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ExtractRead chapter 1 of the novel

Chapter 1

1

Wyndham's body lay in a crypt beneath the ground floor offices of the police station. It was a pleasant little room, the body notwithstanding. Very earthy, and cool.
        "This is a tykhana," Inspector Prabash told me. He meant the room we were in. "It is built as an escape from the heat. We come down here in summer months during tiffin breaks. Bodies are a rarity. This is Dr. Charles?" he asked.
        The body lay on a big block of ice which was dripping, melting. The limbs had been neatly arranged and the face roughly cleaned. His hair, missing in clumps, was a blond tangle of silt and mud. The face was bruised, the nose had been broken, and there were tears in the skin where his head must have lashed against rocks as the river tugged and pulled at the body in its shallow burial place. The lips were ragged, sagged in: the front teeth had all been knocked out. He was almost unrecognizable.
       I told Inspector Prabash it was Wyndham.
       "You are sure?"
       I said I was. "But why the ice?" I asked him. It seemed absurd, the body in the narrow room on a block of slowly melting ice.
      "I was not sure what to do," he said, leading me away, back to his office. "You see, this is very unusual occurrence. The climate of this country is not suited to preservation. Cremation follows death very quickly, even when death is not by natural causes. Unfortunately, it is not possible simply to cremate your Dr. Charles, and so this thing must be done to reduce decay."
      He was still saying the name wrong: char less, as if he was describing the latest line in fancy barbecue sets. He hadn't fared much better with Wyndham: wind him, he kept saying, as in winding a clock, giving his questions a surreal quality as he asked me about this man I knew so well and yet had never heard of before, Dr. Wind-him Char-less.
        He made several calls back in his office. He had chai brought in.
        "What I still do not understand," he told me when he had hung up the phone, "is why you have gone to such lengths. You knew him well, this Dr. Charles?"
        "Well enough," I replied. "I've known him almost a dozen years now. We've been through some rough times together."
        "During your coverage of war zones? This must be very interesting life for you," he said wistfully.
        Inspector Deo Prabash was a large man, with a big voice and big, bullish eyes. His office was small and he filled it. I got the impression that intimidation was his more usual method of detection. He wasn't using it on me: he sat reclined in the chair behind his desk and his tone was easy, affable. He had been interrogating me for thirty minutes or more before showing me the body - a shock tactic? - and I still couldn't decide whether this chatty attitude of his was an innocent device or part of some trick of confidence meant to entrap me.
        "In Mahaban, there is petty crime only," he told me idly, "death sometimes - from crashes, arrack - and also, there are illegal distilleries in the surrounding countryside, which we raid from time to time. It is not such very interesting work, routine mostly."
        He pursed his lips in a slight frown of discontent. He had a thick moustache, sheeny with wax, the tips twirled and striving upwards. As he toyed with the ends, twisting, twisting, I formed the idea that rising through the ranks of the police force was not what he had once had in mind for himself: he had the bearing and imperious mannerisms of a military man.
        "You are alone in India?" he asked.
        "Yes, I'm alone."
        "Your family is in England?"
        "No. I have no family." But I refrained from saying, Not any more. Even my truths were becoming dishonest now. I wondered how much longer he would keep this up for.
        "No wife?" he said. "No children? I cannot understand the ways of the West. In India, family is most important thing." He was still twirling the tips of his moustache in a slow, disinterested way, staring blankly ahead. He said, "And so you have come all this way only to see Dr. Charles? But also yes, I was forgetting - corruption, you said?"
        I regretted having mentioned this now. But what else was there? Explanations, explanations: so tough. Where to begin? What to leave out? Even if the whole truth is told, there has to be selection, rearrangement. Certain parts must be de-emphasized. Others become necessarily distorted.

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The paperback version is available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk, and in North America from Amazon.com.




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