, were the resignations from the ranks of the police force. It had started inconsequentially – a few native officers handing in their badges on principle soon after Gandhi’s call – but later, with the mass arrests and jailing of protesters, and amid mounting pressure from families and communities, the flow had increased steadily.

The situation in the city had gradually worsened. One might have expected law and order to improve, given the emphasis on peaceful protest, but the Mahatma had unleashed forces that he couldn’t control. Not all of those fired up by his words seemed quite as keen on non-violence as he was. As the months had passed, passions had risen, and there had been sporadic attacks on whites, Anglo-Indians, Christians, Parsees, Chinese and just about anyone else suspected of being less than euphoric about the prospect of an independent India. And the Imperial Police Force didn’t have the manpower to protect everyone, even if we had wished to. For that was our dirty secret. The fact was that the powers that be rather welcomed the attacks. Anything that punched a hole in the Mahatma’s sainted aura was seen as a positive, and attacks by his followers were the perfect pretext for a crackdown. The plan might have made sense on paper – indeed the viceroy and his coterie in Delhi seemed to approve, but they might as well have been sitting in London or, for that matter, on the moon, given how far removed they were from the realities of what was transpiring on the streets. With tempers fraught and jails full to bursting, such a crackdown didn’t seem quite so sensible on the streets of Calcutta.

Word had it that the viceroy, never the most steadfast of men, favoured a compromise, but a number of stiff telegrams from Downing Street, and no doubt a few stiff gins too, had served to bolster his resolve, and in the end he hadn’t yielded an inch to native demands. Now there were barely ten days to go before Gandhi’s year was up, and with the discipline of even his most ardent supporters wavering, the hope in high places was that if we could weather the storm for another fortnight, the Mahatma’s whole peaceful protest movement might collapse, taking his credibility with it.

But then had come the news that His Majesty’s government in London had, in its wisdom, decided that the way to strengthen the bonds of empire was to send us His Royal Highness Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, on a month-long royal tour. The effect, of course, had been electric, though more on the natives than on the city’s loyal British subjects. The protests, which had been dying down, suddenly erupted with renewed vigour, as Congress leaders called for a complete boycott of the visit.

The prince had arrived in Bombay some weeks earlier and was greeted by brass bands and a full-scale riot. Calcutta, on the other hand, had remained stubbornly peaceful as the city awaited his visit. This had caused anguish verging on panic in some quarters – because that peace hadn’t been enforced by the brave officers of the Imperial Police Force, or the army for that matter, but instead by a different presence, the khaki-clad members of Gandhi’s Congress Volunteer Force. Young, earnest, idealistic men, they’d been tasked by the Mahatma with ensuring that non-violent protest remained just that: non-violent; and yet the sight of them directing people like some vigilante militia sent a chill down my spine. 1921 had proved to be a vintage year for uniformed mobs. In Italy, Mussolini’s blackshirts were going from strength to strength, and their brown-shirted brothers in Germany were making a nuisance of themselves too. Our home-grown Congress Volunteers might profess non-violence, but I distrusted any civilian organisation which felt the need to bedeck their members in quasi-military uniforms – and that included the Boy Scouts.

The Volunteers had been charged by Congress with enforcing Gandhi’s call for a general strike – a total shutdown of shops, businesses and civilian administration – to protest the prince’s visit. At the same time, the viceroy had ordered us to arrest anyone seeking to compromise the efficient operations of the government. Everyone knew there was a showdown coming, and at police headquarters at Lal Bazar, plans were being drawn up to deal with the worst.

As for the prince, right now he was processing his merry way across the country and was due to arrive in Calcutta in three days’ time – on Christmas morning no less.

We couldn’t have handed Mr Gandhi a better Christmas present if we’d tried.

Sandesh entered the room and placed a fresh cup of tea on the dining table. I picked it up and pushed politics from my mind. In their stead, my thoughts returned to the previous night. My escape had been fortuitous, owing more to a Chinese girl’s quick thinking than skill on my part. It still felt like a dream, and maybe some of the memories were just that – opium-induced figments of my subconscious. Pipe dreams they were called, but the corpse had been real enough. Of that I was sure.

The dead man had probably been a foot soldier of one of the opium gangs which were forever fighting for control over Chinatown: the Green Gang or the Red Gang, most likely. They were the biggest players in the Chinese opium trade after all. Both were based in Shanghai, and Calcutta – the gate through which their opium flowed – was a prize they were both willing to shed blood for. In the past, we’d managed to keep a lid on their feud, but now, with our numbers depleted, other matters took precedence, and the gangs had been quick to capitalise, fighting with each other for the right to fill the void we’d left.

As to the man’s identity, it would be up to someone in my department to find that out – at least technically. Legally, we had a duty to investigate every murder which occurred within our jurisdiction. In practice though, if the victim wasn’t white or, God forbid, a high-profile native, the initial inquiry was often perfunctory, a form-filling exercise before the case was farmed out to a local thana and forgotten about.

Still, I wondered on whose desk the case would initially fall. There was even a chance it would land on my own as, by luck or design, I wasn’t exactly rushed off my feet at the moment. And if it didn’t, I’d make damn sure to keep tabs on any inquiry, not because I was worried about it leading to me – once I’d burned the clothes there would be nothing linking me to the scene – but because the whole business had been disturbing.

I drained the last of the tea and headed for the door. Outside, Calcutta assailed the senses as it always did: a cocktail of primary colours, pungent aromas and the cacophony of life in a city of a million souls packed into a space too small for a tenth of their number.

I made it to my desk at Lal Bazar by half past ten. My timekeeping of late had been less than impeccable, but not to the extent that it had been commented upon by other officers – not to my face at least. It’s true, Surrender-not had made some rather cryptic references to things he’d heard, but I wasn’t sure what he’d meant. When it came to imparting information, he could be as opaque in his pronouncements as the Oracle at Delphi. Either way, the views of my fellow detectives didn’t trouble me. Only one man’s opinion mattered, and, according to the note on my desk, it appeared he wanted to see me. Urgently.

I composed myself, then headed out of my office and, collecting Surrender-not on my way, made for the stairs up to the top floor and the office of Lord Taggart, the commissioner of police for Bengal.

‘C. R. Das. What do you know about him?’

It wasn’t the question I’d been expecting. I was seated in Lord Taggart’s office, across the desk from him. Surrender-not sat on the chair next to me.


The commissioner shook his head. He looked tired. All of Calcutta’s policemen did these days.

‘Come now, Sam. You must know the name. Or have you been asleep for the last year?’

Of course I knew the name. Everyone in India did.

‘Gandhi’s chief rabble-rouser in Bengal,’ I said. ‘His face is in the papers most days.’

The answer hardly seemed to placate the commissioner.

‘That’s it, is it? The sum total of your knowledge of the biggest thorn in my side?’

‘I tend to keep my nose out of politics, sir. But if you suspect Mr Das has killed someone, I’ll be sure to acquaint myself more closely with him.’

Taggart eyed me suspiciously. We had a history of working together which dated back to the war. As such he afforded me slightly more leeway than he did most others, but there was a limit to his tolerance.

He let the comment pass and turned to Surrender-not. ‘Maybe Sergeant Banerjee can help you out?’

Surrender-not looked like he was having trouble staying on his seat. He often found it hard not to show off his knowledge and I half expected his hand to shoot into the air like an overenthusiastic schoolboy.

‘Chitta-Ranjan Das,’ he replied. ‘Advocate at the High Court, and reputed to be one of the finest legal minds in India. A supporter of the Home Rule movement, he first came to prominence about fifteen years ago when he defended the poet Aurobindo Ghosh in the Alipore Bomb Conspiracy trial when no other advocate was willing to take the case. Das got him acquitted. After that, his fame spread and he became one of the most successful barristers in Calcutta. As the captain mentioned, he is now Gandhi’s chief lieutenant in Bengal, responsible for organising the non-cooperation movement and the Congress Volunteers throughout the province. The people love him. As with the Mahatma, they’ve given Das an honorific title: they call him the Deshbandhu. It means “friend of the nation”.’

‘Yes,’ replied Lord Taggart bitterly. ‘Well, he’s no friend of ours, and neither are his blasted Volunteers.’

Surrender-not was making me look bad. I shot him a glance implying as much and received nothing but a shrug from him in return.

Taggart turned his attention to me. ‘As you know, Sam, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is due to arrive on Sunday, and both Delhi and London are anxious that his visit to our fair city be a success.’

The prince had something of an American film star about him. Maybe it was his charm, or the natural confidence that came from the knowledge that you were born to rule one-sixth of the globe; or maybe it was just the well-cut, very expensive suits he wore, but whatever it was, crowds the world over seemed to flock to the man to bask in his reflected glory, and the British government was more than happy to capitalise on it, sending him on goodwill visits to all corners of the empire.

But Calcutta wasn’t Cape Town and I wondered if the mandarins in London or Delhi really knew what a tall order it would be for the prince to do any good here. If it was tranquillity you were looking for, Calcutta was about as good a choice as the Second Battle of the Marne. I’d met him once, Prince Edward Albert Saxe-Coburg Windsor, or whatever his name was, back in the trenches in ’16. Then, as now, they’d sent him on a morale-boosting tour, though it eluded me how a handshake from a prince who’d never have to experience the horrors of war was supposed to raise the morale of men whose lives consisted of little more than waiting for the machine-gun bullet with their name on it. He couldn’t have been much more than a boy then. I remember the smooth face and the uniform which seemed a size too large for him. He didn’t lack courage though. Rumour had it he’d volunteered for the Front in ’15 but the king and the government had dismissed it out of hand.

‘To that end,’ Taggart continued, ‘the viceroy has decided to designate the Congress Volunteers a proscribed organisation; and not before time. They will be banned as of tomorrow. And that’s where you come in, Sam. I want you to deliver that message personally to Das. Tell him to consider it fair warning.

‘As for the prince, I’m rather hoping he won’t be in much of a mood to dawdle in our fair city. Word has it he finds Indians rather odious and just wants to get back to the arms of his mistress in London. Nevertheless, on no account are we to allow any stunts or other actions to occur which could cause embarrassment to His Royal Highness or to His Majesty’s government.’

‘And you think Das is planning some stunt?’ I asked.

Taggart picked up a silver pen and tapped it on his desk. ‘I’ve no doubt that’s exactly what he’s doing. What you need to find out is what specifically he is planning, and then persuade him not to do it.’

‘We could always arrest him,’ I ventured. It seemed like the obvious solution, assuming we had anywhere to put him.

Taggart shook his head. ‘That’s what he wants us to do. If we arrest him on a charge of sedition, we make a martyr out of him and suddenly another ten thousand flock to his cause. Besides, the London and foreign press will be in town covering the prince’s visit. The viceroy is rather keen that we avoid any adverse reaction. A general strike is one thing – I can live with pictures of empty streets – but an angry mob protesting the arrest of Bengal’s most beloved son is quite another.’

‘I’m not sure I understand what you expect of us, sir,’ I said. ‘In any case, surely this is a matter for our military intelligence friends at Section H? Or have they given up trying to crush political sedition?’

‘I doubt they’ve given up, Sam,’ he replied. ‘It’s more likely they just don’t know quite what to do. It’s one thing tackling a few hundred bomb-throwing terrorists. Dealing with a national mass movement led by a saint whose strategy is to smile at you before he orders his followers to sit down, block the streets and pretend to pray, isn’t something they’re particularly adept at dealing with. And to be honest, I can’t say I’m surprised. The whole thing’s damned unsporting.’ He placed the pen back on the desk. ‘No,’ he continued, ‘I fear that we’ll need more than the sledgehammer that is Section H to crack this particular nut. And that’s where you come in, Sam. You spent time in Special Branch in London, infiltrating Irish nationalists.’

‘That was a long time ago,’ I said, ‘before the war. And anyway, following an Irishman around London is hardly the same thing as dealing with an Indian in Calcutta. For a start, I’m the wrong colour to infiltrate much of anything out here, unless it’s the bar at the Bengal Club. How am I supposed to get close to Das?’

‘Don’t be obtuse, Sam,’ he sighed. ‘I’m not asking you to infiltrate his bloody inner circle. What I want is for you to meet him, deliver the viceroy’s ultimatum and warn him off. Then report back to me with your assessment of the man. You’ve dealt with his sort before. You know how their minds work. Gauge what he’s up to.’

‘And why would he tell me anything?’ I asked.

‘Because.’ Taggart smiled. ‘I understand that our Mr Das is a close family friend of Sergeant Banerjee here.’


‘You kept that one quiet,’ I said, taking a seat behind my desk.

Across from me, Surrender-not shifted on his chair.

‘All the trouble we’ve had over the last year – the strikes, the resignations, the attacks – you didn’t think to mention that the man behind it all was a chum of yours?’

The sergeant dropped his gaze to the floor. ‘I very much doubt he’d consider me a chum. He’s my father’s friend,’ he replied. ‘It’s been years since I’ve seen Uncle Das socially.’

‘Uncle Das?’ I teased. In the past, I might have assumed that uncle meant an actual familial connection, but you didn’t have to be around Indians for very long to realise that they referred to almost every acquaintance as uncle, or aunt, or grandfather or big brother. Everyone was a kakū, or a masi or a dada, as though all three hundred million of them were one big extended unhappy family.

‘Well, if he’s your uncle, we should be able to sort out this whole business by lunchtime.’

‘You know he’s not my real uncle,’ said Surrender-not. ‘And even if he were, I doubt that would help very much. Not given my current standing within the family.’

That much was true. The boy had made more than his fair share of sacrifices in order to continue doing this job that he loved. He’d battled his own conscience and burned bridges with his kith and kin, and while I hadn’t exactly been keeping tabs, I doubted he’d seen his parents since Kali Puja, the festival of the goddess Kali, over a year ago.

I should have apologised, but of course I didn’t. I doubted he even expected me to. There were so many things I needed to apologise to him for, one more hardly made a difference.

‘He and my father were at Lincoln’s Inn together,’ he continued. ‘They were called to the Bar within a year of each other. When I was a child, he and his family would often visit our home, especially at puja time. In fact’ – he laughed sourly – ‘I expect he has been inside my family home more recently that I have.’

‘What else can you tell me about him?’

‘What do you want to know?’

‘What we’re up against. What sort of a man is he?’

‘The type you hate – a Bengali who knows the law.’

‘I don’t hate them,’ I said, ‘not all of them anyway, I just prefer dealing with people who appreciate the job we do.’

He smiled sardonically. ‘I doubt there are many of them left in the country, sir.’

‘Do you have anything useful to contribute?’ I asked.

‘Yes, sir, absolutely,’ he replied. ‘Das is the scion of a prominent Bengali family and one of the wealthiest barristers in Calcutta. At least he was.’


‘After he met Gandhi, he donated it all to the independence movement. Even his house. He’s an ardent believer in the Mahatma’s creed of non-violence. He was the one who first advocated the boycott of Western clothes, which is ironic as he used to be famous for his tailor-made Parisian suits, before he burned them all and took to wearing only homespun Indian cloth.’

The man sounded like a fanatic.

‘Anything else?’ I asked.

‘He has a wife and three children,’ he ventured.

I had the feeling he was holding back.

‘Do you think he’s planning something?’

‘In his place, wouldn’t you?’

‘Get me his file,’ I said.

‘Yes, sir.’ He nodded. He rose and headed for the door.

‘And find out where he is,’ I said. ‘We’re going to pay the Deshbandhu a visit this afternoon.’

A few minutes later, once I was sure Surrender-not was safely back at his desk, I left the office on a journey of my own.

Across the courtyard lay an annexe, on the second floor of which was Vice Division. I walked up and into a rather barren room. The morning after a raid, the room should have been as busy as Waterloo station at rush hour. Instead it was dead. A couple of secretaries sat whispering in a corner and a few junior officers cooled their heels while the fans on the ceiling creaked round at half-speed. I’d become such a regular visitor that no one paid me much notice as I walked through the room to the cabin at the end, knocked and stuck my head round the door.

Inspector Callaghan was poring over some document, pen in hand. He was a stocky, earnest-looking man, with a head of thick red hair, glasses and that peculiarly pale, Celtic complexion that went as red as a lobster at the first hint of sun. He also had a mortal fear of foreign food that, when taken in conjunction with his pallor, made you wonder exactly what it was that had persuaded him to leave Britain in the first place, let alone settle in Calcutta. Still, he was an affable chap and I liked him. What had started off as an attempt to inveigle myself into his confidence had turned into a friendship, of sorts, and it would have been a shame if one of his men had shot me the previous night, as I imagine he might never have forgiven himself.

He looked up. ‘Oh, it’s you, Wyndham,’ he said, placing the pen on his desk. ‘What can I do for you?’


He shook his head. ‘You know I don’t eat lunch.’

It was true. He’d told me before. Lunch played havoc with his digestion. He blamed it on a long-standing stomach ulcer. That no doctor had ever been able to find it only made him more certain that it was there, and while all medication had proved useless, a few glasses of Guinness generally acted as a palliative.

‘Of the liquid variety?’

He glanced at his watch. ‘It’s not even noon.’

I entered his office and sat down in the chair across the desk from him.

‘I’m having a rough day.’

He peered at me over the ridge of his spectacles. ‘Yes, well, you certainly don’t look your best.’

‘So how about it?’ I persisted.

‘Can’t, I’m afraid,’ he said apologetically. He picked up the pen and tapped it on the document in front of him. ‘Too much to do.’

I feigned incredulity. ‘Come on,’ I said. ‘You’ve been sitting on your backside, twiddling your thumbs for months. I can’t even remember the last time you launched a raid. When was it – June?’

A hint of a smile brightened his face. ‘It was last night, if you must know. Big one too. Down in Tangra.’

‘Really?’ I said. ‘You kept that quiet.’

‘There’s a reason for that,’ he confided. ‘I only found out myself about an hour beforehand. All very hush-hush. Ordered by Lord Taggart himself at the request of Section H apparently.’

‘Section H? What were they after?’

Callaghan glanced over at the open door behind me. ‘Close the door,’ he said conspiratorially. I leaned over and pushed it shut.

‘Seems they’d received a tip-off that some Green Gang kingpin by the name of Fen Wang was in from Shanghai, and that he’d be in Tangra last night.’

‘And was he?’

Callaghan shrugged. ‘Well, if he was, he’d left by the time we got there.’

‘Any arrests?’

‘Just the usual dross – a few local Chinese and a Belgian who should have known better. We passed their names on to Dawson at Section H, but he just ordered us to release them. I expect they were only interested in Fen Wang.’

Callaghan sounded bored. There was no mention that a man had been murdered on the scene. Surely that was worthy of note?

‘Anything of interest to CID?’ I asked.

He stared at me intensely. ‘Are you feeling all right, Wyndham?’

‘Fine,’ I said defensively.

‘Are you looking for work? It’s not like you to volunteer your services. You’re sure you’re not ill?’

‘Just trying to be helpful,’ I said. ‘I’m at a bit of a loose end.’

‘Yes,’ he sighed. ‘So I’d heard. Look, old man, I’m afraid I’ve got nothing for you. Last night was a washout.’

‘Fair enough,’ I said, and rose to go.

‘And, Wyndham,’ he called from behind me. ‘We’ll have that drink soon, all right?’

I left him, walked out of the office and slowly back down the stairs. At the foot, I leaned against the wall and pulled out my packet of cigarettes. Lighting one, I tried to make sense of Callaghan’s story. Last night’s raid had apparently been ordered by Section H on the pretext of a tip-off about a Chinese gangster being in town. But Section H were charged with monitoring Indian political subversives. Since when had they started worrying about Chinese drug runners? And if this Fen Wang was so important, why leave the raid to the police and not carry it out themselves? It was true that since Gandhi’s calls for soldiers to resign their commissions, the military had experienced a spike in the level of native troops going absent without leave, but I couldn’t believe they’d suffered losses any worse than we in the police had.

The reason for the raid, though, was only part of the conundrum. There was also the question of what had happened to the corpse of the murdered man. Why hadn’t Callaghan mentioned it? Had his men simply failed to find it? The opium den and the premises above it were a warren of small rooms, nooks and crevices. Was it possible his officers hadn’t searched the place thoroughly? That seemed unlikely, given that they were hunting for a specific person, and the effort they’d put into chasing me.

I supposed someone might have moved the body in the minutes between my leaving him and the police searching the room. If so, who, and where to?

None of the circumstances made much sense, and then a more disturbing possibility came to mind. Maybe there never had been a body. I’d been groggy with O. Maybe I imagined the whole thing?

But I’d held the murder weapon in my hand. The dead man’s blood had been on my shirt and on my hands. Alas, the knife and my shirt were now at the bottom of the Circular Canal, and my hands were washed clean. There were of course the borrowed shirt and chador locked away in my almirah, but they proved nothing. The truth was I had no physical evidence that anything had ever occurred.

I took a long, hard pull on the cigarette and tried to put the thought out of my mind. The man had been real, I told myself. The obvious explanation was that Callaghan was lying to me. His men must have found the body, it was probably that of Fen Wang, and Section H had ordered him to keep quiet about it. That had to be it. Everything else was just paranoia.

There was a thick file waiting for me on my desk. The name C. R. Das was typed on the tab, and on top of it, a note in Surrender-not’s hand. He’d managed to track down Das. The Deshbandhu, it appeared, would be at the High Court that afternoon.


Surrender-not and I were seated in the back of a police Wolseley, going nowhere. The car was pointed in the direction of the Strand Road, but we hadn’t moved in almost ten minutes. In the distance, the whitewashed tower of the High Court glinted in the afternoon sun.

‘You’re sure he’s in there?’ I asked.

‘We wouldn’t be stuck in traffic if he wasn’t,’ replied Surrender-not.

Around us, horns blared and tempers flared. I opened the door and jumped out. Some yards away stood a forlorn-looking native traffic constable, made conspicuous by his red fez and the umbrella affixed to a harness and his belt, leaving his hands free to direct vehicles – not that he was doing much directing, seeing as all the streets in the vicinity were gridlocked.

‘What’s going on?’ I said, walking up to him.

He shook his head in that curious Indian fashion. ‘Road is blocked, sir. Demonstration occurring at court building.’

I thanked him and returned to the car. Surrender-not was standing there, waiting patiently.

‘We’ll go on foot from here,’ I said.

The High Court was a neo-Gothic palace of a building, tucked between the town hall, the river and the cricket pitch at Eden Gardens. They said it was modelled on the Cloth Hall in Ypres. I’d passed through Ypres during the war, but couldn’t remember anything that looked like this particular building. That wasn’t so surprising. I hadn’t exactly been there sightseeing, and there was always the possibility that we, the Germans, the French, or a combination of all of us, had by then shelled it to smithereens.

The cause of the chaos on the street soon became apparent. Halfway along Esplanade Row, two dozen or so men in white caps and dhotis were seated in the middle of the road, shouting slogans and waving placards calling for the usual things – the release of political prisoners, Home Rule for India and, for good measure, the restoration of the Sultan of Turkey as the defender of the Mohammedan holy places. The last one might have seemed odd, but it was Gandhi’s idea, and it had been bloody clever. By tacking on that final demand to his calls for independence, the little man had done something no one else had managed to do in the best part of a thousand years: he’d won over the millions of Mohammedans and united them in common cause with the Hindus. That was a rather unfortunate development, at least as far as the viceroy and the India Office were concerned. After all, a key plank of the government’s refusal to grant independence was that we couldn’t just leave the minorities of India, especially the Mohammedans, to live under the tyranny of the Hindus. But it was a difficult argument to make when they were all joining hands and playing nicely with one another.

A crowd of a few hundred natives, marshalled by a phalanx of Congress Volunteers, had also gathered on the pavements, blocking our route to the courthouse. At the front, on a raised platform and flanked by two more khaki-uniformed Volunteers, stood a young, bespectacled Bengali, with a moon face and neatly parted, prematurely thinning, black hair. Dressed in a white dhoti and kurta, and wrapped in a heavy white chador, against the cold, he was addressing the crowd.

‘Any idea who that is?’ I asked.

‘His name’s Bose,’ replied Surrender-not. ‘Subhash Bose, recently returned from England. His father sent him there to sit for the Civil Service entrance examinations. Word is, he passed in the top division, then promptly declined his commission and came back to Calcutta to join the independence movement.’

Suddenly, the name came back to me.

‘Not the chap that the Statesman ran a piece on the other week?’ I asked.

‘That’s correct, sir.’

‘Congress’s Gain is the Government’s Loss’ – that had been the title, or something like that, at any rate.

‘They say Das has taken quite a shine to him,’ Surrender-not continued. ‘Made him head of the Congress Volunteers in Bengal.’

‘Friend of yours, is he?’

‘That depends,’ he demurred. ‘When we were younger, maybe. These days I doubt he’d think so. An acquaintance perhaps. His father too is an advocate.’

‘Do you know everyone on the other side?’ I asked, exasperated.

Surrender-not shrugged. ‘Only the lawyers.’

Bose thrust his fist in the air and continued to whip up a storm. After two and a half years in Calcutta, my Bengali wasn’t bad – I knew enough to order almost any drink in several dialects – but it wasn’t quite up to the standard necessary to decipher a political diatribe in full flow.

‘What’s he saying?’

‘The usual thing. The need to stand firm in the face of British aggression.’

A roar went up from the crowd and, encouraged by Bose, they took up a chant. Though it was the largest demonstration I’d witnessed in a while, neither their numbers nor their fervour were a patch on those of the crowds that had come out earlier in the year. It had been a long, gruelling struggle for both sides and it seemed that not even the Prince of Wales’s imminent arrival could enflame passions to the extent that they’d been aroused earlier.

About twenty feet away stood a couple of constables, who looked on warily but made no effort to intervene. That was sensible. For a start, there was little they could do, and if they did try, there was always the risk that a stray shoe would come innocently flying out of the non-violent crowd and smack them in the face. Still, this was the heart of White Town and the powers that be couldn’t let such a blatant challenge to British authority go unanswered even if they’d wanted to. The God-fearing readers of the Statesman and the Englishman would have choked on their kedgeree, and those of the Daily Mail in London might require a dose of smelling salts. Sure enough, moments later came the wail of sirens and the booming cadence of a Home Counties accent amplified through a bullhorn, ordering the stationary traffic to clear a path. Two police trucks drew up and disgorged a detachment of lathi-wielding native constables onto the flagstones. The English officer, a haggard-looking chap I knew by sight, though not by name, descended from the cab of the lead truck and prepared to address the crowd.

The constables lined up and the officer raised the bullhorn to his mouth. ‘This gathering is proscribed under the articles of the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919. Disperse at once or you shall be arrested.’

There was a tired formality to his voice. Indeed, there was a staleness to the whole spectacle. Both sides had danced this two-step so many times by now that everyone knew their respective roles. The protesters linked arms and continued chanting their slogans like some time-honoured religious liturgy.

After waiting a matter of minutes, the officer took to the megaphone once more. ‘This is your final warning. Clear the road immediately.’

Those words, when uttered by a policeman, might be presumed to carry the weight of a threat, but in India, in this year, they were positively welcomed by those on the receiving end.

At a nod from the officer, the constables divided into two units, one turning towards the crowd on the pavements, the other making for the demonstrators blocking the road. Ushered by his lieutenants, Bose descended from the platform and I lost sight of him.

‘We should go,’ said Surrender-not, as the first of the crowd on the pavements began to disperse. I didn’t disagree. The show was over and most of the others would soon follow them, leaving only the real zealots, and the ones seated in the road, to court arrest.

We pushed our way through the thinning crowd as the constables moved in and began the task of manhandling the remaining demonstrators off the road and into the waiting wagons. Behind us, the air filled with the cries of the wounded as a hail of blows from bamboo lathis rained down on the bones of the demonstrators. Some of the onlookers hurled insults at the policemen, but they were soon brought into line, not by the constables lined up in front of them, but by Bose’s Congress Volunteers.

We continued through the knot of protesters and into the open street beyond.

The gates to the High Court compound were manned by a platoon of armed soldiers who pored over our identification papers as though they were an exam syllabus. Once happy, they waved us through into grounds which resembled the courtyards of an Oxford college, with black-robed barristers ambling the lawns in quiet conversation, oblivious to the events occurring a few hundred yards down the road.

‘I understand Mr Das is defending a case in court number 3,’ said Surrender-not.

‘Any idea what it’s about?’

‘No, sir, but the court generally breaks for lunch around now, so we shouldn’t have long to wait.’

We took a seat on a worn wooden bench in the corridor outside court 3. We’d been here many times before; sat in the same place and watched the same harried-looking officers of the court scuttle past, heads bowed and briefs clutched close to their chests, as we awaited the call to enter and give evidence.

The minutes ticked by but the door to court 3 remained resolutely shut. What opened instead was a door at the far end of the corridor, and into the hallway stepped a patrician-looking Indian dressed in a three-piece pinstripe suit and the black robes and grey wig of a barrister. He came down the hallway towards us, trailing two juniors, each weighed down by bundles of files, behind him.

The man looked remarkably familiar and I was about to point him out to Surrender-not, when the man spotted us and his expression changed. It was an expression that resembled one I’d seen many times before.

‘Is that your –’

‘Yes,’ said Surrender-not. ‘That’s my father.’

Before he could continue, I stood up and began walking. ‘Come on,’ I said. ‘You’d better introduce me to your dear pater.’

‘I’m not sure this is such a good idea, sir,’ he said as he struggled after me.

‘Nonsense,’ I said. ‘You should have done it ages ago.’

‘Father,’ said Surrender-not as we drew level with the man and his aides, ‘may I introduce Captain Wyndham, my superior officer.’ He turned to me. ‘Captain Wyndham, this is my father, Mr Sasadhar Banerjee, barrister-at-law.’

‘How do you do,’ I said.

Banerjee senior removed his spectacles and smiled. ‘Likewise, Captain,’ he said, stowing his glasses in his breast pocket and offering me a hand. ‘So you are the Englishman responsible for filling my son’s head with imperialist nonsense.’

‘I just teach him about police work, sir,’ I said. ‘The imperialist nonsense I leave to the viceroy. And to be frank, your son’s a credit to the force, and to his family,’ I continued, sounding like a form master relaying the progress of a prize pupil.

Banerjee senior nodded sagely. ‘It is gratifying to hear that Suren is acquitting himself appropriately,’ he said. ‘However, I and his uncles would have preferred it if he had chosen an alternative profession.’

‘The country needs detectives, sir,’ I said, echoing something that Surrender-not had said to me the day I’d first met him, ‘whether it be the British or Indians in charge.’

‘The country needs doctors too, Captain,’ he replied, ‘and a doctor has the advantage of doing good while avoiding the moral dilemma of aiding and abetting an alien, occupying power.’

‘Baba, please,’ said Surrender-not. ‘This is not the time for such a discussion.’

‘Your son upholds the system of laws in this country,’ I said to the barrister. ‘One might say you do the same, sir.’

‘I defend those fighting against injustice,’ he replied.

‘And your son fights for justice for the families of those victims who have no one else to fight for them.’

The old man pondered this for a moment. ‘Tell me, Captain. When was the last time you and he investigated the murder of an ordinary Indian?’

I sidestepped the question. ‘I can tell you, sir, that your son’s actions have saved the lives of Indians as well as Englishmen. I can think of no finer officer that I have served with.’

Behind us, the doors to court 3 opened. ‘It seems we shall have to continue this discussion another time,’ I said, much to Surrender-not’s relief. ‘I’m afraid we have some business to attend to.’

Having made our excuses, we headed back towards court 3, from which a scrum of journalists and other more principled members of the public were exiting. There was, of course, no jury. There hadn’t been one since 1908, at least not for political crimes, on account of the difficulty of finding twelve good men and true in this country of three hundred million souls. Indeed, the presence of the press and the public was somewhat of a surprise, as the authorities were within their powers to hold all such trials in secret. I surmised that whatever was going on inside, the government was more than happy to have it publicised.

Surrender-not and I stood back as the courtroom emptied and Das, accompanied by a bookish-looking junior counsel, strode out. The man whom Surrender-not had called a towering figure in Indian legal circles was about five feet six inches tall and dressed, like the protesters outside, in a white dhoti and kurta which in these august halls seemed as out of place as a pinstripe suit in a paddy field. He was in his fifties, according to his file, though he possessed the soft, youthful features of a much younger man. It was something I’d noticed before in Bengalis. They aged in a different fashion from other people. Their faces stayed young while their stomachs grew ever larger, so that it was easier to assess a man’s age not by the grey in his hair but by the girth of his belly.

Das’s eyes lit up as he saw Surrender-not. Cutting short the conversation with his aide, he raised his arms towards the sergeant.

‘Suren, my boy!’ He beamed. ‘What brings you here?’ His smile disappeared as he descended into a fit of coughing which almost doubled him over. Both his aide and Surrender-not made to help him as he raised a handkerchief to his mouth. Das held his free hand out to stop them. The coughing subsided and he righted himself, eyes watering from the strain.

Surrender-not fiddled with his cuffs. ‘Das kakū,’ he said. ‘May I introduce Captain Wyndham? He comes bearing a message from the commissioner of police, Lord Taggart.’

Das turned to me and held out a hand. ‘Your reputation precedes you, Captain. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.’

‘As does yours, sir,’ I said, taking his hand, ‘though I’m surprised you should have heard of me.’

‘Of course,’ he said, smiling affably. ‘Suren’s father has on more than one occasion mentioned the devilish English officer who has so perniciously convinced his son not to resign his post. However, I shall not hold it against you. So what is it that our esteemed commissioner of police wishes to tell me?’

Despite the chill, I felt myself sweating. Taking a handkerchief from my pocket, I wiped some perspiration from my forehead. ‘Maybe we should take a stroll?’ I said.

‘Consider it a friendly warning,’ I said as we ambled along a cloistered corridor and out onto a palm-lined path through the court gardens. ‘As of tomorrow, the government will issue an order outlawing all Volunteer organisations. Anyone gathering in paramilitary uniform or similar dress will be subject to summary arrest.’

Das’s face darkened as he pondered my words. ‘It may be a warning,’ he said eventually, ‘and I appreciate the advance notice, but there is nothing friendly about it. Our Volunteers help to maintain order. You’ve no idea how much discipline is required to maintain the “non” in non-violence. The Volunteers stop the people’s passions from spiralling out of control.’

‘I doubt the viceroy sees it quite in the same terms,’ I said. ‘I understand the order comes directly from him. Besides, maintaining order is the job of the police. It’s what Sergeant Banerjee and I get paid to do.’

Das gave a small chuckle. ‘Of course, Captain. But you must admit that the Volunteers have helped you significantly in that regard over the course of the last few months. Especially when your own numbers have been so stretched.’

If our numbers were stretched, it was because of the protests he led and the resignations from the force that he and Gandhi had called for. He was turning the facts on their head. But then he was a lawyer after all.

‘I hope you will comply with the order,’ I said.

‘Do you expect me to?’

I doubted he expected an answer.

‘I’m leading a non-cooperation movement,’ he continued. ‘I’d hardly be doing a very good job of it if I were to start cooperating.’ He patted me softly on the shoulder. ‘Let me ask you a question, Captain. Should I follow an edict which I believe to be unjust? If our roles were reversed, would you do so?’

I hated this new breed of pacifist Indian revolutionary. So often they acted like we were all just good friends who happened to disagree about something, and that once the issue was resolved – obviously in their favour – we’d go back to taking tea and being the best of chums. It made punching them in the face morally difficult. Give me an old-fashioned terrorist any day. At least you knew where you stood with them. They might try to murder you, but at least they had the decency not to engage you in debate first.

‘I’m not one for politics, sir,’ I said. ‘I just do my duty.’

‘Your duty to whom, Captain? To your emperor across the seas or to the people of this city? Ridding Calcutta of the stabilising influence of the Volunteers is a dangerous game. Without them, what’s to stop the protests getting out of hand? Or maybe that is what His Excellency the Viceroy is hoping for? Mobs rampaging through the streets, just in time for the arrival of the Prince of Wales and the cameras of the international press corps. That would play very well for him in the court of public opinion.’

‘I’d remind you, sir, that it was Mr Gandhi, and not the government, who unleashed these forces and called for the police to resign en masse,’ I replied. ‘In any case, whatever the viceroy may or may not want, I’m sure the commissioner wishes to avoid any needless provocation or misunderstanding.’

We walked past the guards at the compound gates and out onto the street. Waiting there was the young man, Bose, who’d addressed the demonstrators. He’d somehow avoided arrest and now stood leaning against a tree, smoking a cigarette, no doubt waiting for Das, though he seemed surprised to see him walking out with us. Nevertheless he stubbed out his cigarette, flicked the butt into the drain and made his way over.

Das turned to Surrender-not. ‘I take it I don’t need to introduce you to Subhash.’

Before the sergeant could respond, Bose was already shaking his hand. ‘Well, well,’ he said. ‘If it isn’t Surendranath-da. I thought I saw your face earlier. Don’t tell me you’ve finally decided to join the struggle?’

‘Not quite yet, Subhash-babu,’ Surrender-not replied. ‘May I introduce my superior officer, Captain Wyndham.’

The young Indian turned to me and held out his hand. ‘Bose,’ he said, ‘Subhash Bose. I’m pleased to meet you, Captain.’

‘You won’t be so pleased when you hear what the captain has come to tell us,’ interjected Das. ‘As of tomorrow, the Congress Volunteers are a proscribed organisation; you, my friend, will be subject to summary arrest.’

‘How nice,’ said Bose acidly. ‘I suppose it’s about time. I’ve been back in Calcutta for months now and it seems they’ve arrested everyone but me. Frankly it’s getting rather embarrassing. I do wonder where they’d put me, though. I understand all the jails in India are bursting at the seams.’

‘There’s always Burma,’ I said.

Das at least found the comment amusing, and he burst into a laugh which soon descended into another fit of coughing. Bose put his hand on the older man’s elbow to steady him.

‘I must apologise,’ said Das, once the fit had passed. ‘As you can see, Captain, the cold weather is playing havoc with me.’

Beside me, Surrender-not shifted nervously. ‘If I may make one request, kakū,’ he said. ‘Do what you must, but please don’t court arrest. Your health is not what it used to be, and neither Calcutta Central Jail nor Mandalay Prison are places from which men return stronger.’

Das put his hand on Surrender-not’s shoulder. ‘A man cannot cheat his destiny, Suren. If it is my fate to be arrested, then so be it.’ Surrender-not made to object, but the Deshbandhu continued. ‘Yet I shall take your request under advisement, on condition that you too heed some advice. Go and see your parents. Your mother misses you – and your father, he is as stubborn as you, but I know him, he feels your absence just as sharply.’


‘And what did he have to say?’

Taggart stood with his back to us, hands clasped behind him, staring out of the window of his office onto the city below.

‘He said “thank you”,’ I replied.

‘That’s it?’ Taggart turned to face us.

‘More or less. He also requested we pass on his best wishes to you.’

The commissioner failed to suppress a jaundiced smile. ‘I’ll bet he did. And he didn’t say anything else?’

‘He thinks outlawing the Volunteers is a dangerous move, sir,’ said Surrender-not.

‘Oh, does he now, Sergeant?’ said Taggart. ‘And why would that be?’

‘He’s worried that without their presence the demonstrations might spiral out of control. He’s not sure we have the manpower to keep the peace.’

It might have been a fair point, but I still baulked at the thought of law and order being maintained by anyone other than the police.

Taggart walked back to his chair behind the desk and sat down.

‘The gall of that man. I expect he’d love to show the world that we don’t have the ability to maintain calm in this town. If it wasn’t for his antics, there’d be no danger to the peace in the first place.’

‘I fear he doesn’t quite see it that way, sir,’ said Surrender-not.

‘No,’ said Taggart, ‘of course he doesn’t. The question is, will he comply?’

Surrender-not and I exchanged a glance.

‘I doubt it, sir,’ I said.

‘Well, he’d better,’ said Taggart. ‘For all our sakes.’

The meeting with Taggart had ended somewhat abruptly, with the commissioner again suggesting that I draw upon my experience in Special Branch in London and military intelligence in wartime France to figure out exactly what Das planned to do next and then make sure he didn’t do it. I could have pointed out that divination wasn’t exactly a skill I’d picked up in either Scotland Yard or the trenches, and that trailing burly Irishmen or tracking down German spies afforded little insight into the innermost thoughts of a wily old Indian lawyer in bad health, but it wouldn’t have made a difference. In his current mood, Taggart would only have dismissed it as a convenient excuse.

And so, having been tasked with the impossible, Surrender-not and I had retreated to my office to lick our wounds and figure out how best to achieve it. Blame, like water, always flows downwards, and just as Taggart had taken out his frustrations on me, I took out mine on Surrender-not.

‘I don’t care what you have to do,’ I said. ‘Call in whatever favours you’re owed, speak to whoever you need to, from your father to Das’s washerwoman if need be, just find out what he’s planning.’

Surrender-not’s expression wasn’t dissimilar to the one I’d given Taggart when faced with the same ridiculous order. Nevertheless, he made some notes in his little yellow notepad and then excused himself.

My head was pounding. I checked my watch. It was only just gone 3 p.m. These days, a half-day’s work seemed about all I was good for.

I settled back into my chair and tried to concentrate on work. Figuring out Das’s plans might be beyond me, but I could at least try to determine what had happened to the body of the Chinaman I’d left at the opium den.

I’d made scant progress when the telephone rang. I expected it to be Surrender-not, calling to tell me he’d worked out Das’s next move, or, more likely, to ask a stupid question.

I picked up the receiver.


It was a woman’s voice; one that I hadn’t heard in a few months.

‘Annie?’ I replied. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’

‘I’m not bothering you, am I … ?’ Her voice trailed off.

‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘Is everything all right?’

For a detective, it wasn’t the most astute of questions. Something had to be wrong. She wouldn’t have called otherwise. For a moment, the only response was static. Then she answered.

‘Something’s happened, Sam.’

Half an hour later I was in Alipore, among the boulevards and bungalows of White Town. In this part of Calcutta you’d be hard pressed to tell that most of the city had been in turmoil for the best part of a year. Maybe the grass of some lawns was half an inch longer than usual, or the paint on a mansion or two hadn’t been retouched after the monsoon deluge back in August, but it was only to be expected. These days, with so many natives on strike, it wasn’t always easy to find the right workmen for the job. Of course it had been worse earlier in the year, when every native and his dog seemed to have heeded the Mahatma’s message and gone on strike. A hartal they called it. But it seemed that hartals were subject to Newton’s laws. For every action there was a reaction. For every flower bed that went untended, a workman went unpaid and his family edged closer to penury and starvation. Strikes, like warfare, are campaigns of attrition, and in the end, an empty belly trumps politics. Over time the workmen, the malis, the durwans, the railwaymen and most of the others had drifted back to their posts, and behind their well-tended hedgerows the houses of Alipore sparkled in the winter sun once more.

The driver stopped on the road outside Annie’s home. The iron gates were locked shut and beside them sat her durwan, a greasy little fellow with the appearance of an overfed cherub and the work ethic of a sloth. It usually took a stream of invective or a natural disaster to prise him out of his well-worn chair at any speed faster than a snail’s pace, but today he was up from his seat like a tubby greyhound out of the traps. Taking a key from a ring on his belt, he quickly unlocked the gates, flung them open and waved us into a gravel driveway the length of the Suez Canal, at the end of which stood Annie’s house. With its green shutters and pink bougainvillea climbing the whitewashed walls, it would normally have been considered picturesque, but not today. Not with its front door daubed with red paint.

I jumped out before the car came to a halt and made for the steps to the entrance. The door was opened by Annie’s maid, Anju, a slight woman with a pronounced stoop and an expression that suggested she had the cares of the world on her back. I’d met her before, quite a few times in fact, when I was a more regular visitor to the house. She generally greeted me with a cautious smile, a pranam and a few mumbled words, but there were other things on her mind today.

‘Captain Wyndham, sahib,’ she said, before launching into a flow of Bengali so rapid it was beyond me. Sensing my incomprehension, she stopped abruptly, then, all but taking my hand, she gestured for me to follow. ‘Come,’ she said breathlessly, ‘memsahib is this way.’

I accompanied her through the hall. The place smelled of gardenias. Annie liked gardenias. There was generally a bunch or two scattered around the place, and it struck me that I could have done myself a favour by bringing a bouquet along too – not that this was a social call. The maid stopped at the open door to the drawing room and looked up at me, hopefully. I wasn’t sure what the look meant.

‘Please wait. I call memsahib.’

I walked past her into the room. It hadn’t changed much since my last visit. The same few photographs of family sat on a walnut table in front of a brocade sofa, the kind favoured by people in Calcutta who possessed that rare combination of both money and good taste. On either side of the picture window stood the two large statues of the Hindu god Shiva, the creator and protector of the universe, standing on a lotus flower, performing his celestial dance inside a ring of fire. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that they were identical, but a closer look would reveal subtle disparities. The god’s expressions and his poses were dissimilar. Annie had once explained the difference to me.

‘The first is Shiva in his benign state,’ she’d said, ‘the creator dancing the universe into existence. The other is his angrier form.’

‘The destroyer?’ I’d asked.

She’d hesitated. ‘In a way, but not like our God destroying the world as in the book of Revelation. Hindus believe in reincarnation, not just of the soul but of the universe. Shiva pulls down the old so that it can be renewed. He destroys so that he can create again.’

I had hoped it might be a metaphor for our relationship. There certainly was a pattern to it. More than once, things had blossomed between us, but circumstances always seemed to conspire against us. It was possible those circumstances were orchestrated by the gods; more likely they were precipitated by my actions.

It’s true that I’d once suspected her of withholding information about the death of her former employer from me. I may even have broached the subject with her, but the way she told it, I’d practically accused her of stabbing the man herself. The truth was I’d done no such thing. I’d merely considered it.

There had been an entente of sorts a year later, but even that cordiality floundered, partly on the rocks of my opium habit. At the time, I could go several days without the need for a hit and could even keep up a decent air of respectability during daylight hours. But there was no hiding the nocturnal excursions, and in Calcutta there were only two reasons why a man would go out so late and so regularly, and neither of them was particularly palatable. She’d noticed them and confronted me, and I’d denied it all. I’d told her it was police work – and she’d believed not a word of it. That was six months ago and I’d seen her only intermittently since. At first I’d hoped she might reconsider, but that was never likely. She looked like a princess and had a bank balance to match, thanks to the careful investment of cash she’d received from someone else I’d once suspected of murder. I might have been wrong on both counts, but surely it’s right and proper for a detective to have a healthy sense of suspicion.

From the day I’d met her, I’d known she was something special. She wasn’t perfect; she wasn’t even English for that matter; but she was intelligent, and tough, and in a society that valued breeding over ability she was a misfit. Like me, she was a survivor, and she was pretty good at it, probably because she’d had to fight for everything her whole life. As such, I couldn’t blame her for grasping any opportunity for advancement that came her way. The point was, these days she was never short of admirers, even with her part-Indian blood. I had no problem with that, nor with her using them to get what she wanted. Of course I’d felt our relationship had been different, and while in my darker hours I might have suspected I was no different from the rest of those men trapped in her orbit, I could still accept that. My real fear, though, was that one of these days she’d meet some man and see in him more than a means to an end.

Word had it, of late, that she’d been seen around town on the arm of an American businessman recently arrived from some place no one had ever heard of called Wisconsin; no one save for Surrender-not of course, who was a veritable walking atlas, and who said it was cold there; colder, at any rate, than anywhere sane men had reason to be. That was good. I doubted the man would survive a Bengal summer. With luck he might even melt.


I turned to find Annie at the entrance to the room.

It didn’t matter that I’d been expecting her, seeing her standing there like a Greek goddess was still like a punch to the stomach.

She looked perplexed.

‘I didn’t expect you to come yourself,’ she said as she entered. ‘Sending a constable would have been fine.’

I didn’t believe a word of it. If she’d wanted a constable, she’d have telephoned the local thana – an officer would have been here in five minutes. Instead she’d called me at police headquarters.

‘It’s no trouble,’ I said. ‘What happened?’

‘You saw the door?’ There was a brittleness to her tone.

‘It was hard to miss.’

‘Well, take a look at this,’ she said, leading the way into the hall. I followed her to the dining room at the rear of the house. The window had been smashed, and on the floor, amid the glittering shards, sat a brick.

I knelt down and made a show of examining it. People expect a detective to examine things. It went with the badge, and like some performing monkey, I felt almost enthusiastic about obliging her. If it had been a new brick, I might have had something to go on. Maybe there was construction work going on nearby and someone might have taken it, but this one was old and worn – like most of Calcutta. It was just a brick: reddish-orange and no different to any other of the thousands you could find strewn all over the more dilapidated parts of town.

‘And this came through the window?’ I said, straightening up.

It was a stupid question, but I got an odd satisfaction from asking it. She stared at me as though I was an idiot.

‘No, Sam. It came in the post. Of course it came through the window.’

‘When did it happen?’

‘About an hour ago. Maybe ten minutes before I called you.’

Attacks on properties in White Town were as rare as a hot day in the Hebrides, and an attack in broad daylight was unheard of.

‘Did you see the perpetrators?’

She shook her head. ‘The room was empty. It was the noise which alerted Anju. She arrived to see two men running away towards the trees.’ Annie pointed to the far end of the garden.

I looked out. The trees were a hundred yards away.

‘Indians?’ I asked.

‘She thought so.’

‘Did she recognise them?’

‘No,’ she said, with an air of resignation. ‘There are so many new faces around these days …’ Her voice trailed off, but there was no need to finish the sentence. Das had called for a one-day general strike earlier in the year, and many of Alipore’s workmen and gardeners had heeded his request. Certain sahibs had taken the actions of their staff as a personal insult and sacked them the next day, replacing them with new men who knew on which side their roti was buttered.

‘What about that durwan of yours?’ I asked. ‘Isn’t he supposed to patrol the grounds?’

‘He was at the front gate,’ she said. ‘He only does his rounds after dark.’

‘And he didn’t see anything?’


‘Not even someone throwing a bucket of paint at the front door?’

‘Apparently not.’

I supposed it was possible. It was a fair distance between the gate and the house, and her durwan couldn’t have been much less vigilant had he been dead.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘for all the good he does, you might just as well employ a scarecrow. It’d be cheaper.’

She sighed. ‘And then who would feed his family, Sam?’

I let the matter drop. If she wanted to act as patron saint to every native in Calcutta, that was her business, but it hadn’t stopped a couple of them lobbing a brick through her window.

‘Have you received any threats?’ I asked.

‘No,’ she said, ‘but the neighbourhood is panicky. A Parsee doctor and his wife who live nearby had their garden room set alight a few nights ago.’

‘What about you?’ I continued. ‘Any idea why someone would wish to target your house?’

She shot me that look again, the one that made it clear that she wasn’t exactly in awe of my deductive skills.

‘Isn’t it obvious?’

Anglo-Indians were a soft target. Attacks on them were up all across town. They’d always had it tough – viewed with distaste by us and with distrust by the Indians – but things had worsened considerably since the summer. The reason was the railways. They were the government’s Achilles heel. Without them, the country would be paralysed and the authorities would have been forced to compromise. But after some initial disruption, the trains were up and running again within a week. The natives blamed the Anglo-Indians. After all, people thought they ran the railways. They didn’t, of course. While it was true that many railway jobs were reserved for them, the top posts were all held by British men. Nevertheless, the Anglo-Indians made convenient scapegoats. It was always easier to blame sabotage on a minority than admit that maybe not all Indians were behind the Mahatma’s call to drop arms.

If Das was right, and the banning of the Volunteers from the streets did lead to more attacks, it didn’t take a genius to work out who the first targets would be.

‘It might be better if you moved out of the house for a few days,’ I said. ‘Just until tempers cool.’

‘And where would you have me go, Sam?’

There was an edge to her voice.

‘A hotel.’ I shrugged. ‘The Great Eastern, maybe?’ The thought brought back memories. It was the first place I’d taken her to dinner. But that was over two years ago. We were different people then.

‘I’m not going to be driven from my own home,’ she said, and her tone made clear there was no point in debating the matter. Instead I nodded and followed her back into the hallway.

I gave the rest of the place a quick once-over, checking the external doors and windows, and offered to post a constable at the door, which was rash, given we were short of men and that I had no authority to do so in the first place, but it wasn’t the first time I’d shot my mouth off in an attempt to impress her.

Declining the offer, she accompanied me back to the front door, just as several workmen arrived with tools and wooden boards to temporarily barricade the broken window.

I turned to face her, still unsure why she’d called me out here in the first place. Part of me felt she might not know herself. Maybe, confronted with danger, she’d done it on instinct and was now regretting it. Judging by the look on her face, that was a distinct possibility.

‘You’re sure you’ll be all right, here?’

‘I’ll be fine, Sam,’ she said. It sounded like she meant it. ‘I was just a bit shaken by everything. I shouldn’t have troubled you.’

‘I could come back later,’ I said, ‘and stay over … if you’re concerned?’ The words were out of my mouth before I even realised.

She gave a mirthless laugh. ‘Would that be all night, Sam, or just till two in the morning?’


I left Annie’s place as the fog descended, both in the streets and in my head. As ever, the stillness of dusk was punctuated by the sound of crickets. My limbs ached and even the exertion of climbing into the waiting car was energy-sapping. I slumped into the back seat and pulled the door shut.

‘Lal Bazar, sir?’ asked the driver.

‘No,’ I said, ‘Premchand Boral Street.’

It was going to be another uncommonly cold night. Lately, the mercury had dropped as low as forty and for the natives, that must have felt like the Arctic. On a night like this, in the poorer parts of Black Town, some of those without a roof or a fire wouldn’t make it through to morning.

To them, winter was nothing but a perilous time of the year. Indeed, to most of the city’s denizens, Christmas was an alien festival, planted in their soil by zealous missionaries and celebrated by the British and some misguided converts from other parts of the country – South Indians mainly – who’d settled here. Not that they necessarily resented it. The Hindus of Bengal could be a pragmatic people, and many of them had no problem accepting Jesus as another deity in the universal pantheon of gods and holy men, especially since we British had decreed his birthday as a holiday.

Still, the festivities were half-hearted at best, and that was fine with me. I preferred not to be reminded of the ghosts of Christmas past. The few happy memories I had of the festive period were of the days I’d spent with my wife, Sarah. She’d died four years ago, and like a man scared of his own shadow, I’d spent every Christmas since running away, first into a bottle, and then to Calcutta; because looking back at the past was like picking at the scab of an unhealed wound.

If there had been joy in my life since then, it had come from Annie Grant. The irony was that, while I ran from my memories, my inability to move forward – to consign my time with Sarah to the past – had probably crushed any prospect of a future with Annie.

The hibiscus fragrance of Alipore soon gave way to the stench of sewage as we approached the Tolly Canal, the boundary between the well-heeled suburb and the centre of town. The driver seemed to being doing his damnedest to drive through every pothole on the route back and my head pounded, as though the goddess Kali herself was hammering at it, hoping to add mine to the garland of skulls around her neck.

Dusk had settled by the time the car stopped outside my lodgings. Premchand Boral Street wasn’t the most salubrious of locales, but the rent was cheap and, more importantly, the landlord had no objection to a white man sharing lodgings with a native. The street was quiet at this hour. Most of the girls didn’t do much business before eight, and even then things only got rowdy after ten. Before that, it was the refined clientele, the salarymen with their starched dhotis and their neatly oiled and parted hair, stopping off on their way home for their regular appointments with a box of sweetmeats in hand and a smile on their face.

I made it up the stairs and turned the key in the lock. The hallway was in darkness. It meant Surrender-not was still out, but of course Sandesh would be in, probably in the kitchen, cooking by candlelight. It wasn’t that he was frugal – he just didn’t trust electricity.

‘Sandesh.’ My voice echoed off the walls.

‘Hã, sahib.’

The reply came not from the kitchen but the living room. From the scraping of the furniture, I surmised he’d been having a nap under the dining table. There came the scratching of a match, a flaring, then the soft glow of a hurricane lamp as he padded into the hallway.

‘Switch on some lights,’ I said, ‘and bring me my tonic.’

‘Hã, sahib.’ He nodded, pressing the switch in the hall, before heading off to the kitchen. I entered the living room, took off my jacket and threw it over the back of a chair, then made for the drinks cabinet.

Minutes later I was on the veranda, a tumbler of Glenfarclas in my hand, seated on a wicker chair about as comfortable as a bag of rocks. With a shaking hand I lifted the heavy glass to my lips as, from behind me, Sandesh came out and wordlessly placed an enamel cup and a small brass pot and spoon on the table beside me, then retreated back inside. The cup was filled with a greyish, pulpy liquid that made Ganges water taste like ambrosia. But I wasn’t complaining. Not about that, nor the spoonful of clarified butter I’d take from the brass pot as a chaser.

The concoction had been prescribed by a quack called Chatterjee, whose consulting room consisted of a cabin little larger than a priest’s confessional booth in an unhygienic alley off Dharmatolla Street. He called himself a doctor of homeopathic medicine, and judging by the number of certificates hanging on the wall behind him, he seemed well qualified in his field.

I’d been sceptical of course, but as they say – needs must and all that. My cravings had reached the stage where the symptoms were becoming impossible to hide, even from myself. Going to a European doctor, even one of the Armenian chaps who practised over Barabazar way, was out of the question, seeing as how the confidentiality clause of the Hippocratic oath only seemed to sporadically apply in Calcutta. Besides, when it came to combating opium addiction, Western medicine appeared to have little in its armoury other than electroshock therapy, which sounded about as much fun as being bled by leeches.

So it had to be an Indian doctor, and it had to be secret. Even being caught making enquiries could cause trouble. But I was a detective with over a decade’s experience in covert surveillance. Tracking down people was what I did. From the outset I felt my chances of finding an appropriate physician were good; and they improved considerably when I saw Dr Chatterjee’s advertisement in the classified section of the Statesman.

Dr Hariprashad Chatterjee

Practitioner of Ayurvedic and Homeopathic Medicines

Remedies for infection, addiction, constipation, marital dysfunction…

One Tuesday evening in November, I’d made the trip to the doctor’s consulting cabin to confess my sins. Chatterjee turned out to be a thin man in thick glasses, a dhoti, and a half-sleeve shirt, ink-stained around the breast pocket where a pen had leaked.

He listened without comment as I haltingly explained my problem and betrayed no surprise at seeing a white man come to seek his services. He gave the matter the attention it deserved, nodding gravely every now and then until my words dried up.

‘Hã,’ he said finally. ‘Afeem addiction is most serious bãpaar. Efficacious treatment is long-drawn, intensive affair. Most unsavoury to Western sentiments …’

‘But there is a treatment?’ I said.

‘Of course there is treatment!’ He bridled. ‘You are aware of Ayurveda?’


Surrender-not was an advocate of Ayurvedic medicine, but like so much else about native practices, I’d found it hopelessly impenetrable, wrapped in the fog and folklore of Indian mysticism.

‘Cleansing,’ continued Chatterjee, the pupils of his eyes magnified through the thick lenses of his glasses. ‘Cure involves cleansing. Of full body and spirit. You will need to travel to ashram of Devraha Swami in Assam.’

‘And he’s good, this swami?’

Chatterjee smiled. ‘Most definitely! Devraha Swami is over 270 years old.’

‘You’ve met him?’

‘No. But I send him many patients. Process takes twenty-five days. There will be much expulsion of poisons from the body. You will need to examine your stools most carefully.’

It sounded lovely.

The problem, as ever, was time. In the current circumstances, the chances of Lord Taggart granting me twenty-five days’ leave to visit an ashram in Assam were as high as Kaiser Wilhelm being awarded the French Legion of Honour.

‘Is there nothing else?’ I asked. ‘Pills perhaps?’

The glasses on Chatterjee’s face swayed as he shook his head. ‘I am sorry, no. Not if you want full cure.’

I slumped back in my chair.

‘But,’ said the doctor, ‘there is one temporary measure. Kerdū. In English it is called, I think, ash gourd. It is not cure, but its juices can alleviate symptoms of afeem sickness.’

Suddenly I felt like a man who’d been pardoned on his way to the gallows.

Chatterjee scrawled the details on a flimsy sheet of paper.

‘Take one half kerdū. Mash into pulp and drink with one teaspoon ghee. Take when symptoms are becoming too great.’

I’d been sceptical, but it wasn’t as though I had much of a choice, at least not until I could find the time for a month’s vomiting and stool examination. So I’d tried it, hesitantly at first, and surprisingly it seemed to work. I found that, after a draught of the concoction, the aches would abate for a day or so, plugging the gap between the severest onset of my symptoms and the next visit to a den in the dead of night.

I set down the tumbler of whisky, reached for the enamel cup and steeled myself. The stuff tasted foul and I drank it down in two gulps, then took a spoonful of the clarified butter from the pot and swallowed it while trying not to retch. I knew from experience that the brew would need a while to take effect, so I did the decent thing and picked up the whisky, sat back, sipped and waited.

My thoughts returned to the events of the previous night. A raid, scheduled at the behest of Section H, in secrecy and at the last minute. A dead man whose body seemed to have gone undetected – or at least unremarked – even though the place was crawling with policemen.

But corpses didn’t just disappear, not without the aid of a high-explosive shell, and as none had fallen on the opium den, it stood to reason that the body of the missing Chinaman must still be there … assuming, that is, I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.

There was only one way to be sure. I got up, grabbed my jacket and headed out into the fog and hailed a taxi.

The streets were dead. On winter nights like this, Calcutta took on a ghostly quality, the veil between the living and the dead, indistinct at the best of times, now became positively porous. A rickshaw appeared out of the gloom, its driver wrapped up against the night in jumper, muffler and woollen cap, as though off to pick up Captain Scott at the South Pole.

The journey to Tangra was punctuated by the rickshaw-wallah’s hacking cough, each eruption accompanied by a curse and an apology.

‘Sorry, sahib. Bad coughing. Too cold.’

It was the same every winter. As soon as the temperature fell below fifty, half the city fell ill, and talk of pneumonia and chest infections soon vied for conversational space with those perennial Bengali obsessions: politics and bowel movements.

I alighted a few streets distant and walked the rest of the way back to the opium den. From the front, the building looked like any other in this part of town: barred and shuttered windows set in a facade of stained, cracked plaster and crumbling brickwork. A wooden hoarding was nailed to the wall above the padlocked door, its Chinese characters painted in fading red.

A solitary, scarf-clad constable stood outside next to a hurricane lamp, stamping his feet in an attempt to drum up some bodily heat. He looked barely twenty and twitchy, and at the sound of my footsteps, he snatched up his rifle.

‘Who goes there?’ he challenged, with as much conviction as a priest in a brothel.

He relaxed when he saw I was a sahib, and even more so when I pulled out my warrant card.

‘What’s your name, Constable?’ I asked.

‘Mitra, sir. From Tangra thana.’

I lied and told him I was from Vice Division. ‘I need access to the premises,’ I said.

‘Yes, sir,’ he said, fishing a ring of keys from his pocket. Finding the correct one, he turned and stooped over the padlock. It clicked open and the chain it fastened fell rattling to the ground. Mitra pushed it out of the way with the side of his boot, then held the door open. Borrowing his lamp, I stepped inside and into darkness.

It smelled different from the previous night. The aroma of formaldehyde and opium had gone, replaced by something else – something faint which I couldn’t quite define but which reminded me of the trenches. I took the stairs down to the basement, along the corridor to the room where, less than twenty-four hours earlier, I’d lain comatose on a flimsy charpoy, surrounded by half a dozen other opium fiends. The room was empty now, mute like the ante-chamber of