Pressure-cooker bombs hidden in the first-class carriages of commuter services running from Mumbai's financial district to its suburbs. Survivors would speak of bodies flung from trains, carriage floors awash with blood, screams and screams and screams …
The first bomb had gone off at exactly 6:24 p.m. All seven exploded in the space of eleven minutes. Over two hundred dead, over seven hundred injured.
And even Mumbai, no stranger to terrorist action, was shocked by the ferocity of the attacks. A city of thirteen million people, home to Bollywood, temporarily paralyzed, its airports on lockdown, its transport networks frozen.
And amid the hunt to find those responsible, fresh battle lines were drawn.
FOURTEEN MINUTES PER room was all she had.
Whether it was tidy or left smeared with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and telltale buttmarks on the recliner, fourteen minutes was what she had to clean each room. Start in the bathroom, change the towels, change the bed, clean the cups, dust and vacuum, and then on to the next room.
And though she would never have admitted it to her colleagues at the Marine Bay Plaza, Sunita Kadam took a pride in meeting (and especially beating) that fourteen-minute time limit. In fact, on her housekeeping cart was a stopwatch she carried for that very purpose. She picked it up as she arrived at room number 1121 and knocked smartly-maid's knock, loud but gentle-then began the stopwatch.
Twenty seconds. No answer. With a deliberate jangle of master keys she let herself in.
Again no answer. Good. And what's more, the room was tidy. Though an evening dress hung from a handle of the closet, the bed looked as if it hadn't been slept in. Nets at the window billowed beneath a blast of air conditioning, giving the room a clean, aired feel. Six minutes to service this room, thought Sunita. Maybe seven.
Unless, of course, there was a nasty surprise in the bathroom.
From her cart she collected towels and toiletries and went there now, clicking on the light at the same time as she reached for the door handle and pushed.
She came up short. The door would only budge an inch or so. Something on the other side-probably a wet towel that had slipped off a rail-was preventing it from opening.
Inside, the fluorescents struggled, flickering as she pushed the door. With an exasperated sigh she gave it one last shove and there was a splintering sound. Something heavy fell to the floor on the other side and, finally, the lights came on-and Sunita Kadam saw what was inside.
On the tiles lay a woman's corpse. She wore a white nightshirt and her face was colorless. In contrast, the yellow cotton scarf around her neck was a bright yellow. The marks it had made were a livid red.
Sunita stared at the body. A numbness crept over her. A sense of wanting to run but being rooted to the spot. Later she'd look back and stifle a guilty laugh about this, but her next thought was: How the hell am I going to clean this up in fourteen minutes?
"YOU KILLED THEM, you drunk bastard."
With a gasp, Santosh Wagh pulled himself from the grip of his nightmare, fingers scrabbling for his spectacles on the nightstand. He pushed them on, squinted at the numbers on his bedside clock and groaned.
4:14 a.m. Drinker's dawn.
He pulled himself from bed, avoiding his own reflection in the mirror as he lolloped out of the bedroom. Who wanted to see a hungover man at 4:14 in the morning, a craggy, 51-year-old vision of guilt and shame? Not him. Right now what he wanted was a little something to guide him gently into the morning. Something to chase away the headache lurking behind his eyes. Something to banish the residual nightmare image seared into his brain.
His apartment was empty, stale-smelling. On a coffee table in the front room was a half-empty bottle of Johnnie Walker, a glass, and his Glock in its holster. Santosh dropped with a sigh to the couch, leaned forward, fingertipped his Glock out of reach, then drew the bottle and glass toward him.
He stared at the drink in his hand, remembering, casting his mind back to 2006 and the seven Mumbai train bombs. At the time he'd been an agent with RAW, India's intelligence agency, and the investigations into the bombings had brought him into contact with Jack Morgan.
Two years later, the car accident that plagued his dreams.
It was Jack who had asked him to head up Private India; Jack who had picked him up when he'd needed it most. And if he drank this drink then it would lead to another drink, and another, and with each subsequent drink he'd fall a little harder and fail Jack a little more.