Extract: The Detective by Ajay Chowdhury
On the verge of a four-billion-dollar deal, a tech entrepreneur from Shoreditch is found dead in a construction site, which leads to the discovery of three skeletons over a hundred years old. But as fresh bodies turn up, Detective Kamil – along with his friend Anjoli – must prevent another murder.
Desperate to solve his first case for the Met, will Kamil put his reputation on the line… then cross it?
Read on for the first chapter of The Detective by Ajay Chowdhury!
Today. July. Monday night.
It sounds like the start of a joke.
An imam, a restaurateur, a constable and an inspector are having a curry. The imam says to the constable, ‘Congratulations on your life coming full circle, Kamil. With two Muslims in the police, we can finally establish the Brick Lane Caliphate.’
The three of us guffawed. ‘Great idea, Sheikh,’ said Tahir. ‘Then Anjoli will have to exchange her personalised T-shirts for a burqa and always obey Kamil.’
Anjoli mopped up the last of her Iberian pork belly in a chilli sauce with a corner of naan and looked down at her T-shirt that read Distant Socialising Goddess. ‘I’ll fight tooth and veil to keep my T-shirts. I’ll have you know Kamil does my bidding. I’m his boss, remember?’
‘Used to be my boss.’ I emptied my glass, relishing the last drops of the cold Cobra. ‘Anjoli imposes She-ria Law!’
Another round of laughter.
‘Very funny. To Detective Constable Kamil Rahman!’ She raised a glass and waved my shiny new Met Police badge in the air. ‘He’d like to thank me for everything I did to get him here. He couldn’t have done it without me.’
‘What is it they say?’ said Tahir. ‘Behind every great man there is a…’
‘Woman cleaning up his crap. Sorry, Sheikh!’ Anjoli grinned and clinked her glass with Tahir’s.
My celebratory dinner was turning into a roast.
‘I also know a joke like that,’ said the imam, a smile escaping his full beard. He took a sip of his nimbu pani and said, ‘Why do women walk five paces behind the Taliban in Afghanistan?’
He roared with laughter, the topi on his head bobbing up and down.
‘Lol, Sheikh!’ Anjoli fanned herself with a menu. ‘Waiter! My glass is empty.’ She waggled it at me, and I went to the bar to top her up in a final tip of the hat to my old job.
The imam was right about one thing – I had come full circle. A cop in Kolkata five years ago, then a waiter and cook in Brick Lane and now a detective again. In England. The spark of pride that flamed inside me was at once doused by contrition. Why was my recruitment into the Met a greater glory than getting into the Indian Police Service? Was it because I had dragged myself back up after hitting bottom? That I’d erased the disgrace of being fired from the Kolkata force? Or was it just that Indians have always had daddy issues about England?
Either way, here I was in Tandoori Knights, the restaurant I knew better than my parents’ kitchen, being feted by the three people dearest to me – Imam Masroor, my spiritual guide; Anjoli, my landlady; and Tahir, my closest friend and now, boss – in the hottest week London had experienced for a decade.
And the last few years had felt like dog years. The twenties had a dismal beginning, as we tried to take the panic out of the pandemic. When Saibal and Maya, Anjoli’s parents, died of the virus while they were in India, Anjoli was inconsolable. We couldn’t attend their funeral in person, so we watched the livestream of their bodies on the cremation pyre – it was heart-breaking. I swallowed my grief to support her – holding her up as she sobbed herself into oblivion. That these were just two of the millions of unnecessary deaths that had occurred around the planet and fires like these were burning twenty-four hours a day didn’t matter – this was our family – not points on a graph.
And poor orphaned Anjoli. Her pain wrapped around her like a shawl, she slogged hard, so hard, to keep the restaurant afloat. The terror of losing the business built by her parents, which was not only their legacy but also our livelihood, kept us going; and we just about survived. After the abrupt ending of my last relationship, Anjoli was my support and a genuine friend. I realised how well we fit together. It felt right, the two of us in our tiny bubble. We slipped from sharing meals on the kitchen table to sharing cuddles on the sofa, to… nothing. Every night ended with a closed door between us. I tried to talk to her about why was perennially in the companion zone, but she would always bat it away with ‘It would be too much, Kamil – working together and living together and sleeping together. You know how I feel about you, but I need some space.’
The problem was, I didn’t know how she felt about me or how to give her the space that she said she wanted. So, we remained flat mates and best mates, drifting like two goldfish in our bowl, always circling and never quite meeting, with me waiting for us to connect and Anjoli waiting for… something.
On sleepless nights, hearing her bed creaking just metres away from mine through the wall as she struggled through her dreams, I’d think of what might have been. What was Maliha, the love I’d left behind, doing in Kolkata at this moment? And Naila… the other woman I’d fallen for in London four years ago? No. I still couldn’t think of her green eyes drilling into mine without being overwhelmed by feelings of shame.
I had to move on.
Then the lockdowns lifted, the restaurant hummed, and business boomed. Anjoli gave up her side hustle selling T-shirts on Etsy, hired Chanson, a new Indian chef who had trained in molecular gastronomy (pretentious name, pretentious shaved head and even more pretentious food), revamped the menu, and left little for me to do as a cook. On Tahir’s urging, and with Anjoli’s encouragement, I’d applied to the Met and spent my two pandemic years at the University of East London’s Detective Degree Holder Entry Programme, still paying my way by cooking part time, chafing under Chanson’s charlatanry.
But my days of chopping onions, grinding peppercorns and peeling garlic were behind me. As of today, I was Detective Constable 20097 in the CID division, on the princely salary of £33,500 per year. And it was princely. Four times what I’d made as a sub-inspector in Kolkata and higher than the £27,500 (pre-bribes) that my father had reached as a top rank commissioner in the IPS. This hike in my earnings also saw the return of my self-respect – no longer was I dependent on Anjoli’s largesse – and it felt like another new beginning.
I gave Anjoli and Tahir their drinks and sat down as he said, ‘So, top of your year, eh? You Kolkata cops have sharp elbows. I’m going to have to watch my back!’
‘You’ll soon be reporting to me.’ I winked. ‘I come, I see, I conquer!’
Anjoli snorted. ‘Veni, vidi, vindaloo, more like. You came, you saw, you cooked!’
Tahir guffawed. ‘Good one! Do you know how many strings I had to pull to get them to assign you to my unit?’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ I polished the crown on top of my badge with my napkin. ‘What you fail to mention is that you only got your promotion to inspector because I handed you a murderer on a plate four years ago and you took all the credit.’
‘Hey,’ Anjoli elbowed me hard. ‘We handed him the killer. No way you could have done it without me.’
‘Sorry. Of course, you were an integral part of the team. Any tips for my first day, boss?’
Tahir considered this.
‘Focus on the work. Don’t feel you have to be a nice guy. The cops in CID are a good lot, but remember you’re not looking for new mates, you just want their respect. And, as the sheikh said, you and I will be the only brown faces.’
‘How do the goras regard you, Tahir?’ asked the imam.
Tahir grimaced. ‘Well, I was the first brown guy to make DI in Bethnal Green nick. When I got promoted, some started calling me Diversity and Inclusion Ismail behind my back. So, yes, Sheikh, institutional racism is a thing, but it’s improving. When I joined, it was much worse. The coppers would joke about me being a terrorist, shout “Allahu Akbar” and pretend to duck when I entered the squad room – now it’s more subtle and you have to brush it off. But you still must be way better than your white colleagues to make it up the ladder.’
‘You’ll have to teach him, Tahir,’ Anjoli said. ‘Kamil doesn’t recognise racism. He floats along in his own little world.’
‘Oh, believe me, I experienced discrimination in Kolkata, being a Muslim,’ I said, nettled. ‘And had to deal with accusations of nepotism.’
‘Well, you may face the same here, since I wangled you in as my partner,’ said Tahir. ‘I should have a sergeant reporting to me, instead of slumming it with a newly minted DC.’
‘How are the others going to take that?’ I asked.
‘It’ll put a few noses out of joint. But I’ve cleared it with Superintendent Rogers – told him that given we are in a Bangladeshi area, we can interact better with the locals as a team. And I’m not sorry you’re replacing Protheroe. He’s a fucking bongo. Sorry, Sheikh.’
‘What’s a bongo?’ said Anjoli as the imam gave Tahir a vague smile. She giggled and said, ‘Bingo Bango Bongo. Kamil you’re a Bong Bongo.’
‘She’s out of it, isn’t she?’ laughed Tahir. ‘Yeah, Protheroe just books on, never goes out. He’s more interested in making himself look good than doing the hard graft. I’ve had to redo his work half a dozen times – he’s missing in inaction. You provided an excellent opportunity for me to get shot of him.’
I wasn’t sure how to take that; I’d rather Tahir had picked me for my skills than someone else’s incompetence; but to hell with high-minded principles. If I had to show I was twice as good as the others to make it, well, that’s what I would do.
The imam popped a last saffron-infused gulab jamun into his mouth and said, ‘I must go now. Congratulations again, Kamil; I am very proud of you. You are a true inspiration to our people.’
‘Thank you, Sheikh. Your guidance helped me get through the hard times.’
He patted my shoulder, and wheezing, raised himself from the table. Tahir followed suit, giving Anjoli a peck on the cheek and winking. ‘Well you don’t have to hear Kamil diss you anymore, Anj. He’s my problem now.’
She started to clear the dinner table. ‘Who knows, I may miss his dissing.’
‘Not a chance. Anyway, nice new haircut.’
Anjoli blew her fringe out of her eyes. ‘Good of you to notice, unlike Bingo Bango here.’
I protested, then realised I hadn’t noticed. ‘You always look so lovely…’ I began as Tahir interrupted: ‘I’ll expect you at the shop nice and early tomorrow, Constable Bingo. You need to learn how to do all my paperwork.’
‘I know, I know, Inspector. You’re the lead singer; I just stand at the side of the stage, banging my bongos.’
The imam embraced me, and the scent of his rose attar followed him to the door, the bell tinkling behind him and Tahir as they left the restaurant. Anjoli locked it, took my hand, ran the tip of her tongue over her lips and whispered, ‘Come. Now that you don’t work for me, let me show you another “ing” we can do besides dissing.’
My heart leapt. ‘What did you have in mind?’
‘Rinsing – bring the plates and glasses.’
Rolling my eyes, I followed her uproarious laughter into the kitchen. This policeman’s lot was not a happy one.
Enjoyed this chapter of The Detective by Ajay Chowdhury? Let us know in the comments below!