Necropolis, a mystery set in a Delhi full of crime, beauty and would-be vampires

Avtar Singh's Necropolis opens with a dead body in Delhi. A young man's corpse is found, with a necklace of fingers around his neck. DCP Dayal of the Crime Branch, assisted by Kapoor and Smita, begins investigating this case and before they know it, Dayal and his team are immersed in a Delhi full of poetry, violence, politics and would-be vampires and werewolves. Here’s an excerpt, in which the DCP meets Razia, a creature of the night, a political player and one whom many suspect of being a vampire.

hidden September 08, 2014 14:02:46 IST
Necropolis, a mystery set in a Delhi full of crime, beauty and would-be vampires

Avtar Singh's Necropolis opens with a dead body in Delhi. A young man's corpse is found, with a necklace of fingers around his neck. DCP Dayal of the Crime Branch, assisted by Kapoor and Smita, begins investigating this case and before they know it, Dayal and his team are immersed in a Delhi full of poetry, violence, politics and would-be vampires and werewolves. Here’s an excerpt, in which the DCP meets Razia, a creature of the night, a political player and one whom many suspect of being a vampire.

Necropolis a mystery set in a Delhi full of crime beauty and wouldbe vampires

by Avtar Singh

The DCP raised an eyebrow. “And?”
Smita picked up the thread. “We know he’s convinced there have been vampires in Delhi for hundreds of years.”
This time the DCP raised both eyebrows.
Smita and her colleague chuckled in tandem. “That’s one of the ways we recognize him. Even in that crowd, that stands out.”
“You’re an authority on Delhi’s history, aren’t you, sir?” said the young male officer. “What do you think?”
“I think you should tell me what else you know,” said his superior officer. “Any noise at all on the finger-snatcher?”
The two cyber crime officers shook their heads regretfully. They’d been monitoring that chatter as well, which had of late become a cacophony, but there was nothing to link the vampire to the collector of fingers.
“There is one thing,” said Smita. “He’s obsessed with the Colonel.”
The DCP and Kapoor looked at each other, then at the young woman. “Who?”
“You know, that woman who parties every night. Everyone knows are and talks about her. She’s in the silly papers all the time.”
“What does he want with her?”
“Photos, for the most part. Information. Posts keep popping on the various forums, asking for either. Her address, where she’ll be that night. We’re convinced it’s him.”
The DCP still looked fogged. “If she’s always in the papers, surely he can just run a search for her images.”
“That’s just the point,” said Smita with a cagey smile. “She seems to know all the photographers. The writers go on about her, describe her clothes and what she’s drinking, but there’s never a photo. Practically everyone who goes out at night has seen her. I’ve seen her. But if you knew her only through the papers, she could almost be a figment of the collective imagination of Delhi’s gossip writers.”
“A ghost,” supplied her colleague helpfully. “Or a vampire. Apparently, they can’t be photographed.” …
“The Colonel,” mused the DCP. “Is that really her name?”
“That’s what the papers call her,” said Smita.
“Alright then,” said the DCP. “Where do we find her?”
“That’s easy,” said Smita’s colleague eagerly. “It’s Wednesday. She’ll be at the nightclub at the Babar Hotel.”
Smita nodded sagely.
The DCP looked at Kapoor who nodded as well. “My nephew works there.”
“Would you,” said the DCP formally to Smita, “be interested in helping with the investigation into the finger-snatcher case?”
“A table for two,” said Kapoor over the phone.

She sat there in state, ensconced on a purple banquette, a stemmed glass in front of her and laughing female acolytes to either side. A lone gent patrolled the outskirts of their party, there apparently to replenish drinks at his own expense. The DCP and Smita walked up to their table where, without preamble, the older officer sat down, inviting Smita to have a seat next to him. By a trick of the acoustic designer’s art, the table was a quiet haven, while still close enough to the floor that the officers could glimpse the sweat in the cleavage of the feverish dancers who threw themselves about a few feet away, beyond the privacy screen.

The Colonel looked enquiringly a the DCP as he made himself comfortable.
He leant across and said, loud enough that the young women on either side of her could hear, “I don’t know whether to shake your hand or salute you.”
The woman looked at him with her eyebrows raised, then smiled. “You can greet me the way you like, Commissioner. I am yours to command.”
The DCP would remember that first smile, her perfect even teeth, the warmth in her eyes.
“You know who I am,” he said without surprise.
“Who doesn’t?” she replied.
“I know who you are, but not what to call you. Colonel sounds awfully formal.”
“These girls call me Razia. I don’t know why.”
“It fits. Delhi’s own Sultana. Regal, powerful.”
“Dead, too, these past eight hundred years.”
“A blink of the eye in this city’s history, surely.”
“Perhaps, Commissioner, but she’s still a bit before my time. But if the name pleases you, it’s yours to use.” She waved her hangers-on away. The young woman obediently went off with their solitary male attendant, and the DCP and Smita moved closer to her.
“And you, my dear?” she smiled at Smita. “What’s your name?”
“Smita Dhingra.”
“A policewoman, perhaps?”
“I am.”
“And how,” said Razia, “can I be of service to the law?”
“Doubtless you’ve heard,” replied the DCP, “of the finger-snatcher?”
Razia inclined her head.
“Perhaps you’ve also heard of these gangs of pretend-vampires and werewolves who’re fighting each other all over Delhi?”
An eyebrow acknowledged that she was indeed in receipt of this information.
Why, wondered the DCP, would a young man who thought himself a vampire be looking for pictures of her? Why, indeed, would a woman such as Razia, an habitue of nightspots far removed from the louche battlegrounds of the angsty undead, have come to the attention of one such as he?

Razia pursed her lips thoughtfully and registered contemplation, and the DCP remarked, as he would again, at how the theatricality of her every movement was rendered with such poise as to make it seem natural. Was it, she said as if to herself, because of the paucity of such material? Perhaps, acknowledged the policeman. Is there a reason for this shortage, he asked in turn. Privacy is a commodity, replied the woman. Like any other, it becomes more precious when the supply begins to dwindle.

…”Has this man,” he asked formally, “not tried to make contact with you?”
“I don’t know, Commissioner,” Razia replied. “I’m not on the internet. I don’t normally answer my phone and I certainly don’t give my number to just anyone.”
The DCP pondered this quietly.
“Would you like my number, Commissioner?” asked Razia.
The DCP nodded his head slowly, fished out his phone and fed in the number she gave him.
“Bring yourself to my poor house, Commissioner. I’m sure we can find a candle to take turns with.”
He nodded again, though he doubted whether his poetic impulse would be up to that or any test.
There was one more thing, pointed out Razia gently. She still didn’t know the commissioner’s first name.
Sajan.
A fitting name for a man of Delhi, said Razia, inclining her head. “I feel as if I’ve known many men like you in years past, Sajan. But I fear there are fewer and fewer left.”
The DCP and Smita left then, past the screen that shielded Razia’s table, past the dance floor and the bar, through the door and up the stairs and out of to the hotel’s vestibule where, in deference to his position, his car was waiting off to one side. They were in the car and on their way to Smita’s home before she opened her mouth.
“She was flirting with you,” she said almost accusingly.
“I noticed,” he replied dryly.
Smita gave him a sidelong look, then laughed, a robustly merry sound that brightened the older man’s hitherto-in-free-fall mood.
“So. Do you think she’s a vampire?” he said jocularly.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” replied Smita. “I was looking at her very closely, and I have no idea how old she is. I hate women like that.”

Necropolis, by Avtar Singh, is published by HarperCollins India under Fourth Estate imprint.

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