Buildings were like people. Sometimes a modest exterior concealed the scariest things and vice versa. “Take this one for example," Mr Majestic said to himself.

From across the busy street it looked like a humble and homely building. The three-storey box of monsoon-worn concrete could have belonged to any middle class part of town, but for the record it stood a short motorbike ride west of Bengaluru City railway station in Rajaji Nagar—a vast area of shops, random offices and small-scale industries, a sprinkling of temples to improve your life, hospitals that claimed to cure anything including death if that was what you suffered from, and a public crematorium just in case you didn’t survive despite taking every precaution.

Hari Majestic scanned the office building’s facade again but it bore no signs of imminent threat. One just couldn’t tell. He was used to weird things and creepy places. But entering police stations and related establishments made him queasy without fail, since he never knew if he was going to come out a free man.

Hari—A Hero For Hire: By Zac O’Yeah, Pan Macmillan India, 332 pages, 350
Hari—A Hero For Hire: By Zac O’Yeah, Pan Macmillan India, 332 pages, 350

The motorcycle’s engine cooled and he slid off after padlocking his military style helmet to the handle bar. The late monsoon wasn’t really happening and therefore the city was experiencing drought. Small clouds of dust mushroomed from underneath his rubber sandals.

As for a getaway plan, he had parked his bike so that it faced away. The motorcycle manufacturer’s motto appealed to him: ‘Made like a Gun, Goes like a Bullet’. It dated back to the days when armies bought Enfield Bullets in bulk. In case he must make a quick escape, he’d simply run out, hop on and bugger off.

On foot now, Hari negotiated the disorderly traffic, dodging a decorated elephant headed to a temple festival nearby—it was that time of the year. Thanks to his alert senses and decent karma he had, so far, always survived the Bengaluru streets.

On the first floor of the building there was a chit fund company optimistically named Interesting Pyramidal Investment Scheme Pvt Ltd. He headed up the stairs to the next floor, where he noted a firm that went by the somewhat cryptic name of Telegraphic Intimations. Hari had read about telegraphs on Wikipedia but had no clue they still existed in the IT capital of India. Up a final flight of stairs, he spotted an unglamorous glass door with a low-key sign for Total Safety Security Agents & Services stencilled across it. There he stopped and hesitated for the second time.

Considering that the Bengaluru police force only had 16,109 men and women in its service, private security was big business, employing hundreds of thousands of people if you counted every guard at every ATM, jewellery shop and posh residence. So if almost everybody else worked in the security industry, then why shouldn’t he get his share? Besides, it’d be a safe employment as the demand was only going up with the population. Just in Hari’s lifetime, Bengaluru had grown from a million or two to over ten, rowdy-sheeters of no fixed address and other floating population counted.

He stopped to contemplate a notification painted on the wall, stating that applicants were expected to be well-groomed, clean-shaven with sober haircuts, dressed tidily in ironed shirts and formal pants in a colour no brighter than brown.

Rolling his head sideways to loosen up the neck, he pepped himself, checked his looks in the door glass: no matter how much coconut oil he used, an uncontrollable protuberance stood up from his forehead as if he were born on a bad hair day. He was wearing his showy nylon shirt and frayed stonewashed jeans. Plus, he had grown a trendy moustache. One of his friends had one, so he’d followed suit. Perfect disguise, nobody would think of him as a potential detective. Would-be movie star, yes. Detective, no.

Trouble was, Hari had never applied for a job before because he’d been too busy staying alive. However, at the age of twenty-eight, it seemed to him that only salaried people mattered in the matrimonial ads. In fact, most people of his generation, born in the 1980s, were married and had kids, mortgaged homes in apartment buildings with 24-hour security and decent jobs with the possibility of receiving a pension before God took them off to their next reincarnations.

Somehow Hari had found himself left behind on life’s backburner, as if he were starring in a movie that nobody wanted to produce.

Excerpted with permission from Pan Macmillan. The book will be released next week.

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